Invest in Safety and Save This EOFY - Maximise your tax deductions with our range of HSEQ documents, tailored to your Industry. Shop our Industry Packages now and save.

PCBU: Safeguarding Workplaces Through Responsible Leadership

PCBU: Safeguarding Workplaces Through Responsible Leadership

Oct 16th 2023

PCBU: Safeguarding Workplaces Through Responsible Leadership

In Australia, the concept of "PCBU," or "Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking," has emerged as a significant framework for safeguarding workplaces and promoting a safety culture. PCBUs are responsible for identifying, assessing, and controlling health and safety risks. They must partner with their workers to meet health and safety standards.

In this blog, we delve into the essence of a PCBU and how responsible leadership intertwines to create a safer and more prosperous work environment.

What is a PCBU?

A person conducting a business undertaking is a broad term used in Australia's work health and safety legislation to describe all modern working arrangements. A PCBU can encompass various entities, including companies, unincorporated bodies or associations, sole traders, or self-employed individuals. It can also include government departments and authorities, associations with employees, local government councils, independent schools, cooperatives, and universities.

Types of PCBUs can include:

  • Employers
  • Clients
  • Labour Hire Company
  • Principal contractors and subcontractors
  • Designers of plants and structures
  • Manufacturers of plants and substances used in workplaces
  • Suppliers of plants and substances used in workplaces
  • Self-employed person, such as an independent contractor
  • People who manage and control workplaces, such as premises owners, facility managers, and managing directors
  • People who influence workplace operations, such as construction project managers.


Work Health and Safety (WHS), or Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), is a multidisciplinary field concerned with workers' safety, health, and welfare. It involves creating organised efforts and procedures to identify, assess, and control workplace risks and ensure the workforce's well-being.

WHS encompasses a comprehensive approach that includes:

  1. Risk Management: Identifying potential hazards in the workplace and taking appropriate measures to reduce these risks.
  2. Health and Safety Policies: Developing and implementing health and safety policies to guide the organisation's management of workplace risks.
  3. Training and Education: Providing workers with the necessary training to perform their jobs safely.
  4. Emergency Preparedness: Planning for emergencies to ensure that workers can respond when they occur.

The concept of PCBU is central to the WHS legal framework because it designates who has the primary duty of care for ensuring the health and safety of workers and others in the workplace.

According to the WHS Act, a PCBU is responsible for taking all reasonable care to ensure the well-being and safety of workers and other individuals. A PCBU is critical in defining and implementing WHS measures. It is a crucial link between the legislation and its practical workplace application.

What is Reasonably Practicable?

Reasonably practicable means something practical or feasible given a business's state of knowledge and available resources. It considers the probability of harm, the extent of potential damage, and the availability and suitability of methods to mitigate or minimise the risk.

For example, it may not be reasonably practicable for a business to perform specific tasks if they require considerable resources and costs or if the risks can't be identified and managed.

Importance of Managing WHS Risks

Managing Work Health and Safety (WHS) risks is paramount in any country. A PCBU's primary duty of care is to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of workers and other persons are not put at risk through work activities.

Upholding this responsibility requires active commitment from all stakeholders – especially PCBU's leadership team – who set an example for others. Here are some reasons why it's crucial:

Health and Safety

The primary reason for managing WHS risks is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. When WHS risks are appropriately managed, workers are less likely to experience accidents or health issues resulting from their work.

Legal Compliance

Businesses and undertakings in Australia bear a legal responsibility to safeguard workplace health as reasonably mandated by the law. Failure to manage WHS risks can result in significant penalties, including hefty fines and imprisonment.

Financial Implications

Workplace injuries and illnesses can lead to substantial costs, including compensation claims, increased insurance premiums, and lost productivity. By managing WHS risks, businesses can avoid these financial burdens.


A good safety record can enhance a business's reputation with clients, customers, and potential employees. A poor safety record can harm a company's reputation and hinder its ability to attract and keep the best employees.


A safe and healthy workplace leads to happier, more productive employees. It can reduce absenteeism and turnover while increasing efficiency and quality of work.

Moral Responsibility

Beyond legal and financial considerations, businesses have a moral duty to ensure their workers can perform their safety duties without risking their own health and safety.

Team leaders of all genders discussing the health and safety concerns of their workers

Legal Obligations of a PCBU

As per the WHS legislation in Australia, a PCBU has legal obligations to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by the work. Some of the legal obligations of a PCBU are:

  • Primary duty of care: A PCBU is primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of workers and others affected by the work. This includes providing and maintaining a safe work environment, providing adequate resources and facilities, and ensuring that work is carried out safely.
  • Licences, registrations, and authorisations: A PCBU must ensure that any licences, registrations, and approvals required for high-risk work or plant are in place
  • Consultation and cooperation: A PCBU must consult with workers and their health and safety representative on matters related to WHS and cooperate with other PCBUs who share the same workplace or work activities.
  • Information, training, and supervision: A PCBU must provide workers with information, training, and leadership to enable them to work safely and without risks to their health
  • Control of risks: A PCBU must identify and assess risks in the workplace and take steps to eliminate or minimise those risks
  • Upstream duties: Certain PCBUs who control workplaces or are 'upstream' duty holders, such as designers, manufacturers, and importers, have additional responsibilities under the WHS Act.

Penalties for Non-compliance

Non-compliance with WHS obligations can belead to serious offences in Australia and can be punished with hefty fines or imprisonment for major infractions. The penalties for non-compliance with WHS legislation in Australia can vary depending on the severity of the offence and the jurisdiction. Here are some of the penalties that can be imposed in Queensland as an example :

Category 1 - Reckless Conduct

This happens when a duty holder, without a valid reason, engages in behaviour that puts an individual to whom a duty is owed at risk of serious injury, illness, or death. The penalty for such a breach can include fines of up to $600,000 for an individual and up to $3 million for a corporate body. A term of imprisonment of up to 5 years could also apply.

Category 2 - Failure to comply with a WHS duty or electrical safety duty

This offence occurs when a duty or electrical safety duty is violated, exposing an individual to risks. Penalties can include fines up to $300,000 for a PCBU and up to $1.5 million for a corporate body.

Category 3 - Failure to comply with WHS duty or electrical safety duty

This offence involves a failure to comply with a health and safety duty or electrical safety duty, but where no one is exposed to risk. Penalties can include fines up to $100,000 for a PCBU and up to $500,000 for a body corporate.

Industrial Manslaughter under Queensland Legislation

The highest penalty under Queensland legislation is for industrial manslaughter, where a PCBU or a senior officer negligently causes the death of a worker. The penalties can include fines and imprisonment.

Male boss pointing to board showing the risks to all factory workers

Safety Responsibilities

Let's dive deeper into what it takes for a PCBU to meet its legal obligations and safeguard workplaces from WHS risks.

Risk Assessment and Management

A PCBU is responsible for ensuring that their workplace is safe for all workers. This includes conducting regular risk assessments and implementing control measures to mitigate identified risks.

1. Identifying Hazards

The initial stage of risk assessment involves the identification of potential workplace hazards. These hazards encompass diverse elements, from physical risks like machinery, chemicals, and manual handling tasks to psychosocial stressors, including high workloads, job insecurity, and workplace bullying.

Hazard identification should be a proactive and ongoing process involving management and workers in a collaborative way. It can be done through various methods such as workplace inspections, reviewing accident and incident records, consulting with employees, and hazard reporting systems.

2. Risk Evaluation

After identifying potential hazards, the subsequent step involves evaluating the severity and likelihood of these risks. This crucial assessment allows for a comprehensive understanding of the potential challenges. Risk evaluation involves considering factors like the number of people exposed to the risk, the potential severity of harm, the frequency and duration of exposure, and the effectiveness of existing control measures. It should be documented and reviewed regularly, especially when there are workplace changes, such as new equipment or procedures.

3. Control Measures

After the risks have been evaluated, appropriate control measures should be developed to mitigate these risks. Control measures can fall into three categories:

  1. Engineering Controls: These involve modifying physical aspects of the workplace to reduce exposure to hazards.
  2. Administrative Controls: These include changing work practices or procedures to reduce risk.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE protects workers from specific hazards and should be considered when other control measures are insufficient.

Strategies for Preventing Harm Infographic | SafetyDocs

Strategies for Preventing Harm

The PCBU must also develop strategies to prevent harm, including:

  1. Training and Education: Comprehensive training ensures employees understand Work Health and Safety (WHS) policies, procedures, and emergency protocols. This includes training on hazard identification, risk assessment, and the correct use of safety equipment.
  2. Implementing Safety Protocols: This includes ensuring workers wear appropriate PPE, follow proper procedures, and use equipment correctly.
  3. Ergonomics: Ergonomic design can significantly minimise physical strain and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. This involves designing tasks, workspaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting, and equipment to fit the employee's physical capabilities and limitations.
  4. Workplace Design: A well-designed workspace promotes safety and efficiency. This includes ensuring proper lighting to prevent eye strain and accidents, maintaining clear evacuation routes, and organising workspaces to minimise clutter and potential hazards.
  5. Monitoring and Review: Regularly review WHS policies and procedures to ensure they remain effective. They must also monitor the workplace for any new or changing hazards, such as changes in technology or processes, environmental conditions, or increased workloads.

Leadership and Commitment

A strong safety culture is vital in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace and leadership plays a crucial role in fostering this culture.

  1. Leadership Commitment: Leadership is instrumental in setting the tone for organisational safety. Leaders can demonstrate their commitment to WHS by leading by example - adhering to safety protocols, wearing appropriate PPE, and actively participating in safety training. They should also regularly communicate about safety, include safety performance in management assessments and reviews, and ensure sufficient resources for safety measures.
  2. Employee Involvement: Employee participation is another essential element in creating a safety culture. When employees proactively identify and effectively address potential risks, it cultivates a profound sense of ownership and a heightened level of responsibility towards upholding safety. This can be achieved through safety committees, hazard reporting systems, and involving employees in safety planning and decision-making.
  3. Reporting Mechanisms: Employees should feel comfortable reporting safety concerns without fear of reprisal. PCBUs must ensure that employees are aware of the reporting procedures and provide a safe and confidential environment for reporting.

Regular Review and Improvement

PCBUs should continually review their safety measures and procedures to protect workers effectively from WHS risks.

  1. Continuous Improvement: Safety protocols should be regularly reviewed and amended to reflect technological changes, workplace processes, or the environment.
  2. Safety Audits: Regular safety audits can identify potential hazards and gaps in existing control measures. It is critical for PCBUs to ensure that any deficiencies are addressed quickly and adequately.
  3. Incident Analysis: Incident analysis can help identify trends and underlying causes that may indicate systemic issues.

Fulfil Your WHS Duties Easily With SafetyDocs

SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture is the perfect solution for PCBUs looking to streamline and simplify their WHS compliance. We provide a range of ready-to-use safety document templates, such as risk assessments, incident reports, SWMS, SOPs, checklists, forms, and registers.

Managing safety is easy when you have the right tools and resources. With SafetyDocs, you can ensure your WHS measures are up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive - giving you peace of mind that your workplace is safe for everyone.

Take the hassle out of WHS compliance and start with the following document templates:

Explore our document library today and take control of safety in your workplace! 

Our team of experts is dedicated to providing accurate and informative content. Craig Cruickshank, our senior HSEQ advisor at SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture has reviewed this blog post to ensure the highest level of quality.

Learn more about Craig's work on LinkedIn for more industry insights.

Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

Share This Article