Health and safety representatives and work groups

Any worker (or group of workers) may ask the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) for an HSR to be elected to represent them on work health and safety matters. 

It is not mandatory for a business or undertaking to have an HSR, unless requested by workers. 

If a worker makes this request, a work group or groups must be formed. 

Forming work groups

Work groups are formed by negotiation and agreement between:

  • the PCBU, and 
  • the workers who are proposed to form the work group (or their representatives). 

Negotiations need to decide:

  • the number and composition of work group/s
  • the number of HSRs and deputy HSRs (if any) to be elected, and
  • the workplace/s to which the work groups will apply (if there is more than one workplace).

When negotiating work groups there are a range of matters that must be considered, including:

  • the number of workers
  • the views of workers
  • the diversity of workers
  • the different types of work 
  • the different types of work carried out by the workers
  • the areas or places where each type of work is carried out
  • the nature of any hazards and risks 
  • the nature of the engagement of workers, e.g. employees or contractors
  • the pattern of work, e.g. full-time, part-time, casual, short-term or seasonal work, and
  • the times work is carried out, e.g. night shifts or rotating rosters. 

Negotiations must aim to ensure workers’ health and safety interests are well represented and each worker can easily access their HSR.

If negotiations fail, any person (who is or would be a party to the negotiations) may ask the regulator to appoint an inspector to assist the negotiations or make a decision.

Work group negotiations might need to involve multiple PCBUs if workers carry out work for different businesses or undertakings. For example:

  • construction sites where workers of different contractors and sub-contractors work for a principal contractor
  • labour hire arrangements where workers work for the on-hire agency and the host business.

More detailed information on forming work groups can be found in the Worker representation and participation guide.

Electing health and safety representatives

Workers in the work group can decide how the HSR elections will be conducted. It may be informal, for example with a show of hands, or it may involve a more formal process such as the use of ballots. 

If the majority of workers in a work group agree, the election may be conducted with the assistance of a union or other organisation or person.

As a PCBU, you must provide the resources, facilities and assistance that are reasonable for the HSR elections to be conducted. 

You must also take all reasonable steps to ensure:

  • all relevant PCBUs and workers in the work group are informed of the election date as soon as possible
  • all workers in the work group have the opportunity to nominate for the position of HSR or deputy HSR, and vote in the election, and
  • all relevant PCBUs and workers in the work group are informed of the election outcome.

An election is not necessary if the number of candidates for an HSR position equals the number of vacancies. For example, if you have one HSR position for a work group and only one candidate.

The role of health and safety representatives

The responsibility for providing a healthy and safe workplace rests with the PCBU. However, HSRs have an important role in representing members of their work group and bringing issues to the attention of the PCBU. 

HSRs have the following powers and functions:

  • represent the workers in their work group in relation to WHS matters
  • monitor the PCBU’s compliance with the WHS Act
  • investigate WHS complaints from members of the work group; and
  • inquire into WHS risks to workers. 

It is up to the HSR to decide when they will exercise their powers and perform their functions (there are no mandatory obligations on HSRs to do so). HSRs can:

  • seek and receive information concerning the work health and safety of workers in a work group
  • inspect the workplace where their workgroup works at any time after giving reasonable notice to the PCBU (or without notice in the event of an incident or any situation involving a serious risk to health or safety)
  • attend interviews between a work group member or members (with their consent) and an inspector or the PCBU (e.g. after an incident has occurred, for return-to-work purposes or as part of issue resolution) 
  • in some circumstances, direct a work group member to cease unsafe work or issue a provisional improvement notice (PIN).

Refer to the Worker representation and participation guide for detailed information on HSR powers and functions.

PCBUs have obligations to support HSRs, including: 

  • consulting with HSRs on work health and safety matters
  • allowing HSRs access to information on hazards at the workplace and other information that may impact the health and safety of workers
  • providing any resources, facilities and assistance to HSRs for them to perform their functions
  • ensuring HSRs are not disadvantaged for taking on the role of HSR 
  • permitting an HSR to accompany an inspector during an inspection of any part of the workplace.

Keeping a list of HSRs enables workers to find out who can represent them if a work health and safety issue arises. PCBUs must ensure that:

  • a list of each HSR and deputy HSR (if any) is prepared and kept up-to-date, and
  • the list is displayed in a central location that is accessible to workers in relevant work groups (at the principal place of business and any other workplace that is appropriate). This might include notice boards or the workplace intranet.  

HSR training 

HSRs are entitled to attend a training course in work health and safety of up to five days, as well as one day refresher training each year. 

Training is not mandatory for HSRs. However, without training HSRs are unable to direct workers to cease unsafe work or issue a provisional improvement notice (PIN).

Encouraging HSRs to attend training will help to make sure have the skills and knowledge to perform their role effectively. 

If an HSR has made a request for training, you must allow them to attend their chosen course (one approved by the regulator) as soon as practicable within 3 months after the request is made. You must also pay the course fees and any other reasonable costs associated with the HSR’s attendance at the training.

More detailed information on HSRs can be found in the Worker representation and participation guide.

Supporting information