A safe workplace is more easily achieved when everyone talks openly about work health and safety issues and concerns, helps to identify hazards and risks, and works together to find solutions.
A two-way process
Consultation at work is a requirement of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) (the WHS Act) and an essential element in the proactive management of health and safety in South Australian workplaces.
Good consultation enables workers to respond and contribute to issues that directly affect them - before decisions are made. It is a two-way process where information and views are shared between workers and business owners/operators, managers and employers - known as Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (or PCBUs).
Workers often notice issues and practices, or foresee consequences, that might otherwise be overlooked. Introducing a new chemical or changing work tasks, for example, can create health and safety risks. Through consultation PCBUs can become more aware of hazards and issues experienced by workers, and involve them in finding solutions or addressing problems.
The benefits of effective consultation include:
- helping to reduce injuries
- avoiding unnecessary expense and downtime
- increasing awareness and commitment, because workers who have been actively involved in how decisions are made will better understand them
- improving working relationships, because understanding the views of others leads to greater co-operation and trust.
When to consult
PCBUs must consult with workers and their representatives, including Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs), before any changes are made that may affect their health and safety. Consultation should take place during both the initial planning and implementation phases so that everyone's experience and expertise can be taken into account.
In particular, PCBUs must consult with workers when:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks
- deciding how to manage those risks
- making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
- proposing changes that may affect worker health and safety
- developing health and safety procedures
- resolving health and safety issues
- monitoring the health of workers and workplace conditions
- providing training and information.
Refer to section 49 of the WHS Act for further information.
The four steps to effective consultation include:
- sharing information about workplace hazards, working conditions, and machinery, equipment or materials used in the workplace
- giving reasonable opportunity for everyone to express views and contribute to the decision making process
- taking those views into account
- advising of the outcome.
Refer to section 48 of the WHS Act for further information.
Consult with everyone
As well as workers and HSRs, consultation should include everyone else at the workplace who is, or is likely to be, directly affected. This includes contractors, subcontractors, labour hire workers, apprentices, work experience staff and volunteers, as well as other PCBUs (so far as is reasonably practicable) if their respective duty of care overlaps.
Consultation can be informal, or through any agreed arrangement (e.g. weekly tool-box talks where health and safety is a permanent agenda item). It can also be approached more formally through:
PCBUs must genuinely consult about developing agreed procedures for consultation with all affected workers, including any HSRs for the relevant workers. If there is no agreed arrangement, PCBUs still have an obligation to consult with and involve workers and their representatives, and other PCBUs, on work health and safety issues.
Our Consultation and representation at work (PDF 211kb) fact sheet provides some guidelines for both employers and workers about best practice consultation on work health and safety in the workplace, whether it be informal, or through an agreed arrangement (e.g weekly toolbox meetings), or more formally through HSRs and HSCs.
The approved Code of Practice for Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination provides practical guidance to PCBUs on effective consultation with workers who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a health and safety matter.
This Code also provides guidance to duty holders who share responsibility for the same work health and safety matter on how to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with each other.