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“We have a health and safety committee” does not mean “We have WHS Consultation covered”

Weekly WHS Article 29th November 2022

Before decisions are made about WHS matters that are to be addressed in the workplace, consultation between management and the workers who may be affected by the matter must take place.


Consultation is a mandatory requirement of every PCBU. Being that a PCBU is a legal entity and not a human being, it is the officers of the PCBU, the people who make decisions, who must ensure that the business has consultation procedures, and they occur when required. Officers have a duty under the same law to ensure that the PCBU is meeting its legal obligations in managing risks and hazards and providing safe systems of work.


How to Consult with Workers


There are a number of ways that consultation may take place in a workplace. In small companies, representatives of the PCBU, maybe even the director or GM themselves, may be able to go out on the floor and talk directly to staff, or have supervisors conduct toolbox talks; or have staff meetings, or email and phone correspondence.


In larger organisations, consultation may be carried out between PCBU representatives and worker representatives by way of Health & Safety Representatives who are elected to represent workers in workgroups which have been established for the purpose of WHS consultation.


A health and safety committee can be an additional resource, or in small companies that do not have workgroups, it may be one way for management to communicate with staff and get feedback on WHS matters.


Section 48 of the WHS Act describes the nature of consultation. It says that a PCBU must:

  • consult with workers who are, or who are likely to be, directly affected by a work health and safety matter,

  • share relevant information with workers,

  • give workers reasonable opportunity to express their views and to raise their work health and safety issues and to contribute to the decision-making process,

  • take workers’ views into account,

  • advise workers of the outcome of the consultation in a timely manner,

  • involve the workers’ health and safety representative in the consultation.

Health and Safety Committee meetings


The purpose of a health and safety committee is to help the business develop policies, procedures, rules, and standards in WHS. [see Note 1 below] An HSC also may help managers consult with the workforce. The committee provides feedback, suggestions, recommendations, and information needed from those people so that those with the authority to make decisions for the company, organisation, or corporation can spend the money needed to resolve the matter. This would have to occur whether there was an HSC, HSRs, toolbox talks, staff meetings, or not. Consultation is a mandatory requirement.


If a business has a health and safety committee (HSC) the committee must meet at least once every 3 months. That’s minimally once every 13 weeks. [see Note 2 below]


Section 49 of the WHS Act says:


“Consultation under this Division is required in relation to the following health and safety matters:

(a) when identifying hazards and assessing risks to health and safety arising from the work carried

out or to be carried out by the business or undertaking,

(b) when making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks,

(c) when making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers,

(d) when proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of workers,

(e) when making decisions about the procedures for:

(i) consulting with workers, or

(ii) resolving work health or safety issues at the workplace, or

(iii) monitoring the health of workers, or

(iv) monitoring the conditions at any workplace under the management or control of the person

conducting the business or undertaking, or

(v) providing information and training for workers, or

(f) when carrying out any other activity prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this

section.”


A health and safety committee doesn't replace other means of consultation. Consultation must be able to occur any day of the week, any time of the day.


For example, if a health and safety committee only meets once every 3 months, is management going to “wait till the next meeting” to consult staff on live WHS matters and concerns?


Obviously, the answer is no.


Therefore, a business must have a management system that exists and operates every moment of the day and every day of the work week that allows managers to be able to consult on health and safety matters as needed. That might be today, tomorrow, or might need to be right this very minute.


“We have a health and safety committee” does not mean “we’ve got consultation covered.”


Is consultation in your workplace effective? Do you want to talk about it? Feel free to contact one of Courtenell’s WHS consultants on Ph. 9552 2066.




Reference

1.WHS Act, Section 77 Functions of committee

2. WHS Act Section 78 - Meetings of committee







29th November 2022

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