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Employee Representation - A comprehensive guide

Staying up to date (currency) is important as we reassess the state of knowledge for all aspects of managing health and service across our businesses and undertakings.

In January 2021 WorkSafe Victoria finally released Edition 2 of Employee Representation A comprehensive guide to Part 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004. Viewed by many as one the most informative of WorkSafe's guides, it runs to 92 pages and replaces Edition 1 which was released back in September 2006. The guide has been a popular tool in training courses both management and HSR related. Edition 2 contains the latest version of a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN).

Employee representation provides a means for involving employees in decisions about health and safety. It gives employees a voice as part of the legal requirement that employees are entitled, and should be encouraged, to be represented in relation to health and safety issues.

In general, Part 7 of the OHS Act provides for representation of employees via:

  • Designated work groups
  • Health and safety representatives (HSRs) and deputy health and safety representatives
  • Health and safety committees

The duty to consult with employees under the OHS Act recognises the key role HSRs play in representation, communication and the implementation of workplace health, safety and welfare initiatives. One of the objectives of the OHS Act is to promote greater involvement and co-operation between employers and employees, including HSRs on OHS matters.

HSRs may facilitate communication and consultation, providing a crucial link between employers and employees by acting as a conduit.

Involving HSRs in health and safety issues can result in safer workplaces. HSRs have the experience and knowledge to help identify hazards, assess risks and develop workable solutions.

  • Consultation about health and safety can result in benefits such as:
  • healthier and safer workplaces as employee input is valuable in identifying hazards, assessing risks and developing ways to control or remove risks.
  • better decisions about health and safety as decisions are based on the input and experience of a range of people in the organisation, including employees who have extensive knowledge of their own job and the business
  • stronger commitment to implementing decisions or actions as employees have been actively involved in reaching these decisions
  • greater co-operation and trust as employers and employees talk to each other, listen to each other and gain a better understanding of each other's views

In general, the OHS Act requires employers to consult with employees so far as is reasonably practicable who are, or who are likely to be, directly affected by a health and safety matter. Where these employees are represented by an HSR, employers must involve the HSRs in the consultation.

Employers must consult on the following:

  • identifying or assessing hazards or risks to health or safety arising from activities of the business
  • making decisions about the measures to be taken to control risks to health or safety at a workplace
  • making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of employees
  • making decisions about procedures to

- resolve health and safety issues

- consult with employees on health and safety

- monitor employees' health and workplace conditions

- provide information and training

  • determining the membership of any health and safety committee
  • proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of employees to any of the following

- the workplace

- plant, substances or other things used in the workplace

- he work performed at the workplace

- any other thing prescribed by the regulations

When consulting with an HSR an employer must

  • Share information with the HSR about the occupational health and safety matter
  • Give the HSR a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the matter
  • Take the HSRs views into account

Following consultation, once a final decision is made, the employer should inform the HSR of the decision. Note that while the employers, HSRs and employees should aim to reach agreement through the process of consultation, agreement is not a required outcome under the OHS Act. Ultimately the responsibility to identify hazards and control risks in the workplace rests with the employer.

A copy of Edition 2 of this guide can be downloaded from here https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/employee-representation-comprehensive-guide-part-7-ohs-act-2004

Full details relating to HSR training courses can be found here https://www.hazcon.com.au/training.html

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