One of the objectives of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) is to promote greater involvement and co-operation between employers and employees, including HSRs, on occupational health and safety (OHS) matters.
What the OHS Act and Regulations say about consulting with HSRs
Section 35 the OHS Act provides for ‘duty of employers to consult' and regulation 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) provide for 'how to involve HSRs in consultation'. An employer who contravenes these sections is guilty of an offence.
Why employers must consult with HSRs
Employers must consult with health and safety representatives about health and safety matters in the workplace.
HSRs facilitate communication and consultation. They provide a crucial link between employers and employees and can help achieve better health and safety outcomes in your workplace.
Involving HSRs and DWG members provides valuable experience and knowledge in identifying hazards, assessing risks and developing workable solutions, leading to safer workplaces. Actively involving HSRs and employees in reaching decisions can also result in a stronger commitment from employees to action the agreed decisions.
When to consult with HSRs
The OHS Act requires employers to consult with employees about OHS matters that affect them. If there is an HSR, consultation must involve them, with or without the employees being involved directly. Employers must consult when:
- identifying or assessing hazards and risks
- deciding how to control risks
- deciding about the adequacy of facilities for employees
- deciding about procedures to resolve OHS issues, consult, monitor health and workplace conditions and provide information and training
- deciding the membership of health and safety committees
- 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
- the work performed at the workplace
- any other thing prescribed by the regulations
How decisions can affect health and safety
Many organisational decisions and actions have health and safety consequences. For example, introducing new equipment into the workplace may affect:
- the tasks that employees undertake
- the steps involved in doing the work
- the timeframes for doing work
- how employees interact with each other
- the environment in which they work
Employees may also be exposed to new or different health and safety hazards or risks, such as manual handling or fatigue.
How to consult with HSRs
Consultation means giving employees and HSRs the chance to shape health and safety decisions and actions taken by their employer. Telling people about decisions afterwards isn’t consultation.
When consulting with an HSR about health and safety matters, employers must:
For consultation to be meaningful, employers must share all the information about the relevant matters involving employees’ health and safety with employees and HSRs'
- Provide information in a timely way so that the employees and HSRs have enough time to consider the matters, discuss them, seek advice and then provide feedback to their employer;
- Unless it is not reasonably practicable, employers must provide this information to HSRs a reasonable time before it is provided to employees
- Information should be in a form that employees and HSRs can easily understand. Employees and HSRs may need information such as technical guidance about workplace hazards and risks (plant, equipment and substances) and information about how to organise work - systems, data reports, procedures and guidance material
- Information should not be withheld just because it is technical or may be difficult to understand
- Employees and HSRs should be given time to process and seek advice on any information they have been provided
- Employers should also have a way to consult with employees from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds
Give employees the chance to express their views
Employees and HSRs must have a chance to express their views about health and safety matters.
In organisations with HSRs, employers must invite and meet with the HSRs or meet with HSRs at their request.
There might be more than one meeting depending on the matters to be discussed.
Employees and HSRs can ask questions, raise concerns, propose options, make recommendations and be part of the problem-solving process.
Take their views into account
Employers must take employees and HSRs views into account.
Before making a final decision, employers need to respond to concerns and questions raised by employees and HSRs and provide feedback to employees and HSRs about options that were considered. They should explain why they made a final decision.
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.
Following consultation, once a final decision is made, the employer should inform the HSR of the decision.
If employers, employees and HSRs agree on a consultation procedure, it must be followed.
Consultation: Safety basics
Consultation, representation and resolving health and safety issues: Guide for workers
Consultation: A guide for Victorian workplaces
Resolving occupational health and safety issues
WorkSafe Victoria inspectors: How inspectors support and enforce health and safety at work
Powers of health and safety representatives
Designated work groups
Provisional improvement notices and direction to cease work
Electing health and safety representatives