Everyone has the right to come home safely from work. Tragically, every year dozens of Australians are denied that right. That’s why occupational health and safety is core union business.
The role of the HSR
A health and safety representative (HSR) is an employee elected by their colleagues to represent the work group’s health and safety interests, and to ensure employers meet their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
HSRs act as watchdogs and advocates for the health and safety of their colleagues, students and others in the workplace.
They are not required to remove or fix hazards and ‘near misses’ – that is the responsibility of the employer. The HSR’s responsibility is to report hazards to the employer and monitor the situation to ensure the employer fulfils their responsibility. Likewise, HSRs cannot be held liable for incidents or accidents that occur – that liability rests with the employer.
Under the act, HSRs have a range of powers, including:
- inspecting any part of the workplace
- accompanying a health and safety inspector during an inspection
- being present at OHS interviews between a member of their work group and either the employer or an OHS inspector
- requiring the establishment of a health and safety committee
- issuing provisional improvement notices and direction to cease work.
The AEU has produced a handbook for HSRs that explains the legal framework, how to elect HSRs, the role of the HSR, how the health and safety committee works, how the consultative process works, employer responsibilities, training and campaigning, first steps for new HSRs and incident reporting.
HSRs have an entitlement to a five-day intial training course and an annual one-day referesher.
To undertake this training you will need to register with the VTHC here - where you can download a form or complete your registration online.
Basic OHS rights
Every Victorian worker has these basic rights:
- To be provided with safe systems of work.
- To have your employer monitor your health and conditions in the workplace.
- To be provided with amenities at work.
- To be consulted on work health and safety issues.
- To refuse to perform work that you reasonably think would expose you to serious risk.
- To be represented by a health and safety representative elected from and by the workgroup.
OHS advice sheets
The AEU has produced a range of quick-reference advice sheets for HSRs. Remember, you can always ring MSC on 03 9417 2822 for more information.
Victorian Trades Hall Council has also produced a wide range of excellent FAQs.
Under the OHS Act, members of a designated work group may elect a group member to be the HSR. All employees are entitled to vote in the election, which must be organised and paid for by the employer. A HSR does not have to be an AEU member, but it is strongly recommended that they are. OHS is core union business. Full details of the election process are contained in the Vic OHS Act.
Hazard and incident reporting
Every employer is required to have a system for recording injuries, incidents, and near misses – both physical and psychological. In schools, the online reporting system is eduSafe. Reporting systems in other workplaces will differ but a system must be in place to enable employees to report injuries and hazards. Refer Vic OHS Act 2004 (Section 22). There is a legal requirement to notify Worksafe Victoria of certain incidents – Refer to Vic OHS Act 2004 (Section 37 – 39).
For compliance codes and further information, visit Worksafe.
The AEU has a number of policies on OHS, developed by our HSR members and ratified by Branch Council and annual conference.
When it comes to occupational health and safety, you need the law on your side – including a sound knowledge of the legislation! In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 sets out the laws that cover the health and safety of people employed in the education sector.