Occupational Health and Safety is a major issue facing Australian workplaces and unions
Many decades of struggle by trade unions have produced healthier and safer working conditions but the level of occupational injury, disease and death is still too high, despite intense efforts to reform Australian occupational health and safety systems.
The SDA Approach to Health and Safety
The SDA believes in a preventative OHS approach. A preventive Occupational Health and Safety strategy must be based on the following principles:
- Every worker has the right to work in an environment that is safe and healthy and free of the adverse effects of stress. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment.
- Improvements in workers ’health and safety should be achieved through reducing hazards at their source and by modifying the workplace to fit the needs of workers, rather than through modifying workers’ behaviour to fit the demands of a hazardous workplace.
- Workers have a right to know what hazards they may be exposed to at work, and employers have an obligation to provide this information.
- Improvements in workers’ health and safety can predominantly be achieved by united action to improve conditions, rather than by personal changes in “lifestyles, hence health and safety is a legitimate trade union issue.
- Governments have a responsibility to develop, review and enforce minimum standards and criteria that define a safe and healthy working environment in the retail industry.
- Employers who breach recognised standards of Occupational Health and Safety causing injury and disease to workers or the community should be subject to criminal law.
- Health and Safety Representatives and Committees are important.
Work Health and Safety Act 2011
New work health and safety laws commenced in NSW on 1 January 2012. These laws are the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
Requirements for employers have been expanded and duties imposed on a broader category called ‘Person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU).
The new laws also changed the names, role and functions of OHS Committees and Representatives to health and safety representatives (HSRs) and health and safety committees (HSCs). HSRs are able to issue PINs and to direct unsafe work to cease and Unions may act on behalf of workers as representatives and as WHS entry permit holders.
The new laws require employers to consult with their employees about all issues affecting health and safety and welfare in the workplace. Employers must take into account the views of employees. Consultation when determining how a risk is to be eliminated or minimised is important as workers can contribute their own knowledge and experience and help anticipate potential issues.
Consultation procedures are to be agreed between the PCBU and the workers, should be in writing and readily accessible to all workers.
Consultation can occur through HSRs, HSCs or other arrangements agreed between the PCBU and workers.
Health and Safety Committees (HSC)
The HSC’s main focus is to provide a forum where workers and management can work together to improve health and safety in the workplace. They may consider and participate in a variety of activities e.g. formal training, conducting inspections, participation in incident investigations, workplace safety events. They can assist in the development of health and safety standards, rules and procedures to be used and complied with in the workplace.
Setting Up a Committee
- If you do not have a HSC in your workplace, you can request that your employer establish one.
- The employer must establish a HSC within two months, or
- If an elected Health and Safety Representative (HSR) or five or more employees in the workplace make such a request, or
- An employer may also establish a HSC on their own initiative.
Some things to note about Committees
- At least half of the members of the HSC must be workers who are not nominated by the employer.
- If there is already a HSR in the workplace, the HSR may elect to sit on the committee if they wish to do so.
- Also, though the legislation does not state this, for the committee to function effectively, the employer’s representative should have the authority to make decisions or put them into effect.
Operating a Committee
- A HSC must meet at least once every three months, and further, at any reasonable time at the request of at least half of the members of the Committee.
- The employer must allow each member of the HSC to spend time to attend meetings and carry out their role as a member of the committee. This should be done in paid working time.
- A HSC must also have access to all relevant information relating to the health and safety of the workers at the workplace.
Your union can assist you in establishing suitable OHS arrangements in your workplace.
Health and Safety Representatives (HSR)
A HSR represents workers in a workgroup.
All workplaces must have employee elected safety representatives (HSRs) who must be properly trained and, this is paid for by the employer.
- The employees must elect their own representative from a workgroup.
- The election must be conducted properly either through a ballot or a show of hands at a meeting of all employees in the workgroup. A returning officer should be appointed by the workgroup.
- Your union can conduct the election, if the majority of employees request it.
- The HSR is elected for a maximum of two (2) years.
- The HSR must be trained and the employer pays for this. The training must take place during normal working hours.
- The employer has to allow the HSR adequate time (during working hours) to talk to the employees, hold meetings carry out inspections and do risk assessments.
- The employer has to provide HSRs with facilities for example photocopiers, Internet access to the unionsafe and WorkCover websites and meeting rooms.
The laws allow for the involvement of your union when defining and setting up workgroups. In setting up a workgroup the following things have to be considered:
Workgroups represented by OHS committees or OHS representatives
1. The relevant workgroups to be represented by OHS committees or OHS representatives are to be determined in a manner that ensures that they are able to represent effectively the employees in each workgroup and, in particular, in a manner that enables them to undertake regular meaningful communication with the employees in each workgroup.
2. The diversity of the employees and their work must be taken into account when determining the relevant workgroups. In particular, the following must be taken into account:
(a)the number of workers,
(b) the views of workers in relation to the determination and variation of work groups,
(c) the nature of each type of work carried out by the workers,
(d) the number and grouping of workers who carry out the same or similar types of work,
(e) the areas or places where each type of work is carried out,
(f) the extent to which any worker must move from place to place while at work,
(g) the diversity of workers and their work,
(h) the nature of any hazards at the workplace or workplaces,
(i) the nature of any risks to health and safety at the workplace or workplaces,
(j) the nature of the engagement of each worker, for example as an employee or as a contractor,
(k) the pattern of work carried out by workers, for example whether the work is full-time, part-time, casual or short-term,
(l) the times at which work is carried out,
(m) any arrangements at the workplace or workplaces relating to overtime or shift work.
For more information about your workplace health and safety, speak to your Union Delegate, your store HSR or HSC or call the Union office on 4961 4694.
Click here to view SDA National Office OHS issues.