Australia: How to be an effective Health & Safety Representative or Committee Member under the WHS Act

Last Updated: 28 October 2012
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016

Consultation with other duty holders – A PCBU must consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter. A PCBU is required to work together with other duty holders in a proactive and reciprocal way so that all risks associated with the activity that they have some involvement in are eliminated or minimised as far as is reasonably practicable. Relevant factors include (i) who else has influence and control in the work activity; (ii) how do duty holders each affect work health and safety in relation to that activity; (iii) where do work activities interact and what impact do they have; (iii) what information should be shared; and (iv) what action is needed to be taken to work together with the other duty holders.

Consultation with workers – A PCBU must consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by health and safety matters. "Workers" include employees, apprentices, contractors, sub-contractors and volunteers. Consultation must be effective, in respect of certain occasions (eg. when identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work). Consultation with workers who are represented by a health and safety representative, must involve that representative. Consultation requires: (i) relevant work health and safety information to be shared with workers; (ii) a reasonable opportunity for workers to express their views; (iii) workers are given a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the decision making process relating to the health and safety matter; (iv) the workers' views are taken into account; and (v) workers are advised of the outcome of any consultation in a timely manner. Reasonably practicable means consultation to the extent that is reasonable in the particular circumstances. This will depend on factors such as (i) the size and structure of the business, (ii) the nature of the work that is carried out, (iii) the nature of the particular decision, including the urgency to take action; (iv) the work arrangements such as shift work and/or remote work; and (v) the characteristics of workers, including languages spoken and literacy levels. The more likely that the hazard may cause serious harm, the more extensive your consultation should be. Consultation is only required with those workers directly affected by the health and safety matter.

Safety Committees – A PCBU must establish a health and safety committee within 2 months of being requested to do so by: (i) a HSR for a work group or (ii) 5 or more workers at that workplace or (iii) if prescribed by the regulations. A PCBU may also establish a committee on its own initiative. The committee may be agreed between the PCBU and the workers however, at least half of the members must be workers who are not nominated by the PCBU and the committee can have one or more HSR.

The committee must meet at least once every 3 months and at any reasonable time at the request of at least half of the members. The committee must be granted access to information that the PCBU has relating to workplace hazards and the health and safety of the workers. Unless the worker has consented, the committee must not be permitted to access any personal or medical information of the worker unless the information does not identify the worker or lead to their identi? cation.

Issue Resolution – If a dispute or issue about work health and safety arises and it is not resolved after discussion between the parties, the parties must make reasonable efforts to achieve a timely, final and effective resolution of the issue in accordance with the agreed procedure or, if none, the default procedure in the regulations. If the issue remains unresolved, a party may ask the regulator to appoint an inspector to attend the workplace to assist in resolving the issue.

Health & Safety Representatives (HSR) – An HSR is entitled to represent workers in safety matters, monitor the measures taken by the PCBU, investigate complaints relating to safety, and enquire into anything that appears to be a risk to health or safety. Powers: An HSR may: (i) inspect the workplace or any part of the workplace after giving the PCBU reasonable notice, or immediately without notice if an incident involves serious risks to the health and safety of any person; (ii) accompany an inspector during an inspection; (iii) be present at an interview concerning safety with an inspector and a worker (with consent); (iv) request that a health and safety committee be established; and (v) request the assistance of any person, including a union, whenever necessary. HSR's have the power to direct any unsafe work to cease. This is limited to directing workers in their own work group unless the HSR for another work group is unavailable and there is a serious risk to health or safety or a member of that group asks for their assistance. HSR's may also issue provisional improvement notices (PIN). HSR's may not exercise these latter two powers unless they have the requisite approved training. A PIN can be reviewed by an inspector. There are transitional provisions that apply in some jurisdictions.

HSR Appointment – If a worker requests the PCBU to facilitate the conduct of an election to appoint HSR's then the PCBU must facilitate the determination of one or more work groups. A work group is generally determined by negotiation and agreement between the PCBU and the workers who will form the work group. Negotiations in relation to work groups must be commenced within 14 days of a request for elections. The PCBU must notify workers of the outcome of the negotiations as soon as practicable and, if there is a failure of negotiation, any person can request an inspector to attend and resolve the deadlock.

Election of HSRs – A worker is eligible to be elected if he/she is a member of the work group, unless disquali? ed. The workers in a work group may determine how an election of an HSR is to be conducted and the PCBU must provide any resources, facilities and assistance that are reasonably necessary or prescribed to enable elections to be conducted. All workers in a work group are entitled to vote. An election is not required if the number of candidates equal the number of vacancies. An HSR holds of? ce for 3 years unless they resign, cease to be a worker in the work group, or are disqualified or removed by the majority of the work group members. Deputy HSRs may also be elected or appointed.

PCBU Duties – A PCBU must (i) consult on safety matters with any HSR; (ii) allow any HSR to have access to information relating to health and safety, (iii) allow the HSR to be present in interviews; (iv) provide any resources, facilities and assistance that is reasonably necessary; (v) allow a person assisting an HSR to have access to the workplace; (vi) permit an HSR to accompany an inspector and allow an HSR to spend such time as is reasonably necessary to exercise their powers and functions.

Training – PCBU's must train HSRs in courses approved by the regulator at the cost to the PCBU if the HSR requests training. They must allow HSRs time to attend training and must pay the HSR their normal pay during any time off to attend the course.

Health & Safety Representative

Role: The HSR is involved in the speci? c health and safety issues in their own workgroup. The role of the HSR is essentially one involving inspection, investigation, reporting and liaising on health and safety matters. An HSR represents co-workers in their work group in health and safety matters and can represent their concerns to management.


  • to your work groups about their safety issues and concerns
  • to management about safety issues and represent the workers in your group
  • to the Health & Safety Committee and ensure that safety issues are dealt with promptly


  • relevant Codes & Regulations that relate to the operation of the organisation
  • the organisation's WHS Management system and clearly understand its operation. Identify any areas requiring improvement
  • minutes of the Health & Safety Committee and ensure safety issues are dealt with promptly


  • proactively to protect the safety of workers by monitoring the workplace and identifying any safety issues
  • by consulting first with management in order to promptly resolve any safety concerns
  • in a responsible manner to promote safety in the organisation by adhering to policies and procedures

Committee Member

Role: The Committee operates for the whole of the business. It looks at the development, implementation and the review of policies and procedures. The Committee should focus on and be proactive about safety matters. Its functions include formulating policies; analysing safety reports; considering workers compensation issues; making recommendations regarding corrective action; developing procurement procedures and examining the outcome of audits.


  • to workers and HSRs about their safety issues and concerns
  • to management about safety issues and follow up any outstanding issues
  • to other Health & Safety Committee members in a respectful, constructive and positive manner to ensure that safety issues are dealt with promptly


  • relevant Codes, Regulations or external publications that relate to the operation of the organisation to assist you in reviewing currentpolicies and procedures
  • the organisation's WHS Management system and clearly understand its operation. Identify any areas requiring improvement
  • investigation reports, audits, safety statistics and other repotrts from Health & Safety Representatives to ensure safety issues are dealt with promptly


  • proactively in raising safety issues within the Committee
  • by educating others in the organisation about the role and functions of the Committee and its current activities
  • to monitor the workplace and identifying any safety issues
  • by being available to workers and listening to their safety concerns

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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