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May we set up our own health and safety committee and manage it according to our own internal procedure?

Q: We have a robust safety representation in our business with a documented governance structure that provides workers with the ability to have a voice on health, safety and wellbeing at many levels. We have safety officers that report regularly to an health and safety committee, which then in turn monitors and reports safety issues to the executive and then to the board.

Given that we have such a structure and feel safety is well managed in the organisation, are we legally exposed by not following the OHS Act and having voted in HSRs and designated work groups?

A: You may set up your own health and safety committee and manage it according to your own internal procedure. However, if you have appointed health and safety representatives (HSRs) and they request that you set up a health and safety committee in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)(OHS Act), you must comply with the Act’s requirements, including with regards to membership.

The OHS Act requires that at least half of the members of a health and safety committee are employees and ‘so far as is practicable’, that those employees be HSRs or deputy HSRs. HSRs are appointed by members of designated work groups which must be established if requested by an employee.

The relevant questions for you to determine are:

  1. Has anyone requested that you set up designated work groups? If so, HSRs must be appointed.
  2. Have any of the appointed HSRs requested you set up a health and safety committee?

If you have answered yes to the above questions, you will need to ensure a health and safety committee is set up in accordance with the OHS Act and that HSRs form part of that committee.

Please note: The answer is correct at the time of publishing. Be aware that laws may change over time. Refer to Health and safety representatives and committees for current advice.

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