As an employer, you must maintain a safe workplace. Consultation with your workers enables workers to contribute to the making of decisions affecting their health and safety at work. Consultation may involve health and safety representatives and committees. This article explains your consultation requirements and the functions of health and safety representatives and committees.
Consultation With Workers
The model Work Health Safety (WHS) laws require you, so far as reasonably practicable, to consult with your workers who are or are likely to be directly affected by WHS matters.
- sharing relevant information about WHS matters with your workers;
- giving your workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views, raise WHS issues and contribute to the decision-making process;
- taking into account your workers' views; and
- promptly advising consulted workers on the outcome of the consultation.
Consultation is required when you are:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks to health and safety arising from work carried out or to be carried out;
- making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks;
- making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers;
- proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of workers;
- making decisions about the procedures for:
- consulting with workers;
- resolving WHS issues at the workplace;
- monitoring the health of workers;
- monitoring the conditions at any workplace under the management or control of your business; or
- providing information and training for workers.
Health and Safety Representatives
A worker may ask to elect a health and safety representative to represent them on WHS matters. In this situation, the parties establish work groups to facilitate the election. A workgroup may operate across multiple businesses or workplaces if the parties agree to such an arrangement.
To establish a workgroup, you must:
- take all reasonable steps to commence negotiations with your workers within 14 days;
- negotiate with your worker's representative (such as a union official) if requested by your worker; and
- promptly notify your workers of the outcome of the negotiations and any work groups determined by agreement.
The purpose of the negotiations is to determine:
- the number and composition of work groups to be represented by health and safety representatives;
- the number of health and safety representatives and deputy health and safety representatives (if any) to be elected; and
- the workplace or workplaces to which the work groups will apply.
If the negotiations fail, any party can ask the regulator to appoint an inspector to decide the matters listed above.
Additionally, the powers and functions of a health and safety representative for a work group are to:
- represent the workers in the work group in WHS matters;
- monitor the measures taken by you to comply with your WHS obligations;
- investigate WHS complaints from members of the work group; and
- inquire into matters that appear to be a risk to the health or safety of workers in the work group.
You must ensure that a list of each health and safety representative and deputy health and safety representative (if any) for each work group is prepared, kept up to date, and accessible to your workers.
Health and Safety Committees
A health and safety committee is a forum to develop and review WHS policies and procedures. You must establish a health and safety committee within two months of receiving a request by a health and safety representative or five or more workers at your workplace.
Additionally, you must not nominate more than half of the committee members. Health and safety representatives may consent to be members of the committee. If the parties cannot agree on the health and safety committee in a reasonable time, either party may ask the regulator to appoint an inspector. Furthermore, the inspector will decide whether or not to establish the committee and its make-up.
The functions of a health and safety committee include:
- facilitating cooperation between you and workers in instigating, developing and carrying out measures designed to ensure the workers' health and safety at work; and
- assisting with developing WHS standards, rules and procedures.
Notably, health and safety committees must meet at least once every three months and at any reasonable time at the request of at least half of the committee members.
You can also establish a health and safety committee by your initiative. You can consider exercising this initiative if it will help you meet your duty to consult and assist your workers in participating in WHS decisions. Examples of where a health and safety committee can be a good option include:
- if workers are reluctant to take on the role of a health and safety representative but are willing to participate on a committee; and
- when you need to consult on matters that are the same across several work groups or workplaces.
You must reasonably consult your workers about WHS matters. You should educate your workers on their WHS obligations, empower them to speak up and help influence WHS outcomes. Your workers can request to elect a health and safety representative to represent them on WHS matters. Additionally, your workers can also ask to establish a health and safety committee as a forum for consultation on WHS issues.