Definitions List

WHS Definitions and Explanations


These definitions may be used as a stand-alone quick reference on safety issues generally, but mainly relates to terms used within the safety manual.

The following information has been sourced from a variety of legislations and regulations – see list

Access way

See pathway.


See incident.


Cross-referenced material providing additional information, and considered part of the primary information on a subject.


See Appendix.


See Safety Audit.


The primary role of a checklist     See more

Common sense

Usually defined in such a way as to imply a sound and practical understanding,  See more


This is a statutory requirement of most WHS legislations around the world. The object is to gather information from all stakeholders in the organisation so as to allow effective participation in the establishment of meaningful health and safety policies and procedures.

Contemporaneous Notes

These are usually made at the time of the incident being recorded, or as soon as possible thereafter. They contain factual observations, conversations – first person, though hearsay asides may also be recorded (hearsay should always be noted as ‘hearsay’), and sensual observations. Contemporaneous notes may be referred to should the memory become exhausted during court proceedings. (Court permission should be asked for as a courtesy in such a case).


Usually relates to the steps required to keep a hazard from causing injury, illness and/or damage.  See More


Refer also to ‘judgement’, and ‘practicability’.   

Direct (Factual) Evidence

This is information presented from first hand observation.


“A document is any form of data used in the system to provide information or control.” See more

Due diligence

Usually relating to ‘Officers’ of the company. See more


An emergency is an incident or a situation which endangers, or may endanger, the health, safety and welfare of persons in the workplace, and which requires urgent action to control. See More


Read the same as plant.


This is a tangible object tendered as evidence in court proceedings.


“Armed with the artefacts of yesterday, today’s safety system faces an unknown future.” DR Wakefield   See more


A document that is designed for filling-out by a relevant party. For example, form “Office checklist” is for the use by an employee as he/she carries out a hazard inspection.

Gap analysis

Generally captured in the statement “what we say we do vs. what we actually do”. Should be the same, but rarely is.


Object or situation with potential to cause injury, illness or damage. It is often useful to consider sources of energy, electrical, chemical, kinetic (movement), potential (static), and the movement of people. Standards Australia defines a hazard thus:

“HAZARD – a source or a situation with the potential for harm in terms of human injury or ill-health, damage to property, damage to the environment, or a combination of these.”


This is information about an event that is presented by a person who did not actually witness events directly. Basically, it is a second-hand account of the facts as observed by someone else.


A term that covers situations that lead, or are likely to lead, to injury, illness or damage. This includes situations where injury illness and/or damage have occurred, as well as near-hit events, where no injury, illness or damage occurred.

Incident investigation

The investigation of all circumstances   See more


One of the four pillars of good WHS (as required by the WHS legislation – see also Instruction, Training and Supervision). Information can be considered as part of the ‘documentation’ requirements of the workplace. An example of ‘information’ would include a ‘code of practice’ for a particular hazard such as working in a noisy environment. (Also refer to ‘Document’ and ‘Form’.)


Another of the four pillars of good WHS (as required by most WHS legislation – see also Information, Training and Supervision). Instruction will reference information and apply it to the task at hand. As with the other three pillars, it cannot be held in isolation, and may involve mentoring by a fellow worker or supervisor or trainer, etc., using the information at hand. For example, instruction in how use the information provided on a safety data sheet (SDS).


Refer also to ‘practicability’; ‘reasonably practicable’. In any WHS system – whether it is the business trying to establish a safe system of work, or the prosecution agency attempting to bring a charge, the judgement of the various factors involved in the system is of key importance to the outcome. Considerations will be given to ‘foreseeability’, ‘controlability’ and ‘practicability’.


See Common Sense.

Manual Handling

See also Occupational Overuse Syndrome. Manual handling is any activity where the use of force physically, by a person, is exerted to push, pull, lift, lower, extend, restrain, carry, move or hold an stationary or moving, or animate or inanimate object.


Usually rated in decibels (dB), noise is the phenomena associated with sound pressure on the human ear drum.

A noise level of 85 dB is the maximum 8 hour exposure limit for an unprotected ear. (IE the person exposed for this level of noise for 8 hours, should not be exposed to that level again for at least the next 16 hours. Sound pressure doubles for each 3 dB, therefore at 88 dB, the maximum exposure is 4 hours; at 91 dB the exposure is 2 hours, and so on. Examples of sound from activities include:

  • Most general building work – 75 to 85 dB;
  • Most power tools and excavators – 80 to 90 dB;
  • Metal grinding and cutting and sawing timber – 90 to 100 dB;
  • Concrete chipping 95 to 105 dB.

Occupational Hygienist (OH)

The person or persons likely to be called upon to do specialised measurement of the type, quantity, strength etc. of hazard or hazards. WHS may be called upon to check a noise level, an ergonomics issue or a hazardous substance. Some WHS will concentrate only in one field, such as noise or water quality. These persons may need to be called in to support a claim for compensation, but ideally should be called in before a hazard becomes out of control. A lay-person may notice something is affecting workers, but not know how to fully address the issue. In turn, an WHS Committee may have no idea of what to do. An OH is the person to contact to follow-up on the problem if it is beyond the scope of an WHS Committee, or an WHS consultative group.

Occupational Therapist (OT)

The person or persons likely to be directly involved in restoring an injured party’s health – physically, but more concentrating on the welfare – the well-being, or comfort zone. The active involvement with an injured party and assisting that party to regain interest, motivation and confidence with their lives. The general ideal is restoration of physical and mental health by engaging the injured party in meaningful occupation, and matching that meaningful occupation with activity in the original workplace. This restoration also reduces the drain on the insurance company and hopefully the workers compensation premium placed on the employer for an existing injury history.

Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS)

Sometimes referred to as repetitive strain injury (RSI), OOS is a malady affecting bones, muscles, and ligaments, and usually arises from repetitive stressing of those body parts, such as repetitive movement. It is usually exacerbated by such things as mental pressures such as dislike of the task, or pressure to get the job finished.


The ‘Officer’ is usually a senior manager (CEO, Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer, etc.) who can significantly alter the way the business functions on a day-to-day level. If a Board becomes too closely involved in the way a business functions in its day-to-day operations, it can become accountable for failures. At a line-management level, if a supervisor gives instruction for a task and a damaging occurrence happens, that supervisor is unlikely to be prosecuted as an ‘Officer’, but will still face prosecution as a ‘Worker’ who failed to apply good safety practice, etc.

Note an ‘Officer’ will always also be a ‘Worker’, but a ‘Worker’ may not necessarily be an ‘Officer’. This can be of importance to volunteer officers of not-for-profit organisations, since unpaid ‘Officers’ will not be prosecuted as ‘Officers’, but they are still liable for prosecution as ‘Workers’.


See Occupational Overuse Syndrome.


: a route to or way of access to or from a passage or path connecting buildings


Section 5 of the WHS Acts in Australia defines the meaning of the ‘person conducting the business or undertaking’ (PCBU)   See more

PPE (initials standing for ‘personal protective equipment’):

Used to describe protective equipment that is actually worn by the person being protected from hazardous situations. PPE includes: clothing such as hats and hair nets, aprons, gloves, overalls, safety shoes and boots, etc.; eye and face protection such as goggles, face shields and masks; ear protection such as ear muffs and ear plugs, and breathing equipment such as SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). Although we have to use it in many circumstances, PPE is the least desirable method of risk control, since it usually means there is nothing else between us and the hazard should there be a failure in that PPE (Refer to ‘Risk Management’ document.)


Also see: ‘Reasonably Practicable


These are usually contained within the ‘Programme’ and are the steps required to achieve the goal outlined in the section of the programme headed: ‘purpose’. There are usually various checklists and other documents mentioned to be used in the procedure, and these should be easily accessed by those expected to follow the procedure.   See more


An WHS Programme generally contains all the things relative to a specific WHS issue     See more


A very subjective concept to describe the nature of goods   See more

Quality Control

Closely linked to WHS, Quality Control is a means of repeating consistency and continuity. Within the safety context, it is the Safe Work Procedure (SWP) that provides the repetitive recipe to WHS.  

Rainbow File

A file usually made up of individually laminated pages, each one of a different colour      See more

Reasonably practicable

Reasonably practicable, in relation to a duty to ensure health and safety …    See more

Return-to-Work Coordinator (previously called ‘rehabilitation co-ordinator’)

Assists in the meaningful return-to-work of employees  see more

Return-to-Work Provider (sometimes referred to as ‘rehabilitation provider’)

This is a pluralist term   See more


The likelihood of a hazard becoming a danger   See more

Risk management

The holistic approach to looking after health, safety and welfare of all people     See more


See Occupational Overuse Syndrome.  (above)


May be defined as ‘freedom from circumstances that cause, or are likely to cause, illness, injury or damage’.  See more

Safety audit

This is a consideration, from a point of view of health, safety and welfare of every task in the organisation   See more

Safe Work Procedures (SWPs) Safe Operating Procedures (SOP)

Is a breakdown of various activities associated with a task which forms part of a job description.  See more

Serious injury

See ‘significant injury’.

Significant Injury

(Sometimes called ‘serious injury’ or ‘notifiable injury’.) Generally, a significant injury is any injury likely to lead to a person being unable to perform their pre-injury functions for seven days or more. It is possible, for example, for an injury to occur, and an employee be sent to a medical centre for a few hours, and return to the job. They may, however, have a wound that takes several weeks to repair, and so are given alternate duties for that time. This means they are will be away from their ‘pre-injury duties’ and so have suffered a ‘significant injury’. (This must also be reported to the WHS authority using the authority’s official incident report form.)

Staff Manual

An informative and instructional reference given to Workers when they first commence work for The company.

The handbook should include the Worker’s job description, any associated safe work procedures, (which will include specific hazards likely to be encountered in the job, an outline of The company industrial relations and human resource policies and procedures (including organisational structure and where the Worker’s position sits within the structure, grievance procedures and disciplinary procedures). The handbook will also include the company WHS Policy and references to the various WHS Procedures. The hand book must be capable of being reviewed and updated, with opportunities to easily replace adjusted pages.


Another of the four pillars of good WHS   


Another of the four pillars of good WHS   See more


Basically, under the conditions of the WHS Act, this is considered to be anyone who is not doing ‘work’ on behalf of the firm. In the WHS Act, ‘visitors’ are considered as ‘others’. It will include door-to-door salespeople, relatives and friends of employees, and so on.

Visitor sign-in

This is a book/page usually kept at the reception area, where visitors to the site are to sign. The visitor signature will infer they have read and understood the company site rules, including an overview of major WHS issues and emergency procedures. There will also be a space for the visitor to sign themselves ‘out’.


This is a Worker who is not paid, but who must still adhere to the rules of the Workplace as if they were being paid. It is important to still separate ‘Volunteers’ versus paid ‘Employees’ since some ‘Worker’s Compensation’ insurance schemes do not cover ‘Volunteers’. It is recommended ‘volunteer insurance’ be considered when planning to take-on such personnel.

Note a ‘volunteer’ manager, who is considered senior enough to be considered an ‘Officer’ of a PCBU will not be prosecuted as an ‘Officer’, but still has duties as a ‘Worker’. Witness

A person who can give evidence about a matter being investigated. The person may or may not be a victim of the matter in question, and the evidence may be direct or indirect evidence.


A person who discloses wrong-doing to the public. This may be alleged or suspected activity, and involve private and public organisations, as well as those in authority. One of the definitions of a free society is ‘I may not be liked, but I will not come to any harm’, and the disclosure of wrong-doing in ‘high places’ must remain a protected right in any free society. In the current WHS legislation, any Worker has the right to speak out – without being discriminated against – on any matter the Worker considers is unsafe: a very powerful right indeed! Ideally, a workplace will make it easy for Workers to speak up within the workplace before there is any need for external interventions.

Work Health and Safety Management System (WHSMS)

Is a system that includes all the programmes, policies, procedures, organisational structures, planning activities, responsibilities, processes, practices and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing and maintaining the Work Health and Safety of all persons in, or affected by, The company workplaces.