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In recent years around 50 construction workers are killed each year as a result of poor safety conditions at work. Therefore the role of a trade union Safety Representative is critically important.
Which is why in both the public and private sectors UCATT Reps strive to make conditions safer for all workers.
Trade union Safety Representatives are appointed by trade unions to represent their members (and sometimes the entire workforce) on health and safety issues. There is evidence that workplaces with Safety Reps and joint union - management safety committees have injury rates less than half of those without such representation.
A consultation published in 2007 by the then Department for Trade and Industry found that Safety Reps save society between £181m and £578m each year (at 2004 prices) as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses.
Most of the law dealing with the functions of trade union Safety Reps is contained in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC) 1977 (as amended by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992) and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 relate to trade union Safety Reps, while the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 deal with the representation at non-unionised workplaces.
A comprehensive outline of the legal framework of trade union Safety Reps is given in the so-called Brown Book (click here to download the Brown Book www.tuc.org.uk/extras/brownbook.pdf).
It is important to note that: If the union reaches agreement with the employer, the trade union safety representative can represent the entire workforce including non-unionised workers.
In workplaces where no union Safety Rep has been appointed, where the Safety Rep does not represent the whole workforce (and no agreement is in place) and in non-unionised workplaces an employer has to consult the workers directly or through an elected representative of employee safety.
The main tasks of trade union Safety Reps are:
Representing employees in discussions with the employer on health, safety or welfare issues and in discussions with HSE or other enforcing authorities
- Being consulted in good time over a large range of health and safety issues
- Being involved with risk assessment procedures
- Attending safety committee meetings
- Having access to relevant health and safety information
- Investigating potential hazards and dangerous occurrences and examine the cause of accidents
- Investigating employees' complaints
- Consulting with and receiving information from health and safety inspectors.
In order to be able to do so, they need to:
- Be given paid time off from their normal work to carry out their functions and undergo training
- Have access to suitable facilities and assistance.
In addition, if two or more Safety Representatives request that an employer sets up a safety committee, the employer has to do so within three months following the request. The role of safety committees is to develop and review safe systems of work and safety procedures. As such they should:
- Analyse accidents and causes of notifiable occupational diseases
- Review risk assessments
- Examine safety audit reports
- Monitor the effectiveness of health and safety training
- Consider reports and information provided by HSE inspectors and Environmental Health Officers
- Monitor and review the adequacy of health and safety communication and publicity within the workplace
- Continuously monitor all arrangements for health and safety and revise them whenever necessary.
Protection from Victimisation
Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) offers protection from victimisation for Safety Reps and other workers because of health and safety activities. According to the Act a dismissal is unfair if the reason for that dismissal is that the employee:
- Carries out or proposes to carry out action as a Safety Rep
- Takes part or proposes to take part in consultations with the employer in elections for employee Safety Representatives
- Brings to the employers' attention circumstances which they believe are harmful to health and safety.
An employee who is victimised for any of the above reasons has a right to take the case to an employment tribunal.
Want to become a Safety Rep?
As a Safety Rep you can make a real difference for the health and safety of yourself and everybody else in your workplace. You will:
- Help to reduce injuries at work
- Contribute to the reduction of occupational ill-health
- Encourage greater reporting of injuries
- Make workers more confident
- Help develop a more positive safety culture in your workplace.
If you are interested in becoming a UCATT Safety Representative please contact your Regional Office for further information.
Guide: Blacklisting and public procurement
Our new guide seeks to assist UCATT members in lobbying to stop public contracts going to firms that have blacklisted workers and have not made up for it. Download the Blacklisting & Public Procurement Guide now.
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