Worker participation in health and safety:
A review of Australian provisions for worker health and safety representation
, Sarah Page, HSE, 2002.

HSE PINs report: Global solutions project

UK Worker Participation

1. The UK system of self-regulation is less empowering of its health and safety reps than an Australian system based upon co-regulation.

2. The HSC definition of consultation, ie providing the workforce with information and taking account of their views before making decisions affecting their health and safety, is aspirational. My experience as an inspector of UK consultation in practice is that it does not effectively involve workers. It is essentially a one-way, information-giving conduit from employer to worker and does not require employers to take workers' concerns seriously. It relies upon employer goodwill and if this is not forthcoming, the UK OHS rep's role can be very challenging. Not least where non-compliance is perceived and is confronted with little armoury.

3. Moreover, the low level of HSE enforcement of worker consultation legislation (eg the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations) has contributed to the trade union perception of an imbalance of power between employers and their workforce, strengthening the industry position and weakening that of the trade union OHS movement.

The effect has been to frustrate health and safety representation so that when HSE is involved, the experience for the inspector can be arduous. Conflict resolution without the benefit of an issue resolution framework as exists in many Australian states.

Australian Worker Participation

4. Just as worker participation issues feature highly on the UK OHS landscape, so too do they in Australia. Indeed, all of the jurisdictions I visited had this high on their agenda. The recent Victorian and South Australian reviews are contained in Appendices 5 and 7 respectively.

The dearth of data regarding work stoppages and PINs, whilst understandable given the 'no-need-to-notify' policy, is regrettable within the context of the search to measure the impact of these measures on OHS. Clearly formal research is required but the anecdotal evidence is valuable because it provides a picture of OHS rep involvement in practice. Moreover, it has enabled the appended reviews to make a very worthwhile contribution to the debate and to our understanding of the key issues.

5. A comparison of UK and Australian OHS rep provisions in theory highlights the greater empowerment of Australian reps and the more comprehensive arrangements for issue resolution.

Australian reps are better placed than their UK counterparts, to overcome health and safety non-compliance in their workplaces. This has to be beneficial to the health, safety and well-being of Australian workforces.

The issue resolution provisions provide a necessary adjunct to ensure fairness during employer/employee negotiations.

6. Given the management prerogative history in both UK and Australian work cultures, the appeal to trade unions of this system of power-sharing and hesitation amongst industrialists are understandable sentiments. However, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the experience of OHS rep 'enforcement' in practice has shaped an approach characterised by caution. The challenging nature of OHS rep intervention is well-recognised by Australian trades unions and serves to restrain the desire to act with zeal that was anticipated with concern by the Australian industry.


7. PINs and other OHS rep sanctions, supported by issue resolution legislation, appear to have much to offer the UK system of worker participation. It is recommended that this report is circulated to relevant parties as part of the HSC-initiated debate over proposals to improve worker involvement in health and safety.

8. The system also appears to have potential benefits for HSE itself.

The rep sanctions appear to provide genuine opportunities for workplaces to manage health and safety internally, without recourse to HSE, freeing up HSE to concentrate on proactive initiatives and the enforcement of recalcitrant employers.

And the issue resolution arrangements provide HSE with the option of becoming involved only when a health and safety dispute arises and issue resolution measures are exhausted, ie when internal negotiation fails.

It is hoped that this report provides a constructive contribution to the UK debate.