In the United Kingdom, worker participation is promoted as an essential element of the work environment. It is accepted that workers are key sources of information about the jobs in which they are engaged and are therefore in the best position to work with management as well as safety and health personnel to develop safer work systems and practices. It is known also that effective worker participation, or the more widely used term in the United Kingdom, worker involvement, could help to reduce accidents and ill health. This article explores worker participation and representation in respect of occupational safety and health (OSH) across the sector level and the enterprise level.
Across the European Union (EU) Member States, the requirement for worker participation is enshrined in legislation, such as Council Directive 89/391/EEC, Council Directive 2001/86/EC and Council Directive 2003/72/EC. Various forms of worker participation are possible within an organisation, inclusive of those that involve workers in its occupational safety and health management. In the event that a structured arrangement to ensure worker participation is not possible, an organisation should ensure that a set of standard rules on worker involvement exists.
In the United Kingdom, the regulator of OSH, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), promotes three pillars in its strategy for improving worker involvement:
- Legislation, this sets the standards on which to build;
- Guidance, which makes clear to employers and workers what is required to comply with their legal obligations; and
- Encouragement to strive continually to gain a healthy and safe work environment.
Information and consultation
In addition to the regulatory requirements at the EU level, there are stipulations at the global level to which Member State should adhere. These include the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention C155 that outlines at Articles 19 and 20 provisions for worker participation, ILO’s Recommendation R164 that includes communicating with vulnerable groups inclusive of migrant workers  and ILO’s Recommendation R129 that lists elements of communication that should be considered when designing a communications policy.
When considered at the national level, in 1977, the United Kingdom introduced the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSC)  that defines the required employers’ actions once a recognised trade union exists within the organisation. These include allowing the trade union to appoint health and safety representatives, or ‘safety’ representatives and consulting these duly union-appointed safety representatives on any health and safety matters that may affect the employees whom they represent. This regulation is used in conjunction with the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (HSCWE), which ensures consultation for those employees who do not have safety representatives at their workplace, to guarantee that workers are involved within organisations. There is a specific regulation in respect of employees who work offshore, the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations 1989 .
In 1989, European Directive 89/391/EEC, also commonly known as the Framework Directive, introduced measures to encourage improvements in the occupational safety and health of workers, inclusive of employers providing information, instruction and training to their employees as well as consulting with them on health and safety issues. The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) requires the employer to provide information, instruction and training as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the safety and health at work of employees is maintained. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, then built on HSWA to identify any situations where safety and health training is very important.
In 2002, European Directive 2002/14/EC  established a general legal framework for the Member States to facilitate the provision of information and the consultation of employees. The Directive ensures that employees are consulted in respect of any substantial changes or developments that occur within the organisation, especially if there is a threat to the employment of the employees. The United Kingdom transposed the requirements of the Directive by an Amendment to the Employment Relations Act in 2004 and through the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004.
The path to worker involvement, as gained through information and consultation, involves three components as shown in Figure 1: 1) employee communication which entails providing employees with the required information and instructions, especially with respect to developments within the organisation, to allow them to function effectively; 2) consultation, the joint examination and discussion of issues by employees and management to arise at effective solutions for those issues, inclusive of consulting with recognised trades union bodies; and 3) involvement, which builds collaborative and trust-based relationships between workers and employers as part of the management of health and safety, and establishes a joint commitment to work towards solving problems together.
Social dialogue in the United Kingdom tends to occurs mainly through stakeholder consultations and impact assessments . The HSE, the regulatory body, receives specialist advice from various advisory committees, boards and councils. These groups have representation on HSE’s Governing Board, and are appointed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions after consultation with organisations representing employers, employees, local authorities and any others, that are appropriate.
At the national level
The HSE consults with industry groups as required, and in respect of worker involvement, these have included:
- The Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The CBI is the United Kingdom’s largest lobbying organisation, representing employers at both the national and international level.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC represents employees, and is affiliated with 54 unions, representing 6.2 million workers. It campaigns for a fair deal at work and for social justice in the United Kingdom, within Europe and internationally, and develops links within the United Kingdom with political parties, business, local communities and wider society.
- The EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation (EEF, formerly the Engineering Employers’ Federation) . The EEF represents manufacturers and is the only membership organisation that is dedicated entirely to the manufacturing industry. This allows EEF to represent manufacturers’ interests to government.
Consultation may occur as well with:
- The Partnership of Public Employers (PPE). The PPE (known as CEEP UK until 2008) is a social partner organisation representing public service employers, employers’ organisations and employers providing services in the general interest, nationally and in Europe. PPE is a member of CEEP (The European Centre for Employers and Enterprises Providing Public Services). CEEP is one of the European employers’ organisations, which the European Commission officially recognises to participate in the social dialogue process.
- Individual Trades Unions
At the sectoral level
Before deciding to move forward with any proposal for new legislation or codes of practice, inclusive of worker involvement, the HSE consults with advisory committees, boards and councils to gain specialist advice on that particular topic. These bodies focus on OSH-related concerns for a particular industry or sector, or with any specific hazards that may be present across a range of industry sectors. For example, one of the requirements of worker participation involves the provision of training to employees, and for particular hazards or industries, specific health and safety training is required, such as defined in the Construction (Design and Management Regulations) 1994, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. Consultation would have occurred in finalising these regulations.
The consultation process could include any of the bodies listed, a list that is current at March 2013, and reflects the breath of areas under which consultation could occur:
- Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances (ACDS)
- The Major Hazards Subcommittee
- The Gas Safety Subcommittee
- The Flammable Substances Subcommittee
- The Petroleum Working Group
- The Explosives Subcommittee
- Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens
- Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS)
- The European Risk Management Advisory Group (ERMAG)
- The Standing Committee on Hazard Information and Packaging (SCHIP)
- The Working Group on Action To Control Chemicals (WATCH)
- The Working Group on COSHH Essentials
- The New Substances Consultative Group (NEWCON)
- The Working Group on European Exposure Limits (WEELS)
- The Working Group on ACTS Sub Groups (WGSG)
- Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC)
- Asbestos Liaison Group
- Biocides Consultative Committee
- Cement, Ceramics, Concrete, Heavy Clay, Refractories and Glass Manufacturing Industries Joint Health and Safety Committee (C3HARGE)
- Charging review groups
- COMAH Charging Review Group
- Gas Transportation Charging Review Group
- Offshore Charging Review Group
- Railway Charging Review Group
- Industry-Wide Charging Review Group
- Chemical and Downstream Oil Industries Forum (CDOIF)
- Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC)
- Safety Working Group
- Working Well Together Steering Group
- Health Risks Working Group
- CDM 2007 evaluation Working Group
- Major Incident Potential Working Group
- Engineering Industry Noise Task Group
- Castings Health and Safety Advisory Committee (CHASAC)
- FIAC Noise and Vibration Sub-Committee
- FIAC Occupational Health and Hygiene Sub-committee
- Health and Safety Executive / Local Authority Enforcement Liaison Committee (HELA)
- The Technical Sub-Committee
- Higher and Further Education Advisory Committee (HIFEAC)
- Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment (ILGRA)
- Ionising Radiation Health and Safety Forum
- Legionella Committee
- Legionella Committee - Terms of Reference
- Local Authority Forum (LAF)
- Mining Industry Committee (MIC) - formerly the Deep Mined Coal Industry Advisory Committee (DMCIAC)
- The Safety and Health in Mines Research Advisory Board (SHMRAB)
- National Rescue Committee on Rescue Work and Rescue Apparatus
- Mining Qualifications Board (MQB)
- Motor Vehicle Repair Safety Forum
- National Liaison Committee overseeing the Protocol of Work-related deaths
- Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee (NuSAC)
- NuSAC Sub Committee on Research
- Occupational Health Reference Group (OHAC)
- Offshore Industry Advisory Committee (OIAC) (formerly Oil Industry Advisory Committee)
- The Helicopter Liaison Group
- Workforce Involvement Group
- Paper and Board Industry Advisory Committee (PABIAC)
- Printing Industry Advisory Committee (PIAC)
- Quarries National Joint Advisory Committee
- Railway Industry Advisory Committee (RIAC)
- Rubber Industry Advisory Committee (RUBIAC)
- Safety and Health in Mines Research Advisory Board (SHMRAB)
- Schools Education Advisory Committee (SEAC)
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use)
- Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing Health and Safety Consultative Committee
- Small Business Trade Association Forum (SBTAF)
- Textiles Industry Advisory Committee (TEXIAC)
- Tyre and Rubber Industries Safety Action Group (TRISAG)
- Wood Safety Group (WSG)
At the enterprise level
When considered at the enterprise level, the consultation process is well-established in the United Kingdom. This is due to the well-defined legal structure as outlined in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and in the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996. . These regulations define the issues on which employees must be consulted, inclusive of the information that employers are required to provide to employees.
According to the regulations, the employers must consult with employees or their representatives on the following, p. 3:
- the introduction of any measure which may substantially affect their health and safety at work, for example the introduction of new equipment or new systems of work (such as the speed of a process line and shift-work arrangements);
- arrangements for getting competent people to help them comply with health and safety laws (a competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow him/her to help an employer meet the requirements of health and safety law);
- the information they must give their employees on the risks and dangers arising from their work, measures to reduce or get rid of these risks and what employees should do if they are exposed to a risk;
- the planning and organisation of health and safety training; and
- the health and safety consequences of introducing new technology.
The results of the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) showed that 67% of workplaces used direct consultation to confer with employees on health and safety concerns, 21% used employee representatives to address these matters, 11% used a consultative committee , with just under two per cent not having any consultation process. The data for the WERS were obtained by interviewing 2,680 managers, 1,002 worker representatives and 21,981 employees, allowing for a representative sample of all British workplaces.
Staying at the enterprise level, the involvement of employees can take two routes: one for those with recognised trade union representation and one for those without such representation. Figure 2 displays the two routes that apply in workplaces.
In some cases, employers may not recognise the trade unions to which employees belong. Trade unions seek to be recognised by employers through voluntary or statutory means. If the voluntary route is used, trade union representatives will contact the employer to agree to be the representative body of employees; if the employer chooses not to recognise the trade union, the trade union may opt to use the statutory process. This will include submitting an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for recognition as a representative body in the respective organisation. In order for the trade union to submit an application to the CAC, the organisation in which it wishes to be the representative body has to employ at least 21 workers and the trade union has to show that it has formally applied to the respective organisation. The trade union has to outline that it has the support of the majority of the workers it means to represent in order for the CAC to recognise its application.
Due to these two routes, some employers may have to confer with employees under one set of regulations only, or they may have to confer with them under both sets of regulations. This depends on whether the employees within the organisations belong to a trade union or not. However, for those employers with existing arrangements to include employees in discussions about work-related issues that in turn meet the legal requirements for health and safety, then there is no need for them to change these; however they may wish to check that these arrangements are adequate for what is required within their organisation.
Practical approaches of worker involvement initiatives have shown the benefits of engaging with workers on occupational safety and health (OSH). The first example focuses on a large construction firm (400 employees) with six regional offices and a main head office that shared its experiences of workforce engagement. While the organisation does not recognise any trade union, it actively engages with its employees by:
- Involving the managing director and the company’s board to show the commitment to the engagement process;
- The managing director and other directors conducting unannounced site tours during which they engage the staff through toolbox talks or have general discussions;
- The presence of the managing director at the start of any behavioural training courses to show the organisation’s commitment to safety and health
- Having training and interactive sessions away from the work site so that the employees feel more open to raise issues;
- Outlining the reasons for any organisational decisions, rather than giving a directive on what should be done;
- Using a variety of training methods, i.e. in-house training, formal and informal on-site training, to engage its employees as well as its contractor staff;
- The organisation uses also a variety of communication techniques to provide information, e.g. notice boards, open door policy, safety alerts, posters, and briefings.
- The annual employee survey containing questions in respect of health and safely.
The continuous and consistent approach to engagement has resulted in:
- Over a one year period (May 2009 to April 2010), there were 1.3 million working hours without a reportable injury;
- Behavioural safety training influencing an increase in the number of near misses reported, leading to more than 54% of total reported incidents in the previous year;
- Increased trust among its workers;
- Cost-effective, timely and acceptable solutions when selecting the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, glasses and footwear;
- Feedback from an eight-week trial of different gloves assisted the selection process and the subsequent employee buy-in in using the gloves, was associated with a decrease in the number of hand injuries from 44 in 2006 to 10 in 2009.
The second practical example of a large (289 employees) family run manufacturing organisation describes another approach. The company does not have a recognised trade union on site, but some of its employees are members of trades unions.
The company engages its workers as it:
- Has employee safety representative and a safety committee;
- Used a competition to engage workers and encouraged them to report near misses;
- Invested a considerable sum into machinery guarding with input from the safety committee;
- Uses ‘factory-proof personal computer kiosks’, which are stainless steel cases with a computer screen display that provide information on safety and non-safety issues to the workforce;
- Provides monthly updates on OSH issues to the Chief Executive at his request;
- Has provided OSH training to all board members, as there is not a specific board member for OSH, and ensures that at board meetings, OSH is on the agenda.
Its engagement with the workforce resulted in:
- A decreased number of reportable and minor injuries, so that Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) incidents are below the average for a manufacturing site;
- The employees no longer view the manager as the sole person responsible for OSH; workers are engaged at all levels in dealing with OSH issues;
- Increased awareness among the workforce of OSH and its relationship to the organisation; and
- A move towards a no-blame culture.
The consultation process at the workplace
As noted, in the United Kingdom, regulations stipulate the responsibilities of employers in worker involvement. Section 2(6) of the HSWA requires that every employer consult the duly appointed safety representatives by recognised trade unions to ensure that any arrangements made facilitate the OSH of employees and that these arrangements are assessed for their effectiveness. Section 2(7) of the HSWA requires that employers set up a safety committee if such a request is made by the safety representatives.
For those organisations without recognised trade unions, and where there are no trade union safety representatives (whether due to the employer not recognising trade unions, or because recognised trade unions have not appointed safety representatives), the employer can either:
- Consult each employee individually; or
- Arrange for the election of ‘representatives of employee safety’ from the workforce with whom to consult.
Safety representatives: Training and time to conduct duties
Employers are legally required to provide employee safety representatives with training.
- For appointed representatives
Employers are required to give the appointed safety representatives the paid time necessary to carry out their functions, and paid time as is necessary to undergo training in those functions, as is reasonable in the circumstances. The TUC or the respective trade union will offer training to trade union health and safety representatives and would usually meet the costs involved for this training.
- For elected representatives
Employers need to:
- ensure that elected representatives receive any required training to carry out their roles, as is reasonable in the specific-work circumstances, and pay any reasonable costs to arise from that training, including travel and subsistence costs;
- give the representatives any paid time that is necessary to carry out their functions; and
- allow candidates acceptable time with pay to carry out their functions as a candidate in an election.
Direct participation of workers in connection with wellbeing
While regulations in the United Kingdom protect the health and safety of workers, the issue of a more specific focus on health and wellbeing tends to be provided through guidance. The HSE is part of a a cross-departmental government programme, the health, work and wellbeing programme, that intends to improve the health and wellbeing of people of working age within the United Kingdom.
The aims of programme are:
- to ensure that the general health of the working age population improves;
- to prevent work-related illness and injury, but also to go further and use the workplace as an opportunity for general health improvement;
- to respond early when health problems arise – and, combined with this, ensure that the necessary interventions are easily and speedily available;
- to help people to better manage their conditions so that they can lead as full a life as possible;
- to ensure that appropriate rehabilitation support and workplace adaptations are available for those who have been out of work because of ill health, enabling them to make the transition to return to work as soon as possible.
Employees have also direct responsibility under the law, inclusive of assisting in the maintenance of their own health and safety by using the training they receive or speaking out about unsafe or unhealthy work practices.
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