By law employers are required to consult with their trade union Safety Representatives, Representatives of Employee Safety (where they exist) or workers directly over a range of defined health and safety issues. These are:

  • The introduction of any measure in the workplace that may ‘substantially’ affect the employee’s health and safety;
  • The arrangements for appointing or nominating ‘competent persons’;
  • Any health and safety information that is required to be provided by the employer for employees under ‘relevant statutory provisions’;
  • The ‘planning and organisation’ of any health and safety training the employees may require; and
  • The health and safety impact on employees of the introduction – ‘including the planning thereof’ – of new technology.

Surveys by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicate that many employers do not adequately consult their workers. It is illegal not to consult employees over health and safety issues.

In unionised workplaces, employers must consult with trade union appointed Safety Representatives. This is required through the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977, as amended.

In non-union organisations the employer must either consult with employees directly or through ‘Representatives of Employee Safety’, who must be elected by the employees. This is required through the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.

The consultation laws provide a minimum base on which an effective worker involvement process can be developed.

Note: In sectors such as offshore installations, quarries, mines, construction and railways there are other consultation requirements in addition to the basic minimum identified here.

Health and Safety Representatives

Generally the most effective worker consultation arrangement is through Trade Union supported health and safety representatives.

In June 2000 the Government and Health and Safety Commission (HSC) – now the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – launched its Revitalising Health and Safety initiative. In the Section on worker involvement it stated:

  • Workplaces with trades union safety representatives and joint health and safety committees have significantly better accident records – over 50% fewer injuries – than those with no consultation mechanism.

By 2004 the HSC had issued A Collective Declaration on Worker Involvement in which it was stated:

  • Evidence outlined in …… makes clear that trade union safety representatives, through their empowered role for purposes of consultation, often lead to higher levels of compliance and better health and safety performance than in non-trade union systems.

So by the time that the HSE published its new strategy for ‘The Health and Safety of Great Britain Be part of the solution’ in 2009, improving the extent of worker involvement was a key goal. Given they had estimated that 60% of employers even failed to consult their workforce in line with minimum legal standards, it is now one of their key priorities. The reason for this is made clear in their strategy document:

  • Workplace research provides evidence to suggest that involving workers has a positive effect on health and safety performance. Equally, there is strong evidence that unionised workplaces and those with health and safety representatives are safer and healthier as a result.

In establishing the Worker Involvement initiative, BRYSON Consulting is seeking to have the success of the trade union Safety Representative system be applied to all work places.

In 2013 the HSE published the evaluation of a £2.5 million training initiative they financed. There were two strands: 2,400 non-union safety representatives were trained free on ‘soft skills’ to improve their confidence to act as a representative of their fellow workers. The second was joint training for managers and union safety reps in around 180 organisations.

In the evaluation of the non-union safety representative training – done after six months and a year to identify the impact at the workplace, it was reported:

  • After 12 months, there is continuing evidence of progress in terms of both the development of soft skills and lasting changes to procedures and processes ….. some procedures, such as meetings, had become more formalised after six months, after 12 months there was evidence that meetings were becoming less formal due to the fact that issues were being dealt with promptly as they arose, thus rendering more regular meetings unnecessary. This can be read as evidence of embedding of worker involvement in health and safety.

So whether it is Trade Union trained Safety Representatives or trained non-union employee representatives, they can make a significant contribution to improving health and safety performance.

In 2011 a review of health and safety regulation done by Professor Löfstedt, a highly regarded expert on risk management was published. In it he concluded that:

  • Boosting the responsibility and involvement of employees has the potential to bring about significant improvements in health and safety in the workplace.

Worker Engagement

The most knowledgeable people about the particular aspects of a job are usually the workers who do that job.

In their strategy for health and safety in Great Britain ‘Be part of the solution’ the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) state that one of their key goals is:

  • To reinforce the promotion of worker involvement and consultation in health and safety matters throughout unionised and non-unionised workplaces of all sizes.

They made worker involvement a key priority because of the benefits that it brings. The HSE have stated that greater worker involvement means:

  • Workers are often best able to spot issues and bring about real improvements; and
  • Workers can influence health and safety through their own actions and by accepting personal responsibility

By introducing or developing worker consultation and involvement, the employer will be making a significant improvement to their business outcomes by:

  • Developing a positive health and safety culture;
  • Reducing accidents and ill health (and the associated costs) in their business;
  • Contributing to overall quality management; and
  • Complying with legal requirements.

For line managers, involving staff in health and safety management is likely to have a number of advantages, including:

  • Increased team commitment to health and safety.
  • Proactive risk assessment and development of action plans.
  • Improved communication with staff.
  • Better staff satisfaction and retention.

Workers themselves benefit substantially from being involved in health and safety decision-making. They gain the ability to:

  • Influence the direction of health and safety management.
  • Ensure that issues of concern are discussed and addressed.
  • Develop competencies and skills, in health and safety, communication, negotiation – which can be applied in other areas.
  • Be valued by the employer, and have a genuine stake in improving performance.

Employers who do not actively involve their workforce in health and safety miss the opportunity to set free their workers’ knowledge and apply it to practical problems. Yet applying workers’ knowledge helps improve health, safety and business performance. Hence it is in all employer’s interests to have an effective system for involving the workforce.

In 2011 a review of health and safety regulation done by Professor Löfstedt, a highly regarded expert on risk management was published. In it he concluded that:

  • Boosting the responsibility and involvement of employees has the potential to bring about significant improvements in health and safety in the workplace.

Proof of the importance of worker involvement in business performance came in a report by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) published in July 2015. In the section on employee engagement it stated:

  • Many of our most productive industries tend to buck the trend of low voice and low involvement [poor employee engagement]. Take the automotive industry or the aerospace sector, where high levels of union membership and high levels of employee involvement go alongside incredibly high levels of productivity.

More and more employers are recognising that improving worker involvement within an organisation has the potential to significantly improve health, safety and business performance.