Health & safety obligations for PCBUs

24 Oct 2019

If you are a person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU) and are responsible for a contracting chain and/or share a workplace with other businesses, you have duties to meet under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).

As a PCBU, health and safety remains your responsibility – it cannot be contracted out. Health and safety should be built into your contract management and it is your duty to ensure any sub-contractors or workers under your responsibility are briefed and aware of their health and safety obligations.

Often there will be other PCBUs on site. Under the HSWA you must consult, coordinate and cooperate when you are working in a shared workplace environment or are part of the same contracting chain so far as is reasonably practicable. And where duties may be shared, you collectively have a responsibility to meet the duties. This may require some discussion and agreement of a plan to ensure everyone’s duties are met and are not adversely impacted by the actions of other groups.

What does ‘reasonably practicable’ mean?

It means asking two questions:

  1. What is possible to do in my personal circumstances to ensure health and safety?
  2. Of these actions, what is reasonable to do in my personal circumstances?

Under the HSWA, you are expected to identify how risks can be eliminated or minimised as far as is reasonably practicable. There are some points to consider:

  • The greater the potential for harm, the greater the level of action you are required to take
  • The situation will dictate the control measures you put in place, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – it depends on the type of work and work environment
  • Cost can only be used as a reason not to use control measures if it is grossly disproportionate to the risk

What is expected of whom?

There are different levels of hierarchy in a contracting chain or shared workplace situation. Typically, there will be a lead PCBU, a lead contractor, contractors, sub-contractors and their workers.


Likely the owner of the site. This person must be a health and safety leader, setting examples and clear expectations. Health and safety should be incorporated into any contracts issued. This person should monitor health and safety records and implement clear reporting procedures.

Lead contractor

Likely the site manager who is overseeing the entire project. Will be responsible for site inductions, health and safety communications, planning, reporting, monitoring and management. Will liaise regularly with the lead PCBU to ensure expectations are met. This person will likely have the most influence and control over the workplace.


This person will be responsible for a trade on site, for example a plumbing. Is responsible for ensuring their workers on site are inducted and have the relevant information, monitor and manage own workers and ensure adherence to health and safety duties.


Hired by the contractor to undertake specific duties, likely self-employed. Must take steps as is reasonably practicable to put health and safety of self and others first. Must work closely with other contractors to help manage risks. Is responsible for ensuring their workers on site are inducted and have the relevant information, monitor and manage own workers and ensure adherence to health and safety duties.


Must follow instructions provided by manager and ensure health and safety of self and others is not put at risk.

Key points

Consulting and cooperating with other PCBUs is not only best practice, it can also avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts as well as prevent any health and safety gaps. Here are the key points to remember:

  • You have a duty to collaborate with other PCBUs on site where you share overlapping responsibilities, as far as is reasonably practicable
  • You are responsible for your health and safety duties; they cannot be contracted out
  • It is a good idea to enter into agreements with other PCBUs on site to ensure all health and safety duties are met
  • The more influence or control you have on a worksite, the greater your health and safety responsibilities