Health & Safe­ty Rep­re­sen­ta­tives: intro­duc­tion to the workplace

In Brief

Fol­low­ing on from our ear­li­er arti­cle regard­ing the new Work Health and Safe­ty Act 2011 (NSW) (WHS Act), this arti­cle address­es the intro­duc­tion of the Health & Safe­ty Rep­re­sen­ta­tive (‘HSR’) and how this impacts employers.

HSR Roles & Functions 

Employ­ers have an express duty to con­sult work­ers on WHS issues. HSRs rep­re­sent work­ers on WHS issues, reflect­ing their views and con­cerns. HSRs have the pow­er to:

  • Mon­i­tor actions tak­en by the employ­er regard­ing WHS matters;
  • Inves­ti­gate com­plaints from work­ers regard­ing WHS mat­ters; and
  • Inves­ti­gate poten­tial risks con­cern­ing the WHS of rep­re­sent­ed workers.

Upon com­plet­ing reg­u­la­tor-approved train­ing, HSRs can also:

  • Direct the ces­sa­tion of unsafe work prac­tices (pro­vid­ed there are rea­son­able con­cerns); and
  • Issue Pro­vi­sion­al Improve­ment Notices’ requir­ing WHS con­cerns to be addressed.
Do all work­places require a HSR?

No. A work­place will only need to appoint HSRs if mem­bers of a work­group request rep­re­sen­ta­tion by a HSR. Once request­ed, employ­ers are oblig­ed to facil­i­tate the elec­tion of HSRs. Work­groups will gen­er­al­ly con­sist of work­ers shar­ing sim­i­lar WHS con­di­tions and concerns.

Who can be a HSR?

Any work­er who is a mem­ber of a work group is eli­gi­ble to be elect­ed as a HSR (unless they are dis­qual­i­fied by a court/​tribunal for improp­er use of pow­er or information). 

Steps involved when elect­ing a HSR
  1. For­ma­tion of work groups – the num­ber and com­po­si­tion of work­groups must be deter­mined. This must be nego­ti­at­ed with workers. 
  2. Nom­i­na­tions – once work­groups and the num­ber of HSR posi­tions are finalised, employ­ers must noti­fy all employ­ees that nom­i­na­tions have opened and the clos­ing date. 
  3. Elec­tions – If the num­ber of nom­i­na­tions equals the num­ber of posi­tions vacant all nom­i­nees are elect­ed by default. Oth­er­wise an elec­tion will be held. Employ­ers are must noti­fy all work­ers of the out­come as soon as practicable.
Can employ­ers appoint a HSR

No. Because it is intend­ed that HSRs act in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive capac­i­ty, only work­ers may elect and appoint HSRs. Note that HSRs do not replace safe­ty man­agers and are not per­son­al­ly liable for any action/​failure to act done in good faith.

Recent­ly, BHP Bil­li­ton Mit­subishi Alliance (‘BMA’) has been locked in bat­tle with the unions over attempts by BMA to remove the rights of employ­ees to have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their choice. Under the pro­posed enter­prise agree­ment, safe­ty offi­cer roles tra­di­tion­al­ly held by union mem­bers will become com­pa­ny-appoint­ed positions.

This case high­lights the deep con­cerns that some employ­ers have that unions will use this posi­tion as a way to car­ry out – what amounts to – unlaw­ful” indus­tri­al action; by cloak­ing it in the rights of HSR under this leg­is­la­tion to shut down a site or part thereof.

What should employ­ers do?

We strong­ly rec­om­mend that employ­ers seek prop­er advice to ensure that exist­ing pro­ce­dures and struc­tures meet the new con­sul­ta­tion oblig­a­tions. A fail­ure to do so may lead to non-com­pli­ance and own­ers, direc­tors and senior man­age­ment may all be sub­ject to severe penal­ties under the new Act.