Small Business Workplace Health & Safety Responsibilities Made Simple

Small businesses

As a major employer in Australia, small businesses must look after the health and safety of their workers. Small businesses have work health and safety (WHS) duties and most are required to have workers’ compensation insurance.

Small businesses have less than 15 workers. They are often single-director companies and family businesses. In 2018–19, small businesses made up 97% of all Australian businesses and employed 4.7 million workers.

Work health and safety duties for small businesses

In Australia, businesses have a primary duty of care for work health and safety.

If you’re a person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU), you must ensure workers’ and others’ health and safety. That includes if you are a sole trader, self-employed, a partner or you lead a company or organisation.

If you own the business, or you make decisions that substantially affect the business, you have Duties as an Officer.

As an Officer, you must exercise due diligence and make sure the PCBU complies with their health and safety obligations, including:

  • making sure your workers and other persons are protected against harm,
  • ensuring there are appropriate practices or systems of work in place, and
  • actively monitoring and evaluating health and safety at the workplace.

It is important that you know you are legally responsible for doing these things under WHS laws.

It is also important to ensure your business has reporting processes for incidents, hazards and other WHS issues, and to check that these processes are being followed.

As a PCBU or Officer it is important you:

  • keep up to date with the current WHS
  • Identify WHS hazards and risks in your business and take proactive steps to mitigate them
  • ensure your business is properly resourced to manage WHS risks and check the resources are being used
  • ensure your business has reporting processes for incidents, hazards and other WHS issues, and check that these processes are being followed.

Most businesses, including small businesses, would have workers’ compensation insurance. This covers payments to workers with a work-related injury or illness including:

  • lost wages if they cannot work
  • medical costs and rehabilitation expenses to help them return to work as soon as possible.

Like with all other aspects of an organisation’s culture, health & safety culture is no different, workplace culture comes from the top. Workers are more likely to follow safety procedures and raise safety issues when business owners set the standard for a positive health and safety culture and lead by example.

A positive culture will result in better WHS outcomes, including fewer incidents and injuries, fewer work stoppages,  reduced reputational damage, open doors to new clients, and improve employee engagement.

Contact WCA Solutions for support.


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