Chapter 9: protecting people at work

Issue date
25 Sep 1998

Chapter 9 - protecting people at work

Contents

9.1 Introduction

The TUC continues to place a high premium on preventing workplace injury and illness, and, when the worst happens, ensuring that the victims are fairly compensated and properly treated. Prevention and compensation are two areas where unions= right to act for their members has never been seriously challenged, and both remain key reasons why people join trade unions. Over the past year, the TUC has welcomed the commitment of the Government to better safety standards, the support shown for union safety representatives, a new priority for public health and the implementation of >joined-up thinking= in health, safety and compensation. The TUC has emphasised a partnership approach to health and safety because we believe that we can do more together (with small firms, with employers= organisations, with health professionals and with trade bodies, among others) than we can do apart. Finally, after 18 years of hostility or neglect, the Health and Safety Executive has been given the Ministerial support it deserves and for which unions and the TUC have and will continue to campaign.

9.2 The Health and Safety Commission

The TUC=s continuing support for the tripartite Health and Safety Commission (HSC) has been strengthened during the year, not least as a result in April of the appointment of a third TUC nominee to the Commission, restoring the intention of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act. George Brumwell, from the General Council, joined Anne Gibson and Alan Grant from the TUC office.

The TUC has continued to provide briefing and support for the fortnightly Commission meetings, and has made a number of submissions to HSC consultation exercises over the year, some of which are dealt with below, but also on:

  • child safety on farms;

  • control of major hazard sites;

  • safe use of work equipment;

  • safety in underground mines;

  • quarrying safety;

  • chlorinated solvents;

  • fire safety;

  • ionising radiations;

  • lead at work and;

  • petrol safety.

In each case, unions or relevant unions were consulted, and often a draft TUC response was submitted to union health and safety specialists. This method of working has ensured that the TUC has been able to reflect individual union experiences in collective submissions.

Support for TUC members of advisory committees

The TUC has also continued to develop its support for the 115 TUC members of HSC subject and industry advisory committees (listed in the box, pages 141-142), along the lines agreed by the General Council in 1996. Briefly, TUC representatives are required to maintain a good attendance record (if they miss three consecutive meetings they are deemed to have resigned and are replaced), and in return the TUC provides:

  • a monthly bulletin, Safety News from the TUC, which covers general TUC policy, cross-advisory committee issues (including reports from advisory committee members) and information about consultations and events;

  • an annual residential TUC Safety Convention held over two days, to which advisory committee members and union health and safety specialists are invited; and

  • one day a year of tailored training on matters relating to representation on HSC advisory committees.

During the year, the TUC initiated a report form for all TUC members of HSC advisory committees, despatched on the first day of the month to all the members of advisory committees meeting during that month. This has already been far more successful in soliciting reports than the previous system of exhortation, and the results are digested in Safety News from the TUC.

The third annual TUC Safety Convention was held at the National Education Centre from 19-20 March, and concentrated on occupational health and safety reps, with a keynote address by Michael Meacher, the Minister responsible for health and safety. For the first time, an evaluation was conducted which showed that the event continues to be useful and enjoyable. It is viewed by the TUC as a particular help in building the TUC=s representatives and union health and safety specialists into a coordinated and dedicated team. TUC Commissioners also use the event to report back on their work over the previous year.

The first year of tailored training courses for TUC advisory committee members also went well. Just over half of the representatives took up the offer of training, organised in nine sessions based on common subject areas (such as ionising radiations and nuclear safety or agriculture and toxic chemicals). Union health and safety specialists discussed the results in May and determined the content of the this year=s training, which will be held after Congress.

Enforcement

The TUC has continued to press for better enforcement of health and safety law, whether through the enforcement powers of HSE and local authority inspectors, or through the criminal courts.

During the year, Ministers managed to secure a one off increase of ,4.5 million in resources for the HSE for the financial year 1998-99, restoring that year=s expected cut in resources as decided by the previous Government - a welcome reversal of the trend of previous years. The HSE will use these resources to recruit more inspectors, as the TUC has been pressing for some time, and will concentrate additional resources on the most hazardous industries: agriculture, construction and manufacturing. In April, the Government replaced the >Notice of Intent= procedure which had hamstrung inspectors seeking to enforce the law by increasing the red tape they needed to apply, and which had sent the message to inspectors that the Government wanted them to serve fewer enforcement notices. The TUC warmly welcomed the GovernmentÕs decision to lift this burden on inspectors.

The TUC strengthened its contacts with local authorities, which enforce health and safety laws in the services sector, with a third annual meeting with the HSE Local Authority Unit in June, and by providing a speaker to the first HSE-Local Government Association conference on health and safety in December. At the June meeting, the TUC agreed arrangements for more direct contact with HELA, the liaison body between local councils and the HSE, including a regular meeting as part of the HELA strategic planning cycle, at which issues such as contact with safety reps, resources for local authority inspection and public health will be raised. The TUC also submitted a response to the HSC consultation over the enforcement boundary between HSE and local authorities.

In terms of criminal penalties, the TUC has supported the work of health and safety Ministers to persuade the courts to increase the penalties for breaches of health and safety legislation (especially the Magistrates= Courts), and has continued to press for a new crime of corporate manslaughter to deal with fatal employer negligence. The TUC has also supported the RoSPA campaign for occupational road risk to be dealt with by HSE as a health and safety matter rather than solely by the police. In each area, the TUC has lobbied appropriate Ministers so that they are aware of the issues and conscious of the TUC position. No decisions have yet been taken, although the Lord Chancellor has called on magistrates to treat injuries at work like any other case of criminal assault, which is welcome.

International representation

The TUC is increasing its involvement in international health and safety issues, in particular through the ETUC and the European Union, but also in the ICFTU, ILO and OECD.

The TUC is represented on all the key health and safety bodies in the European Union. Anne Gibson and Tom Mellish (TUC office) represent the TUC on the EU Advisory Committee on Safety, Hygiene and Health at Work (the Luxemburg Committee, or ACSH), with Maureen Rooney and Owen Tudor (TUC office) as alternates. The TUC also contributes to its Ad Hoc Groups on planning, self-employment, scaffolding (where a Directive has been discussed, by Nigel Bryson of the GMB), pregnant workers (where Jane Paul of BECTU drafted the EU guidance on the Directive) and social and economic appraisal, which is chaired by Owen Tudor. New groups on management standards and on machinery have been established on which Tom Mellish and Adrian Cunningham of the AEEU will represent the TUC respectively.

Anne Gibson also represents the TUC on the management board of the European Agency for Safety and Health in Bilbao which seeks to develop and co-ordinate the exchange of health and safety information within the European Union, and on the management board of the Trade Union Technical Bureau in Brussels.

As well as work in the ETUC on back pain and RSI (see below) and in various institutions on asbestos (see below), the TUC has contributed to the work of the HSC on negotiating Directives and amendments to Directives (through a series of ad hoc advisory groups, for example on the Dangerous Preparations Directive), and to the work of the EU on social and economic appraisal (Owen Tudor represents the ETUC on the Safety and Health and Performance and Enterprise steering committee). Tom Mellish led for the ICFTU at an ILO experts meeting on the recording of industrial injuries and diseases, and continues to contribute to the ILO=s work on alcohol and drugs.

The EC Fourth Action Programme on health and safety was adopted in April. The four priorities are: transposition/application/implementation of Directives; the enlargement of the European Union; anticipating new risks from new ways of work; and employability and how good health and safety systems maintain employability. These priorities will affect the work of ACSH over the next four years. The Chemical Agents Directive and the Amended Carcinogens Directive which now includes wood dusts, mutagens and vinyl chloride monomers, have also been adopted, with TUC support.

A total review of the organisation and finances of the Commission including the Commissioners is being undertaken. The TUC, through its representation on ACSH, will continue to press for sufficient resources for the work of DGV, the section of the Commission which deals with employee health and safety. After considerable lobbying by the TUC and other European trade union confederations, the ETUC=s Trade Union Technical Bureau is now represented on the management board of the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN).

9.3 Unions and safety representatives

The TUC continues to give the highest priority in its health and safety work to the role of workplace union safety representatives, of whom there about 200,000 in the UK, appointed by unions under the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations. Safety reps are the best method that trade unions have for influencing health and safety standards at work, and one of the best advertisements for trade union membership.

The TUC has continued to raise the profile of safety reps, on the grounds that this will aid recruitment, and will also make it easier for safety reps to carry out their functions. On 28 April (International Workers= Memorial Day), the TUC published 50,000 copies of Workers are Safer in Unions, a short leaflet stressing the value of safety reps to workers and to business, because of the research which shows that in workplaces with a full safety rep network and a joint management-union safety committee, serious injury rates are reduced by more than half. The leaflet is aimed at boosting the confidence of safety reps and persuading managers and workers of the value of those safety reps. Several unions have issued their own versions of the leaflet which was made available for that purpose with a blank panel for union-specific information.

The TUC also announced its plans to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1977 Regulations (or the 20th anniversary of their implementation) in October 1998, during European Week of Health and Safety at Work. A campaign under the slogan >workers use your safety reps, safety reps use your rights= will be launched, drawing attention once again to the value of safety reps, and encouraging them to use their rights to union training, their right to inspect the workplace regularly and investigate incidents at work and their right to be consulted in good time over health and safety matters.

Throughout the year, the TUC has been advised on this and other matters by the Union Health and Safety Specialists Network, which meets bi-monthly and provides the TUC with advice and guidance on submissions to the HSC, on health and safety policy and on other matters. A mailing is sent to the network weekly or fortnightly throughout the year, providing the main channel for TUC communications with unions over health and safety issues.

Strategic objectives

In April, the TUC Executive Committee adopted a TUC safety reps strategy setting out a strategic objective or mission statement for safety representation - ABy providing high quality representation on health, safety and welfare for all workers and by demonstrating the importance of union safety reps to health and safety and to trade unionism, unions aim to participate fully and positively in securing improvements in the management of health, safety and welfare in the workplace.@

The strategic objectives adopted by the Executive Committee for the years 1998-2003 were:

  • to increase the proportion of workers who have access to safety representation by increasing the number of safety reps in recognised workplaces and by extending rights to representation to workers in unrecognised workplaces;

  • to make health and safety a key organising tool, used by trade unions to recruit new members (and new groups of members), and to improve union organisation in the workplace;

  • to provide effective and practical mechanisms which enable or assist safety reps to exercise their existing rights to participate in health and safety risk management at the workplace;

  • to extend, and ensure the enforcement of, the legal rights of safety reps so that they are able to make a more effective contribution to improving health and safety standards in the workplace; and

  • to develop a TUC award or qualification for safety reps which demonstrates their competence and allows them to progress towards other qualifications.

Surveying safety reps

One of the key areas where the TUC has failed in the past has been to use the knowledge and experience of safety reps. We are increasingly using lay safety reps as representatives on HSC advisory committees and in other fora, and for the first time in 1996 the TUC surveyed safety reps generally to find out who they are and what they are experiencing. The TUC=s intention is to provide the trade union movement with a coherent and comprehensive body of knowledge about health and safety at workplace level based on trade unionists= experiences, so that we are in a position to speak authoritatively about health and safety matters on behalf of members and safety reps.

The omnibus survey is being repeated this year, with a survey form piloted with safety reps on TUC courses (trade union education for safety reps is dealt with in chapter 12) and issued through colleges, unions, Hazards magazine and direct mailed to respondents to the 1996 survey. The results, which will be comparable to the results of the 1996 survey, will be published in the autumn, and the raw data will be made available on the web along with the delayed 1996 data for use by academic researchers and others, to stimulate research into safety reps.

During the year the TUC has also used the database of over 7,000 safety reps who responded to the first omnibus survey to conduct a series of mini-surveys dealing with safety in small firms; women, work and health (see below); stress (see below); solvents and musculo-skeletal disorders. The small firms survey, the first of its kind of which the TUC is aware, reveals that in those small firms which recognise trade unions, safety reps are well-respected by their employers and safety is generally handled well. But there is a lack of formal health and safety structures in small firms which leads the TUC to conclude that external structures (health and safety law is one structure, unions and trade associations another) are needed to counter the informality of the small firms sector. The results of the survey were published in August. The solvents and musculo-skeletal disorders surveys are awaiting analysis and the others have not yet been completed.

Other support for safety reps has been provided in the shape of Hazards at Work book, revised in 1996 and published in 1997 in a ring-binder format so that sections can be updated annually. The first annual update written by Elizabeth Gates, dealing mostly with changes to the legislation since the original revision, will be published in August and the 1998 update has already been commissioned from Peter Kirby. Over the past 15 months, over 25,000 copies of Hazards at Work have been printed and sold.

9.4 Occupational health

The TUC welcomed the increased priority which the incoming government gave to public health, and the appointment of Tessa Jowell as the Minister for Public Health, as well as the development by the HSE of a ten-year strategy for occupational health and a renewed focus on the provision of occupational health services.

The TUC has also placed a high priority on occupational health over the past year. Many of the individual TUC campaigns in the health and safety field (see below) have been about occupational health, and we have attempted to develop a more powerful and coherent lobby for occupational health, working in partnership with employers and the relevant professions. The focus for that activity has continued to be the National Occupational Health Forum, chaired by Professor Malcolm Harrington and co-sponsored by the TUC and Health and Safety at Work magazine.

During the year, the Forum met twice, in December with Ms Jowell and the health and safety Minister, Angela Eagle and in April to consider a response to the challenges laid down by the Ministers - helping to develop the Government=s public health policies and assisting in devising methods for the delivery of occupational health services. The Forum, which includes senior staff from some of Britain=s most prestigious companies, from trade unions and from the professional bodies, published its submission to the Green Paper Our Healthier Nation: A Contract for Health in May.

The TUC submitted a major response to the Green Paper, entitled Public health, social partnership. This called for a greater emphasis on occupational health (identification, treatment and prevention) within the new National Health Service structures, embedding occupational health and consultation with the TUC and employers in Health Improvement Plans and the work of Primary Care Groups, with special mention for the work of local Occupational Health Projects. Representatives of the TUC also met regularly with the public health Minister and with her officials to discuss the run-up to the Green Paper, the outcome of the consultations and the run-up to the White Paper which is expected in late autumn. The TUC pressed for occupational health targets to be adopted as contributory to the four main targets for health - accidents, cancer, heart disease and mental illness.

In August, the HSE published a discussion document on its occupational health strategy for the next decade, which was much influenced by the work of the TUC and the National Occupational Health Forum - meetings to discuss its drafting were held with union health and safety specialists and with the Forum. In addition, the TUC participated in the work which Ministers requested the Department of Health and the HSE to undertake on occupational health services, including a Ministerial conference on occupational health services in small firms in July and an HSC Occupational Health Advisory Committee sub-group, on which Doug Russell of USDAW and Owen Tudor (TUC office) represent the TUC.

On a practical level, the TUC organised and ran 19 seminars for employers and safety reps around Great Britain in the spring and summer, with the financial assistance of the HSE. These seminars supported the HSE=s >Good Health is Good Business' campaign, and allowed employers and safety reps (often attending together from the same workplace) to obtain a flavour of the legal, medical and risk management aspects of asthma, asbestos, dermatitis, musculo-skeletal disorders and noise.

As part of our commitment to research, the TUC developed an initiative during the year to address the lack of information (and therefore of preventive activity and compensation) on women=s occupational health and safety. The TUC >Women, Work and Health= project, which will culminate in a symposium for researchers, trade unionists and research funding bodies in November, has involved a survey of women safety reps (the results of which will be reported to the symposium), articles in union journals on the theme of >what women want from health and safety=, and participation in an ETUC seminar on women and work in May.

As an associated issue, the TUC produced a report on women=s health and safety during pregnancy, Protecting the Future, to coincide with a joint TUC-Maternity Alliance conference in February. The report, based on the Government=s 1995 Self-reported Work-related Illness survey, revealed the risk to pregnant workers of back strains, and indicated the steps which employers were required to take to minimise the risks involved in manual handling.

The TUC has also continued to support the work of the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), which provides funding for research that industry (including trade unions) wants to see conducted. John Monks is a Trustee of the Foundation, and Owen Tudor sits on the Research Advisory Group. The TUC organised a joint event for BOHRF and the Labour Finance and Industry Group in July to discuss occupational health issues with health and safety Minister Michael Meacher.

9.5 Campaigning against workplace hazards

The TUC continues to campaign actively for better safety standards at work, concentrating in particular on asbestos, stress and musculo-skeletal disorders. We have also campaigned over the last year about asthma, drugs and alcohol, and solvents.

On asthma, the TUC has campaigned in partnership with the National Asthma Campaign for an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) setting out what employers need to do to prevent people suffering work-related asthma. In November, we published The gloves are off! about the increasing threat to health care workers of latex-related asthma, especially due to the use of cheap latex gloves for use in hospitals, dental surgeries and so on. In July, alongside a joint TUC-National Asthma Campaign conference on managing asthma at work (with financial support from the European Commission SAFE programme), the TUC published Out of breath and out of work, which showed that 151,000 working people suffer from work-related asthma and that the number is rising by 7,000 a year. At that conference, health and safety Minister Angela Eagle announced that the HSC would be consulting on an asthma ACoP in early 1999.

The TUC has continued to develop its work on drugs and alcohol at work, although we remain sceptical about the size of the problem, and concerned about some of the methods being adopted to deal with it. The TUC has drafted guidance for safety reps on dealing with alcohol and drugs in the workplace which will be launched in the autumn when the TUC, in conjunction with Alcohol Concern and the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency, hold a major conference on the issue. The TUC has worked with the Greater Manchester Police in developing guidance for employers on drugs in the workplace as well as participating in the Association of Chief Police Officers national conference on drugs.

In May, TUC President John Edmonds, HSC Commissioner Anne Gibson and Tom Mellish (TUC office) addressed three events as part of the launch of Phase 3 of the HSE ÔGood Health is Good BusinessÕ campaign. Linked to this, the TUC mounted a campaign on solvents at work (with financial support from the European Commission SAFE programme). The TUC=s work included a seminar for union officials in December, a mini-survey of safety reps, the results of which will be published in the summer and a guidance leaflet for safety reps, Danger, solvents at work.

Asbestos

Every year, over 4,000 people die because they used to work with asbestos. The TUC has made the campaign for a ban on the importation, supply and use of white asbestos our major health and safety priority. Building on the work reported to Congress in 1997, the TUC=s Ban Asbestos Working Group continued to press at all levels for such a ban, and also for greater protection for people working with all forms of asbestos already present in the built environment.

This campaigning has involved action at the level of the ICFTU, which organised a conference in October to try to reconcile the differences between Canadian trade unionists and others, at which the TUC, amongst others, supported a worldwide ban on white asbestos. A European Union Economic and Social Committee >own initiative enquiry= proposed by the TUC, and for which Owen Tudor acts as the rapporteur=s expert, is working on a report calling for a ban in Europe and assistance with managing existing asbestos. And in April the Council of Europe adopted a report by Tom Cox MP calling for an immediate ban, despite Canadian and Russian protests.

Domestically, the TUC organised a study day in Parliament on 17 February to raise the stakes in the debate on a British ban, with a rally in Westminster Central Hall on the same day addressed by UK and international campaigners. Over a hundred MPs signed an Early-Day Motion calling for a ban which was tabled by Labour=s Michael Clapham and Liberal Democrat Michael Hancock.

In March, the Health and Safety Commission considered a draft consultation document to further tighten the controls on the management of asbestos risks at work. This included a proposal on the principle of a duty to survey premises to identify where asbestos was present, and on a possible ban on the importation, supply and use of white asbestos, in line with the TUC=s views. However, at the last minute, the proposal to ban white asbestos was removed from the consultative document, as a result of concerns about a legal challenge by the Canadian Government (initially directed at the French Government=s 1996 ban) through the World Trade Organisation, and because the EU Scientific Committee on Toxicology, Ecotoxicology and the Environment had issued an interim report suggesting that the case for banning white asbestos was not yet proven as the alternatives may not prove to be safer. The TUC protested to the Prime Minister about the Government=s delay in implementing a ban, although the UK joined eleven other EU member states at the April Council of Ministers meeting in supporting a ban on white asbestos at European level.

The TUC organised responses to the eventual consultation document issued by the HSC, pressing the case for a ban, for tougher controls on work with asbestos and an increase in the licensing fees to support greater enforcement, and for a duty to survey buildings as part of a requirement that employers should have a plan to manage existing asbestos. The consultation period has been extended by six weeks to deal with the volume of submissions, and the results will probably by known in late August.

The TUC has continued to lobby Ministers and MPs to secure a ban on white asbestos, and has supported asbestos campaigners in raising the pressure on the Canadian Government, for example through demonstrations outside Canada House. The TUC is currently seeking a meeting with the Canadian High Commissioner over the issue.

On 21 July, the TUC welcomed the decision by the Health and Safety Commission to re-start the consultation process on a ban, based on a favourable response from the Department of Healths Committee on Carcinogens. A consultation paper is expected to be published in September.

Stress

In 1998 the TUC has taken its >Tackling Stress at Work= campaign to the regions with eight seminars for safety reps and employers, which were free of charge due to financial support from the European Commission SAFE programme. In June, at the start of the seminars, the TUC published Tackling Stress at Work: a TUC guide for safety reps and union negotiators which was launched by Geoffrey Martin, EC Representative in the UK. The TUC followed up the 1996 safety reps survey with a survey specifically on stress and the causes of stress, the results of which will be published in the autumn.

One of the main causes of stress has already been identified as bullying. The extent of the problem of bullying in the workplace was brought home shortly before Christmas when the TUC ran a Bad Bosses Telephone Hot-line. Of the 5,400 calls received in that week, nearly 40 per cent concerned bullying at work.

The TUC has drafted an information pack for safety reps, employers and personnel managers on dealing with bullying in the workplace. This will be launched in October at the start of the TUC=s anti-bullying campaign >No Excuses=. The campaign week will consist of a major conference on 5 October, an information hotline and information booths in major shopping centres across the country. A video and training pack will also be developed later in the year.

The TUC is represented by Tom Mellish (TUC office) on the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mental Health in the Workplace which this year, in conjunction with Cranfield University, has published training guidance. The TUC will seek to ensure that the Working Group addresses issues of workplace stress identified in the Government=s Green Paper Our Healthier Nation: a contract for health.

In addition, the TUC is pressing for an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on preventing stress at work, which would clarify the steps which employers are legally required to take. The Health and Safety Commission agreed earlier this year to seek the views of its Occupational Health Advisory Committee on whether such an ACoP could be produced, and the TUC will continue to press for the adoption of such an AcoP.

Back pain and RSI

The TUC has this year broadened its campaign to prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) to cover all work-related musculo-skeletal disorders, which in practice means adding back pain to RSI as the main focus of the campaign. The 1995 Self-reported Work-related Illness survey, published in March, showed that musculo-skeletal disorders are the second most prevalent work-related condition (after stress), which backs up the priority accorded to this issue by the TUC.

In November, the TUC sponsored the launch of the Body Action Campaign, a charity which aims to raise the problem of RSI among school children who are increasingly exposed to the use of computers, without proper health and safety precautions. The charity has taken a theatre piece into schools, linked to guidance on ergonomics and physiotherapy, to highlight the issue.

Much of the material produced by the TUC on RSI is still being widely used by safety reps, and there has therefore been little added about back pain. But as part of the 1997 European Week on Health and Safety at Work, the TUC issued Stop the strain drain - practical advice to safety reps on the arguments to use in persuading managers to take action against back strain and RSI. The leaflet explains briefly how to conduct a cost-benefit assessment of an employer=s back strain and RSI record, in terms of the cost of absence, it urges the use of risk assessments as a first step to solving the problems.

In February, the TUC organised a joint conference with the RSI Association and the National Back Pain Association called >Ending the Pain and Strain Drain=, which focused on practical measures to reduce musculo-skeletal disorders and to provide rehabilitation to sufferers early enough to prevent such conditions becoming chronic.

The TUC has continued to monitor legal victories by unions, with notable successes for victims in banking, clerical operations and food processing, and supported the research being conducted at University College London which was published in February. This showed that there was an observable physiological change in the nerves of the upper limb caused by overuse of keyboards. We have also ensured that this research continues, by lobbying the HSE and the British Occupational Health Research Foundation.

In March and May, the TUC took the lead in developing proposals for a Europe-wide campaign against back pain and RSI, concentrating on assistance to trade union negotiators and safety reps so that they can use economic arguments, ergonomic evidence drawn from workers themselves and European Union safety Directives to obtain improvements in working conditions. The campaign will be the major focus for trade union campaigning during the 1999 European Week of Health and Safety at Work.

Meanwhile, the TUC has been discussing with HSE and the Department of Health the possibility of a major initiative on the prevention of back pain, tied in with the forthcoming White Paper on public health.

Partnerships for better safety standards

The TUC has continued to work with others to improve health and safety standards. Examples of this during the past year have been the TUC=s work with the Forum of Private Business, the TUC=s sponsorship of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, and the joint TUC-IOSH-CBI study project on >Empowering safety professionals for better safety standards=.

In October, the TUC and the Forum of Private Business, a major small firms organisation, launched a joint health and safety audit package for small firms, based on a complete-and-comply form that assists small firms to meet their health and safety obligations. The audit was launched at the TUC by the Minister for Small Firms, Barbara Roche, and a Scottish launch will take place this September with the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar. The TUC and the Forum of Private Business have co-operated on a number of subsequent health and safety projects, including a submission to the Minister for Public Health on bringing small firms together so that they are better able to offer occupational health services to their employees.

The TUC has continued to co-sponsor the All Party Group with the British Safety Industry Federation, so that MPs receive information about health and safety matters, and so that a lobby for better safety standards (and support for the HSE) is built up in Parliament. The GroupÕs officers this year were Michael Clapham (Chair), Judith Church and Stephen Day (Vice Chairs), and Nigel Evans (Secretary). Meetings were held on asbestos and safety training in construction, and the HSC Chairman Frank Davies met the Group in May.

The consultation document for the TUC-IOSH-CBI study on safety professionals reported to Congress in 1997 was duly published and circulated, and John Monks also sent a copy to 300 senior company chairmen or chief executives. Over 200 replies were received, including from some of BritainÕs leading business figures, and the final report of the consultation exercise will be published later this year and will form the basis for a national conference in November.

9.6 Compensation for injuries and ill-health

The TUC continues to campaign in the interests of the victims of occupational injury and ill-health, and to demonstrate the value of trade union membership in securing justice.

1997 TUC survey of union legal services

Fairness for victims, the report of the sixth and most comprehensive survey of union legal services, was published in October and showed that unions had again increased the amount of money won for injury victims in compensation, from ,323 million in 1995 to over ,330 million in 1996 - over ,50 per union member. The survey also showed that over half the adult population is able to obtain help with road traffic accident cases through a union (in part because of the extension of legal services for families of union members - now offered in some form or other by two thirds of unions) and that cases for asthma and asbestos-related disease sufferers were on the increase. The report was illustrated, once again, with numerous case studies demonstrating the value to individual union members of union legal services.

Modernising civil justice

It was reported to the 1997 Congress that the TUC was seeking the staged implementation of the Woolf proposals for reforming civil justice so that unions would be protected initially from the proposal that they would only be able to recover their legal costs up to a certain limit. During the year, the TUC and unions worked closely with a number of MPs to persuade the Lord Chancellor=s Department that the cost limits should be delayed, and a number of meetings were held with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, and with the Minister, Geoff Hoon. The TUC also worked closely with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers on this issue.

In November, the TUC General Secretary made a speech to the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers which called for a system of civil justice which provided access to appropriate legal assistance for anyone injured at work, including through consideration of a possible expansion of union legal services to cover potential members. Safety and justice: what unions can give to the giving society was part of the TUC case for treating personal injury differently from other classes of case (partly because it was covered by a distinct and mandatory class of insurance). The speech and the argument were welcomed by Ministers, and helped lay the ground for the development of a new approach to personal injury cases.

Subsequent to the speech, the TUC Executive Committee agreed a consultative exercise seeking union views on the idea of an extension of legal services to cover potential members. Union responses were mixed, and it was decided to reconsider the proposal, perhaps in the context of a service extended only to those who (because of unemployment, low wages or part-time work) were unable to afford the costs of a conditional fee agreement, which the Government wished to promote as an alternative to legal aid. Further work on this proposal will be conducted over the summer, and a report made to the TUC Executive Committee before any commitments are made.

In March, the Lord Chancellor issued a discussion document on legal aid that indicated a significant shift in the position of the Government, and accepted the need to ensure that the sort of legal services provided to trade union members by their unions and union law firms in cases of workplace personal injury needed to be maintained and supported. The TUC=s response, Value for money for victims, expressed support for the Lord ChancellorÕs plans on increasing the expertise of lawyers involved in medical negligence cases, and the extension of conditional fees, over stressed the problems which a restriction on the recovery of legal costs would cause for union members seeking compensation.

In June, the Lord Chancellor published proposals, partly developed on the basis of the discussion document, which included as one option the possibility that the pre-trial costs of personal injury cases should be exempted from restrictions on costs altogether. The TUC will submit a response in August.

One other element of the TUC=s policy on the modernisation of civil justice concerns the Civil Justice Council, established to oversee the reforms. Owen Tudor was appointed, in March, to be a founder member of the Council, which has begun to meet and has established a number of sub-committees, including one on the funding of civil cases and another on enforcement of court judgments, on which Martin Kenny of Equity represents the TUC.

Other legal matters

The TUC has continued to be advised on legal matters by the TUC Union Legal Officers Network (relaunched during the year on the basis of the TUC Working Party on Legal Services), and a regular bi-monthly briefing on developments in various areas of legal services (personal injuries, employment law, employment protection and equal rights) is being developed. In particular, TUC submissions to the Law Commission and the Lord Chancellor=s Department on less contentious issues are dealt with through that briefing, such as on:

  • reform of the statute of limitations;

  • collateral benefits and claims for wrongful deaths;

  • rules for transfer of proceedings;

  • judicial case management;

  • small claims;

  • costs in relation to alternative dispute resolution; and

  • legal rights of audience.

The TUC has continued to monitor the implementation of the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act, which after much campaigning by unions and the TUC came into force in October and has resulted in a much fairer system for the recovery of social security benefits from damages awards. Minor changes to the operation of the compensation recovery scheme have been effected, and the TUC continues to be represented on the Compensation Recovery Unit customers= panel, through which suggestions for reforms can be channelled.

In March, the TUC asked unions to report whether they were experiencing difficulties with the new Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (also introduced as a result of union pressure). There seem to be a few problems with the scheme which need to be addressed (more far-reaching changes are unlikely in the current financial climate), especially for uniformed staff in fire brigades and prisons, and these will be taken up with the Home Office once evidence has been assembled.

The TUC has continued to press the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to establish a guarantee fund to pay damages to victims of personal injury whose employer was uninsured, and for measures to establish a register of insurers so that tracing them is easier where employers have disappeared. These matters are being kept under review, and the TUC has suggested that they be examined by a specialist working group.

Industrial injuries benefit

The TUC continues to press for improvements to the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme run by the Department of Social Security, in particular by extending the scheme to cover more occupational diseases in more occupations. The scheme is overseen by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) on which the TUC is represented by Ken Jackson from the General Council, Alan Dalton from the TGWU, Bronwyn McKenna from UNISON and Owen Tudor (who also sits on the Council=s Research and Occupational Deafness Working Groups) from the TUC office.

Having argued against the decision of the previous Government to restrict back-dating of claims for benefit to a maximum of three months, the TUC was concerned at the proposal in the Social Security Bill to further restrict back-dating to one month, and lobbied Ministers and MPs accordingly, meeting Baroness Hollis of Heigham and Keith Bradley, the Ministers responsible for the Bill, in October. TUC representatives successfully persuaded the IIAC to oppose the plan, and further lobbying in the House of Lords led, in April, to the withdrawal of the proposal from the Bill. The TUC continues to favour a return to unlimited backdating where good cause exists, because it is often a third party=s failure to inform potential claimants that they have an injury which leads to a late claim, and not the actions of either the claimants or the DSS.

The IIAC is currently reviewing the diseases covered by the scheme, and the TUC has submitted evidence on deafness, radiation diseases and osteoarthritis of the hip in farm workers. A consultation document on extending the scope of compensation for deafness will be published shortly. The TUC representatives on the Council have also argued for close monitoring of the newly contracted out Benefits Agency Medical Service (the contracting out was opposed by unions and the TUC=s representatives), and have submitted arguments to improve the medical test for chronic bronchitis and emphysema for coal miners.

9.7 Rehabilitation

One in ten British workers suffering a severe injury returns to work, compared with one in two in Sweden.

It was reported to the 1997 Congress that a TUC conference on the role of employer liability insurance companies in preventing occupational injury and ill-health had led to a measure of agreement between the TUC and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) on the need for better rehabilitation provision for the victims of workplace injury and illness. A joint study project conducted partly by the ABI and partly by the TUC led to the TUC General Secretary outlining the possibility of a new approach to rehabilitation in his speech to the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers in November (published as Safety and justice: what unions can give to the giving society).

In April, the TUC Executive Committee decided to establish a Rehabilitation Initiative Steering Committee with terms of reference and membership set out below. In June, the TUC and the ABI co-sponsored a conference on >Rehabilitation: Back to Work= which was well received. The Steering Committee held its first meeting in July and arranged a programme of work, including some events to stimulate debate, into 1999.