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Establishing a health and safety committee provides a forum for discussing worker health and safety issues across the entire workforce. Committees can implement procedures to decrease workplace hazards. While these committees are not required under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, they are a recommended method for identifying and resolving safety concerns.
What Is the Health and Safety Committee?
The health and safety committee (HSC) is essentially a forum for opening communication between workers and upper management. It allows staff to address concerns related to work health and safety issues. Victoria is governed by OHS rules and it is a requirement under Section 72 of the OHS Act 2004.
The committee is comprised of health and safety representatives (HSRs) and PCBU representatives, such as senior managers who have the necessary positions to important decisions. At least 50% of the individuals on the committee must be workers. These committees also automatically include HSRs unless the HSRs opt not to participate.
Why Are Health and Safety Committees Formed?
The committees are formed to address work health and safety issues that affect employees. This may include addressing hazards in the workplace, implementing new inspection procedures, or reviewing WHS training requirements. The goal is to create a joint committee with workers and management personnel to improve safety and reduce hazards.
HSCs are formed by the duty holder, such as a PCBU, after being asked to do so by a health and safety representative or five or more workers. PCBUs have three months to establish the committee after a request from workers. The PCBU may also choose to establish the committee at any time.
What Is the Health and Safety Committee Role?
The HSR represents the interests of a work group. This may include workers in the same department or who carry out similar work. HSCs are responsible for the health and safety of the entire workforce.
The role of work health and safety committee members is to address and resolve WHS issues. According to Section 72 of the OHS Act, the functions of the HSC include:
- Facilitating cooperation between the employees and the employer
- Allowing members to instigate, develop, and implement health and safety control measures
- Formulating, reviewing, and disseminating safety standards and procedures
- Following any additional functions agreed upon by the committee and the employer
The role of the WHS committee members doesn’t replace the role of the HSR. Representatives continue to represent a workgroup. They can still direct unsafe work to stop and issue a provisional improvement notice (PIN) if they believe that a WHS Act has been breached.
The committee is focused on the entire organisation. Within the committee, a member who is also an HSR has an opportunity to address the issues that he or she has identified. The committee can act as an appropriate forum to ensure that these issues are resolved.
What Are the WHS Committee Responsibilities?
Safety committees have several responsibilities. Their primary purpose is to facilitate cooperation between departments, managers, and workers to identify, address, and resolve health and safety concerns. However, there are additional health and safety committee responsibilities.
The HSCs should meet at least every three months and provide a reasonable amount of time to discuss all health and safety matters. During these meetings, the committee may perform several different functions to carry out their responsibilities. The HSCs may address WHS issues using some of the following methods:
- Provide a forum for committee members to discuss WHS issues
- Develop plans or procedures to resolve the identified issues
- Recommend corrective actions to reduce hazards
- Address any additional health and safety issues
- Evaluate reports submitted by the HSRs
Besides meeting every three months, the HSCs need to provide members with the following:
- Time to attend the meetings and complete their functions as committee members
- Normal pay for the time spent at the meeting and completing HSC functions
- Access to requested information about risks and hazards at the workplace
- Reports related to worker safety to help address WHS concerns
These committees are not a requirement unless workers or HSRs request the formation of an HSC. However, HSCs offer one of the most effective ways to ensure that safety concerns are addressed. Through these committees, businesses can work with their staff to promote safer working conditions.
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