Compliance at a glance – Consultation
Why do you need to consult?
…because many decision you make can have health and safety consequences for your workers.
Your workers are directly affected by your decisions and can often foresee things that you may overlook. They can provide suggestions about how to solve health and safety problems and reduce injuries that can lead to increased savings and improved productivity for your business.
Introducing a new chemical or changing work tasks, for example, can create safety risks – and your workers can help you identify these risks and decide what to do to minimise them. You can avoid unnecessary expense and downtime.
As well as being a good idea, consultation about safety issues is required under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act and Regulations.
Consultation enables you to share work health and safety (WHS) information and get your workers’ views before you make decisions. You and your workers must be alert to things that can cause harm. Through consultation, you can become more aware of hazards and WHS issues experienced by your workers, and can involve them in addressing potential problems before they escalate and affect your business.
Complete the Compliance at a glance – How do you rate checklist first before checking your answers against the green, orange and red sections below.
Where you ticked in the red zone...
…you are unlikely to be effectively consulting your workers and involving them in safety matters.
Ticks in the red zone indicate that you need to take immediate action to implement formal consultation arrangements and ensure that your workers have the opportunity to express their views and contribute to health and safety issues.
Establish your consultation arrangements
Consultation is really about involving people in the decision making process rather than just “telling” them what is going to happen. The most basic form of consultation is simply having regular talks with workers. This could involve regular staff meetings where safety is discussed as a standing item, or a more formal safety committee meeting.
Your workers may choose to elect a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) to represent defined work groups in the workplace. One of the tools you can use to encourage consultation with your workers is the establishment of a safety committee. In very small workplaces all staff may be part of this committee. The times the committee meets should be negotiated between the committee members and yourself. By law, if there is a committee, then meetings must be held at least once every three months.
These meetings will assist you to:
- promote cooperation between your workers and yourself to make any necessary changes to ensure work health and safety at the workplace
- provide an opportunity for two way communication between yourself and the workers to discuss a range of issues associated with the health and safety of your workplace
- provide workers with a formal avenue to raise concerns.
Ensure your consultation captures all work health and safety issues and views—for example consider shiftworkers and remote workers, trainees, apprentices and people with disabilities. Also consider other issues such as language, literacy, gender and age to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be included in the process.
Record your consultation arrangements and issue resolution procedure
Ensure that all your workers have knowledge of health and safety issues so they can comment on matters that affect them. You’re agreed consultation arrangements and issue resolution procedure should be recorded and displayed in the workplace. It is a legal requirement to display the name/s and contact details of all elected HSRs.
The HSRs should also be made aware that they may be contacted to discuss any work health and safety issues. It is also a legal requirement to have an agreed issue resolution procedure, set out in writing and communicated to all workers. Where necessary refer to the default issue resolution procedure in the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Regulation 2011.
Consultation means valuing and acting on your workers’ ideas, not simply handing out documents or asking for input just for the sake of it. At your regular workplace meeting, discuss with your workers any plans you may have that could affect their health and safety – for example purchasing new equipment, changing work tasks, or redesigning the workplace. Before making a decision, seek their views on how safety issues could be addressed.
Encourage your workers to raise their safety concerns. Make an extra effort to include young workers, those with a disability and those from a non-English speaking background.
If a HSR has been elected, ensure they are notified of any safety issues or proposed decisions that may affect safety and discuss it with them and the committee. Before making any decisions, allow them time to inform all workers and obtain their input and feedback.
Record decisions that affect safety
Keep records of significant safety decisions to demonstrate that you take safety issues seriously and are prompt in addressing them. It reinforces the actions that need to be taken, outlines who is responsible for undertaking them, and indicates when they need to be completed.
Provide an agenda before your regular workplace meetings to inform your workers of the issues to be discussed. It affords them an opportunity to include other topics, and enables them time to consider possible suggestions and solutions. Informal discussions are equally as beneficial in the consultation process as formal meetings. Whatever form the consultation process takes, its primary aim is for employers to talk about and resolve issues.
Where you ticked in the orange zone...
…you have consultation arrangements in place but they may not be working effectively or capturing your workers’ input.
Ticks in the orange zone indicate that you have undertaken some consultation but the arrangements may not be consistent or appropriate to the needs of your workers, or your business.
Implement consultation arrangements that are suitable for your workplace
Your consultation arrangements may need to be changed to better suit the size, structure and nature of your workplace. Perhaps you require flexible arrangements in order to involve all your workers—for example those on different shifts and sites, transport workers and those working from home who may not be able to attend regular workplace meetings. As a result, both you and your workers may be missing vital health and safety information in relation to the work tasks and work areas of these workers. Introduce regular discussions with these groups of workers about their health and safety concerns.
Encourage your workers to become involved
Most workers are keen to foster a productive and safe workplace, but they may be discouraged by the ‘consultation process’ rather than consultation itself. Encourage workers to get involved in the safety process in any capacity that they can. Some workplaces even reward positive worker involvement.
Gather input from workers and provide feedback to them
Encourage worker participation by:
- Scheduling safety as a priority—try to avoid holding safety meetings at the end of a shift as you will often run out of time and your workers may not contribute due to their desire to go home. Discuss safety issues at the beginning of your regular workplace meetings, when your workers are fresh and alert.
- Showing you value your workers’ views—develop an action plan and a schedule (including timeframes) to demonstrate to your workers that you are acting on their concerns. Workers can often feel that they are informed about safety issues rather than consulted. If your workers believe their safety concerns are swiftly dismissed and not afforded proper consideration, they will be
reluctant to participate in the consultation process. Make your safety decisions taking into account
your workers’ views. When your decisions are contrary to workers’ views, it is much easier for
them to accept the decision if you clearly outline the reasons for your decision.
- Giving positive feedback to your workers—let them know why their suggestions are important (relevance), how they are helpful (benefits) and when they will be acted on (schedule).
- Including all your workers in the process and ensuring all workers are aware of their role and responsibility with regard to health and safety. Train HSRs and make it easy for all your workers to contribute to work health and safety in your workplace. Workers from non-English speaking backgrounds and those with special needs may be consulted individually to ensure their concerns are addressed.
Send a clear message about
the importance of safety
To be effective, consultation needs to be consistent and inclusive, and safety issues need to be addressed in a timely way.
Conducting ad hoc safety meetings sends a strong message to your workers that consultation and safety issues are relatively unimportant. They are less likely to feel encouraged to participate, and the opportunity to identify safety issues and possible solutions may be lost.
Discuss your consultation arrangements with all your workers and ensure that their safety concerns are addressed at your regular workplace meetings.
Sometimes, your workers may have varying opinions with regard to the best possible safety solution. Ultimately, it is your obligation to put in place measures that ensure health and safety at your workplace.
Ensure that you keep accurate safety records, and wherever possible complete recommended actions with specified time frames. Inform workers of reasons for any delays in resolving safety issues, and update regarding their progress.
Where you ticked in the green zone...
…your regular consultation arrangements are effective and workers are involved in decisions regarding safety.
Ticks in the green zone indicate that you have implemented regular consultation arrangements that suit your workplace and that you actively encourage your workers’ participation and value their views. If your consultation arrangements are working well, potential hazards and risks will be readily identified, and your workers will suggest and support timely improvements that benefit your business.
Review for effectiveness
Have open and frank discussions with workers periodically to see how well the consultation process is actually working, and how it could be improved.
Ensure that your vulnerable workers, young workers, those with a disability and those with language or literacy issues are adequately represented in the consultation process and understand the safe work procedures, reporting measures, training systems and the like.
If your consultation process is working well, encourage your workers to contribute to broader issues, such as workplace design, organisation of work, future trends etc.