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What a Health and Safety Committee is Not

Weekly WHS Article 26th October 2023

It has been over 10 years since New South Wales adopted the Model WHS laws. The WHS Act and WHS Regulation replace the repealed OHS Act and OHS Regulations. The Model WHS laws aim to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.

One of the key elements that the Model Laws clarified very well is Governance. Identifying “WHS duty holders” and “duties” as the starting point established who has accountability to act and what specific duties apply to each duty holder. In summary,

  • Every person in a workplace is a duty holder (PCBU, Officers, Workers, and Others).

  • Every duty holder under the WHS act has duties.

  • Section 17 of the WHS Act and Clause 32 of the WHS Regulation, direct the PCBU (the organizational entity) to manage (eliminate or minimize) WHS risks.

  • Section 14 of the WHS Act clearly states that duties are not transferrable. This means, a PCBU’s risk management obligation cannot be subcontracted to any external party. Similarly, a director or an officer cannot assign their duties to “someone else.”

  • Sections 46-49 of the WHS Act establish that consultation on WHS matters is a mandatory duty of the PCBU. Management must consult. Workers are to be consulted. Every time a hazard or risk has been assessed and controls need to be worked out (because the hazard or risk could not be eliminated) every person who may be affected by that hazard or risk must be given the opportunity to provide feedback, ideas, and suggestions to help determine control measures.

  • Section 50-59 of the WHS Act details the formation of consultation workgroups and health and safety representatives for each workgroup to formalize consultation processes. Workgroups and the election of HSRs becomes mandatory, even if only one person in the workforce requests it.

  • At a more administrative level, a health and safety committee may be useful. As per Sections 77a and 77b of the WHS Act, a health and safety committee (HSC) acts as forum to assist management develop policies, plans, programs, and measures that assist the operation of the WHS management system.

  • Additionally, per Section 77c, and Sections 47(3) and 48 of the WHS Act, a health and safety committee can sometimes be an additional resource for management to consult the workforce, especially if the workforce is large and there are many workgroups. An HSC acts as a conduit between management and the workforce.

What a health and safety committee is not:

  • A health and safety committee has no operational role.

It is the duty of the PCBU to manage work health and safety of workers. Operational managers manage and supervise the workplace and ensure the policies and procedures are being adhered to. It is the duty of the PCBU to assess and manage risks and hazards. The PCBU can appoint an appropriate individual to carry out a risk assessment on behalf of the organisation, as long as they are competent to do so.

The management team should start the process and discuss risks with workers. In fact, consulting with workers during each step of the risk management process is a crucial aspect. The committee facilitates co-operation between the management and workers, it does not “conduct risk assessments”. The committee may assist management to get information from workers about proposed controls for risks that have been assessed but it is the duty of management to ensure the risk assessments are conducted in the first place.

  • A health and safety committee has no “authority.”

The Health and Safety Committee has the power to make recommendations to the management of the PCBU, however, the committee does not have the authority to implement those recommendations. Section 77 of the WHS Act clearly outlines functions of a health and safety committee, i.e.,

  1. to facilitate co-operation between the PCBU and workers in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures designed to ensure the workers’ health and safety at work, and

  2. to assist in developing standards, rules and procedures relating to health and safety that are to be followed or complied with at the workplace.

So, the question is, “Is your committee achieving the purpose for which it was established?”

Is your committee trained in WHS basics, consultation, and basics of risks management principles?

Courtenell offers numerous options to train your committee members. Training is equally suitable for your management representatives and worker representatives on the committee. While most worker representatives on health and safety committees are usually HSRs too, the prescribed training for HSRs does not get much into the specifics of how a HSC interacts with HSRs nor how an HSC can assist with consultation and help develop measures. For some businesses HSC-specific training may be useful. If you think this may be of benefit to your business please contact one of our WHS training consultants to discuss.

What a Health and Safety Committee is Not
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26th October 2023

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