Employees - your rights and responsibilities
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In Western Australia, the law requires your employer to provide a high standard of safety and health at the workplace and ensure that you are not injured or harmed because of your work.
Your employer has a responsibility to provide and maintain, as far as practicable, a safe working environment, under section 19(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. This is called the employer's 'duty of care' and it applies regardless of the terms or type of your employment and includes casual workers.
The employer's 'duty of care' includes protecting you from both physical hazards (for example, slippery floors, heavy loads, unguarded machinery and hazardous substances) and 'psychosocial' workplace hazards (for example, workplace bullying, violence and aggression).
The employer's 'duty of care' means that your employer must, as far as practicable:
- provide and maintain workplaces, plant and systems of work so that you and other workers are not exposed to hazards;
- provide information about the hazards and risks from your job;
- provide you with instruction, training (including an induction) and supervision so you are able to work safely;
- consult and co-operate with safety and health representatives (if any) and employees about safety and health;
- where it is not practicable to avoid the presence of hazards, provide adequate personal protective clothing and equipment without any cost to you; and
- ensure your safety and health in relation to plant and hazardous substances at the workplace so you are not exposed to hazards.
To meet their 'duty of care', the employer must take into account any individual needs an employee may have to ensure they are able to work safely.
Your employer also has a responsibility to inform you about:
- how to resolve any complaints or concerns about safety and health at work;
- what to do in an emergency;
- what to do if you are injured; and
- your rights to workers' compensation if you are injured.
You also have the right to:
- be represented by a safety and health representative (Sections 29-32 of the OSH Act) and/or have a safety and health committee (Sections 36-41 of the OSH Act) – you can request your employer holds an election for safety and health representatives and/or sets up a safety and health committee;
- be notified about the outcome of investigations into hazards or injuries that you have reported (Section 23K of the OSH Act); and
- refuse to work where you have reasonable grounds to believe there is a risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to health – before considering this, it is advised that you refer to the requirements that must be met.
You also have a duty of care responsibility in relation to safety and health at the work. This includes working safely and not affecting the safety and health of others.
Casual and labour hire workers
Casual and labour hire workers have a right to a safe workplace and the same safety and health standards as for other workers.
If you are a casual or labour hire worker, you must be provided with safety and health training, instruction and information so you can work safely, not matter how short a time you will be at the workplace.
The law in Western Australia requires the employer to take into account the individual needs of employees to ensure they are able to work safely. This means the employer must consider the appropriate format for your safety and health training, instruction and information so you are best able to understand them.
For example, for workers from a migrant or non-English speaking background, the information, instruction and training may need to be provided in other languages so workers can fully understand what is required.
Part of the employer's 'duty of care' includes providing employees with instruction, training and supervision so you are able to work safely. This must include a general and job specific induction.
Personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE)
Where it is not practicable to avoid the presence of hazards, your employer has a duty to provide adequate personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) without any cost to you. This applies whether you are an employee at the workplace or a labour hire employee.
Examples of PPE are:
- safety boots;
- dust masks; and
- safety glasses.
If you require PPE different to what is being provided by your employer, for example prescription safety glasses instead of over glasses or brand name safety boots, consult your employer about who will pay the difference in cost.
Where your employer has provided you with PPE, they must inform you on:
- when it is to be used;
- how it is to be used; and
- how to maintain it.
Where your employer has directed you to use PPE, you must:
- use the PPE according to the employer's instructions – ask for assistance if you do not understand;
- not misuse or damage the PPE; and
- when you notice the PPE is damaged, not working or dirty, report this to the appropriate person at the workplace.
PPE is often used in conjunction with other control measures, and should not be the only way of controlling a hazard. Ask your employer if you are not clear about all the controls in place to eliminate or minimise a hazard.
Employees – your responsibilities
As an employee, you have a 'duty of care' responsibility for safety and health at the workplace. Under Section 20 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, your 'duty of care' means that you must:
- work safely to ensure your own safety and health;
- make sure your actions do not cause injury or harm to others;
- follow your employer's instructions on safety and health – ask for assistance if you do not understand the information;
- take care of any protective clothing and equipment (PPE) in the way you have been instructed and report any concerns about it;
- report any hazards, injuries or ill health to your supervisor or employer; and
- cooperate with your employer when they require something to be done for safety and health at the workplace.
The employee's 'duty of care' responsibility also applies to contractors, labour hire workers, apprentices and workers in other labour arrangements.
Where you wish to take a more proactive role in ensuring safety and health at the workplace, there are different options for participating at the workplace.
Concerns about workplace safety and health
A wide range of issues can be safety and health concerns that need to be addressed, such as slippery floors, lifting heavy loads, faulty or unguarded machinery and equipment, chemicals and workplace bullying or violence.
If you are concerned about your own or your co-workers' safety and health:
- talk to your supervisor, employer and/or safety and health representative (if there is one) – do this straight away before a small problem gets more serious and causes an injury or harm;
- talk to one of your more experienced co-workers;
- raise your concerns with your safety and health committee or safety and health manager if you have them;
- try to resolve the issue through your workplace's issue resolution procedure;
- where attempts to resolve a safety and health issue at work have not succeeded and there is a risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to health, you can contact WorkSafe and request an inspector attend the workplace;
- where attempts to resolve a safety and health issue at work have not succeeded and there is no risk of imminent and serious injury, you can contact WorkSafe for advice. If you wish an inspector to attend the workplace, your request will be considered – you can request that WorkSafe does not release your name to your employer; and
- refuse to work where you have reasonable grounds to believe there is a risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to health – before considering this, it is advised that you refer to the requirements that must be met;
- if you work through a group training organisation or labour hire agency, report your concerns to them, as well; and/or
- if you are a work experience or structured workplace learning student, speak to your teacher or trainer about your concerns.
Participating in safety and health at the workplace
Employees are often best placed to know about safety and health because they know how the work is actually done and may have seen near misses and incidents in the past.
You can participate in safety and health at the workplace by:
- talking directly with your employer, supervisor and co-workers about any concerns you may have;
- notifying the supervisor or employer of any hazards or injuries, or potential hazards or injuries;
- participating in training on any procedures that you are unfamiliar with;
- asking questions about any matters you do not understand;
- where required, requesting information and training be provided in an appropriate format to suit your needs, for example through the use of an interpreter or translator;
- where there are safety and health representatives or a safety and health committee, raising issues with them and/or nominating to become a safety and health representative or a committee member; and
- where you don't have safety and health representatives, you can request your employer hold an election for them.
Refusal to work
Under section 26 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, employees may refuse to undertake some work where they have 'reasonable grounds' to believe there is a risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to health.
However, the employee must have reasonable grounds for believing the work is unsafe ie there must be the real probability of an accident, injury or harm occurring.
There are certain factors that should be taken into account when considering whether or not there are reasonable grounds to believe that continuing to work would result in exposure to the risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to health. These factors include whether a WorkSafe inspector has attended the workplace because an issue could not be resolved and what measures, if any, they required be taken to remove the risk.
Before you refuse to work, you must take the following steps:
- notify the employer and safety and health representative (if there is one); and
- attempt to resolve the issue according to the workplace's relevant (issue resolution) procedure.
The decision to refuse to work should be made with care – it is recommended that you read the information listed below. These also outline the requirements in relation to assignment of alternative work and payment of entitlements.
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