By Michael Selinger
[Ed Note: A health and safety representative (HSR) is a worker who is elected to represent the health and safety interests of workers in your workplace.
HSRs play an important role in representing your workers in relation to health and safety matters, and providing methods for consultation with workers to ensure that you are communicating with and consulting about issues that affect them.
HSRs can play a major role in representing your workers and bringing health and safety issues to your attention.
The benefits of having an HSR in your workplace include:
- An HSR is likely to understand the views and concerns of your workers;
- An HSR provides workers with a more formal and coordinated process for raising ideas and concerns with you; and
- an HSR who has attended approved training can exercise special powers (outlined in WHS legislation) while representing your workgroup.
Are you aware of all the ins and outs when it comes to your requirements by law in relation to HSRs?
Below, Michael Selinger outlines some specific legislation that relates to HSRs in all jurisdictions and will help to clarify some of the areas that may not be immediately obvious in WHS legislation. Michael points out that even if your business doesn’t currently have an HSR or if you operate in a jurisdiction that is not under the WHS Act, it’s still important to be aware of all these requirements. While not as detailed as the requirements in the WHS Act, Victoria and Western Australia have similar statutory requirements, so this information is helpful for businesses operating in those States as well.
And remember, the Health & Safety Handbook provides helpful information for any current or proposed HSR and can help you to better understand the roles and responsibilities of HSRs in your workplace. If you subscribe to the Handbook, have a look at chapter C3 Consultation, Representatives and Committees for more information. Common misunderstandings surrounding HSRs
If your business has health and safety representatives, you will find the recent publication by Comcare, Health and Safety Representatives Handbook, a helpful resource.
This publication, although specific to jurisdictions covered by WHS legislation, sets out in plain English some of the key processes and responsibilities of an HSR that also apply in Victoria and Western Australia.
The role of an HSR is not to fix health and safety problems or even to be an expert on WHS issues; rather, an HSR’s role is to represent workers in relation to health and safety issues. This often requires them to actively communicate with the business and engage in consultation with managers on a range of matters directly affecting the work group, such as:
- Identifying hazards
- Implementing risk control measures.
- Issuing resolutions.
6 statutory HSR requirements that you may not have known
Under the WHS Act, there are a number of grey areas in relation to HSRs that are not immediately obvious – I’d like to clear some of them up for you…
1. An HSR does not need to become a member of the health and safety committee, although it is beneficial to both the HSR and the business if they do.
2. The period of time an HSR needs to spend to carry out their role as HSR will vary depending on your workplace and the number of other HSRs and workers.
3. A union official assisting an HSR on request is not seeking access to the workplace as a WHS entry permit holder, so cannot exercise any of the WHS entry permit holders’ rights. If they wish to do so, they must arrange to re-enter the workplace as a WHS entry permit holder and follow the entry requirements for WHS entry permit holders.
4. A provisional improvement notice (PIN) can be issued by an HSR to:
- The business; or
- A designer, manufacturer or supplier of plant, substances or structures if they are the relevant duty holder who has a responsibility for the contraventions specified in the PIN.
5. The person receiving a PIN does not have to follow any directions given by the HSR stated in the PIN if they can implement other measures that result in the same, or better, safety outcome.
6. While an inspector must review a PIN following a request for review by the recipient, an inspector cannot review a PIN if there has not been such a request. However, nothing limits an inspector from choosing to investigate the same subject matter of the PIN at any time.
One of the most important aspects of an HSR’s responsibilities is to be trained sufficiently in health and safety matters so that they can carry out their duties effectively. HSRs must receive approved training if they wish to exercise special powers to direct an unsafe work cease or to issue a PIN.
However, it is important for your business to promote the training of HSRs in all aspects of safety on a regular basis as this can only serve to benefit the business by improving safety as a whole.
Health & Safety Handbook