Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) are elected by groups of workers (called work groups) to represent them and act on their behalf in relation to work health and safety matters. Some of the benefits provided by HSRs include:
- a single point of contact for workers raising health and safety issues, as well as for employers when consulting with workers
- improved efficiency, particularly where there is a large group of affected workers, enhancing the consultation process
- more effective representation, through their training, experience and regular involvement with health and safety matters.
Whilst in many cases a work group is made up of workers of the same PCBU, it is possible to establish work groups across multiple PCBUs. A situation where there may be a group of workers from different PCBUs might be a worksite that uses multiple sub-contractors.
Multiple-business work groups are voluntary and built on the commitment of the various PCBUs to collaborate in addressing health and safety matters.
If agreed, workers from multiple businesses working on a single site can be part of the same work group which could cover:
- labour hire staff
Examples of multiple-business work groups include:
- a principal contractor and numerous sub-contractors working together on a construction site
- labour hire staff and the employees at a manufacturing site
- joint venture businesses
- a principal operator engaging workers from PCBUs such as airports, entertainment venues and hospitals
Similarly, a work group might consist of workers of the same trade or it might consist of all workers on the same night shift.
Formation of multiple work groups should be by consultation to negotiate an agreement that focuses on:
- the workplace location/s of work groups
- the number and composition of work groups
- the number of HSRs and deputy HSRs
The aim is to identify the most workable arrangement for the workplace/s. The work group arrangement must be agreed to by the workers.
Establishing multiple-businesses workgroups
Work groups are established by negotiation and agreement between each of the PCBUs and their workers.
Establishing work groups for more than one PCBU does not need to affect how existing work groups at each business or undertaking operate.
A worker may be part of more than one work group. For example, an on-hire worker may be a member of the on-hire firm’s work group, and a member of a work group in the business that engages the worker to carry out work.
A party to negotiations, or to an agreement, may withdraw from the negotiation or agreement at any time by providing reasonable notice (in writing) to other parties. If a party has withdrawn from an agreement, the other parties must negotiate a variation to the agreement, which remains valid in the meantime.
Example - Negotiating work groups involving multiple businesses
A plumbing business (contractor) is engaged by a principal contractor of a major construction project to install plumbing services. The contractor does not have enough staff to complete the works on schedule and enters into a contract with another plumbing business (sub-contractor) to provide additional resources.
Both businesses have duties under the WHS Act to provide a safe working environment for staff engaged to undertake the work at the construction project. A meeting is arranged between both businesses and their workers to review existing workgroup arrangements. The workers of the contractor authorise their union to represent them at these negotiations, the sub-contractor workers authorise their supervisor as their representative in the negotiations.
The negotiations involve the union delegate, the sub-contractor’s workers representative and a management representative for both businesses. All relevant matters are taken into account during negotiations including the nature of the risk, the work location and hours worked. An agreement is reached to establish a multi-PCBU workgroup for the project.
It is determined that one HSR and a deputy HSR would be required for the plumbing workers workgroup and these HSRs are authorised to represent these workers when on site.
Sharing costs of the HSR
The PCBUs must equally share the cost of HSRs exercising their powers and functions, course fees and other reasonable costs. However, the PCBUs may agree to share costs in different portions. For example, where most of the work group carry out work for one business or undertaking, that PCBU would pay the majority of HSR-related costs.
At any time, the PCBUs can negotiate and agree to change how costs are shared.
If negotiations fail
Where an agreement cannot be reached to establish or vary work groups for multiple PCBUs, the relevant party can request the Regulator (SafeWork SA) to appoint an inspector to assist with the negotiations. An inspector will facilitate reaching an agreement but cannot make a determination. If all parties still cannot agree, the PCBUs involved may choose to negotiate with their own workers to determine work groups for a single PCBU.
Worker representation and participation guide - Safe Work Australia