Workplace health and safety for coworking businesses

Coworking members run their own businesses, but there is still a duty of care obligation for the manager of the workplace.

Workplace health and safety in coworking is sometimes overlooked. Even though the members don’t work for the coworking space, there is still a duty of care obligation for the manager of the workplace.

Luck for us, Sass Place tenant Vanessa Moore is a Workplace Health & Safety consultant with Moore  McPhee and she’s written a guest blog discussing what the obligations are for coworking space managers.

WHS Industry Focus – Coworking

Coworking is now the big thing for small businesses and entrepreneurs starting their business journey. The appeal of having a place to ‘go to work’ or the ability to creatively collaborate with other business people is growing every day. In fact, according to Forbes, coworking spaces are going to continue to be all the rage for quite a while to come.

With every new technology or ideology comes new or previously unthought-of risks, and coworking spaces are by no means immune to this. One of the primary areas of concern with coworking spaces is the lack of awareness of the obligations of owners or operators of those spaces.

Section 20 of the Work Health and Safety Act imposes a duty of care on Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking who have management or control of a workplace. The business that owns and operates a coworking space is intended to be included within the provisions of Section 20.

This section states that the person with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace, the means of entering and exiting the workplace and anything arising from the workplace itself are free from risks to the health and safety of any person.

This doesn’t mean that the owner/operator of a coworking space needs to have extensive safety management systems in place, but it does need to ensure it protects itself against the provisions mentioned above.

Conducting a thorough risk assessment of the entire premises will inform required remedial work to ensure compliance to the Act is maintained.

Generally speaking a coworking space owner/operator will need to have regard for:

  • Entry and exit (not limited to stairs and access ways, but may also cover other issues such as lighting in car parks);
  • Induction;
  • Emergency and first aid procedures;
  • Electrical safety;
  • Manual handling;
  • Contractor management;
  • Asbestos (particularly due to the trend of using old/industrial buildings for coworking purposes);
  • Incident management; and
  • Amenities management.

Joint WHS Responsibilities

Remembering that according to Section 16 of the Work Health and Safety Act, all Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (that is, all commercial coworking entities) within the coworking space also have a duty of care not only to themselves but to the coworking space owner as well as the other coworking entities.

Therefore Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking who own/operate coworking spaces also need to be mindful of the obligations of their client PCBUs who rent their spaces.

Do the coworkers bring their own plant and/or equipment into the coworking space? Is that plant and equipment safe? Is it regularly and appropriately maintained? Can the equipment harm another person within the coworking space?

Another consideration for coworking space owners/operators is the inevitability of coworker visitors. Coworking space owners/operators need to ensure that coworkers are aware of the need to induct their visitors to the coworking space, including emergency evacuation procedures.

Coworking space owners/operators need to ensure they have and use appropriate documentation, including written contracts or agreements with coworkers, to ensure that all relevant Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking recognise and undertake to discharge their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act.

Moore McPhee WHS Consultants specialise in the needs of small and medium businesses. We are here to help and can provide cost effective solutions for your business. Contact us on 1300 362 351, or speak directly to our Senior Principal Consultant Vanessa Moore on 0401 382 083 or at for a confidential discussion about your particular work health and safety needs.

Disclaimer: Any advice and information in this article is general in nature, does not take into account particular circumstances and should not be construed as professional advice. Unless specifically stated otherwise, the information in this article is prepared for South Australian Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking as defined in the SA Work Health and Safety Act 2012 only. The information may be applicable to other states of Australia that have adopted the harmonised work health and safety legislation but is not guaranteed.