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UpdatesNov 02, 2018

How HSRs affect your organisation

A key question businesses often have when considering their consultation requirements is whether they need a health and safety representative (HSR).

Or if HSRs are already in place, how to assess if they are effective.

By Michael Selinger

A key question businesses often have when considering their consultation requirements is whether they need a health and safety representative (HSR).

Or if HSRs are already in place, how to assess if they are effective.

Role of an HSR

It is important to remember that the role of an HSR is not to fix health and safety problems, nor be an expert on Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) issues.

An HSR’s role is to represent workers in relation to WHS issues which often requires them to actively communicate with the business and engage in consultation with managers on a range of matters directly affecting their work group, such as identifying hazards, risk control measures and issue resolution.

Do you need HSRs?

Should your organisation encourage people to become HSRs?

HSRs can certainly provide an effective way of linking the business to the workforce when it comes to improving safety.

If you have properly trained HSRs in place who hold the trust and respect of the workers and managers, then they are an effective resource in the WHS management system.

This is particularly helpful in a larger organisation with diverse workers.

An HSR can provide an additional set of eyes to see how the health and safety system is actually operating.

A business may have the very best health and safety systems on paper, but when it comes to implementing those systems, an empowered and proactive worker who is aligned with the business’ goal of improving productivity in a safe manner cannot be overestimated.

HSRs are also a clear demonstration of your organisation’s commitment to safety.

Protection from discrimination

It is important that HSRs are given the freedom to do their job and are not discriminated against for raising workplace safety issues.

The WHS Act has specific protections for HSRs in this regard with civil penalties able to be imposed for a breach.

Of course, HSRs cannot misuse their powers and the recent case of Marc Waters v Mt Arthur Coal Pty Ltd (2018) FWC 3285 is an example of that limitation.

In this case, a coal mine operator was found to have fairly dismissed an employee who made several Facebook posts in the lead up to Christmas regarding whether the mine was operating on Christmas and Boxing Day.

The final Facebook post from Mr Waters was made on Christmas Eve and stated that “Xmas & Boxing days [sic] shifts are off for good”.

The Facebook post was made in the context of safety concerns raised by a number of workers regarding operations at the mine on Christmas and Boxing Day and numerous oscillating decisions and announcements from Mt Arthur Coal Pty Ltd regarding whether the shifts would go ahead.

There was no evidence that the Facebook post disrupted Mt Arthur’s operations, however, the Commission accepted that the Facebook post had the potential to disrupt the mine’s operations.

Mt Arthur argued that it had a valid reason to dismiss Mr Water for conduct which breached several terms of the applicable workplace Code of Conduct and Charter of Values.

Importantly, Mr Waters was aware of, and was trained in, these policies.

The Commission found that Mt Arthur had a valid reason to dismiss Mr Waters and that the dismissal was not otherwise ‘harsh, unjust or unreasonable’ for any of the reasons set out in section 387 of the FW Act. Mr Water was recently refused leave to appeal of the decision.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how HSRs operate in your business is critical in achieving the best outcome.

So while the legislation in each jurisdiction does not necessarily deal with all processes in detail for HSRs, some important matters to keep in mind are the following:

For your organisation, the decision to use HSRs will depend on a number of factors. Once in place, it is important to assess whether they are being effective or not. Some ways to assess this is to:

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