By Marcus Bathan
With new legislation comes new confusion. As an ambassador for Health and Safety training I hope to bring you information that will help in thoroughly understanding the new Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) and how it relates to your business and industry.
I will break down the HSWA Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation Regulations, in particular, the importance of effective communication. The following advice will outline how to efficiently have Worker Participation and Engagement in the workplace no matter the size of your business or workforce.
The full Worker Engagement, Participation, and Representation Regulations 2016 can be found by visiting www.legislation.govt.nz.
Engagement means talking and listening to your workers. It is particularly valuable at key times, like when identifying hazards and risks, making changes to work that affect health and safety, or developing worker participation practices. Sometimes engagement will be directly with the workers, and sometimes through Health and Safety Representatives.
Worker participation practices are there to provide effective ways for your workers to talk to you about health and safety matters, so that you’re in a better position to manage the risks in your business or workplace and keep people safe and healthy. There is improved flexibility in the new HSWA as it does not specify what types of worker participation practices a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) must have. Different types of practices will suit different workplaces and the important thing is that workers can be involved in an effective way. A PCBU must have practices that provide reasonable opportunities for workers to participate effectively in improving health and safety in the business or workplace on an ongoing basis.
Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) are elected by a work group, which is a defined group of workers who work for the PCBU. The work group can be the whole workplace or it can be workers grouped by work areas, occupations, work sites or other arrangements. How a work group or work groups are organised will depend on what is effective for the PCBU and the workers, given the structure of the business or undertaking. Depending on what suits its workplace best, a PCBU could comply with this duty by having Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) or a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) – or both. Or they might have neither and rely on more informal practices instead.
These might include regular toolbox talks, having health and safety as a regular agenda item at team meetings, or another feedback mechanism so staff have a clear way of raising any health and safety concerns with the PCBU. Informal practices like this may well be enough for smaller or low-risk businesses. Engagement, Participation and Representation cannot happen without Effective Communication.
Communication is a transfer of information. Effective communication is when the ‘meaning’ of the information is successfully ‘exchanged’ and the information is ‘understood’.
An HSR needs to communicate effectively, and must be comfortable with the different forms of communication – face to face, voice to voice, written, and so on.
Communications between PCBUs and workers may include the following:
- Formal and informal discussions (i.e. one on one, interviews, or group discussion)
- Meetings (i.e. tool box, tail gate, committees, site and team)
- Awareness and training sessions
- Written communication (i.e. letter, email, memo, and intranet).
- It is important that information about health and safety matters are shared so that workers are well-informed; it also gives workers reasonable opportunities to contribute their views and to participate in decision-making. Feedback is the first step to continuous improvement. People cannot be expected to improve without feedback. PCBUs and workers should provide feedback to each other; the HSR can be a conduit between both parties.
Feedback methods may include:
- Suggestion for improvement forms
- Feedback boxes
- Tool box and tail gate meetings
- Staff surveys
- Focus groups of interested parties
- Creating online communities/Social Networking
Effective communication can spell the success of worker participation and engagement in relation to health and safety issues in the workplace and on the worksite. Having tools and processes in place for workers to communicate without fear or confusion means knowledge is shared and feedback can provide information instrumental in making positive changes.
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