Information on Work Health and Safety / Consultation in the Workplace
Agreement on work groups
Work groups are workers represented by a health and safety representative (HSR), or a number of HSRs and their Deputies.
An HSR is one or more of your fellow workers, elected to represent you in health and safety matters.
Usually these workers perform similar types of work and have similar health and safety concerns and conditions within the workplace.
Work groups allow workers’ interests to be represented effectively and conveniently.
The purpose of workers belonging to a work group is to facilitate representation on work health and safety matters by an HSR.
Once an election for an HSR has been requested by a worker, the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU – the new term that includes employers) must take all reasonable steps to start negotiations with workers within 14 days to establish work groups.
This process will also help the PCBU and workers in a work group negotiate the number of HSRs and work groups required.
Health and safety representatives (HSRs)
HSRs have powers and functions only. Their job is to prevent disease and injury in their work group. If facilitating the flow of health and safety information between their work group and their employer aids those powers and functions, then HSRs should pursue that strategically. HSRs are not supposed to take the place of employer provided supervision.
HSR Powers & Functions
- represent workers in a work group on work health and safety (WHS) matters
- monitor WHS actions taken by the PCBU
- investigate WHS complaints from workers of the work group
- look into anything that might be a risk to the WHS of the workers they represent.
If an HSR has completed approved HSR training – the 5 Day Training Course, they can exercise additional powers:
- to direct unsafe work to stop when they have a reasonable concern that carrying out the work would expose a worker of their work group to a serious risk
- to issue a ‘Provisional Improvement Notice’ (PIN) when they reasonably believe there is a contravention of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).
Union Organisers – Health Service Union Organisers are also WHS Act Entry Permit Holders.
A union official with a WHS entry permit may:
(Conditions for) entering a workplace
No prior notice to the business or undertaking is required if the union official is entering to investigate a suspected contravention of the WHS Act.
However, if the entry relates to other WHS issues such as consultation and advice, a permit holder must give a written notice of entry to the relevant PCBU during usual working hours and at least 24 hours before entry (but not more that 14 days before the entry).
The WHS entry permit holder must have a valid permit and photo identification available for inspection upon request by any person when exercising a right of entry to a workplace.
- advise and / or consult with relevant workers
- assist health and safety representatives (HSR) if requested
- assist in resolving issues as part of issue resolution
- inspect any work system, plant, substance, structure or other thing relevant to a suspected contravention of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act)
- consult with relevant workers and the relevant person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU – the new term that includes employers) in relation to a suspected contravention of the WHS Act
- assist with conducting an election of an HS
Operation of health and safety committees
Workers who are members of health and safety committees, may or may not also be HSRs.
On the other hand, an elected HSR has the right to join their workplace health and safety committee upon election. They should do so, to ensure that they have their input into policy and procedure related to workplace health and safety.
A health and safety committee (HSC) must meet at least every three months and at any reasonable time when requested by at least half the members of the committee.
Role of the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU)
A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU – the new term that includes employers) has an obligation to consult with its workers. One means of ensuring effective consultation is through an HSC.
Key elements to making consultation effective include allowing members of the HSC:
- reasonable time to attend meetings and carry out their functions as a committee member, and be paid at their normal rate of pay when doing so
- access to information about hazards and risks at the workplace as well as information relating to the health and safety of workers at the workplace (excluding workers’ personal medical information without the workers’ consent)
- opportunities to develop skills relevant to their role on the HSC.
The makeup of the committee can be agreed to between the workers and the PCBU, however the workers representatives must form the majority. In the old OHS Act 2000, the Chair also had to be a workers.
Now however, the PCBU can only nominate up to half of the members, certainly not more.
A health and safety representative (HSR) is a member of the committee if they consent. If there are two or more HSRs at a workplace, then they can choose one or more who consent to be members of the committee.
Role of workers
The role of workers on HSCs is to ensure genuine worker representation in health and safety matters that affect them.
More Detailed Information is available at the Victorian WorkCover Authority Website.
Although the NSW WHS Act differs from the Victorian OHS Act in some respects. The Victorian Act provided the framework for all the Model WHS Acts; Qld, NSW, SA, Tas, ACT, & NT.