Committees, Safety Reps and Consultation

IT’S THE LAW!

Under the Safety Laws (refer to Clause 24 of the OHS Regulation), workplaces with over 20 employees can have an Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

Consultation must occur. Employees must be able to have a say in any decisions about their health and safety (Occupational Health And Safety Act Section 13). This means the sharing of relevant information.

The employer must talk with the employees and take on board any issues, concerns and/or suggestions raised in relation to health and safety (Occupational Health And Safety Act Section 14).

The OHS Regulation 2001 encourages employers and employees to talk to each other about safety matters and work together, particularly through elected safety and health representatives and joint safety committees.

Clause 25 of the OHS Regulation outlines the procedures for electing a safety and health representative.

Under the NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act a safety and health representative has the powers necessary to carry out a number of very important functions.

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act encourages employers to work with safety and health representatives and sets out duties for employers.

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act allows employees to refuse work if they have reasonable grounds to believe the work is dangerous and there is an immediate risk of serious injury or harm to themselves or others in the workplace.

Under the NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act, it is an offence for an employer to treat somebody unfavourably because that person is a safety and health representative or a member of a safety and health committee

WHY SAFETY AND HEALTH REPRESENTATIVES ARE IMPORTANT

It makes sense for employers and employees to talk together about safety at work. A safety and health representative is the key to communication between employers and employees. They make it easier for employers and employees to exchange ideas and concerns about safety.

When everyone works together as a team, great things can happen. Like improving work conditions and keeping people safe. You can tell when you walk into a workplace that operates this way – employees feel involved, people are more committed to working safely, the working environment is happier, people want to work harder, productivity is higher, and there are less accidents and injuries.

IT WORKS FOR EVERYONE

The OHS Regulation 2001 encourages employers and employees to talk to each other about safety matters and work together, particularly through elected safety and health representatives and joint safety committees.

Safety and health representatives are not safety and health officers or coordinators and they are not responsible for solving safety and health problems in the workplace. That’s still up to the employer. But the safety representative is an important link between employers and employees. Employees usually feel more comfortable talking to their safety and health representatives to raise an issue or present an idea about occupational safety and health to management. That’s because the safety representative is an employee too and more likely to understand the issues first-hand and have the time to listen.

Safety and health representatives raise and discuss safety issues and concerns with employers and/or managers so they can work together and arrive at a solution to make the workplace safe. The safety representative can make a difference.

ELECTING AND REGISTERING SAFETY AND HEALTH REPRESENTATIVES

Clause 25 of the OHS Regulation outlines the procedures for electing a safety and health representative. In the election process the OHS Representative must be elected by and from the employees in the relevant workgroup the person represents. This process and other requirements are further explained by the Regulation under clause 25.

THE FUNCTIONS OF A SAFETY AND HEALTH REPRESENTATIVE

Under the NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act a safety and health representative has the powers necessary to carry out a number of very important functions. These functions are outlined in the following table.

FUNCTION OF SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES

To regularly inspect the workplace areas you were elected to represent at agreed times and frequency.

You can make an inspection with prior notice every 30 days, however wherever possible, you and your employer should agree on the number and type of workplace inspections to be carried out.

Types of inspections may include:

  • Regular general inspections;
  • Regular inspections of particular activities, processes or areas;
  • Inspections arising from employees’ complaints;
  • Inspections after substantial changes to the workplace; and
  • Inspections after an accident or dangerous incident.

After an inspection, you should report to the employer on any safety or health issue identified during the inspection. The report should be in writing, although hazards needing quick action should be verbally reported immediately.

As a safety representative, you should also inform employees about any workplace hazards and potential risks identified during the inspection.

Checklists maybe useful for safety and health representatives when carrying out workplace inspections. A fixed checklist of items can be limiting, so keep it open-ended and make sure it covers the nature of potential hazards and the level of risk. A list of potential problems with their consequences may reveal a range from minor to serious.

Safety and health representatives can discuss the completed checklist with the employer and safety and health committee (if there is one) to help identify solutions to hazards identified.

To immediately investigate the scene and details of any accident, dangerous incident or risk of serious injury or harm to any person.

After an accident or dangerous incident the employer should take immediate steps to prevent the incident happening again.

The employer should notify you immediately after an accident or dangerous incident. Depending on the situation, you may choose to investigate on your own or agree to a joint investigation with the employer.

Dangerous incidents that you may need to investigate include:

  • An incident that could have caused fatal or serious injuries;
  • A falling object landing close to an employee;
  • Failure of a sling or lifting device;
  • Uncontrolled release of a hazardous chemical or substance;
  • Spillage resulting from failed valves, connections or hoses;
  • Failure of plant or equipment; or
  • Collapse of a building or structure.

Safety and health issues identified by any safety representatives should be raised with the employer according to the steps agreed upon.

To keep up to date with workplace safety and health information provided by the employer and liaise with government and other bodies.

The employer has a duty to make safety and health information available to you.

To report hazards in the workplace to the employer.

You should report any hazard or potential hazard to your employer or your employer’s representative.

You may recognise a hazard or find out about a hazard from an employee before management becomes aware.

Where there is a safety and health committee for the workplace, to refer any matters that you think should be considered by the committee.

You have an important role in identifying matters that should be considered by the safety and health committee.

To consult and cooperate with the employer on safety and health matters.

You should consult and cooperate with management on all safety and health matters relevant to the work area and employees you represent.

To liaise with employers about safety and health matters.

You have a responsibility to advise management of the views of the employees you represent. To do this effectively you should seek the views of employees before meeting with the employer.

You also have an important role in transmitting information on safety and health matters to the employees that you represent.

Safety and health representatives carry out these functions in the workplace or part of the workplace that was agreed between the employer and employees before the representative was elected.

As a safety and health representative you may accompany a NSW WorkCover inspector on an inspection of your workplace, if requested by the inspector.

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act also provides an important and necessary protection for safety and health representatives. You cannot be sued for damages for anything arising from having performed, or failed to perform any function related to your position as a safety representative. However, you do have the same responsibilities and general duties of care as other employees.

EMPLOYER DUTIES TO SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act encourages employers to work with safety and health representatives and sets out duties for employers.

These duties are to:

  • Make safety and health information available in relation to hazards, plant, substances used, the systems of work and the safety and health of the employees at the workplace. This includes information such as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for any hazardous substances used in their workplace, accident investigation reports or accident summaries, details of notices issued by inspectors, results of testing such as noise levels or atmospheric testing and statistical information. There are exceptions. Employers are not required to provide representatives with employees’ personal medical information without their consent nor are they required to provide trade secrets;
  • Allow you to be present at any interview on safety and health between the employer (or the employer’s representative) and the employee whenever the employee requests;
  • Consult with you on any changes in the workplace that may affect employees’ safety and health;
  • Allow you to take time off work, with pay to perform your functions and attend accredited training courses;
  • Notify you of any accidents or dangerous incidents; and
  • Provide assistance and access to facilities to help you carry out your functions (for example, where available and relevant, access to a desk, telephone, typing and photocopying facilities, storage, a meeting room and use of notice boards).

If a NSW WorkCover inspector visits your workplace, your employer or employer’s representative, once notified of the visit, must advise you and any other safety and health representatives of the inspector’s visit.

To carry out your functions effectively you may need access to:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2000;
  • The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2001;
  • Relevant Australian Standards;
  • Codes of practice; and
  • Guidelines or guidance notes.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2001 your employer must ensure that these publications are made available, as soon as practicable after being requested, to people who work at the workplace.

KEEPING RECORDS

Keeping records of tasks related to your functions is an important part of being a safety and health representative. These may include:

  • Daily diary of safety and health events;
  • Monthly planner for inspections, meetings and follow-up;
  • List of job procedures for hazard identification and risk analyses;
  • Photographs of relevant plant and equipment;
  • Reports of your inspections;
  • Interviews with employees;

Copies of agendas and minutes of employee meetings and safety and health committee meetings; and

Hazard information relevant to hazards at your workplace.

DISCRIMINATION

Under the NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act, it is an offence for an employer or prospective employer to treat somebody unfavourably because that person:

  • Is or has been a safety and health representative or a member of a safety and health committee;
  • Performs or has performed any function as a safety and health representative or committee member;
  • Gives or has given assistance to an inspector, safety and health representative or committee member; or
  • Makes or has made a complaint about workplace safety and health to the employer, a fellow employee, inspector, safety and health representative or committee member.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUES

The best way to resolve safety and health issues in the workplace is for the parties in the workplace to agree on relevant procedures that suit individual workplaces and to resolve the issues before they become disputes.

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act requires employers, safety and health representatives and employees to resolve safety and health issues by following relevant procedures for the workplace. If these procedures fail, the NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act sets out steps to resolve the issue. If no procedures have been developed, then the procedures in the Regulations must be followed. If the issue cannot be resolved and there is both a safety and health representative and a safety and health committee, the safety representative must refer the issue to the committee for resolution.

RIGHT TO REFUSE UNSAFE WORK

The NSW Occupational Health And Safety Act allows employees to refuse work if they have reasonable grounds to believe the work is dangerous and there is an immediate risk of serious injury or harm to themselves or others in the workplace. The employer and the safety and health representative must be notified. The matter has to be resolved by the employer and the safety representative or committee, or employees, like other safety and health issues. If these people cannot resolve the matter, they may then request a NSW Workcover inspector to attend the workplace.

The employer can give employees other work to do away from the danger. If an employee leaves the workplace without the employer’s permission or has refused to do reasonable alternative work, the employee is not entitled to normal pay and conditions. Employees do not need the employer’s permission to leave the work area if they risk imminent and serious harm by remaining. If there are any unresolved problems related to pay or benefits, an employee or the employer can refer the case to a Safety and Health Magistrate.

EMPLOYER CONSULTATION

When Does An Employer Have To Consult?

All employers must assess workplace risks and while they are still in the assessment stage they have to consult the employees. Before an employer decides to put control measures in place they have to discuss this with the employees.

Employers have to consult on changes to premises, for example if an employer wants to introduces a new security system, they have to discuss it with the employees first and take on board any suggestions, concerns etc.

Employers have to consult on changes to systems or methods of work, for example if the employer changes rosters or shifts they must consult the effected employees and take on board any concerns, for example fatigue (Occupational Health And Safety Act Section 15).

How Does An Employer Consult?

The law allows for three options

1. OHS committees

2. OHS Representatives

3. Other agreed arrangements – This is where a union can negotiate with the employer on a particular arrangement that suits the workplace. For example there may be a number of worksites (i.e. the same chain of fast food stores). The employer and union may agree to have OHS reps from each of the store, which meet on a regular basis (Occupational Health And Safety Act Section 16).

The Mechanics Of Consultation

The Law allows for the employees to have a committee if there are more than 20 employees and the majority want a committee. WorkCover can also direct that a committee be set up. If one employee asks for a workplace rep then the employer must allow for an election and the union can conduct this election basis (Occupational Health And Safety Act Section 17).

Please note that a workplace can have a combination of workplace committees and representatives.

HOW IS AN OHS COMMITTEE FORMED?

Under the Safety Laws (refer to Clause 24 of the OHS Regulation), workplaces with over 20 employees can have an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Committee. The requirements are:

1. The employees in that workplace must elect their own employee Representatives on the Committee.

2. There must be an election held to elect employee reps for the committee

3. Your union can conduct the election, if the majority of employees request them to conduct the election.

4. The number of employer reps on a committee must not outnumber the employee reps.

5. The chairperson of the committee must not be an employer representative.

6. The term for Employee Representatives on a committee is two (2) years; a person may stand for re-election.

Occupational Health and Safety Committees must be established if the majority of employees in the workplace request for a Committee.

Workplaces can have both OHS Committees and OHS Representatives and this can be established through the OHS Consultation provisions.

Your union can assist you in establishing suitable OHS arrangements in your workplace. If you wish the union to represent you, please use the draft letter attached to the word document version of this fact sheet (link below).

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