HSRs and HSCs – Do We Need Them?
As OHS consultants, we often get asked about health and safety representatives (HSRs) and health and safety committees (HSCs). Our clients want to know what their obligations are in relation to having HSRs and HSCs in their workplaces, what the benefits are, and how to go about setting up these consultative requirements. So we’ve put together some FAQs in relation to HSRs and HSCs in order to hopefully cut through the confusion (and the acronyms)!
Note: this information applies to the state of Queensland, Australia and was current at time of publishing. This information is general in nature and shall not be considered legal advice. Check local statutory and regulatory authorities for requirements specific to your location and organisation.
Q: What is an HSR, and do we need to have one?
A: An HSR is a health and safety representative who has been elected by their workgroup co-workers, in order to represent their co-workers in the interests of health and safety. The role of an HSR is to facilitate consultation, cooperation and partnership between persons conducting the business or undertaking (PCBUs) and workers, in order to ensure workplace health and safety. As per the applicable legislation, personnel are required to complete a 5-day training course within three months of their election in order to be eligible to fulfil the role of HSR.
Qualified HSRs have various powers and entitlements under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, such as:
- Carrying out inspections
- Reviewing the circumstances of workplace incidents
- Accessing information relating to health and safety
- Participating in the workplace health and safety committee, if any
- Investigating their workgroup members’ work health and safety complaints
- Issuing PINs in respect to health and safety contraventions.
As set out in the relevant legislation, a worker may request a PCBU to facilitate election of one or more HSR. If such a request is made, the PCBU is obliged to facilitate determination of workgroups and election of HSRs within specific timeframes. Alternatively, PCBUs may choose to do so voluntarily.
Q: What are the benefits of having an HSR?
A: HSRs can be beneficial to organisations in a general sense via fostering consultation and facilitating knowledgeable, local action in relation to OHS. They can assist with practical OHS issue resolution, taking into account organisational-specific information in order to ensure results are practical, prompt, and suitable.
Additionally, organisations can benefit from having a qualified HSR on site because this provides an alternative to calling in a government inspector in the case of breaches of OHS legislation that have not been able to be resolved via consultation. HSRs are able to issue an enforceable PIN to take action to resolve such, providing organisations with the opportunity to resolve their own issues without involvement by authorities.
Q: What’s an HSC? And do we need one of those?
A: An HSC is a health and safety committee, which is a group of workers established to facilitate cooperation between PCBUs and workers in relation to health and safety matters. To comply with the relevant legal requirements, organisations must establish one within specific timeframes if requested to do so by an HSR or five or more workers (and otherwise as imposed by relevant legal requirements); organisations may also establish one voluntarily if they wish. See below for requirements in relation to HSCs imposed by standards.
Half or more of the members of the HSC must be nominated by persons other than PCBUs, and HSRs are entitled to be members of the committee. HSCs must meet every three months (or more often as required).
Q: What are the benefits of having an HSC?
A: Similar benefits to that of electing HSRs can be gained by having an HSC. HSRs have increased powers and functions, but having HSRs also brings additional obligations (e.g. requirements to keep and display a current list of HSRs and deputy HSRs, and to provide this list to the authorities; requirements to complete recognised training; etcetera). HSCs have fewer powers but also bring fewer obligations. Both HSRs and HSCs are designed to facilitate OHS consultation and cooperation.
Q: So … what’s a PIN?
A: A PIN is a provisional improvement notice. It’s an enforceable written direction from an HSR requiring PCBUs to fix workplace health and safety problems.
Q: Do ISO 45001 or AS/NZS require HSRs or HSCs?
A: HSRs are not a requirement of either standard. HSCs are not explicitly required by ISO 45001 or AS/NZS 4801, but the standards do include some references via the following:
- Selection of personnel who will represent employees in relation to OHS, and being informed of who these personnel are (AS/NZS 4801 clause 126.96.36.199)
- Top management’s support in establishment and functioning of HSCs (ISO 45001 clause 5.1)
- Inclusion of commitment to consultation and participation with its workers in the OHS policy, including via, where they exist, representatives (ISO 45001 clause 5.2)
- Establishment of consultative and participatory processes, including via, where they exist, representatives (ISO 45001 clause 5.4).
So hopefully this clears things up a bit in relation to requirements for HSRs and HSCs in Queensland. For more information, visit the Worksafe website or see the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulation 2011.
Still got questions? Feel free to get in touch with us, or post a question in the comments!