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Getting workers involved in safety

23 January 2013

There aren't any magic wands in health and safety - no simple actions that solve all safety related challenges

There aren't any magic wands in health and safety - no simple actions that solve all safety related challenges. But there are some sound principles which will help the workplace become safer and healthier. And one of the most important of those is the need to involve workers in making health and safety decisions practical, realistic and more likely to be acted upon. After all, who knows what a job entails and how it can be improved better than the men and women doing it? It's one of the reasons that the concept of going 'back to the floor' has proved so popular among chief executives: seeing how the job is actually done.

This is a fact that HSE acknowledged with the publication of the new strategy for health and safety in Britain last year. It identified worker involvement as one of the key challenges facing everyone involved in health and safety - workers, managers, senior executives, directors, union officials and regulators. Regardless of the industry - whether it is construction or manufacturing, retail, petrochemicals or nuclear power, healthcare or public services - getting the staff involved is a sure fire way of getting off to a good start.

More than being good practice, the subject is well covered in law. The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977[6] and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 are designed to ensure that employers to put in place effective health and safety provisions.

The business case is also strong. Evidence clearly shows that involving workers has a positive effect on health and safety performance. Equally, there is strong data that reveals that unionised workplaces and those with safety reps are safer and healthier as a result. In workplaces where there is union representation there are likely to be established systems and channels for talking to staff about health and safety and enabling them to make constructive contributions. But not every workplace is unionised, especially in smaller firms, which of course make up the vast majority of the 5 or so million businesses in Britain. Does that mean that those workers should not have a say in workplace safety?

Of course not. Worker involvement is as important in these workplaces. HSE has been developing subsidised training courses to help firms that are new to the concept get to grips with involving workers.

From March 2010 onwards, companies working in the construction, manufacturing and transport industries will be able to find out what it takes to get employee safety engagement arrangements up and running. We will provide training packs that give employers a helping hand in establishing what may seem to be a daunting new way of working. And through our website we will provide interactive online tools to assess how well existing systems are working - diagnosing problems where they exists and suggesting potential remedies.

This is a big push by HSE's to get worker involvement on the radar of businesses throughout Britain. It won't be a magic wand, but it will make a real difference to thousands of employers and their workforces.

David Smeatham, HSE