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Law guide

Health and safety representatives

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Health and safety representatives

Your employer has a duty to consult all staff about health and safety issues in the workplace. They do this by either talking direct to employees or to a safety representative acting on behalf of the employees.

Safety representatives

If your employer recognises a trade union in respect of employees doing your job and the union has appointed a safety representative (SR), your employer must consult the SR. If there is no recognised union, your employer must either consult you direct or, if a representative of employee safety (ROES) has been elected, consult directly with you or the ROES.

Your SR will give you confidential help and advice. They can help you solve problems and they have legal duties, including:

  • Representing workers in talks with the employer or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE and HSENI) or other safety or environmental enforcement agencies
  • Investigating complaints, possible hazards and dangerous incidents
  • Carrying out regular inspections of the workplace
  • Taking part in workplace risk assessments
An ROES has less legal authority than that of an SR. Their duties include:

  • Representing the interests of workers to the employer in consultation with the HSE and other safety or environmental enforcement agencies
  • Speaking to the employer about hazards at work and other health and safety issues
Consultation your employer must give

Your employer has a legal duty to:

  • Consult about anything that may affect health and safety in the workplace
  • Give you, if you are being consulted directly, or your SR or ROES, the chance to state their views
They must take account of these views when making a decision.

Your employer must consult on:

  • Changes in working practices or procedures that could affect your health and safety
  • Arrangements for using qualified people to help the business comply with health and safety legislation
  • Information to be made available on health and safety risks in the workplace
  • Planning of health and safety training
  • Health and safety issues with new technology
If your employer doesn't consult as the law requires, they're committing an offence.

How do you become a safety representative?

If your trade union is recognised and you want to become an SR, speak to your branch secretary about how to get yourself elected or appointed to represent the workforce. You'll normally need two years' experience of working in your job or in similar work.

As an SR, you have the right to:

  • The use of a phone and office equipment to perform your role
  • Reasonable paid time off work to meet staff and other reps and to carry out inspections
  • Time off for relevant training (and to be paid for the time off if it's during normal working hours).
An ROES has to be elected by the workforce. As an ROES, your employer is required to provide you with and pay for relevant training in health and safety matters. If the training is during your normal working hours, you have the right to time off with pay.

If you are penalised for reporting something to your health and safety representative

Under the law you're protected as a safety 'whistleblower' if there has been:

  • A criminal offence
  • A breach of a legal obligation
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • A danger to the health and safety of any individual
  • Damage to the environment
  • Deliberate covering up of information about any of these

What to do next

If you want to talk about a health and safety matter at work, find out who your safety representative is. Contact your trade union representative or local branch secretary if you're a member of a union. Otherwise, ask your line manager.

If you're already a safety representative, make sure you're adequately trained. If your employer refuses to give you time off for training, or doesn't pay you for time taken off, you can take them to an employment tribunal (or industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland).

If your employer doesn't follow the regulations on health and safety consultation, you should follow the grievance procedure set out in your contract of employment.

Where to get help if your employer doesn't address your concerns

For any advice on health and safety at work, consult the HSE website (or HSENI website) or call the HSE's or HSENI's Infoline which provide rapid and confidential access to health and safety information, expert advice and guidance.