What are your WHS duties in a 'contractual chain'?

Learn if you or your employees are part of a common arrangement in major industries

What are your WHS duties in a 'contractual chain'?

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has published updated fact sheets on work health and safety (WHS) duties, specifically those that cover an individual contractor, a self-employed person, and a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs).

In a media release, SWA said that an individual contractor or a self-employed person can be both a worker who is owed WHS duties. It also added that PCBUs may owe WHS duties to themselves and to other workers. Learn how employers and workers could navigate these obligations in the “contractual chain.”

What is a “contractual chain”?

A contractual chain happens where there is a shared project or work matter with multiple contractors and subcontractors. It can form in any industry but is a common way of conducting business across the economy, such as in industries engaged in building and construction, road transport and events management. 

The supply chain: WHS duties if there are multiple duty holders

In a media release, the SWA said that when there are multiple duty holders, model WHS laws require them to consult, cooperate and coordinate to ensure that WHS duties are met. 

In some instances, they must coordinate their activities and work cooperatively to reduce WHSrisks. For example, designers, manufacturers, importers, and suppliers must coordinate together.

“When people within a supply chain act cooperatively, they can exert greater influence on health and safety than when acting alone,” the SWA reminded employers, further noting that:

  • Implementing good work design into supply chains by eliminating hazards and risks gives the highest level of protection to workers, which can enhance business success and productivity for everyone. 
  • Working closely together across the supply chain to understand each other’s needs improves both the health and safety of workers and organisational performance.  

Labour hire: duties of persons conducting a business or undertaking

In a guide published by the SWA, it said that the primary duty of care under the model WHS Act is owed by a PCBU to a “worker,” which includes a labour hire worker.

All labour hire PCBUs and host PCBUs have a primary duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of labour hire workers engaged by, or caused to be engaged by them, or whose activities are influenced or directed by the PCBU.

The SWA admitted that “labour hire arragngmenet can be complex,”, especially in cases where there is more than one labour hire or host PCBU. “If more than one person has a duty for the same matter, each person must meet their duty to the extent to which they have the capacity to influence and control the matter,” the SWA said.

“A labour hire PCBU or host PCBU may exercise influence and control over a relevant matter through, for example, the terms of a contract or directing workers in a practical sense. However, duty holders cannot contract out of or transfer their WHS obligations to another person,” the SWA explained.

Regardless of the number of players involved, the SWA reminded employers that “all duty holders in a labour hire arrangement must consult, cooperate and coordinate with each other so far as is reasonably practicable.”

“Each duty holder should share information to find out who is doing what and work together in a cooperative and coordinated way to ensure compliance,” the SWA said.

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