Health and Safety at Work Act – what property owners need to know

Landlords have a general duty to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or omission could put any person at risk of harm. What does this mean, really?

What is a landlord if not a service provider? Legislators agree, applying the term ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ – or PCBU – to define their view of landlord responsibilities.

The definition saddles landlords with a primary duty of care to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and other people affected by work on their property.

Landlord musts

  • Identify and assess risks to the health and safety of tenants and other people who may enter the property
  • Eliminate or minimise those risks, as far as is reasonably practicable
  • Provide and maintain safe systems of work, including safe plant and equipment
  • Provide adequate information, instruction, training, and supervision to tenants on how to use the property safely
  • Monitor and review health and safety systems and procedures regularly to ensure they are effective

In addition to these general duties, there are others that landlords must comply with under the Act. These include:

  • Ensure the property is structurally sound and that all fixtures and fittings are in good condition
  • Provide adequate ventilation and heating to maintain a healthy indoor environment
  • Keep the property clean and free from hazards, such as mould, pests, and vermin
  • Provide adequate fire safety measures, including smoke alarms
  • Ensure that electrical wiring and appliances are safe and up to code
  • Provide access to safe storage for hazardous substances

There’s a lot to get right and hefty consequences in the event things go wrong – fines up to $600,000 and/or up to 5 years imprisonment for an individual, and up to $3,000,000 for a body corporate.

What is reasonable practice?

The words “reasonably practicable” can be broadly interpreted.

In the event you find yourself the subject of legal arguments about your responsibilities under the Act, factors debated will include:

  • The likelihood of the risk or hazard occurring
  • The degree of harm resulting from the risk or hazard
  • What was known, or would be reasonably expected to be known, about a risk or hazard
  • Steps taken to eliminate or minimise the risk

Officers and directors take note  

It’s not just landlords who can end up in hot water. The Act also imposes a duty of care on officers of PCBUs, including directors (where the PCBU is a company), partners, or anyone occupying a position comparable to that of a director in any body corporate, or one that allows them to exercise significant influence over the management of the business or undertaking.

Tenants have a role to play

Tenants have three key responsibilities under the Act:

  • Alert the landlord to necessary repairs
  • Ensure the property is safe while work is underway
  • Follow instructions from a PCBU working on their property

Landlords are not responsible for any injuries resulting from tenants who undertake repairs without the written consent of the landlord or property manager.