A gas leak earlier this year at CSIRO Black Mountain highlights the important role that independent Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) – elected by the workforce – must play in supporting the health and wellbeing of staff and keeping workplaces safe.
The Staff Association is in the process of seeking the views of CSIRO employees on issues including workloads, stress and mental health; with the responses set to inform a national workplace health, safety and wellbeing report, aimed at identifying priority issues to make CSIRO workplaces safer.
In late March an underground natural gas pipe split, resulting in gas leaking and accumulating in soil near the entrance to the Herbarium at CSIRO Black Mountain in Canberra.
According to a CSIRO Health Safety and Environment (HSE) report, as digging commenced to repair the pipe, the gas escaped from the soil into the atmosphere and entered the Herbarium through a nearby air intake valve.
Staff in the building were evacuated, although one person – possibly an affiliate – subsequently accessed the building despite warning signage and barriers denying entry.
The HSE report identified several notification delays and process shortcomings throughout the events leading up to the incident and during the leak and evacuation itself.
“The union recognises the pivotal support and resource role that HSE plays in CSIRO workplaces and the collaborative approach the function takes to ensure that the organisation remains compliant with legal health and safety requirements,” CSIRO Staff Association Acting Secretary Susan Tonks said.
“However, Australian work health and safety legislation provides for an independent and democratic staff voice on these matters through the role of HSRs.”
“While employers – in CSIRO’s case through the work of HSE – have the duty to provide a safe workplace, HSRs play an important and independent representative role in helping to keep workplaces safe,” Ms Tonks said.
The Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) gives HSRs a role in raising and resolving any occupational health and safety (OHS) issues with their employer and powers to enforce compliance with the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.
HSRs represent their Designated Work Group (DWG) with the health and safety issues, concerns and interests of their colleagues. HSRs can facilitate communication and consultation and provide a crucial link between employers and employees.
The Act also allows for HSRs to be trained so they can effectively fulfil their role. It’s important that all HSRs request to have their HSR training to be able to invoke their powers under the OHS Act as and if needed, to best represent employees.
“The Staff Association is preparing a national workplace health, safety and wellbeing report aimed at identifying issues of concern for CSIRO employees,” Ms Tonks said.
“To inform this report, we’re conducting a national survey of CSIRO employees seeking their views on a range of workplace issues. We’re particularly interested in workloads, stress and mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Tonks said.
The short survey is confidential and open until 30 June 2021. Complete the online survey here.
If you would like more information about the Staff Association’s Safety First Network or have any concerns regarding workplace health and safety, please email the union or speak to your local HSR, organiser or union delegate.