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Workplace Consultations

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 consultation between employers and employees is provided for to help ensure co-operation in the prevention of accidents and ill health. Under the Act, employees are entitled to select a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters that they may have to their employer within their workplace. The safety committee can also be used for the communication on important health and safety issues such as

  • risk assessments and subsequent safe systems of work
  • workplace hazards
  • emergency procedures
  • new working practices or new work equipment
  • workplace welfare issues

Section 26 sets out the arrangements for this consultation on a range of safety and health issue, these are key provisions and a central part of the preventive system of promoting safety and health at work.

Who appoints the safety representative in the organisation?

Section 25 entitles employees to decide on, select and appoint a safety representative or, by agreement with their employer, more than one safety representative to represent them in consultations with their employer.

The following factors should be considered when deciding

  • The number of employees to be represented
  • The nature of the work and degree of risk
  • The operation of shift work
  • The number of site locations

It is essential that safety representatives have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their function effectively. Peninsula can provide an IOSH accredited managing safely course. This course in includes information regarding

  • Safety and health legal system
  • Role of the Safety Representative and Safety Committee members in the safety consultation and participation process
  • Communication skills for the Safety Representative and Safety Committee members
  • Hazard identification and carrying out Risk Assessments
  • Preparing and implementing the Safety Statement
  • Carrying out safety and health inspections
  • Accident investigation, recording and analysis
  • Sources of safety and health information
  • Risk control and safety and health management at work
  • Course follow up

Employers must allow safety representatives reasonable time off from work, without loss of earnings, in order to acquire knowledge that will enable them to function effectively. This also applies to time taken to carry out these functions. A representative does not have any duties, as opposed to functions, other than those that apply to employees generally. A safety representative who accepts a management proposal for dealing with a safety or health issue could not be held legally accountable for putting the proposal into effect.

Functions of a Representative

A safety representative may consult with and make representations to the employer on safety, health and welfare matters relating to the employees in the place of work. The employer must consider these representations, and act on them if necessary. The intention of these consultations is to prevent accidents and ill-health, highlight problems, and identify means of overcoming them. Consultations are particularly important when changes are taking place, for example when a safety statement or safety and health plan is being drawn up, or new technology or work processes, including new substances, are being introduced.

A safety representative may also:

  • accompany an inspector carrying out an inspection other than the investigation of an accident or dangerous occurrence (although this may be allowed at the discretion of the inspector)
  • at the discretion of the inspector, and when the employee concerned so requests, be present when the inspector interviews the employee about an accident or dangerous occurrence at a place of work
  • make representations to the employer on safety, health and welfare at the place of work
  • make verbal or written representations to inspectors, including about the investigation of accidents or dangerous occurrences
  • receive advice and information from inspectors in relation to safety, health and welfare at the place of work
  • consult and liaise with other safety representatives appointed in the same undertaking, in different places of work under the control of the employer or at different times at the place of work

However, a representative must not interfere with anything at the scene of the accident. Nor can the safety representative obstruct any person with statutory obligations, including a Health and Safety Authority inspector, from doing anything required of them under the Act. However, Section 27 also prohibits an employer from penalising or threatening to penalise an employee with respect to any term or condition of his or her employment, if the employee is:

  • acting in accordance with safety and health legislation or performing any duty or exercising any right under safety and health legislation
  • making a complaint or a representation about safety, health or welfare at work to his or her safety representative, to their employer or to an inspector of the Health and Safety Authority
  • giving evidence at any prosecutions or other legal proceedings taken by the Authority, or on behalf of the Authority
  • a safety representative or is an employee having duties in an emergency
  • leaving or refusing to return to the place of work when he or she reasonably considers that there is serious or imminent danger which the employee could not reasonably have dealt with or for taking or proposing to take appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from the danger considering the circumstances and the means and advice available to him or her at the relevant time.
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