Two aspects to the primary duty of care:
– Duty on PCBU to ensure, so far as is reasonably
practicable, the health and safety of workers while
they are at work (s.19(1) WHS Act 2011); and
– Duty on PCBU to ensure, so far as is reasonably
practicable, that the health and safety of other
persons is not put at risk from work carried out as
part of the business or undertaking (s.19(2) WHS
s.19(1) WHS Act 2011
A person conducting a business or undertaking must
ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and
(a) workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the
(b) workers whose activities in carrying out work are
influenced or directed by the person.
while the workers are at work in the business or
Who is a worker?
(s.7 WHS Act 2011)
A person is a worker if the person carries out work in any
capacity for a PCBU, including work as—
(a) an employee; or
(b) a contractor or subcontractor; or
(c) an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; or
(d) an employee of a labour hire company who has been
assigned to work in the person’s business or undertaking; or
(e) an outworker; or
(f) an apprentice or trainee; or
(g) a student gaining work experience; or
(h) a volunteer.
When is a worker at work?
Bolton Met Borough Council v Malrod Insulation Ltd
– “the use of the words “at work” cannot on any common
sense basis mean that the duty…arises only when the men
are actually at work. Such a construction would lead to a
conclusion that the duty would come to life when the
employees reported to work in the morning, that it would
exist throughout the working day but that it would then fall
into limbo at the end of the day only to be revived next
morning. In this state of affairs, if a safety inspector were to
come onto a site after the end of the working day and find a
defect in the plant he would be powerless to institute
proceedings for breach of duty…”
s.19(2) WHS Act 2011 (the ‘public safety’
A person conducting a business or undertaking must
ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the
health and safety of other persons is not put at risk
from work carried out as part of the conduct of the
business or undertaking.
R v Board of Trustees of the Science Museum 
Court held that a museum had exposed visitors to a risk where
the air conditioning tower was shown to be a source of
legionnaire’s disease, even though it was not proven that that
anyone had actually contracted the disease.
R v Mara (1987)
Court held that a person (in this case a contractor) may be
injured ‘as a result of’ the undertaking of another outside
working hours if the premises are left in an unsafe state.
R v Associated Octel Pty Ltd 
A contractor was injured when cleaning a tank in a chemical factory while
the factory was closed for maintenance.
Court of Appeal & House of Lords (on appeal) – approved the decision in
Mara that ‘the conduct of the undertaking’ of the factory involved
essential cleaning and repairs as well as actual production, and as a result
the factory owners were found guilty under equivalent UK legislation.
Lord Hoffman: The employer must take reasonable practical steps to
avoid risks to the contractor’s servants which arise, not merely from the
physical state of the premises…but also from the inadequacy of the
arrangements which the employer makes with the contractors for how
they will do the work.
Additional duties are imposed on:
• PCBUs with management or control of workplaces,
fixtures, fittings or plant
(ss.20 & 21 WHS Act 2011)
• Upstream PCBUs:
• Designers (s.22 WHS Act 2011)
• Manufacturers (s.23 WHS Act 2011)
• Importers (s.24 WHS Act 2011)
• Suppliers (s.25 WHS Act 2011)
• Downstream PCBUs that install, construct or
commission plant or structures (s.26 WHS Act 2011)
What must a PCBU do
(s.19(3) WHS Act 2011)
Primary duty of
safe plant and
safe systems of
of workers and
storage – plant,
Safe work environment
Ensuring a safe working environment extends to
managing risks generated by the external
environment, such as robbery and violence.
– Security risk management is arguably implied in
the scope of the general safety duties. The
employer’s duty…would extend to ensuring that
employees are not exposed to security risks.
Cahill v NSW Department of Community Services 
– The NSW Department of Community Services was
successfully prosecuted in relation to an incident where a
violent client (whose propensity for violence was well
known to Department managers) attacked one of the staff.
Ensuring a safe working environment even
extends to places which are under the control of
Inspector Patton v Western Freight Management
A truck driver was crushed at a depot while unloading.
Held: the employer truck company should have taken steps to
see that the depot, even though operated by another company,
had safe working systems in place in relation to where drivers
stood when vehicles were reversing.
An employer must also take precautions to
prevent a worker suffering injury as a result of
the worker’s own negligence or inadvertence.
Holmes v R.E. Spence & Co Pty Ltd (1993)
R v Australian Char Pty Ltd 
Safe plant and structures
WHS Regulation 2011
Chapter 5: Plant & structures
– Breach of a regulation provides evidence of breach of the
primary duty of care
Department of Mineral Resources NSW v Blue Circle
Southern Cement Ltd (1995)
– An employee was killed when a bulldozer he was operating
rolled over. The dozer was not fitted with a roll bar as
required by regulations.
• WHS Plant Code of Practice
– Not applying a recommended control is evidence that the
duty holder has not implemented a ‘reasonably
practicable’ control measure and provides evidence (in the
absence of some other control) of breach of the primary
duty of care
Safe system of work
A safe system of work extends to ensuring safe
people movement at the workplace
Morrison v Hams 
Hams operated a small gypsum mine. One of the drivers who
came to load his truck brought his 2 year old son with him one
day. The boy was run over by another truck and killed.
Held: that Hams had no system for managing the whereabouts
of people on the site, and allowed visitors such as the boy to be
present when loading operations were in progress.
It is not enough to have a system in place, it must
Schultz v Tamworth City Council (1995)
The system involved a chain which pulled the hides of animals in an
abattoir, which wrapped around a drum, was pulled out when the
hides were to be removed, and then retracted quickly onto the
drum after each animal had been processed. The practice had
developed, and was known to management, of workers wrapping
the chain around their hands between animals rather than letting it
R v Commercial Industrial Construction Group 
“…the formal adoption of a satisfactory safety management
system will not have the beneficial effects intended unless it is
accompanied by the employer’s active implementation of the
system in the workplace…The obligation requires the employer
to ensure that procedures and instructions are actively and
positively complied with by employees. Not only must
employees be appropriately trained but there must be ongoing
supervision and compliance audits, to ensure that the system is
being applied in practice. Employee compliance with the safe
system of work must be constantly monitored by the employer.”
Information, training, instruction and
WorkCover NSW v NSW Police Service 
The NSW police service was successfully prosecuted in relation
to the shooting deaths of 2 constables. The police service had
failed to provide proper training to the officers in emergency
response techniques when dealing with someone confronting
them with a rifle.
South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club Ltd v Inspector
A club employee was put at risk during an armed hold up at the
club. In addition, to failing to provide a safe system of work, the
club was prosecuted fro failing to provide training to the
employee in dealing with the situation.
WorkCover v The Crown (1995)
No formal training or instruction was given to a driller’s assistant
who was killed while operating a drilling rig to install a device to
monitor the water table level.
Haynes v CI&D Manufacturing Pty Ltd (1995)
Unskilled workers were left to their own devices to carry out a
dangerous procedure on a week end.
(s.19(3)(g) WHS Act 2011
• Monitor the health of workers; and
• Monitor conditions at the workplace
- for the purpose of preventing illness or injury of workers
arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking
(s.19(4) WHS Act 2011)
• (a) a worker occupies accommodation that is owned by or
under the management or control of the person conducting
the business or undertaking and
• (b) the occupancy is necessary for the purposes of the
worker’s engagement because other accommodation is not
- the PCBU must, so far as is reasonably practicable, maintain
the premises so that the worker occupying the premises is not
exposed to risks to health and safety.
What is “reasonably practicable”?
Edwards v National Coal Board 
Asquith LJ: ‘Reasonably practicable is a narrower term than physically
and seems to me to imply that a computation must be made…in
which the quantum of risk is placed on one scale and the sacrifice
involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in
money, time or trouble) is placed in the other
and if it be shown that there is a gross disproportion between them
(ie: the risk is insignificant in relation to the sacrifice) the defendants
discharge the onus on them.’
Austin Rover Ltd v Inspector of Factories 
Goff LJ: …the risk of the accident has to be weighed against the
measures necessary to eliminate the risk, including the cost
involved. If, for example, the defendant establishes that the risk
is small, but that the measures necessary to eliminate it are
great, he may be held to be exonerated from taking steps to
eliminate the risk on the ground that it was not reasonably
practicable for him to do so…
[The effect of the previously decided cases] is to bring into play
WorkCover Authority (NSW) v Cleary Bros (2001)
Walton J: In my view, where there is a known risk which entails
the potential for serious injury to persons in the workplace, the
defendant will generally have to demonstrate that the costs,
difficulty or trouble occasioned by the measures significantly
outweigh the risk.
Slivak v Lurgi (Aust) Pty Ltd (2001)
Gaudron J: …three general propositions are to be discerned from
the decided cases:
- The phrase ‘reasonably practicable’ means something
narrower than “physically possible” or “feasible”;
- What is ‘reasonably practicable’ is to be judged on the basis
of what was known at the relevant time; and
- To determine what is reasonably practicable it is necessary to
balance the likelihood of the risk occurring against the cost,
time and trouble necessary to avert that risk.
Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd v R  HCA
High Court: The words ‘reasonably practicable’ indicate that the duty
does not require an employer to take every possible step that could
be taken. The steps that are to be taken in performance of the duty
are those that are reasonably practicable for the employer to take to
achieve the identified end of providing and maintaining a safe
Bare demonstration that a step could have been taken and that, if
taken, it might have had some effect on the safety of a working
environment does not, without more, demonstrate that an employer
has broken the duty…
s.18 WHS Act 2011 – What is reasonably
Do all that can reasonably be done taking into account:
• the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring;
• the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk
• what the duty holder knows, or ought reasonably to know
about the risk and ways of eliminating or minimising the risk;
• the availability and suitability of ways of eliminating or
minimising the risk;
Only after considering all the above points,
can the cost of eliminating or minimising the
risk be considered.
The duty holder ought reasonably to know
Chugg v Pacific Dunlop Ltd  VR 411
Kaye & Beach JJ: “…what is reasonably practicable is not to be
assessed subjectively according to the knowledge and
circumstances of the employer, but rather it is to be determined
objectively” applying knowledge acquired from all sources.
Ormiston J: “…the state of assessment of this aspect of
practicability requires an analysis of both the subjective
knowledge of the employer and the objectively determined
knowledge of the industry. Industry knowledge may be
ascertained by reference to sources like regulations, codes,
standards and articles in trade journals.”
Codes of practice
• Are evidence of what is known about a particular
hazard or risk, risk assessment or risk control.
• Can be relied on in determining what is reasonably practicable.
• Are admissible in a court as evidence of whether or not a duty
has been complied with.
• Do not impose mandatory legal obligations; persons may
comply in a manner that is different so long as it provides a
standard of health and safety that is equivalent to or higher
that the standard required in the code.
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