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WHS Act 2020 key terms and definitions

Do you know the updated terms?

4 minute read
Woman's Finger E Signing A Document On An Iphone

Brought into effect on March 31, 2022, the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2020 sees a tightening of occupational health and safety laws in Western Australia.

The WHS Act provides a framework to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in WA workplaces, as well as other people who might be affected by the work.

According to Edith Cowan University (ECU) School of Medical and Health Sciences Occupational Health and Safety Senior Lecturer Marcus Cattani, although this type of law has been in place for more than 30 years, some of the terms have changed to ensure that as many people as possible are protected by them.

“Over the last 30 or so years, there have been many changes to our workplaces, the type of work we do, our roles and job titles,” he said.

“These new terms update the legislation to address some of the gaps which have arisen.”

Important terms in the WHS Act

1. Person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU)

A person conducting a business or undertaking alone or with others, whether or not for profit or gain.

A PCBU can be a sole trader – for example, a self-employed person, each partner within a partnership, company, unincorporated association or government department of a public corporation, including a municipal council. 

“For most people, this is their employer but, importantly, it is also the organisation that has asked them to do some work, even if they are not being paid,” Dr Cattani said.

2. Officer

An officer is a person who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the organisation’s activities.

“In most organisations, this is the most senior manager(s), and often owner of the business,” Dr Cattani said. 

3. Worker

Any person who carries out work for a PCBU.

This includes work as an employee, a contractor, a subcontractor, a self-employed person, an outworker, an apprentice or trainee, a work experience student, an employee of a labour hire company placed with a host employer and volunteers.

4. Volunteer

A person who acts on a voluntary basis regardless of whether they receive out-of-pocket expenses.

5. Reasonably practicable

What could reasonably be done at a particular time to ensure health and safety measures are in place.

6. Duty holder

Any person who holds a work health and safety duty under the WHS Act, including a PCBU, a designer, a manufacturer, an importer, a supplier, an installer of products or plant used at work (upstream duty holders), an officer and workers.

7. Health and safety committee

A group established under the WHS Act that facilitates cooperation between a PCBU and workers to provide a safe place of work.

The committee must have at least 50 per cent of members who have not been nominated by the PCBU – that is, workers or health and safety representatives.

“The health and safety committee should be a partnership with the leadership team and the workers,” Dr Cattani said.

“There is always lots to do to develop a safe workplace and a good way to discuss and work out how to do it is a health and safety committee.”

8. Health and safety representative (HSR)

“The HSR is a person who has been asked by their peers to take the ideas, comments and issues about health and safety to the leadership team and, if necessary, the health and safety committee,” Dr Cattani said.

9. Enforceable undertakings

“Before going to court, two parties – the PCBU and the government – can have a meeting to discuss an enforceable undertaking for certain types of non-compliance,” Dr Cattani said.

“Instead of the cost, reputational issues and a penalty, the two parties can agree that the PCBU will do something towards ensuring the non-compliance doesn’t happen again.”

10. Industrial manslaughter  

Industrial manslaughter occurs when a person dies at work due to negligence by an employer.

“The PCBU has to have known that something could cause a fatality or serious injury, has to have known about the ways to prevent it and not done enough to prevent it, and then a fatality or serious injury occurred,” Dr Cattani said. 

This article is part of AIM WA’s Work Health and Safety Act series, where we discuss the ins and outs of the new Act and provide guidance to support your company in adhering to the latest rules and regulations.

Other articles in the series include:
Changing the face of health and safety in Western Australia
What is a 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU)?
How to prepare for the WHS Act 2020
Mental health and the WHS Act 2020

Where to from here?

Take a look at AIM WA's Health and Safety Representatives Training Course and discover the essential skills and knowledge to fulfil the requirements of the WHS Act.