Issue date
16 Dec 2017
More than 50 Health and Safety reps attended the Forum event held on Monday 11th December at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s 40 years since trade union health and safety reps had a legal right under the 1977 SRSC Regulations to improve health and safety in the workplace.

Today’s event recognises the contribution unions and health and safety reps make in the workplace and in the wider community.

Following an open forum discussion where reps could put forward ideas and suggestions for future Forum events and share knowledge and experience of health and safety issues in the workplace, the Chair, Edwin Jeffries, introduced the first speaker, Jen Remnant, University of St Andrews.

Jen has just completed a four-year research project exploring the employment consequences for older workers (50+) diagnosed with cancer while in paid work in County Durham. Durham was chosen as it has a higher than national average cancer incidence and mortality.  The findings of the project have highlighted how employers make discretional decisions relating to the support they offer employees (including sick pay, redundancy pay, reasonable adjustments and emotional support) based on highly subjective measures.  Additionally, it has shed some light on the impact of changes to the age at which women born after 1953 can receive their state pension having been diagnosed with cancer. Download copy of presentation.

Beth Farhat, TUC Regional Secretary spoke about the TUC’s Dying to Work Campaign.  As retirement ages are increasing, and Cancer Research UK are projecting that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer, more people will be receiving terminal diagnosis’ during their working life. The “Dying to Work” campaign is calling for terminal conditions to be made a ‘protected characteristic’. This would mean that all employees battling terminal conditions would enter a protected period within which they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition.

This would ensure that the employee was able to take an appropriate amount of time for rest and the care they require without the fear of stressful HR procedures, loss of financial security, stimulation and dignity from work.

Furthermore, it would ensure that they would be secure in the knowledge that their family would be provided for after their death.

The initiative has cross-party support and a number organisations, working with unions in the workplace, have signed the Charter. For further information and to get your employer to sign up to the Charter go to https://www.dyingtowork.co.uk/ and download presentation.

Beth also drew attention to the Northern TUC Asbestos Support and Campaign Group.  The Group is a partnership between the Northern TUC, trade unions, West View Advice & Resource Centre Ltd and Macmillan Cancer Support. It offers FREE, confidential information, advice and support to anyone with an asbestos related or industrial disease in the North East and North Cumbria.

Following the tragic events at Grenfell, Andy Noble, FBU emphasised the vital role that health and safety representatives play in the workplace and in our communities.  Grenfell should never have happened. The FBU have voiced concerns over several years as the number of health and safety inspectors have been continuously reduced and risk assessments are not being carried out. Figures obtained by UNITE the union reveal in 2010 there were 1,311 frontline inspectors but by December 2016 that number had reduced to just 980.  One of the things reps can do is to challenge fire evacuation plans, keep getting involved and check that the right materials are being used. Download presentation.

The Forum was pleased to welcome back Adam Taylor, UNISON.  Adam had been involved in the Forum from its beginning and had recently been named as the TUC’s Health & Safety Rep of the Year for 2017.  Adam talked about the new trade union approach to tackling stress in the workplace carried out by Gateshead Unison branch.  Previously research was carried out by the employer using the management standards: HSE approach. In the new approach, the branch does the survey, it’s confidential rather than anonymous, it’s much more detailed and any hotspots are identified.  It’s applicable where stress is a problem, management want to do something about it and the branch is able to do it – it is a huge commitment. The relationship between members and the union makes it far more effective than the HSE method.  Download presentation.

The Chair thanked everyone attending and for their contributions and the Forum closed around 3.30 pm.