Engaging employees in health and safety


Both the employer and employee will benefit from worker participation in issues that affect health and safety in the workplace.

The misnomer that specific health and safety issues are the preserve of distinct departments or employees is obstructive to developing a positive workplace health and safety culture. Such activities as risk assessment as part of the wider risk management arrangements helps to promote a coordinated approach from all levels of the organisation. It is crucial that businesses engage employees in protecting the workplace and themselves – engage rather than instruct.

Worker participation can manifest itself in the form of staff representatives, the direct involvement of employees, or an amalgamation of both. Consultation between management and staff is best viewed as a partnership where information and opinions are exchanged between workers and managers with a view to eradicate hazards and mitigate risks.

Legal Requirements

Two main sets of regulations place an obligation on employers to consult with employees on health and safety matters;

  • The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSCR1977).
  • The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (HSCER1996).

Where there are trade unions recognised for combined negotiating purposes, SRSCR1977 applies. For combined negotiating where there are no trade unions recognised or where employees are not represented by such recognised trade unions, HSCER1996 applies.

Employers’ Duties

Employers are required to disclose information to representatives (Safety Representatives – SRSCR1977 or Representatives of Employee Safety – HSCER1996), in respect of health and safety, including information relating to:

  • employer’s arrangements for appointing competent people to help them comply with health and safety requirements and evacuation procedure
  • planning and organising of health and safety training
  • information employers must provide employees about risks to health and safety and preventative measures
  • health and safety consequences of introducing new technology
  • introduction of any measure at the workplace that may substantially affect their health and safety, e.g. systems of work changes

Representatives of Employee Safety

In the absence of a recognised trade union or unions and for employees not represented by a recognised trade union, HSCER1996 requires that an employer either directly consults employees, or arranges for the election of ‘Representatives of Employee Safety’ (RoES) by the workforce for the purposes of consultation.

Taking up with the employer their concerns about possible risks and dangerous events in the workplace is part of the role of the RoES, in addition to liaising with the employer on general matters affecting health and safety.

Safety Representatives

Recognised trade unions appoint rather than elect Safety Representatives. Employers are required to consult with Safety Representatives under The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. A requirement of the trade union is to notify the employer in writing of these appointments.

Functions of a safety representative specified in SRSCR1977 include:

  • inspection of the workplace
  • attending safety committees
  • making representations to the employer on health and safety matters
  • investigation of workplace incidents, complaints and potential hazard
  • presentation of the findings of such investigations to the employer
  • receiving information from inspectors

Safety Committees

A trade union appointed safety representative can request (in writing) that a safety committee be formed within the workplace. The employer must create a committee within 90 days of receipt of the request if at least two representatives make such a submission.

Under Section 2(7) of The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Safety committees are established. Objectives and functions could include:

  • studying health and safety statistics
  • studying the effectiveness of health and safety training
  • promotion of co-operation between employers and their employees
  • advising the employer on adequacy of policies, safe systems of work, and safety rules
  • forming liaison links with the enforcing authority
  • studying audit reports and inspectors’ reports

Key Actions by employers:

Where there is a recognised trade union:

  • identify the appointed Safety Representatives
  • put in place a mechanism for regular and ongoing consultation with the Safety Representatives either individually or collectively
  • honour any requests to establish a Safety Committee
  • publish details of any safety committee operating in the workplace
  • ensure that there are consultation arrangements in place

Where there is no recognised trade union or employees not represented by the recognised trade union:

  • arrange for the election of Representatives of Employee Safety
  • put in place a mechanism for regular and ongoing consultation with the Representatives of Employee Safety either individually or collectively

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