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WHS Practitioner/Advisor – Leadership, health and safety culture

Consultation, communication and engagement: what part do practitioners play?

A healthy and safe workplace is more easily achieved when workers at all levels within the business talk to each other about potential issues/hazards and work together to find solutions. From their knowledge of the workplace and work practices, workers can provide valuable input on work hazards and the effectiveness of policies and procedures.

Consultation between officers, WHS practitioners/advisors, managers and workers on occupational health and safety matters can result in healthier and safer workplaces, better decisions on health and safety matters, a stronger commitment by everyone to implementing decisions and greater cooperation and trust between all levels of the business.

What does consultation mean under the WHS Act?

Consultation is a two-way exchange of information. It should be seen as an opportunity to add value to the PCBUs decision-making processes.

Consultation means to appropriately inform workers, inviting and considering their response prior to a decision being made. Workers’ opinions should not be assumed. Sufficient action must be taken to secure workers’ responses and give their views proper attention. Consultation requires more than a mere exchange of information. Workers must be able to contribute to the decision-making process, not only in appearance but in fact.

The Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) has adopted a working definition of what constitutes consultation from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission case, Australian Workers’ Union v Campbell Mushrooms Pty Ltd 1183/96 Print N4825 (1996).

When is consultation required?

There are a number of things that the PCBU must do when consulting workers. They must:

  • share information with them about the health and safety matter
  • give them a reasonable opportunity to ask questions and have their say
  • take their views into account. This should happen before a final decision is made
  • HSRs must be involved in any consultations whether or not workers are consulted directly.

The WHS Act includes a broad obligation on the PCBU to consult with workers, as far as is reasonably practicable, about matters affecting or likely to affect their health and safety at work. The duty to consult allows for agreement between the workers and the PCBU on the procedures for consultation, but agreement on this is not compulsory. Consultation is required:

  • when identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work
  • making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks
  • making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
  • proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of workers
  • making decisions about the procedures for resolving health or safety issues
  • monitoring the health of workers or workplace conditions, information and training or consultation with workers
  • when carrying out any other activity prescribed by the WHS Regulations.

If the workers are represented by a Health and Safety Representative consultation must involve that representative.

A PCBU may also choose to consult with workers about health and safety matters in other instances.

How can practitioners/advisors contribute to effective consultation?

WHS practitioners/advisors can proactively increase the effectiveness of workplace consultation and achieve success through a variety of ways. From a practical perspective either through interactions with managers or directly with workers and HSRs.

You can contribute to effective consultation by:

  • providing a suggestion box for workers to leave their ideas for the consideration of management
  • displaying the latest health and safety news and information on a prominent notice board
  • developing and making available clearly written policies and procedures for dealing with workplace issues e.g. issue resolution, HSR elections
  • encouraging managers to make health and safety a priority at team meetings
  • preparing reports and providing strategic advice into other workplace programs e.g. HR and safety, health and wellbeing
  • building WHS into business planning and practices.

Engaging workers in consultation?

WHS practitioners/advisors can increase manager and worker participation and ownership of their own health and safety outcomes by encouraging them to:

  • submit their ideas and thoughts on health and safety to their managers or direct to your WHS team
  • become actively involved in work health and safety in their workplace
  • participate in activities and programs
  • keep up-to-date with changes in the laws and what they mean to them and their workplace
  • be informed. - view their intranet, notice boards and Comcare’s website
  • talk to their HSRs and employee representatives about issues and ideas for health and safety in their workplace
  • lead by example - be seen to be safe by putting into practice what is in procedures.

How can barriers to effective consultation be managed?

There are many barriers to how we communicate and consult with each other in the workplace. Finding the right time and delivering messages in the right way can be a challenge. WHS practitioners/advisors and managers should, wherever possible, establish relationships with workers that encourage open and honest discussion and mutual trust. Consultation often fails due to:

  1. lack of clarity of message
  2. absence of emotional resonance in your message
  3. inaccurate targeting
  4. poor timing
  5. no genuine feedback process.

By recognising the reasons why consultation fails, you can tackle these barriers head on through a range of practical strategies:

  • engaging people on an emotional level
  • providing clear messages with concrete examples to help people focus their energies
  • thinking about what you say and how you say it (is what you are saying aligned with what you are feeling and thinking?)
  • backing up written material with verbal communication
  • checking the tone of the communication (edit, edit and edit again)
  • providing regular updates (some brief news is better than none)
  • informing people about what is happening. You are a support mechanism for managers to communicate changes to workers and vice versa.
Page last updated: 05 Mar 2019