Workers may ask for a health and safety representative (HSR) to be elected to represent them on work health and safety matters. If this happens, work groups need to be established to facilitate the election.
The PCBU and workers need to consult (‘negotiate’) and agree on:
- how many work groups you need, and what their composition is
- how many HSRs (there must be at least one) and deputy HSRs (if any) there will be for each work group
- the workplace the work groups will cover
- the businesses or undertakings the work groups will cover (in the case of workers carrying out work for more than one business or undertaking).
Work groups can be negotiated and agreed between one or more PCBUs and their workers, depending on the circumstances.
- One business or undertaking on a single site. For example, a large manufacturing company may establish multiple work groups to ensure shift workers are represented in work health and safety matters
- One business or undertaking on multiple sites. For example, a telecommunications organisation carrying out work at various sites or a government department with offices in different buildings
- Workers working for more than one business or undertaking. For example, on construction sites where contractors and sub-contractors work for a principal contractor, or in labour hire arrangements where workers work for the on-hire agency and the host business.
Timeframes and ways to negotiate
Consultation between the PCBU and workers must start within 14 days of the workers’ request. This might be face-to-face in a meeting, or by emailing or phoning them.
If all workers can’t come together — for example, if there is a large number of workers or the workers are spread across different locations — workers may authorise someone (such as a union delegate) to represent them. The PCBU must negotiate with this person.
Factors to consider when forming a work group
- The number of workers
- The nature of the work being done by the workers
- The number and grouping of workers who carry out the same or similar types of work
- The areas or places where each type of work is carried out
- The extent to which any worker must move from place to place while at work
- The diversity of workers and their work
- The nature of any hazards at the workplace
- The nature of any risks to health and safety at the workplace
- The nature of the engagement of each worker; for example, as an employee, volunteer or contractor
- The pattern of work carried out by workers; for example full-time, part-time, casual or short-term work
- The times when work is carried out; for example, night or weekend shifts
- Any overtime or shift work arrangements at the workplace.
Examples of work group negotiations
- A large manufacturing plant operates three eight-hour shifts. It is a multi-union workplace, so the workers from each trade group authorise a union official to represent them. The negotiating parties take into account all relevant matters and place particular weight on the nature of the hazards and risks at the workplace, plus the shift work arrangements. The parties agree that separate work groups are needed for each shift, each represented by a single HSR and deputy HSR. Within each shift, the work groups are arranged according to work area, as these differ in their location and the potential health and safety risks involved
- A new multi-storey office block has been completed and workers have moved in. The workers and the PCBU take into account the fact that work is performed across a number of floors. The nature of the work and work environment is the same on all floors except in the reception area, where stationery and other heavy items are delivered, requiring further considerations in relation to manual handling. The parties determine that a HSR and deputy HSR will represent a work group for workers on every two floors; and the workers in the reception area will have their own work group.
Notifying workers of outcomes
As soon as possible after the negotiations are completed, the PCBU must notify the workers of the outcome and of any agreed work groups. This can be done in person or by email.
Changing a work group
The PCBU and workers may negotiate to change (‘vary’) their work group if circumstances change or if the existing arrangements are no longer satisfactory; for example, if the business is restructured.
Again, the PCBU must notify workers of the outcome of the negotiations and the changes as soon as practicable.
Involving a WorkSafe inspector
If there is a failure of negotiations, then anyone involved can ask for a WorkSafe Tasmania inspector to help or to decide the matter. This may happen if:
- the PCBU hasn’t taken all reasonable steps to start negotiating with workers within 14 days of their request to establish or change a work group, or
- the PCBU and workers can’t agree on determining, establishing or changing a work group within a reasonable time after negotiations have started
Once the inspector makes a decision, the parties are bound by the decision. However, if an affected worker, their representative, a PCBU or HSR does not agree with the decision, they can ask WorkSafe to review it.