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Consultation and communication in health and safety

Effective communication is a two-way process, where each party listens to what others have to say and considers what it means, and are in turn listened to. When people communicate effectively it is easier to share important information, raise concerns or ask for support.  This leads to a clearer understanding of aims, different viewpoints and situations, allowing for better decision making.

Communication in the workplace, done poorly, can lead to information being misunderstood and result in frustration, conflict and accidents.

What is consultation?

Consultation is the process through which employers and management discuss issues of mutual concern with workers or their representatives, such as developing safe systems of work, safety policies and choosing equipment. It involves seeking acceptable solutions to problems through a genuine exchange of views and information.

Managers are responsible for making the final decision and, whilst consultation doesn’t remove this right, it does impose an obligation that the views of employees will be sought and considered on issues that affect them before decisions are taken.

Did you know?

Employers have a legal duty to consult with their employees on matters effecting their health and safety.  This may be done directly or through employee’s representatives.

There are two different regulations that place this requirement on employers:

The Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977, which applies where employees are members of a trades union that are recognised by the employer; and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 which applies where employees are not in a trades union or the union is not recognised by the employer.

But why bother?

Well, aside from the legal requirement to do so, there are many benefits to an organisation which consults with its work force – remember, these people are the ones who see the day-to-day problems, frustrations and areas for improvement within the workplace.

There are real business benefits including increased productivity, improvements in efficiency and motivation.  From a health and safety perspective, employees are ideally placed for helping to identify hazards and finding solutions to control risk; Input from employees can also allow the employer to make better decisions regarding health and safety and helps to get ‘buy-in’ from these employees once decisions are made, building trust and a better understanding of each other’s views.

So, what must I consult about?

Employers should consult with employees about any matter which may significantly affect their health and safety.  This may include consultation prior to the introduction of new equipment, new ways of working or changes to shift-work arrangements, the provision of information in relation to the hazards and risks associated with their work and any associated control measures, emergency plans and health and safety training.

When consulting with employees it is important to ensure they are provided with all the information necessary to allow full and effective participation in the consultation.

How to consult

Every organisation is different and there is no prescribed way in which employers must consult. The law does not state when or for how long you must consult, though it does say it should be in ‘good time’. In practice, employers should consider the effect of the issue on workers’ safety and health, and how effective and meaningful consultation on the issue can be achieved. Employers should allow enough time for the matter to be considered and provide employees with informed responses to any questions that arise.

Irrespective of the method or format of the consultation, any consultation should involve the employer actively seeking and then taking into account the views of workers before making a decision. It involves two-way communication with employers providing information and workers taking on the responsibility of actively participating in the process.

An important principle of consultation is reaching an agreeable outcome on an issue or topic that is satisfactory to all parties and moves towards a safer and healthier environment.

In summary

Consultation should not be viewed as just a legal requirement, but as a key tool within the health and safety management system. Effective use of consultation improves an employer’s decision-making about health and safety matters and helps to develop a resilient safety culture based on effective communication between managers and workers about health and safety matters within the workplace.

Contact one of the team at Napthens Health and Safety for further advice and support in establishing suitable mechanisms for consultation and communication to ensure this legal duty is being met.