It’s a legal requirement to consult with the workforce on health and safety, but how an organisation or business executes on that is up to them. In smaller businesses, the arrangements required can be kept fairly simple and a formal health and safety committee might not be necessary.
In larger businesses, it might be logistically difficult to consult effectively without some sort of formal, structured health and safety committee.
If two or more union-appointed health and safety representatives request in writing that a health and safety committee is set up it must be done within three months of the request.
It is also good practice to set up a health and safety committee where there are several representatives of employee safety or a mix of both safety representatives and representatives of employee safety.
The following need to be agreed:
- the principles of how it will function best so it is clear for all employees and members of the committee
- who the members will be
- what the committee will do
- how it will make decisions and deal with disagreements
- what resources will be needed by committee members
Function and Objectives of Safety Committees
Safety committees have the legal function of keeping under review the measures taken to ensure the health and safety at work of the employees.
Agreed objectives and terms of reference should be drawn up to establish a working framework for the safety committee.
A key objective should be the promotion of co-operation between employers and employees in developing and carrying out measures to ensure effective management of health and safety at work.
Specific activities might include:
- The study of accident and notifiable disease statistics and trends
- Examination of safety audit reports
- Consideration of reports and factual information provided by enforcing authority inspectors
- Consideration of reports submitted by safety representatives
- Assistance in the development of works safety rules and safe systems of work
- Monitoring the effectiveness of the safety content of employee training
- Monitoring the adequacy of safety and health communication and promotion in the workplace
- The provision of a link with the appropriate enforcing authority
Membership of Safety Committees
The membership and structure of safety committees should be settled in consultation between management and the safety representatives.
The committee should be reasonably compact but still able to adequately represent the interests of management and of all the employees. The number of management representatives should not exceed the number of employees’ representatives.
Management representation should be aimed at ensuring an appropriate level of knowledge and expertise (by including the likes of work engineers, personnel managers and supervisors as well as senior managers), and adequate authority to act on recommendations.
Company specialists, such as: safety officer/adviser, occupational health doctor or nurse, or occupational hygienist should be ex-officio members and others such as project engineers, chemists, or training officers should be co-opted as necessary.
The Conduct of Safety Committees
The frequency of meetings will depend on the size of the business, level of inherent risk, and the stage of development of safety management systems. Sufficient time should be allowed during each meeting to ensure full discussion of all business.
Meeting dates should be planned well in advance. The schedule of planned meetings should be published on company notice boards and each committee member should be sent a personal copy.
The agenda and accompanying papers should be sent to committee members at least one week before the meeting.
Meetings should not be cancelled or postponed except in very exceptional circumstances.
Agreed minutes of each meeting should be kept and, as soon as possible after the meeting, a copy of the minutes should be sent to each member of the committee, the most senior executive responsible for health and safety and also displayed on company notice boards or otherwise made available to employees.