Understanding duty of care…

Many people do not realize that refusing or failing to observe company safety rules and safety procedures or instructions from their supervisor is, in fact, breaking the law.

People don’t appreciate that, as an employee, they have certain legal obligations with regard to their own safety and the safety of other people in their workplace.

A failure to recognize and meet these legal obligations can result in:

  • injury or harm to yourself;
  • injury or harm to other people; and
  • you being prosecuted.

Occupational safety legislation operates in the same fashion as other aspects of the law. Ignorance of the law is no defense for committing an offense.

For this reason it is important that you recognize and understand what your responsibilities are under the Duty of Care.

Today we will discuss:

  • the employee’s duties;
  • the employer’s duties; and
  • the consequences of not meeting your responsibilities.


Duty of Care refers to the legal duties that employees and employers have to one another to provide and maintain a safe place of work for everyone.

One way of understanding how the duties of employer and employee fit together is to imagine the Duty of Care to be like a coin.

A coin can only have value when it has two sides.  If you take one side away from the coin, you will no longer have a valuable commodity, just a lump of metal.

The same is true with the Duty of Care.  Achieving a safe place of work requires both the employer and the employee to meet their respective duties.

For example, an employer is required, under the Duty of Care, to provide employees with adequate Personal Protective Equipment.  Employees are required, under the Duty of Care, to correctly use and maintain the provided Personal Protective Equipment.

If both parties meet their duty to one another then the likelihood of accidents are reduced and the workplace is made safer.  However, if either party does not meet its duty to the other, this cannot be achieved.

As we look at the duties of the employer and the employees in more detail, you will begin to see how the example of the coin makes sense.


As an employee you have a general duty to:

  • ensure your own safety and health at work; and
  • avoid adversely affecting the safety and health of any other person through any act or omission.

The term “act” means doing something that puts people at risk.

The term “omission” means by not doing something, you would put people at risk.

However, as an employee, you have some other more specific duties.

You must follow instructions given by the employer for your safety or the safety of other people.  This means:

  • obeying company safety rules;
  • following safety procedures; and
  • following work instructions given by your Supervisor.

You must correctly use personal protective clothing and equipment that has been provided by the employer. This means:

  • wearing the correct type of Personal Protective Equipment for the work you are doing; and
  • wearing the equipment correctly.

You must not misuse or deliberately damage any equipment provided in the interest of safety and health. This means you must not:

  • interfere or tamper with fire fighting equipment;
  • interfere or tamper with first aid equipment and facilities;
  • obstruct or deface safety signs; or
  • remove machinery safety guards without permission.

You must report hazards that you are unable correct yourself.  This means that you should remove or correct any hazards that you identify in the workplace, providing:

  • you know how to safely do so; and
  • your own safety is not unnecessarily endangered.

You must report any injury or harm to health. This means that you must:

  • report all injuries no matter how minor; and
  • report the symptoms of any disease or illness that could be associated with work.

You must co-operate with your employer to allow them to carry out their Duty of Care. This means working actively with the employer to improve workplace safety and health.


The employer has a general duty to provide a workplace where employees are not unnecessarily exposed to hazards.

Employers must provide and maintain safe workplaces, plant and systems of work.  This means employers must ensure:

  • the layout of the workplace is safe;
  • the storage and handling of all materials is safe;
  • the location and movement of people and mobile equipment can be carried out safely.

The employer must also provide employees with adequate information, instructions, training and supervision so they can perform their work safely. This means the employer must:

  • alert employees to hazards by providing warning signs, posters, booklets and other written materials;
  • provide each employee with the relevant task and safety training required to do their job safely;
  • instruct employees on how work and tasks are to be performed safely; and
  • supervise employees to ensure safety and health rules, procedures and instructions are being followed.

The employer must consult and co-operate with elected safety and health representatives with regard to safety and health matters in the workplace. This is aimed at getting employees and employers working together with the common goal of improving safety and health standards in the workplace.

The employer must provide employees with adequate Personal Protective Equipment where certain hazards cannot be totally avoided. The means the employer must:

  • provide the correct type of Personal Protective Equipment for the type of hazard; and
  • train the employees in how to select, wear, and use the Personal Protective Equipment.

The employer must ensure the safe use of plant and substances in the workplace. This means the employer must ensure employees are not exposed to hazards from anything to do with:

  • the transportation, storage, handling, use, cleaning, maintenance or disposal of plant; and
  • the transportation, storage, handling, use, cleaning, maintenance or disposal of substances.

The term “plant” means all machinery, equipment, vehicles, appliances and tools used to perform work.

The term “substances” means any natural or artificial solid, gas, liquid or vapour in the workplace.

The employer must report all accidents involving fatal or major injuries to the relevant State Government Safety Inspector.


How to present a Safety talk

What is a Toolbox Talk

A Toolbox Talk is a communication session between the Supervisor and his crew.

Toolbox Talks are an effective means of increasing the safety awareness of employees.  They can be used to:

  • provide safety information; and
  • remind employees of company rules and procedures.

To be effective a Toolbox Talk must be:

  • brief,
  • informative,
  • well presented, and
  • interesting.

It must also have:

  • a specific topic, subject or theme; and
  • a reason for discussing the topic.

The major reason why Supervisors fail to deliver effective Toolbox Talks is because they don’t:

  • select relevant topics;
  • plan what information to give in the toolbox talk; and
  • think about how to present the information.

Selecting a Topic

Preparation is the key to successful Toolbox Talks and the first step is to select a relevant topic.

Unfortunately Supervisors can fall into the trap of selecting topics based upon:

  • what personally interests them;
  • what appears to be easy to present; or
  • what pops into their head five minutes prior to meeting with the crew.

Toolbox Talks must be selected on the basis of what people need to know to do their job safely.

Select your topic with a specific aim in mind.  A Toolbox Talk is not just a matter of giving information – your crew needs to use this information so they can do their work safely.  You must decide what information your crew needs.

When deciding what information your crew needs ask yourself the following questions:

  • What types of injuries have occurred lately?
  • What types of near misses have happened in the last three months?
  • What unsafe conditions have been observed in the past month’s housekeeping inspections?
  • Have I noticed any particular unsafe behaviors or actions occurring on the crew?
  • Have I had to speak to anyone on the crew about their attitude to safety?

Asking yourself these questions will help you to:

  • select a relevant topic; and
  • identify what sort of information the crew needs.

For example, if you have recently noticed the compressed gas cylinder storage areas littered with paper and other combustibles, you might consider discussing compressed gas cylinder storage as your next Toolbox Talk.

Once you have selected the topic you need to plan:

  • what you are going to say in your talk; and
  • how you are going to say it.

Planning What to Say

Even if your organization has ready made Toolbox Talk packages it is still important to understand how to prepare a Toolbox Talk.

This is because, no matter how well written your Company’s Toolbox Talks are, you will still be required to do some preparation prior to delivering them.  Each crew is different, and it is important that you deliver Toolbox Talks which are relevant to your crew.  You may still have to slightly modify your Company Toolbox Talks to suit your delivery style and the needs of your crew.

There could also be situations when your Company does not have a ready made Toolbox Talk which covers the issue you want to address with your crew.

The first stage of preparing a toolbox talk is deciding what information needs to be included.  There are no “hard and fast” rules for preparing Toolbox Talks but here are some useful guidelines which you should follow.

  • Always make notes when planning your talk.  Very few people can plan an effective talk without jotting down their ideas onto paper.  This can be a detailed plan or a series of bullet points and key words.
  • Only include information which is essential to the message you want to give to the crew.
  • Keep the information as simple and possible.  It is easy to make the mistake of trying to cover too much ground in one toolbox talk.
  • Keep the length of the talk to no more than 20 minutes.  If the information is going to take more than 20 minutes you are either going into too much detail; or covering too wide an area.
  • Use a minimum of words and sentences to keep your talk short, sharp and “punchy”.

At this stage only concentrate on listing what information you want to cover in your talk.  The next stage is to sketch out your plan on how to say it.

Planning How to Say It

After you have decided what you are going to say you must think, plan and write down how you are going to say it.  Unfortunately, this is where many speakers fail to plan.

The information in your talk may not have the impact if it is not delivered in the correct sequence.

There are also some basic guidelines that you can use to help you present your talk.  This means taking your initial notes and “fleshing them out” into a simple plan consisting of an introduction, a body and a summary.

The Introduction

How you introduce your Toolbox Talk is important.  A good introduction will quickly gain the crews attention and “set the scene” for the remainder of the talk.

In your introduction you should state:

  • the topic you will be discussing;
  • why the topic is being discussed; and
  • what the topic will include.

Make a note of how you will introduce the Toolbox Talk in your notes.  Don’t leave this until the moment you are about to start the talk.  If you appear unprepared for your talk, the crew will be unprepared to listen for very long.

You can lose an audience within the first minute of your talk with a poor introduction.  Once the audience is “lost” it is hard to recover their attention.

The body of the talk is where you present the bulk of the information you planned to cover.

This is usually the easiest part of delivering the talk but it also has the potential to become quite boring for the crew if it is not carried out properly.

Here are some simple techniques you can use to bring your Toolbox Talk to life.

  • Cover one point or idea at a time.  Nothing is more distracting for a listener than someone who jumps back and forth from one point another.
  • Use examples to make your presentation more interesting and to illustrate a point.  However, it is important to pick examples which mean something to the crew. Use past events, situations and incidents which have occurred on the crew as examples so they can identify with the points you are making in your talk.
  • Use questions throughout your presentation.  Questions are an effective method of getting your employees involved in the toolbox talk.  By using questions you turn the presentation into a discussion session rather than a lecture.
  • Use visual aids to make your talks more interesting.  You will get increased attention and better understanding if you show and tell people what you are discussing.  People can remember more information if they see and hear it, rather than if they just hear it.  Visual aids can include equipment, photographs, charts and diagrams.

The use of real-life examples, visual aids, and questions will enhance the quality of your talks.

Write down in your notes where you will use a question, an example or a visual aid.

The Summary

It is just as important to have an effective summary at the end of your talk as it is to have a good introduction at the start.  The idea of the summary is to leave the crew with a lasting impression of the talk.

It should include:

  • a re-cap on the major points covered in the talk; and
  • a clear statement regarding what you want the crew to do in future.

Presenting the Toolbox Talk

If you have prepared for your toolbox talk the presentation should not be difficult.  Whether you are using a toolbox talk you have developed or one of the Company’s standard Toolbox Talks you should apply the following techniques.

  • Read your notes before you begin the Toolbox Talk but don’t attempt to memorise them.
  • Keep the group size for Toolbox Talks to no more than 12 people.  The larger the group more difficult it is to create involvement.
  • Use your notes or the script as a guide but don’t read directly from it.
  • Present the information in your own words.   If you read directly from the script it will come across to your crew as dull and artificial.
  • Involve the crew in the talk by asking open questions which require a descriptive answer instead of a simple yes or no answer.
  • Give the crew 10 -20 seconds to answer the question.  It will take the crew some time to get used to being asked for information.
  • Always acknowledge correct answers to your questions.
  • Put questions to the “group” rather than “singling out individuals” for questioning.  A person may feel embarrassed if they don’t know the answer to your question.
  • Allow the crew to ask you questions and if you are unsure of the correct answer don’t bluff.  Be open and state that you don’t know but get the correct answer back to the crew as soon as possible after the toolbox talk.

As you conduct more Toolbox Talks in this fashion you should begin to see that you are doing less “lecturing” and more talking with your crew.  Your crew will begin to learn more from the Toolbox Talks because they are a participating, and learning from you and each other.


You do not have to be a brilliant speaker to present interesting and informative Toolbox Talks.

The key to successful Toolbox Talks is planning and preparation.

Planning and preparation means:

  • selecting the appropriate topic;
  • identifying what you want to say; and
  • planning how you are going to say it.

Have a written plan and refer to it during your talk.

Always have a brief introduction to set the scene and gain the crews attention.

Make use of examples, visual aids and questions to involve your crew members and bring the topic to life.

Always summarize the talk at the end and tell the crew what you expect from them in the future.

When you elect to use a Company standard Toolbox Talk you must still plan and prepare your presentation.