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.
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 is the major legislation covering health and safety in Victorian workplaces.
Every HSR will gain a comprehensive knowledge of the OHS Act, and it is a good idea for all employees to be across the legislation.
The OHS Act sets out very clearly the duties‚ rights and responsibilities of all parties and the consequences of breaching or ignoring those duties.
Its objectives are to:
- Secure the health‚ safety and welfare of employees and other persons at work.
- Eliminate‚ at the source‚ risks to the health‚ safety or welfare of employees and other persons at work.
- Ensure that the health and safety of members of the public are not placed at risk by the conduct of undertakings by employees and self-employed persons.
- Provide for the involvement of employees‚ employers‚ and organisations representing those persons‚ in the formulation and implementation of health‚ safety and welfare standards.
Features of the OHS Act
The OHS Act was the first Victorian legislation to identify psychological hazards as legitimate health and safety concerns.
The act creates a duty for employers to "provide and maintain for employees ... an environment that is safe and without risks to health".
This includes psychological health, comprising factors such as stress‚ occupational violence and bullying.
This means HSRs can use the OHS Act to address psychological health issues such as bullying and stress.
Under the act, new HSRs may attend a five-day training course, and ongoing HSRs may attend annual refresher training. Employers are responsible for meeting the cost of the training and associated costs.
HSRs are elected by their designated work group. Previously, designated work groups were permitted to elect one HSR. Under the current legislation, designated work groups may determine they need additional representation‚ and elect more than one HSR, or elect a deputy HSR.
Creating a designated work group
The first step to ensuring there is proper representation for all staff on health and safety issues is to establish a designated work group.
Under the act, a designated work group is a collection of employees at one or more workplaces formed to:
- enable the interests of those employees relating to occupational health and safety to be represented and safeguarded
- best take account of the need for a HSR to be accessible to each member of the designated work group.
Any workplace may establish a designated work group. Setting one up is not mandatory, but must happen if requested. Most schools will have one designated work group, but staff in multi-campus schools may consider it appropriate to have one for each campus.
The composition of the designated work group is negotiated between the employer and the employees, but normally all staff are in the designated work group, not just teaching staff.
Remember, members of the designated work group must have ease of access to their HSR. This usually isn’t a problem in small groups, but larger groups – especially across campuses – may need improved ease of access by electing more than one HSR, or by electing a deputy HSR.
Health and safety committee
A health and safety committee is a formal structure for discussing and resolving workplace health and safety issues.
A committee can be set up at any time by a HSR in consultation with their designated work group.
The OHS Act details the provisions required to set up a health and safety committee – or for more information, contact your HSR.