Supporting Your Workplace Health and Safety Representative

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Leigh-Ann Harris
Junior Research Officer,
Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health, School of Management,
Massey University,
Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North
L.A.Harris@massey.ac.nz

(P47, Friday 28, Civic Room 1, 3.00)

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  • They contribute in different ways but were considered to have fulfilled the role – some more successful than others
  • Supporting Your Workplace Health and Safety Representative

    1. 1. Supporting your workplace health and safety (HS) representative By Leigh-Ann Harris, Dr Kirsten Olsen & Dr Robyn Walker Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety & Health
    2. 2. Significance of employee participation in OHS in NZ <ul><li>Health and Safety in Employment (HSE) Amendment Act 2002 </li></ul><ul><li>Employees and workers should co-operate to create OHS employee participation systems (compulsory if >30 staff). </li></ul><ul><li>The Act’s ‘default system’ promotes HS representatives as the primary model of participation and outlines: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a democratic election process for representatives and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>functions of representatives, particularly to participate in hazard management. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Management are obliged to support representatives by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>providing access to OHS information, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>enabling participation at special training and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>engaging with representatives about OHS issues. </li></ul></ul>
    3. 3. Employee participation in OHS in NZ: addressing knowledge ‘gaps’ <ul><li>Despite legal support for HS representatives, little is known about how HS representatives participate and contribute to OHS in NZ workplaces. </li></ul><ul><li>Question: what contributions do HS representatives make to occupational health and safety? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the purpose of the HS representative role? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How do HS representatives interpret and enact their roles? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What impact do HS representatives have on OHS in the workplace? </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Method <ul><li>Organisational case studies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allowed for the exploration of the HS representative role in relation to organisational context. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Two metal manufacturers committed to employee participation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Number of cases was limited to gain depth rather than breath. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>One industry was chosen to facilitate comparison of data. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Data collection methods </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Primarily semi-structured interviews </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Gained people’s subjective perceptions of the HS representatives’ contributions and allowed for probing of issues and posing of complex questions. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Case study method allowed for a diverse range of perspectives to be gathered. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Interviewees at one business Senior Manager Manager Manager Manager Co-worker Co-worker Co-worker Co-worker Co-worker Co-worker OHS Manager Representative Representative Representative Representative
    6. 6. Business A: An overview <ul><li>General characteristics </li></ul><ul><li>Steel fabrication company operating as five separate enterprises. </li></ul><ul><li>Employed 120 non-unionised staff – tradesmen, labourers & administrators. </li></ul><ul><li>OHS organisation </li></ul><ul><li>Achieving accreditation under ACC’s WSMP programme (primary standard). </li></ul><ul><li>Managers had no formal responsibility for OHS – transferred to HS representatives. </li></ul><ul><li>Implemented employee participation system to comply with WSMP audit standards and HSE Amendment Act. </li></ul><ul><li>OHS manager unilaterally determined purpose of HS representatives and communicated her expectations to them. Their purpose was to: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>take responsibility for OHS management, especially compliance and monitoring of OHS policy and </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>provide an avenue for workers to raise OHS issues. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Typecasting of Business A’s HS representatives Common impact: all representatives were perceived by workers to provide a legitimate channel to raise OHS concerns. Administrators Workshop inspectors Purpose: to improve OHS by… Implementing and operating OHS management systems. Informing workers of their OHS obligations & monitoring compliance. Activity profile Organisation-operational Human-operational OHS activities <ul><li>Applying OHS policy </li></ul><ul><li>Investigating accidents </li></ul><ul><li>Compiling internal OHS statistics </li></ul><ul><li>Sourcing OHS information </li></ul>Informing colleagues of OHS obligations and ensuring they ‘stick to the rules’. OHS impact Improvement of OHS management systems (to ‘primary’ standard under WSMP programme). Improvement of workers’ attitudes towards OHS by increasing safety consciousness and willingness to comply with safety policy.
    8. 8. Business B: An overview <ul><li>General characteristics </li></ul><ul><li>Large metal manufacturer organised into functional divisions with hierarchical management structure. </li></ul><ul><li>Employed >500 highly unionised staff – mainly tradesmen and labourers, also administrators. </li></ul><ul><li>OHS organisation </li></ul><ul><li>Achieved tertiary standard under ACC’s WSMP programme. </li></ul><ul><li>Managers delegated formal responsibility for OHS – treated as KPI. </li></ul><ul><li>Unions introduced HS representatives in 1970s, but HSE Amendment Act prompted expansion of this system beyond unionised workforce and formalization by way of a negotiated employee participation agreement. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Purpose of the representatives were to act as an ‘OHS resource’ to workers. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Content of agreement not widely known. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Purpose of the HS representatives determined locally at ‘grass roots’ or at training. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    9. 9. Typecasting of Business B’s HS representatives Common impact: all representatives were perceived by workers to provide a legitimate channel to raise OHS concerns. Problem solvers Craft experts Purpose: to improve OHS by… Finding practical solutions to control hazards. Acting as “information conduits” by contributing technical knowledge to influence strategic OHS decisions. Activity profile Technical-operational Technical-strategic OHS activities Facilitating hazard management by forming coalitions with workers with skill & authority to control hazards or provide advice. Facilitating transfer of OHS information, particularly expert knowledge at specialised OHS committee meetings. OHS impact Improvement of production from an OHS perspective. Influence OHS procedures and standards for the management of hazards at the strategic level.
    10. 10. Factors influencing HS representative role enactment <ul><li>All HS representatives were judged to fulfil the requirements of the role and contributed positively, but participatory behaviours and OHS outcomes seemed to be influenced by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>how the purpose of the HS representative was defined and communicated at the workplace, particularly whose interests influence the determination of the role; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>representatives’ expert power and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>job roles. </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. H ow the purpose of the HS representative is defined and communicated and implications for support <ul><li>In the two case studies, the role of the HS representative is shaped by different interest groups: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Business A - management had a ‘heavy hand’ in determining the role to suite managerial interests and imposed expectations ‘top down’. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Business B – role was determined ‘bottom up’ and based on a tradition of worker participation. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Implications for support of HS representatives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How to include non-unionised workers in the determination of employee participation agreements? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fostering a more worker-centred approach to representation is important via: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Providing opportunities for workers and representatives to meet to discuss OHS issues and aspirations. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Recognising the importance of direct participation systems (e.g. tool box meetings & auditing systems) in supporting representative participation. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    12. 12. HS representatives’ expert power and implications for support <ul><li>Representatives’ expert power influenced role enactment, particularly: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>OHS knowledge, organisational knowledge (e.g. of internal OHS management system) and formal skills and qualifications, which are associated with representatives’ recognised job competencies. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Perception of representatives as experts gives credibility and influence </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Business A - management perceived that because representatives had been to OHS training, they were OHS experts so became dependent on them to manage health & safety. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>At Business B, management were dependent on problem solvers and craft experts’ technical knowledge to manage hazards. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Implications for support of HS representatives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Representatives should be encouraged to contribute to OHS in a way that builds on their skills and abilities. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emphasis is often placed on external HS representative training, but training on internal OHS systems and processes is also important. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>HS representatives are not meant to be ‘OHS experts’ or responsible for OHS, managers should be informed and educated about their health and safety responsibilities. </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. HS representatives’ job roles and implications for support <ul><li>Representatives’ job roles seemed to influence: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>the types of activities in which it was acceptable for them to participate and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>their access to resources (legal entitlements). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>E.g. problem solvers on the shop floor versus administrators as secretaries in offices. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Representatives that had similar job roles to their constituencies encountered fewer obstacles. </li></ul><ul><li>Implications for support of HS representatives: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ Blanket’ organisational policies don’t guarantee representatives’ access to resources. Consideration should be given to their circumstances and resourcing locally tailored to meet their needs to improve tenure/image of the position. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Representatives could be elected to represent people who do similar types of jobs. </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Further reading <ul><li>Harris, L.-A. (2010). Health and safety representatives’ contributions to occupational health and safety: case studies from New Zealand’s metal manufacturing sector . Master’s thesis, Massey University, Palmerston North. </li></ul>

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