For Above Average Health and Safety Representatives (and those who Support Them).
A safe workplace does not happen by accident. It requires a team that uses correct methods and quality resources. The Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is a key player on this team, and as both a conduit and source of information, the HSR plays a significant role. Theirs is not a job for someone content to be average. If you're a Health and Safety Representative, this article's for you, and if you want to support your HSR, there are suggestions for you also.
Of course, 'average' might not be the best choice of word, but we're after the feel of the word, not its technical meaning. Mathematically, we know that someone has to be 'the average,' and statistically, the average human has one breast and one testicle (think about it) - so maths and statistics don't always apply. But we all know that if someone says you're 'average', they're not paying you a compliment (or counting your testicles). That's why we aim to help you be well above average!
Specifically, we'll take a look at:
- What is a Health and Safety Representative?
- Why is HSR a challenging role?
- Suggestions for Health and Safety Representatives,
- Tips for supporting HSR's in their position, and
- How we specifically help these significant people.
What is a Health and Safety Representative?
A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is an elected worker who promotes and contributes to a safe working environment by representing the perspectives of the workers who elected them. HSRs are empowered by and enjoy the backing of a range of laws and authorised bodies. Since they must represent the health and safety interests of their fellow worker, they have some unique workplace distinctive:
- They are elected, though the specific election process varies between states or territories.
- They function as a communication channel between workers and management, and vice-versa.
- HSRs have special rights and powers. Depending on your state or territory, they may be able to conduct inspections and investigations, allocate Provisional Improvement Notices (PINs) and issue cease-work directives.
- They must work collaboratively and consultatively with management. This means they must participate in workplace consultations, attend various meetings, and contribute to the development and review of health and safety policies and procedures.
- HSRs are entitled to receive training to equip them for the role. Employers are generally responsible for providing this training.
- Employers are also required to tangibly support HSRs in fulfilling their duties.
It is important to note that specific requirements and regulations related to HSRs may vary between states and territories. It is advisable to refer to the relevant legislation and guidelines to understand the details specific to each jurisdiction.
It's also worth noting that in a small business, the Health and Safety Representative role is often combined with others. We often speak to HSRs who are also a company Officer (as per Section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001), a PCBU, a Site Supervisor or a Safety Officer (SO). We've even had a combined HSR, SO and IT Manager call. The point is that while it is a demanding role, it often isn't supported that way.
Just how demanding is it?
Why is HSR a Challenging Role?
Being a Health and Safety Representative can be a very challenging role. For example:
- There are balancing and even competing responsibilities to handle,
- Specific expertise and knowledge is required,
- Conflict is inevitable,
- You must work within the limitations of defined authority,
- Workplace dynamics must be navigated, and
- There is an emotional toll to handle.
Let's expand on these.
Firstly, there are responsibilities to balance. As a Health and Safety Representative, you must advocate for worker health and safety while collaborating with management and employers. As a result, you will learn business dynamics and challenges that workers may be unable to appreciate. This puts you in the awkward situation of striking a balance between representing the interests of workers whilst maintaining effective working relationships with management.
Secondly, there are significant things you need to know, and specific areas of expertise you need to develop. HSRs need to possess a good understanding of health and safety legislation, regulations and best practice. You must also identify and respond to workplace hazards while modelling safe work practices in everything you do. HSR is not a space for dummies.
Thirdly, conflict is unavoidable. As a HSR, you must mediate situations where workers and management have differing opinions. Safety practices, the addressing of hazards, equipment and documentation are all common areas of disagreement and misunderstanding. Resolving conflict, with or without finding common ground, requires communication, negotiation and conflict-resolution skills.
Fourth, while you have certain rights and powers, they are limited and may be challenged. Encouraging compliance and change is great when it works, but convincing reluctant workers or management is a more complicated challenge.
Fifth, as HSRs represent a specific group of workers that are active in a particular work role and location, they need to navigate needs and concerns that are both specific and diverse. Managing different personalities, building consensus, and ensuring everyone's concerns are represented is difficult. It is a complex dynamic.
Finally, for our list today, there is the issue of potential emotional impact. Accidents, injuries, and potential hazards can take an emotional toll - especially if an accident happens due to a contributory action (or non-action). Even when things go well, advocating for the well-being of workers is challenging, emotionally demanding and requires exceptional resilience.
Despite the challenges, HSRs are crucial in promoting a safe and healthy work environment. Their dedication and efforts can help foster a safe environment, protect workers' well-being, and contribute to business profitability. For all of these reasons, though it's a challenging role, it can also be an enriching one when adequately supported.
Suggestions for Health and Safety Representatives
Communication is arguably the role's most substantial and challenging aspect - especially as the middleman (or woman) between management and workers. The right tools will help, and though I once heard a sledgehammer works a treat on shortening annoying conversations, here are some more sophisticated suggestions:
- Know your powers, rights and responsibilities, and know where to access them online if someone asks. Some research links are provided below.
- Be persistent and learn the art of persuasion communication. It takes more than a pleasant personality to convince management or employers to do what they don't want to do.
If you want to know more about being a Health and Safety Representative in your jurisdiction (state or territory), we've completed the search. Follow the link that works for you:
How to Support your Health and Safety Representative
The responsibility for providing a healthy and safe workplace ultimately rests with the PCBU, but as we have seen, others help that goal be achieved. Very specifically, the HSR has one of those contributory roles.
To help them represent the members of their work group, bring issues to management's attention, and contribute collaboratively and gainfully to management's safety-related decisions, here are some simple suggestions to consider:
- Know the specific HSR requirements and regulations related to your state or territory. A search on your relevant authority website is recommended, and the links above will help here also.
- Support the election process and the person your workers want.
- Resource and support them when they exercise their rights and powers, act as a communication channel, and provide administrative support where needed. Ensure your HSR has access to relevant resources, legislation, regulations, and industry guidelines.
- Be intentional about including them in meetings and decisions. Ensure they are a respected and heard presence in your workplace processes.
- Invest in their training. Employers have this as a legislated responsibility, but going above the minimum communicates to them and your workforce that you take safety seriously. When you support their ongoing training and professional development, you enhance their knowledge and effectiveness, which in turn improves your safety-related outcomes.
- Create an environment of cooperation and participation. Your HSR will want to encourage worker engagement, so create opportunities for workers to voice concerns, provide feedback and contribute to discussions.
- Publicly recognise and value the contributions of your HSR and other workers. Everyone likes to see their runs recorded on the scoreboard.
- Act swiftly on recommendations. Wherever possible, show you take the counsel of the HSR seriously by responding promptly to safety concerns. When you implement control measures and address hazards quickly and effectively, you show the Health and Safety Representative and the workers that their input is valued.
- Document your compliance and efforts in this area.
How We Help These Very Important People
We support Health and Safety Representatives people in three primary ways.
First, we adjust our advice and support based on your individual needs. When you call, we usually ask what workplace role you have. This gives us an idea of your product requirements, existing knowledge, and your position's complexity and likely needs. If we find out you are a Health and Safety Representative, we immediately recognise you'll likely need extra guidance and support - and we provide it!
Second, we design, package and price our resources so it's easy for management to see the cost-benefit difference quickly. This helps HSRs do their thing.
Finally, we encourage implementing complete systems rather than a piecemeal 'build as you go approach'. Whether you're a Health and Safety Representative or fill another role, our optimal advice will remain as follows: investing in a complete Safety Management System is best.
Our WHS and OH&S Safety Management Systems provide policies and procedures that deliver clear guidance, instruction, expectations and means. All your people, from top management to junior workers, will find the checklists, registers, forms, policies and procedures helpfully designed and cross-referenced. Everyone knows what to use, and when, which means people can focus on achieving safety, rather than fumbling with methods.
This month's goal was to help you, or one of your team, be an above-average Health and Safety Representative - all without needing surgical enhancement (remember the statistically average human). We hope we've done that for you.
If you have questions about our WHS or OH&S management systems, SWMS, tailored industry solutions, safety documents, management plans or specials, call 1800 304 336. As we've already said, we work with you based on where you are, what you now know and what role you perform - and we'll never call you average, because that'd be mean (Hah! I squeezed a dad joke in).