union for life

Health and safety FAQs

Frequently asked questions

We answer the questions  you ask about life as an H&S rep, as well as your most common health and safety problems.

  1. question markCan I become an H&S rep if I've never had safety rep training?
  2. Do I need training?
  3. Do I need to be accredited?
  4. I've got NEBOSH qualifications - do I still need to attend TU H&S rep training?
  5. How do I raise health and safety issues with management?
  6. My representations seem to be getting ignored. What should I do?
  7. How can I view my employer's risk assessments ?
  8. Management has asked me, the H&S rep, to carry out a risk assessment. What should I do?
  9. When is statutory health and safety consultation required?
  10. What should we do if we believe we have not been statutorily consulted?
  11. What procedures exist for resolving health and safety disputes?
  12. I'm an H&S rep. Who do I represent?
  13. Do I have to represent non-members?
  14. How much time does safety rep work take?
  15. I have dual roles - I'm an H&S rep and industrial rep/TR. Does this matter?
  16. How should a health and safety committee work?
  17. What is the maximum/minimum temperature in the workplace?
  18. What breaks am I entitled to under the Working Time Regulations?
  19. How many WCs should a workplace have?
  20. Asbestos incident: we believe there has been an inadvertent asbestos release at work. We don't know what to do!
  21. Need more help?

1. Can I be an H&S rep if I've never had safety rep training?

Yes, of course. Because you are not eligible in law for safety rep training until you've been formally appointed (which involves the employer being notified in writing by the branch). So all H&S reps start out untrained. Find out more about H&S.

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2. Do I need training?

Yes, all H&S reps do. It's one of your responsibilities when you take on the H&S rep role. For more on H&S rep competencies and training opportunities, see the "Getting Trained" section of the safety rep toolkit.

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3. Do I need to be accredited?

No, accreditation is not a legal requirement. It is a system the TUC introduced to demonstrate to industry that unions are serious about providing competent H&S reps. Prospect is seeking accreditation for its H&S courses.

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4. I've got NEBOSH qualifications - do I still need to attend TU safety rep training?

Yes! Only trade union H&S rep training covers the functions, rights and role of H&S reps within the political context of trade union recognition and industrial relations.

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5. How do I raise health and safety concerns with management?

This depends on the issue and the reporting systems your employer has in place. Complaints are often the toughest concerns to raise and may require delicate handling. Here your starting point is to fact-find so you can verify the substance of the complaint - you will wish to be confident of you case when making representations so:

  • review relevant health and safety policies, procedures and/or rules
  • see what the risk assessment states
  • discuss and agree with the member an approach for taking up the complaint.

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6. My representations seem to be getting ignored. What should I do?

H&S reps are entitled to receive a timely response from management to representations they make. Indeed, responding is a statutory duty on employers. You may wish to start by giving management the benefit of the doubt. But if you have contacted management verbally and in writing and you are still receiving no response (after your suggested timescale), your options may be to:

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7. How can I view my employer's risk assessments?

Your employer should make readily accessible and available to all staff the significant findings of risk assessments. When risk assessments are made, staff (and/or the safety rep) should be involved in the process.

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8. Management has asked me, the H&S rep, to carry out a risk assessment on their behalf. What should I do?

You should respectfully decline. Risk assessments are an employer's duty, so your employer may seek to delegate risk assessment to you, but this would be an inappropriate use of H&S reps. You should be invited to get involved in the risk assessment process, but you should not be asked to administer it.

Of course, if you are a manager your 'day job' is likely to require you to make risk assessments. And many staff, particularly those who are peripatetic, have to make 'dynamic risk assessments' going into new field work.

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9. When is statutory health and safety consultation required?

HSE explains the law that requires employers cto onsult their staff on health and safety at work.

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10. What should we do if we believe we have not been statutorily consulted?

Speak to the relevant manager(s) and explain your concern. Give them the opportunity to make amends. If they do not accept the alleged failure, refer your concern to your local rep, branch secretary or branch chair. You may have to involve your full-time officer.

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11. What procedures exist for resolving health and safety disputes?

Your employer may have procedures in place. Or they may rely on the grievance procedure. It's worth finding out because you may have to discuss introducing procedures if none exist.

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12. I'm a safety rep. Who do I represent?

The people you represent are first and foremost Prospect members. However, you may have an agreement with a fellow union whereby you share responsibility for constituencies. Or you may have an agreement with management that, for the purposes of H&S consultation, you will act as the H&S rep of people who opt out of trade union membership.

Many branches have these arrangements because it is preferable to management consulting directly with staff who are non-members under alternative consultation law. This risks undermining the union.

And don't forget 'health and safety' as a recruitment tool. If non-members see you doing a great job they may join Prospect! 

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13. Do I have to represent non-members?

Prospect is content for the voice of non-members to contribute to generic discussion and representations. However, Prospect H&S reps should decline to undertake individual representations or case work for non-members. Question 12 has additional information.

Please note that we reserve the right not to take up cases for members where the event giving rise to the case occurred before joining.

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14. How much time does H&S rep work take?

There is no easy answer to this. It depends on many factors:

  • the health and safety performance of the company - if this is good, you ought to have less to do!
  • how organised you and your branch are
  • how busy you want to be - some reps agree with other safety reps and their branch to lead on a specialist topic only, some get involved in exciting proactive projects. You are a volunteer so decide how much you can commit and then manage your workload
  • remember how important it is to investigate serious accidents or incidents and identify root causation - sometimes this can take longer than expected.

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15. I have dual roles - I'm an H&S rep and industrial rep/TR. Does this matter?

Only in the event of an accident to a member. You may then have to consider whether you can both investigate the accident AND represent the injured person in any civil proceedings. There may be a conflict of interest so you may be advised to delegate one role to a fellow rep.

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16. How should a health and safety committee work?

HSE has produced helpful advice on good practice around committee work. See the safety rep toolkit section on 'Getting results'.

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17. What is the maximum/minimum temperature in the workplace?

HSE and temperatures at work.

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18. What breaks am I entitled to under the Working Time Regulations?

HSE and Working Time law.

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19. How many WCs should a workplace have?

HSE and WC facilities.

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20. We believe there has been an inadvertent asbestos release at work. We don't know what to do!

Don't panic - but do take this very seriously. Your employer may have broken the law and may be legally required to report the release as a dangerous occurrence. However the first thing is to make sure your employer is taking the right steps to
(a) decontaminate
(b) refer affected staff to Occupational Health if appropriate and
(c) involve safety reps in the investigation into what went wrong and what must be done to prevent a recurrence.

In the event of inadvertent exposures, HSE has advice for employees and advice for employers.

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Need more help?

The Health and Safety Executive has comprehensive pages and is the best starting point for health and safety FAQs. If you are still concerned, Prospect is here to provide further help and support.