Worker engagement and participation
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) places emphasis on boards involving workers in health and safety decisions and practices. It does not determine how worker participation and engagement is to be implemented, just that the person conducting a business or undertaking, ie the board (PCBU) must provide “reasonable opportunities” for workers to be involved on an ongoing basis. Each board will have different ideas and strategies for doing this. The Health and Safety at Work (Worker Engagement, Participation, and Representation) Regulations 2016 further define the requirements of the HSWA.
“Reasonable opportunities” means opportunities that are reasonable under the circumstances, given the number of workers, the likely risks to work health and safety, the levels of those risks, and the willingness of workers and their representatives to develop worker participation practices.
The board must:
- as far as is reasonably practicable, engage with workers who work for the board and who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a matter relating to work health and safety, and
- share relevant information about health and safety matters with workers in a timely manner and
- give reasonable opportunities for staff to express their views and to raise issues in relation to the matters and to contribute to the decision-making process.
The board must consider these views and workers must be advised of the outcomes in a timely manner. If workers are represented by a health and safety representative (HSR), the representative must be involved in the process.
If a worker notifies the board that they wish to have an HSR, the board must initiate an election for one or more HSRs.
An HSR or five or more workers at the school may request that the board establish a health and safety committee (HSC).
Unless approached, the board is not required to hold an election or establish an HSC if the school has fewer than 20 workers or is not in a high-risk sector. While a school is not considered a high-risk industry, a representative or committee is an effective way to ensure there is worker engagement and participation.
Volunteers cannot require the board to implement engagement and participation processes.
Roles of a health and safety representative or committee
WorkSafe has defined the main functions of the HSR and HSC.
Health and safety representative
An HSR’s key role is to represent the workers in a school. They are not responsible for managing the day-to-day health and safety of the school. That is the role of the board.
The main functions of an HSR are to:
- represent workers on health and safety matters
- investigate complaints from workers about health and safety issues
- monitor health and safety measures taken by the board, and
- provide feedback to the board about health and safety compliance.
The powers of an HSR are to:
- request relevant information necessary to enable them to perform their functions or exercise their powers
- inspect a workplace, but they must give notice unless it is in relation to an incident, event or serious risk, and
- attend interviews concerning health and safety between a worker (or group of workers) that they represent and an inspector or board.
The HSR can have some additional powers, but only if they have completed initial or additional HSR health and safety training as specified in the regulations. These powers are to:
- direct a worker to cease work that would expose them to serious risk arising from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard, and
- issue a provisional improvement notice (PIN) in regard to a health and safety concern if they believe that a person is breaking or is likely to break the law or a provision of the HSWA or regulations. A PIN:
- gives direction to a duty holder (the board) to remedy a specific aspect of its work activity or workplace that is non-compliant
- advises what needs to be changed, and
- sets a timeframe for the change to be made.
A PIN can be issued to any person at the school, including workers or another business. The person or business who receives the PIN can, within seven days, ask WorkSafe to review the PIN.
Health and safety committee
An HSC brings together workers and board management to develop and review policies and procedures for the workplace. It also makes recommendations to the board about work health and safety.
The main functions of the HSC are to:
- facilitate cooperation between the board and workers in instigating, developing and carrying out measures designed to ensure workers’ health and safety at work
- assist in developing any standards, rules, policies or procedures relating to health and safety
- make recommendations relating to work health and safety
- perform any other functions that are agreed between the board and the committee
- meet regularly at the times agreed by the members of the committee, but at least once every three months, and at any other reasonable time on the request of a simple majority of members of the committee.
If the HSC makes a recommendation regarding work health and safety, the board must either adopt the recommendation or provide a written statement advising the HSC of the reasons for not adopting the recommendation.