Consulting with Employees about Health and Safety

Worker involvement on health and safety is simply a two-way process where employers and employees:

  • talk to one another
  • listen to one another’s concerns
  • raise concerns and solve problems together
  • seek and share views and information
  • discuss issues in good time
  • consider what everyone has to say
  • make decisions together

Talking to, listening to and involving employees helps to:

  • make the workplace healthier and safer
  • improve performance
  • raise standards

The passing of information to employees is a one-way process. Employees are the passive recipients of information. Consultation is a two-way process. Employees are active participants in the process and have an opportunity to express their opinions. Ownership of health and safety has to be built at all levels and the knowledge that employees have of their own work is a valuable resource. Employees should be actively involved safety workshops, risk assessments, plant design etc.

Consultation should occur prior to any major changes in health and safety arrangements.

The employer has duties to provide employees with relevant health and safety information under the Health and Safety at Work Act, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, and all other risk assessment driven legislation.

The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to provide employees with “information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, their health and safety at work.”

The information to be supplied should include: information about hazards at the workplace and methods of avoiding them; and information made available by manufacturers and suppliers of materials used at work; and might also include statutory information, e.g. copies of Regulations or Approved Codes of Practice, official HSE publications, e.g. guidance notes or technical data notes, industry standards etc.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations reinforces the position requiring the provision of “comprehensible and relevant information on the risks to employee’s health and safety identified by the risk assessment; and the preventive and protective measures”

Information provided should be suitable given the level of training, knowledge and experience of the employee, and taking account of any language difficulties or disabilities. Information can be provided in any suitable format as long as it can be understood by everyone.

Employers are legally required to provide basic health and safety information to employees by either:

  • Displaying an approved poster in a prominent position in each workplace
  • Providing each worker with a copy of the equivalent leaflet

The employer is no longer required to provide further information in writing, either on the poster, or with the pocket card, giving workers the contact details of the enforcing authority, and HSE’s Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS). Workers are now advised to phone the HSE Info-line to be put in touch with these services. The new poster has optional boxes for health and safety contact details.  

There is a legal framework requiring consultation with employees on health and safety issues.

When the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force it was envisaged that the Trade Unions would facilitate the consultation process between employer and employees and the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations were introduced to this end.

Since then, the prominence of Trade Unions has diminished, and as a consequence many UK workers were left without the legal entitlement to be consulted on health and safety matters. The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations were introduced to address the issue.

The legal requirements for consultation specify a minimum requirement. Building upon this legal foundation to create a genuine partnership between employers and employees creates a culture of collaboration where concerns, ideas and solutions are shared and acted upon, and where the whole workforce is engaged in the management of health and safety.

HSE research has shown that stronger employee involvement means: 

  • better control of common workplace risks
  • lower accident rates
  • a more positive health and safety climate where employees feel encouraged to raise concerns

What should the workforce be consulted about?

The workforce should be consulted about anything in the workplace that could substantially affect their health and safety. The specifics will vary from workplace to workplace.

In general, the workforce must be consulted about:

  • any change which substantially affects health and safety, e.g. new or different procedures, new equipment, or new shift patterns
  • the arrangements for appointing competent person(s) to help meet health and safety obligations e.g. health and safety advisor
  • information on the likely risks in the workplace and the precautions to be taken
  • the planning of health and safety training
  • the health and safety consequences of new technology