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 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.

How you can 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.

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.

Protection if you report an issue

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

What you should 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, or 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 Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland helpline.

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and Advice NI offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.

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