WHS Officers

Background to the WHS model law

On 1st January 2013, the State Government introduced the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2012 based on the harmonised legislation being introduced into all States. There were a number of significant changes from the previous legislation. This report concentrates on the fact that the previous notion of one Responsible Officer was replaced by a far broader application of the ‘Responsible Officer’ position previously held by Barry Atwell (Executive Officer, Resources Board) through the extended use of the role of ‘Officers’ of a Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU). Officers are under an obligation to exercise ‘due diligence’ to ensure compliance with WHS laws. 

'Officer' and the legislation

The legislation defines ‘Officer’ in substantially the same terms as the Corporations Act 2001 (Commonwealth, Corps Act, section 9) but excludes partners in partnership. 

For the purpose of this information the focus is on that part of the definition of ‘officer’ in section 9 of the Corps Act that deals with officers of associations. The following terms are the most relevant to the Uniting Church:

‘officer’ of an entity that is neither an individual nor a corporation means:

(a)   [partners in partnership]; or

(b)   An office holder of the unincorporated association if the entity is an unincorporated association; or

(c)    A person:
        i.   Who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business of the entity; or

        ii.  Who has the capacity to affect significantly the entity’s financial standing.

The church as a whole and each of the individual councils of the church are unincorporated associations and therefore we have concentrated on applying part (b) of the above definition. However a case may be made that groups of people such as a Church Council or Standing Committee members may have the capacity set out in (c) above.

Standing Committee Decisions

Based on the legal advice received by Uniting Church SA; it was agreed that the Standing Committee (SC 13.132) at the 12th April 2013 meeting, designate a number of positions as ‘Officers’ under the Work Health & Safety Act 2012. These designations were subsequently reviewed and at its meeting on the 6th December 2019, Standing Committee (SC 19.255) agreed to designate the following positions as 'Officers’ under the Work Health & Safety Act 2012:


Officer Title


Moderator, General Secretary, Property Officer (Synod Office Bearers) and Synod Standing Committee Members

Representing the decision-making processes of the Standing Committee and Synod meetings

Chairperson of Mission & Leadership Development Board (MLDB)

Representing the decision-making processes of the Mission & Leadership Development Board

Chairperson of Resources Board and Chairperson of Property Trust

Representing the decision-making processes of the Resources Board and Property Trust

Executive Officers (where not listed above) and Associate General Secretary

Day-to-day decision-makers

General Manager Resources
Manager Property
Manager Human Resources
WHS Coordinator

Symbolising the importance of their respective roles in resourcing congregations in WHS matters

General Manager Uniting Venues SA

Representing the importance of this role in determining the management of WHS issues for a substantial business of the Synod

Chairperson and Administrator of the United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) Regional Committee

Representing the decision-making processes of the UAICC Regional Committee and the impact of these decisions on individual ministry centres



Officer Title                                  


Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer (Presbytery Office bearers) and Presbytery Standing Committee Members

Representing the decision-making processes of the Presbytery and Presbytery meetings



Officer Title


Minister and Pastor (Ministry Agents)

Representing their role in decision-making processes of the congregation

Chairperson and Secretary of Church Council

Representing the consensus decision-making processes of the Church Council

Church Treasurer (where they are a member of Church Council)

Representing the importance of the budget process to WHS resource allocation decisions


However, in relation to the congregational recommendation above, it should be noted that although not carrying the formal title of 'Officer,' all other members of a Church council or parish mission council will have the responsibility to do all that is ‘reasonably practicable’ as defined by the WHS legislation to ensure the council on which they serve exercises an appropriate level of ‘due diligence’ in the way they use their decision-making powers in relation to the scope of the WHS legislation.