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Meet the safety reps making a difference

For forty years union health and safety reps have been working tirelessly to make our workplaces safer. These unpaid volunteers are one of the major reasons that Britain’s injury rate has fallen dramatically since 1977.

Workplaces with a union health and safety reps and a safety committee have half the serious injury rates than those without. They also have lower levels of occupational disease.

The kind of issues that they deal with are demonstrated by the stories from reps below. They are just ordinary people who are motivated by a desire to help others and make a difference. They have helped their members, they have helped their employers and they have helped society by keeping people safe, yet far too often their hard work is unrecognised. If politicians, regulators and employers gave more encouragement and support to union health and safety reps then they could be even more effective.

The Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations of 1977 were a huge step in the right direction. We should celebrate it, and use the occasion of their 40th birthday to thank those heroes who have helped protect our lives and our health over the past forty years and work towards ensuring that they have the support they need and deserve to keep workplaces safe and healthy for the next forty.

Angie Roberts, UNISON

Angie Roberts, UNISON

Angie has worked as a driver in the ambulance service for 14 years and became a union health and safety representative when she saw that quite a lot of her colleagues were having long term health conditions such as back pain. After she became a representative the local ambulance service decided to buy a new fleet of patient care ambulances. Angie was invited to give input in her role as union health and safety representative as part of the partnership working arrangements with management. She consulted with members and got feedback that, due to the inclines involved and the variations in patients’ weights, the existing practice of pushing patients up a ramp and in to the ambulance manually could be quite dangerous. Thanks to the knowledge of manual handling gained as part of her representatives training, Angie was able to make the case for tail lifts to be included on the vehicles, something that management had not previously asked for.

Because of Angie’s actions, the new ambulances were all delivered with the lifts on them. This has reduced the risk of back strain and manual handling injuries to staff, who would otherwise have had to push wheelchairs up ramps. The feedback from staff has been brilliant. As Angie said

It’s not just about the short term reduction in back injuries, it’s reducing the long term wear and tear that people’s joints are subjected to from lifting over many years, which catches up with you in the end.
Shay Boyle GMB

Shay Boyle GMB

Shay was one of the original safety representatives back when the regulations came into effect in 1978. For 25 year he worked for a water company. In 1995 painters and decorators had to work in the pump stations and pump houses. One of these had seven, very noisy, giant pumps over three metres high that had to be repainted. The company would only turn off the pump they were working on meaning that the painters were working in a really loud environment. Ear defenders were issued but they were totally inadequate and the workers complained that they could still hear the pump noise in their ears on the way home. Clearly the noise was damaging the workers hearing and this was shown when the workers had their health check.

Shay raised the issue with the employer and the work was stopped. Afterwards the painters were issued with proper, good quality ear defenders. 

Susan Heath Usdaw

Susan uses her right to inspect regularly in her role as a health and safety representative in a big supermarket. She routinely deals with issues such as blocked fire exits, congestion in the warehouse or aisles and insufficient lighting in the car park. She believes that, while these basic issues may not be glamorous, they are important for protecting the safety of the workers she represents and the customers who use the store.

One success that Susan achieved was when members complained about faulty and broken chairs or missing foot rests at the checkouts. Susan did a survey and also a workplace inspection and presented her findings to management. Although they took some convincing she finally persuaded them that the high absence rates resulting from neck or back problems could be reduced and the workers got their new chairs and footrests. They were of a better design that the previous chairs and were fitted with height adjustable back rests. The members were really pleased, and neck and back problems became far less of an issue.

Jim Young Usdaw

Jim Young Usdaw

Jim first became a health and safety representative in 2005 because of the problems he saw in the mail order processing centre where he worked, in particular manual handling injuries and slips and trips that management seemed to take for granted. Having been trained through the TUC, Jim knew the importance of good training and realised that many workers were being put in jobs without proper training by managers who also often had no proper training. After Jim presented management with a survey that he did which showed how inadequate the current training system and work allocation policy was, management developed, at Jim’s suggestion, a training matrix for each shift which showed what work each person was trained to do so managers could only allocate properly competent workers to jobs. In the first year the injury rate fell by 7% and the following year, by a massive 45%. This has led to management having much more respect for the union and shown members that the union gets things done which is why membership is up.

Julie Phipps, Unite

Julie works for a London council and her story shows how the workplace is changing and health and safety needs to keep up. When she started at the depot some 15 years ago there were virtually no women. The managers were all men, the planners were all men and the operatives were all men. The only exceptions were Julie herself and a female decorator. There were a couple of women in the back office but the yard was very male dominated. As time progressed more women were employed and recently there are more female office staff than men. That obviously created challenges such as the provision of personal protective equipment (which often was designed only for use by men), and welfare facilities. Having been trained as a health and safety rep Julie knew that her role as a representative also included welfare. This became a pressing issue when three of her members who work in the back office became pregnant at the same time so Julie felt it was time that facilities directly applicable to pregnant women should be made available. This included a place for women to rest if required and also, after they returned to work, to express milk if they wished. She met with the health and safety manager of the depot who eventually identified a location for the welfare facility and it was installed in time for the three members to make use of it.

Andy McArthur CWU

Andy McArthur CWU

Sometimes it is simple things that make a difference. Andy worked for the UK’s biggest mail delivery provider and was a union health and safety representative for over 20 years. In that time he dealt with issues such as terrorists sending dangerous and explosive items through the post, occupational road safety, increasing the number of first aiders and the risk from chemicals to cleaners in the depots and offices. Many of these campaigns made a big difference both in his workplace and wider afield. An example of how safety representatives can make a difference was when mail delivery times changed which meant that more delivery workers had to deliver mail in the hottest part of the day. Andy raised the issue of the problems of skin cancer, heat exhaustion and dehydration. This led to the employer making changes to outdoor workers hats and uniforms as well the provision of special water bottles and holders to delivery cycles and trolleys.

Wendy Miller Usdaw

Wendy Miller Usdaw

Wendy is a safety representative in a High Street store in a small town in Scotland. In 2011 the staff were moved into temporary premises for a few months as the main store was being totally refitted. There were a number of serious safety concerns with the temporary store. It was an old building with only one access point. Some staff worked in an office up a steep stair case with bars on the window. Their only fire escape was down the stairs and through the store.  At the back of the building an outhouse was used as a warehouse. Lighting was bad and holes in the floor were covered with loose boards. The yard was muddy and uneven. As an ex-firefighter, Wendy was particularly concerned about the fire risk but she also wanted to get the other hazards sorted. She raised her concerns through the procedures but was getting nowhere with local management. At a national joint-consultative meeting she shared photos of the problems with the Usdaw National Officer who was so concerned she went straight to the CEO for the company. He was equally shocked and promised the fire safety issues would be sorted within an hour – which they were. The other problems took a little longer but Wendy got them sorted. When they moved back into the re-furbished store, there were some issues with the fire exits and a couple of other safety problems which were sorted without much opposition.

Calum Mackenzie GMB

Around ten years ago, Calum was a safety representative for a Scottish local authority An old aircraft hangar had been converted into a vehicle repair workshop. It had a large door towards the back of the building and the main double doors at the front through which trucks and other vehicles entered for repair or service, which meant there was an emission of diesel fumes while vehicles entered or left. Also, during the service process it was necessary to run the engines of plant vehicles, or in the case of trucks they needed to run the engine until air tanks were pumped up. This required a fume extraction process, which was simply the opening of both sets of large doors. This meant that fumes cleared almost instantly. That was until a partition from floor to ceiling was built all the way across the middle of the garage, which meant no air circulation and a big build-up of fumes.

This was raised by Calum and initially the Council disputed it was an issue, but Calum persisted, eventually getting the HSE involved, who spoke to the Council. The result was immediate action including an exhaust fumes extraction system which worked and was fit for purpose. It also led to some broken equipment being either replaced or repaired and from then on the council took a lot more notice of what the union said on health and safety matters.

Bob Grant Unite

Bob Grant Unite

Bob was a Coppersmith to trade and for the last 6 years of his working life a Safety representative in a Scottish shipyard. Over the years he has plenty examples he can give of how they make a difference, but the work with apprentices stands out. He recognized the risks that apprentices were often placed in as new starts and helped set up an apprentice safety forum which allowed them to have "hands on" with health and safety. He assisted them in coming up with the successful "I can" safety poster campaign   e.g. “I can play football because I am safe at work”. They also introduced yellow coloured safety helmets to identify new starts apprentices.

The work all made a real difference. One example is after it was noticed that the apprentices were often not wearing the cheap and ugly safety glasses that were provided, he assisted in convincing management to buy more stylish glasses, and with active promotion ensured they were being worn. All sites reported a reduction in eye injuries. One by 93% in one month. Quite a result.

Malcolm Woods CWU

Malcolm Woods CWU

Mal is safety representative in a parcel delivery company. Clearly the management of the transport is a big issue and Mal showed that safety representatives benefit, not only the workforce, but also the public. A number of pedestrians had been killed or injured in reversing accidents. Mal raised the issue of fitting the vehicles with reversing cameras and eventually they were installed. However, the company only installed them in the vans that were driven by their own drivers. In addition, about a quarter of the vehicles were driven by “owner-drivers” who were self-employed and did not have to fit them. Mal was able to show convincingly that the vast majority of accidents were caused by these owner-drivers and part of the reason was probably the fact that they were motivated by the fact that the more parcels they delivered, the more they earned. Mal persevered and finally got the company to insist that all the owner-driver vans were fitted with reversing cameras. They also had to revise their safe system of work, which has led to a significant reduction in injuries to the public.

Sam Rouge-Pledge USDAW

Sam works in a major supermarket and decided to become a health and a safety representative in 2007 after she suffered a serious back injury herself while working and decided that no-one else should have their health damaged at work. Shortly after she was appointed she had to deal with a difficult problem that demonstrated both to the senior store management and the workers how determined and effective she was.

There was a problem with a leak in the ceiling of the in-store bakery with water dripping onto staff and machinery. It had been going on for a couple of days and management were not treating it seriously despite the fact that the staff toilets were directly above the bakery. Sam talked to the pharmacist in the store who suggested using a home pregnancy testing kit to test a sample of the water. The test proved that the leaking water contained urine, so must be coming from the toilets above. Using this evidence she finally convinced management that it was a serious issue and they closed the bakery until the leak was repaired and the whole area had been deep-cleaned.

John Evans Unite

In 2002 the delivery company that John worked for was taken over by a large supermarket chain. Chilled produce delivery is an area that changes quickly and a union health and safety representative has to keep up-to-date with all the upgrades or procedure tweaks and make sure that management consults them. After John’s work was transferred the new employer decided to standardise the practices across the company. This meant that that all trucks would have a coupling device that slides away from the trailer. It was thought that this would eliminate the slips trips and falls that sometimes occurred, but John was concerned that it would great new risks as the driver would have to connect the airlines and electrics between the trainer and the truck while standing with their back to the reversing vehicle and also being exposed to an average 90 decibels of noise from the fridge unit. John instead suggested a different system that made it much safer, meaning that one hazard was not replaced by another.

Michael Blair, Unison

Michael has been a union health and safety representative for over thirty years. He currently works for a big care provider but seventeen years ago he started working for a major inkjet manufacturer. During the first three years he had a good relationship with the company which, he felt, took health and safety seriously, but after it was taken over by another company, things changed dramatically. On the first day management said that people could not even go to the toilet without permission and within a month it was clear that they were trying to dismantle much of the protection that was in place and ignore risk assessments. One example was the removal of scissor lifts in the packing department which had been installed to reduce musculoskeletal disorders. As a union health and safety representative Michael asked to see the new risk assessments but was ignored and ostracised by his line manager. Eventually, after giving one last demand for the information, he called in the HSE who were very supportive and made an unannounced dawn inspection. The result was almost immediate. The scissor lifts were reinstated, all risk assessments were revised and implemented, while the manager who had made it so difficult for Michael was disciplined and moved. After that he found it much easier to get the management to listen to him on safety issues.

Catriona Goldhammer GMB

Catriona Goldhammer GMB

Catriona is a safety representative in a well-known supermarket chain. She first because a representative because she says young people were being pressurised by management into using equipment they were not trained to, and a culture of bullying that meant that people just did not feel they could say “no” to management. The effect of having a union representative has been immense with people no longer feeling bullied into doing things that they think are unsafe, or not feeling they can go home when they are ill. Lots of her successes were simple ones like purchasing stress mats to protect workers knees on solid floors and ensuring broken equipment, such as chairs at the checkout, are repaired or disposed of.

She has even managed to get management to review risk assessments to reduce the amount of heavy lifting up and down stairs, leading to a reduction in musculoskeletal disorders as a result. As a result of the good work Catriona has done she now has three other union members who have become health and safety representatives in the store.

Josephine O'Brien, EIS

Josephine O'Brien, EIS

Josephine has been a teacher in a Scottish school for 33 years and has been a trade union health and safety representative in her current school for 23 years. Health and safety has always been a major consideration in her life and also, as a science teacher, in the classroom, so when the previous union representative retired it seemed natural for her to offer to replace him.

Over the years she has had to deal with a wide range of issues such as asbestos, leaking roofs, problems with temperature and dangerous fire escapes.   One example was when a new wing of the school was built. They found that the corridor linking up the original building to the new building did not connect exactly, so consequently, when it rained or snowed, water poured through the roof into the first floor corridor and from there to ground floor corridor.  Buckets were used to catch the water resulting in a major slip and trip hazard and also obstructing fire exit routes.  The problem was patched over several times but was not resolved.  As union health and safety representative Josephine used her right to inspect the workplace to monitor the situation and submitted several inspection report forms along with photographic evidence until eventually the source of the problem was investigated and finally rectified.

Charmain Bynoe Unison

The Government often says that offices are “low risk” workplaces. The people who work there know different which is why they need health and safety representatives like Charmain. She was a representative between 2001 and 2014, and has seen the kind of risks that her members face in a busy housing department, including violence and stress. When Charmain was first appointed, she found that risk assessments just did not exist for many sections, and those that did were out of date or ignored the major hazards.

Charmain ensured that management drew up comprehensive guidance on risk assessment and produced proper risk assessments, procedures and policies for dealing with every risk that was identified for every post. In addition she managed to get mandatory safety training introduced for every manager. To make sure that the actions identified in the risk assessments were adhered to she insisted in making regular inspections jointly with management. What Charmain did as a health and safety representative made the workplace much safer. It also meant that, when she stood down in 2014 there were almost 50 other trained union health and safety representatives in the council who could carry on her work, rather than just the 12 when she started.

Janise Corfield USDAW

Jan because a health and safety representative over ten years ago. She works in a large supermarket and has successfully dealt with a range of issues such as the dangers of pulling overloaded cages and ensuring that they do not block exits. As her workplace was in an out-of-town retail park, Jan also used the USDAW “Safer Journey to Work” campaign to try to ensure that early starters and night shift workers were safer when travelling.

One of her proudest achievements was making sure that lightening in all warehouses is now at the correct wattage and time switches are corrected locally so there is enough light for members to work safely. This is because there were parts of the warehouse where members had difficulty reading labels leading to eye-strain and headaches. There was also an increased risk of tripping. To save energy, lighting and heating was centrally controlled by the employer but they are now adjusted to suit local needs.

Malcolm Davies (Unite)

One of the things that the London Olympics will be remembered for is that the stadium was built without a single loss of life. A significant factor in that was the role of union health and safety representatives such as Malcolm. He became a safety representative because of the several deaths that he witnessed in 30 years of working in construction sites and he has represented the union on a range of projects over the years, but it is his work on the Olympic site that Malcolm is most proud of. Amongst his ideas were different Hi-Vis safety jackets for the safety reps and having a rotating poster system. He also came up with a novel idea for dealing with alcohol use, which could be a real danger on a construction site. He arranged to have alcohol testing kits available in the canteen so that operatives could check themselves if they had any doubt as to whether they were fit to work. If they failed they were able to absent themselves from work without repercussions, apart from losing pay for the hours they did not work. This “no blame system” meant that workers were far less likely to work after drinking.

Andrew Hudd ASLEF

Andrew and his fellow union health and safety representatives showed his employers that involving them right from the beginning can make a huge difference. In 2013 he and some colleagues were invited by the company designing a new inter-city train to look at what they were proposing for the train cab. The safety representatives made recommendations about the layout of the desk where most of the train’s controls are, moving non-driving function controls out of the space immediately in front of the driver, seat adjustability, being able to stand and drive, double height DSD (driver safety device), separation of communications, where to put the drink holder, a coat hook etc. One major omission on the part of the designers was the “second person’s seat” and space for that person in the cab. All train drivers would have to be trained to drive the new trains and that would need a space for the instructor - which wasn’t there. One year on and the ASLEF representatives were presented with a glossy, finished cab complete with actual controls etc, just as they’d suggested. As a result the new cabs were far safer, healthier and more practical than they would have been without the union input. Also both the company and the drivers liked them.

Anthony Lampey USDAW

Tony is a relatively new health and safety representative but has still made quite a difference in the delivery depot for online grocery deliveries where he works. Almost immediately he set up a joint Health & Safety committee which meets once a month with members from all store areas, managers and another Health and Safety colleague. This has had great success in resolving issues that are raised and it has enabled the union to have a better rapport with management and see results very quickly.  As a result the employer has indicated that they would like to follow this example in all of the similar centres and are moving forward set up a committee on every site.

Among the practical things that Tony has addressed are delivery trays that were overweight and difficult to load onto the vans.  The maximum weight has now been reduced and they are easier and safer to work with. Also, in the past, the tray wash and surrounding areas at the depot were also dangerous for colleagues, with lots of slip and trip hazards and broken electrical switches. The management did not seem too concerned about this and after raising these issues locally he had to escalate the issue up the chain, which lead to all the changes that were being asked for being implemented. These of course had the desired effect and has made that area much safer and healthier to work in, but Tony continues to monitor them to make sure that they are being followed.

Roy Apps CWU

Roy Apps CWU

Roy is a long-standing safety representative in a telecoms company with 40 years’ experience. He has dealt with a wide range of issues during his time and has had his good share of successes on issues ranging from traffic management to working from height.

One issue where he was proud to have made a difference was over the transportation of communications cable or fibre tubing drums. There had been a number of injuries to both people and vehicles caused by unsecured drums. This issue had not been addressed in the companies risk assessments and when Roy first raised it, the employer said that there was not a problem and it was only after Roy asked for a meeting with the company’s safety team and they made joint site visits that a proper risk assessment done. This showed that the methods used were totally insufficient for certain items and locations. A practical solution was developed that led to a totally new system for securing cable and fibre drums. Being a good safety representative Roy of course continued to monitor the new system of work to make sure that it was being applied and that there were no further incidents.

Trevor Morgan NASUWT

Asbestos is found in a large number of workplaces and is responsible for over 5,000 deaths every year. That is why union health and safety representatives always take it very seriously whenever it is reported. Trevor is a health and safety representative in a large secondary school. Several years ago builders were converting the flat roof of a 17 classroom block into a pitched roof and exposed asbestos by drilling into it. Trevor insisted that the entire block was closed immediately and air-testing subsequently confirmed that there was asbestos present. The area was closed, not to allow the work to continue, but to ensure that all the asbestos was stripped out. This protected over 150 staff and 1,500 pupils. Since that experience Trevor has been active in campaigning for the removal of asbestos from all schools across the whole of his region.

Clifford Major, UCATT (now Unite)

Before working in construction, Cliff had been employed in the car industry and was shocked by the difference in safety culture, in particular the reluctance of workers in construction to raise issues for fear of being seen as a trouble-maker. As a health and safety representative he designed and instituted a form that operatives could fill in anonymously and leave in a folder in the canteen. This was a big success and led to a big number of issues being raised such as problems with lighting in depots, the quality of PPE and a lack of gritting in winter. These issues were raised with management and most of them resolved making the workplace safer for everyone. The scheme was so successful that the company management took it up and now implement it in all their depots.

Steven Owens PCS

Steven Owens PCS

Union members in a government office in North Wales can breathe more easily thanks to Steven. The building he worked in was next to a railway line and members complained that they were being exposed to all the fumes which contained a range of dangerous chemicals. The situation had been going on for years before Steven, who had been on several TUC training courses for safety representatives, said it was a health and safety issues and demanded that management conduct an assessment as required under the chemicals regulations COSHH. Eventually senior management agreed to do an assessment which showed that there was a real problem and recommended a range of measures to control ventilation. At the same time they even put in measures to sort out problems with the heating. However Steven did not leave it there. He also asked that the employer look at removing all the dust that was in the carpets and furniture because of years of exposure to the fumes. From the feedback that he got from members, Steven knows that they really appreciate what was done.

Keith Taylor POA

Keith became a health and safety representative in 1992, when the prison service was going through major changes as a result of legal changes that meant they had to adhere to health and safety regulations. Even after then he had to fight hard to get his employer to agree to him doing workplace inspections, eventually getting a tribunal ruling that, not only allowed him to make inspections, but opened the door for other health and safety representatives in the service. Since then he has used these inspections to ensure that health and safety problems are being dealt with as well as taking up issues such as stress and violence.

One incident that Keith will never forget was in 2012 when there was an incident in the prison that he worked that led to 12 of his members suffering horrific injuries. He immediately demanded action from the prison authorities to ensure that, not only were prison officers given support in the event of an outbreak of violence but, equally importantly, that the prison addressed the causes of violence. This led to a decrease in assaults and a much safer workplace.

Paul Dennis RMT

Paul was a health and safety representative for over 10 years in a train conductor depot. During that time he took up a range of issue, not only for conductors but for other staff, including cleaners. Often this was done jointly with other rail unions who he worked closely with. One of the first issues that he had to deal with was just after he became a safety representative. He was concerned about the number of assaults and abuse that he witnessed, but when he raised it with management, they denied that there was a problem. In part this was because the incidents were not being reported as staff felt that, as there was no support from management, there was little point in reporting it. Paul started a “Not reported, not happening” campaign to encourage staff to report every incident, however small. This eventually led to the company accepting there was an issue and developing a widespread programme to tackle abuse and even resulted in the opening of a British Transport Police office on the line, ensuring a better police presence.

Malcolm Mellow Unite

Malcolm Mellow Unite

Malcolm has worked in quarries for most of his adult life and was a safety representative even before the 1977 regulations were introduced, having been appointed under Mines and Quarries Act 1954. Since 1977 he continued as a safety representative within the quarry where he worked and went on to become a senior safety representative for the company. As such, he has been involved in all of the company’s safety committees and consultation groups, consulting on company safety rules, safety policy, training packages/tool box talks and other policies and procedures. He has also used the regulations to stop the management appointing their own non-union” safety representatives.

One of the many successes he remembers is how he ensured that workers in some of the smaller sites got access to a union representatives. He was one of the pioneers of “Roving Safety Representatives”. Having proven the benefit of safety representatives on company sites, firstly where he originally worked, he got the company to agree to other union representatives covering the functions at sites with no elected Safety Reps also to give full release for these representatives in company time. There is no doubt that the big fall in injury rates that the company experienced is, to a considerable extent, down to the work of Malcolm and his fellow Safety Reps.

Anthony Gavin Pearce CWU

Gavin became a health and safety representative in a call centre in 2011.After doing a great job recruiting new members to the union, getting health and safety notice boards put up and dealing with issues such as ventilation and heating, he got approached with one of the kinds of problems that display the versatility of union safety representatives.

Some of his members complained of insect bites, especially around the ankles which they put down to an infestation of carpet fleas. Often when this happens, management deny there can be a problem, but Gavin posted on their Facebook group and found out that it was widespread across the site. Management reluctantly agreed to spray the area, but members continued to complain and Gavin doubted whether this had actually been done, so he ensured that it was done and flea traps were laid down. As a result, there were no further incidents. While this may seem less important than some of the health and safety issues that union representatives deal with it made a big difference to the staff and also showed the importance of being in a union.

Jillian Blackwood, PCS

Not all issues that union health and safety representatives deal with stop with the employer. Sometimes they have to go a bit further. Over ten years ago, Jillian worked in a public office that dealt with a public, many of whom were distressed or angry. The threat of abuse and even violence was an issue that faced many of her members. On one occasion a colleague was verbally abused and threatened by a “customer”. Jillian accompanied her to the police station, providing a statement. The customer was banned for three months and faced criminal charges. However she also emphasised that violence is an issue that management have to deal with, and it is not just a police matter. Jillian raised the issue with management and some improvements were made as a result of the pressure she put on management. A new security system that was agreed with security which provided a visual deterrent to potential “troublemakers” and this worked well. Jillian said that “Being an unbiased voice of members and employees gives me a sense of achievement and purpose. It is essential to have a union health and safety presence at work dealing with the best interest of members and staff at heart, over management priorities for running the business.”

Rick Finlay Musicians Union

Rick was one of the first people to become a safety representative for the Musicians Union. He worked on one West End show for twenty-two years, dealing with many of the issues that are typical of the industry including high temperatures, electrical safety, stress and asbestos exposure. These matters were dealt with through a safety committee that Rick set up. One of the problems that was a real issue for the Musicians Union was noise exposure (something that Rick knew about very well as a drummer). The more traditional solutions such as reducing the level of the noise were clearly unworkable but talking with his members and working with management he managed to get practical solutions such as changing the layout and acoustic barriers which ensured that his members were protected. A knock on effect was that the theatre management realised that partnership with the union was of benefit to them and industrial relations improved.

Stewart McLaughlin POA

Stewart McLaughlin POA

In every sector the issues that union health and safety representatives can be very varied which is why it is important that all representatives get good training. Stewart is a safety representative in a large prison. Around 15 years ago the aging roof of one of the residential wings developed a hole that allowed a lot of rain to get in. This meant that there was a constant battle to keep the landings dry, with lots of blankets and sheets being use to soak up as much water as possible. The problem was worse on nights, especially if the rain was less noisy and meant that the night staff had to be especially careful because of the very real danger of slipping on the very wet landings.

Stewart raised it with the prison’s own H&S advisor, who appeared to not show enough concern even though he was provided with photos of the problem. The matter was then brought to the Governor, who made assurances that the roof would be fixed, but nothing happened and Stewart finally called in the Health and Safety Executive, who wrote to the Governor to explain that the roof really did need repair. With the very real threat of an improvement notice being issued by the HSE, the roof was finally repaired before anyone was seriously injured.

Mick Ashman UCU

Mick is been a long-standing safety representative and trade union activist throughout his career. Recently he has been working at a University where the employer has been trying to change the focus from health and safety prevention through introducing a brand called “juice” which attempts to transfer responsibility on to the worker. Mick has continued to insist that the University fulfil its legal obligations to risk assessment and risk management.

He sees inspections as an important part of his work and, after a number of staff surveys showing a serious problem of bullying within one department he did a full safety reps inspection aimed at identifying the scale of the problem and the reasons for it. The employer tried to prevent any other inspections taking place but, after insisting on his legal right to inspect, the employer backed down and Mick was able to work with the members in that department to help resolve the problem.

Helen Edwards Prospect

Helen has been a safety representatives on a major nuclear power plant for over 30 years. In that time there are few issues that she will not have dealt with and she spends much of her time sharing her knowledge with other safety representatives on the site, including developing a “standards and expectations” booklet for them which helps complement their training.

Recently Helen has been instrumental in tackling the issue of stress. Developing workshops and ensuring that managers, team leaders and supervisors are all trained about their responsibilities and the role they can play. Helen also has ensured that those members who experience a stress related illness are not left unsupported and has negotiated a programme for supporting those with mental health issues with the company.

John Leek PCS

John is a Safety representative in a Government Department. One of the offices was a sealed area and only got fresh air via an air conditioning system, which meant that the humidity in the workplace was usually very low and often below 20%. That led to members developing a range of health problems including sore eyes, itchy skin and eczema. John encouraged staff to fill in accident forms and to report any symptoms. He also asked management for information on risk assessments, humidity readings and any reports that had been done. When they did not reply he reminded them of their legal obligation under regulation 7 of the safety reps regulations and eventually managed to get a response.

Initially management provided mobile humidifiers, but this was just a temporary measure and after a full study was done they installed £185,000’s worth of humidification plant. Humidity is now at an acceptable level (over 40%) all the time and the health problems have completely disappeared.

Julie Phipps, UCATT (now Unite)

Julie works for a London council and her story shows how the workplace is changing and health and safety needs to keep up. When she started at the depot some 15 years ago there were virtually no women. The managers were all men, the planners were all men and the operatives were all men. The only exceptions were Julie herself and a female decorator. There were a couple of women in the back office but the yard was very male dominated. As time progressed more women were employed and recently there are more female office staff than men. That obviously created challenges such as the provision of personal protective equipment (which often was designed only for use by men), and welfare facilities. Having been trained as a health and safety rep Julie knew that her role as a representative also included welfare. This became a pressing issue when three of her members who work in the back office became pregnant at the same time so Julie felt it was time that facilities directly applicable to pregnant women should be made available. This included a place for women to rest if required and also, after they returned to work, to express milk if they wished. She met with the health and safety manager of the depot who eventually identified a location for the welfare facility and it was installed in time for the three members to make use of it.

Angie Birtill NUPE (now part of Unison)

Angie became a health and safety representative for a local council in 1980. She was working as a gardener and one of the first issues that she dealt with was after some of the members complained to her about their clothes being damp all day. They would frequently get caught in the rain when they were out working and there was nowhere for them to dry their clothes. Other members complained about the lack of first aid facilities in their sheds. Angie found that her complaints to managers fell on deaf ears, so she put in a formal request to carry out a health and safety inspection. This was the first time the council had been asked to accompany a health and safety representative on a formal health and safety inspection. The chargehand and his manager took part along with a council health and safety manager. The result was that management installed drying facilities into the portacabins and the gardeners who had complained about poor first aid had their first aid boxes filled and re-filled whenever they complained after that. These were small improvements but they meant a lot to the members at the time.

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