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Consulting on health and safety with employees

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to consult your employees about health and safety in the workplace. In this article we tell you what your legal responsibilities are and how to fulfil them.

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As an employer, not only do you have a legal obligation to consult your employees about health and safety in the workplace, but doing so can also help to make your premises a happier, healthier and safer place to work. In this article we tell you what your legal responsibilities are and how to fulfil them. You must consult about anything that could significantly affect employee health and safety, including: Changes such as new or different procedures, types of work, equipment or ways of working, e.g. safe systems of work for using powered equipment. Arrangements for getting competent people (those with enough experience, knowledge and training) to help you satisfy health and safety laws. The best way to share information that must be given to employees. Consider issues of language, literacy and disability if appropriate. Planning health and safety training. The health and safety consequences of introducing new technology, e.g. computer controlled or semi-automatic machinery. What does consultation involve? Consultation is not just about you giving information to employees, but also listening to them and taking account of what they say before making decisions. Your employees often know best about the health and safety issues in your workplace and how to deal with them. You should tell them about: The risks and dangers arising from their work What you have in place to control those risks What they should do if exposed to a risk, including what to do in an emergency. Make sure all employees, including those who have trouble understanding English, understand the information you give them. When should you consult? There are no hard and fast rules about when you should consult or for how long, but it must be in ‘good time' so employees have a chance to think about what you said before giving their views. There are also lots of ways you may choose to consult, e.g. with individual face-to-face discussion or weekly meetings. It is often better to have a simple way of consulting rather than a complicated procedure. What are the benefits? Talking to employees about health and safety can result in: Healthier and safer workplaces Better decisions about health and safety A stronger commitment to putting decisions into practice Greater co-operation and trust Joint problem solving. Consulting recognised union representatives If employers recognise a trade union for purposes such as negotiating on pay, holidays and conditions of work, the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (as amended) apply. A trade union can then appoint safety representatives from its members, who have particular functions, including: Investigating hazards, incidents and complaints, and Being consulted by the employer on health and safety issues. Consultation does not remove your right as an employer to manage. You must still make the final decision, but talking to your employees is an important part of successfully managing health and safety. Where employees are not union members or the union is not recognised, the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (as amended) apply. Where there is no recognised union you can choose to do this directly with individuals or through representatives elected from the workforce, or use a combination of both. Employment arrangements vary and those you need to consult can include employees, independent contractors and agency personnel. You should also note that some workers who are self-employed for tax purposes are classed as employees under health and safety law. About the author This content was provided by our partners at Qdos Consulting Ltd, who provide our 24-hour legal helpline and legal expenses insurance package. To ensure that your business is compliant with the latest health and safety regulations, subscribe to our Health & Safety Guide, updated for 2009.