An officer under the Work Health and Safety Act expands on the definition of an ‘officer’ per section 9 of the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 (the Corporations Act). Broadly, an officer is a person or persons who make decisions that affect at least a substantial part of the organisation’s activities with the capacity to affect its financial standing. An officer does not necessarily need to be responsible for or directly involved with managing day-to-day operations. If the said organisation is not a corporation but a partnership, then each partner within such partnership is not considered as an officer but a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).
If you are 1) an owner or operator of a small business, 2) make decisions that significantly impact the business, or 3) can influence the business’ financial prospect, then you are likely an officer and would need to comply with the duties.
An officer is generally expected to perform due diligence to ensure that the PCBU is protecting the workers and other persons against hazard and placing appropriate safety measures and systems in the workplace. In order to do so, he/she/they should maintain up-to-date WHS knowledge, procure proper resources to minimise WHS risks, and incorporate a reporting process for any health and safety concerns/incidents.
While a volunteer (such as a Board member for instance) can be an officer with a duty to exercise due diligence, he/she/they cannot be prosecuted for failure to carry out the duty or comply as non-volunteer officers can be. However, a volunteer officer can still be prosecuted for failing to perform duties as a ‘worker.’
The due diligence expected from an officer includes steps such as:
- Maintaining up-to-date WHS knowledge,
- Obtaining an understanding of the nature of the PCBU’s operations and relevant safety hazards or risks associated with such operations, and
Checking that the PCBU has the resources, processes, training, equipment/systems, and controls in place to minimise or prevent health and safety risks