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.
If your employer recognises a trade union 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 directly or, if a representative of employee safety (RoES) has been elected, consult the RoES or you directly. Your SR will give you confidential help and advice. They can also help you solve problems and have legal duties, which include:
- representing workers in talks with the employer, or the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (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.
A representative of employee safety has less legal authority than that of an SR. Their duties include:
- representing the interests of workers to the employer in consultation with the HSENI and other safety environmental enforcement agencies
- speaking to the employer about hazards at work and other health and safety issues
Employer's duty to consult on health and safety
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.
- Employers' health and safety responsibilities
- Consult your employees on health and safety (nibusinessinfo website)
How do you become a safety representative?
If your trade union is recognised and you want to become a safety representative (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
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.
- Time off for public duties
- Time off for trade union duties and activities
- Allowing time off work (nibusinessinfo website)
Protection for health and safety reps
The rights and functions of safety reps do not place any legal duties on them. This means that a safety rep has no greater liability in law for health and safety breaches than any other employee.
If you report something, are you protected from being penalised for it?
Under the law you are 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
- Protection of whistleblowers
- Employers' health and safety responsibilities
What should you do next?
If you want to talk about a health and safety matter at work, find out who your safety representative is. If you're a member of a union, contact your representative or local branch secretary, 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 Industrial Tribunal. If your employer doesn't follow health and safety regulations on consultation you should follow the grievance procedure set out in your contract of employment.
Where to get help
For any advice on health and safety at work, call the HSENI’s Freephone Helpline on 0800 0320 121 (open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Thursday, 9.00am to 4.30pm on Fridays).
- Health and Safety representatives (Health and Safety Executive website)
- Consulting and involving your workers (Health and Safety Executive website)
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland. You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.