16th February, 2022
The health and safety representative is a role recognised under health and safety law and has legal responsibilities. There are two types of health and safety representative, with similarities and differences. Your business may use one, both or neither!
The law requires employers to consult with employees on health and safety matters. It's one of the legal health and safety responsibilities for employers.
You don't have to have health and safety representatives. You can choose to consult with employees directly, and for small businesses, this is often the most practical where you have regular contact with all your employees.
For some workplaces, it may not be possible for employers to consult with every employee individually. And this is where health and safety representatives are good (and even necessary) to have.
A health and safety representative represents employees in health and safety matters. Employees can raise concerns or issues through the representative to the employer.
The representative also helps with consultation by providing an extra communication channel between employers and employees.
There are two types of health and safety representatives.
Where employees belong to a trade union, the union may appoint a representative. Health and safety representatives selected by trade unions are appointed in writing by the trade union recognised by the workplace. These are appointed representatives.
Health and safety representatives appointed under the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations get elected by the workforce. These are elected representatives.
When a health and safety representative has been appointed or elected, being a representative becomes part of their job. You can recognise this by recording it in the representatives - job description, work objectives or performance agreement for the year. In this way, you allow them to build in time to perform their role as part of their paid work. You also show that you are aware of the contribution they are making to the workplace.
Depending on the size of your workforce, you might choose to have one or multiple representatives. It might make sense to have different health and safety representatives for separate teams, or sites, across your business.
In simple terms, health and safety representatives are a voice for employees on health and safety matters. And they are a voice for employers too. They will help with the communication of health and safety information in both directions.
By law, representatives appointed by trade unions have a few extra functions. You don't have to let elected representatives have the same responsibilities, but you can choose to extend the role if it benefits your business.
Ok, the clue is in the name for this one. But obviously, the first responsibility of a health and safety representative is to... well, represent!
Representation is a responsibility for both trade union and elected representatives.
Representatives are there to represent the interests and concerns of their co-workers and respond on their behalf. And they are also there to consult with the employer and distribute information.
Representatives must be independent in their position. They are not a spokesperson for management, and for representation to work, they need to be trusted to act and speak on behalf of employees.
They will provide representation for employees to the employer on:
They will also represent when contact with health and safety inspectors from the HSE or local authority is required.
By law, trade union representatives can go a step further and investigate the matters they represent. That includes investigating:
You should let representatives know about any accidents, allow them to be involved with the investigation, and let them know about the actions you take.
Agree a system for informing the representative if an incident occurs and involve them in investigations as soon as possible.
By law, trade union representatives can also inspect the workplace. They can do this up to every three months (unless by agreement or if there have been substantial changes). They must give formal notice in writing.
The frequency of inspections should consider the nature of the work and workplace. In a high-risk environment like a construction site, you may want more frequent checks. In a low-risk workplace, like an office, you may not need them so often.
You don't have to inspect the entire workplace one go. If you have multiple representatives, you might split it up between them. Or you may choose to sample specific areas or target high-risk activities.
You should think about:
It will help your relationship with the representatives if you inspect together. It shows that you value their contribution and want to work together. But it does not prevent union-appointed representatives from carrying out an independent inspection or having private discussions with colleagues.
Trade union appointed representatives can also have direct contact with health and safety inspectors (HSE or local authority). In addition to representing during an inspection visit or investigation, they may:
Since they have extra responsibilities, health and safety representatives need a few things to help them carry out the role.
Health and safety representatives need to be trained as necessary to carry out their role. Training is often offered by the trade union, where they have appointed the representatives. For elected representatives, you may need to arrange it.
Your health and safety representatives must have good health and safety knowledge. They can only help improve health and safety if they understand the potential hazards, concerns and dangers that they are discussing. The specific skills and information required may depend on the type of work you do and the employees they represent.
This additional training and extra knowledge might also bring forward suggestions for health and safety improvements in your business.
Health and safety representatives need enough time to carry out the additional responsibilities they have. They will need time to consult with employees. And time to discuss health and safety issues with the employer too.
Representatives should meet or communicate regularly with the employees they represent to keep in touch with their views and concerns.
As an employer, you need to provide facilities and assistance to health and safety representatives. Remember, consultation is all about working together to create a healthier and safer workplace.
The facilities required could include access to:
The regulations were both written decades ago. A notice board might work well for you, but you might also take advantage of more modern methods of sharing information. Like mailouts, messaging apps, or private forums and groups. These alternative options are useful to share information where your workforce is across multiple locations.
There can be many benefits to having a health and safety representative, and not just for employees.
Employees have someone independent they can raise concerns to and discuss health and safety issues. This is good for employees, but it also has business benefits. It can help improve the health and safety culture and increase morale.
As an employer, you can get better feedback on what health and safety issues impact your team, which can help you focus on the highest priority concerns first. Your representative might even bring back some new approaches suggested by the workforce that will improve your health and safety management.
And through health and safety training to carry out their role, representatives gain extra skills and knowledge. This knowledge can help your business keep up to speed with best-practice health and safety controls and procedures.
If you like to talk to employees directly too, having and health and safety representative doesn't stop that. They are not a barrier to direct communication on health and safety matters - they are an extra channel!
Consulting with workers is just one of your legal health and safety duties. Find out more about the legal health and safety requirements for employers.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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