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All employers have a legal duty to provide a workplace that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. 

This duty is owed to employees, contractors, labour hire staff, and others, including visitors, who may be impacted by the work an organisation does.

Some businesses also have a similar duty in relation to their role as a designer, manufacturer or supplier of workplaces, plant or substances that are to be used in the workplace.

Health and Safety Acts and Regulations (supported by Codes and Guidance Material) provide more detail about how this should occur, covering obligations to consult with workers and contractors about how work is to be done and providing opportunities for workers and others to raise health and safety concerns and contribute to finding and implementing solutions.  There are also specific requirements to provide the necessary supervision, information, instruction and training to ensure that work can be carried out in a healthy and safe manner.

A major focus of health and safety laws is the obligation on employers to eliminate or minimise risk, so far as is reasonably practicable.  The law requires employers to: identify hazards and risks; assess those risks if required to enable the best solutions to be implemented; and implement risk controls that provide the best health and safety solution for the circumstances.

For more information, resources and tools to manage your safety activities in the workplace, click here to go to the Health and Safety Resource Centre.

Identifying Hazards and Risks

What is a hazard?
A hazard is a potential source of harm. The presence of a hazard does not necessarily mean that control measures are required.

What is a risk?
A risk occurs when a person is within the vicinity of a hazard, and exposed to the possibility of harm.

How do I identify hazards and risks?

  • Talk to employees and their representatives
  • Walk through the workplace, looking for hazards
  • Undertake a safety audit
  • Review reports of "near misses" and injuries
  • Refer to Regulations and Codes of Practice

How do I assess risks?

If the required solution is obvious, you can skip this step and go straight to risk control.  A solution may be obvious if a regulation requires you to do something a particular way, or if everyone else in your industry has implemented a control, or if the guidance from the regulator tells you what they believe is the best way to deal with a risk.

If you do need to assess risk you need to consider the information available to you through knowledge and experience of the process or hazard with reference to Regulations, Codes of Practice and other "state of knowledge" documentation.

In determining the appropriate control you may take into account an assessment of likelihood (how likely it is that a particular type of incident may occur) and consequent (what type of outcome, first aid treatment through to fatality, may result if that incident did occur).

How do I control risks?

The law requires that you must do all that is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise the risks.  The cost of a control measure can only be considered if the cost is "grossly disproportionate" to the level of risk, i.e. you would not be expected to spend $1m to eliminate the risk of a superficial burn.

Employers must consider the hierarchy of controls when deciding which control measures to use.  You need to start at the top of the hierarchy and apply the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable.  If it is not reasonably practicable to implement controls at the top of the hierarchy you can select one or more control measures from further down the hierarchy.  If selecting a control measure at or near the bottom of the hierarchy, organisations should document why higher level controls could not be implemented.

The hierarchy of controls

  1. Eliminate the risk through hob or process redesign
  2. Reduce risk through substitution, isolation or engineering controls
  3. If the higher level controls (above) are not sufficient to control the risk, introduce administrative controls (safe work procedures, triaining etc.) and/or provide protective requirement

When considering control measures, it is often necessary to implement a range of controls to get the best outcome, e.g. if your control measure is the use of a manual lifting device (engineering control) you may also need to apply a range of administrative controls (develop a safe operating procedure; provide training on how to use the equipment; ensure supervisors encourage and enforce use of the equipment; and develop and implement a preventative maintenance program).

For more information on Risk Management, click here to go to the Health and Safety Resource Centre.

If you have had a serious health and safety incident you may need to notify the regulator. Click here for more information, including how Ai Group can assist you to respond.

Key Contacts

Workplace Advice Line

1300 55 66 77

Consulting Services

Trinette Jaeschke
Tel: 03 9867 0236

Workforce Development

David Tiller
Tel: 02 4925 8307

Policy & Representation

Tracey Browne
Tel: 03 9867 0255