Health and safety committees are separate to health and safety representatives (HSRs). Both can successfully contribute to safety at your workplace.
Committees tend to address broad organisational issues; HSRs will usually concentrate on issues specific to their work group.
Purpose and benefits of a committee
A committee can bring together workers and managers to improve and ensure safety for all by:
- facilitating co-operation between the employer and the workers
- helping to develop and review health and safety policies, safe work procedures and safety systems
- performing other safety-related functions agreed upon by the employer and the committee members; for example, analysing hazard/incident/audit/monitoring/inspector reports.
They are particularly useful for effective consultation in workplaces where there are several PCBUs.
Committees are not used to resolve health and safety disputes — there should be specific procedures developed and used for this.
Establishing a committee
If you’re a PCBU, you have two options:
- 5 or more workers or a HSR may ask you to set up a committee. If this happens, you have 2 months to do so. Or,
- you can take the initiative and form a committee without being asked. Being proactive like this shows your commitment to safety.
Who should be on a committee
The membership of a committee should be agreed between a PCBU and workers.
- Worker representatives: At least half of the members must be workers who haven’t been nominated by the PCBU
- PCBU representatives : These should be people who are senior enough to make decisions about safety ‘on the spot’ without needing to refer matters up for further approval. If appropriate, they could include safety, personnel or technical officers to ensure there is a broad mix of knowledge about company policies and systems of work
- HSRs: HSRs are automatically members of the committee, unless they don’t want to be. If there’s more than one HSR, they can decide who’ll be on the committee (that is, the employer doesn’t decide); they may agree to have more than one HSR on the committee.
Keep the number to a minimum. Consider the size and complexity of your workplace, and the nature of the hazards and risk at your workplace. If necessary, you could set up sub-committees to tackle specific tasks or issues; these might be a more efficient and speedy option.
If workers and the PCBU can’t agree on the membership, they can ask for a WorkSafe Tasmania inspector to decide the matter. If they don’t agree with the inspector’s decision, they can ask WorkSafe to review the decision.
Allowing time for a committee
PCBUs must allow committee members reasonable time to attend committee meetings and to carry out their functions.
There may be times when a committee is busier than usual and will require more time to do its work. For example, when an organisation merges with another, the committee may need time to review health and safety policies and procedures.
Any time that a committee member spends attending committee meetings or carrying out their functions must be with the same pay that they are entitled to if they were to perform their normal duties during that time.
Make sure that:
- committee members are given the time and resources they need, such as access to meeting rooms, photocopiers, phones or computers
- the committee is given information about your workplace’s hazards, risk assessments and other safety matters. This doesn’t include access to workers' personal or medical records.
How a committee should operate
The committees must meet at least every 3 months, but hold meetings as often as needed to deal with safety issues as soon as possible. If possible schedule them for 6 to 12 months in advance and let committee members, HSRs and deputy HSRS covered by the committee, and all workers know.
Hold them at a reasonable time when at least half the members can attend (and during paid work hours).
Allow enough time so all business can be discussed.
The committee may need to develop procedures and rules for planning and conducting meetings; for example:
- who will chair the meeting. Have a chairperson with good communication and negotiation skills, who can keep meetings and discussions on track and ensure the committee can resolve matters and perform its tasks
- whether there will be a minimum number of people required for meetings
- who will take the notes/minutes of the meetings
- who will issue the notes/minutes after the meeting to all committee members, HSRs and deputy HSRs covered by the committee, senior managers (including the manager responsible for work health and safety) and all workers
- who will draw up and issue the agenda (members should have the agenda at least one week before the meeting is held)
- how long items will remain on the agenda
- processes for how decisions will be made.
Make sure that:
- records of meetings are kept. These should be clear and concise, and should identify any issues raised, any decisions or solutions, and record who’s responsible for following up any matters
- these records are shared with everyone in your workplace: for example, by email, at team meetings, or displayed on noticeboards.
Supporting a committee
A committee is most effective when it has the support and co-operation of the PCBU and senior managers. Speedy decisions and action by management on the committee’s recommendations are valuable.
Promote and communicate the committee’s discussions and recommendations and ensure that all workers are informed about the committee’s work.
If you’re a committee member
Make sure you can attend meetings, and actively participate. If you’ve put your hand up to be on the committee, it’s a commitment you need to take seriously!
Stay up to date with safety developments, attend relevant training, and stay in touch with the interests and concerns of the workers you represent.
Finally, there are no further duties imposed on committee members by the work health and safety laws — they have duties as workers. If a worker is elected as a health and safety committee member, they continue to have the same duties as other workers.