What is the point of health and safety reps?
I have recently been asked to deliver some training for a new health and safety committee within an organisation. And we got to the topic of: what is the point of health and safety reps? Now, a lot of organisations kind of get this wrong.
They make their health and safety reps mini health and safety officers. They put them in charge of doing things like inspections, risk assessments, monitoring health and safety on a day to day basis. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it can go wrong. And in my experience, I worked at one large organisation where that was that was the root cause of most of our health and safety problems. We had line managers who had essentially abdicated all of their health and safety responsibilities and just let the reps do it.
The problem was, the reps didn’t have the training, they didn’t have the time. They don’t have the authority to make any real progress on health and safety. So the reality was, nothing health and safety related really got done on the production floor. And as soon as we changed that and put the responsibility for health and safety problems firmly on the manager’s shoulders, things started to work a hell of a lot better.
There’s nothing wrong with getting your reps to do inspections and risk assessments and offer help. But that’s the key word: help.
Their job is to assist, maybe. But even that is not really the point, the clues in the title: representative.
Their job is to represent their colleagues in consultation with management. So, if we look at the legislation on this, it says the function of a health and safety rep is to make representations to the employer.
So what does a health and safety rep actually do?
Well, an effective health and safety representative will consult with their colleagues on matters that are health and safety related. They will ask what the main hazards or risks are, what peoples concerns are, and so on. And they’ll take these comments to management, usually via some kind of health and safety committee or some kind of meeting. But management can also use the reps very effectively in these committee meetings. The main advantage of a health and safety rep is that they are someone to bounce ideas and problems off.
They are influential members of the of the frontline team and can ask questions like:
- What changes can we make which will make the workplace safer?
- What can we do to make sure people follow these rules?
- Tell us what the safety issues are.
- Tell us what the practical issues are, and so on.
You have to ask and then have the courage to listen. And you might not like what you hear.
In addition to that, if you also want them to do things like risk assessments, inspections or investigations etc, you’ll have to provide the necessary training, maybe an IOSH Managing Safety course or an Incident Investigation course.
Hopefully this will answer the question: what is the point of health and safety reps?
Enjoy your day.