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Starting a business

There’s a lot to think about when you first start a business. As well as considering the financial aspects of the business, you also need to think about how you’ll meet your legal obligations such as creating a safe work environment and insuring against workplace accidents.

This guide outlines how to set up your business so you comply with Queensland’s work health and safety legislation and workers’ compensation laws. It covers how to create a safe workplace, your insurance obligations and your obligation to report workplace injuries.

For more information about other aspects of launching your own venture, you can visit the Queensland Government webpage on starting a business.

Creating a safe workplace

Under Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 a business owner or employer, referred to in the Act as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), must protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work and anyone else who might be affected by the work. This means you have to either eliminate risks to health and safety, or minimise them as far as is reasonably practical.

The Act covers other obligations, such as:

  • responsibilities of workers to behave safely and follow safety instructions
  • your requirement to consult with worker representatives and workers
  • your duty to notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland as soon as you become aware of a death, or a reportable injury or illness.

For more detailed information, see the Guide to the Work Health and Safety Act(PDF, 0.35 MB).

Putting safe practices and systems in place will not only help you meet your legal obligations and avoid fines and penalties, it will also make your business more efficient and will help to create a healthy work culture.

Below are some ways to create a safe place of work.

Think about how you and your managers will demonstrate that work safety is important. Ways you might do this include:

The Work Health and Safety Act requires business owners to consult with their workers about health and safety. This means you need to share information about health and safety, and give your workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views when they’re affected by a matter relating to health and safety.

Specifically, you need to consult when you’re:

  • identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
  • carrying out activities prescribed by the WHS Regulation.

You also need to consult when making decisions about:

  • ways to eliminate or minimise risks
  • the adequacy of facilities for workers’ welfare
  • procedures for consulting workers
  • resolving health and safety issues
  • monitoring the health and safety of workers or workplace conditions
  • how to provide health and safety information and training to workers.

Workers are entitled to:

  • elect a health and safety representative (HSR)
  • request the formation of a health and safety committee
  • cease unsafe work
  • have health and safety issues resolved in accordance with an agreed issue resolution procedure
  • not be discriminated against for raising health and safety issues.

There are different ways you can consult with workers. You may talk regularly to them and your supply chain partners about workplace safety. You might hold regular staff meetings and make safety a top agenda item. Or you might set up a safety committee. If you work with other businesses regularly, talk to them about the safety issues that you have shared responsibility for, such as driving your vehicles on to a client’s worksite.

The Work Health and Safety Act requires persons who conduct a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to manage all work health and safety risks in order to protect the health and safety of workers. Following this four-step risk management process will help you meet your health and safety obligations.

Read more about managing risks in the workplace.

Step 1. Identify hazards

A hazard is anything that’s likely to result in injury or illness. Some hazards are part of the work process, like machinery, stairs or toxic chemicals. Others result from failures, like broken equipment or human error.

Common work hazards include:

  • manual tasks involving heavy loads or repetitive movements
  • machinery or equipment with moving parts
  • bullying, violence and work-related stress
  • electricity
  • noise
  • hazardous chemicals like acids or dusts
  • slips, trips and fall hazards.

You can identify hazards in your place of work by:

  • inspecting your business
  • talking to your workers
  • reviewing available information.

Read more about hazards in the work place.

Step 2. Assess the risk

Once you’ve identified a hazard, you need to assess the risk it poses and decide how to control it. This will depend on:

  • the severity of harm it could cause (from discomfort to serious injury to death)
  • how likely that harm is to occur (from certain to unlikely to rare)
  • what controls are already in place to reduce the risk of harm
  • how urgently additional actions need to be taken.

For more information about hazards in your particular industry, see our Hazards A - Z list.

Step 3. Control the risks

When you’ve assessed that a risk has to be controlled, you need to put in place a measure that either removes the hazard or reduces it as effectively as possible. There are three possible levels of control.

Diagram outlining the hierarchy of controls

Level 1 - eliminate the hazard, removing the risk completely.
Level 2 - eliminate as many of the risks associated with the hazard as possible. This includes substituting and isolating the hazard and using engineering controls.
Level 3 - rely on human behaviour and supervision to control the risk. Note that this is the least effective way to reduce risk.

Choose controls from the highest level you can, taking account of the unique circumstances in your business. See How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) for practical advice on developing effective controls.

Step 4. Review the controls

It’s important that you regularly review your control measures and look for new hazards. In particular, work health and safety legislation requires you to review controls in the following situations:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not effectively controlling a risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

The How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) includes a useful list of questions to ask when you’re reviewing your control measures.

Make sure your workers (including labour hire workers, group training workers, and volunteers) know the safety procedures at your workplace and have the right skills to perform their tasks. Some tasks require workers to hold a licence, and it will be your responsibility to check that they do. You should regularly check that workers are following safety procedures and have a process for addressing instances where procedures aren’t followed.

Under the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 Queensland employers are required to insure their workers against workplace accidents with WorkCover Queensland (with the exception of licensed self-insured employers). This is regardless of any other insurance policies you or the worker may hold.

Read more about accident insurance.

Who’s covered

Workers’ compensation insurance covers any worker you employ. In simple terms, a worker is someone who works under a contract of service. This can include sub-contractors, if you engage them for work. It can also include a salesperson paid by commission, as well as someone engaged by a labour hire agency or group training organisation. Find out more about who should be covered in the insurance policy.

What’s covered

Workers’ compensation insurance compensates employees who’ve been injured due to their employment, which can include injuries that happen while travelling to, from or for work.
Compensation can be for lost wages and for medical and rehabilitation costs that are considered reasonable and medically necessary. The kinds of injuries covered include:

  • physical injuries, for example, back strain, lacerations, fractures, burns
  • psychological/psychiatric injuries, such as stress, anxiety disorders
  • 'over a period of time' injuries, for example, industrial deafness
  • illnesses that develop a long time after exposure, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma
  • aggravation of a pre-existing condition
  • death from an injury or disease.

Find out more about the types of injury or illness that are covered.

How to apply

You can apply online for a WorkCover Queensland policy at any time. It takes between 5 and 15 minutes.

Have more questions?

If you have specific questions about your business situation, you can call WorkCover Queensland on 1300 362 128 or the Workers’ Compensation Helpline on 1300 365 855.

If you have a worker who's experienced a work-related injury or illness, then you must keep a record of the incident and report the injury or illness to WorkCover. You may also need to notify Workplace Health and safety Queensland.

Learn more about what to do if an injury or illness occurs.

Most importantly, you need to support your worker in returning to work. By understanding their injury and being prepared to be flexible, you can strike a balance between doing what's right for your worker and what's good for your business.

View the getting back to work guide.

Tools and resources

Here are some resources and support services you might find helpful. Just note that they’re for guidance only and you’ll still need to use your own judgement to decide if you’re complying with legislation.

Self-assessment tool