If you recognise trade unions in any part of the business:
- the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 will apply;
- the trade union may appoint health and safety representatives (referred to as "safety representatives" in the regulations); and
- you must consult the union-appointed health and safety representatives on health and safety matters affecting the employees they represent. (See What to consult them about?)
You may have:
- different representatives from the same union for different parts of the business;
- different representatives from different unions for different parts of the business;
- union representatives representing employees who belong to other unions by agreement with the other unions; and
- union representatives representing employees who are not union members
Union-appointed health and safety representatives
Recognised unions and employers should discuss and agree how many representatives to appoint. The number of health and safety representatives will depend on different factors. If there are disagreements that need to be resolved, use your existing employment relations processes or contact Acas.
The nature of your business could mean that you and trade unions will have to be more flexible about the group or groups of employees represented and the number of representatives suitable for your workplace, for example:
- when there are rapidly changing situations and conditions in a workplace as work develops, or frequent changes in the numbers of employees (e.g. on building and construction sites, in shipbuilding and ship repairing, docks, and factories)
- if most of your employees go out to their actual place of work somewhere else but report back to you (e.g. goods and freight depots, builders' yards, and service depots of all kinds)
- if a workplace in one location has a wide variety of work activities going on (e.g. retail stores, hospitals, and manufacturing plants)
- workplaces with very high process risks (e.g. construction sites at particular stages like demolition or excavations, and some chemical works and research establishments)
- if most employees are employed in low-risk activities, but where one or two processes or activities or items of plant have special risks connected with them
- where there is a mix of direct employees and others in the workplace, such as contract and agency workers
- where there is a mix of employees who are members of trade unions and those who are not.
Experience of representatives
Normally, trade unions will write to tell you who the appointed health and safety representative is, and make it clear which groups of employees the representative is representing. An appointed representative should usually have worked for you for the previous two years, or had at least two years experience doing similar work. This is to ensure they will have a level of knowledge that allows them to make a responsible and practical contribution to the health and safety effort.
There may also be times when it is not practical to appoint a representative with two years’ experience in your organisation or in the job. For instance if:
- you are a new employer or the location is newly established;
- the work is of a short duration; or
- there is a high turnover of employees.
In such cases, trade unions will appoint the most appropriate representatives, taking their experience and skills into account.
If two or more union health and safety representatives ask in writing for a health and safety committee, you must set one up within three months (See Health and safety committees: Setting them up and making them work).