WHSO no longer required in QLD?
Recent edition of UQ OHS News expresses concerns about the place of WHSO under new National Harmonisation Laws:
The first and most significant of these is the proposed abolition of the Workplace Health and Safety Officer (WHSO) and changing OH&S representatives roles to be more in line with NSW and Victoria. Although we know Queensland lobbied hard to retain WHSO’s this appears to have not succeeded in the proposed Act. The current function of WHSO’s has proved critical in our ability to ensure proper implementation and monitoring of our OH&S systems and we believe that the removal of the function will have a detrimental effect on our systems. The change will also require a total review of our consultative mechanisms with more OH&S Representatives replacing WHSO’s on our safety committees.
The Queensland Government recommends that the review panel consider the Queensland WHSA approach requiring larger employer to engage Workplace Health and Safety Officers (WHSOs) as appointed persons with specific OHS responsibilities. Since 1989, Queensland has made it a requirement that workplaces or principal contractors with more than 30 employees be required to appoint a WSHO. In Australia, while less than five per cent of workplaces have more than 30 employees, more than half of employees work in workplace with over 30 employees. WHSOs are management appointees, unlike Health and Safety Officers (HRS) who are elected representatives of employees. The functions of WHSOs include to inform employers about the state OHS; conduct inspections and identify and report hazards; establish educational programs; investigate OHS incidents; and assist OHS inspectors. Feedback from Queensland stakeholders indicates that WHSOs are strongly supported. Employers benefit from having an appointed officer with OHS training, expertise and authority. Unions also find it highly beneficial to have a designated officer responsible for OHS at the workplace as it clarifies lines of communication and ensure that unions can quickly locate and liaise with OHS specialists at the workplace. WHSOs also improve communication and cooperation between organisations and the OHS inspectorate. WHSOs are required to complete compulsory training in two stages.
In stage one, WHSOs complete five days instruction covering core elements including OHS legislation, risk assessment, incident investigation, occupation health and hygiene, consultative arrangements and basic ergonomics. Stage two comprises industry specific training: industrial, construction or services. Persons passing successfully the examinations can apply to become a registered WHSOs. The advantage of having state mandated, sponsored and controlled training is that provides duty holders with an assurance that competent OHS personnel are operating onsite in medium and large workplaces in Queensland. Employers, for their part, have obligations to support the functions of the WHSOs under the Act. Employers are obliged to consult with WHSOs, provide them information and resources, assist them in their duties and to rectify unsafe conditions and practices identified by the WHSOs. Through the compulsory provision and recognition of appointed OHS personnel, the Queensland government is enabling businesses to more effectively fulfil their workplace health and safety obligations.
Research indicates that WHSOs have proven to be an effective means of improving knowledge and understanding about OHS issue within the workplace. (Crittall, 2001: 14). Vanderkruk (1999) reports that WHSO training significantly improved the knowledge and effectiveness of WHSOs. Vanderkruk (1999) also found the appointment of qualified WHSOs leads to more effective risk management, improved manual handling procedures, greater awareness and control of hazardous substances, more OHS induction training and more effective employee consultation and involvement. WHSOs also have a high degree of support in industry.
A study by Horstmanshof et al. (2002) found that a large majority of workers and management felt that WHSOs were:
• well prepared to deal the OHS hazards and incidents;
• trained well;
• supported by management;
• influential in OHS issues; and
• developed effective solutions to OHS problems. Given the success of WHSOs in Queensland, it is proposed the provision of WHSOs be incorporated into the model OHS legislation.
For employers with less than 30 employees, alternative extension programs need to be considered at the State and Territory level. This may include supporting employers associations to provide roving WHSOs to target particular industries, regions or small businesses. Other measures could include specialist services through the regulator’s dedicated advisory function as well as the development of codes of practice to support small and medium businesses.