The work health and safety laws set out the powers and functions of a health and safety representative (HSR), but do not impose mandatory obligations on a HSR. So they don’t have to exercise all these powers/functions.
The powers and functions of a HSR are to:
- represent the workers in their work group for work health and safety matters
- monitor the measures taken by the PCBU to comply with the work health and safety laws in relation to their work group members
- investigate complaints from work group members about work health and safety
- inquire into anything that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of work group members, arising from the conduct of the business.
A HSR may:
- inspect the workplace after providing notice to the PCBU
- accompany a WorkSafe inspector during an inspection of any part of the workplace where their work group works
- attend interviews between one or more work group members and a WorkSafe inspector or the PCBU
- ask for a health and safety committee to be set up
- receive information about the work health and safety of workers in their work group
- ask for the assistance of any person
- direct a work group member to cease unsafe work, or issue a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN)
- request a review of a control measure.
Inspecting the workplace
After giving reasonable notice to the PCBU, a HSR can inspect any part of the workplace where their work group members work. In many cases, this notice would be 24 hours before an inspection.
A HSR may immediately inspect the workplace without providing notice if there is an incident or situation involving an immediate and serious risk to health or safety in any part of the workplace where members of their work group work. The threat may affect a member of the work group or anyone else in that part of the workplace.
- Regular inspections of the workplace.
- Regular inspections of particular activities or processes.
- A specific inspection arising from complaints or concerns by members of the work group.
- An inspection before and after substantial change to the workplace (for example, to plant or work processes).
- Inspections after an incident or injury.
HSRs may conduct inspections on their own or with a management representative.
During an inspection, the HSR is entitled to discuss health and safety issues with the workers in their work group.
Reviewing a control measure
A HSR may ask the PCBU to review a control measure if the HSR reasonably believes that the PCBU has not adequately reviewed the control measure when:
- the control measure isn’t effective at controlling the risk it was implemented to control
- a change occurs at the workplace that could present a new or different risk that the control measure may not effectively control
- a new relevant hazard or risk is identified
- the results of consultation indicate a review is necessary.
The HSR should explain why they believe the control measure is/may not be effective.
A HSR can only request the review if these circumstances affect/may affect the health and safety of a member of their own work group.
The Work Health and Safety Regulations include specific circumstances where a HSR can request the review of control measures for lead, asbestos and major hazard facilities.
- is entitled to have their HSR present at any interview with an inspector or the PCBU that concerns health and safety
- may wish to consult with the HSR before and/or after an interview.
The HSR can only attend an interview with the consent of the worker.
These interviews can happen during inspections, after an incident, for return to work purposes, or to resolve an issue.
Assisting a HSR
A HSR can request the assistance of anyone who may have further knowledge of work health and safety. This could be someone:
- in the workplace; for example, another HSR
- outside the workplace; for example, a health and safety consultant or a union official.
A HSR may require assistance on how to perform inspections, or may need technical advice to deal with a particular hazard.
A PCBU does not have to pay the person assisting the HSR.
Union officials/WHS entry permit holders
A union official assisting a HSR may also be a WHS entry permit holder. In this case, they are not seeking access to the workplace as a WHS entry permit holder and cannot exercise any of the WHS entry permit holder’s rights. If they seek to do so, they must arrange to re-enter the workplace as a WHS entry permit holder and follow the entry requirements for WHS entry permit holders.
Entering the workplace
The person assisting the HSR is entitled to enter the workplace. This person should comply with any reasonable work health and safety policies or procedures at the workplace.
A PCBU can refuse this person access if:
- the PCBU has reasonable grounds to do so; for example, if the person has previously acted improperly at the workplace by intentionally and unreasonably delaying, hindering or obstructing any person, disrupting work or otherwise acting in an improper manner
- the person has had their WHS entry permit revoked, or is currently suspended/disqualified from holding a WHS entry permit.
If a person is not allowed access to the workplace, the HSR may ask a WorkSafe Tasmania inspector to provide advice/recommendations (but they can’t make a decision about the right of access).
Exercising power for another work group
A HSR can exercise their powers for another work group if the HSR/deputy HSRs for that other group are unavailable and:
- there is a serious risk to health or safety from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard that affects or may affect a member of another work group; or
- a member of another work group asks for the HSR’s assistance.
Accessing workplace information
A HSR may request access (and the PCBU must grant access) to:
- information relating to any work-related incident or disease, including statistical records, such as an injury register
- an asbestos register and asbestos management plan
- health and safety policies and procedures, including safe work method statements
- safety data sheets for the chemicals used in the workplace
- technical specifications for equipment, including noise, vibration or radiation emission
- results of occupational hygiene measurements, including dust levels, noise levels or chemical fumes
- reports on work health and safety matters, including reports prepared by consultants for the PCBU
- minutes of health and safety committee meetings
- information from manufacturers/suppliers about plant, equipment or substances at the workplace
- health monitoring information that doesn’t contain personal or medical information about a worker.
A HSR can also inquire into a work-related risk that could affect the health and safety of their work group. For example, a HSR may inspect the licence of a person who will operate a forklift, if they believe that person is not qualified to operate the forklift. The HSR has the power to be provided with the licence for inspection.
A HSR is not allowed access to any personal or medical information without the worker’s consent, unless the information:
- does not identify the worker
- could not reasonably be expected to lead to the identification of the worker.
Time to perform functions and powers
The PCBU must allow a HSR to spend a reasonable amount of time needed to exercise their functions/powers. The HSR and PCBU should consult and agree on how much time may be needed.
HSRs and prosecution
A HSR cannot be held personally liable and cannot be prosecuted for anything done, or not done, in good faith:
- when exercising their powers/functions under the Work Health and Safety Act or
- in the reasonable belief that the thing done, or not done, was authorised under the Work Health and Safety Act.
‘Acting in good faith’ means exercising their powers/functions with honest and sincere intentions or beliefs.
There are no further duties imposed on HSRs by the work health and safety laws — they have duties as workers. If a worker is elected as a HSR, they continue to have the same duties as other workers.
It’s not always possible for the HSR to be present and available to represent their work group when needed. In their absence, a deputy effectively becomes the HSR and can exercise the powers/functions of that role.
Deputy HSRs are elected in the same way as HSRs. Most arrangements apply equally to deputy HSRs as they do to HSRs, including:
- term of office
- grounds for disqualification
- HSR immunity
- entitlement to training.
If a HSR ceases to hold office, a new election for the HSR position should be conducted.