- Appointment of health and safety representatives
- The University Safety Committee
- Establishing a workplace health and safety committee hierarchy
- Records of health and safety committee meetings - agenda and minutes
- Reporting schedule
- Proforma committee documents - agenda, minutes and annual report
Appointment of health and safety representatives
The Work Health and Safety Act provides for representation of workers by Health and Safety Representatives. It allows groups of workers to elect a member to represent them.
Election of health and safety representative
Any worker may ask the University to facilitate elections for one or more Health and Safety Representatives. Work groups must be determined before a Health and Safety Representative can be elected and the University must provide resources, facilities and assistance that are reasonably necessary to enable elections to be conducted. The office is held for three years unless during that period they resign, cease to be a worker in the work group they represent, are disqualified as a Health and Safety Representatives or are removed from the position by a majority decision of the work group.
Can a health and safety representative be personally responsible for mistakes?
They are not personally liable for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith when exercising a power or performing a function under the Work Health and Safety Act or for anything done that they reasonably believed was authorised under the Act.
Can a health and safety representative represent workers outside their work group?
Generally the powers and functions of a Health and Safety Representatives are limited to the work group that they are elected to represent. However, they may represent other work groups within the University if a Health and Safety Representatives from that other work group is unavailable and if:
- There is a serious risk to health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard that affects or may affect a member of that other work group.
- A member of another work group asks for the representative’s assistance.
What are the functions of a health and safety representative?
Their primary power and function is to represent workers in their work group in relation to health and safety matters at work and to carry out their duties fully in accordance with current legislation. A Health and Safety Representative may also:
- Monitor the compliance of the workplace.
- Investigate complaints from work group members about work health and safety matters.
- Enquire into anything arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of work group members.
- Inspect the workplace or any part of the workplace which they represent. They do not have to give notice of inspection in the event of an incident or a situation involving a serious risk to the health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.
- Accompany an inspector during an inspection of the workplace or part of the workplace.
- If they have completed the required training, direct a work group member to cease unsafe work and issue a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN). However, before directing a worker to cease work the Health and Safety Representative must consult with the University, unless the risk is so serious and immediate that is it not reasonable to do so before giving the direction and attempting to resolve the issue through consultation.
Is a health and safety representative a member of the health and safety committee?
If a Health and Safety Committee is established at a workplace then local Health and Safety Representatives are entitled to be members and attend meetings if they wish.
What is the role of a deputy health and safety representative?
Deputy Health and Safety Representatives may also be elected if that is the wish of the workers. Deputy Health and Safety Representatives are elected in the same way as Health and Safety Representatives and there may be more than one deputy Health and Safety Representative for a work group. The deputy is entitled to the same training as a Health and Safety Representative but may only represent the workers when the elected Health and Safety Representative is unavailable.
Obligations towards health and safety representatives
In addition to obligations to all staff members, the University will:
Ensure that all Health and Safety Representatives are enrolled on the earliest available training course after appointment and pay the course fees.
Permit Health and Safety Representatives to take appropriate time off with pay to carry out their functions in accordance with the Act.
Provide facilities and assistance necessary to enable them to carry out their functions in accordance with the Act.
Provide (subject to restrictions on personal medical information) information which is or should reasonably be available concerning hazards that arise or may arise at the workplace including matters relating to plant, substances and systems of work.
Allow presence at any interview concerning health and safety between the employer and any staff member at the request of the staff member.
Consult on matters concerning changes to the workplace, plant, substances used or any other associated matter which might affect the health and safety of staff members.
Notify the representative of any incident or dangerous occurrence and permit investigation of such events.
Allow for a routine formal inspection of the workplace (or relevant part) at agreed intervals.
The University Safety Committee
This is the central steering committee established by and reporting to the Vice-Chancellor. It deals with policy and procedural matters affecting work areas and personnel throughout the University. Issues which cannot be resolved locally may be referred to this committee for advice.
Establishing a workplace health and safety committee hierarchy
School Health and Safety Committees have an advisory and coordinating role for the management of local health and safety matters. Membership of Faculty Health and Safety Committees is expected to include a management and worker representative from each School Health and Safety Committee. This promotes good communication and ensures that matters which are unresolved at School level are referred upwards. Efficient information feedback processes are the key to promotion of continual improvement. Workplace health and safety committees provide a formal and efficient forum for reporting and managing safety. They also provide a means of ensuring proper communication and consultation between all stakeholders including the upwards passage of information to the central University Safety Committee. Membership of health and safety committees assists senior managers (Officers) to demonstrate due diligence through the recorded minutes of meetings. A Health and Safety Representative or five or more workers may request the creation of a health and safety committee to which the workplace must respond by establishing the committee within two months of the request. The workplace may establish a Health and Safety Committee at any time on their own initiative. Committees are required to operate in accordance with the Principles for the Operation of Committees and Rules for the Operation of Committees. Members must act in accordance with the University Committee Members' Code of Conduct. They cannot be held liable in criminal or civil proceedings because of any acts, or omissions, done honestly and reasonably, pursuant to their role as a member of the committee.
Structure and representation
Management members of the committee should not represent more than half of the committee membership. The remaining members should preferably be elected Health and Safety Representatives. Committee members must have information and skills to deal with issues in a proper manner and feel that they have adequate knowledge and are comfortable in undertaking this important role. Health and Safety Representatives may choose to be members of a Health and Safety Committee at their own discretion. The University and the workers at the workplace then agree on the remaining membership. If Health and Safety Representatives choose not to be members of the Health and Safety Committee it is a fundamental requirement that the committee communicates with them to ensure they are aware of workplace issues affecting workers.
Committee members are entitled to spend reasonably necessary paid work time attending meetings and carrying out their functions as committee members. They may have access to information that the university has in relation to hazards, risk assessments and the health and safety of workers at the workplace. This entitlement does not extend to personal or medical information of a worker unless the worker consents. However, consent is not required if the information does not and could not reasonably be expected to identify the worker.
The inclusion of senior managers on committees enables decisions to be approved and actioned without the need to refer them for further approval. This encourages members because they can see their recommendations immediately implemented and gives a clear sign that their work is helping to improve and protect health and safety in the workplace. A Deputy Chairperson should be elected from among the committee members.
Although largely driven by the size of a workplace, larger committees are likely to be less effective and would not normally exceed twelve members although this number may be slightly varied if proper worker or management representation cannot otherwise be acheived. If appropriate representation could only be accomplished with a very large committee, then several smaller committees representing different parts of the workplace should be created with a communication hierarchy to action decisions.