Your Legal Responsibilities as a PCBU

In the context of Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation, a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) is used as a broader term to replace ‘employer’. In addition to conventional employers like corporations and associations, the term PCBU also encompasses a variety of non-traditional work arrangements. This means PCBUs can be self-employed individuals, volunteer organisations, contractors or sole traders.

Regardless of the industry, PCBUs have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their workers. They must also set up the proper control measures to protect their clients, customers and anyone else that may be affected by their operations.

If you’re a budding PCBU, keeping track of all Australian WHS regulations can be a daunting task. But don’t worry. To help you out, we’ve listed the major legal responsibilities that you’ll be taking on as a PCBU.

We’ll discuss big picture concepts like duty of care and negligence. We’ll also look at the smaller details such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE) like nitrile gloves, setting up safe work stations, and developing a cleaning routine.

What is the duty of care?

Generally speaking, the duty of care refers to one’s legal responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of others. As a PCBU, the duty of care means you need to take the necessary steps to protect your workers, customers or visitors from any foreseeable harm. Should someone get injured due to the PCBU’s negligence, your business can be sued for damages.

To make sure your workers are safe, you must begin with identifying potential hazards around the workplace. These could be uneven floors, dangerous substances, heavy machinery, electrical wiring or raised platforms. Even non-physical aspects of a workplace can be hazards. For example, verbal harassment, bullying and an unreasonable workload can have an adverse effect on a worker’s mental health.

Once these hazards have been identified, you need to then implement the proper safety plans to eliminate or mitigate the risks that your workers face.

In the following points, we will discuss, in detail, the actions that you might take to fulfill your duty as a PCBU.

  1. Create a safe workplace

When it comes to creating a healthy working environment there are two major aspects that you need to worry about.

The first is the condition of the workplace itself. You need to make sure that the workers can safely and comfortably navigate the workspace. This means the floors need to be clear of wires, spillages, empty boxes, bags and other tripping or slipping hazards. The workers will also need proper lighting and the safety indicators in order to see obstructions or floor level changes.

You also need to ensure that the place is hygienic. Routine sweeping, vacuuming and disinfecting is absolutely important especially during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Proper ventilation is necessary to ensure that the workers aren’t breathing contaminated air. If you have the budget for it, it might be worth hiring professional cleaners every now and then to clean and maintain your workplace.

The second thing that you need to consider is protective equipment. In industries that require the use of heavy machinery and equipment, your workers must wear protective glasses, hard hats, welding helmets, heavy duty gloves and work boots. In places where hygiene is paramount (e.g., food processing plants, restaurants and medical facilities), gloves, masks and hair nets will be required.

  1. Provide information and training

As a PCBU, you need to make sure that your workers understand the risks and hazards that are around them. This can be done by providing your workers with the proper information and training.

When it comes to training, the process is going to vary greatly depending on the industry that you’re in. That being said, almost all workers need to understand emergency protocols, know how to safely operate equipment, know how to safely navigate the worksite, and know what to do in the event of an accident or injury.

In terms of information, your workers should be made aware of their legal responsibilities as an employee. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 states that workers must:

  • take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety
  • take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons
  • comply, so far as the worker is reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by the PCBU
  • co-operate with any reasonable health and safety policy or procedure set by the PCBU

Lastly, all your workers have the appropriate licenses and qualifications to use certain equipment, machinery or vehicles.

  1. Injury management

Unfortunately, no workplace is 100% foolproof. Eventually, every business is going to need to handle a serious injury or an accident. When this occurs, you or another worker must provide first aid to the injured, take note of the incident in your register of injuries and notify your insurer within two days. It’s also your responsibility as a PCBU to investigate the matter and report it to the WHS regulators in your area.

While the worker is recovering from their injuries, you need to take reasonable measures to help them return to their job as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, you must make the effort to listen to your employees about their concerns regarding the work environment. Their feedback will only help you further improve the safety and security of your business.

Keep in mind that this blog is simply here to help you get started. This list was just a short summary of your legal responsibilities as PCBU. To fully understand your duties, you need to go through the resources provided by SafeWork Australia and your state government. Indeed, being a business owner is no easy task. A lot of things need to be considered in order to do things properly.

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Ravi Gamage

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