WHS – what it means for
elected members

Risk Matters - Summer 2022 / 23

New terms and definitions, and updated responsibilities are just a few of the areas that councillors need to be aware of following the introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act (WA) 2020 WHS).

The ultimate goal of work, health and safety legislation is to make sure that everyone is provided with a safe work environment. It recognises the role that employers, businesses and leaders have in making sure that people ‘get home safe’ after a day’s work. The legislation also recognises an individual’s personal responsibility for their own safety.

Key changes

The legislation introduces a range of key changes that leaders should be aware of, these include:

Person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU)

PCBU replaces the term ‘employer’ and is used to capture a broader range of employing entities. A local government organisation is considered a PCBU.

Term – Officer

An officer is a person who makes, or has participated in making, decisions that affect the whole or a substantial part of the business or undertaking.

In a local government context this includes the chief executive officer and directors, but may also include others if the above is met.

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What does it mean for local government?

Local governments are PCBUs and have a responsibility to, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health of workers while at work. This includes their physical and psychological health.

The new legislation explicitly addresses the issue of psychological health – so local governments must make sure all risk assessments consider both physical and psychosocial hazards.

In short the legislation demonstrates that safety is everyone’s responsibility – councillors, leaders and workers – everyone has a part to play.

WHS and elected members

The Act excludes local government councillors under the definition of an ‘officer’. It does, however, recognise the important role elected members have in supporting ‘officers’ of a PCBU – that is, supporting CEO’s and directors in complying with work, health and safety responsibilities.

Councillors have an obligation under the WHS Act as an ‘other’. Section 29 of the Act refers to ‘Duties of other persons at the workplace’ and outlines the following obligations:

  • Take reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • Take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons
  • Comply, so far as reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by the local government (as the PCBU) to ensure the local government complies with its duty under the Act.

In practice this means that when fulfilling their duties as a councillor, elected members must be mindful of the above obligations. This includes when interacting with local government officers and workers, participating in discussions and decisions for the local government.


Everyone should be motivated and committed to maintaining a safe workplace and looking after each other. Unfortunately, sometimes, this isn’t always the case and the legislation includes large penalties for individuals who don’t meet their work, health and safety responsibilities.

  • Individuals could be fined between $120,000 and $680,000 and up to 20 years of imprisonment.
  • Penalties apply when a relevant provision is contravened in circumstance of gross negligence.
  • Industrial manslaughter has been redefined in the revised Act. 
  • Manslaughter requires the prosecution to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that a person knew their conduct was likely to cause the death of, or serious harm to, an individual and in disregard of that likelihood. 

More information

The LGIS People Risk team have developed a range of resources to support members in meeting their work, health and safety responsibilities. We can also deliver information sessions to council and provide advice.

If you have any questions, please contact the LGIS People Risk Team.

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