Officers’ due diligence: is work health and safety an accounting problem?

Sharron O’Neill, Karen Wolfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The work health and safety (WHS) legislation recently enacted in many Australian States and Territories places specific due diligence obligations on an organisation's officers – including accounting and finance officers. Questioning whether these obligations are justified, this paper critically examines the capacity of accountants and accounting to influence work-related injury and illness outcomes across an organisation. Detailed third-party analyses of two fatal WHS disasters are reviewed and factors that may be directly or indirectly traced to accounting practices are identified and explored. The findings suggest various accounting practices, including the resource allocation and performance management decisions of accountants, financial controllers, chief financial officers, chief executive officers and directors, can contribute significantly to an increasing risk of WHS failure. Consequently, the imposition of WHS due diligence obligations on those with oversight of the accounting function appears justified. A framework for corporate (WHS) risk management is developed that illustrates the conceptual bridge between the accounting, governance and WHS literature and highlights the important role of corporate governance in WHS risk management. The paper calls for a change in thinking from 'resourcing health and safety' to 'resourcing safe and healthy work' and offers a number of recommendations for integrating WHS considerations into traditional accounting and governance practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-21
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of health & safety, research & practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • governance
  • work health & safety
  • risk management
  • due diligence
  • integrated thinking


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