Consulting with major hazard facility employees

Information for major hazard facility (MHF) operators on their duty to consult with employees and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs).


When you must consult with employees or HSRs

Regulation 388 of the OHS Regulations specifically requires operators to consult with their employees, health and safety representatives (HSRs) and contractors, so far as is reasonably practicable, in relation to:

  • identifying major incidents that could occur at the facility and major incident hazards
  • conducting a safety assessment
  • reviewing a safety assessment
  • adopting or reviewing risk control measures
  • establishing and implementing a safety management system
  • preparing or revising a safety case
  • developing or reviewing a safety role for employees
  • preparing an emergency plan
  • reviewing and revising an emergency plan

These requirements to consult are in addition to section 35(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

Benefits of consultation

Victoria's occupational health and safety laws recognise the benefits of employee involvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters.

Employers and employees should exchange information and ideas about risks to health and safety, and measures that can be taken to eliminate or reduce those risks. Employees can and should be encouraged, to be represented in relation to health and safety issues.

Employees are a great resource for helping:

  • identify and validate hazards
  • confirm if the safety case accurately reflects what occurs in practice at the facility
  • identify whether proposed control measures and supporting operational procedures are practicable to implement and maintain
  • increase awareness, understanding and competency for managing major incident risks

Tips for consulting with employees and HSRs

In addition to these tips, please read our guidance on Consultation with Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs).

Where employees are not formally represented by an elected HSR, employee representatives who have relevant health and safety knowledge from a range of areas in the workplace should be engaged.

Employees from all relevant designated work groups (DWGs) should be involved in the identification of hazards, and in both the development and review of the safety assessment and safety case, to ensure controls and procedures reflect what happens in practice at the facility. HSRs or employee representatives should consider which employees are appropriate to be involved in these processes.

HSRs and directly involved employees should have a high level of engagement in consultation, safety case development and implementation. While HSRs have a significant role in the consultation process, it is the operator's duty to initiate consultation to ensure that risks are eliminated or reduced, so far as is reasonably practicable.

How to involve HSRs and employees

HSRs and directly involved employees should be involved in the following ways:

  • Having representative membership on any steering committee which plans and sets direction for safety case development for the site.
  • Participating in the early planning stages when the safety case outline is being developed. HSRs can contribute to early planning decisions on resourcing and scheduling for safety case development, on consultation milestones and on safety case goals.
  • Providing input into the methodologies to be used in safety case development, such as hazard identification and risk assessment techniques to be used. HSRs can validate whether they and other employees will be able to use the techniques proposed or if training might be needed.
  • Providing input to and feedback on the amount, timing and method of consultation planned by the operator.
  • Advising on whether plans for training and informing the workforce on the Safety Management System (SMS) and safety case are sufficient.
  • Helping identify employees with suitable knowledge and experience to participate in workshops.
  • Defining or developing the role of HSRs and employees in workshops.
  • Assisting in defining other roles that employees and HSRs could play in safety case development, such as writing or testing operating procedures, involvement with selection and commissioning of new hardware controls, taking on informing and training roles on the SMS and safety case.
  • Assisting in defining ongoing safety roles for employees, ensuring that employees have input into the safety roles being developed for them, or facilitating direct involvement of employees in writing up their safety roles.
  • Providing feedback on the performance measures proposed for the safety case. These include the performance indicators for risk controls and the methods and criteria the operator will use to demonstrate the adequacy of the safety case. HSRs and other employees can provide a 'reality check' for the demonstration arguments used in the safety case.
  • Checking that documented systems and procedures match what occurs operationally, and that operating procedures and other major incident control measures (such as the emergency plan) are practicable.
  • After the initial development, activities could expand beyond workshops to involve HSRs and other employees in reviewing and writing system documentation:
    • performing a gap analysis on documented procedures and actual plant operations
    • implementing and testing new procedures
    • upgrading and commissioning new hardware controls
    • informing and instructing personnel on developed systems
    • internal auditing to test implementation
    • liaising with WorkSafe in on-site verification of the Safety Case either for licence assessment purposes or for a pre-submission 'pilot assessment.'

Ensuring consultation is effective

The following pointers, while not exhaustive, will help you to consult more effectively:

  • Have two-way conversations – actively seek employee's views and encourage them to share their ideas, either individually or as a work group.
  • Diversity – engage people with different backgrounds, knowledge, experience and roles.
  • Don't rush – allow employees reasonable time to consider their views and take the necessary time to consider how feedback and suggestions will be incorporated.
  • Listen carefully – silence does not always imply agreement. Ask open questions to elicit further information.
  • Make the case – all parties should provide enough information so that others can clearly understand their views. For example:
    • explain the issues clearly and concisely
    • focus on the most important issues first
    • provide examples, case studies or other evidence to illustrate the point.
  • Be open to all feedback – operators and employees should be prepared to listen and respond constructively to critical feedback or identified problems.
  • Consider issue resolution in advance – how will strong differences in opinion be resolved?
  • Close the loop – provide feedback on decisions and how employee views were taken into account.
  • Test the process – make improvements based on early experience. If necessary, get an independent opinion on the consultation process.
  • Have the end in mind – at the end of consultation, people across the facility should have a consistent understanding of the key hazards and potential major incidents, and the key control measures and their performance indicators

Establish formal consulting arrangements

If your facility does not have formal consultation structures in place, such as DWGs or elected Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs), it is recommended that you create processes that achieve the same end.

You can create a formal consultation structure by:

  • forming a safety case steering committee that includes members from across the different work areas (for example: storage, production, dispatch and administration) and covering the range of roles at the facility, such as management, office support, technical, engineering, operating, and maintenance
  • getting a mix of experience and in-depth knowledge of the facility and how things are done, knowledge of health and safety, outside experience on the committee to develop new ideas
  • finding the most suitable process to fill committee places for the particular organisation should be used, whether that is seeking volunteers, choosing from nominations or assigning people
  • having committee members undertake various safety case development activities identified for HSRs in this guide.

If your facility is not yet operational

For facilities under development, designers and the operator must consider hazards, potential major incidents and control measures theoretically, and build a foundational safety case. This should be one of the key project management functions of senior project personnel who are hired relatively early in the project.

Hiring operational and maintenance personnel often occurs three to six months before the anticipated start-up date. This presents a barrier to consultation with employees. If you are a new facility, please speak to WorkSafe about how you intend to meet your duties to consult.

Safety role for employees

Operators must develop a role for employees to assist in:

  • identifying major incident hazards and possible major incidents
  • adopting or reviewing risk control measures
  • conduct and document a safety assessment
  • reviewing a safety assessment
  • establishing and implementing a SMS

The role that employees are required to play in the above activities should be documented in the operator's safety management system.

How to develop a safety role for employees

Operators should ensure that:

  • specific procedures detail the safety role developed for employees in each of the activities described in Regulation 380.
  • there is evidence that employees are participating in identifying hazards, conducting a safety assessment, adopting, reviewing and testing risk control measures, and establishing and implementing a SMS.

In developing employee roles the operator should consider the following issues:

  1. Which employees or work areas should be involved in each activity? It is unlikely that all employees have knowledge and experience relevant to all activities and that only one or two can cover the entire facility and all of its operations for a MHF.
  2. How should the activities be planned so that employees can carry out their roles effectively? What training or information will be needed so that employees can contribute effectively?
  3. How are the views and information provided by employees captured?
  4. How should activities be planned to involve employees, allowing for reasonable accommodation of their usual workload?
  5. What can be done if specific employees are unavailable for intended roles?
  6. How are the safety roles for employees documented and implemented in procedures? Are they recorded in other documents which show how the overall activity is carried out?
  7. How is it ensured that adequate consultation is undertaken with HSRs on the development of these roles?
  8. How is it ensured that employees are able to carry out these roles effectively? How are their views on their roles evaluated?
  9. To what extent are employees involved in developing or reviewing their own roles?
  10. How is sign-off achieved for the intended roles? Who should review and confirm these roles?
  11. How is it ensured that these roles are maintained up-to-date if there are changes to the facility?

When to review the safety role for employees

MHF operators must review the safety role, including the procedures employees need to follow if there is any change in circumstances, including a modification at the facility, which could change the knowledge or skills employees need to perform their role.

Information, instruction and training

MHF operators must provide information, instruction and training to their employees that covers all the matters listed in Regulation 389(1) of the OHS Regulations. This duty extends to any contactors that are engaged by the operator.

Operators must also monitor, review and, if necessary, revise the information, instruction and training provided in order to ensure it remains relevant and effective, and keep records of training provided.

Informing employees about the Safety Case

Operators must inform employees and contractors about the content of the safety case (including any revisions) and provide them with ready access to the safety case, SMS and emergency plan.

Tips for providing effective information, instruction and training

Operators should consider the following:

  • What are the most appropriate methods of providing information, instruction and training; for example, class room environments? What are the specific subjects and issues that require informing, instruction and training? Which employee groups require particular information? What level of detail is required and how often does this need to be refreshed?
  • Who should be involved in the development and presentation of the information
  • When should employees be informed? When first on-site? At what intervals? How much flexibility should be allowed in the timing of providing information? Should provision of information be scheduled or reactive, based on apparent need for knowledge?
  • How is the effectiveness of processes used to provide information, instruction and training measured such as performance monitoring, results reporting to management, or number of incidents linked to training?
  • How is compliance with planned levels of information, instruction and training measured?
  • What are the triggers for review and revision of the information, instruction and training?

Compliance checklist

This checklist refers to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, Part 5.2 - Major hazard facilities with respect to the duties relevant to consulting with employees.

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