Formal consultative processes
Part of your obligation as a worker is to raise specific WHS issues with appropriate people identified under legislative requirements. Under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995, the mechanisms through which you can consult and report on issues are:
- Workplace Health and Safety Officers (WHSO)
- Workplace Health and Safety Representatives (WHSR)
- Workplace Health and Safety Committees (WHSC)
In a small workplace, consultation may be less formal but should still take place. There may not be a need for a health and safety representative or committee, and the obligation to identify hazards and manage risk usually falls to the manager, coordinator or supervisor. Workplace health and safety as a standing agenda item at all staff meetings is one way that consultation continues and health and safety issues are addressed.
Workplace Health and Safety Officers
In a workplace with thirty or more workers, a specially qualified Workplace Health and Safety Officer (WHSO) is appointed to provide advice about all health and safety issues within the workplace. The WHS Officer:
- carries out inspections and audits
- sets up educational programs about workplace health and safety
- helps investigate all workplace incidents
- conducts annual workplace assessments
- consults with Workplace Health and Safety Representatives.
Workplace Health and Safety Representatives
A Workplace Health and Safety Representative (WHSR) is a worker elected by other workers to liaise with management on health and safety and advocate for employees’ health and safety issues.
The representative does not need any experience or special qualifications, but is entitled to training to assist them in their role. The WHSR presents you with a great opportunity to contribute to health and safety at your workplace. The employer cannot appoint the WHSR but can suggest that workers elect one.
As a worker you can negotiate with your employer about the role of the WHSR in relation to:
- the number of representatives for the workplace
- the regularity of inspections conducted by the WHSR
- access to training by the WHSR
- holding an election for a WHSR
The employer has a responsibility to:
- consult a WHSR about proposed changes to the workplace that may affect health and safety – through the WHSR you can be kept informed of any changes as they are being considered
- permit a workplace health and safety representative to make inspections – the WHSR can keep a check on issues around your workplace. When they are inspecting aspects relating to your job you need to chat with them and discuss any issues including things reported in the past.
- inform the WHSR of any workplace incidents and enable them review circumstances surrounding any incidents – incidents are often an indication of hazards or problems at the workplace so having your representative involved is a good thing
- support the training requirements of the WHSR – training for the WHSR will make them better informed and do a better job of looking after your health and safety.
The WHSR has a responsibility to:
- help to resolve any workplace health and safety issues
- report any issues that may affect the health and safety of people at the workplace
- advise the employer of the results and recommendations of reviews conducted in relation to workplace incidents
- seek the employer’s cooperation in remedying any issues
- ask the employer to establish a workplace health and safety committee
- encourage all workers to report hazards and seek their help in assessing and controlling risks.
Workplace Health and Safety Committees
The role of Workplace Health and Safety Committees is to promote a cooperative relationship between employers and workers and is a great way for you to get directly involved in health and safety issues at your workplace. Under the legislation, an employer may form a workplace health and safety committee on his or her own initiative, but must do so if the WHS Representative requests it.
A committee must consist of at least two members. In the spirit of cooperation at least half the committee members must be workers who have not been nominated by the employer.
The primary function of a workplace health and safety committee is to enable cooperation between employers and workers when developing and implementing measures to ensure health and safety at a workplace.
Depending on the size of the workplace and the committee itself, other functions may include:
- providing health and safety information and advice to the employer
- encouraging and maintaining an active interest in health and safety at the workplace
- telling workers about the creation or revision of instructions and procedures on workplace health and safety
- reviewing the circumstances surrounding workplace incidents referred to it for review
- helping resolve health and safety issues at the workplace