Health and Safety at Work Act

If you're a small business, what do you need to do to ensure you're covered under the new legislation? The Health and Safety Act came into effect in April 2016.

The good news is that if were already doing the right thing under the old law then it's unlikely that you need to make major changes. On the other hand, if you've been neglecting health and safety entirely, then the new Act presents a very good opportunity to review your health and safety practices, your culture and how you manage risk. 

Firstly, let's take a look at some of the key changes and terms under the new Act. 

  1. PCBU - (person conducting a business or undertaking) is a key new term - the PCBU has the 'primary duty of care' to ensure the safety of workers and anyone affected by its work.
  2. Worker participation - a stronger emphasis on worker participation and engagement to ensure that workers are engaged with health and safety.
  3. Risk management - shifts the focus from monitoring and recording incidents to proactively identifying and managing risks.
  4. Safety is everyone's responsibility - no one can 'opt out' and safety becomes everyone's responsibility. All parties from executives to workers have health and safety responsibilities.
  5. Due diligence for directors - the act places more legal responsibility on directors and executives of an organisation to manage risks and keep people safe.
  6. Reasonably practicable - this term is used throughout the Act to talk about the duties people have for health and safety. It means that you don't have to do absolutely everything to get rid of risk, but you do need to do what's reasonable and prudent in the circumstances. What is reasonably practicable will be a judgement call that you make as a PCBU, it will involve weighing the risk against the resources and knowledge needed to manage it. This will also include risk assessment.
  7. Stronger fines and penalties for non-compliance - the Act significantly increases the category of offences, with a three-tiered hierarchy being introduced along with a range of other offending provisions.

Along with the key term of 'PCBU' the Act also clearly sets out the different roles and responsibilities. The four key roles are; PCBU (e.g. the business entity), Officers (e.g. a chief executive or director), Workers (e.g. employees) and Visitors (e.g. customers). Site Safe has produced a free guide with more information on the four roles and the different responsibilities under the new act which is available at Under the new act everyone from directors to workers will have some form of responsibility for health and safety and we recommend that you gain an understanding of what these responsibilities are. 

Advice For SMEs

If you're already compliant under the current law then the new act will require a review of your current health and safety systems. You may need to change some of the terminology you use and make changes to the way some safety activities are conducted, including how risk is managed. If you don't have a current health and safety system then now is the right time to take steps to ensure that your people can go home safe at the end of every workday. As a minimum we recommend that you have the following systems in place for your business: 

  1. Plans and procedures
  2. Worker engagement 
  3. Risk management 
  4. Training and induction 
  5. Accidents and emergencies 

There are a number of free templates and resources available on the Site Safe website to help you make a start on building a basic health and safety system based on the steps described above. If you require more hands on assistance then you may want to consider a health and safety consultant or undertaking some training.

Advice For Larger Corporates

For companies that have directors and boards there is a bit more involved. Apart from the above there is also the new requirement of 'due diligence' for officers in regard to health and safety. Most organisations of this size will have their own internal health and safety person who will be capable of developing the appropriate systems to meet this new requirement. If your organisation is of this size and you don't have a health and safety person then you can look at getting in a safety consultant to get you started. The Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum has also produced an excellent free guide for those at director or chief executive level called 'due diligence and beyond'. This is available free from

We've put together a free six part video series to help you understand the new Health & Safety at Work Act.

Part 1 of 6 - Introduction and key changes

Part 2 of 6 - PCBUs and Officers

Part 3 of 6 - Worker obligations

Part 4 of 6 - Plans, procedures and worker engagement

Part 5 of 6 - Risk management and hierarchy of control

Part 6 of 6 - Training, accidents, emergencies and starting from scratch

If you still have questions or want to get in touch, please check out the Health and Safety at Work Act page.


For more information on your responsibilities and what you can do to prepare under the new HSW Act, please download our guide here.

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