Consulting Workers

Consulting workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs)—What can you do? 

Health and safety law requires a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU)/employer to consult with workers and their HSRs about all matters relating to health and safety. Just about everything at work can influence health and safety, e.g. change in workplace layout, the introduction of a new production line, change to safe working procedures, changes in rosters or staff levels etc. There is an obligation to “consult” on all these types of matters.

Workers and HSRs must be consulted regarding how public health orders will be implemented at work, what risk control measures are necessary to control the risk of the virus spreading including any decisions being made around vaccinations.

Health and safety law is based around the assumption that communication and consultation are essential to improving working conditions. Everyone has a contribution to make. As a representative of the workgroup, HSRs need to be talking with members of the workgroup about their health and safety concerns.

What is consultation?

Consultation under health and safety law is quite different to the sometimes “vague” approach to consultation practised by some managers.

Health and safety law sets out: 

  • When consultation must happen 
  • What is consultation 
  • Who is involved 
  • The steps required.

When consultation must happen

The law says that managers must consult with workers and their HSRs whenever: 

  • Identifying hazards and assessing risks 
  • Making decisions about what to do about risks 
  • Making decisions about facilities at work 
  • Proposing changes that may affect health and safety 
  • Making decisions about resolving health and safety issues, monitoring the health of workers or conditions at work. 

That’s a big list – it means that management has an obligation to consult for nearly every change of this type that happens at work. 

The meaning of consultation

Consultation requires the sharing of ideas and taking those ideas and/or suggestions into account when making decisions. So, consultation is more than talking to workers. It is not enough for management to talk to HSRs and workers about “what” they are doing – that is an exchange of information – it is not consultation. It is also not just providing draft documents for feedback because this can narrow the options for dealing with health and safety issues and input from workers. 

Summary of HSRs powers and rights

There are small differences between states and territories, but the basics are the same. 

Training 

  • Attendance at an approved HSR training course – some unions are approved to conduct training 
  • The training course is to be chosen by the HSR, in consultation with the PCBU/employer 
  • Paid leave to attend training. 

Information and consultation: 

  • Enquire into any health and safety risk 
  • Receive information concerning hazards 
  • Be consulted on issues affecting health and safety of work group members. 

Actions HSR can take: 

  • Inspect where your work group members work, immediately in case of an immediate risk or incident 
  • Inspect where your work group members work, at any time after giving reasonable notice 
  • Investigate complaints 
  • Monitor what the PCBU/employer has done on health and safety 
  • Accompany an Inspector 
  • Be present at an interview with an Inspector or employer and workers (you need the consent of all the workers involved) 
  • Request the establishment of a Health and Safety Committee 
  • Represent members of another work group if there is a serious risk 
  • Represent members of another work group if you are asked and the HSR for that work group is absent.  

Actions HSRs can take if risks aren’t controlled: 

  • Request a review of risk control measures if: – 
  • the control measures are not working – 
  • before a change that is likely to create a new/different risk – 
  • a new risk/hazard has been identified or –
  • consultation indicates a review of risk controls is needed.

Issue a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) requiring the PCBU/employer to take certain actions.  HSRs must have consulted with the PCBU/employer about the health and safety issue. Under Work Health and Safety (WHS) law this right exists only after the HSR has attended an approved training course. So, training is essential. In Victoria, HSRs have this right as soon as they are elected, regardless of whether they have been trained. 

Direct that unsafe work stops until it is safe — if there is an imminent or immediate risk to health and safety, a HSR can direct work to cease. Under WHS law this right exists only after the HSR has attended an approved training course. So, training is essential. Again, Victorian HSRs have this right as soon as they are elected.

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