Health & Safety Reps are vital – what do they do?
A Health and Safety Representative is not a Health and Safety Officer – so what is the difference?
The titles ‘officer’ and ‘coordinator’ usually denote a staff member appointed by school management to ‘manage’ health and safety to ensure that management is meeting its obligations to provide a healthy and safe workplace. The officer or coordinator will normally be delegated to address problems that may arise, but answers to management, not to staff. So, if the coordinator or school management do not recognise an issue, or do not consider an issue such as workload burnout to be a problem, then it may not be appropriately addressed.
The Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is elected or selected by the staff of the school to represent their health and safety interests; they are not a school-appointed position. Management have no say in HSR selection.
The role of an HSR is voluntary. There is no allowance for undertaking HSR duties, however, HSRs and deputy HSRs are entitled to undertake training and have access to resources – eg. computer, printer and filing resources. The primary role of a HSR is to represent workers on health and safety through ongoing consultation and cooperation between the workers of a work group and the employer.
What is a work group
Forming a work group is the first step to take before the election of one or more HSRs. A work group should be structured to ensure that an HSR is able to effectively and conveniently represent group members.
Work groups are determined based on things like group size, work type and hazards, and are decided through negotiation and agreement between an employer and workers.
Employers must start negotiating with workers and/or their representatives within 14 days of being asked to establish a work group or groups. Union representatives or any other person that a worker nominates to represent them must be involved in negotiating work group formation.
Powers and functions of the elected HSR
Employers must allow HSRs to access information relating to hazards that may affect the health and safety of any work group.
HSRs have certain powers and functions, which include:
- representing the workers in the work group in matters relating to health and safety
- monitoring the measures taken by the employer or their representative with respect to compliance with the Act in relation to the workers of the work group
- investigating work health and safety complaints from members of the work group
- looking into anything that might be a risk to the work health or safety of workers they represent.
- The powers and functions of a HSR are limited to the work group they have been elected to represent unless an HSR from another work group is unavailable and:
- there is a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard that affects or may affect a member of another work group
- a member of another work group asks for assistance.
Why do you need a HSR at your school?
Examples of workplace circumstances where HSRs would represent the work group to employers are; vulnerable workers, COVID-19 safety concerns, accident and injuries, unsafe workplace, representation on a WHS committee.
Now that you know more about the role of HSRs, talk about work safety issues with your colleagues to find out who the HSR/s are in your school. If you don’t have a HSR, discuss electing a HSR to represent you.
Contact our office for more information on electing a HSR – 8410 0122 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – and one of our organisers will assist.