Contractors vs PCBUs: Who’s who?
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 there is no ‘employer’; instead there is the person conducting a business or undertaking, or PCBU. Don’t think of this as an individual person (even if it’s a sole trader) — rather, think of it as an organisation.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, a worker is someone who carries out work for a PCBU, such as a direct employee, a contractor or subcontractor, an employee of a contractor or sub-contractor, all the way down to an apprentice, work experience student or volunteer.
You can be both a PCBU and a worker if you are engaged to carry out work for another PCBU.
In this case, you’ll have the duties of both a PCBU and a worker; and you cannot delegate your duties away to the other PCBU.
Here’s an example to illustrate these relationships:
Spark Free Electrical is a small electrical business, working mostly in the residential sector. It employs five people. It is a PCBU and has work health and safety obligations for its five workers.
Spark Free sends one of its workers to Mrs Smith’s house to fix her bathroom light. In this situation, it is not being engaged by another PCBU; it is the sole and primary work health and safety duty holder.
Spark Free is engaged by Brickie Builder to wire a new house. In this situation, Spark Free is still a PCBU, but Spark Free’s workers are also workers engaged by Brickie Builders. This means that Spark Free and Brickie Builders have shared PCBU work health and safety obligations.
PCBUs using contractors
You may be contracting someone to perform a specialist task in your workplace, but that doesn’t mean you can contract out your safety obligations.
You must manage the safety of the contractors you engage (and their workers) the same way you manage the safety of your own workers. So you must:
- provide them with a safe working environment
- give them an induction before they start working for you, so they know your safety expectations and standards
- consult and communicate with them on safety issues, hazards and risks
- supervise them appropriately
- include them in your safety policies.
From the start
When you plan your project:
- scope out the contractor’s work tasks, any work health and safety issues associated with these tasks, and the level of supervision required
- consult with the contractor for the most effective planning
- identify the work health and safety hazards that need to be managed
- consider if the contractor’s tools, materials and equipment they bring onsite will create hazards
- consider if the activities they will be doing involve high risk work or hazardous materials.
Develop clear criteria for contract selection. Ask the company tendering for your contract for evidence/details of:
- their approach to work health and safety, especially in the planning stages
- a third-party certified work health and safety management system, if they have one
- safety records, safety incidents, and any improvement notices/prohibition notices or prosecutions issued by WorkSafe
- their workers’ safety qualifications, licences, certificates
- equipment maintenance records
- selection processes for plant and substances
- processes for worker inductions, training, consultation and communication
- processes for communicating with you, the employer contracting the work.
What’s included in the contract?
The contract between you and the contractor should include:
- work health and safety requirements: policies, safe work procedures, maintenance requirements, bringing tools and substances onsite
- work health and safety roles and responsibilities of you and the contractor
- actions on non-compliance with work health and safety requirements. You may want to include a provision for terminating the contract for breaches and removing them from your worksite
- processes for hazard/risk management
- reporting requirements: incidents/near misses, site inductions and training, consultation arrangements
- processes for work inspections, maintenance
- processes for communicating with one another
- the requirement for contractors to inform you when they are on site.
You may need to give high levels of supervision to your contractors and their workers at least for:
- the start of the contracted works
- new contractors to your worksite
- the introduction of new equipment, substances or systems of work
- high risk work
- complex work.
Work with your contractor
If you can, consider helping your contractors manage safety within their own organisation.
If you have established safety resources (such as sample policies, forms for doing job safety analysis or other pre-job checks) share them with your contractors, especially if they are a small business.
This helping hand ensures improved safety standards and outcomes for everyone.