Health and safety committees

Overview

Health and safety representatives play a key role in the consultation process outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act).

Health and safety representatives are elected by workers to represent the interests of members of that work group in terms of work health and safety matters. Health and safety representatives are elected for a term of three years.

The Worker Representation and Participation Guide published by Safe Work Australia contains a very useful outline of all the legislative requirements relating to health and safety representatives.

Health and safety representatives

Health and safety representatives and deputy health and safety representatives must be elected by members of the work group they will represent.

Workers from the work group determine how an election is to be conducted (if one is needed). Any persons in control of a business or undertaking must be informed of the election date as soon as practicable after the date has been decided. Members of the work group and relevant person in control of a business or undertaking must also be informed of the election outcome.

The election process may be informal, for example with a show of hands. Alternatively it may involve a more formal process such as the use of ballots. If the majority of workers in a work group agree, the election may be conducted with the assistance of a union or other organisation or person.

If there is more than one work group, there needs to be a separate process to elect health and safety representatives for each one.

A health and safety representative's term of office can be up to three years. If re-elected, another term of office would begin.

However a person ceases to be a health and safety representative if:

  • they resign as a health and safety representative by giving the person in control of a business or undertaking written notice;
  • they no longer work in the work group;
  • the person is disqualified from acting as a health and safety representative; or
  • the majority of members (half the number plus one) of the work group decide that the person should no longer represent the work group.

Health and safety representatives have duties as workers under the Act and a health and safety representative cannot be held personally liable and cannot be prosecuted for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith:

  • when exercising a power or performing a function under the Act; or
  • in the reasonable belief that the thing done or omitted to be done was authorised under the Act.

Acting in good faith involves carrying out health and safety representative powers and functions with honest and sincere intentions or beliefs by:

  • taking reasonable care for their own health and safety;
  • taking reasonable care not to adversely affect the health and safety of others;
  • complying with any reasonable instructions given by the person in control of a business or undertaking to allow them to comply with their duties; and
  • cooperating with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to health and safety at the workplace.

Deputy health and safety representatives

In the absence of the health and safety representative, a deputy effectively becomes the health and safety representative and has the powers of that role.

Deputy health and safety representatives are elected in the same way as health and safety representatives. Most arrangements apply equally to deputy health and safety representatives as they do to health and safety representatives, including:

  • term of office;
  • grounds for disqualification;
  • health and safety representative immunity; and
  • entitlement to training.

Responsibilities of health and safety representatives

The health and safety representative has a major role to play in representing members of their work group and bringing issues to the attention of the person in control of a business or undertaking.

The Act sets out specific powers and functions that a health and safety representative can perform in the interests of the workers they represent.

The powers and functions of health and safety representatives are to:

  • represent the workers in their work group in relation to work health and safety matters;
  • monitor the measures taken by the person in control of a business or undertaking to comply with the Act  in relation to their work group members;
  • investigate complaints from work group members about work health and safety; and
  • inquire into anything that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of work group members, arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.

Health and Safety representative  may also exercise their powers and functions:

  • if there’s a serious  risk to health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a  hazard that affects or may affect a member of another work group;
  • a member of another  work group asks for the representative’s assistance; and
  • where the health and  safety representative or deputy health and safety representative for another  work group are unavailable.

In exercising a power or performing a function, health and safety representatives may:

  • inspect the workplace where their work group works at any time after giving reasonable notice to the person in control of a business or undertaking;
  • inspect the workplace where their work group works at any time without notice in the event of an incident or any situation involving a serious risk to the health or safety of a person emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard;
  • accompany an inspector during an inspection of any part of the workplace where their work group works (inspectors must, as soon as practicable after entering a workplace, take reasonable steps to notify the relevant person in control of a business or undertaking as well as any health and safety representatives of the entry);
  • attend interviews between one or more work group members and an inspector or the person in control of a business or undertaking;
  • request the establishment of a health and safety committee;
  • receive information concerning the work health and safety of workers in the work group;
  • whenever necessary, request the assistance of any person;
  • in some circumstances, direct a work group member to cease unsafe work or issue a provisional improvement notice; and
  • in some circumstances, request a review of a control measure where the duty holder has not adequately reviewed the control measure as required under the Act.

Obligations to health and safety representatives

A person in control of a business or undertaking must:

  • consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with health and safety representatives on work health and safety matters at the workplace;
  • confer with a health and safety representative, whenever reasonably requested by the representative, to ensure the health and safety of the work group workers;
  • allow a health and safety representative access to information that the person in control of a business or undertaking has relating to hazards and risks affecting the health and safety of the workers in the work group;
  • allow a health and safety representative access to information relating to the health and safety of the work group workers;
  • allow health and safety representatives to attend interviews concerning work health and safety between one or more workers (with their consent) and an inspector or another person conducting the business or undertaking at the workplace (or their representative);
  • provide their health and safety representatives with resources, facilities and assistance that are reasonably necessary to enable the health and safety representative to exercise their powers and perform their functions under the Act;
  • allow a person assisting a health and safety representative to have access to the workplace if it is necessary to enable the assistance to be provided;
  • permit the health and safety representatives to accompany an inspector during an inspection of any part of the workplace where a member of the health and safety representative’s work group works;
  • provide any assistance to the health and safety representative required by the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011;
  • allow the health and safety representative as much time as is reasonably necessary to perform their powers and functions under the Act ; and
  • pay health and safety representatives performing their role the same amount they are entitled to receive when performing their normal duties.

Keeping a list of health and safety representatives

Keeping a list of health and safety representatives enables workers to find out who can represent them if a work health and safety issue arises. To ensure the list is readily accessible to workers, the person in control of a business or undertaking must display the list in a place that is accessible to all relevant work groups such as on a notice board or on the workplace intranet.

The principal contractor  or person conducting a business or undertaking must notify WorkSafe of health and safety representatives and deputy Health and Safety representative as soon as practicable after an election has occurred  by completing the Notification  of HSRs online form.

Health and safety committees

A health and safety committee is a useful forum for consultation on work health and safety issues. A committee enables persons in control of a business or undertaking and worker representatives to meet regularly and work co-operatively to develop policies and procedures to improve work health and safety outcomes.

A person in control of a business or undertaking must establish a health and safety committee within two months after being requested to do so by a health and safety representative or five or more workers at the workplace. However, a person in control of a business or undertaking can also decide on their own initiative to establish a health and safety committee for their workplace.

The membership of a health and safety committee may be agreed between a person in control of a business or undertaking and the workers at the workplace. Representatives of the person in control of a business or undertaking should be drawn from senior managers, managers, supervisors, safety officers, technical experts and personnel officers. This ensures that the committee is provided with the necessary level of decision making, knowledge and expertise regarding company policy, production needs and technical matters concerning premises, processes, plant, machinery and equipment, and systems of work.

Health and safety representativess are usually automatically members of the health and safety committee and at least half of the members must be workers who have not been nominated by the person in control of a business or undertaking.

If workers and a person in control of a business or undertaking cannot agree on the constitution of a health and safety committee within a reasonable time, any party may ask the regulator to appoint an inspector to decide the matter.

The inspector can decide the constitution of the health and safety committee or that the committee should not be established. The inspector’s decision is taken to be an agreement between the workers and the person in control of a business or undertaking. However, if an affected worker, a person in control of a business or undertaking or health and safety representative does not agree with the inspector’s decision, they can request the regulator to review the decision.

Health and safety committee functions

Health and safety committees can consider the management of health and safety across the whole workforce. In this way, the activities of the health and safety committee can complement the role of the health and safety representatives, whose powers are usually limited to issues affecting their particular work group.

Health and safety committee functions include:

  • facilitating co-operation between the person in control of a business or undertaking and workers to instigate, develop and carry out measures to secure the work health and safety of workers;
  • assisting in developing health and safety standards, rules and procedures that will be followed or complied with at the workplace; and
  • other functions agreed by the person in control of a business or undertaking and members of the health and safety committee.

How often must a health and safety committee meet?

Health and safety committees must meet at least once every three months and also at any reasonable time when at least half of the health and safety committee members make a request.

The following issues can be considered when deciding how often the committee should meet:

  • the expected volume of work to be handled by the health and safety committee;
  • the size and location of the workplace;
  • the number of workers and composition of the workers at the workplace;
  • the nature of the work being carried out; and
  • the nature of the hazards at the workplace.

A person in control of a business or undertaking must allow health and safety committee members to spend the time that is reasonably necessary to attend health and safety committee meetings or to carry out the functions of the health and safety committee. A person in control of a business or undertaking must also pay health and safety committee members their usual entitlements when they are performing health and safety committee duties.

What information can a health and safety committee member access?

The person in control of a business or undertaking must allow the health and safety committee to access any information they have relating to:

  • hazards (including associated risks) at the workplace; and,
  • the work health and safety of the workers at the workplace.

Can a health and safety committee determine its own procedures?

A health and safety committee may choose to determine its own procedures for organising and conducting meetings.

It is recommended that the dates of the meetings be arranged well in advance, even to the extent of planning a program six months or a year ahead. In these circumstances, all members of the committee and all health and safety representatives and deputies in the workplace (not all may be members of the health and safety committee) should be given a personal copy of the program listing the dates of the meetings. Notices of the dates of meetings should also be published where all workers can see them.

Health and safety committee members should get a copy of the agenda and accompanying papers at least one week before each meeting. Every effort should be made to ensure scheduled meetings take place. Where postponement cannot be avoided, an agreed date for an alternative meeting should be made and announced as soon as possible.

The health and safety committee may need to develop procedures and rules for the planning and conduct of meetings. Issues the committee should consider include:

  • who will chair the meeting;
  • whether there will be a quorum for meetings;
  • who will take the notes or minutes of the meetings;
  • who will issue the notes or minutes;
  • who will draw up and issue the agenda;
  • how long items will remain on the agenda; and
  • processes by which decisions will be made.

In certain workplaces, it might be useful for the health and safety committee to appoint subcommittees to study and report on particular health and safety issues. The health and safety committee should decide whether to record full and detailed minutes of meetings or simply to keep summary notes. Where notes are preferred to minutes, these should include details of decisions made, who is responsible for carrying out these decisions and the timetable for action.

A copy of agreed minutes or notes of each meeting should be supplied as soon as possible after the meeting to each member of the health and safety committee and a copy sent to each health and safety representative for the work groups covered by the committee. A copy of the minutes or notes should also be sent to the most senior executive responsible for work health and safety matters, and arrangements should be made to ensure that senior management is kept informed generally of the work of the committee. Copies of the notes or minutes should be displayed or made available by other means for the information of workers.

How large should a health and safety committee be?

The overall aim, while keeping the size manageable, should be to ensure that the health and safety committee is representative of the workplace. In large workplaces, a single committee may be too large or too small to adequately reflect the needs of the workplace. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to set up several committees with communication links for coordination between them. Criteria that may be relevant when determining whether more than one committee needs to be established include:

  • the size and complexity of the workplace;
  • the nature and degree of risk involved in the workplace;
  • the structure of the work group; and
  • the optimum size of committees.

Should small workplaces have a health and safety committee?

Although there is nothing to prevent a small business from establishing a health and safety committee, such committees are more common to medium to large workplaces. Because large workplaces tend to involve more complex management structures, health and safety committees are often an effective means of coordinating a systematic approach to health and safety across the organisation.

However, small workplaces that do not have a health and safety committee should nevertheless involve staff in developing policies and procedures and in periodically reviewing their effectiveness in line with the person conducting a business or undertaking duty to consult with workers on health and safety matters. In workplaces with health and safety representatives, this must involve the health and safety representatives.

Should a health and safety committee be used for resolving health and safety disputes?

Health and safety dispute resolution is not an appropriate function for health and safety committees. Dispute resolution requires specific procedures and the nature of committees makes them unsuitable for resolving issues.

How can managers effectively support health and safety committees?

The effectiveness of a health and safety committee will depend on a number of factors. Significant among these will be the degree of cooperation the committee has been able to develop and the respect with which the workplace parties, especially the chief executive officer and management team, view the committee's work. The following activities could assist in maintaining the drive of a committee's work:

  • regular meetings with effective publicity of the committee's discussions and recommendations;
  • speedy decisions by management on the health and safety committee's recommendations and, where necessary and appropriate, prompt action with effective publicity;
  • mechanisms for ensuring all workers are informed about and support the committee; and
  • setting priorities and monitoring results.

Good communication between the committee, management and workers will also contribute to the effectiveness of the health and safety committee. For example, outcomes of the meetings might be placed on prominent notice boards and verbal briefings or emails organised by the health and safety representatives to update workers. If appropriate, the committee will need to determine what languages are spoken in the workplace to ensure that information is provided in multilingual form where necessary.

Health and safety representative training

It is not mandatory for health and safety representatives to be trained. However, health and safety representatives should be encouraged to take up their training entitlement to provide them with the skills and knowledge to perform their role effectively. Health and safety representatives can issue provisional improvement notices and direct work to cease only if they have been trained. Untrained health and safety representatives can perform all other functions.

Health and safety representatives and deputy health and safety representatives are entitled to attend an initial training course of five days. They are also entitled to one day's refresher training each year, with the first refresher training commencing one year after the initial training.

A person in control of a business or undertaking must allow each health and safety representative and deputy health and safety representative paid time off to attend training. Training should be arranged within a period of three months after the request is made and the person in control of a business or undertaking must pay the course fees and any other reasonable costs associated with the health and safety representative’s attendance at the training.

If the person in control of a business or undertaking and health and safety representative cannot come to a timely agreement about training either party may ask the regulator to appoint an inspector to decide the matter. If a person in control of a business or undertaking or health and safety representative does not agree with the inspector’s decision, they can request the regulator to review the decision.

Approved training providers

Training providerApproval number
CIT Solutions WSACT HSRTRC-002
Creative Safety InitiativesWSACT HSRTRC-003
MBA Group TrainingWSACT HSRTRC-004
National Safety Council of Australia (NCSA)WSACT HSRTRC-005
Parasol EMTWSACT HSRTRC-006
Konekt Australia Pty LtdWSACT HSRTRC-012
ACT Health DirectorateWSACT HSRTRC-010
Mick PetersonWSACT HSRTRC-011

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