Schools have a duty under the OHS Act 2004 to consult with their staff on health and safety matters, some examples of when schools should consult include:
- when a change is made that will have an effect on the health and safety of staff, student, volunteers, contractors and visitors
- when identifying OHS hazards for an existing or proposed task or activity
- during the development or review of OHS policies and procedures.
While all involved parties should aim to reach agreement through the process of consultation, agreement is not a required outcome of the OHS Act. There are various avenues for achieving consultation, such as:
- discussions with an elected Health and Safety Representative
- agenda items at an OHS Committee, held once every 3 months
- OHS as a standing agenda item at staff meetings
- carrying out a risk assessment with employees and / or health and safety representatives
- face-to-face conversations with employee.
Designated Work Group (DWG)
A Designated Work Group (DWG) is a grouping of employees for health and safety purposes. When staff requests the development of a DWG, senior management must by law do everything reasonable to ensure that negotiations to establish a DWG start within 14 days of being requested to do so by an employee.
In Catholic schools a DWG would usually be formed using the whole school as the work group. However in a multi campus secondary school, the DWG structure may be set up to have a DWG for each campus or even a DWG for each work group (e.g. Teaching staff DWG, Maintenance staff DWG, Office staff DWG etc.), this will be dependent on the size and composition of the school
Health and Safety Representatives (HSR's)
Every DWG must have one Health and Safety Representative (HSR). When a DWG has been established, the election process can commence to appoint a HSR, and the following steps followed:
- display/distribute a notice calling for HSR nominations for an agreed period
- if only one nomination is received then this person will assume the HSR role, if multiple nominations are received then commence voting as per agreed local arrangements (e.g. ballot, show of hands at staff meeting etc.)
- the nominee with the most votes assumes the HSR role.
The term of office of the elected HSR is 3 years, at which point the election process will need to be followed again.
A HSR is entitled to undertake a 5 Day WorkSafe approved HSR training course (within three months of being elected), and annual one day refresher. They must be allowed time of work with pay to attend, and the course must be paid by the employer
An OHS Committee is a group of management and employee representatives (usually the HSR) that meet to discuss OHS issues, concerns and changes. If staff request that development of a committee then the school must by law do so within 3 months, and ensure that the OHS Committee meets the following requirements:
- at least half of the members of the committee be employees, where practicable these are to include a HSR
- the committee must meet at least every three months and at any other time if half of its members require a meeting
- there should be only one OHS Committee for each workplace.
If there is no OHS Committee established at a school, another method of consultation is by placing OHS as a standing agenda item at staff meetings or similar forum. It is recommended that minutes from staff meetings are kept to ensure there is evidence of consultation via this method, if minutes are not kept than an email with the outcomes of the discussion will suffice. Keeping records is vital as it provides evidence that consultation is taking place if a WorkSafe inspector requests this information.
It is important to ensure that all OHS information is communicated to employees, and that this is carried out in a timely fashion. This can be carried out via the staff noticeboard, direct emails, staff or school newsletters or the school intranet / website. Below is a list of the type of information that can be put up on the OHS notice board:
- OHS Policy
- OHS Issue Resolution Process
- if you are Injured poster
- emergency contact details including: first aid officers, wardens etc.
- OHS Consultation process
- Employee Assistance Program information
- evacuation procedure / plan
- Return to Work process information
- OHS Committee meeting minutes, if applicable.