A new unit designed to reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths in regional Victoria will be based in western Victoria from 2021.
The Worksafe funded Regional Occupational Health and Safety Training Unit to be based in Ballarat, will allow Health and Safety Representative training courses to be delivered closer to home with more follow-up support.
Worksafe statistics show Ballarat has been one of the most dangerous places to work in regional Victoria.
Six people have died in workplace accidents in the Ballarat region since March 2018.
Regional OHS Training Unit communications officer Lana Cormie said the new unit was established in response to a need for more accessible training across regional Victoria.
Our hope and ambition is this unit might be able to make a contribution to reducing those numbers.Brett Edgington, Ballarat Trades and Labour Council
WorkSafe statistics released in February revealed 15 of the 24 people killed in Victoria in 2019 were in regional areas.
"We can see that businesses that have health and safety reps have safe workplaces. It all fits in the picture of us all being safer at work," Dr Cormie said.
Dr Cormie's husband Charlie Howkins died in a trench collapse in Delacombe in March 2018 and she has strongly advocated to improve workplace safety since.
Legislation states any employee can negotiate with their workplace to set up a Designated Working Group.
A Designated Working Group is made up of employees who perform similar jobs or who have similar OHS concerns in their roles.
The group can elect one or more Health and Safety Representatives to represent them and raise OHS issues with employers.
The new Regional OHS Training Unit in Ballarat will be able to assist workers to set up Designated Working Groups and will provide accredited training to elected Health and Safety Representatives.
Dr Cormie said there was no one solution to fixing workplace health and safety concerns, but this was a big part of empowering the worker.
"The employees often know best what hazards and risks they are coming across and this is to give them a platform to be able to discuss them with their employer," she said.
"But it is really good for the employer as well because it creates a system whereby they have better insight into the safety of their organisation and more information they can act upon."
Legislation states employers are required to work with the appointed Health and Safety Representative and provide the time and pay for them to complete their initial five day training and one day refresher course.
Dr Cormie said one of the benefits of the Regional OHS Training Unit was trained Health and Safety Representatives could receive ongoing support and assistance.
That could involve resolving problems on the phone or sending a member from the training unit to the site to look at a particular concern and referring to Worksafe if required.
The employees often know best what hazards and risks they are coming across and this is to give them a platform to be able to discuss them with their employer.Lana Cormie, Regional OHS Training Unit
Ballarat Trades and Labour Council secretary Brett Edgington said the regional unit would promote the rights of regional Victorians to set up safety structures within their workplaces.
He said the ongoing support would be important to smaller regional communities.
"Quite often if you are a health and safety representative in somewhere like Ararat, Horsham, Portland or somewhere remote, it can be very difficult to get advice, support and assistance," he said.
"That is the part we are looking forward to providing."
Mr Edgington said Worksafe funding for the new unit was recognition there were too many workplace injuries and deaths in regional Victoria.
"Our hope and ambition is this unit might be able to make a contribution to reducing those numbers," he said.
Dr Cormie said it was anticipated more employers would be encouraging their employees to set up a Designated Working Group and elect Health and Safety Representatives.
This follows the increased penalties including the new offence of workplace manslaughter for employers not meeting OHS obligations.
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