Workplace safety and health consultation - small business
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Workplace safety and health consultation is a two-way process involving the business and workers communicating and co-operating with each other in regards to workplace safety and health issues. The two-way communication will enable them to engage in common discussion resulting in optimal outcome for safe workplace environment. As well as being good business sense, the workplace safety and health consultation is specific legal obligations.
*Note: ‘Workers’ in this context include ‘employees’, ‘contractors’ and ‘labour hires’.
Why is consultation important?
Effective consultation acts as a proactive means to uncover a wealth of information and knowledge relating to work process and work safety practice from workers. Getting workers to participate in consultation is likely to help prevent work-related injuries and incidents. Research has found that safety and health consultation enhances workplace safety, increases productivity and encourages workers’ commitment by:
- utilising workers’ experience and expertise to solve safety issues;
- facilitating the risk management process by encouraging workers to identify potential hazards and developing solutions to solve problems;
- making safety and health issues a joint problem solving exercise between the business and workers which in turn creates trust and a sense of partnership;
- offering workers’ opportunities to contribute to decisions that affect their safety and health; and
- increasing effective implementation of safety and health policy and procedures as a consequence of workers having active and constructive roles towards workplace safety.
What is my obligation?
Small business (employer) has a duty in safety and health legislation to consult and co-operate with workers, or their representatives (if any) over matters affecting their safety and health at the workplace. There are also specific requirements regarding the election of workplace safety and health representatives. The duty to consult extends to contractual arrangements, such as, between a principal contractor and contractors; and an employer and labour hires.
When to consult?
Consultation should be initiated prior to any workplace initiatives or changes that may affect the safety and health of workers. This may include, but is not limited to the following:
- identifying hazards, assessing risks and considering appropriate risk control measures;
- developing safe working procedures;
- changing work process or work practice that relates to machinery, plant, equipment, and hazard substances;
- resolving safety and health issues; and
- electing safety and health representatives and forming a safety and health committee.
How to consult?
Remember that effective consultation is a two-way process. The following are some suggestions that can be used to achieve consultation in small business.
- Call a toolbox safety meeting which provides an avenue for the business and workers to brainstorm and exchange ideas regarding workplace safety and health;
- Conduct a pre-start talk prior to commencing any work project to go through process and procedures of the project, and obtain safety ideas and expertise from the work group.
- Include discussion of workplace safety and health issues and practice as a regular agenda item in team meetings.
- Allow workers to express their safety concerns or suggestions relating to safety improvement, for example, via suggestion box or having an individual to be the recipient of the suggestions.
- Involve workers in the hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control process.
- Allow workers to participate in workplace safety inspections.
- when purchasing or changing brands/ type of PPE, hand tools or similar items, invite workers to test the samples to find out the type they prefer and why.
- If workers are represented by a safety and health representative, then the consultation process must involve that representative.
Keys to effective consultation
Small business could employ the following to enhance cooperation and effective consultation with employees.
- Hazards, injuries and near misses reported by workers must be investigated within a reasonable time frame. When considering changes workers’ suggestions and ideas should be obtained as early in the process as possible.
- Workers should feel their concerns and ideas have been taken seriously and acted on. The final decision must take into account of occupational safety and health legislation, compliance and, in particular, the duty of care.
- Workers should be thanked for their efforts to work safely. Acknowledging people who work safely will result in the behaviour being repeated.
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