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.
While consultation between employers and workers is a legal requirement it is also an essential element in proactive workplace management.
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.
Our consultation and representation at work fact sheet provides some guidelines for both employers and workers about best practice consultation on health and safety in the workplace which can be undertaken:
- through an agreed arrangement such as weekly toolbox meetings, or
- more formally through Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and Health and Safety Committees (HSCs).
The Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination - Code of Practice provides practical guidance on effective consultation with workers who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a health and safety matter, and how to facilitate worker participation and representation.
Safe Work Australia’s Worker Representation and Participation Guide provides further information for HSRs and HSCs, and guidance about resolving health and safety issues.
Benefits for business
Through effective consultation, business owners/operators, managers and supervisors can become more aware of work health and safety hazards or issues experienced by everyone at the workplace. The benefits include:
- reduction in injuries
- avoidance of unnecessary expense and downtime
- increased worker awareness and commitment through active involvement in how decisions are made
- improved working relationships through understanding the views of others which leads to greater co-operation and trust.
A two-way process
Good consultation enables workers to respond and contribute to issues that directly affect them, and provide valuable information and insights.
It’s a two-way process where information and views are shared between PCBUs and workers. PCBUs can become more aware of hazards and issues experienced by workers, and involve them in finding solutions or addressing problems. Workers often notice issues and practices, or foresee consequences, that might otherwise be overlooked.
PCBUs must genuinely consult with workers and their representatives, including HSRs, before any changes or decisions 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.
As well as workers and HSRs, consultation should also 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.
To effectively consult with workers:
- talk to each other about WHS matters
- listen to their concerns and raise your concerns
- seek and share views and information
- consider what your workers say before you make decisions
- advise workers of the outcome of consultation in a timely manner.
Consultation with workers must also take place when:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks
- deciding how to manage those risks
- making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
- 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 Act for further information.
For effective and genuine consultation on work health and safety to take place, PCBUs should:
- be familiar with work health and safety laws
- develop agreed procedures for consultation with all affected workers and their representatives, including any HSRs for the relevant workers – even if there is no agreed arrangement, PCBUs still have an obligation to consult with and involve workers and their representatives, and other PCBUs
- regularly review and update consultation arrangements
- understand the roles and functions of HSRs and HSCs
- know how work groups are formed to enable the election of HSRs
- be aware of HSR training entitlements
- communicate with other PCBUs to determine responsibility for work health and safety issues if their respective duty of care overlaps
- plan and budget for work health and safety.
Speaking up about work health and safety issues is important, so don't be reluctant to raise safety issues you see or become aware of. Report any potential hazards or unsafe work practices to your manager, supervisor or HSR.
The law prohibits discriminatory behaviour directed at anyone who raises work health and safety issues or carries out legitimate safety-related functions or activities.
Mines and quarries
Mine operators must comply with the general consultation requirements outlined in the WHS laws. There are also specific consultation requirements in relation to developing, implementing and reviewing their Safety Management System and principal mining hazard management plans.
Workers should also be consulted on:
- preparing, testing and reviewing the emergency plan for the mine
- developing and implementing strategies to protect persons at the mine from any risk involving alcohol, drugs or worker fatigue
- implementing the workers’ safety role.
The workers’ safety role will be to participate in risk assessments to identify any principal mining hazard and assist in selecting controls for them.
Mine operators must also consult with other duty holders who may be operating at the mines including contractors.
The Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination – Code of Practice also provides useful practical guidance about how to consult effectively for the purposes of work health and safety requirements.
Activities with other duty holders
There are often situations where more than one business or undertaking operates at a workplace and where people share WHS responsibility to varying degrees (eg shopping centres, construction projects or multi-tenanted office buildings).
Where more than one person has a duty for the same WHS matter, each person retains responsibility for their duty in relation to the matter and must discharge the duty to the extent to which the person can influence and control the matter.
Each person must also consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with all other persons who have a WHS duty in relation to the same matter, so far as is reasonably practicable.
To help achieve improved consultation and representation, we work with HSRs, HSC members, employers and workers.
Our Advisory Service can provide free support, advice and information about:
- forming work groups
- determining appropriate HSRs
- electing HSRs and deputy HSRs
- HSR training and entitlements
- HSR and HSC roles and functions
- establishing HSCs
- promoting the roles of HSRs and HSCs in the workplace.
Our advisors also conduct information sessions for workplaces and groups on HSR and HSC roles and functions, and consultation processes for resolving safety issues.
We also manage:
Upon request, one of our WHS Inspectors can be appointed to:
- decide on the structure of a work group that has not been successfully negotiated or agreed upon between PCBUs and workers
- settle a disagreement or delay in the provision of HSR training
- assist in the resolution of a health and safety issue that is unable to be resolved, despite reasonable efforts, or an issue arising from the cessation of unsafe work
- conduct a review and decide on the outcome of a disputed provisional improvement notice.
For help with any of the above please phone us on 1300 365 255.