Safety representatives have an important role to play in workplace health and safety. Usually appointed by employees, safety representatives must be allowed access to certain information relating to health and safety at work. Employers have a legal requirement to ensure safety representatives get sufficient time and resources to allow them to carry out their duties.
Who Can be a Safety Representative?
Almost anyone can be elected as a safety representative. The key thing here is ‘elected’. Safety reps are nominated, or elected, by their colleagues, to represent them at management meetings and accident investigations. Once a group of employees decide that they need a safety representative, the group should approach management to relay their request. The group then need to elect a suitable person to act as safety representative.
What is a Group?
It can be difficult to define exactly what constitutes a ‘group’. Sometimes a group may be derived from a specific working team, for example a team of people who work within a physical environment; headquarters, divisions, or departments. Often, safety representatives will represent a specific trade or specialism, for example, electricians, office workers, mechanics etc.
What Do They Do?
Firstly, there are the health and safety committee meetings. Most large companies have formal safety committees, which meet every three months. These are a great forum for all aspects of health and safety to be discussed. Safety committees usually comprise of representatives from management, the safety department, possibly external specialists and even someone from the Board of Directors. Of course, the safety committee also has the safety representative as an important member.
Safety committees discuss many things: new equipment that might have an impact on the health, safety or welfare of employees; new operating procedures; changes to shift working; changes in legislation; recent accidents; and safety statistics are typically the things that will be discussed at these meetings.
Safety representatives also have a right to investigate accidents, injury and complaints. Accident investigations are carried out following a serious injury to personnel, so that lessons can be learned and appropriate solutions put in place to prevent recurrence. Often working jointly with management, safety reps help interview witnesses and help to draw conclusions about the incident.
Regular site inspections are one of the most common duties of the safety representative. Usually carried out every month, safety inspections are undertaken so that housekeeping, fire safety and working practices can be checked, ensuring any deficiencies can be spotted quickly. Safety inspections should be considered as an early warning tool. After inspecting the site or area, the safety representative should report their findings formally to management. The results of the inspections and any corrective action taken by management should be discussed at the next safety committee meeting.
What about Training?
Although not mandatory, there are many courses for safety representatives. Again, management must allow anyone who has been elected as a safety representative to take time off, with full pay and benefits, to attend relevant training. The cost of such training should be met by the company. Training courses, usually lasting three to four days, consist of a wide range of health and safety topics, such as: safety management systems; accident causation theory; safety inspections; roles and responsibilities of safety reps; how to prevent accidents at work; and working with management.
Over 2 million people are seriously injured at work every year. Safety representatives can play their part in reducing this figure, so that the workplace can be kept as safe as possible.