One of the objects of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the OSH Act) is to foster cooperation and consultation between employers and employees and associations representing employers and employees.
Everyone has a role to play in workplace safety and health
Employers must consult and cooperate with safety and health representatives (if any) and employees about safety and health at the workplace, under the general duty of care provision, section 19(1)(c) of the OSH Act.
A safe workplace is more easily achieved when employers and workers talk to each other about potential problems and work together to find solutions. This is why the law requires employers to consult employees on safety and health matters.
How is consultation carried out?
The duty to consult safety and health representatives and employees does not have to be onerous or time-consuming. Employers should take a sensible, proactive approach and consult as far as practicable in the circumstances.
Consultation needs to be a two-way exchange between employers and their safety and health representatives (if any) and employees that involves:
- sharing information about safety and health – information must be timely and in a form understood by employees, including in other languages where appropriate;
- giving employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views – employees should help to shape decisions, not hear about them after they are made; and
- taking employees’ views into account when coming to a decision about what to do with a safety and health matter – drawing on employees’ day to day experience with their jobs will help develop practical solutions.
Options for consultation include having safety and health as a standing agenda item at workplace meetings and toolbox meetings so issues are regularly discussed and raised. Workplace newsletters and bulletins could also inform staff about issues and call for comments.
Other processes for consultation include setting up a safety and health committee with regular meetings and/or having elected safety and health representatives.
Safety and health representatives and safety and health committees must be set up where an employee gives notice to the employer or, in the case of the safety and health committee, when the WorkSafe Western Australia Commissioner requires them to be established. They may also be set up when an employer chooses to do so.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the OSH Act) has specific requirements for the establishment of a safety and health committee and election of safety and health representatives. See the guidance note on formal consultative processes at the workplace for more information.
If employees have elected a safety and health representative, the safety and health representative must be involved in consultation.
Employers have a range of duties to safety of health representatives including providing them with information on the hazards and safety and health of employees and consulting them on changes that may impact on safety and health. These are in section 35 of the OSH Act.
Contractor/s (and their employees) and labour hire workers must also be consulted about safety and health at the workplace.
Whatever the processes set up for consultation, the workplace must ensure that they are regularly communicated to all at the workplace so they are well understood.
By drawing on employees’ knowledge and experience, employers can become more aware of hazards and employees can provide suggestions about how the work could be done safely.
Effective consultation can also lead to:
- more informed management decisions that take into account a wider range of ideas about health and safety issues in the workplace and how to fix them;
- stronger commitment to decisions because everyone’s involved in reaching them;
- a tried and tested way of dealing with health and safety problems; and
- more openness, respect and trust because employers and employees have a better understanding of each other’s points of view.
The overall benefit of having safety and health representatives and a safety and health committee as the formal consultative processes at the workplace is they provide proactive and systematic ways for dealing with issues. This may save the employer having to take a reactive approach when a matter arises.
Having consultative processes at the workplace is recognised as one of the essential elements of managing safety and health at work. The WorkSafe Plan information and workbook provides information on the integration of consultation into a workplace safety and health management system.
Your employer is required to consult and cooperate with you about safety and health at the workplace. If you are represented by a safety and health representative, the safety and health representative must also be included in the consultation.
When your employer consults on a health and safety issue, you should consider the information you are provided with and give feedback through your safety and health representative (if you have one) or directly to the employer.
Employees have a responsibility to cooperate with their employer so that their employer can meet their obligations to ensure workers’ safety and health. This duty assists the employer to meet their duty to ensure everybody’s safety and health as far as practicable.