What is a Health and Safety Representative (HSR)?
Health and safety are crucial in any workplace. These factors ensure that everyone can work with peace of mind, thus improving morale, focus, and productivity. A healthy and safe workplace also minimises stress, which increases happiness and job satisfaction.
This is why a health and safety representative (HSR) is an equally crucial role in the workplace. While the business itself is tasked to provide a safe and healthy workplace, HSRs ensure that employees have a say in health and safety matters. They are responsible for bridging the gap between their colleagues and the management so that every health and safety concern is addressed.
What Does a Health and Safety Representative Do?
As previously mentioned, an HSR’s main role is to represent workers on all matters related to health and safety. They can also represent individual employees, upon request. In addition, they also perform the following functions:
- making recommendations regarding workplace health and safety
- monitoring the implementation and compliance with health and safety measures
- investigating health and safety complaints and work-related hazards
- providing feedback to businesses or PCBUs about possible improvements in current health and safety measures
Do note that any worker can ask their company for an HSR in the same way that any business can select their own HSR. However, companies with 20 or more workers and those in a high-risk or industry-specified sector are required to conduct an election for HSRs.
In addition, an HSR represents all the workers in a business by default. If a business decides to group workers (e.g., by task or by shift), these groups should have their individual HSRs.
What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Health and Safety Representative?
Additionally, HSRs have additional powers and responsibilities so that they can perform their jobs more effectively. These include the following:
- Requesting relevant information from businesses and/or PCBUs, such as a detailed list of workplace hazards and the health and safety risks associated with them. HSRs can also make enquiries about the health and safety conditions of workers.
- Conducting regular workplace inspections to ensure compliance. A health and safety representative must always notify the business of the date and time that they plan to conduct the inspection, except when it is being done in relation to a serious health and safety incident that concerns a worker.
- Issuing PINs. If an HSR believes that someone is violating the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) or its regulations, they may issue Provisional Improvement Notices (PINs). PINs are essentially directives to revise or remedy specific aspects of workplace health and safety. An HSR can issue a PIN to any person.
- Stopping unsafe work. HSRs have the power to cease unsafe work, especially if there is evidence that it may cause harm or pose a serious risk to the worker or their colleagues.
What Qualifications Are Needed to be An HSR?
Under the HSWA and the Health and Safety at Work (Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation) Regulations 2016 (the Regulations), any worker may be a Health and Safety representative as long as they have been formally elected by the members of the workgroup.
In addition, to be qualified as an HSR who can issue PINs and direct the cessation of unsafe work, you must have received the following initial training:
- NZQA unit standard 29315
For other HSR functions, there is no training necessary. However, taking additional health and safety training courses is advisable. HSRs are entitled to two days of paid leave annually specifically for training purposes. They can coordinate with the company about their plans, since the business shoulders the cost of training and other related expenses.
How Do I Become an HSR?
As stated in the previous section, HSRs are chosen in an election. Anyone can be elected, as long as they’re a member of the group conducting the election and working sufficient hours so that they can fulfil the role effectively. Of course, willingness to be the group’s health and safety representative is an important qualification.
Meanwhile, any worker who is also a member of the workgroup that needs an HSR can cast their vote.
HSRs in the Time of COVID-19
If you’re wondering about the stability of your career as an HSR, don’t worry. The HSWA alone guarantees that there will always be a demand for health and safety representatives in practically every business in New Zealand.
Moreover, due to COVID-19, there is a heightened focus on workplace health and safety. Offices and business establishments are prime grounds for spreading disease, and HSRs can help ensure that every worker can do their jobs without worrying about getting sick or bringing home pathogens to their loved ones. HSRs are even more important in larger organisations, since you’re going to be dealing with more people with varied health conditions.
Simply put, being an HSR will ensure a stable career. You’ll also have that sense of fulfilment that you have helped provide the best work environment for people.