Under Section 25 of the 2005 Act, all workers are entitled to select a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters with their employer. Section 26 of this Act requires the employer to consult with employees to ensure cooperation with preventing accidents and ill health and in turn the workers can consult with their employer.
The safety representative’s role is to consult and make representations to the employer on safety, health and welfare matters relating to employees in the place of work. It is important to realise that taking on this role does not make the rep responsible for health and safety in their workplace. Such responsibility is always that of the employer. A safety representative does not have any duties, as opposed to functions, under the 2005 Act, other than those that apply to employees generally. Therefore, a safety representative who accepts a management proposal to deal with a safety or health issue, could not be held legally accountable for putting the proposal into effect.
Safety Representatives are entitled to carry out inspections and to receive key information from the employer. They are also entitled under law to receive training and instruction necessary for them to undertake the role. Further information on the role of the Safety Rep is available from the HSA's useful guide Becoming a Safety Representative or Joining the Safety Committee
Unlike the UK and some other European jurisdictions, there is no specific trade union role in health and safety recognised under Irish law. However, Congress strongly recommends that unions should be engaged in this issue in the workplace, including being involved in the selection of safety representatives.
This isn't a matter of chance. Union jobs are safer jobs because unions provide the skills and expertise needed to secure workplace improvements. Unions have ‘on the ground’ insights that can help design quick and easy solutions to health and safety problems. Where employers won't talk, unions can use their collective strength to demand improvements.
If you are trying to resolve a safety dispute in the workplace, or are reporting concerns to the Health & Safety Authority, using proper procedures and keeping good records will strengthen your case.
Safety Reps have the right to raise safety concerns and enjoy legal protection from victimisation for doing their job. A union presence makes it harder for an employer to victimise anyone raising safety concerns.