Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is a position that carries real and serious responsibility in the workplace. If you are a business owner, then don’t be tempted to treat the election and training of your HSR like a box-ticking exercise – there is too much at stake for that and ultimately you are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace. And if you are an HSR, then make sure you are clear on your obligations, so you can carry out your duties properly.
If this is new territory for you, don’t worry, there’s plenty of great resources around to help you get sorted and we’re covering the essentials here, so you can get a good grasp on what being an HSR is all about. Likewise, if you’re a business owner, we will cover the fundamentals, so you know what you’re in for.
Either way, prepare yourself – there’s a bunch of acronyms coming your way! But they’ll be rolling off your tongue in no time. If you lose track, we’ve included a quick reference guide at the end of this article to remind you what stands for what.
So what is an HSR?
HSRs are elected to represent a ‘work group’ about health and safety in their workplace. Like most representative positions, this involves facilitating communication and plenty of it. In the case of HSRs, that communication will be between workers and the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) on issues of workplace health and safety.
Just to be clear: it is not the role of the HSR to fix health and safety issues in the workplace. Rather it is their role to represent the interests of the workers in such matters.
Is having an HSR compulsory?
No, it isn’t. But if a worker requests an HSR then work groups must be assembled so that one can be elected. Then the PCBU consults with the HSR going forward. If an HSR or a group of five or more workers request the PCBU to establish a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) then the PCBU is obliged to make that happen.
The negotiations around organising work groups can themselves get a bit complicated. There’s a good explanation here of how that negotiation process can work and what needs to be done if disagreements arise.
In brief, then, it’s not mandatory to have an HSR (unless one is requested) but it can be a great idea for a PCBU to assign the position in any case so there is a means for employees and employers to communicate effectively about work health and safety issues. And can you bet that issues will arise.
What kinds of responsibilities does an HSR have?
Along with representing the interests of their work group, a health and safety representative monitors the health and safety of a workplace, investigates any complaints, and investigates any potential risks in the workplace. If an HSR has approved training, there are two important added powers they have:
- They can direct unsafe work to stop if they have a reasonable belief that a worker or workers may be at risk; and,
- They can issue a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) if they reasonably believe the Work Health and Safety Act has been breached.
HSR training is vital not just to ensure these two authorities, but so that the representative can thoroughly and effectively carry out their duties and learn how to best manage their relationship and communication with the PCBU. When it comes to work health and safety, everyone benefits from high quality training and from a relationship between the PCBU and workers that is open and positive.
What about the responsibilities of the PCBU to the HSR?
There are plenty and it’s worth knowing them in detail because the penalties for not complying with your duties to an HSR can be substantial. They vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction in which you are operating, but these are some of the major ones you need to be aware of:
- To consult and communicate with the HSR on health and safety matters
- To allow the HSR access to information regarding hazards and risks in the workplace
- To permit access to any resources the HSR may need to carry out their function
- To allow the HSR to undertake approved training
- To allow a person assisting an HSR access to the workplace
- To allow the HSR to accompany health and safety inspectors
- To allow an HSR to accompany a worker in a meeting regarding health and safety issues
You can get into more of the nitty gritty of these duties here and we recommend you do – better to get yourself up to date now rather than when or if something goes wrong.
Training serves the best interests of everyone when it comes to work health and safety. Training is something your organisation will never regret. Not training is something your business is very likely to regret one day. So get organised now and feel free to drop us a line if you’re keen to talk about what options are available. AlertForce runs certified training courses nationally including for Comcare, NSW and Queensland jurisdictions. We’ll be happy to give you the low down.
Acronyms cheat sheet
HSR – Health and safety representative
HSC – Health and safety committee
WH&S – Work health and safety
PCBU – person conducting a business or undertaking
PIN – provisional improvement notice