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.
A few quick OHS facts
- In 2014, 188 workers in Australia were fatally injured at work.
- From 2003–2014, 3000 workers lost their lives in work-related incidents.
- From 2003–2014, there were 30 worker fatalities in the education and training sector.
- In 2012–13, the economic cost of work-related incidents was $61.8 billion. The bulk of this (77%) was shouldered by the injured workers.
Basic OHS rights
Every Australian state or territory has different legislation, but every worker has these basic rights:
- Not to have your health and safety put at risk from work that is carried out.
- To be provided with safe systems of work.
- To have your employer monitor your health and conditions to the workplace.
- To be provided with facilities at work.
- To be provided with accommodation, if needed.
- To be consulted on work health and safety issues that affect your work.
- 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 work group.
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.
Why is OHS important?
Throughout the education sector, expectations and pressures are increasing. Every day, AEU members face very real threats to their health and safety.
That’s why OHS must be an integral part of planning – addressed in standard processes, and contributing to the goal of providing excellent educational outcomes.
There are five key reasons why everyone in your workplace should be concerned with occupational health and safety.
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
- incident reporting.
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.
Hazard and incident reporting
When it comes to OHS, everyone at a workplace can help – and one of the main ways is through hazard and incident reporting.
Every employer is required to have a system for recording injuries, incidents, and near misses – both physical and psychological.
Each of these events must be recorded in an injury register (even if nobody was injured), and the system for reporting must be known by all staff and available to them at any reasonable time.
In schools, the online reporting system is eduSafe.
Reporting systems in other places of education will differ, but you can always check the WorkSafe website, which has a lot of useful resources for incident reporting.
AEU HSR of the Year Award
Everyone knows health and safety in the workplace is vital – but we rarely acknowledge and celebrate our HSR colleagues, who look after us so well.
The AEU HSR of the Year is an opportunity for all members to reflect on their HSR colleagues and the great work they do – and to give them some recognition!
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.
OHS network meetings
If you’re in the Melbourne region, come along to one of our regular OHS network meetings at AEU Victoria, Abbotsford.
These meetings are a great opportunity for HSRs to share ideas, issues and challenges. They run from 4.30pm–6.00pm, usually toward the end of every month.
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. If you’re a HSR, be sure to check them out as they will be very useful. And if you’re not a HSR, check them out anyway – OHS is everyone’s business!