... what is their role? Elected reps have a crucial role at the workplace... but what is it? And deputies?
The elected health and safety representative has a crucial role to play when it comes to achieving healthy and safe workplaces. Above all, the role of the elected health and safety representative is one of representation - not one of responsibility for meeting workplace health and safety duties.
In Victoria, the main piece of legislation covering health and safety at work is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004).
The main objects of the OHS Act are to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people at work and to achieve safe and healthy work environments. The Act provides for this to happen through consultation between the employer, the employees and their respective associations. In addition to this, the 2004 Act also sets out a number of principles (Section 4). In summary, these principles are:
- That workers and members of the public must have the highest level of protection against risks to their health and safety that is 'reasonably practicable';
- That those who are either in control or manage are responsible for eliminating or reducing those risks;
- That employers and self-employed persons should be proactive, and take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure health and safety at work and in how work is done;
- That employers and workers should exchange information and ideas about risks and how to eliminate or reduce those risks;
- Workers are entitled, and should be encouraged, to be represented in relation to health and safety issues.
Under the Act, employers, manufacturers and suppliers, and employees all have duties in relation to health and safety in the workplace. Further, employees have the right to negotiate with the employer to establish "Designated Work Groups" (DWG) and then elect at least one Occupational Health and Safety Representative (OHS rep) for each DWG. It can also be agreed to have either more than one rep per DWG and/or deputy reps. Union members can ask their Union to help them to do this.
It is important to have an elected OHS rep, as it is the rep who represents members in any matter regarding occupational health and safety (OHS) with the employer (or his/her representative/s).
The employer has a number of obligations to elected reps:
- To consult on a wide range of issues:
- Identifying and assessing hazards and risks
- Making decisions about measures to be taken to control risks
- Making decisions about facilities
- Making decisions about procedures to resolve OHS issues and on how consultation will occur
- Making decisions about monitoring employee health
- Making decisions about providing information and training
- Determining the membership of the OHS Committee
- Proposing changes to the workplace, the plant, substances or other things, or the conduct of the work
Note that 2.1.5 of the Regulations details HOW the employer must involve the HSR in consultation.
- To provide reps with access to all information relating to actual or potential hazards and the health and safety of DWG members. This includes results of workplace monitoring, reports, statistics and so on.
- To allow the rep to be present at interviews with DWG members, and the employer and/or an inspector
- To permit a rep to attend an approved initial (and subsequent refresher) course of their choice
- To allow a rep to take time off with pay to exercise his/her powers or to attend approved training
- To provide reps with facilities and assistance
In addition to the above, health and safety representatives have certain rights and powers under the Act:
- To inspect any part of the workplace where members of their DWG work at any time, after giving notice, or immediately in the event of an incident or any situation involving an immediate risk to the health or safety of any person.
- To accompany an inspector
- To require the establishment of an OHS committee
- Be present at any OHS-related interview with a member of their DWG
- To seek resolution of any OHS issue
- To seek the assistance of any person
- To direct that work cease if there is an immediate threat to the health or safety of any person
- To issue a "Provisional Improvement Notice" if the situation is not of immediate concern.
Elected reps also have the right, under the Regulations, to seek a review of specific risk control measures the employer has or is implementing in order to eliminate/reduce risks.
At all times the representative and the employer's representative are encouraged to consult and co-operate. The VTHC believes that occupational health and safety is an area in which workers, unions and employers can work together co-operatively in order to identify hazards, assess the risks associated with these hazards and then implement controls to either eliminate or minimise these risks.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 is very clear and unambiguous - reps have an important role in the workplace and they have powers in order to be able to fulfill their role. Employers have obligations to health and safety reps. However, elected reps have no legal duties as representatives. Section 58(3) states:
"Nothing in this Act or the regulations imposes, or is to be taken to impose, a function or duty on a health and safety representative in that capacity."
The 2004 OHS Act now allows for the election of either more than one OHS rep per designated work group (DWG) and/or deputy reps. A deputy rep has the same rights to training as the elected rep under Section 67 – that is an initial course and refresher course annually. A deputy rep can only exercise the powers of a rep if the rep for the DWG 'either ceases to hold office or is unable (because of absence or any other reason) to exercise the powers of a rep'. So basically, a deputy rep is like an 'emergency rep' – ready and trained to step in when the rep can't.
- More information on the Act and a summary of its main sections.
- OHS Reps - Your rights under the OHS Act
- Employee Representation - a comprehensive VWA guide to Part 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. This publication is designed to be used as an ongoing reference for all those who are involved in OHS representation, particularly health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employers, and all Victorian workers who seek to establish representation in their workplace
Last amended April 2015