Ensuring that your business meets all the requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act can be a confusing exercise. Employers must manage the risks associated with falls, excess noise, chemical exposure and much more.
First aid requirements must be met, the particulars of which vary according to workplace size and type. There is the potential for serious headaches.
For this reason, Safe Work Australia have created a range of model Codes of Practice. These provide practical guidance for achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the Work Health and Safety Regulations (the WHS Regulations).
The model Code of Practice
Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination offers employers practical advice on how to meet the requirements for consultation, cooperation and coordination on work health and safety matters.
Consultation is a legal requirement and an essential part of managing health and safety risks: this duty to consult is based on the recognition that worker input and participation improves decision-making about health and safety matters and assists in reducing work-related injuries and disease.
The Code also provides guidance to duty holders who share responsibility for the same work health and safety matter on how to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with each other. It includes information on mechanisms to facilitate worker participation and representation.
There’s no denying that a safe workplace is more easily achieved when everyone involved in the work communicates with each other to identify hazards and risks, talks about any health and safety concerns and works together to find solutions.
The model Code of Practice is the ideal place to start learning how to achieve this.
Learn more in the following excerpt from the Model Code of Practice: Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination or download the full code in PDF format:
2. When to Consult With Workers
Many organisational decisions or actions have health and safety consequences for workers. For example, introducing new equipment into the workplace may affect the tasks your workers carry out, the time-frames for doing work, how they interact with each other and the environment in which they work.
The WHS Act identifies specific matters that trigger the requirement for consultation.
|Section 49: A person conducting a business or undertaking must consult with workers when:
However, it may be useful to also consult workers about matters that are not listed above, for example when conducting investigations into incidents or ‘near misses’.
Regular consultation is better than consulting on a case-by-case basis only as issues arise because it allows you to identify and fix potential problems early.
2.1 Managing risks
Consultation is required when identifying hazards, assessing risks and deciding on measures to control those risks.
In deciding how to control risks, you must consult with your workers who will be affected by this decision, either directly or through their health and safety representative. Their experience may help you identify hazards and choose practical and effective control measures.
Regularly walking around the workplace, talking to your workers and observing how things are done will also help you identify hazards. Conducting a survey of your workers can provide valuable information about work-related health issues such as workplace bullying, stress, as well as muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards.
Workers and their health and safety representatives may need access to information such as technical guidance about workplace hazards and risks (plant, equipment and substances). Information should not be withheld just because it is technical or may be difficult to understand.
The WHS Act requires that you allow any health and safety representative for a work group to have access to information you have relating to hazards (including associated risks) affecting workers in the work group and also any information about the health and safety of workers in the work group. This does not extend access to any personal or medical information concerning a worker without the worker’s consent.
Further guidance on risk management is available in the Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks.
2.2 Deciding on welfare facilities
Facilities are things provided for the welfare of workers, such as toilets, drinking water, washing facilities, dining areas, change rooms, personal storage and first aid.
You must consult your workers when making decisions about what facilities are needed (for example, the number and location of toilets), taking into consideration the number and composition of your workforce, the type of work your workers do and the size and location of your workplace. The consultation should also cover things such as access, cleaning and maintenance of the facilities.
If the facilities are already provided at the workplace, you should consult your workers and their health and safety representatives when there are any changes that may affect the adequacy of the facilities. This will help you determine if you need to change or expand your facilities.
Further guidance is available in the Code of Practice: Managing the Work Environment and Facilities.
2.3 Making changes
You must consult your workers when planning to make changes that may affect their work health and safety, for example when:
- Changing work systems such as shift work rosters, work procedures or the work environment
- Developing a new product or planning a new project
- Purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
- Restructuring the business.
2.4 Developing procedures
A procedure sets out the steps to be followed for work activities. You must consult with affected workers when developing procedures for:
- Resolving work health and safety issues
- Consulting with workers on work health and safety
- Monitoring workers’ health and workplace conditions
- Providing information and training.
Procedures should be in writing to provide clarity and certainty at the workplace and assist in demonstrating compliance.
They should clearly set out the role of health and safety representatives, and any other parties involved in the activity. The procedures should be easily accessible, for example by placing them on noticeboards and intranet sites.
If issue resolution procedures are agreed to, the WHS Regulations include minimum requirements including that these procedures are set out in writing and communicated to all workers to whom the procedure applies.
3. What is Effective Consultation?
Consultation is a two-way process between you and your workers where you:
- Talk to each other about health and safety matters
- Listen to their concerns and raise your concerns
- Seek and share views and information, and
- Consider what your workers say before you make decisions.
|Section 48: Consultation requires that:
Management commitment and open communication between managers and workers is important in achieving effective consultation. Your workers are more likely to engage in consultation when their knowledge and ideas are actively sought and any concerns about health and safety are taken seriously.
Consultation does not mean telling your workers about a health and safety decision or action after it has been taken. Workers should be encouraged to:
- Ask questions about health and safety
- Raise concerns and report problems
- Make safety recommendations
- Be part of the problem solving process.
While consultation may not result in agreement, this should be the objective as it will make it more likely that the decisions are effective and will be actively supported.
3.1 Sharing information
You must share relevant information with workers and their health and safety representatives about matters that may affect their health and safety.
This information should be provided early on so that workers and health and safety representatives have enough time to consider the matters, discuss them and then provide feedback to you.
You should make available all the information that you have relating to the health and safety matter to enable informed and constructive discussions. This information may include:
- Health and safety policies and procedures
- Technical guidance about hazards, risks and risk control measures
- Hazard reports and risk assessments
- Proposed changes to the workplace, systems of work, plant or substances
- Data on incidents, illnesses or injuries (in a way that protects the confidentiality of personal information).
The information should be presented in a way that can be easily understood by your workers and take into account literacy needs and the cultural or linguistically diverse backgrounds of your workers.
Young workers and those with limited English may be less likely to question health and safety practices or speak up if they are unsure. They may find it easier to communicate through a health and safety representative, an interpreter or worker representative.
Information should also be simplified and presented in different ways, such as using diagrams, to make it easier to understand.
Meeting face-to-face is usually the most effective way of communicating, although that may not always be possible or preferable. Information can also be shared in other ways, including:
- By telephone or email
- Featuring current health and safety news and information on intranet sites or noticeboards.
Information should be updated and attention drawn to new material so that people who do not regularly check it will know what is happening in their workplace.
3.2 Providing reasonable opportunities to express views and contribute
Giving your workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views and contribute to health and safety decisions may involve:
- Providing a suitable time during work hours for consultation with workers
- Allowing opinions about health and safety to be regularly discussed and considered during workplace meetings
- Providing workers with different ways to provide feedback, for example using email, setting up an intranet health and safety page or a suggestion box.
How long the consultation process takes will depend on the complexity of the health and safety matter, how many people are being consulted, the accessibility of workers and the methods of consultation.
A simple issue affecting only a small number of workers can probably be dealt with in a few hours or days through regular channels of communication. A complex technical matter, or consulting a large workforce, may require more time.
If there are health and safety representatives for the workplace, you must include them in the discussions, with or without the involvement of workers directly.
3.3 Taking views into account
You must take the views of your workers and health and safety representatives into account before making a decision. Consultation does not require consensus or agreement but you must allow your workers to contribute to any health and safety decisions you make in your business.
3.4 Advising outcomes of consultation
You should agree to respond to concerns and questions raised by workers within a certain time-frame and offer feedback about any options they propose. You must inform your workers of your final decision or course of action as soon as possible. You should provide information to help them understand the reasons for your decision.
3.5 To what extent should you consult?
You must consult on health and safety matters so far as is reasonably practicable with workers who carry out work for you and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected. This includes consulting with your contractors and their workers and volunteers (if any) about health and safety decisions that directly affect them and which you influence or control.
Consultation that is ‘reasonably practicable’ is both possible and reasonable in the particular circumstances. What is reasonably practicable will depend on factors such as the:
- Size and structure of the business
- Nature of the work that is carried out
- Nature and severity of the particular hazard or risk
- Nature of the decision or action, including the urgency to make a decision or take action
- Availability of the relevant workers and any health and safety representatives
- Work arrangements, such as shift work and remote work
- Characteristics of the workers, including languages spoken and literacy levels.
The aim of consultation should be to ensure that you have sufficient information to make well-informed decisions and that the workers who may be affected are given a reasonable opportunity to provide their views and understand the reasons for the decisions.
You are not expected to do the impossible, but are required to take a proactive and sensible approach to consultation. For example, an urgent response to an immediate risk may necessarily limit the extent of consultation in some circumstances.
It may also not be reasonably practicable to consult with workers who are on extended leave. However, it would be appropriate to ensure that these workers are kept informed about any matters that may affect their health and safety when they return to work.
It is not always necessary to consult with every worker in your workplace. The workers you consult with will be those who are, or could be, directly affected by the health and safety matter.
For example, a problem with air temperature experienced on one level of an office block may not directly affect the work health and safety of workers on other levels. Only workers on the affected level need to be consulted about the matter.
3.6 Must consultation be documented?
Consultation with workers and with other duty holders does not have to be documented unless specifically required under the WHS Regulations. However, it is recommended that you keep records to demonstrate compliance with consultation requirements. Records of consultation may also assist the risk management process and make disputes less likely.
The records should include any outcomes of discussions. The records can be brief and simple, and cover:
- Who is involved
- What the safety matter is
- What decision has been made
- Who is to take action and by when
- When the action has been completed
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