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Health and safety representative: Karen Freeman

Health and safety representative: Karen Freeman

Karen Freeman. Photo supplied.

Asked about the best part of being a Health and Safety Representative, Melton City Council maternal and child health nurse Karen Freeman laughs and says ‘the power. I’ve got power now.’

Karen was a Job Rep at the previous council she worked at, but only became an HSR in 2023. ‘I was kind of doing a lot of that [OHS] advocating already, as a Job Rep,’ she explains. ‘But I always thought that being an HSR seemed like too much extra work. Now, having done it, I wish I had done it 20 years ago. The knowledge I’ve learned is just invaluable as a worker.’

Day to day, Karen’s HSR role is similar to what she had already been doing as a Job Rep. For the most part, it has simply involved having conversations with colleagues.

She gives an example involving exposed cabling from the computers, and children playing with it. ‘I supported the nurse to have a conversation about it with management, and we are following that up now to have it rectified so it’s safe.’

Another example is the conversation she had with colleagues about Saturday sessions, during which the nurse on duty might be onsite alone. ‘As a result of those conversations,’ she says, ‘we’re about to implement video intercom door monitors at all MCH centres so the nurses can see who’s at the door before opening it if they’re in a centre by themselves.’

ʻI wish I had done it 20 years ago. The knowledge I’ve learned is just invaluable.ʼ

The role means that Karen is also involved in consultation around new initiatives and procedures. ‘For example, Melton is in the final stages of implementing the new Victorian Maternal and Child Health Student employment model [based on the successful ANMF-initiated RUSON/RUSOM model] and I’m involved in consulting to ensure adequate support for student MCH nurses, reducing the impact on workload for MCH nurses and a thorough evaluation about impact and effectiveness.’

Mostly, however, the role just fits into her day-to-day work.

‘It’s not so hard; it’s just having that that [OHS] lens and having those conversations with your colleagues.’

HSR powers

The key thing she says she has learned about being an HSR is around the different kinds of powers you have compared with those of a Job Rep. ‘I have the power to ask for certain [extra] things now, and people can’t refuse me. As an HSR I have the Act behind me. There’s legislation.’

The powers Karen refers to are the legal protections in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. The Act sets out specific powers that may be exercised by an HSR. Among those powers are the legal right to: require the establishment of a health and safety committee wherever necessary, seek the assistance of any person issue a provisional improvement notice (PIN) issue a direction to cease work after consultation has taken place with the employer.

HSR support

When she became an HSR, Karen received no induction from Council. ‘But ANMF was there for me,’ she says. ‘As an HSR, I really feel like I’m a part of the ANMF, and that I’m not alone in my role. The ANMF team is a really good support.’

She also values the HSR training run by the Branch. ‘It was really, really good doing the training and meeting other HSRs and learning from your colleagues,’ she says. ‘It’s a really good role to develop and strengthen those links and the HSR community.’

To further strengthen the community of HSRs, Karen would love to see more people taking on the role. ‘I think we’re all naturally HSRs as nurses,’ she says. ‘As nurses, we predominantly work in a very solution-focused model. And the HSR role is very solution focused. You’ve already got the skills to do it. It’s just thinking about it and using those skills in another way.’