Thanks to the work of our Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) members and Healthy and Safety Representatives (HSRs), RFDS are holding an online meeting on Wednesday 25th October to negotiate the number of HSRs and Designated Work Groups (DWGs) at RFDS using the process advised by WorkSafe. The Victorian Ambulance Union Incorporated (VAU) will be in attendance.

HSRs and DWGs are critically important in the NEPT sector – to ensure that any occupational health and safety risks are dealt with quickly and appropriately. If you want to learn more about the role of HSRs and DWGs, including why you should become a HSR, read on!


The VAU received lots of feedback from RFDS members regarding a recent review of DWGs and HSRs which resulted in RFDS reducing the number of DWGs and HSRs within the organisation. Members expressed concern that the new DWGs have not been decided using the criteria[MLs3]  outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Act). This was raised by RFDS HSRs with the Workplace Health and Safety manager in March of this year. Their protests were ultimately ignored.

The VAU intervened and have been corresponding with RFDS in an attempt to re-visit negotiations regarding the allocation of DWGs and, by extension, HSR positions. The VAU told RFDS that the process used to determine the DWGs was not compliant with the Act, and that the DWG allocation and decisions about HSR numbers should be decided as a result of negotiation with all employees.

After initial resistance, RFDS recently consulted with WorkSafe for advice. The WorkSafe Inspector agreed with the VAU which has led to the meeting being scheduled for 25 October.

What can I do?

RFDS have sent out emails to staff encouraging them to attend, the VAU strongly encourages members at RFDS to attend this meeting. If you need time away from your shift to attend the meeting, you will need to contact the P&C dept. to arrange for time off. They can be emailed at [email protected]

If you cannot attend the meeting, you can nominate the VAU to represent you. We recommend that members do this to ensure that their opinions are represented at the meeting. To nominate the VAU, you can send the following email to the WHS manager, with a CC to the VAU at one of the email addresses below:

Dear Patrick,

I wish to nominate the Victorian Ambulance Union Incorporated (VAU) to represent me at the negotiations in respect of Designated Work Groups (DWG) and Health and Safety representatives (HSR), pursuant to section 44 (5) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

Send to:

Health and Safety Representatives

Representation of employees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 is conducted by DWGs and HSRs. DWGs and HSRs assist in quickly identifying and controlling hazards to health and safety in the workplace.

HSRs are elected members of a DWG who act as the representative of the DWG and the employer. An employee with a safety concern can approach their HSR to discuss any safety hazard that they identify. The HSR is then responsible for consulting with the employer about how best to control that hazard or, if possible, eliminate the hazard altogether. If no action results from the consultation process, and/or the HSR believes on reasonable grounds that the company is contravening OH&S legislation, the HSR can apply a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) to the company which mandates that the company deal with the safety matter or seek further direction from WorkSafe.

In the event of immediate danger to life, the HSR can order a ‘Cease Work’ which protects employees until a more permanent solution to the safety hazard can be implemented.

HSRs also have many rights and powers afforded them under the OH&S Act, inclusive of inspections of unsafe workplaces during company time, monitoring how their employer complies with the Act, and accompanying a WorkSafe inspector during a workplace inspection in their DWG.  The HSR position is a powerful position to hold in the workplace and is integral to improving the health and safety of the workplace.

Should I become an HSR?

The biggest heroes in any workplace are undoubtedly the HSRs. It takes a special person to do the job well. Ambulance employees have demonstrated a very high aptitude for HSR work over the years and have achieved some impressive results in OH&S due to their persistent nature and keen analytical skills.

In the past, many very successful HSRs throughout the industry had reservations when commencing the role, but soon discovered how good they were at achieving positive safety outcomes for their colleagues and the industry. If you feel that you have skills that you can bring to this role, the VAU would like to actively encourage you to ‘have a go’. With all HSR positions filled with the right people, some great OH&S outcomes can be achieved.

The VAU is proud to be involved in the process of negotiating DWGs and HSRs at RFDS. Past experience, at other providers, indicates that a big improvement in the management of OH&S matters will be the likely result.

In solidarity.