Resolving safety and health issues

When a hazard is identified or an injury occurs, they need to be investigated as soon as possible and control methods implement where required. 

In some situations, there may be different opinions relating to a safety and health matter at the workplace. 

There need not be a dispute for a matter to become a ‘safety and health issue’ that requires resolution. Situations can arise where there are different views on hazards or potential hazards or a question over what should happen or what has been done.

Employers have an obligation to attempt to resolve safety and health issues arising at the workplace. Wherever possible, when an issue arises, the employer must attempt to resolve it with the safety and health representative or safety and health committee (where they exist) or employees, according to the workplace issue resolution procedure. 

The issue resolution procedure (referred to in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 as ‘the relevant procedure’) means a procedure agreed on by the employer and the employees. If the workplace has no issue resolution procedure when a safety and health issue arises, they must use the default procedure contained in the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996. 

Development of a specific issue resolution process for the workplace is recommended. Having this in place will help workplaces to deal with safety and health issues in an efficient and systematic way. 

Attempts must be made to resolve a safety and health issue at the workplace first before a person refers it to WorkSafe. 

What should be in an issue resolution procedure?

An issue resolution procedure should be agreed on between the appropriate employer and employee representatives. Examples of people who could be the employee representatives include safety and health representatives and/or safety and health committee members (where they exist) or people nominated by employees.

The requirements about what should be in the issue resolution procedure in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act) and the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 are very broad. This is to allow workplaces to develop their own issue resolution procedure. 

It is recommended that the issue resolution procedure have:

  • a step by step approach on what will happen once an issue has arisen;
  • identification of the roles of different staff for raising and resolving issues immediately or referring them to an employer representative for resolution – include the roles of all levels of management, safety and health representatives (where they exist) and employees;
  • details on how employees can refer an issue for resolution – include the ability to refer issues to safety and health representatives (where they exist);
  • details on to whom particular hazards and issues can be referred;
  • a process for regular progress reports to be made to employees affected by a safety and health issue;
  • the process for getting more information and expertise, where it is required; and
  • the steps to be taken if agreement cannot be reached – this should include access to someone with appropriate authority to make decisions.

The agreed issue resolution procedure should be in writing and copies distributed to all employees. It may, for example, be posted on noticeboards at the workplace.

Where there are workers of non-English speaking background at the workplace, it is appropriate for details of the issue resolution procedure to be made available in relevant languages.

What happens if there is no issue resolution procedure?

When no issue resolution procedure exists at the workplace, the employer must follow the procedure set out in regulation 2.6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996.

In these cases, the employer must arrange to meet as soon after the issue arises as mutually convenient with:

  • the employees and the safety and health representatives (where they exist); and
  • where there is no safety and health representative, the employees or a person authorised by them to be their representative.

Where there are safety and health representatives for the workplace but it is not practicable for the employer to meet with the employees and safety and health representatives within reasonable time, the employer must verbally communicate with them as soon as possible at a mutually convenient time.

What happens if an issue cannot be resolved?

Where attempts to resolve a safety and health issue according to either the workplace issue resolution procedure (if there is one) or the default procedure in the regulations have failed and there is a risk of imminent and serious injury or harm to the health of anybody, the employer, safety and health representative or employee may notify WorkSafe.

When contacting WorkSafe about an unresolved issue where there is a risk of imminent and serious injury:

  • you should provide as much information as possible to assist an inspector to deal with the issue; and
  • you will need to confirm that consultation has occurred at the workplace and no agreement could be reached, requiring the attendance of an inspector.

Upon notification of an unresolved safety and issue, a WorkSafe inspector will attend the workplace ‘forthwith’. The inspector will ask whether the parties have consulted each other according to the steps in their relevant (issue resolution) procedure. 

In reviewing the unresolved safety and health issue, an inspector:

  • can take such action as they consider appropriate to resolve the issue, according to the WorkSafe Compliance Policy. This may take the form of issuing a prohibition or improvement notice; or
  • may take no action indicating that, in his or her opinion, the matter does not involve a contravention of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996.

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