No one knows your business on a day to day basis better than your workers. In many instances it is the workers who are more knowledgeable about the processes, operations, machines and challenges than the management, since they’re the ones on the factory floor doing the work, using the machines and seeing the operations at ground level.
This is therefore why it is so important for businesses to consult with workers on health and safety related matters, and to establish an effective consultation process which encourages and enables workers to voice their concerns, query processes, alert relevant personnel to potential issues, offer suggestions and challenge procedures or regulations.
How well a business copes with this makes a very great difference, but not just in terms of health and safety. Although it is essential to consult and communicate with workers on health and safety matters, doing this in a truly effective and productive way can also reap many other benefits, including overall production efficiency, cost savings improvements and overall employee satisfaction and loyalty.
The Legal Requirements
There are two different sets of regulations governing the consultation of workers, and in some cases you’ll only need one of them, but in others you may need both.
The first of these is The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, which will only come into effect if your workers are either partly or fully represented by union officials, and that the union has agreed to represent them in this instance. In cases where workers are not part of a union, or an officially recognised union, then The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 will apply.
Of course the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 always requires the employer to adequately communicate with workers in relation to potential risks or dangers, to train them in minimising those dangers on a daily basis, and in the use of any health and safety equipment or clothing.
But simply delivering lists of rules or hours of training is not the same thing as consultation, although sadly some companies do stop at this point.
The Benefits Of Consultation
Consultation is a two-way process, which involves both the workers and the company listening to each other. This is quite different to simply delivering training, lists of rules or regulations. By encouraging a dialogue in which the workers are able to raise questions, comment, criticise and recommend, the business benefits in many ways, including:
- creating a healthier and safer business
- improving the overall performance of the business
- raising standards within the business
- generating a positive atmosphere amongst workers which engenders respect, trust and loyalty
What Does Consultation Involve?
How you carry out consultation in a practical sense will depend upon many factors, including the size of the company. A business with just a few employees can usually arrange a meeting to which everyone is able to attend, whereas larger businesses may need to set up departmental meetings.
These consultation sessions need to put into place measures to allow the business and its employees to:
- talk to each other about relevant issues
- listen to each other and take on board what’s being said
- raise concerns about any health and safety related issues without prejudice
- ask for advice, recommendations or work together to solve issues and problems
- discuss any issues well in advance of any changes being implemented
- make firm decisions, either on protocols, practices, or future consultations, meetings or other relevant actions
Of course these measures shouldn’t be limited solely to the hours during which consultations take place, but the consultations should provide opportunities for employees to approach management at any other time to discuss issues or raise concerns.
When Should Consultations Take Place?
There is no reason why regular consultations cannot be arranged, giving everyone a regular opportunity to raise concerns. However, there are a number of key times when a consultation is essential, including:
- in advance of any new procedures being introduced
- in advance of any existing procedures being adapted or changed
- prior to the introduction of any new types of work or operation
- before the introduction or implementation of new machinery, equipment or tools
- in advance of any move to new premises
- before any change in working arrangements, such as changes in shift patterns
By carrying out full and effective consultations with employees it is highly probable that otherwise unexpected or unidentified risks can be spotted, and adequately addressed, and that overall the likelihood of injuries occurring is much lower.
However these very important, practical benefits are also likely to be accompanied by benefits in terms of employees’ satisfaction and confidence, which engenders a more positive, more productive and more effective working environment, which is in turn likely to affect the ‘bottom line’ in a distinctly positive way!
For any help or advice regarding proper health and safety consultations, or for clarification on the regulations governing the consultation process please call one of our highly experienced and knowledgeable Health and Safety Advisors FREE on 0800 1488 677.