With a federal election this weekend, it is a useful reminder about the importance of elections in your workplace for health and safety representatives (HSRs) and health and safety committees (HSCs).
In jurisdictions with the harmonised Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act), HSRs are elected from negotiated and agreed work groups.
Workers must be given a notice calling for nominations and told the date of the election as soon as practicable after it is determined.
Each worker is entitled to nominate to be an HSR and vote in the election. All workers in a work group are entitled to elect one or more HSRs and deputy HSRs for a 3-year term. The person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must provide any reasonably necessary resources, facilities and assistance to enable an election to be conducted.
If an HSR has completed approved HSR training, they can direct a worker in the work group to stop unsafe work. The HSR must reasonably believe workers would be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety, and the HSR must have first consulted with the PCBU before issuing the direction, unless the risk is so serious and imminent that consultation is not practicable.
HSRs can also join an HSC.
An HSC is intended to facilitate development of safety standards and processes. A PCBU can set up an HSC of its own volition or must establish one within 2 months if requested by an HSR or five or more workers.
HSCs can be for either a fixed project or long-term arrangements.
The legislation provides that you and your workforce can agree on the make-up of the committee but at least half must be workers.
In the ACT, there are special provisions regarding major construction projects. The HSC must meet at least every 3 months, and at any reasonable time requested by at least half the members of the committee.
For the committee to operate effectively, you must allow reasonable time for members to attend the meetings and carry out their functions. The legislation requires that members be paid their normal pay while acting as a committee member. They are also entitled to access information from the PCBU about hazards and risks at the workplace so long as they don’t access workers’ personal or medical information without the workers’ consent.