A health and safety representative is an employee appointed to represent workers in matters related to their continued occupational health and their reasonable safety in the workplace in addition to the normal work activities. This person will liaise with the employer in order to address any occupational health related issues and safety concerns of the workers.
These representatives play a pivotal role in keeping workplaces healthy and safe. By representing workers in their area of responsibility, these representatives provide a means for workers to raise issues affecting their health as well as safety issues within their workplace, and follow a process with managers to resolve them.
Most newly appointed workplace representative will probably initially be unsure what to do as an appointed representative. The representative is not expected to be the person responsible for all health and safety matters in the workplace, nor is he expected to be an expert on these issues. A workplace representative purely represents the workers in their area of responsibility in the partnership between employers and managers on issues relating to occupational health issues and matters associated with the safety in the assigned work area.
In order to do this effectively a number of roles and responsibilities have traditionally been assigned to this role. An understanding of these basic functions of the representatives will make it a bit easier to put the election and appointment process in perspective. The primary function is certainly to represent the health and safety interests of employees at the workplace. Secondly it is to encourage safe and healthy work practices and thirdly it is to advise the employer of any safety or health hazard that comes to the notice of the representative. It is therefore important to ensure that the correct procedure is followed in identifying the appropriate persons to be appointed in these roles.
Guidelines for the Process
The elected representatives will represent employees at employers meetings and other forums on issues pertaining to health and safety at the workplace. In these cases the representatives are elected according to a procedure agreed upon by the employees and employer. Upon election they are then informed of their appointment to serve at that capacity provided they agree to take up the challenge.
One of the first steps in arranging the electing of workplace representative is the selection and appointment of an independent election officer to manage the election. It is a good practice to ensure that such election officer or team is recognized as an independent party by the members of the work group for whom the election is being arranged.
It is definitely a rule that a person being appointed as an election officer cannot be a candidate for a health and safety representative position in the same election.
In some countries legislation requires that certain procedures be followed when electing health & safety representatives. In terms of these laws the employer is normally required to circulate a memorandum to all staff informing them about the elections of these representatives that is about to take place. In these cases the employees at a place of work are entitled to nominate and elect one of their members to act as a representative in their area.
It may be better to appoint more than one workplace representatives to each area in the workplace, depending on the extent and risk profile of the workplace. The success of the representative system is vested in the principle that each representative is being elected to represent a particular work group of employees. To be effective a representative will need to have regular and easy contact with members of the work group being represented. For this reason it is desirable to elect a representative from the team rather than from another team or area.
In order to avoid a conflict of interest it is strongly recommended to exclude any personnel who are employed as managers or supervisors from being considered as potential health and safety representatives. This means that only non-managerial employees should be allowed to be nominated as candidates.
The general rule is that any recognized members of a work group can nominate or be nominated for the position of a workplace representative. It is also a good practice to get nominations in writing as this will enhance the transparency of the process. There should be no limitation on who may nominate candidates and this includes that candidates may nominate themselves or may be nominated by other members of the team. Under normal circumstances there is no need to have nominations seconded as long as they are in writing. The rule is that nominations should be received by the election officer at least three working days before the ballot is to take place in order to ensure sufficient time is available to prepare all ballots and election material.
Appointing the Workplace Representatives
Irrespective of whether the workplace representative is elected or selected, the successful candidates are appointed as health and safety representatives and then required to undergo an appropriate course for this type of representatives. Their term of office can be determined by the management of the organization or by legislation, but is normally no less than1 year.
It is desirable to not only appoint a representative for each area but to also appoint an alternate for each representative. In the event of a resignation or transfer from the designated area or a post becomes vacant for a short period as a result of a temporary absence of the appointed representative the alternate will normally step up and fulfill this role until the situation returns to normal. In the event of a permanent vacancy the process will start afresh.
The elected representative is normally issued with a letter of appointment to allow him to act in accordance with his appointment.
Although it is not a requirement of most laws dictating the processes and procedures of electing health and safety representatives, it is good practice to inform the affected unions of the outcome of the elections. If the elected representatives are union members it is normal for them to contact their union as soon as possible after the results of the ballot are known. This enables unions to ensure that representatives receive any union training developed for these positions and to provide representatives with information to assist them to represent members of their working place effectively.
© Carl Marx 2009