Guide to the Model WHS Act – Introduction

Introduction to the Guide

This guide provides an overview of the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act). It is designed to help people generally understand their health and safety duties and rights at work…

It is not intended to be read in place of the WHS Act. To assist readers cross-references to specific sections of the WHS Act are provided after each heading.”

The Guide, see here for Disclaimer and Copyright information.

Nationally Harmonised WHS Laws

The WHS Act like that of most other jurisdictions is based on the ‘model’ WHS Act developed by Safe Work Australia.

The aim is to provide all workers in Australia with the same standard of health and safety protection regardless of the work they do or where they work.

A stronger national approach means greater certainty for businesses (particularly those operating across state borders) and over time reduced compliance costs for business.

More consultation between businesses, workers and their representatives, along with clearer responsibilities will make workplaces safer for everyone.

The harmonised work health and safety laws apply in the majority of jurisdictions. For more information about whether they apply in your jurisdiction check with your local regulator.”

Purpose of the WHS Act (section 3)

The WHS Act provides a framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work and of other people who might be affected by the work. The WHS Act aims to:

  • protect the health and safety of workers and other people by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work or workplaces
  • ensure fair and effective representation, consultation and cooperation to address and resolve health and safety issues in the workplace
  • encourage unions and employer organisations to take a constructive role in improving work health and safety practices
  • assisting businesses and workers to achieve a healthier and safer working environment
  • promote information, education and training on work health and safety
  • provide effective compliance and enforcement measures, and
  • deliver continuous improvement and progressively higher standards of work health and safety.”

In furthering these aims regard must be had to the principle that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work as is reasonably practicable.

For these purposes ‘health’ includes psychological health as well as physical health.

Safety Artisan Instructional Videos cover most of these Topics – follow the ‘WHS Page’ Link, below:

Back to: Model WHS Page | WHS Page | Main Page

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Model WHS Act – Definitions

Want to Know What all these Terms Mean?

The following terms [ Definitions ] are used throughout this guide:

Duty Holder – refers to any person who owes a work health and safety duty under the WHS Act including a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), designer, manufacturer, importer, supplier, installer of products or plant used at work (upstream duty holders), an officer and workers. More than one person can concurrently have the same duty in which case the duty is shared. Duties cannot be transferred.

Health and safety committee (HSC) – a group established under the WHS Act that facilitates cooperation between a PCBU and workers to provide a safe place of work. The committee must have at least 50 per cent of members who have not been nominated by the PCBU, that is workers or HSRs.

Health and safety representative (HSR) – a worker who has been elected by a work group under the WHS Act to represent them on health and safety issues.

Officer – an officer within the meaning of section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) other than each partner within a partnership. Broadly, an officer is a person who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the organisation’s activities. This does not include an elected member of a municipal council acting in that capacity or a minister of a state, territory or the Commonwealth. An officer can also be an officer of the Crown or a public authority if they are a person who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business or undertaking of the Crown or public authority. Each partner within a partnership is not an officer but a PCBU in their own right. For further information on officers please refer to the interpretive guideline on officers available at

Person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) – a person conducting a business or undertaking alone or with others, whether or not for profit or gain. A PCBU can be a sole trader (for example a self-employed person), each partner within a partnership, company, unincorporated association or government department of public authority (including a municipal council). An elected member of a municipal council acting in that capacity is not a PCBU. A ‘volunteer association’ that does not employ anyone is not a PCBU. If it becomes an employer it also becomes a PCBU for purposes of the WHS Act. A ‘strata title body corporate’ that does not employ anyone is not a PCBU, in relation to any common areas (it is responsible for) used only for residential purposes. For further information on the meaning of PCBU please refer to the interpretive guideline on PCBUs available at

… More Definitions …

Plant – includes any machinery, equipment, appliance, container, implement or tool, and any component or anything fitted or connected to these things.

Structure – anything that is constructed, whether fixed or moveable, temporary or permanent and includes buildings, masts, towers, framework, pipelines, transport infrastructure and underground works (shafts or tunnels). Includes any component or part of a structure.

Substance – any natural or artificial substance in the form of a solid, liquid, gas or vapour.

Supply – supply and re-supply of a thing provided by way of sale, exchange, lease, hire or hire-purchase arrangement, whether as principal or agent. GUIDE TO THE MODEL WORK HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT 5 DEFINITIONS (SECTIONS 4-8)

Volunteer – a person who acts on a voluntary basis regardless of whether they receive out of pocket expenses.

Volunteer association – a group of volunteers working together for one or more community purposes—whether registered or not—that does not employ anyone to carry out work for the association.

Worker – any person who carries out work for a PCBU, including work as an employee, contractor, subcontractor, self-employed person, outworker, apprentice or trainee, work experience student, employee of a labour hire company placed with a ‘host employer’ and volunteers.

Work group – a group of workers represented by an HSR who in many cases share similar work conditions (for example all the electricians in a factory, all people on night shift, all people who work in the loading bay of a retail storage facility).

Workplace – any place where a worker goes or is likely to be while work is carried out for a business or undertaking. This may include offices, factories, shops, construction sites, vehicles, ships, aircraft or other mobile structures on land or water such as offshore units and platforms (that are not already covered under the Commonwealth’s offshore WHS laws).

The glossary contains additional definitions of terms used throughout this guide.


Authorised means authorised or approved by a licence, permit, registration or other authority as required by the WHS Regulations.

Dangerous incident means an incident in a workplace that exposes a worker or any other person to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate hazard or one about to happen, for example a spillage, explosion or electric shock. Fair Work Act means the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

Health and safety duty means a duty relating to health and safety imposed in Part 2 of the WHS Act.

Inspector means an inspector appointed under Part 9 of the WHS Act.

Internal reviewer means a person appointed by the regulator to review decisions made by inspectors.

Notifiable incident means an incident involving the death, serious injury or illness of a person, or a dangerous incident that is notifiable under Part 3 of the WHS Act.

Official of a union means a person who holds an office in, or is employed by a registered union.

Union means:

  • an employee organisation that is registered, or taken to be registered, under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth)
  • an employee organisation under the equivalent state or territory workplace laws, or
  • an association of employees or independent contractors, or both, registered as such under a state or territory industrial law.

WHS entry permit means a permit issued to a union official under Part 7 of the WHS Act, allowing them to enter a workplace to inquire into a suspected contravention of the WHS Act or as prescribed.

WHS undertaking means a written undertaking given by a person (often the PCBU) to the regulator relating to a breach or alleged breach of the WHS Act.

Safety Artisan Instructional Videos cover many of these Topics – follow the ‘WHS Page’ Link, below:

Back to: Model WHS Page | WHS Page | Main Page

Professional | Pragmatic | Impartial