It would be nice to think that our bosses prioritise our health and safety at work, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
That’s where your Health & Safety Representative comes in.
A Health & Safety Representative (HSR) is an employee who has been elected to represent members of their workplace, providing a way for workers’ views and concerns about safety to be heard.
If your boss isn’t taking health and safety seriously, you can go to your HSR for help – because it isn’t just a tokenistic title to make workers feel represented, HSRs have a HUGE amount of power to protect their fellow workmates. I would know – I’m the HSR for the Young Workers Centre!
Here are some of the legal powers a HSR has under the OHS Act:
A HSR can evacuate any part of the workplace that poses an immediate and serious threat to safety. You’d think bosses wouldn’t ask their workers to continue working in extremely hazardous conditions, but it happens all the time.
For example: there was a minor earthquake a few years ago which caused cracks to form in the roof of a warehouse in Dandenong. The boss wanted the labourers to keep working, but their HSR issued a cease-work and evacuated the building. Within a few hours, that part of the factory roof completely collapsed. Workers may have been killed that day if they didn’t have an elected HSR that was committed to keeping them safe.
Drop a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN):
If your boss ignores a safety issue or fails to remove a hazard that has been raised, the HSR can drop a PIN requesting the issue be addressed by a certain date (giving them a minimum of 7 days.) Depending on which part of the OHS Act has been breached, Worksafe will be involved and it can lead to fines.
We’ve all seen those WorkSafe ads where a boss is doing something super dodgy and then freaks out when a WorkSafe inspector shows up unexpectedly. WorkSafe inspectors have powers to recommend further action including prosecution workplaces for breaching health and safety, so it’s very useful that HSRs have the power to call WorkSafe to inspect their work site or report injuries that the boss is failing to report.
Every workplace should have a Health & Safety representative – but if your workplace doesn’t have one yet, contact the Young Workers Centre for advice on how to get one elected, maybe even you!