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Employer duties and obligations at work in Victoria

The information below has been prepared to provide HIA members with information on some of the key workplace health and safety obligations that apply to employers under Victorian occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation for construction work. It is based on guidance material provided by Worksafe Victoria.

Duties for construction work

 In addition to general duties under the OHS Act, duties under the OHS legislation relating to specific hazards and other OHS issues affecting all workplaces, employers have the following duties where construction work is being undertaken: 

  • The employer must manage the risks to the health and safety of all the employees and subcontractors within their control and anyone else affected by their work
  • An employer must eliminate, reduce or control any risk so far as is reasonably practicable and ensure that the measures implemented are regularly reviewed, in consultation with workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs)
  • The employer must ensure that a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is prepared prior to commencing any high-risk construction work and that the work is done in accordance with the SWMS, which must be kept for the duration of the work. The SWMS must also be reviewed whenever the high-risk work changes, or there is reason to believe that the risk control measures are not adequate
  • The employer must ensure that workers have received construction induction training before undertaking any construction work and a site induction before commencing work on a specific site.

Frequently asked questions regarding duties and obligations

Can an employer also be the principal contractor?

Yes. However, you must undertake the legal duties of both the employer and the principal contractor.

I’m self-employed. What do I need to do?

You must comply with the legislation in the same way as an employer.

Self-employed people will work in situations where they may put people at risk on site, so it is necessary to identify hazards and control risks associated with your work.

Self-employed people must complete construction induction training. They must also ensure that a SWMS is prepared prior to starting any high-risk construction work and that construction induction and site-specific training are completed by any independent contractors that you engage. 

Does all construction work need an SWMS?

No. An SWMS is only required when high-risk construction work is being undertaken and someone’s health or safety could be at risk because of the work.

Preparing an SWMS is part of the planning of the work. It helps employers think through the hazards and risks involved in the work and to choose effective control measures in consultation with employees, HSRs and contractors and their employees so far as is reasonably practicable. If the work does not involve a risk to anyone, an SWMS does not have to be prepared. 

Who must develop an SWMS? 

It is the employer’s responsibility to prepare, maintain and revise the SWMS as necessary and keep a copy for as long as the high-risk work is being done. 

What must be included in the SWMS?

An SWMS includes:

  • a list of the types of high-risk construction work being done
  • the health and safety hazards and risks arising from the work
  • a description of how the risks will be controlled, and
  • a description of how the risk control measures will be put in place.

Can I prepare one generic SWMS for use across multiple sites? 

An SWMS needs to deal with the specific hazards and risks on the site where the high-risk construction work is being done. A pre-prepared generic SWMS is unlikely to meet the  requirements unless it has been reviewed in light of the hazards and risks on the specific site and amended as necessary.

When do I need to give my workers a site induction?

Employers must ensure that anyone employed to do construction work is given OHS training about the particular workplace where the work will be done before they start work on the site.

What are my responsibilities on a construction project?

The legislation creates a special health and safety role for principal contractors of construction projects worth $350,000 or more.

The principal contractor must:

  • display a sign with their name and contact phone number where it can be clearly seen from outside the workplace
  • prepare a health and safety coordination plan and keep it up to date
  • make the coordination plan available for inspection, and
  • ensure that new starters are aware of, and can access, the coordination plan.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Safety Services team.

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