Definitions of the common, legal and technical terms we use when we talk about work health and safety.

We have prepared a list of common terms you will help you understand health and safety and how it affects you and your workplace.

At risk workers

The phrase 'at risk' workers highlights workers who, for a range of reasons, may be at higher risk of injury than others.

These workers include:

  • workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers
  • migrant workers
  • temporary work visa holders
  • young workers
  • workers with disabilities
  • pregnant workers
  • workers engaged through labour hire organisations.

In our Know your workers section, you will find information on how you can make your workplace safer for these workers and everyone else too.

Codes of practice

A code of practice provides detailed information on specific work tasks to help you achieve the standards required under the work health and safety (WHS) laws.

These do not replace the WHS laws, but codes of practice can help make understanding what you have to do a little easier.

We have listed them alphabetically by task.

As well as codes of practice, Safe Work Australia has guidance material that can also help comply with WHS laws.

Due diligence

Employers must continually and comprehensively make sure that workers, volunteers and visitors are kept safe in the workplace. This is called ‘due diligence’.

Due diligence requires an officer (which includes company directors) to take reasonable steps to ensure the business complies with its work health and safety obligations.

An officer must have high, yet attainable standards of due diligence. These standards reflect the position and influence of the officer within the business.

The reasonable steps you must take to ensure you are exercising and demonstrating due diligence include, but are not limited to:

  1. having up-to-date knowledge of WHS matters
    1. acquire up-to-date knowledge of the WHS Act, regulations and codes of practice
    2. investigate current industry issues through conferences, seminars, information and awareness sessions, industry groups, newsletters
    3. acquire up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety management principles and practices
    4. ensure that work health and safety matters are considered at each corporation, club or association board meeting.
    5. having an understanding of the business or undertaking and generally of the hazards and risks associated with it.
      1. develop a plan of the operation that identifies hazards in core activities
      2. ensure that information is readily available to other officers and workers about procedures to ensure the safety of specific operations that pose health and safety risks in the workplace
      3. continuously improving the safety management system.
  2. ensuring the business has  (and uses) appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise safety risks from the work carried out
    1. establish and maintain safe methods of work
    2. implement a safety management system
    3. recruit personnel with appropriate skills, including safety personnel
    4. ensure staffing levels are adequate for safety in operations
    5. give safety personnel access to decision makers for urgent issues
    6. maintain and upgrade infrastructure.
  3. ensuring that the business has  appropriate processes to receive information about incidents, hazards and risks and responding  in a timely manner to that information
    1. employ a risk management process
    2. have efficient, timely reporting systems
    3. empower workers to cease unsafe work and request better resources
    4. establish processes for considering/ responding to information about incidents, hazards and risks in a timely fashion
    5. measure against positive performance indicators to identify deficiencies (e.g. a percentage of issues actioned within agreed timeframe).
  4. ensuring the business has and implements processes to comply with any duty or obligation under WHS laws. These can include:
    1. reporting notifiable incidents
    2. consulting with workers
    3. ensuring compliance with notices
    4. providing training and instruction to workers about WHS
    5. ensuring that health and safety representatives receive their entitlements to training
    6. undertake a legal compliance audit of policies, procedures and practices
    7. testing policies, procedures and practices to verify compliance with safety management planning
  5. Verifying the provision and use of the resources mentioned in steps 1-5.

We have more information on PCBUs,workers, directors and officers and their responsibilities under WHS laws.

Duty of care

Everyone has a duty of care, a responsibility, to make sure that they and other people are safe in the workplace.

If you are an employer, or PCBU, you have the main responsibility for the health and safety of everyone in your workplace, including visitors. This is your 'primary duty of care'.

If you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for your own safety and the safety of others.

You owe this duty of care when, as a PCBU, you:

  • direct or influence work carried out by a worker
  • engage or cause to engage a worker to carry out work (including through sub-contracting)
  • have management or control of a workplace.

You must ensure that:

  • the work environment, systems of work, machinery and equipment are safe and properly maintained
  • chemicals are used, handled and stored safely
  • adequate workplace facilities are available
  • information, training, instruction and supervision are provided
  • workers’ health and workplace conditions are monitored
  • any accommodation you provide to your workers is  safe.

As a PCBU, you always need to try to eliminate, so far as is reasonably and practicable, any health and safety risks in the workplace.

Duty to consult

Employers are required to share information with anyone likely to be directly affected by a work health and safety matter. They also need to take workers', and any other people affected, views into account. Legally, this is called the employers 'duty to consult'.

Employers also need to let workers know the outcome of any consultation in a timely manner.

If you are an employer, you must consult when:

  • identifying hazards and assessing risks
  • making decisions about ways to eliminate or control risks
  • changing or updating workplace facilities
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
  • making decisions about consulting procedures, resolving safety issues, monitoring workers’ health and conditions, and providing information and training.

You also need to consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with other individuals and organisations – and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) or committees (HSCs) – who have a duty in relation to the same matter.

Establish consultation arrangements that best suit the needs of your workers, be it regular toolbox talks or scheduled meetings with their HSR or health and safety committee (HSC).

Management and control of workplaces

Effective management or control of a workplace means ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, that there are no health and safety risks to anyone from the workplace or when entering or exiting a workplace.

workplace can include a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, mobile structure or any installation on water that a worker might be at while at work.

Our Managing hazards and risks section has comprehensive information to help you keep your workplace compliant and risks managed and controlled,

Notifiable incident

A 'notifiable incident' under the work health and safety legislation relates to:

  • the death of a person
  • a serious injury or illness of a person
  • a potentially dangerous incident.

Significant penalties apply if you fail to notify us of an incident. You must notify your insurer of the incident within 48 hours.

Everything you need to know about reporting an incident is in our Investigating and reporting incidents section.


A ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) is a broad term used throughout work health and safety legislation to describe all forms of modern working arrangements, which we commonly refer to as businesses.

A person who performs work for a PCBU is considered a worker.

Types of PCBUs can include:

  • public and private companies
  • partners in a partnership
  • sole traders and self employed people
  • government departments and authorities
  • associations if they have one or more employees
  • local government councils
  • independent schools
  • cooperatives
  • universities.

As a PCBU you must meet your obligations, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of workers and other people like visitors and volunteers.

A PCBU has further obligations if involved in specific kinds of activities like:

  • the management and control of workplaces, or fixtures, fittings or plant at workplaces
  • the design, manufacture, import or supply of plant, substances or structures
  • installation, construction or commissioning of plant or structures.

PCBUs must also have meaningful and open consultation about work health and safety with workers, health and safety representatives, and health and safety committees.

As a PCBU you must also consult, cooperate and coordinate with other PCBUs if you share duties.

As a PCBU you have a primary duty of care to ensure workers and others are not exposed to a risk to their health and safety.

You owe this duty of care when as a PCBU you:

  • direct or influence work carried out by a worker
  • engage or cause to engage a worker to carry out work (including through sub-contracting)
  • have management or control of a workplace.
Provisional improvement notices (PINs)

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) can, under some circumstances, exercise powers if they believe there is, or has been, a contravention of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

These powers include issuing a provisional improvement notice.

A provisional improvement notice tells the business or employer (or other PCBU) that a contravention to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Act) needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

If you are a HSR, you can issue a PIN requiring a person to:

  • remedy the breach of the Act
  • to prevent a likely contravention of the Act from occurring
  • to remedy the things or operations causing the contravention or likely contravention.

You must first consult with the person responsible for resolving the WHS issue before a PIN can be issued.

We have developed a sample form that can be used as a PIN.

There is no requirement that a PIN is issued on this form, provided that the PIN is in writing and meets the requirements of the Act.

At least eight days must be allowed between the date that the PIN was issued and the date that the PIN needs to be complied with.

Reasonably practicable

'Reasonably practicable' is a legal requirement. It means doing what you are reasonably able to do to ensure the health and safety of workers and others like volunteers and visitors.

Basically, employers and businesses (and other PCBUs) always need to try to eliminate, so far as is reasonably and practicable, any health and safety risks in the workplace.

If a risk cannot be removed, you must minimise it by doing one or more of these things:

  • substituting (wholly or partly) the hazard with something with a lesser risk
  • isolating the hazard from any person exposed to it
  • implementing engineering controls (if the risk remains you must implement administrative controls)
  • use personal protective equipment.

If these controls do not fully eliminate or minimise the risk, the you must implement administrative controls and then, if appropriate, ensure the provision of suitable personal protective equipment. A combination of controls may be used to minimise a risk if a single control is not sufficient.

In determining control measures, the you should identify and consider everything that may be relevant to the hazards and risks and the means of eliminating or minimising the risks.

When determining what is reasonably practicable, you should take into account:

  • the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring
  • the degree of harm from the hazard or risk
  • knowledge about ways of eliminating or minimising the hazard or risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk
  • cost.

Talking to workers [link to consultation] will help you identify hazards. Analysing previous incidents will also provide an excellent source of information about risks.

The WHS Regulation and relevant codes of practice will also provide more information about controlling hazards.

Other sources of information include:

  • technical standards
  • material published by other work health and safety regulators
  • industry practice and publications
  • published scientific and technical literature.
Temporary work visas

Whether you are a permanent resident, an Australian citizen, or on a temporary work visa, you are covered by work health and safety laws. These laws apply to every workplace and include workers compensation insurance in case you are injured.

All employers of temporary work visa holders are required under NSW law to have a policy of insurance for workers compensation from a licensed insurer and to make sure they implement and maintain it.

Temporary work visa holders are often at higher risk of injury in the workplace than other workers. They may need greater support to be safe.

We have prepared further information on your rights and responsibilities and at risk workers.


Anyone who performs paid work in any capacity for an employer, business or organisation is considered a worker. However, the term can also include unpaid workers such as volunteers or work experience students.

You're considered a worker if you are:

  • an employee
  • a trainee, apprentice or work experience student
  • a volunteer
  • an outworker
  • a contractor or sub contractor
  • an employee of a contractor or sub contractor
  • an employee of a labour hire company.
Glossary - WHS


Workers who work under contract, including subcontractors and those who work for contractors and subcontractors.


Designs products, including plant, substances and structures.

Emergency plan

A set of instructions that outlines what to do in an emergency.

Employee assistance program

A program offered by a qualified counsellor, which helps workers with personal problems or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health and wellbeing.


Includes injuries and illnesses caused by a single exposure or event, or multiple or long-term exposure. Includes physical and psychological harm.


Something, including a person’s behaviour, that has the potential to cause death, injury or illness.

Hazardous chemicals

Solids, liquids or gases that can harm a person’s health.

Health and safety committee

Facilitates consultation on health and safety issues for the whole workplace or for parts of the workplace.

Health and safety representative

A worker who has been elected by a work group to represent them on health and safety issues.

Health and safety system

A method of working that eliminates or reduces the risk of injury.

High risk work licence

Required for certain types of work, such as operating cranes and forklifts.


A disease, or period of sickness, that affects the body or mind.


Someone who brings goods or services into the country for sale.

Injury reporting system

Policies and procedures that ensure incidents are reported.


a person appointed under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to monitor and enforce compliance with NSW WHS laws. They can enter any premises they have reason to believe is a place of work.

Mental health

A state of wellbeing in which every individual copes with the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully, and contributes to their community.

Near miss

An occurrence that might have led to an injury or illness, danger to someone’s health, and/or damage to property or the environment.

Notifiable incident

Includes the death of a person, a serious injury or illness of a person, or a potentially dangerous incident.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Equipment used to protect someone from hazards in the workplace, such as helmets, boots, gloves, goggles, aprons and sunscreen.


Equipment or tools used at work.

Return to work coordinator

The person responsible for supporting workers as they recover at work from work related illness or injury..

Return to work program

The formal policy that outlines general procedures for handling work-related injuries or illnesses. It represents an employer’s commitment to the health, safety and recovery of workers following an incident. All employers must have one.


The possibility that death, injury or illness might occur when a person is exposed to a hazard. It refers to the likelihood and potential severity of harm arising from exposure to hazards.

Risk assessment

Evaluating the probability and consequence of injury or illness arising.

Risk control

Eliminating or minimising health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

Risk management

Involves hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control.

Safe work method statement

A document that details the way a work task or process is to be completed. Outlines the hazards involved and includes a step-by-step guide on how to do the job safely.

Safety data sheet

A document prepared by the manufacturer, importer or supplier of a dangerous good, hazardous substance or other chemicals. Describes its properties and uses, including details about substance identity, chemical and physical properties, first aid treatment, and precautions for storage, use and safe handling.

SIRA - State Insurance Regulatory Authority NSW

The government organisation responsible for the regulatory functions for workers compensation insurance, motor accidents compulsory third party (CTP) insurance, and home building compensation.


The physical, mental and emotional reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/ or their resources (such as time, help/support) to do the work.


Instruction on how to do a job safely.


A person who acts on a voluntary basis, regardless of whether they receive out-of-pocket expenses.


Work health and safety.


An individual who carries out work as an employee, labour hire company worker, apprentice, trainee, outworker, person undertaking a work trial or work experience, or a volunteer.

Workers compensation policy

An insurance policy which provides an employer coverage in the event one or more of their workers suffer a work- related injury or illness.

Workplace bullying

Repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.


A place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking such as a factory, vehicle, aircraft or farm.

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