Communication is a key aspect of ensuring workplace health and safety – through the use of effective communication methods, workers can be kept informed of potential risks and the preventive and protective measures necessary to control these risks. There are many different ways to communicate health and safety information to your employees, depending of factors such as the size of your workforce and the health and safety competency of your workers. The right communication method can greatly reduce the risk of injury in the workplace.
HSE guidance Managing for Health and Safety (HSG65) sets out the framework of Plan, Do, Check and Act as a basis for operating a health and safety management system. Each of these sections contains relevant subcategories of which communication falls within “Do”. To achieve success in health and safety management, there needs to be effective communication up, down and across the organisation – meaning simply providing information with no discussion is insufficient. This is where consulting comes in.
What is Consulting?
To ensure that this communication process is effective and moves in all directions, employers are required to consult with their workforce which differs slightly to communication.
Communication involves the transferring of information from one source to another, this may be a two-way interaction but there is no requirement for feedback to ensure effective communication. For example, effective communication in an emergency is very unlikely to involve feedback and requires clear one-way instructions.
Contrarily, consultation is always a two-way process and involves both, or more, parties transferring ideas and agreeing processes.
There are legal duties on employers to consult with employees, or their representatives on health and safety matters. These duties are laid down in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSCR) and in the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (HSCER).
Which regulations apply depend on whether the workplace is unionised or not – in workplaces where the employer recognises trade unions and trade unions are recognised for collective bargaining purposes then SRSCR apply. Each set of regulations have specific requirements that describe how, when and who you must consult with as well as particular functions, rights and entitlements of elected safety representatives (from SRSCR) and representatives of employee safety (from HSCER).
What Should Employees Be Consulted On?
There are a number of topics that employees must be consulted on; these are:
- Introduction of any measure which may substantially affect their health and safety at work, such as the introduction of new equipment.
- Arrangements for getting competent people to help them comply with health and safety laws.
- Information you must give your employees on the risks and dangers arising from their work, measures to reduce or get rid of these risks and what employees should do if they are exposed to a risk.
- Planning and organisation of health and safety training.
- Health and safety consequences of introducing new technology.
Despite it being an enforced statutory duty, employers may gain some key benefits from consultation, such as:
- Better employment relations between workers and employers.
- Employee ownership and feeling of involvement in agreed processes, this can facilitate engagement and improve the effectiveness of outcomes.
- Improves workforce and employer awareness contributing to a better safety culture.
- Reduce number of accidents.
Other than the duty under SRSCR to, when so required in writing by at least two union-appointed safety representatives to establish a safety committee within three months following the request, there is no set form consultation must take place.
Consultation can be through a myriad of different formal or informal routes such as: discussion groups, safety circles, departmental meetings, employee discussions or e-mail/web-based forums.
In conclusion, employers must ensure that they fulfil their legal duties to conform with SRSCR or HSCER, however, in doing so there are likely to be clear benefits to both the employer and employees alike. Not only will your business be a much safer place to work, but you may also noticed increased engagement and morale in your workforce!
For more information on consulting practices, have a read of the HSE’s brief guide to the law. Our team of consultants are also on hand to answer any questions you may have about health and safety consulting – please feel free to get in touch!
Written by Jake Sansom, SHEQ Consultant at WA Management.
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