Union health and safety representatives rock!
Every two years the TUC asks trade union health and safety representatives about the issues that affect them, and the results are always really interesting. The 2016 survey results have just been published and show that across every sector the biggest issue they deal with is stress. Bullying and harassment is also becoming more of an issue.
What this indicates is how much the workplace has changed dramatically over recent decades and with new ways of working, changes to the economy and austerity cuts, the health hazards that we encounter at work have changed enormously. The traditional safety concerns of dangerous chemicals or unguarded machines may still be there is some workplaces, but the matters that safety representatives have to deal with are now more about work organisation and the growing recognition of how ill it is making an awful lot of people. That is why issues like stress prevention, and bullying are now a major part of every representative’s training.
Another worrying statistic from the survey is that nearly half of UK workplaces have never had a health and safety inspection from the HSE or local authority. Nearly one in two (46%) respondents said that as far as they know their workplace has never had an inspection by the Health and Safety Executive or local authority. Just one in four reps (24%) reported an inspection within the last 12 months.
Perhaps that is not surprising given that the HSE stopped pro-active inspections in most workplaces over five years ago and in recent years, local councils have reduced workplace inspections by 97%, but it does show that, in the vast majority of unionised workplaces, the only people who are there to challenge the employers on health and safety when they risk the health or safety of the workers are union health and safety representatives.
And that brings me to the last point that I wanted to highlight, which is that, despite all the attacks on unions from both the government and many employers, trade union health and safety representatives are still doing an amazing job. Over three quarters of them have managed to get themselves trained, despite the pressures of work and the barriers that employers often put in their way. Also around 80% of representatives had inspected their workplace and of these who had, well over half had inspected three or more times in the past year.
This is a great achievement and is the reason why workplaces with union health and safety representatives are so much safer and healthier than those without. So let’s remember that these people are volunteers who, for no material reward, give up their own time to help others and, as a result help save people from injury, illness or even, in some cases, death. We should never lose an opportunity of celebrating this amazing band of people.