Health and Safety RepresentativeHealth and Safety Representative

The development of the Health and Safety Representative in a workplace has a long history dating back to the need to better monitor health and safety in Factories in Great Britain. The British Factory Act of 1833 is generally regarded as the first effective ‘Factory Act’ that implemented, amongst other initiatives, a provision to appoint four inspectors to monitor factories across the nation. It took a further 40 years for Australian to implement a similar initiative called the Shops and Factories Act 1873. This legislation followed much the same path as the Factory Act 1833 to control the physical conditions in factories, adding a limit of the hours worked for females.

It took until the 1882-84 royal commission in Australia to recommend registration and inspection of all factories, limitation of youth employment, maximum working hours for all employees and control of outwork. The outcome established a permanent inspectorate, who visited factories to identify problems and assist in drafting later reforms.

This laid some of the foundations for the current legislation set to protect workers and to impose specific duties (as developed through case law) on employers and businesses.

Other States and Territories followed suite and introduced their own legislation and slowly Australia began to introduce systems to monitor the health and safety of workers in the workplace. Previous process was entirely on the Employer and the only redress was through a common law claim following a workplace incident and subsequent injury.

Let us not forget this was at a time when even young people between 13 and 18 were allowed to work 12 hours a day.

Health and Safety Representative today.

Under the current Model legislation, the workers in a workplace can elect a person from their group (work group) to represent them on health and safety matters. This person has a collective voice with powers and functions to perform and be involved in specific health and safety tasks. Also, to impose duties (with penalties) on duty holders to support them. Notably it does not have any duties or obligations, i.e., cannot be held accountable.

Employers must support the HSR by:
– giving them time off at normal pay, and any necessary facilities and assistance, to enable them to fulfill their role
– talking with them about health and safety issues
– meeting with them when requested (within a reasonable time), to discuss health and safety
– giving them access to all information regarding hazards and risks affecting the work group (apart from personal medical information)
– allowing them to attend interviews about work health and safety, if the worker consents
– allowing a person assisting the HSR to enter the workplace, if that assistance is necessary
– permitting them to accompany an inspector on an inspection of areas where the workers they represent work
– paying for the five days training and a one-day annual refresher course, (where legislation permits).

These elected workers may be required to attend initial and refresher training depending on the specific legislation. When the worker has completed the necessary steps to be a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) they can exercise their powers and functions for their work group without any duties set in legislation and not held liable for doing or not doing a role under the legislation.

When there is a situation where the workers and the employer cannot agree on the health and safety issue special provisions have been made to enlist the assistance of a separate person. Either party may also ask the Regulator to assist or as a final step issue a notice to the employer that may be as binding as if were issued by the Regulator. This is why the HSR training is important as there are legislative steps that must be completed and a HSR and Employer must be aware of these, or the notice may be cancelled or upheld and enforceable.

What are the powers and functions of a health and safety representative?

The role of a HSR is generally limited to their own work group unless:

  • there is a serious risk to health or safety (created by an immediate hazard) affecting workers from another work group.
  • a worker in another work group asks for the HSR’s assistance, and the HSR for that other work group is found to be unavailable.

An elected HSR is entitled to perform the following tasks for the work group:

  • undertake workplace inspections.
  • review the circumstances of workplace incidents.
  • accompany a WHSQ inspector during an inspection.
  • represent the work group in health and safety matters.
  • attend an interview about health and safety matters with a worker from the work group (with the consent of the worker).
  • request that a health and safety committee be established.
  • participate in a health and safety committee.
  • monitor compliance measures.
  • investigate work health and safety complaints from work group members.
  • inquire into any risk to the health and safety of workers in the work group.

Each of these topics lead to the HSR possibly issuing a provisional improvement notice (PIN) after consulting with the other party. Only the HSR that has attended the approved training course can issue the provisional improvement notice (PIN). These courses are approved under section 21 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 being:
– an initial five-day training course
– a one day refresher course.

A HSR is not personally liable for anything done, or not done, in good faith while carrying out their role. However, any person adversely affected by a decision or action of a HSR can apply to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission to have them disqualified.

Health and Safety Representative Training

Having the elected worker attend the initial training and the subsequent refresher training is one way of ensuring that the disruption to business (should it occur) is warranted and follows the required process. Employers should also avail themselves to the specific sections of the legislation to ensure that they are aware of their duties towards the HSR and not to be liable to penalties out of the WHS legislation or personal fines through the infringement system in the state or territory.

What does health and safety representative do? – The primary role of a health and safety representative is to represent the health and safety interests of a work group and to raise any issues with their employer. The powers and functions of health and safety representatives are covered under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

What is HSR training? – In Queensland all HSRs must undertake the relevant approved training course within three months of their election. If a worker chooses not to undertake the training within the time period, they will no longer be eligible to fulfill the role of HSR and will need to be replaced.

Can a HSR be a manager? – No as this is supposed to be a worker elected by the workers co-workers to represent them on health and safety matters. A Manager cannot do this.

If you are interested in our WHS Consultancy services, you can contact David, Andrew or Mark to discuss your Health and Safety Issues.

We have qualified and certified Safety Consultants that can assist you in your business and offer a range of WHS consulting services along with general and specific health and safety training courses.

Contact us today for an obligation free quote on any of our services.