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UpdatesJan 11, 2012

Do you know what your health and safety duties as a director are?

Under the new WHS Act, directors of companies have increased duties they are expected to comply with.

These new duties place a higher level of responsibility on directors to be involved in the health and safety systems that are implemented within their company. This involves specific governance requirements around the management of the company, and requires health and safety systems to be reported accurately up the chain of command.

By Joanna Weekes

Under the new WHS Act, directors of companies have increased duties they are expected to comply with.

These new duties place a higher level of responsibility on directors to be involved in the health and safety systems that are implemented within their company. This involves specific governance requirements around the management of the company, and requires health and safety systems to be reported accurately up the chain of command.

4 health and safety duties of directors

  1. To understand exactly what the business does.
  1. To understand the major hazards caused by what the business does and how those hazards create risk to health and safety.
  1. To be aware of the level of risk associated with each hazard, and understand what the levels of risk mean in terms of the directors’ obligation to respond.
  1. To understand the varying levels of controls that prevent each hazard from posing a risk to health and safety (using the hierarchy of control).

The directors of a company are the policy and strategy developers – the senior managers must follow the direction set by directors. This is why it is important for directors to be informed about health and safety issues in their company, it is their job to set standards from the top.

It is no longer feasible for company directors to employ a health and safety officer and rely on them to take care of all things health and safety related. Directors must have higher involvement as they now have higher responsibility.

Be aware – directors should take note of these new duties even if the WHS Act has not taken effect in their jurisdiction…

While these duties are part and parcel with the new WHS Act, it doesn’t mean that companies in States and Territories that have not implemented the new Act should not take heed.

All States and Territories will eventually be implementing the WHS Act and it is recommended for those who have more time to prepare, to learn as much as possible about how to comply before the WHS Act is implemented.

Also, the standards expected from directors in the WHS Act is higher than in existing legislation, meaning that if directors undertook these new duties now, they would still be covering their general duties under existing OHS legislation.

What’s next?

Later this week I will be discussing how directors can approach their new duties and what they can do to comply with them.

And next week we will discuss the hierarchy of control and how directors should be using it to create policies and develop health and safety strategies in their business.

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