WHS/OHS legislation in all the Australian jurisdictions states that workers are entitled to elect Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) in each workplace. Each state has different legislative obligations, however, the importance of HSRs functions is the same. HSRs plays a critical role in making workers safer at work, above all, helping workers for ensuring their views and concerns are heard in relation to Work Health and Safety issues. In this blog, we will give you an insight about powers and functions of an HSR, and their roles and responsibilities to their employer and the workers they represent.
To elaborate a little, health and safety representatives role within the workplace help employees within their workgroup communicate critical health and safety information about health and safety hazards between employers and the workers. In fact, they are like a bridge between employer and employees.
Benefits of having health and safety representative’s
The employers, who have open communication with HSRs in relation to health and safety matters, identify potential hazards within the workplace that the employer would not be aware of, or have not yet picked up on. They are often the best people to understand the risks, as they are working in the work area, whom they represent.
As a result, involving health and safety representatives in the workplace:
- improves employee involvement;
- helps the employer to identify the potential risks;
- helps the employer to identify better safety controls;
- improves safety culture of an organisation;
- empowers employees;
- help the organisation to reduce the accidents, injuries, and potential near misses;
- reduces the cost of accidents, injuries and potential near misses; and
- increases productivity, and efficiency.
Employers statutory obligations
Employers have statutory obligations to support HSRs in their role. Below are the employer’s obligations to HSRs:
- provide access to information relating to hazards and risks in the workplace, that will affect the workers’ health and safety.
- Talking with the HSR about health and matters.
- provide access to any resources the HSR may need to carry out their functions.
- discuss, when it is requested, to check the health and safety of the workers.
- allow a person supporting an HSR for the workgroup, to have access to the workplace.
- allow HSR to accompany an inspector during an inspection.
- maintain, and display list of HSR.
- provide health and safety representatives initial 5 days HSR training and HSR refresher (Health and safety representatives in Queensland must complete their HSR training and employer have an obligation ensure that), in other states upon request.
Powers and functions
Under the WHS/OHS legislation, HSRs are given powers and functions. This powers and functions enable the HSR, the ability to exercise their powers and functions effectively when they choose to exercise them.
Powers and functions of an HSR are to:
- main role is to represent workers on health and safety issues with the workplace,
- monitor the measures taken by the employer,
- investigate the complaints from their work group members, and
- look into anything that might be a health and safety risk to the workers they represent.
In order to exercise their powers and functions, health and safety representatives can inspect the work area, make a request to the regulator to attend the workplace, accompany and inspector, represent the work group members and request the establishment of a work health and safety committee.
They can also exercise additional powers and functions:
- to stop work from being performed if there is an immediate risk to the safety and health of persons at work, and
- to issue a ‘Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) when they reasonably believe their employer breached a provision of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act). (copy of PIN notice issued by the Health and safety representatives in Queensland must be sent to the WHSQ)
However, this powers and functions are limited to their workgroup, unless another workgroup representative is not available and the workers in the workgroup asked representatives help. Also If a representative sees that another workgroup member exposed to a hazard, about to heart themselves, or others.
A health and safety representative has an immunity for anything done or omitted in good faith in the course of their duties. They can choose when to exercise their powers and functions. WHS/OHS legislation does not enforce compulsory responsibilities or duties on HSRs.
Removal of an HSR
If the workers are not pleased with the performance of their health and representative, employees in a workgroup can sign a statement that the HSR does not represent the workgroup. The statement must be signed by the majority of the workgroup members. A copy of the document must be given to the HSR, employee and WHSQ.
A HSR is required to use their powers properly, with vigilant use of exercising their powers, and not engaged with the purpose of causing harm to the employer.
If the employees or the employer believe that they have been adversely affected by an HSR’s performance, they may raise an objection with more specific dissatisfactions. They can also object to a representative and seek the HSRs disqualification. More information about the powers and functions of an HSR can be found at WHSQ site.
If you would like to read more about Health and safety representatives , continue to read 5 Reasons why you should invest in training Health and Safety Representatives.
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