- Introduction to health and safety committees
- How are they established?
- How are they structured?
- How do they function?
- Health and safety operating procedures
- Training for committee members
- More information
Introduction to health and safety committees
All workplaces should have a joint health and safety committee, established under Section 72 of the 2004 OHS Act.
A joint committee can be a useful way of establishing a permanent forum for communication between workers and management on broad health and safety issues.
However, it must be clearly understood by all parties that the role of a joint health and safety committee is to complement the activities of the health and safety representatives, not to replace them. Issues at the designated work group must be resolved by the relevant OHS rep and the management representative. If the issue cannot be resolved then the processes outlined in Part 2.2 - Issue Resolution Procedures in the 2017 Regulations should be followed. The rep has the right to do a number of things (eg issue a PIN, order a stop-work if there is an immediate risk, etc) if the issue is not resolved.
The Health and Safety Committee is the forum to look at wider workplace issues, such as development of policies, training programs, review of the maintenance schedule, employment of consultants, and so on.
The following outlines statutory and recommended provisions relating to the establishment, structure, functions and operating procedures of joint health and safety committees. Where these issues are not subject to statutory provision they should be jointly agreed between the parties at the workplace.
How are health and safety committees established?
Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 [Section 72(1)], an employer must establish a committee within 3 months of a health and safety representative requesting it, OR if required to by regulation. However, as there is currently NO regulation on committees, it is very important that reps put in a request to their employer if there is no proper committee at the workplace. Note too that under Section 35(1)(d)(ii) and (e) the employer is also required to consult with HSRs and employees when making decisions about procedure for consulting and when 'determining the membership of any health and safety committee'.
A committee can also be established within the terms of a health and safety agreement between the union(s) and the employer.
How are health and safety committees structured?
Under the Act at least half of the members of the Committee must be employees:
'at least half of the members of a health and safety committee must be employees (and so far as practicable, health and safety representatives or deptuty representatives) of the employer' ([S72(2)]
There should be no occasion where it would NOT be practicable to have OHS reps/deputies as the employee members of the committee. Depending on the total number of reps in a workplace, not all the reps may end up on the committee - but they should be agreed between all unions represented at the workplace. The employer must consult with the employees and the health and safety representative as to the structure and functions of the Committee. There should also be no need to run separate elections for employee committee members if there are HSRs who can step into these positions.
All the health and safety representatives in the workplace should be involved in reaching a common position on these matters. Furthermore, it is extremely important to arrange time outside the formal meeting times for the employee reps on the committee to meet to discuss the agenda, report back on consultations with their DWGs, and so on. These caucus meetings should be held in work time.
Employer representatives on the Committee should be senior enough and have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the employer.
The advice in WorkSafe's Employee Representation Guide is:
Employees must make up at least half the membership of an HSC and, as far as practicable*, these employee members should be HSRs or deputy HSRs. For example, if the number of employee positions on an HSC is less than the number of willing and available HSRs, then all the employee positions should be HSRs. The HSRs should decide jointly which of them will join the HSC.
Employers must consult with employees on determining the remaining membership of any HSC. The employer must take into account the views of the employees in these discussions. If employees are represented by an HSR, the consultation must involve that HSR, with or without the direct involvement of the employees.
Employer representatives on the HSC should be persons involved at senior management levels in the organisation who are able to make decisions about health and safety. Employer representatives should be drawn from senior managers, line managers, supervisors, safety officers, technical experts and personnel officers. This ensures that the committee is provided with the necessary knowledge and expertise regarding company policy, production needs and technical matters concerning premises, processes, plant, machinery and equipment and systems of work.
There is no prescribed size of a Committee. However, for a Committee to work effectively, it should not be too large (something between six and twelve is appropriate). There is nothing to prevent a committee deciding to appoint alternates - for both employer and employee committee members. The alternative employee members should be elected HSRs or DHSRs if practicable.
Company health and safety practitioners should be available to advise the Committee but not necessarily be voting members of the Committee.
How do health and safety committees function?Section 72(3) of the Act provides that:
The functions of a health and safety committee are:
- To facilitate co-operation between an employer and the employees of the employer in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures designed to ensure the health and safety at work of the employees; and
- To formulate, review and disseminate (in such languages as are appropriate) to the employees, the standards, rules and procedures relating to health and safety which are to be carried out or complied with at the workplace; and
- such other functions as are prescribed by regulations or agreed by the employer and the health and safety committee.
These sections are unchanged from the 1985 Act - meaning that there are still no other prescribed functions for committees. The VTHC recommends that functions of committees should include the following:
- Development of a general health and safety policy for the workplace;
- Consideration of aggregate accident and disease statistics for the workplace to identify problem areas and make recommendations for corrective action;
- Consideration of results of all environmental and personal monitoring carried out at the workplace;
- Investigation of causes for unacceptable high risks to employees and consider recommendations for their elimination or reduction of hazards;
- Consideration of aggregate results of all medical monitoring carried out on employees in the workplace and recommendations arising out of these results;
- Consideration of all available data on new chemicals, physical agents, installations or processes which are proposed to be introduced into the workplace, evaluate their potential health and/or safety effects on employees, and determine whether, or with what modifications or safety procedures, they should be introduced in the workplace;
- Development of policies for preventive and control strategies for all workplace hazards recognising existing Regulations and Codes of Practices as the minimum standard;
- Consideration of all selection and appointment of specialist occupational health and safety staff, or the engagement of consultants to enquire into and make recommendations on workplace hazards;
- Monitoring and reviewing compliance with general duties imposed on the employer under Section 21 of the Act;
- Consideration of all matters raised by any member of the Committee.
Health and safety operating procedures
Section 72(4) of the Act provides that Health and Safety Committees must meet regularly at least once every three months, but also at any other time if at least half of its members require it. Other than these two provisions, Section 72(5) specifically states that the Health and Safety Committee to regulate its own procedures. They should be agreed between the parties.
The committee should meet monthly or every six weeks - not so often that there is nothing substantial to discuss, and not so far apart that matters get forgotten or unnecessarily delayed.
The Chair of the meeting should be rotated between a management representative and the senior employee representative on the Committee (either meeting by meeting or after agreed time periods such as every three or six months).
The Committee should appoint a member to perform the secretarial functions - draw up the agenda (and circulate it to members a week prior to the meeting) and take minutes of the meeting. Alternatively, it could be agreed that a separate person, not a member of the committee, be tasked with this. This person could be appointed, by agreement of the committee, from the firm's administrative staff.
Priorities for dealing with agenda items should be agreed at the beginning of each meeting. The Committee should not get tied up dealing with trivial matters or issues that should have been resolved between a health and safety representative and an employer's nominee (e.g. supervisor) at the local level.
The minutes of the meeting should list the decisions of the meeting, the agreed time frame and nominated person responsible for implementing the decision, and a summary of unresolved issues. The decisions of the Committee should be publicised to all workers (e.g. posting minutes on notice boards).
Draft minutes should be sent out to all members well before the next meeting. If there are alternate members, the minutes should be sent to them too in order to ensure they are well-informed and can effectively participate if they are called to step in.
The Committee should establish sub-committees or working parties, as appropriate, to investigate particular issues and report back to the full Committee.
Committee meetings should normally be conducted on a relatively formal basis. The aim of the Committee should be to make decisions, and not allow the meetings to operate as a "talk-shop". Decisions should generally be made by consensus. If fundamental disagreements exist, the employee representatives should report back to employees and their union for advice.
Training for committee members
There is no mandated training for committee members. HSRs who are members of the workplace OHS committee should have completed their initial 5 day training, and the subsequent one day refresher training each year after that. It would be useful - and important - for the employer representatives on the committee to have some understanding of occupational health and safety legislation and concepts, so we recommend that they complete at least a 2 day training course.
- WorkSafe guidance: Employee representation
- FAQ: Health and Safety Committees - what is their role?
Last amended August 2020