A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Health and safety representatives

Health and safety representatives

Your employer has an employment law 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 health and safety representative acting on behalf of the employees.

Rights and functions of health and safety representatives

If your employer recognises a trade union and the union has appointed a health and safety representative (rep), your employer must consult the safety rep.

If there is no recognised union, your employer must either consult you direct or, if a representative of employee safety (ROES) has been elected, consult the ROES.

Safety reps have certain rights and functions including the legal right to:

  • represent workers in talks with the employer or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or other safety or environmental enforcement agencies
  • investigate complaints, possible hazards and dangerous incidents
  • carry out regular inspections of the workplace
  • take part in workplace risk assessments

A ROES functions include:

  • representing the interests of workers to the employer in consultation with the HSE and other safety or environmental enforcement agencies
  • speaking to the employer about hazards at work and other employment law health and safety issues

Employer’s duty to consult on health and safety – employment law

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 safety rep 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 competent 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 employment law requires, they are committing an offence.

Are you protected if you report something to your workplace safety rep?

Under employment 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

Public Concern at Work is the leading authority on public interest whistleblowing. You can contact them on 020 7404 6609 or email whistle@pcaw.org.uk.

How do you become a health and safety rep in your workplace?

If your trade union is recognised and you want to become a safety rep, speak to your branch secretary about how to get yourself elected or appointed to represent the workforce. You will normally need two years’ experience of working in your job or in similar work.

As a safety rep, 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

A ROES has to be elected by the workforce. As a ROES 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 under employment law

The rights and functions of safety reps do not place any legal duties them. This means that a safety rep has no greater liability in law for health and safety workplace breaches than any other employee.

What to do next

If you want to talk about a health and safety matter at work, find out who your safety rep is. Contact your trade union representative or local branch secretary if you are a member of a union. Otherwise, ask your line manager.

If you are already a safety rep, make sure you are adequately trained. If your employer refuses to give you time off for training, or doesn’t pay you for time taken off, you may be able to take them to an Employment Tribunal.

If your employer doesn’t follow the regulations on health and safety consultation you should follow the grievance procedure set out in your contract of employment.