Health and safety at work
Labour & European Law Review Weekly Issue 462 23 March 2016
The TUC has launched new guidance to help encourage existing union members to become health and safety reps, as well as recruit new members.
There are currently about 100,000 union safety reps in UK workplaces who work hard to reduce injuries and ill-health at work. The TUC trains around 10,000 safety reps every year, who focus on finding and resolving potential problems at work. For instance, it was union reps who first highlighted risks including asbestos, violence at work, repetitive strain injury, the effects of passive smoking and stress.
The TUC estimates that prevention of workplace injuries and work-related ill-health as a result of this “union safety effect” saves the economy the equivalent of £219m-£725m a year at 2014 prices. The contribution of the union safety role in the public sector alone is £130m-£360m.
However, the TUC believes that the government’s Trade Union Bill may seriously affect health and safety at work, if reps are unable to get the facility time off they need to keep their members safe or if union membership falls.
As a result the TUC has produced new guidance aimed at helping unions encourage existing members to become more involved with health and safety issues and attract new members.
The advice suggests that health and safety is a good way of recruiting members as concerns about workplace safety are one of the main reasons that people join a trade union.
In addition, many employers are more interested in working with unions on health and safety issues than others, and areas like well-being can provide a good way of involving the workforce and engaging with the employer.
To encourage current union members to be more interested in health and safety issues, the guidance suggests unions can:
- involve members in identifying hazards at work, finding solutions and dealing with problems
- continue to increase the number of trained health and safety reps, ensuring they are representative of their workplaces
- deal with problems early, when they are manageable, rather than leaving them to get worse.
David Robinson of Thompsons Solicitors commented “Proposals under the Trade Union Bill which could have the effect of limiting paid time off for trade union representatives is, given that workplaces which have a union health and safety representative have half the injury rate of workplaces that don’t, both short-sighted and counterproductive. It is a blunt and vindictive attempt to undermine the positive contribution union representatives make in the workplace.”
To read the guidance in full, go to: https://www.tuc.org.uk/HandSandOrganising