Safety Representatives and Consultation
Frequently Asked Questions
What do Sections 25 and 26 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 cover?
The 2005 Act provides for consultation between employers and employees to help ensure co-operation in the prevention of accidents and ill health. Under Section 25 of the 2005 Act, employees are entitled to select a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters with their employer. Section 26 sets out the arrangements for this consultation on a range of safety and health issues at the workplace. Where a safety committee is in existence in a workplace it can be used for this consultation process. These are key provisions of the 2005 Act and a central part of the preventive system of promoting safety and health at work.
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Who appoints the safety representative in an organisation?
Section 25 entitles employees to decide on, select and appoint a safety representative or, by agreement with their employer, more than one safety representative to represent them in consultations with the employer on matters of safety, health and welfare at the place of work.
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How many safety representatives should there be in an organisation?
There is no set number of safety representatives required in an organisation. Section 25, as stated above, entitles employees to decide on, select and appoint a safety representative or, by agreement with their employer, more than one safety representative. Therefore, in determining a suitable number of safety representatives, the following factors should be considered:
- the number of employees to be represented
- the nature of the work and the relative degree of risk
- the operation of shift systems
- the number of workplaces under the employer‘s control spread over many locations, e.g. for a local authority
- the constituency of the employees to be represented, including variations between different occupations and distinct locations within the place of work, e.g. a large hospital, where a wide variety of different work activities take place within a single workplace, or places of work where conditions and workforce change regularly, such as construction.
Special consideration may need to be given to those situations where the employees spend most of their working time away from the nominal place of work, e.g. care workers, goods delivery depots and local authority service yards.
Also, in some situations, a single safety representative may be unable to perform all the functions as listed under the 2005 Act effectively. In these cases, the safety committee can also usefully assist in the consultation process. Agreement should be reached between the employer and the employees on how many safety representatives are necessary in particular circumstances, where more than one safety representative may be required.
Note that there are special provisions covering safety representation in the construction industry contained in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations.
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How long should someone hold the position of safety representative?
No specific term of office is laid down in the 2005 Act. However, to gain most benefit from knowledge acquired and training received during the period, a term of office of about three years seems appropriate. There should, however, be provision for review by the employees, perhaps on an annual basis.
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Can the safety representative be held legally accountable for putting any proposals into effect in the organisation?
No. A safety representative does not have any duties, as opposed to functions, under the 2005 Act, other than those that apply to employees generally. Therefore, a safety representative who accepts a management proposal for dealing with a safety or health issue could not be held legally accountable for putting the proposal into effect.
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What are the main functions of the safety representative?
A safety representative may consult with, and make representations to, the employer on safety, health and welfare matters relating to the employees in the place of work. The employer must consider these representations, and act on them if necessary. The intention of these consultations is to prevent accidents and ill health, to highlight problems, and identify means of over-coming them. Consultations would be particularly important when changes are taking place, for example when drawing up a safety plan, or introducing new technology or work processes, including new substances. They also have a part to play in long established work practices and hazards.
The functions of the safety representative also include:
- accompanying an inspector carrying out an inspection under Section 64 of the 2005 Act other than the investigation of an accident or a dangerous occurrence (although this may be allowed at the discretion of the inspector)
- at the discretion of the inspector, and where the employee concerned so requests, be present when an employee is being interviewed by an inspector about an accident or dangerous occurrence at a place of work
- make representations to the employer on safety, health and welfare at the place of work
- make verbal or written representations to inspectors including on the investigation of accidents or dangerous occurrences
- receive advice and information from inspectors in relation to safety, health and welfare at the place of work
- consult and liaise with other safety representatives appointed in the same undertaking, whether or not those safety representatives work in the same place of work, in different places of work under the control of the employer or at different times at the place of work (for example, safety representatives on different shifts).
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Does the safety representative carry out workplace inspections?
A safety representative, after giving reasonable notice to the employer, has the right to inspect the whole or part of a workplace he or she represents, at a frequency or on a schedule agreed between him/her and the employer, based on the nature and extent of the hazards in the place of work. A safety representative also has the right to immediately inspect where an accident, dangerous occurrence or imminent danger or risk to the safety, health and welfare of any person has occurred.
Factors that should be considered when deciding the frequency of inspections include:
- size of workplace
- nature and range of work activities and work locations
- nature and range of hazards and risks
- changing hazards and risks
Annex 1 of the Safety Representatives and Safety Consultation Guidelines gives examples of the frequency and duration of inspections by safety representatives.
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What type of inspections does the safety representative undertake?
Inspections can take various forms, which can be used either separately or in any combination. Such common types of inspections are:
- safety tours: general inspection of the whole workplace
- safety sampling: systematic sampling of particularly dangerous activities, processes or work areas.
- safety surveys: general inspections of particularly dangerous activities, processes or areas e.g. the office, production department or stores etc.
- review of Risk Assessments, parts of the Safety Statement or safe operating procedures.
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Regarding investigations, what can a safety representative not do?
A safety representative may investigate accidents and dangerous occurrences in the place of work to find out the causes and help identify any remedial or preventive measures necessary. However, a safety representative must not interfere with anything at the scene of the accident. Nor can the safety representative obstruct any person with statutory obligations, including a Health and Safety Authority inspector, from doing anything required of them under occupational safety and health legislation. Physical evidence must not be disturbed before an inspector has had the opportunity to see it.
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What kind of information must the employer and/or inspector give to the safety representative?
Under Section 8 of the 2005 Act there is a duty on an employer to provide "information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees" (including safety representatives). The type of information provided will vary according to the hazards and risks involved.
Safety representatives must have access to:
- information on Risk Assessments prepared under Section 19 of the 2005 Act
- information on reportable accidents, occupational illnesses and dangerous occurrences
- information resulting from experience of applying protective and preventive measures
- whenever an employer writes to a Health and Safety Authority inspector to confirm compliance with an Improvement or Prohibition Notice served upon him or her, the employer must copy this confirmation to the safety representative
The employer must supply the safety representative with:
- relevant technical information about hazards, risks and precautions connected with articles or substances used in the workplace they represent. Such information would include Safety Data Sheets, relevant instruction manuals, or information, including revisions, supplied by a designer, manufacturer, importer or supplier about any article or substance which is under review from a safety and health perspective
- adequate information about the workplace, the systems of work, and any changes in either, that would affect existing risks or precautions
- reports relating to occupational safety, health and welfare commissioned by the employer relating to the workplace
- information on occupational accidents and ill health at the place of work and collective data on the results of any relevant health assessments carried out
- any necessary information about appropriate precautions, safeguards and measures to be taken in emergencies, including the names of employees with designated emergency duties, etc. which are currently in place or which should be provided to minimise the risks to safety and health arising from hazards at work.
Any employee, which includes the safety representative, can obtain two kinds of information from Health and Safety Authority inspectors:
- factual information to do with safety and health in that particular place of work, except any information revealing a trade secret
- information about any action the inspector has taken or proposes to take in connection with the place, e.g. whenever the inspector serves an Improvement Direction, Improvement Notice or Prohibition Notice he or she must copy it to the safety representative and in turn inform the safety representative whenever any of these enforcement actions are withdrawn.
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Are there any limitations/exemptions to the information that the employer must give to the safety representative?
It is in the employer‘s interest to ensure that safety representatives are supplied with all the relevant information. However, there are limited exceptions. The employer need not provide any information:
- which he or she could not disclose without contravening a legal prohibition
- relating to an individual without their consent
- which for reasons other than its effect on safety, health and welfare at work, could cause significant damage to the employer's business
- obtained by the employer which could affect his or her legal position in taking or defending any legal proceedings.
The confidentiality rules that apply to any workplace will apply to any information provided to safety representatives under the 2005 Act.
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What is the difference between the information provided by the employer and information supplied by an Inspector?
The employer has a duty to provide the kind of information necessary for safety and health at work, whereas the inspector would be expected to supply information that the employer would not be in a position to supply, e.g. results of measurements, sampling or assessment carried out by the inspector.
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Do safety representatives require any training?
Yes. It is essential that safety representatives have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their function effectively. Training courses for safety representatives are provided by trade unions and other organisations.
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What should be included in safety representative training?
Annex 2 of the Safety Representatives and Safety Consultation Guidelines details the course content for training safety representatives and safety committee members. There are 10 elements that are to be included in this training:
- Safety and health legal system
- Role of the Safety Representative and Safety Committee members in the safety consultation and participation process
- Communication skills for the Safety Representative and Safety Committee members
- Hazard identification and carrying out Risk Assessments
- Preparing and implementing the Safety Statement
- Carrying out safety and health inspections
- Accident investigation, recording and analysis
- Sources of safety and health information
- Risk control and safety and health management at work
- Course follow up
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Can a safety representative lose pay?
No. Section 25 (5) of the 2005 Act requires employers to allow safety representatives reasonable time off from work, without loss of earnings, in order to acquire knowledge that will enable them to function effectively. This also applies to time taken to carry out these functions.
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Regarding consultation, employee participation and safety committees, must employers make employee consultation and participation arrangements?
Employers, for the purpose of promoting and developing measures to ensure safety, health and welfare, must consult their employees in establishing arrangements for securing co-operation in the workplace on safety, health and welfare. These arrangements will allow employees to be consulted on the steps taken to safeguard their safety, health and welfare and on measures to check how effective the safeguards have been.
Consultation must be made in advance and in good time so as to allow employees time to consider, discuss and give an opinion on the matters before managerial decisions are made. The information given under Section 9 of the 2005 Act must be sufficient to allow employees to fully and effectively participate in the consultation process. The difference between the provision of information and consultation should be noted. Consultation with employees involves listening to their views and taking them into account as part of the decision making process.
As employees have a right to make representations to their employer on any safety and health matters, the employer must facilitate this process. Actively promoting and supporting employee participation in all aspects of the safety and health management programme can do this. By pooling knowledge and experience through active employee participation, the employer gains their commitment and greater involvement and ensures safety and health really becomes everybody's business.
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What should health and safety consultation cover?
Employers must consult in advance and in good time on anything carried out in the workplace, which can have a substantial effect on safety and health. Any type of work activity already covered by safety and health law is valid for discussion. Consultation must cover:
- any risk protection and prevention measures
- the appointment and the duties of staff with safety and health responsibilities
- the outcome of Risk Assessments on workplace hazards
- the preparation of the Safety Statement
- safety and health information to be provided to employees
- notifiable accidents or dangerous occurrences
- the engagement of safety and health experts or consultants
- the planning and organisation of safety and health training
- the planning and introduction of new technologies, particularly on the consequences of the choice of work equipment, working conditions and employee‘s working environment.
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Do members of the safety committee require training?
Employees involved in the safety consultation arrangements, e.g. safety committee members, are also entitled to time off for training, without loss of earnings, so that they can acquire the knowledge to discharge their functions. The syllabus set out in Annex 2 of the Guidelines can also be used for training members of the safety committee.
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How can a safety committee operate efficiently?
In addition to complying with the guidelines set out in Schedule 4 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the following points will help the safety committee and other employee participation programmes to operate more efficiently:
- The composition and number on the safety committee may comply with those set out in Schedule 4, but will also depend on the range and type of work activities and the nature and the range of hazards and risks. All major activities, especially in a large organisation, should be represented.
- The committee must keep in mind the key role the safety representative plays in the consultation and employee participation process, and at least one safety representative must be a member.
- The officers (chairman and secretary) should have the ability to ensure that the committee can function effectively. Business should be conducted in an ordered and structured fashion. Minutes, reports and submissions should be precise and clear to help decision-making and to enhance the likelihood of having recommendations considered and acted upon more speedily.
- There should be regular meetings, to include items such as the following:
· any representations made to the employer on any matters relating to safety, health and welfare · the review of safety and health audit reports (including feedback from an inspector) · seeking solutions to safety and health issues which arise · the study of information relating to accidents, dangerous occurrences and instances of occupational ill-health at the place of work · the development and implementation of safe systems of work · the review of communication and employee training procedures relating to safety and health · the consideration of reports presented by a safety representative · progress report on the implementation of Risk Assessments and the Safety Statement · the provisions and use of personal protective clothing and equipment · special promotional activities on safety and health at work including general fitness and well-being programmes, stress reduction or ‘work positive' initiatives · safety and health training needs and reports on safety training courses attended by management or employees · any of the other items arising under Section 26 (1) (b) of the Act
- Some additional points for effective safety consultation and employee participation are as follows:
· the employer must commit the necessary financial and staff resources and facilities, e.g. meeting rooms, access to relevant safety and health information, etc. · the employer or senior managers and employees should be encouraged to participate · workers are encouraged to communicate their views or complaints · sensible recommendations are implemented without delay · line managers and supervisors do not ignore recommendations · committee members are adequately trained and informed on safety and health matters · meetings are held regularly in accordance with Schedule 4 · the agenda for meetings is varied and relevant · committee members are prepared to consider new options or approaches to problems.
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Can an employee's involvement in safety consultation, committees, employee participation and/or representation adversely affect him/her?
No. Section 27 of the 2005 Act protects employees generally from penalisation for any safety and health issues. This includes any employee who is a safety representative or is involved in the safety consultation and safety committee processes. Section 27 prohibits an employer from penalising or threatening to penalise an employee with respect to any term or condition of his or her employment to his or her detriment, if the employee is:
- acting in accordance with safety and health legislation or performing any duty or exercising any right under safety and health legislation
- making a complaint or a representation about safety, health or welfare at work to his or her safety representative, to their employer or to an inspector of the Health and Safety Authority
- giving evidence at any prosecutions or other legal proceedings taken by the Authority, or on behalf of the Authority
- a safety representative or is an employee having duties in an emergency, or is a competent person appointed under Section 18 of the Act
- leaving or refusing to return to the place of work when he or she reasonably considers that there is serious or imminent danger which the employee could not reasonably have dealt with or for taking or proposing to take appropriate steps to protect himself or herself or other persons from the danger considering the circumstances and the means and advice available to him or her at the relevant time.
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