What is consultation?
In the OHS Act 2004 ‘consultation’ is described as follows:
- the sharing of information about health and safety matters
- reasonable opportunities for employees to express their views about these matters, and the employer taking account of these views
- involvement of HSRs in the consultation process
- adherence to procedures for consultation agreed to between the employer and employees.
When is consultation required?
One of the employer’s key OHS responsibilities is detailed in the OHS Act 2004, Sections 35 and 36. This responsibility is to ‘consult with their employees about OHS matters which will or are likely to directly affect employees, including identifying hazards and assessing risks, and making decisions about measures to control risks’.
To help facilitate effective consultation with employees, it is recommended that the employer nominate an employer delegate for OHS, who is also a member of the service committee.
The role of employer representative (who is a member of the committee) is distinct from a HSR (who is an employee), and therefore these two distinct roles cannot be fulfilled by the same person.
The committee often nominates a person from their committee to be the staff liaison person. Due to the overlap in function, it makes good sense that the staff liaison person should also be the employer delegate for OHS.
Apart from OHS hazards and risk controls, other OHS matters in which the employer should consult with employees are:
- developing, reviewing and releasing OHS policies, procedures and forms
- provision of OHS training
- provision of OHS information and guidance
- proposed changes to amenities and facilities
- efforts to monitor and improve health and well-being
- determining the composition and workings of OHS committee (if required) or other consultative forums
- changes that may affect the OHS of employees, including work methods, activities, chemicals storage and use, waste and environmental issues, equipment, tools and workplace layout.
How can the employer consult effectively?
Types of consultative forums that may prove effective at a service may involve:
- direct consultation with employees, such as face to face (usually the best if practicable), telephone conversations, emails or written notes
- more formal meetings with employees and employer or management representatives
- adding OHS to the top of the agenda of general meetings involving the employer and employees
- providing copies of completed or work-in-progress OHS forms, such as the Hazard identification, risk assessment and corrective action form (where appropriate) and asking for feedback
- providing copies of minutes relating to OHS issues (where appropriate) and asking for feedback
HSRs can facilitate more effective OHS consultation between the employer and employees, and therefore enhance OHS. However, it is important to note that the employer must not coerce employees into being HSRs and HSRs should be nominated by their peers, rather than selected by the employer.
An employer can meet the legal obligations regarding consultation (OHS Act 2004, Sections 35 and 36) with employees if they consult about OHS issues that are likely to affect these employees, even if there are no HSRs. Furthermore, employees are also able to nominate for an employee to represent them for a specific OHS issue, if required, rather than have an elected HSR. This is a very practical approach to employee representation, where services have very low employee numbers.