Directors have a legal duty to implement and monitor systems to ensure safe working conditions in their workplaces as far as reasonably practical.

In nearly all Australian jurisdictions, there is a positive obligation on directors to exercise due diligence in relation to work health and safety (WHS). Directors can be personally liable for breaches of this duty and the penalties extend to possible imprisonment and very substantial fines. Good governance practice ensures that every board meeting has WHS as a topic on the agenda.

What laws regulate work health and safety?

Each state and territory has its own work health and safety laws. Directors ought to check the rules in their organisation’s jurisdiction. In an attempt to harmonise work health and safety Australia-wide the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council endorsed the introduction of national harmonised work health and safety laws based on a model Work Health and Safety Act (the Model Act) in 2009.

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