Work health and safety duties and dealing with bullying in the workplace by non-workers

  • While a non-worker is not an employee of the business, there are times when they may be reasonably expected to be present at a workplace.
  • A ‘workplace’ is any place where a worker goes or is likely to be while work is carried out for a business.
  • It can be appropriate to impose conditions of entry to your premises, setting out acceptable standards of behaviour and requiring compliance with work, health and safety laws.

Unhappy worker with angry colleague

It is common for businesses particularly those in the service industries to experience bullying and harassment when interacting and dealing with complaints from customers and other non-employee workplace participants (non-workers) in the business. This can cause stress and anxiety for staff in the work environment.

Key WHS legislation

The key work, health and safety legislation relating to this situation is the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) (WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011(NSW) (WHS Regulations). There is similar legislation in other States and Territories.

Purpose of Work, Health and Safety Act 2011

The WHS Act provides the framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work, and of other people who might be affected by the work. The WHS Act aims to protect the health and safety of workers and other people by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work or workplaces.

In furthering these aims, regard must be had to the principle that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work as is reasonably practicable.

Under the WHS Act, a ‘workplace’ is any place where a worker goes or is likely to be while work is carried out for a business. This may include offices, shops, construction sites, vehicles, ships, aircraft.

To this effect, a client’s premises in relation to the provision of a service would be considered a ‘workplace’ to which the WHS Act and WHS Regulations would apply, while workers are performing their duties. Conceivably if services are being provided at a private residence, that could be a workplace within the meaning of the WHS Act.

Importantly, the WHS Act imposes duties on other persons at the workplace. Section 29 of the WHS Act relevantly states:

Any person at a workplace, including customers and visitors, must:
(a) take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety;
(b) take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons; and
(c) comply, so far as the person is reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by the person conducting a business or undertaking (business) to allow the business to comply with the WHS laws.

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