Topics explained – Apprentices & Trainees

Appropriate and effective supervision is vital for apprentices and trainees while undertaking their qualification and employment. The supervision of apprentices and trainees is a significant responsibility for any employer so it is important that you understand your obligations under South Australian work health and safety laws. Supervision standards and ratios have changed to provide flexibility, within a determined ratio, to identify the level of supervision required, based on the skills and experience of the apprentice or trainee.

Employers are responsible for supervising and ensuring oversight and coordination of on-job training of an apprentice or trainee. On-job training must be by a skilled or qualified person in the competencies laid out in the agreed Training Plan. The work should be work relevant and appropriate to the trade or declared vocation. If an employer delegates or assigns the responsibility of supervising or providing on-job training to any staff member (or contractor), the employer must make sure they understand and adhere to the requirements of the standard.

Supervising apprentices & trainees

If you employ a trainee or apprentice you have a primary duty of care for ensuring their safety while at work.

Apprentices and trainees look to the person responsible for their supervision for guidance and assistance in learning how to undertake their job safely and competently and should be encouraged to raise safety concerns.

You must provide them with all the necessary information, instruction, training, and supervision to protect them from risks to their health and safety. When providing instruction and training, you should start from the assumption that the apprentice or trainee has minimal or no capability or awareness of the work to be undertaken or the risks associated with it.

Supervision ratios

Some apprentices or trainees need more supervision than others. You must make sure that all apprentices or trainees are adequately supervised.

Each apprenticeship and traineeship has been assessed as either high, medium or low risk for supervision. The ratios are published in the Traineeship and Apprenticeship Pathways Schedule.

You must not exceed the supervision ratios that apply to your apprentice or trainee unless you have received written approval from the South Australian Skills Commission. A copy of the approval should be readily accessible at the workplace and available for inspection if and as required by SafeWork SA.

Where a supervisor is responsible for supervising apprentices or trainees with different prescribed supervision levels, the supervision ratio for the highest of those levels must be applied.

Where a registered employer (eg Group Training Organisation) places an apprentice or trainee with a PCBU for their employment and on-the-job training, the registered employer must ensure that the PCBU complies with the requirements of the guideline, as far as is reasonably practicable.

Supervisor to apprentice/trainee ratios
Supervision level rating Maximum supervision ratio
High 1:3 – A single supervisor may not supervise any more than 3 apprentices or trainees at any one time.
Medium 1:6 – A single supervisor may not supervise any more than 6 apprentices or trainees at any one time.
Low 1:10 – A single supervisor may not supervise any more than 10 apprentices or trainees at any one time.

The South Australian Skills Commission has guidelines for supervisors that sets out specific details on supervisor requirements and supervisor/apprentice/trainee ratios.

Types of supervision

Apprentices and trainees need varying levels of supervision as they acquire skills and gain confidence. This supervision falls into three categories: direct, indirect or remote.

Direct supervision

The default type of supervision, which employers must provide until such time as the apprentice or trainee has been assessed as being able to work under indirect supervision for limited periods.

The provision of direct supervision requires:

  • staying within constant visual contact and/or earshot – this cannot be provided by electronic means.

Indirect supervision

An employer may provide indirect supervision for an apprentice or trainee performing a task if:

  • it is reasonable in the circumstances and having regard to any health and safety risks, that they undertake the task independently
  • before the task is undertaken, the employer can demonstrate that a supervisor has assessed them as having the required skills, technical knowledge and experience to safely, correctly, effectively and autonomously perform the task without risk to their safety or the safety of others.

Before permitting indirect supervision, you must be able to demonstrate that you have made an assessment of the apprentice or trainee and the task. You must keep records of the assessment.

Remote supervision

Remote supervision, where a supervisor is not present at the site where the apprentice or trainee works, is prohibited without the written approval of the South Australian Skills Commission.

Vocational education and training

Anyone thinking about doing a vocational education and training (VET) in schools traineeship or apprenticeship, should get advice and information from their school VET coordinator, as well as discuss their plans with a parent or guardian.

For apprentices and trainees who commence an apprenticeship or traineeship while they are at school, constant and direct supervision, unless a risk assessment determines otherwise, while they are still enrolled in school.

Workers or PCBUs experiencing problems should contact the appropriate traineeship or apprenticeship authorities or VET coordinator.

Steps to effective supervision

When supervising a trainee or apprentice you should:

  • assume that they have minimal or no capability or awareness of the work to be undertaken or the risk associated with it
  • explain the task, including safety risks
  • explain the purpose and why you do it that way
  • explain all the steps in completing the task, including safety control measures to minimise risk of injury
  • demonstrate the task
  • provide opportunity to practice the new skill and observe their progress
  • provide encouragement and feedback and maintain open communication
  • openly support a healthy workplace free from threatening behaviours, such as; bullying, violence, intimidation and verbal, physical, racial and sexual abuse.

Refer to the South Australian Skills Standards for full details about supervision.

For more detailed information, please contact Skills Infoline 1800 673 097.

Breaches of supervision obligations

A breach of the WHS Act occurs when:

  • an action is taken that places a person at risk of injury, illness or death
  • steps are not taken to avoid placing workers at risk
  • there is a failure to comply with regulatory requirements.

Further information