What is the primary duty of care?

The primary duty of care means that a business has the primary responsibility for the health and safety of workers and others influenced by its work.

All businesses must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:

  • its workers
  • any other workers who are influenced or directed by the business.

A business must also look after other people who could be at risk by the work of the business, for example customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public.

If you are self-employed, then you must also ensure, so far as is reasonable, your own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others who could be put at risk by your work.

What does the primary duty of care look like in practice?

The primary duty of care is broad overarching duty which includes, but is not limited to, a business having effective practices in place for:

Providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risks to health and safety

PCBUs must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a work environment that is without health and safety risks. 

The work environment includes:

  • the physical work environment, including lighting, ventilation, dust, heat and noise
  • the psychological work environment, including overcrowding, deadlines, work arrangements (eg the effects of shift-work and overtime arrangements) and impairments that affect a person’s behaviour, such as work-related stress and fatigue, and drugs and alcohol.

The health and safety regulations that sit under HSWA cover duties to manage certain work risks. 

Providing and maintaining safe plant and structures

Your business must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide safe plant and structures, and maintain them in good condition. 

‘Plant’ includes:

  • machinery
  • vehicles
  • vessels
  • aircraft
  • equipment (including personal protective equipment)
  • appliances
  • containers
  • implements
  • tools
  • any component of one of these items or anything fitted or connected to one of these items.

‘Structure’ means anything that is constructed. It can be fixed, movable, temporary or permanent, and includes any component or part of a structure. The following are examples of structures:

  • buildings
  • masts
  • towers
  • frameworks
  • pipelines
  • quarries
  • bridges
  • underground works (including shafts and tunnels). 

Providing and maintaining safe systems of work

Your business must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain safe systems of work (eg work processes).

Developing a safe system of work is a formal procedure carried out by a person with sufficient knowledge and experience. It involves:

  • the systematic examination of a task to identify risks that may arise from carrying it out 
  • the identification of safe methods including control measures to eliminate or minimise the identified risks
  • the setting of methods to safely carry out the task.

The development of safe systems of work can involve looking at the physical layout of the workplace and its access and egress, tools, plant, procedures and people (eg instruction, information, training). For risky work, safe work methods can be formalised using a permit-to-work system. 

Systems of work should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated as appropriate. 

Ensuring the safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances

You business must, so far as is reasonably practicable, make sure that plant, structures, and substances are safely used, handled and stored. 

Providing adequate facilities for the welfare of workers when doing work for your business, including ensuring access to those facilities

Your business must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide adequate facilities (that are clean, safe, accessible, in good working order and maintained to stay that way) for the welfare of workers. 

Providing any information, training, instruction, or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from the work of your business 

Your business must, so far as is reasonably practicable, make sure your workers and others are provided training, information, instruction or supervision to protect them from risks to health and safety. 

The type of training, instruction or supervision required will depend on the nature of the work carried out and the experience of the workers, and the risk that workers and others, such as clients and customers, are exposed to. 

Monitoring the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace for the purpose of preventing injury or illness of workers when doing work for your business

Exposure to certain hazards can injure workers or make them ill. This can include exposure to: 

  • airborne contaminants such as dusts, fibres, fumes
  • chemicals that can make people ill after breathing in, getting on their skin, or eating or drinking them
  • biological hazards such as bacteria, viruses or fungi
  • physical hazards such as noise, vibrations, UV radiation, heat
  • ergonomic hazards such as repetitive motions, eye strain.

A PCBU must, so far as is reasonably practicable, monitor its workers’ health and the workplace conditions. Monitoring is not a control measure to manage risk and does not replace the need for control measures to reduce exposure. Results from monitoring should be used to improve control measures where needed. 

Workplace monitoring

Workplace monitoring can involve measuring a hazard (eg a substance, fumes, noise or vibrations arising from the work). The purpose of the monitoring is to assess the effectiveness of controls being used to minimise the risk of workers developing a work-related condition or getting injured on an ongoing basis. 

Health monitoring

Health monitoring involves specific and targeted testing of the health of workers to identify potential signs of potential harm to their health and any changes on an ongoing basis. As well as identifying the development of work-related conditions, the purpose of monitoring is to assess the effectiveness of control measures designed to minimise potential harm to worker health on an ongoing basis. 

Providing healthy and safe worker accommodation

In some situations, your business may provide your workers with accommodation that your business owns, or managers, or controls.

If this is the case, then you are responsible for ensuring that the accommodation is fit for purpose and does not expose the worker to any health and safety risks.

Reasonably practicable (PDF 44 KB)