Should we train health and safety committee members?


Should we train health and safety committee members?

There's no legal obligation for employers to provide training for health and safety committee members, but it's certainly in your best interest to do so. Gaby Grammeno explains.

Across Australia, there are no longer any legal obligations for employers to provide particular training for members of health and safety committees.

But while there’s no mandatory requirement, it’s in employers’ best interests to regard the health and safety committee as a resource, an ally to assist in fulfilling their overriding obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of workers and anyone else who may be adversely affected by the operations of the business.

As workers, health and safety committee members are naturally entitled to receive whatever information, training and instruction may be necessary to protect them from health and safety risks arising from the work they carry out. Though they are not explicitly entitled to receive any extra or special training as health and safety committee members, from an employer’s point of view it makes good business sense to provide committee members with training in how to fulfil their functions.

Health and safety committee functions

The functions of a health and safety committee are to facilitate cooperation between employers and workers in developing and implementing measures to manage health and safety risks, and to help develop safety standards, rules and procedures. This may include helping to resolve issues or difficulties that arise in the process. Where committees exist, therefore, they are a vital component of the consultation process.

As an employer, you are obliged to consult so far as is reasonably practicable with staff affected by a health and safety matter, regardless of whether the means of consultation involve a health and safety representative, a committee, or other procedures agreed between the employer and the staff.

Consultation requires that relevant information about health and safety matters is shared with staff; that workers are given the opportunity to express their views and contribute to the decision-making process (eg to resolve a health and safety issue); and that workers consulted are advised of the outcome of the consultation in a timely manner.

Health and safety committee members can make a useful contribution when an employer’s WHS aspirations, issues and constraints need to be communicated to staff, when hazards and risks need to be identified, assessed and controlled, and when making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers.

Committee members also have a role to play when decisions are being made about the procedures for consultation, for resolving health and safety issues, for monitoring worker’s health or working conditions and for providing information and training for workers.

Training in risk management principles and practice

Effective training is not just a matter of transferring knowledge. It should also enable people to develop their skills, abilities and attitudes. As such, it can help create a good workplace safety culture that in turn will aid in preventing work injury and illness and avoiding the associated drain on productivity. Achieving this requires not only induction training on joining the business, but ongoing, repeated refresher training. 

Preferably, training should be interactive and delivered in a variety of ways. Under some circumstances, for example, in relation to safe working in confined spaces, permits and high risk work licences, it will be appropriate to assess whether staff have understood and are able to carry out safe work procedures.

Health and safety committee members should be offered training opportunities that will enable them to make a positive and useful contribution in a range of situations. In particular, they need to be well versed in the types of hazards and risks relevant to the particular workplace, and suitable options for risk control. If this is the case, they will be able to usefully participate in identifying risks and suitable control measures to and monitoring the effectiveness of risk management generally.

Ideally, committee members should also be fully aware of an organisation’s WHS policies and safe working procedures, including documentation such as safe work method statements, operators’ manuals, maintenance and service routines, incident reporting arrangements, safety data sheets, emergency procedures and other matters relevant to safe work.

Employers must allow health and safety committee members whatever time they need – on their usual rate of pay – to attend committee meetings or otherwise fulfil their functions. 
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