Around 50 health and safety reps from a wide range of unions including ASLEF, Community, CWU, NASUWT, NEU, GMB, UNISON, RCN, UNITE, RMT, PCS, UCU, CWU and USDAW – gathered at the County Hotel in Newcastle on 24th September to discuss issues that affect trade union members in the workplace and how they, as reps, can support them. During round table discussions and feedback, it was clear that work-related stress and mental health problems continue to be an issue. For the first time, work-related stress anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in Great Britain. It was suggested that all health and safety reps should receive some form of mental health awareness training.
Edwin Jeffries, Chair of the Forum, introduced Kevin Rowan, TUC HSE Board member. Kevin spoke about the HSE priorities now and looking forward.
The world of work has always changed, arguably increasingly it’s changing more and quicker than ever
As well as new hazards, old hazards remain. There were 144 fatalities last year concentrated in a small number of sectors; farming, construction, waste and recycling.
HSE inspections do work and they need to be maintained and increased. The cost of enforcement and regulation is high. We cannot see another Grenfell, regulations need to be enforced and agencies such as the HSE, Building Control and the Fire and Rescue Service need to work together. Health and Safety reps continue to champion the rights of workers and hold to account those who get it wrong.
Beth Farhat, TUC Regional Secretary spoke about Climate Change and a “Just Transition”. If carbon emissions continue at 2016 levels, the remaining budget to limit warming to 1.5C is projected to run out in 2021. TUC Congress 2019 agreed to back a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school strike.On Friday 20th September events took place around the region and there was a huge turn-out at the Monument in Newcastle. With its heavy engineering heritage, the North East has an historic responsibility to respond to climate change. The UK currently sits fifth, just behind Germany, in the list of countries with the largest cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750.
There are a number of things as citizens we can do and reps discussed this as part of an activity, looking at things that could be included in an Environmental Audit.
Beth went on to launch the Asbestos Support and Campaign Group (ASCG) Annual Report 2018/19. The service is one of the achievements the TUC Northern region are most proud of. For almost 10 years the service has helped and supported the sufferers of asbestos related diseases and their families and carers.
In another successful year, the service secured £2,233,588 in benefits and compensation and since April 2018 have provided support to 183 individuals from Teesside to Cumbria. Beth thanked all partners and trade unions for making this possible.
Organising through Health and Wellbeing was the next topic. The presentation was delivered by Susanne Nichol, Programme Coordinator for the Better Health at Work Award.
Susanne spoke about the link between health, wellbeing and organising. As trusted colleagues, union reps are well placed to deliver on this agenda in the workplace and the role of the health advocate is a perfect fit. The 2018 Health & Safety Reps Survey once again indicated stress as the dominant health and safety concern, identified as a top-five hazard by 69% of respondents.
Unions taking a proactive stance can be the provider of that very visible and palpable support on an issue that affects every worker and workplace. Campaigns on health and wellbeing make the union visible and relevant; create opportunities for activism; build a sense of collectivism – and demonstrate that by working together, members can, and do, change things. Engage the workforce - find out what matters to workers and what their concerns are through a health needs assessment.
To find out more about the Better Health at Work Award watch the video at https://youtu.be/L0CtPe0e35c
Reps were also given information on courses and training opportunities available through TUC Education at Newcastle College, now at new premises in Riverside Dene.
Links you might find useful:
TUC Education Courses
The TUC’s Just transition statement
TUC reps survey
Health, Safety and wellbeing
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