What does it mean to have safety and health in the workplace for HSRs?

The Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) gives employees and employers certain rights and responsibilities. Employees can elect a HSR (health and safety representative) to represent them. The employer has the responsibility of maintaining a safe work environment.

This guide will provide information on workplace safety and health, as well as a detailed overview of the HSR role. Find out how HSRs are elected and what they do and how they relate to the health and safety committees.

What is Safety and Health?

The WHS Act is a common framework for safety and health in the workplace. WHS Act contains laws and regulations that promote safety for employees. Businesses can benefit from complying with the WHS Act.

  • Workplace injuries and illnesses can be reduced

  • Lower the cost of workers' comp

  • Staff productivity can be improved or maintained

Employers are more likely to keep staff if they ensure safety. Since the 2000s, the number of fatalities among workers has decreased in most cases. Australia had 194 worker deaths in 2020.

Indirect and direct costs can result from workplace injuries. Workers' compensation is one example of the direct cost. Indirect costs include lost labour and lower productivity. The WHS Act is a framework to establish effective safety and health policies. A health and safety representative is one of the best ways to make your workplace safer.

Safety and health of employees

The WHS Act imposes responsibilities on both employers and those who run a business (PCBUs). Workers need to feel safe at work. Workers may need to adhere to specific codes of conduct in order for them complete different types or activities.

Workers must complete training courses before they can work at heights. Construction workers must complete the white card training. These courses provide information about safety and legal responsibilities for both employers and employees.

The WHS Act defines the employer's duty to care. It includes the following duties.

  • Give workers information about hazards and risks

  • Assist with training and instruction when needed to complete work safely.

  • Talk to a HSR (Health and Safety Representative) and get involved.

Employers must provide the training, equipment and resources necessary to ensure workers are safe when it is impossible to avoid a hazardous situation. Visitors and volunteers are also subject to the employer's responsibility.

Employers may also be required to organize an election for safety and health representatives, or create a safety-and-health committee upon request by workers.

What is an HSR?

Employees have the option to elect a HSR (health and safety representative) to represent them in safety and health matters. In discussions about safety and hazards, the HSR represents the best interests of the group.

A workgroup is an employee group that shares similar work situations. For example, a group working at the same facility or in the same department. Each workplace can have one or more workgroups, as per the WHS Act. Each work group can elect one or more HRSs. Employers, HSRs, and work groups negotiate to determine the number of groups and HSRs needed at work. The workplace's hazards and risks may affect the number of HSRs needed. A workplace that is prone to severe hazards might require higher levels of HSRs than an office environment with fewer risks.

HSRs and workers can also set up a health- and safety committee (HSC). A HSC facilitates communication between workers and employers regarding safety and health measures. HSCs may consult with employers and HSRs in order to address hazards or implement safety procedures.

What does a Work Health and Safety Representative do?

An HSR's main responsibility is to represent the interests of workers within a work group. The HSR is elected by the workgroup. Multiple HSRs can be elected by a workgroup.

Australian workplaces have become safer by electing HSRs and adhering to WHS laws. Statistics from Safe Work Australia show that the country saw a 23% drop in serious worker injuries between 2009-2018.

HSRs are workers' representatives and work to promote safety and health in the workplace. They are a link between workers and managers to ensure everyone has an opportunity to voice their concerns about safety and health. Workers can participate in safety issues by electing HSRs.

After providing notice to the PCBU, HSRs have the right inspect workplaces for safety concerns. Notification should be given at least 24 hours prior to the inspection. The HSR can complete the investigation immediately if there is a risk to safety or health.

The HSR may also review control measures. An HSR can review control measures before engaging in hazardous work. If they aren't effective or there is a new hazard, the HSR will do so.

HSR Powers and Functions

HSRs have many powers and perform multiple functions. These are the main functions and powers of an HSR.

  • Safety complaints received by members of the workgroup are investigated

  • Represent the workgroup on safety issues

  • Monitoring employer compliance with WHS regulations

  • During investigations, accompany an inspector or regulator

  • Asking for assistance from a regulator regarding unresolved safety concerns

  • Start emergency work stop procedures

  • Instructing members of workgroups to stop doing unsafe work

  • Provisory improvement notices (PINs), are issued

HSRs must be allowed to perform their duties and responsibilities by employers. HSRs should consult their employer or the person running the business (PCBU) if they identify a safety or health issue.

What is HSR Training?

HSRs can't issue PINs or initiate emergency stop-work orders (ESWPs) until they have completed HSR training. HSRs are now required to complete HSR training in Queensland, effective July 2018.

An HSR is allowed six months to complete their training program after being elected. Failure to complete the training program will result in an HSR being removed from office. HSRs don't need to be experts in health. They should be familiar with safety and health regulations as well as the recommended codes of conduct for safe work within their industry. HSR training provides HSRs with the knowledge and skills they need to perform their duties.

HSR Training takes place face-to-face in five days. The five-day initial course covers a broad range of topics. The main learning objectives are:

  • Understanding the WHS legislative framework, common safety risks and how it applies to you

  • Identifying the responsibilities and duties of key parties (including PCBUs, HSRs, and HSRs).

  • How to engage in safety and health discussions and consultations

  • Safety laws compliance is ensured by assessing safety and health practices

Participants receive a certificate of attainment after completing the initial training. No accreditations are included in the course. The course is required to be able to issue PINs.

Each year, HSRs are required to complete a refresher course of one day. Refresher courses can be taken online or in person. Refresher courses give an overview of the learning outcomes and any updates to WHS legislation.

What are the Selection Criteria for HSRs and Health Safety Committees?

The workers choose the health and safety committees (HSCs), and HSRs (health and safety representatives). HSC creation and HSR election are two different things. Let's take a closer look.

Establishing a Safety and Health Committee

An HSR, or a group consisting of five or more employees, has the right to create an HSC. Employers may also establish an HSC.

Employers have two months to comply with the WHS requirement for safety committees.

You can either create the committee for a specific period or you can make it permanent. An example is that employees might create an HSC to supervise a project.

Both the worker and employer can decide the composition of the committee. Employers can nominate up half of the members to the committee. A workgroup should also be adequately represented by the committee.

HSRs have the right to join HSCs. Multiple HSRs may join a committee if a workgroup contains more than one HSR. HSRs can also join multiple committees.

Understanding the HSR Election Process

The following steps are required to elect a worker as an HSR:

  1. Request an election

  2. Negotiate work groups

  3. Notify employees about the election

  4. HSRs to be elected

  5. Notify employees of the outcome

Every worker can request an HSR election. All workers can request an election. The group's members are eligible to vote.

Sometimes, workers might need to negotiate their work groups. This could involve determining who is part of the group in order to ensure that they are represented properly.

Everyone should be notified of the forthcoming election after negotiations. The process of voting is informal. The work group members may just raise their hands to vote for an HSR, or a deputy HSR. Everybody should be informed about the outcome as soon as possible.

What are Deputy Health and Safety Representatives (DHSRs)?

The same voting process is used to elect HSRs by workers to elect deputy HSRs. Like HSRs and HSRs, workgroups may elect more than one deputy HSR. When the elected HSR is not available, the deputy HSR represents the workgroup.

What is the average time HSRs serve in their roles?

A HSR is elected for three years. After the term expires, an HSR can be re-nominated. A HSR may be dismissed from office if they do not complete HSR training, or fail to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. If an HSR stops working for the group that elected him, he or she may be removed from office.

What are the responsibilities of HSCs/HSRs?

HSRs represent work groups in safety and health discussions. They ensure that employers take every possible step to keep the workplace safe, including using safety strategies and personal protective equipment.

HSRs are responsible for reporting any safety or health issues they find. HSRs may request that work be stopped until the problem is resolved. HSRs must complete HSR training before they can request a halt to work. A PIN may be issued by an HSR if there is a safety concern.

What is a Provisional Improvement Notification?

A provisional improvement note (PIN), is a notice that requires a worker, person or company (PCBU), to address a safety or health concern. When a situation or task poses a risk to safety or health, HSRs can issue PINs.

The HSR should give a written or verbal notification of the issue. The HSR should allow the person in charge of the work to voice their opinions and views. The individual should be allowed to address the problem within the allotted time after receiving a PIN.

General Operation of a Health and Safety Committee

At least three times per month, committees should meet. A HSC can meet at any time when at least half the members request it. Each member must be allowed to attend the meeting in a reasonable amount of time and perform their duties within the committee. Members should be paid at their regular rate of pay during meetings and in any other tasks that are related to the committee.

Each member should be given information regarding health hazards and risks. The group can discuss safety and health issues, and may assign members to inspect them.


Every employer and employee should consider safety and health at work. Employees have the right under the WHS Act to elect HSRs (health and safety representatives) to represent their interests in safety and health matters. You can learn more about the HSR role from qualified training organisations if you have been elected recently.

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