Breaking Down the Health and Safety at Work Act

1 June 2016

Breaking Down the Health and Safety at Work Act

Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation

Each month we hope to bring you information that will help in thoroughly understanding the new HSWA. This month we want to break down the HSWA Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation regulations, in particular, Worker Participation and Health and Safety Representatives: Who are they? What do they do? How are they selected?

Worker Participation 
The HSWA has improved flexibility of worker participation; it does not specify what types of worker participation practices a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) must have. Different types of practices will suit different workplaces and the important thing is that workers can be involved in an effective way.


A PCBU must have practices that provide reasonable opportunities for workers to participate effectively in improving work health and safety in the business or undertaking on an ongoing basis.

In relation to the requirement for an elected Health and Safety Representative, the following is important to consider:Read-more

  1. Is your industry defined as high-risk as listed in the Regulations
  2. How many employees do you have and how are they grouped? (i.e. work groups of 20 or more).

Depending on what suits its workplace best, a PCBU could comply with this duty by having Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) or a Health and Safety Committees (HSC) - or both. Or they might have neither and rely on more informal practices instead. These might include regular toolbox talks, having health and safety as a regular agenda item at team meetings, or another feedback mechanism so staff have a clear way of raising any health and safety concerns with the PCBU. Informal practices like this may well be enough for smaller or low-risk businesses.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSR)
Firstly, Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) should not be confused with Health and Safety Committees (HSC). A HSR is a worker who has been elected by the members of their work group to represent them in health and safety matters.
HSRs are elected by a work group, which is a defined group of workers who work for the PCBU. The work group can be the whole workplace or it can be workers grouped by work areas, occupations, work sites or other arrangements. How a work group or work groups are organised will depend on what is effective for the PCBU and the workers, given the structure of the business or undertaking.

Functions of Health and Safety Representatives
The functions of a Health and Safety Representative for a work group are-

  • to represent the workers in matters relating to health and safety
  • to investigate complaints from workers regarding health and safety
  • if requested by a worker, to represent the worker in relation to a matter relating to health and safety (including a complaint)
  • to monitor the measures taken by the PCBU that are relevant to health and safety
  • to inquire into anything that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of workers in the work group arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking
  • to make recommendations relating to work health and safety
  • to provide feedback to the PCBU about whether the requirements of this Act or regulations are being complied with
  • to promote the interests of workers in the work group who have been harmed at work, including in relation to arrangements for rehabilitation and return to work.

Primary role of a Health and Safety Representative 
The primary role of an HSR is to advocate. As an advocate the HSR supports workers in matters relating to health and safety. Successful advocacy depends on committed HSRs who attend the prescribed training and additionally educate themselves on the issues relating to their workplace and health and safety matters.

How to advocate:

  1. Attending interviews with the consent of the worker(s) concerned, a Health and Safety Representative may attend an interview between worker(s) and an inspector; or the PCBU or the PCBU's representative.
  2. Entering and inspecting any area of a workplace to perform the functions, or exercise the powers, of the health and safety representative.
  3. Requesting a PCBU to provide any information necessary to enable the HSR to perform his or her functions or exercise his or her powers
  4. Representing one or more worker groups
  5. Accompanying an inspector who has entered a workplace under HSW Act s168.
  6. Consulting the regulator or an inspector about any work health and safety issue.