Safety Representatives

S2/13 The policy replaces S2/04 but differs only in one respect: the definition of 'Group or groups of employees' has been changed to reflect the definitions in the staff handbooks.


This policy explains the University’s arrangements for compliance with the legislation and guidance on safety representatives and safety committees[1].  The functions, rights and arrangements described in this document apply separately to each recognised trade union and therefore any investigation or inspection by one does not preclude the others from carrying out separate investigations or inspections[2].

[1] Health and Safety and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, S2(4), S2(6), S2(7); Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (as amended by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992), which are referred to in this document as the Regulations; and the associated Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes to the Regulations.

[2]  Where reasonably practicable the trade unions have agreed to co-ordinate their activities to minimise disruption to departments.


January 2013


Several terms used here are taken directly from the legislation and their meaning is as follows:

(a)                Recognised trade union

In the University, the recognised trade unions are the University and College Union (UCU), Unite, and UNISON.

(b)               Group or groups of employees

This refers to either the whole or part of the categories of staff defined in the Recognition and Procedure Agreements published in the Staff Handbooks.

That is, in the case of Unite and UNISON, staff employed in support staff grades 1 to 5 and support staff who were assimilated onto the new University grades 6 and 7; in the case of UCU, staff employed in University academic and academic-related grades.

In relation to health and safety and for the purposes of this policy, safety representatives are expected to represent all employees in the relevant group or groups and not just union members.

(c)                Workplace

This means any place or places where the group or groups of employees are likely to work, or that they are likely to frequent in the course of their employment or incidentally to it.

Appointment of Safety Representatives

Recognised trade unions may appoint safety representatives from amongst the group or groups of employees they represent.  They may appoint as many safety representatives as they wish, having regard for the criteria set out in the Health and Safety Commission’s (HSC’s) Guidance to the Regulations.  In any case of dispute over the number of safety representatives that have been appointed, then the University Safety Office should be consulted as soon as possible.

The recognised trade unions must notify the Director of Health and Safety, in writing, of the appointment or resignation of safety representatives, and the group or groups of employees they represent.  As far as reasonably practicable, those appointed should have been employed in the University for at least two years, or have at least two years experience in a similar environment.  This is to ensure that they have the type of knowledge and experience that enables them to make an effective contribution to health and safety in their area.

To simplify the process of liaison with the University and its departments, the recognised trade unions have each agreed to nominate a senior safety representative.  They will serve as the primary contacts for all written and other formal communications on safety matters, but the title does not imply any additional legal duty or obligation.

Functions of Safety Representatives

(a)                As well as their function in representing employees in consultations with the University on safety matters, safety representatives have a number of specific functions:

(i)                to investigate potential hazards and dangerous occurrences at the workplace, whether or not they are drawn to their attention by the employees they represent; and to examine the causes of accidents at the workplace

(ii)                to investigate complaints by the employees they represent concerning their health, safety and welfare

(iii)                to make representations to the University concerning those complaints

(iv)                to make representations to the University on general matters relating to health, safety and welfare

(v)                to carry out inspections

(vi)                to represent the employees they were appointed to represent in consultations at the workplace with HSE or other inspectors enforcing health and safety law

(vii)                to attend safety committee meetings.

Note that these are functions, not duties: whilst acting as a safety representative, an employee does not incur any legal liability for acts or omissions in respect of those functions.

(b)               Detailed arrangements for the discharge of these functions are as follows:

(i)                Investigations

Safety representatives appointed to cover the activities of the department in which they work, or to which they normally have free access, must be permitted free and unhindered access to investigate potential hazards and dangerous occurrences, to investigate complaints by staff and to examine the causes of accidents subject only to the following conditions:

  • If they wish to examine any process, equipment or facility designed to protect persons from danger then they must give reasonable notice to the supervisor (or other person in charge) of their intention.  This does not prevent them from holding discussions with staff, or from making general observations of the workplace where such observations present no danger to staff or to the safety representative.
  • If they wish to go where access is restricted for experimental or security purposes then they must make prior arrangements with the supervisor or other person in charge.  The supervisor must co-operate with safety representatives to ensure that the investigation can be carried out effectively and without undue delay.
  • The departmental safety officer would normally be expected to accompany the safety representative during an investigation. Where this is not possible within a reasonable time (usually one day), the senior safety representative should contact the administrator or head of department who must make arrangements to allow the investigation to take place without delay.  Where the senior safety representative decides that there may be an immediate and serious risk of danger that requires urgent investigation and the departmental safety officer is not immediately available, the senior safety representative must contact both the University Safety Office and the administrator or head of department.  They will make arrangements to accompany the safety representative to ensure his or her safety.
  • Where no safety representative has been appointed from amongst the staff of a department or where the senior safety representative decides that it is more appropriate for a different safety representative to investigate, then the investigation must be made jointly with the departmental safety officer. The departmental safety officer may ask the University Safety Office for assistance in the investigation, but must ensure that it is carried out efficiently and without undue delay.

Safety representatives must have free and unhindered access to those they represent to discuss the matters under investigation, subject only to any restrictions that the department may apply to all visitors for safety or security reasons.  Departments must make facilities available for those discussions to be held in private if necessary.

As far as is reasonably practicable, but without prejudice to the effectiveness of the investigation, investigations should be arranged so as to minimise disruption to the work of the department.

The University Safety Office will supply senior safety representatives with a list of departmental safety officers, heads of departments, and their deputies and update this information at reasonable intervals.

(ii)                Representations following investigations

Following the investigation, safety representatives may suggest remedial action to the departmental safety officer, head of department, or other person delegated to deal with the matter.  The suggestions may be made orally or in writing, but in any case must be confirmed in writing to the Director of Health and Safety within 10 working days.  As far as reasonably practicable, such suggestions must comply with University safety policies.  In cases where a senior safety representative believes that action is necessary to counter a major risk, then both the head of department and the Director of Health and Safety must be notified immediately.

As explained earlier, safety representatives are not legally liable for the advice given whilst acting in that capacity (although they are still subject to the duties imposed on them in law as employees).  Heads of departments must ensure that any action taken following these representations complies with University safety policy, or with the relevant legislation.  Where there is any doubt, advice should be obtained from the University Safety Office.

Where a senior safety representative believes that suggested remedies might have immediate implications for the work of other departments, then the representations must be made in writing to the Director of Health and Safety.  He/she will forward them with appropriate advice to relevant heads of departments and consider whether to raise the matter at the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety (CCHS).

(iii)                Representations on general matters

Representations by safety representatives on general matters affecting the health, safety or welfare of employees should be made in writing to the Director of Health and Safety who will, if the matter cannot be resolved directly, ensure the matter is placed on the agenda of the next CCHS meeting.  The senior safety representative can also make written representation directly to the Secretary of CCHS, who will place the matter on the agenda of the next meeting if necessary.  Wherever possible, sufficient time should be allowed for proper consideration in advance of the meeting so that a reasoned response can be made to CCHS.

 (iv)                Notification of Enforcing Authority inspections

The University Safety Office will notify the senior safety representative of the date, location and time of inspections by the HSE or other enforcing authority, whenever reasonably practicable.  Note that these authorities are not obliged to give prior notification of inspections and that some inspections will be unannounced.

Time off work

Heads of departments must grant safety representatives reasonable time off work with pay to enable them to:

(a) hold meetings with those they represent

(b)  attend meetings of departmental safety advisory committees, departmental genetic modification safety committees and CCHS

(c) carry out inspections, investigations and other related matters[1]

(d) undergo basic training, or further training for those who have special responsibilities or where such training is necessary to meet changes in circumstances or relevant legislation.

Trade unions must submit all requests for time off for safety training to the University Safety Office, normally giving at least four weeks notice of the start of the course.  The University Safety Office will liaise with the departments concerned and confirm in writing that permission to attend the course has been granted.  Within any one department, trade unions should ensure that the number of safety representatives attending training courses at any one time is reasonable, bearing in mind such factors as the availability of the course and the operational requirements of the department.

There is an Approved Code of Practice on time off for the training of safety representatives and copies are available from the University Safety Office.  All queries on this subject should be addressed initially to the Director of Health and Safety, who may liaise with Personnel Services on the matter.

[1]  "Other related matters" includes attendance at trade union meetings, where time off should not exceed an average of two hours per month, except for senior safety representatives where it should not exceed an average of four hours per month.

Formal inspections

Safety representatives are entitled to make formal inspections of the workplace (normally no more frequently than every three months) after giving sufficient notice.  These inspections are intended to ensure that acceptable standards of safe practice are being observed.  The University recognises that this is beneficial to both parties and will provide the recognised trade unions with facilities and assistance in their inspections.  Therefore heads of departments must ensure that full co-operation is given to the trade unions in order to deliver an efficient and effective inspection; likewise, the trade unions undertake to co-operate with the University to ensure the minimum disruption to the work of departments.

(a) Notice of formal inspections

The recognised trade unions have agreed that “reasonable notice” of their intention to carry out a formal inspection means at least ten working days.  Notice will be given in writing to the Director of Health and Safety, who will be responsible for notifying the relevant departments.  The notice must include the name of the department(s) to be inspected, the date and time of inspection and (if the inspection is not a general inspection) the part of the workplace or work activity to be inspected.  If possible, a programme covering a substantial part of the year should be agreed in advance between the trade unions and the University as this will help to minimise disruption to departments.

A member of staff of the department should be present during the inspection.  If the Departmental Safety Officer or other senior member of the department cannot attend then the inspection may be postponed.  Sometimes it is not practicable to inspect part of the workplace on the date proposed (e.g. when rooms have been prepared for examinations; where conferences are taking place; or where access to restricted areas within a department is requested).  The trade unions have agreed that they will arrange, through the University Safety Office, a mutually acceptable alternative date that will be no later than 15 working days from the original date requested for inspection.

(b) Inspection arrangements

The inspection may be carried out by a team, which should not normally contain more than three safety representatives.  Where joint inspections have been arranged by different recognised trade unions, there should be no more than two representatives from each union. During the inspection, the department must provide facilities for the safety representatives equivalent to those normally available to members of department.

All members of the inspection team must observe University and departmental safety requirements and comply with any restrictions that apply to members of the department.  Usually, the department will arrange for the departmental safety officer or other senior member of the department to accompany the safety representatives and the University Safety Office will arrange for one of its officers to be present.

Departments must make available facilities for private discussion between the safety representatives and the employees.

Safety representatives must be given the opportunity to make independent measurements with their own equipment, subject only to University and departmental safety requirements.  Alternatively, at the safety representatives’ request and in their presence, a member of the University Safety Office will make any measurements for which it has suitable equipment; provided that previous reliable measurements have not been made within a reasonable period before the inspection whose results are available to the trade unions.  (Note that measurements may have to be made at some mutually convenient date after the inspection).

(c) Re-inspections

If a department carries out remedial work following an inspection, the safety representatives that undertook the original inspection may re-inspect that part of the workplace in order to satisfy themselves that the work has been carried out.  The arrangements, notice period and further representations following re-inspection will be the same as for a formal inspection.

(d) Inspections following substantial changes or the publication of new information

Safety representatives are entitled to make inspections where there have been substantial changes in work (e.g. the introduction of new equipment) or where new information has been published by the HSC or HSE that is relevant to the hazards of the workplace. These inspections may take place even if three months have not elapsed since the last inspection. The senior safety representative must request such an inspection in writing to the Director of Health and Safety, who will discuss it with the head of department.  Usually no difficulty will arise, but where the matter cannot be resolved it will be referred to CCHS for further consideration.

(e) Representations following a formal inspection

Following their inspection, safety representatives must make their representations in writing to the Director of Health and Safety, who will forward them with any necessary recommendations to the head of department.  The head of department must reply within twenty working days via the Director of Health and Safety.

The written report must contain the following information:

(i) the date on which the University Safety Office was notified of the inspection

(ii) the date of the inspection

(iii) the name of the department inspected

(iv) the part of the department inspected, or the work process examined

(v) a concise but comprehensive description of the matters requiring comment

(vi) the name, address and signature of the safety representative to whom correspondence should be addressed.

Inspections following HSE - reportable accidents, dangerous occurences or diseases

The University Safety Office must report certain accidents, dangerous occurrences and diseases to the HSE (see UPS S1/14). Although the University Safety Office routinely investigates such matters, safety representatives are entitled to carry out their own inspections.  Departments must report all such incidents immediately to the University Safety Office, who will notify senior safety representatives by a means agreed with individual trade unions (in the case of serious accidents/dangerous occurrences this will normally be by telephone).

If they wish to carry out an inspection, senior safety representatives must inform the University Safety Office within a reasonable time of receiving the notification.  The departmental safety officer (or another senior representative of the department nominated by the head of department) must accompany the safety representative during the inspection and a mutually convenient time should be agreed. The department must provide facilities similar to those provided for a formal inspection.

The scene of a serious accident or dangerous occurrence must not be disturbed until the University Safety Office, safety representatives and the HSE have had an opportunity to investigate.  It may sometimes be necessary to take urgent steps to safeguard against further hazards to people or damage to property.  In this case, then the University Safety Office must be consulted wherever practicable and a suitable record made of the accident scene and any action taken (including photographs if appropriate).  This record must be provided to the University Safety Office and to the safety representatives.

(a)                Arrangements for inspecting "seven day " injuries[1]

When the University Safety Office receives reports from departments of "seven day" injuries they will be forwarded to senior safety representatives.  If safety representatives wish to inspect the scene of such an incident, the departmental safety officer (or another senior representative of the department nominated by the head of department) must accompany them and a mutually convenient time should be agreed. The department must provide facilities similar to those provided for a formal inspection.

(b)               Representations following inspections

Representations by safety representatives concerning their inspections must be made in writing to the Director of Health and Safety, who will forward them to the head of department with such comment or advice as may be necessary.

Formal reports or recommendations made by the University Safety Office about a reportable accident, dangerous occurrence or disease will be made available to the senior safety representative of each recognized trade union where the interests of those they represent may be involved, but not where disclosure is excepted by the Regulations (see 7 (b)).

[1] For an explanation, see UPS S1/14


(a) The University must make the following information available to safety representatives:

(i) Information held under any relevant statutory provision within the meaning of section 53(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc 1974 (e.g. copies of F2508/F2508A forms on which accidents, dangerous occurrences and diseases have been reported to the HSE; copies of annual tests of local exhaust ventilation made under COSHH; copies of risk assessments). 

Safety representatives can inspect and take copies (normally photocopies) of these documents, except for any document consisting of or relating to the health or medical records of an individual.  They must give reasonable notice of their intention to inspect such documents, but any delay in producing and copying such documents should not exceed five working days.  (If the University does not hold the copyright of an item, care must be taken to not breach copyright law).

 (ii) Information that would affect the ability of the safety representatives to function efficiently (e.g. copies of departmental safety inspection reports), provided that such information relates to health, safety and welfare and subject to the exceptions described below

(b) The University will not provide information in the following cases:

(i) where disclosure is forbidden under any enactment of Parliament

(ii) where it relates specifically to an individual (unless he or she has agreed to its disclosure)

(iii) where the disclosure, other than for health, safety or welfare reasons, would damage the undertaking of the University or any third party which supplied the information (this applies mainly to commercial or patent interests)

(iv) where it was obtained for the purpose of bringing, prosecuting or defending any legal proceedings.  Departments should be aware that one of the functions of trade unions is to assist their members in civil suits for damages following incidents at work, so particular care must be taken in expressing opinions, either verbally or in writing, following such incidents.  Where there is potential civil liability, any information supplied to safety representatives should be strictly factual and directly related to the incident.

(c) By agreement, safety representatives are also allowed access to some other categories of information.

Appendix 1 lists items that will either be supplied routinely or made available to safety representatives. Note that the University Safety Office holds certain items centrally and departments are not obliged to provide safety representatives with copies of these.

Safety committees

The Regulations require employers to consult with safety representatives in order to make and maintain arrangements for effective co-operation with employees in promoting and developing measures to ensure health and safety at work and to check the effectiveness of such measures.

(a) University arrangements

The University has set up a two-tier central committee structure.  This comprises the Health and Safety Management Committee (HSMC), which is a committee of Council; and the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety (CCHS), which is the University’s main forum under the Regulations for consultation with the recognised trade unions on matters of health, safety and welfare.

In addition, the following advisory groups have been set up to provide specialist advice to HSMC and CCHS:

Biological Safety Advisory Group

Health Protection Advisory Group

Ionising Radiation Protection Advisory Group

Non–Ionising Radiation Protection Advisory Group

The composition and terms of reference of HSMC are set out in Council Regulations 15 of 2002, (amended 23 March 2006, 15 February 2007, 13 July 2007, 15 January 2009, 24 February 2011 and 30 June 2011 ), parts 20.1 – 20.8, while those of CCHS are set out in appendix 2.  The names of the chairmen of the committees and advisory groups are published annually as part of the University’s statement of health and safety policy.

(b)  Departmental arrangements

There must also be appropriate local arrangements for consultation where safety representatives have been appointed in a department.  University policy requires departments to set up departmental safety advisory committees (except where a department is so small that such formal arrangements are not necessary) and to invite participation from safety representatives (UPS S2/01).  Matters of general University concern will be dealt with by CCHS, but departmental safety advisory committees should discuss any major local changes in working practices or conditions of work.  Some departments may also be required to set up genetic modification safety committees, whose membership should include appropriate safety representatives.  In case of dispute over the number of safety representatives that unions wish to appoint then the University Safety Office should be consulted as soon as possible.  Where safety representatives have not been appointed in a department, the head of department should consider how to ensure appropriate local consultation.  Further advice on this can be obtained from the University Safety Office.

J Black