Role of Health and Safety Representatives more critical than ever
With the recent changes to workplace operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing Work Groups (WG) in your workplace and electing a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) has never been so important.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (QLD), employees at a workplace have the right to form a WG and for members of that WG to elect a HSR, as well as a Deputy HSR, to represent employees on issues relating to workplace health and safety.
IEUA-QNT Growth Organiser Cherie Wills said now was the time for members working in the VET and ELICOS sectors to reflect on the importance of workplace health and safety and to act if they don’t yet have a WG or HSR in their workplace.
“Given the myriad of issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the need to work from home and the delivery of online learning, our union encourages the election of a HSR at every college as a way to reinforce members’ workplace health and safety,” Cherie said.
All employees have a right to be consulted on such issues, to protect their health and to hold employers to account on these issues,” she said.
Some issues recently raised by IEU members in the sector include unreasonable timelines for major workplace changes, multiple modes of teaching, lack of personal protective equipment, the impact of returning student numbers as well as suitable teaching and common staff spaces.
Role of the HSR
Although it is not the HSR’s job to make a workplace safe, they do have the right to raise issues, conduct health and safety audits and the right to be consulted regarding workplace changes that may affect the mental and physical health and safety of employees.
One of the powers of a HSR is the right to seek assistance from any person where necessary, including seeking an inspection from the WorkSafe Authority or assistance from our union.
HSRs, and Deputy HSRs in their absence, have the power to:
• monitor measures taken to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act;
• investigate complaints made by employees;
• represent employees on issues relating to health and safety matters;
• investigate any issue which appears to be a risk to the health and safety of employees; and
• direct work to cease and can issue provisional improvement notices (PINs), in certain circumstances.
HSRs, and Deputy HSRs in their absence, have legislated rights in relation to workplace inspections and are permitted to:
• attend interviews and meetings about health and safety (as directed by employees);
• obtain information about health and safety matters;
• request the establishment of a health and safety committee; and
• request the assistance of any person where necessary.
Establishing a WG and electing a HSR and a Deputy HSR
Members may decide to establish a WG that includes all staff or have separate WGs for different groups of staff, based on physical location, or a WG for teachers and a WG for support staff.
Once the WG is established, an election must be held so members of the WG can choose a HSR, and if deemed suitable for the group, a Deputy HSR.
Each unique WG is entitled to have their own HSR and Deputy HSR.
The employer must facilitate the election of a HSR by but does not control or conduct it.
HSRs and Deputy HSRs are elected by employees, not appointed by employers.
Our union can assist with this process and we have a letter template which members can use to begin the conversation with their employer and instructions for conducting an election.
Cherie said under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, elected HSRs must undertake WorkSafe approved training within three months of being elected to become a verified HSR or Deputy HSR.
"On request, the employer must give HSRs paid time off to attend a HSR training course and pay the course costs and reasonable expenses, within three months of the request," she said.
“The HSR and Deputy HSR can decide where they undertake their training and our union can assist in providing information about providers accredited to run HSR training that complies with WHS regulations.”
Employers are legally obliged to:
• consult with the HSR about health and safety;
• allow the HSR access to certain information;
• provide the HSR with resources and facilities that are reasonably necessary to allow them to fulfil their duties;
• allow the HSR to spend the time reasonably necessary to perform their role in ordinary hours of work, this includes the five days training requirement; and
• defer to a Deputy HSR in the absence of the elected HSR.
For advice and assistance on how to establish a WG and the process of electing a HSR, contact our union.