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When considering the nature of an employee’s job, or considering changes to tasks, it is important to first consult with the employee.

There are legal guidelines that require employers to consult with their employees before implementing changes that may affect an employee’s job. Consulting with employees will ensure that changes are well-informed and effective and increases employees’ sense of control.

WorkSafe Australia states that this duty to consult is based on the recognition that worker input and participation improves decision-making about health and safety matters and assists in reducing work-related injuries and disease. The broad definition of a ‘worker’ under the WHS Act means that you must consult with your employees plus anyone else who carries out work for your business or undertaking.

You must consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with your contractors and sub-contractors and their employees, on-hire workers, volunteers and any other people who are working for you and who are directly affected by a health and safety matter. Workers are entitled to take part in consultation arrangements and to be represented in relation to work health and safety by a health and safety representative who has been elected to represent their work group. If workers are represented by a health and safety representative, consultation must involve that representative.1

Further reading

SafeWork NSW has produced a Consultation@work toolkit that amongst other things, helps businesses to understand their duties, provide tools and case studies.

When to Consult

Safework NSW describes that an employer and/or person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must consult with workers when they are likely to be or are directly affected by a situation involving their health and safety. In these situations, workers must have to have an opportunity to express their views and contribute to any decisions relating to their health and safety – this can be through work health and safety representatives, committees, or other regular meeting forums. For instance, any change to equipment, even for risk control purposes, must be discussed with workers before the change is made. Workers also need to be involved in any conversation about the adequacy of facilities.

Employers must consult when:

  • identifying hazards and assessing risks
  • making decisions about ways to eliminate or control risks
  • changing or updating workplace facilities
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
  • making decisions about consulting procedures, resolving safety issues, monitoring workers’ health and conditions, and providing information and training.

Workplaces also need to consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with other individuals and organisations – and any health and safety representatives or committees – who have a duty in relation to the same matter.2

Further reading

Safe Work Australia has produced a Code of Practice under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act detailing Work Health and Safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination . The Code outlines when to consult with workers, what constitutes effective consultation, how to consult with workers and how to co-ordinate activities with other duty holders.