Stay calm and elect a health and safety representative
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p15
New legislation ensures greater significance is given to proactively consulting workers on matters related to workplace health and safety (WHS).
The Work Health and Safety and Other Amendment Act 2017 (Queensland) emphasises the importance of the health and safety representative (HSR) position and mandates that workplaces must provide paid release and paid training for elected HSRs and their deputies.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Queensland) details the employer’s obligations to consult with workers affected directly by a work health or safety matter. If the workers are represented by a health and safety representative, the consultation must involve that representative.
The QTU strongly encourages members to elect an HSR and a deputy HSR, as these positions have strong legislated rights. The Department of Education too states that the “HSR role is important for consultation and departmental workplaces are encouraged to elect a HSR".
Further, the department notes: "The HSR fulfils a different role to the health and safety advisor (HSA), which is an appointed position. However, these two positions can work well together to gather information and expertise, and improve health and safety at your school or workplace. An HSR is of particular benefit at workplaces with fewer than 30 employees as a point of contact both for staff and the manager.”
As an elected role, the HSR does not need qualifications or experience. The workplace is obligated to provide the HSR and the Deputy HSR with the initial five days training and then annual refresher training.
An HSR is not personally liable for anything done or not done in good faith.
The importance of the HSR
The legislation recognises that workers usually know the hazards in their work area better than anyone else. The HSR is elected by their co-workers to liaise, on their behalf, with management, to represent their views.
Except in relation to the curriculum risk assessment process and clear hazards such as asbestos or broken equipment, there may not be a strong WHS culture in schools. The election of HSRs ensures that teachers and other staff are effectively consulted on changes that can impact on their health and wellbeing. The HSR role provides a formal consultative mechanism through which risks can be identified and appropriate ways to manage them can be explored.
Electing a HSR
Members are strongly encouraged to ensure their school has an HSR and deputy in place, and the process of electing them is straightforward. A ballot must occur when requested by workers. The QTU Representative can assist if requested. For more advice on holding a ballot, refer to http://education.qld.gov.au/health/pdfs/whsr/whsr-election-fact-sheet.pdf
You can also seek advice through the Queensland Teachers’ Assist Desk on 1300 11 7823.
An HSR must be elected by co-workers and cannot be appointed by the employer. Every work group is entitled to an HSR and deputy HSR. Depending on the size of the school, it may be that there are a number of different work groups identified.
The department’s information provides sound advice in terms of the role of the HSR and the responsibility of the HSR to “adequately and fairly represent the opinions of the work group they have been elected to represent”.
HSR training and refresher courses
Safe Work College offers five-day HSR training courses and one-day refresher courses.
Details of forthcoming courses can be found at https://www.safework.qld.edu.au/courses/course_schedule.asp