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Provision of information to health and safety representatives

Section 70 (1)(c) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act) provides that a health and safety representative (HSR) can access information held by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) that relates to -

  • hazards (including associated risks) at the workplace affecting workers in the work group
  • the health and safety of the workers in the work group.

The information a HSR may require can differ between workplaces, for example, a HSR may request access to:

  • information relating to any work-related incident or disease, including statistical records, such as an injury register
  • an asbestos register and asbestos management plan, which a person with management or control of a workplace must ensure ready access to the HSR at any time
  • health and safety policies and procedures, including Safe Work Method Statements
  • safety data sheets for the chemicals that are used in the workplace
  • technical specifications for equipment regarding noise, vibration or radiation emission
  • results of occupational hygiene measurements, including dust levels, noise levels or chemical fumes
  • records of risk assessments conducted at the workplace
  • reports on work health and safety matters, including reports prepared by consultants for the PCBU
  • minutes of health and safety committee meetings
  • information provided by manufacturers and suppliers about plant, equipment or substances at the workplace
  • health monitoring information that does not contain personal or medical information about a worker.

Under s 71(2), a HSR is not entitled to access personal or medical information concerning a worker that identifies the worker, without the worker's consent. Section 71(7) of the WHS Act provides that the PCBU may also refuse to grant access to information that is 'confidential commercial information'. 'Confidential commercial information' is defined in s 71(8) as information about a trade secret, or financial information or other information that has a commercial value and, if disclosed, will cause significant financial harm to a business or undertaking. This could include information that a business generates about its own activities, such as:

  • profit margins
  • costs of production and pricing data
  • sales statistics
  • customer and supplier lists
  • sources of supply
  • market projections
  • details of promotional strategies and expansion plans
  • information about customer requirements
  • details of a business entity's current negotiations; and
  • negotiated prices paid by customers.

Whether information is 'confidential commercial information' in accordance with s 71(8) of the WHS Act is a matter of fact to be determined in each particular case.

Trade secrets cover a range of information that may relate to the production of goods and services such as inventions (e.g. a tool), manufacturing processes, chemical formulae, engineering and design drawings, craft secrets and recipes.

If a PCBU refuses to provide a HSR with information they are entitled to, the HSR can commence the issue resolution process under Part 5 of the WHS Act 2011. If the issue is not resolved through this process, either party to the dispute can request the intervention of a WHSQ inspector to assist in resolving the issue. If parties do not support an inspector's decision (i.e. to issue, or not to issue, an improvement notice ordering relevant documents to be provided to the HSR) parties may apply to the Queensland Industrial Relations Committee to have the inspector's decision reviewed and a final determination made.