Does your company have a staff safety representative?
Following on from a recent article on conducting client site risk assessments a number of questions were raised about employee involvement in the risk assessments for their sites. Questions such as; how come employees don’t get a say in these things’ came out quite regularly. My answer to a number of these queries was the same. That’s a job for a safety representative. I was amazed that many security operatives had never heard of one. They are pretty standard across many industries including construction, transport, manufacturing and retail and should be standard in the security industry. In this article I want to look at the role of the safety representative and the benefits they bring for employees and employees.
What is a safety representative?
The role of the safety representative was created by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. The key sections of the Act are Section 25 and 26. Section 25 says that all employees are entitled to select a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters with their employer. It can be any employee as long as they are voted in by a majority. Section 26 requires the employer to consult with employees to ensure cooperation on safety matters. So basically employees can elect a safety rep and employers are legally bound to recognise this and consult with them. The safety rep can raise concerns on safety matters and report ongoing concerns to the HSA as required.
What does a safety representative do?
Basically a safety representative is the link between employees, the employer and the statutory bodies. They are allowed by law to:
* Make representations about employees safety, health and welfare issues. The employer must consider these issues and take action where necessary or provide a reason why they chose not to take action.
* Carry out safety inspections of the workplace provided to staff at their own or client sites. They must give adequate notice to the employer of these inspections and the employer cannot prevent them. They must agree the type and frequency of visits in advance and provide findings to the employer confidentially.
* Assist with accident and near miss investigations.
* Make verbal or written representation to HSA inspectors on safety matters not resolved.
All of these are protected very strongly in law and any attempt to prevent them or treat the safety rep less favourably has consequences. The safety representative doesn’t have a management function in law and cannot be held responsible for any liability caused by their representations. They are also protected from victimisation and from financial penalisation due to their role
While the role is not a paid role the safety representative must be paid for time spent consulting with employees, meeting with management and visiting sites but these costs and times must be agreed in advance with the employer. The safety rep must also be given training by the employer (including external courses) to do the role and must be paid for the time attending this training. This is set out in regulation.
Benefits for employees
The benefits for employees are obvious. A mechanism whereby they can have their voice heard on safety matters in the workplace. A way of becoming involved in managing their own health and safety. It’s also a barrier against employers who may try to compromise safety measures for any reason.
Benefits for employers
There are also benefits for employers in having a safety rep. It has been shown over and over that workplaces where staff are involved in designing safety procedures are safer than those where they aren’t. Staff take more responsibility and ownership for their own safety and for the procedures themselves when they have been involved in designing them.
It also gives management an insight to what is actually happening on the ground. There are often many hidden safety issues on clients sites that security providers management aren’t aware of because they aren’t correctly reported.
Safety representatives work in many sectors as an effective support tool for employers and employees. The fact that they aren’t common in the security industry is a poor reflection on safety in the sector. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t change. If you are a security industry worker in any sector with an interest I your own and your colleagues safety then why not put yourself forward as a safety rep. If you are a progressive employer who cares about staff safety and wants to have engaged employees then why not suggest this to them. The only employers with anything to fear are those who aren’t taking their staff safety seriously. The less of those who are let go unchallenged in this the better.
p.s The HSA have this very handy guide for safety representatives which anyone interested or any employee can read. I highly recommend it.