Worker participation

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 has a strong focus on worker engagement and participation. “Ticking boxes” is not enough to ensure a safe work environment and foster a safety-conscious culture.

Questions to consider

  • Have you provided opportunities for workers to participate in improving health and safety and is this documented?
  • Are your workers aware of the opportunities to participate in improving health and safety?
  • Have you provided opportunities for 2-way feedback?
  • Have you developed a culture of health and safety?
  • Have you made provision for annual health and safety representative (HSR) training?
  • Are your health and safety decisions fed back to the health and safety committee (HSC) and HSRs?

Duties regarding worker participation

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) sets out 2 overarching duties on a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) for involving workers in work health and safety.

PCBUs must:

  • engage, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for it and are directly affected, or likely to be directly affected, by a work health and safety matter
  • have practices that allow workers to have reasonable opportunities to participate effectively in improving work health and safety on an ongoing basis. These are known as worker participation practices.

Failure by the PCBU to meet either of these duties is an offence under the HSWA.

Who is a worker?

A worker is an individual who carries out work in any capacity for a PCBU.

This definition includes employees, contractors or subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices or trainees, a person gaining work experience or undertaking a work trial and volunteers working on a regular basis.

Effective worker engagement and participation

The HSWA does not specify what types of worker participation practices workplaces should have. The important thing is that workers are involved in an effective way.

You could engage workers by having health and safety representatives and/or a health and safety committee or you might rely on more informal practices, such as:

  • regular toolbox talks (for example, short, informal workplace meetings to discuss health and safety topics)
  • having health and safety as a regular agenda item at team meetings
  • a feedback mechanism for workers to raise health and safety concerns.

You may want to consider discussing health and safety as an integral part of regular weekly/monthly worker meetings. This would enable health and safety issues to be addressed with all workers and provides a demonstration of management commitment to that process.

Health and safety representatives

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) are a well-established example of worker participation and can also support worker engagement. They provide workers with a formal, visible way to have a say in work health and safety.

In order to represent workers on health and safety matters, an HSR must be formally elected by the members of their workgroup (for example, staff can be grouped by department, worksite, whole school/early learning service staff, teaching staff, administrative staff).

Before an HSR is elected, the PCBU must determine which groups of workers (workgroups) the HSR will represent. The views of workers must be considered when deciding how to group them.

Unless the PCBU determines otherwise, a workgroup will comprise all the workers in the school or early learning organisation.

If you decide to have more than one workgroup, then you must ensure that workers are grouped in a way that enables them to:

  • be represented effectively
  • have access to an HSR. 

There are 2 situations where your school would not be required to have an HSR:

  1. if there has not been a request for an HSR from a worker, or
  2. there has been a request for an HSR from a worker, but no worker wants to volunteer for the position.

If either of these situations apply, your duty to engage with workers does not change. You must find another way to engage with your staff.

Health and safety representatives – WorkSafe(external link)

Election of health and safety representatives

The election of HSRs usually occurs if one or more workers requests it or the PCBU initiates it.

Volunteer workers are not able to request the board to initiate an election for a health and safety representative.

Following an election an HSR can hold office for 3 years. A shorter term can be agreed between the PCBU and the members of the workgroup concerned. An HSR can then be re-elected, and if the PCBU agrees, an HSR can remain in office after the expiry of their term until a successor is elected.

For information on training of HSRs see also:

Induction, training and information           

HSR election process – WorkSafe(external link)

Establishing a health and safety committee

A health and safety committee (HSC) brings together workers (including HSRs) and management, to develop and review policies and procedures for the workplace. It also makes recommendations to PCBU leadership about work health and safety.

You can establish an HSC on your own initiative or after being requested to do so by either an HSR or a group of five or more workers.

PCBUs with fewer than 20 workers are not required to have an HSC if requested, though you can still choose to have one.

If you have more than 20 workers and a request is received to establish an HSC, you must genuinely consider and then decide whether to establish an HSC within 2 months of receiving the request.

Health and safety committees – WorkSafe(external link) 


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