RMH Schaffer has provided its views on OH&S consultation compliance requirements of employers. They are as follows:
It is to be hoped that under the new Labour regime in Australia with State Labour governments coast to coast and more recently Federally in Canberra, employers will be paying more attention to their duty, frequently mandatory - of consulting with their workers.
Prof Gary Hamel in his new book – ‘The future of management’ points out that since the science of management was given birth to in around 1917 by Henri Fayol the work of management – i.e. planning, organising, commanding, co-coordinating and controlling – necessitates the establishment of a hierarchical system.
The world has moved on but not, it appears, in many Australian small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Management levels have become flatter but the distance between management and the shop-floor remains as wide and as heartless as ever.
As a result, consultation between management and the shop-floor is a thing to be feared, avoided and despised.
The thinking appears to be: that, if management were to consult with underlings- who do not know what is good for them anyway and this breaks down the barriers of managerial authority- management relinquishes its power and authority.
Employers should note they may still be thinking along these lines but, frequently, in Australia the Law does not.
Consultation and the Law
In Victoria, NSW and Queensland to take three examples, all three states have in their OH&S legislation – Consultation compliance requirements.
In Victoria, the OH&S Act 2004, Section 35, Part 4 – Duty of employers to consult, commenced operation on 1st January 2006. The section identifies seven situations or examples when the employer is bound in terms of the Law to consult with employees. In large part, these mirror the consultation process set down in the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995. Though, the duty extends even further.
In NSW, the OH&S Act 2000 in Section 3(d) – Requires the consultation and co – operation between employers and employees …… and further in section 13 sets down the – Duty of (the) employer to consult.
The NSW OH&S Regulations 2001 in Clauses 21 through to Clause 30, Chapter Three – lays down conformance requirements for employers. This is further clarified in the NSW Code of Practice in regard to Consultation.
While in Queensland the government Department of Employment and Industrial Relations on their Website set out diagrammatically in – Part 4. Risk management; The 5 Step approach in the Workplace Health and safety risk management process as set out in s27A of the Queensland – Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 – as amended. This diagram places at the heart of the risk management process – the fact that consultation should be carried out at every step of the process.
It is all very logical and sensible, yet none of this or most of this, is not being carried out in a majority of Australian shop floors.
The nature of the Problem – defined
The questions that present themselves pursuant to the above are the following:
- Is the Legislation simply not understood?
- Is conformance too difficult?
- Does management have cause to fear the process of consultation?
- Is managerial authority challenged through the process of Consultation?
- Do Australian companies understand the importance of good communication?
And that the consultation process is but one mechanism to use to build a dynamic program of effective communication between workers, supervisors and across all four levels of corporate communication namely, business wide, departmental, team and the most crucial of all –supervisor – operator on the shop floor communication.
Negative impact of a lack of consultation
The upshot of this lack of proper communication is that the following- are all too often the outcome:
- High levels of employee resignations
- High cost of re-training of new employees
- Lost productivity
- High levels of employee dissatisfaction and disincentive
- Low levels of production efficiency
- Low morale
- High levels of absenteeism
- High levels of W.C. claims
- Resulting in a high unit cost of production
Where to start?
‘Consultation’ – is a two way conversation between employers and employees.
The Victorian Worksafe Authority in a Consultation Guide states: “one of the benefits from getting the consultation process right is: More openness, respect and trust because employers and employees have a better understanding of each others point of view. It might also help when talking about other non – OH&S work place matters”
In NSW, the Workcover Authority produced back in 2001 – an OH&S Consultation Code of Practice. The preamble explained that compliance is a must. Failing which penalty provisions apply. The Code has some 73 pages. It offers valuable guidance with examples of documents that need to be created by the employer including a – Consultation Statement. The latter, need this be said at all, must be developed together with employee input.
For Consultation to really work, employees must be empowered to understand their input is valued and that they are free to, not only be critical (even of management) but, they must also be constructive and offer – a better way to go, better equipment to use and a better safer process method to develop. This must take place in an atmosphere of – open, mutually trusting discussion. The latter to be worked at by both sides of the divide.
According to RMH Schaffer, this cannot happen overnight. It cannot happen without the CEO working from the front as a leader in establishing a positive corporate climate; without employees being empowered to input constructively and finally, without managers understanding, it is their role to play to plan communicate and keep employees informed – (meaning – persuade) about matters affecting them. And from there, move toward obtaining employee input about those matters.
Effective leadership and key steps- A model
Effective leadership comes from managers who themselves – perform – and then persuade and involve their team in the decision making process at every step of the Risk Management five step process, as well as, in regard to production on the shop floor.
- Before the day’s work ends, managers should find a point to raise with one/two/three workers (inform) and praise some action taken or offer some advice as to how better to perform (persuade)
- Early in the day inform the team of some new method, news, or update on an issue previously discussed and encourage feed-back, input a response (persuade)
- Identify good performers, an example of something well done (persuade) Help workers learn what is a good path to follow (inform)
- Set aside time in every work group meeting for frank, open discussion – empower workers to raise an issue – encourage the team to work toward a solution (persuade)
Like this, managers will - over time, build a platform upon which consultation can take place through employing a strategy of informing, persuading and empowering, in a climate of mutual respect.
Through this constructive approach, workers are able observe a process being employed by management. Importantly, one in which they have a role, a valuable role- to play.
RMH Schaffer opines that it is not possible to correct years, often, even decades of the negative effect of a rigid, hierarchical management pyramid. But, the results will be spectacular, once a new dawn of mutual trust, co-operation and communication starts to throw rays of light and harmony across what was before a gloomy landscape of ‘them’ and ‘us’.