With appropriate resources and support, the Department’s new procedures for consultation and health and safety issue resolution have the potential to make public education workplaces safer.
The Work Health and Safety Act imposes duties on employers, workers and other people in workplaces to consult about health and safety. The Work Health and Safety Consultation Procedures recognise that senior departmental managers have a responsibility to ensure appropriate resources are available to support consultation in workplaces.
Consistent with the Work Health and Safety Act the procedures acknowledge consultation arrangements cannot be imposed on workers. There are a range of options which can include a Health and Safety Representative (HSR), a Health and Safety Committee, an informal agreed procedure or a combination of one, or more, of these options.
The Work Health and Safety Act allows workers to form work groups and elect a HSR to represent them.
Determining the work group requires negotiation and agreement between the employer and the workers. The Department has agreed that “as a starting point, all workplaces can elect an HSR if one or more employees or others undertaking work request it without any negotiation being required”.
This means no negotiation is required to elect one HSR. All that is necessary to elect a HSR is for one worker to request it. The procedures state: “workplace managers are required to support the facilitation of the election of HSR(s) where a request has been made by providing the resources and facilities that are reasonably necessary to enable the elections to be conducted”.
The DEC has developed a range of forms which can assist in nominating and electing HSRs. The election process is determined by workers and cannot be imposed. HSRs represent all workers in the workplace.
If employees want more than one HSR or a deputy HSR then there has to be negotiation and agreement with the Department. Workers can request a union representative conduct the negotiations.
HSRs have significant powers and functions. There is a requirement that they receive training within three months of requesting it. Consultation procedures state, “the Department will meet the costs of the course, costs of relief where appropriate and any other reasonable costs associated with the HSR’s attendance at the course of training”.
Acknowledging the important role of HSRs and the requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act the procedures state: “HSRs are to be provided with any resources, facilities and assistance and such time as is reasonably necessary to enable them to carry out their work.” The HSR cannot have additional work health and safety duties imposed on them.
It is possible to have a HSR and a Health and Safety Committee. If five or more workers in a workplace, or an HSR, requests it a Health and Safety Committee should be formed.
Federation believes that consultation in most workplaces would be best supported by the election of a HSR and a Health and Safety Committee. Departmental procedures allow this combination. The procedures include information and forms to support these arrangements.
Federation will develop support material as well as providing advice and assistance for members in establishing consultation arrangements.
The newly implemented Work Health and Safety Issue Resolution Procedures will assist in dealing with problems associated with eliminating or minimising risks and hazards.
If a workplace risk or hazard cannot be “resolved locally after discussions between employees and others undertaking work and workplace managers” it becomes an “issue”. The Workplace Manager must then use the agreed workplace consultation procedures to resolve the issue, if possible within five working days.
If the issue cannot be resolved, it must be reported via the Incident and Injury Hotline and referred to the Work Health and Safety Directorate and the relevant senior manager who must “work with all the parties to resolve the issue as soon as possible but at the latest within 10 working days”.
These are the maximum timeframes and the aim should be to resolve the issue as early as possible.
Importantly, the Department cannot simply decide a Work Health and Safety Issue is resolved. The procedures state: “issues are resolved when there is agreement on actions and controls to minimise or eliminate risks to be undertaken in an agreed timeframe.”
If issues cannot be resolved the matter can be referred to WorkCover. The progress of an “issue” is documented using the Department’s “Issue Resolution Notice”.
Federation will continue to support members in resolving health and safety issues. Members should contact their Organiser for advice and assistance if the timeframes are not followed and/or the health and safety issue is not resolved.