By law, an employer must consult their workforce about any change that will substantially affect their health and safety. These changes include implementing new or different procedures, using new equipment, and implementing new shift patterns. The HSE has a brief guide to the law informing employers what they need to do to ensure they are complying with the legal requirements for consulting with their workforce on health and safety. One means of asking a workforce about such matters while complying with the law is to have a health and safety committee. The committee can also be an ideal way to share health and safety information and plan health and safety training.
You should be clear about how the committee will work. The best way to achieve this is to have a document that states a basic set of rules and procedures for how the health and safety committee will work. This document should include the committee’s purpose and objectives, specific details of its membership, a guideline for when and where the committee will meet, and the amount of notice given to members before a meeting, and how to communicate the outcomes of meetings to employees.
The number of committee members and how many are management and employee representatives will depend on the size of the business and the types of work it does.
Management representatives should ideally have the authority to give proper consideration to views and recommendations. These could include the person responsible for health and safety in the business and a representative from senior management, such as a board member, to show commitment and leadership.
Employee representatives should be appointed by a trade union, elected by the workforce, or a combination of both, and be familiar with the work of those they are representing. The committee needs access to accurate advice about company policy on relevant matters such as premises, processes, machinery, equipment, or production processes.
There may also be representatives of others in the workplace, such as contractors. The committee can also include people with specific competencies, such as the company doctor or nurse, health and safety adviser, and other specialists.
The committee should also be able to call upon other specialists in the business like project engineers, human resource professionals or training officers to deal with specific matters requiring their expertise.
Frequency Of Meetings
A health and safety committee should meet regularly. The frequency will depend on several factors, including the size of the workforce, the type of work performed in the workplace and its associated risks. Union appointed safety representatives should be performing inspections regularly. It is good practice to arrange committee meetings around the same time to address any identified issues promptly. If a significant incident occurs or there are specific developments affecting health and safety, like the introduction of new practices or new machinery, the committee can hold special meetings. It is important not to postpone or cancel meetings unless there are exceptional circumstances.
A safety committee will have to be able to make decisions and deal with disagreements amongst its members. When considering issues, it should discuss whether any action is needed and recommend agreed actions. Minutes of meetings should record discussions and recommended actions, and these should be accessible to the whole workforce. The committee should also follow up with the responses they recommend and will often have to review them at a later date.
If committee members disagree on solutions, they should work to recommend a range of possible options for management to consider. If the committee cannot resolve disagreements, it should consider following the procedures for employment relations disputes.
Employee health and safety representatives should have the time to prepare for meetings, as management representatives would. All members should have access to information relevant to the meetings, and be able to undertake training that allows them to perform their role on the committee. There should also be an appropriate venue available for meetings, and the committee should also have the necessary secretarial support, especially for disseminating information and decisions.
To ensure all relevant health and safety issues are covered, the committee should agree on some standing items to be present on the agenda. Standing items could include:
- statistics on accidents, ill health and sickness absence
- investigations of accidents, near misses and minor incidents, and subsequent action
- inspections of the workplace by external authorities, management or employee health and safety representatives
- current and future changes in the workplace that affect the health, safety and welfare of employees
- health and safety training
- an ongoing review of risk assessments and emergency procedures
If the health and safety committee is discussing accidents, the aim is to prevent them from happening again, not to apportion blame. Committees should look at the facts impartially, consider what precautions to take in future, recommend appropriate actions and subsequently monitor the progress of implementing the recommended health and safety interventions.
It is also vital the committee spends time considering minor incidents and near misses. This scrutiny can draw attention to issues that might lead to accidents.
Other issues can be added to the agenda at the appropriate time.
A safety committee that has authority by including decision-makers and employees with expertise and experience as members, has robust procedures and ensures there is excellent communication between employer, committee members, and employees can be a powerful influence in making improvements in the workplace.
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