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WHS – An overview of consultation obligations

All employers have an obligation under Australian workplace health and safety legislation to consult with their workers regarding health and safety matters.

While it can sound like an onerous task, consultation about health and safety does not need to be difficult. There are several different ways in which consultation can occur and the most appropriate methods will vary depending on the nature and size of the workplace.

Why is consultation important?

Involving workers in the process of identifying and addressing workplace health and safety matters can result in a safer and more cohesive workplace.  As it is your workers who perform the work (and any associated tasks), they are best placed to identify both actual, and potential, hazards and risks that may arise from the work being performed. Your workers are also in a strong position to help identify and have input into potential solutions and control measures that could be implemented, as they understand the inherent nature of the tasks and the environment in which they are performed.

In addition to being able to contribute and provide valuable information, by actively involving your workers in any safety related decision-making processes, you will be able to develop and foster a safety focused environment in which commitment and compliance with workplace health and safety systems is maintained. Similarly, by communicating regularly with your workers regarding health and safety matters, you will establish and foster relationships that are based on co-operation and mutual trust between all parties.

When should consultation occur?

Examples of when consultation with your workers should occur include, but are not limited to:

  • when identifying or assessing hazards or risks
  • when making decisions on how to control risks and when reviewing the hierarchy of control
  • when making decisions about employee welfare facilities such as break rooms, change rooms, toilets and first aid resources
  • when developing procedures to
    • address and resolve health and safety issues
    • monitor health and workplace conditions, or
    • provide training, information, and resources
  • when proposing changes that may affect workers' health or safety (such as when any changes occur to the workplace, plant, substances, or the nature of work being performed)
  • when deciding the membership of health and safety committees in the workplace

Who is to be involved in the consultation process?

Employers are required to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with any worker who is, or who is likely to be, directly affected by the health and safety matter.

Where health and safety representatives are in place, they are to be involved in the consultation process.

What is consultation?

Consultation means providing your workers with opportunities to help contribute to health and safety decision making in the workplace, and to provide input into any actions taken by the employer to identify, eliminate and/or control identified risks.

It is recommended that agreed procedures be developed which outline how consultation will occur in the workplace and that these be adhered to. While consultation practices may vary from workplace to workplace, it is important that all workers (and health and safety representatives where in place) be given:

  • information in relation to health and safety matters that could affect them,
  • enough time to consider the information provided,
  • an opportunity to discuss the information given, to ask questions and to provide their feedback.

In most instances, a mixture of consultation methods will be applied. Health and safety information provided to workers must be in a form that can be easily understood. As such, consideration should be given as to whether information needs to be translated or provided to workers in a number of different formats.  Meetings, training sessions or toolbox talks may need to be held to support the consultation process and to help ensure that information can be clearly explained and discussed.

During the consultation process, all workers should be encouraged to:

  • express their views about health and safety matters,
  • to ask questions,
  • raise concerns,
  • make recommendations and suggestions.

Before any final decisions are made regarding workplace health and safety practices and procedures, as an employer you should respond to any concerns or questions raised by your workers (or their health and safety representatives). It is important that your workers understand what options were considered, what the final decision or action is and the basis on which the decision was made.

If you require support with understanding your workplace health and safety consultation obligations, or if you require safety advice, please contact the team at Safety Advice Online on 1300 720 004.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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