Designated work groups (DWGs) are an important part of health and safety representation in the workplace.
What is a designated work group (DWG)?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) provides for the formation of DWGs and the election of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs).
A DWG is a group of employees that perform similar jobs or have similar occupational health and safety concerns. There can be more than one DWG in a workplace. A DWG can include:
employees of an employer at one or more workplaces
employees of multiple employers at one or more workplaces
The information on this page is for DWGs at single and multiple employers.
What the OHS Act says about DWGs
Sections 43 – 46, 53 of the OHS Act provides for DWGs for single employers and sections 47 – 52, 53 of the OHS Act provides for DWGs for multiple employers
DWGs allow for employees to be represented
Having a DWG in the workplace allows for employees to be properly represented in OHS issues.
After forming a DWG, members elect at least one health and safety representative (HSR) to represent their group on OHS issues. Where agreed, the OHS Act allows for:
more than one HSR for a DWG
deputy HSRs, who can act as the HSR when the HSR is unavailable
HSRs to represent employees at different locations
HSRs to be authorised to represent independent contractors and their employees. This can include labour hire employees.
Forming a DWG
An employee may ask his or her employer to establish a DWG. An employer can also initiate the negotiation to establish a DWG.
Employees and employers then negotiate and agree the details of the group.
Negotiating to agree on DWGs
Negotiating a DWG involves agreeing on how to group employees to best represent them.
Employers must do everything reasonable to start negotiations within 14 days of a request to establish the DWG. For example, an employer can organise a meeting to discuss forming DWGs, ensuring that all employees understand the purpose of the meeting and have the chance to attend.
Employees or groups of employees can authorise a person, such as a union official, to help represent them during negotiations. An employer can also authorise any person, such as an individual from an employer association, to represent their interests.
Negotiations concerning DWGs must only be about certain issues:
how to group employees at one or more workplaces that best and most conveniently enables employees' OHS interests to be represented and safeguarded
how to best group employees at one or more workplaces so that an HSR is accessible to each member of the DWG
the number of HSRs for each DWG
the number, if any, of deputy HSRs for each DWG
the term of office, not exceeding three years, of each HSR and deputy HSR
whether to include independent contractors and their employees
In determining the above, you must consider:
the number of employees in the workplace
the type of work performed at the workplace
the number and grouping of employees who complete similar work or have similar work arrangements
the areas in the workplace where each type of work is performed
the nature of any hazards
overtime or shift work and overtime arrangements
other languages spoken by employees
When negotiations are complete, employers must establish the DWG or DWGs by giving written notice to the employees. An HSR can then be elected.
Changing a DWG
Changes, or a variation, to a DWG can happen any time at the request of the HSR or the employer. These changes can be negotiated in the same way as initial DWG negotiations. HSRs must be included in negotiations. When a variation is agreed, employers vary the agreement by giving written notice to the employees.
Resolving disagreements about DWGs
Anyone involved in a single employer DWG negotiation can ask for a WorkSafe inspector to make a decision about unresolved issues, where agreement isn't reached within a reasonable time. Inspectors then provide written notice of their decision. Employers or employees who disagree with an inspector's decision can request a review of the decision.
For multiple employer DWGs, the OHS Act does not allow for an inspector to make a decision about unresolved issues, however WorkSafe can provide guidance in these situations if requested.
OHS laws prohibit coercion for DWGs
The OHS Act prohibits coercion of a person when they are attempting to establish or negotiate DWGs, vary DWG agreements, and in relation to representation in negotiations. Coercion is a serious offence. Significant penalties apply to breaches of this provision.
The intent is to ensure that negotiations and the resulting arrangements are consensual and that the OHS Act is not abused by any person to force or attempt to force a particular outcome.
Examples of coercion include, but are not limited, to:
pressuring someone not to make a request to establish a DWG
pressuring someone to withdraw a request for establishing a DWG
intimidating someone in the negotiations concerning a DWG
intimidating someone into not being represented in DWG negotiations
intimidating someone into being represented by a particular person
Information on this page is from the 'Employee representation: A comprehensive guide to Part 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004' publication. Find more information from the guide on the main health and safety representatives collection page or download the PDF.