Consultation & Communication

All about consultation and communication

This sounds such a dry, anonymous sort of topic.  Health and safety is a hard sell at the best of times, never mind trying to persuade people to be consulted about it or communicate their thoughts about it. 

But actually, communication and consultation is at the very heart of health and safety.  It can be very hard to engage the workforce in any discussion about the subject.  But, make it about them and their work experiences rather than about health and safety, and you will have a very different response. 

The more an organisation engages its workforce in drawing up the health and safety arrangements, the safer the workplace will be.  Who knows better what happens in any given task, other than the person actually doing the work?  Usually, people like to talk about themselves and what they do, and they are very aware of the inherent dangers in their job.  They will be able to make the best suggestions about how to improve a work process or reduce risks.

Communication isn’t all about the boss telling everyone what to do.  A bigger part of communication is listening.  This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it may be that communication training is required for some members of the workforce, particularly those with responsibility for managing people. 

If an organisation has excellent communications in place, consultation will be much easier.  The law requires employers to consult with its workforce about health and safety.  It doesn’t state when an employer must consult or for how long, but it does say that consultation must be “in good time”.  This means that you must allow enough time for your employers to consider the matters being raised, to come back to you with any concerns, and for the employer to provide them with informed responses.

Section 1 provides more detail on what you must consult about, but remember, consultation will always be more successful and meaningful if you have good communications in place.

The relevant legislation

  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (as amended)
  • Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (as amended

Health and Safety Myth

Table tennis table removed

A table tennis table has been available for staff to use in the workplace.  Last week, a manager informed staff that it had to be removed as it was a health and safety risk.  It is kept it in a spare bay in the garage and is used during their leisure/standby time.

There are no health and safety rules which prevent employees playing table tennis in their leisure/standby time. All that is required is to identify a suitable location.

Frequently asked questions

If you have an informal chat with a worker, try to do so without taking notes.  People speak less freely if they think their words are being recorded, especially if it just an informal conversation.  Once the talk is over, make a note of what was discussed for your own records.  If, during the course of an “informal chat” it becomes clear that there is something more serious that requires further action, have a formal discussion, making it clear that you will be recording details of the conversation.  The Competent Person needs to have the trust of the workers, otherwise it is very difficult to implement a healthy and safe system. 

This is a fundamental and very important question!  Communications have a much wider remit than just health and safety.  Generally speaking, successful organisations have a strong ethos of two-way communicating.  If this is not the case in your organisation then you must put together a communications strategy.  Millions of words have been written on the subject of changing people’s behaviour!  Introducing new working practices takes time, so don’t expect quick results.  When writing your strategy, start with what you want it to achieve, what will success look like?  Then work backwards: what would be the penultimate step to achieving this, then the one before and the one before that and so on.  If this doesn’t work for you, then start small. Talk to key people in your organisation, ALWAYS remembering to identify the outcome you want and to plan your questions.  Introduce quick wins: a health and safety noticeboard, a suggestions box (you’ll probably get some silly or even unpleasant "suggestions” but even these can be helpful in giving you an indication of the feelings among some members of the workforce and what you have to overcome), an informal health and safety meeting to throw ideas around and so on.  Whichever approach you adopt, measure the progress you make, adapt your strategy as you go and identify allies.

The Competent Person, Deputy Competent Person and Managers must consult with their workers.  The Competent Person (and Deputy) must make sure they have records of all consultations relating to health and safety.