If you have work groups*… you must have HSRs
*work group as defined in Section 51 (2) WHS Act.
Weekly WHS Article 11th May 2023
Workers must be represented in any decisions that a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) (such as a business, government body, sole trader, see ref 1), intends to make on matters of health and safety. A PCBU cannot simply make changes regarding a work health and safety matter without first getting feedback from the members of the workforce. This information is obtained by consulting each member of the workforce that may be affected by the health and safety matter being addressed.
Sometimes it is impractical for the CEO or senior management representatives to go around the workplace and talk to every person about health and safety, or rely on survey responses, email traffic, or phone calls to get the information they need, especially if the WHS matter is urgent or critical.
It may be better suited for the business to split the workplace into sections, departments, or units and deal with one person for each group of people. There may already be something like this in place.
The WHS Act requires that this be done should the PCBU (or workers themselves) want worker representation to be formalised in this way. In the WHS Act these divisions are called “work groups.” Under Victorian health and safety law they are called “Designated Work Groups” (DWGs.) They are the same thing.
The people in these work groups are then represented by a Health and Safety Representative (HSR.) who are elected by members of their work group. This applies to every State and Territory in Australia. There must be at least one HSR for every work group.
Having HSRs may be a better way to obtain the information that a PCBU needs on WHS matters. The HSRs of each work group can facilitate information requests from management and obtain feedback from all persons in their work group if a WHS matter affects them. They then pass this information to management so that management can make correct and relevant decisions. An HSR must be available at all times to the workers of a work group as well as to management.
A PCBU has the greatest responsibility under WHS law: to provide a workplace that is safe and healthy and free from hazards. If something goes wrong or someone gets hurt it is always the PCBU that gets prosecuted if it is proven there was neglect or an oversight on the part of the PCBU in overseeing and operating the WHS management system. It is in the best interests of management to be very strict on ensuring HSRs are there and “on the job” at all times.
HSRs play a major role in assisting a business to consult with the workforce on matters of health and safety. It can be a matter of life or death in some instances. Make sure you have enough HSRs so that there is always an HSR when you need one. Training them in the SafeWork NSW 5-day HSR course can equip them with the knowledge and commitment that will help them to effectively carry out their vital role in helping to create a safe and healthy workplace.
Ref 1: SafeWork Australia the Meaning of PCBU
1. SafeWork NSW: “Workgroups”
2. SafeWork NSW: “Health and Safety Representatives” www.safework.nsw.gov.au/safety-starts-here/consultation@work/health-and-safety-representatives
3. SafeWork NSW: Workers Representation and Participation Guide www.safework.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/50165/workers-rep-and-participation-guide-8410.pdf
11th May 2023
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