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OHS Consultation and Communication

2. Designated work groups and health and safety representatives

2.1 Designated work groups

Designated work groups (DWG) are an important part of health and safety representation in the workplace. As they usually share similar workplace health and safety concerns and conditions, the default position is that each school or campus is established as a DWG. However, the structure of the DWG is ultimately to be determined through negotiation between the school and the school staff to suit a school’s environment.

Refer to WorkSafe Victoria’s website for more information regarding altering and establishing designated work groupsExternal Link .

2.2 Health and safety representatives

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)External Link (OHS Act) enables an elected health and safety representative (HSR) to raise issues to management that require resolution and provides them with a mechanism to take unresolved issues further, if necessary. For more information about the establishment of issue resolution processes, refer to Resolving issues and reviewing consultation arrangements.

HSRs represent members in their DWG (their school) and can effectively facilitate consultation between DWG members (all school staff) and the principal and/or their delegate. To support this, school staff can raise health and safety concerns with the HSR, prior to consultation with the principal and/or other members of the DWG.

For further information on HSRs, refer to the Resources tab.

Electing HSRs

Elections for HSRs can be called to encourage representation for a DWG or if an election is requested by a staff member. Elections for HSRs and deputy health and safety representatives (DHSR) must also occur:

  • after a change to a DWG, such as a change to groupings of staff or a new campus
  • when a HSR or DHSR ceases to hold office (for example, leaving the school or resigning from the position)
  • when the term of office expires (3 years is the standard term of office)
  • when there is more than one candidate for each HSR or DHSR vacancy.

In consultation with school staff, the principal and/or their delegate may assist with determining the process for school staff to nominate themselves for consideration for a HSR or DHSR position (for example, verbal, written, and so on). All members of a designated working group are entitled to nominate themselves and to vote. Refer to the HSR nomination form template (DOCX)External Link (staff login required).

The workplace is to display, distribute or communicate this process at least 2 weeks prior to calling for nominations. For more information, refer to the HSR election process flowchart (DOCX)External Link (staff login required).

No HSR nominations

If no nominations for HSRs are received, the principal and/or their delegate must:

  • record that no nominations were received
  • communicate to all school staff that no nominations were received
  • schedule another call for nominations in 12 months, or within an agreed timeframe.

In the absence of a HSR, the principal and/or their delegate will need to ensure that:

  • information about alternative avenues of support is provided to all school staff (for example, WorkSafe, Employee Assistance Program, OHS Advisory Service and so on)
  • school staff are fully aware of the workplace agreed OHS issue resolution flowchart and processes
  • internal communication processes are in place, and utilised, in relation to the ongoing identification and management of hazards and risks and their associated controls.

WorkSafe provides a range of useful documents regarding HSRs, including their powers under the OHS Act, and provisional improvement notices. Refer to the Resources tab.

The principal and/or their delegate will need to ensure that a HSR or DHSR, once elected, must be given the opportunity to:

  • if requested, participate in health and safety training relevant to their role and as per their entitlements under the OHS Act, including:
    • attending the optional WorkSafe approved 5-day HSR training event and subsequent annual HSR refresher training
    • attending any other training relating to health and safety that is approved or conducted by WorkSafe
    • receiving paid time off to attend the training, and the cost of the training must be covered by the school. Training providers can be located within the Health and Safety Training and Short Course Guide (DOCX)External Link
  • request the establishment of a health and safety committee, and this request must be actioned by the principal or their delegate within 3 months
  • be involved in the workplace inspection process and the management of identified hazards and incidents
  • represent their DWG in local health and safety communication and consultation processes
  • be present at meetings concerning OHS matters between DWG members and employer or inspector, if the member consents
  • assist in complying with the requirements of OHS legal notices (for example, provisional improvement notices, improvement notices and prohibition notices)
  • accompany a WorkSafe inspector during a workplace inspection where a member of their DWG (the school) works
  • take paid time off work as necessary to exercise their powers, or as prescribed by the regulations.

HSR access to occupational health and safety information

When there are decisions being made that impact occupational health and safety (for example, responding to eduSafe incidents), principals and/or their delegates must ensure that affected staff and/or health and safety representatives (HSR), where elected, are consulted with and given a reasonable opportunity to express their views prior to decisions being finalised.

Requirements

The principal and/or their delegate must allow HSRs to have access to information that the employer has relating to actual or potential hazards in the workplace, and the occupational health and safety of members of the DWG (school staff) that the HSR represents. This includes those instances where students or employees are the hazard (they engage in hazardous conduct) and where teachers are affected by hazardous actions. This information may be provided to the HSR in a written form, such as that contained in eduSafe Plus reports, and as soon as reasonably practicable.

The below steps are to guide principals and/or their delegates on how to appropriately screen information, seek consent where required, and allow access to the information.

  • Step 1 – Screen information
  • Step 2 – Seek consent about sharing any medical information
  • Step 3 – Allow access
Step 1 – Screen information

Information that falls into either of the following categories must not be shared with HSRs:

  • Category 1: any information that is unrelated to actual or potential hazards and health and safety of the DWG or the broader occupational health and safety matters on which consultation is required with employees (including a HSR). Information regarding matters unrelated to occupational health and safety is not required to be shared under the OHS Act, and if it is disclosed it may breach privacy principles if it includes personal or sensitive information.
  • Category 2: medical information*, unless consent is obtained from persons to whom the information relates, or the information does not identify the person and the person’s identity cannot reasonably be ascertained.

This above applies whether the school staff member is the reporting person, affected person, witness or causal party in relation to a hazard or incident.

*‘Medical information’ is not defined in the OHS Act. It includes information recorded in documents from medical practitioners. It may also include information in documents created by registered health practitioners, such as nurses or psychologists, which has been acquired by a medical practitioner in attending a patient and necessary to enable the medical practitioner to prescribe or act for the patient. Alternatively, it may be information that an employee has shared with the school about their medical status. The following may sensibly be redacted as 'medical information' which cannot be shared unless consent is obtained or the person’s identity cannot be reasonably ascertained:

  • information provided by, or obtained from, a medical practitioner about a person's medical history (for example, a history of depression or anxiety)
  • descriptions of treatment received by a person in a hospital or from a health practitioner
  • descriptions of diagnoses made (or reasonably assumed to have been made) by a medical or other health practitioner
  • any information about medications taken by a person.

Medical information about people who are not members of staff – for example, students, must be disclosed where it relates to actual or potential hazards in the workplace and the health and safety of members of the DWG that the HSR represents.

Example of information screening:

If a staff member falls and sustains an injury, the HSR may request to view the incident report, which includes information that the injured employee has a pre-existing medical condition. In this case, details of the pre-existing medical condition must not be shared with the HSR without the employee’s consent. If the employee does not consent to sharing this information, the employer must redact any information relating to the pre-existing medical condition prior to sharing the incident report with the HSR and may only share the information if the identity of the employee is not reasonably identifiable.

For support in completing this screening process, contact Legal Services legal.services@education.vic.gov.au

The Privacy Team can provide advice and support about the handling of personal information at privacy@education.vic.gov.au

Step 2: Seek consent where required and share information

A principal or their delegate must follow these steps when sharing information with HSRs:

  • When information that relates to actual or potential OHS hazards is first obtained (for example when the principal receives notification of an eduSafe Plus report), the principal or their delegate must take reasonable steps to contact the reporting/affected person prior to sharing the information with the HSR, per their obligations.
  • Medical information about the reporting/affected person must not be shared unless the person has been given an opportunity to provide their consent. The person should be offered the option to provide their consent at this stage. Where consent cannot be obtained, medical information can be shared only in a form that does not identify the staff member, or from which the staff member’s identity cannot reasonably be ascertained.
  • Where possible, consent should be obtained in writing. Where consent is provided verbally, a proper record should be created and retained to reflect the date and scope of the consent.
  • Seeking consent can also be an opportunity to remind the person that you will be sharing health and safety information with the HSR. It should be made clear that the person’s medical information does not have to be disclosed and that they are under no obligation to provide consent.
Step 3: Allow access

Allowing access means providing the HSR with access to the information as soon as reasonably practicable.

Information must be provided to the HSR unredacted, even if it contains personal information about other people (including students), subject to the medical information exemption. This may include personal information about a person’s identity, information about the incident and the hazardous conduct they engaged in.

Access may be achieved through:

  • providing the HSR with a copy of the occupational health and safety information
  • providing a reasonable opportunity for the HSR to inspect a document
  • the making of arrangements for the HSR to hear or view relevant sounds or visual images stored on a visual or audio medium
  • providing the HSR with a written transcript of conversation notes
  • using the eduSafe Plus system:
    • Dashboards: Reports can be downloaded from the eduSafe Plus dashboard and shared with the relevant staff members (for example, incident list for health and safety committee or HSR meetings). Refer to the How to download and share lists guideExternal Link for more information. Alternatively, use ‘print screen’ to share the dashboard view. If there is no consent to share Category 1 or 2 information, the principal must apply redactions to this information.
    • Print function: Individual incident/hazard reports can also be printed using the print function on eduSafe plus (please print securely). This enables a hard copy to be redacted for any relevant medical/health information (see above). If there is no consent to share Category 1 or 2 information, the principal must apply redactions to this information.
    • Note: A principal and/or their delegate must never use the invite function to share information. When a principal ‘invites’ a HSR to see individual incident/hazard reports using the invite button directly on the incident report in eduSafe Plus, a HSR will be able to see all current and future details provided in the system regarding the incident, including management actions. Whilst this may assist in consulting on the management of the incident/hazard, it could result in the inadvertent disclosure of medical information which is inputted into the record at a later stage. This option must therefore not be used when consulting with HSRs.

Although there is no requirement for information to be shared using a specific format, where possible it is recommended that there be an agreement between HSRs and principals and/or their delegates on what format should be used for this purpose. However, where agreement cannot be reached the principal may determine the most appropriate means of sharing information.

Includes information on designated work groups and health and safety representatives

Reviewed 26 January 2023

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