Union safety reps can make a very real difference to standards in your workplace. Evidence shows that workplaces with union safety reps and joint union-management safety committees have major injury rates less than half of those without.
Safety reps can secure direct benefits in workers' health, safety and welfare
for you and your colleagues using legal rights provided by health and safety legislation.
What does a safety rep do?
Safety reps can carry out many of the same functions of a shop steward or workplace rep but focus specifically (surprise, surprise) on workplace health and safety issues. They usually cover a defined area or group of workers in the workplace where they themselves work.
The issues they deal with can be very wide ranging from the general workplace environment (uncomfortable working temperatures, lack of breaks) to more specific health and safety hazards (such as manual handling, stress and RSI).
Safety reps have specific rights enshrined in law which enable them to
- inspect the workplace regularly to identify potential hazards and causes of accidents;
- investigate employee complaints concerning health and safety issues at work;
- make representations to the employer on matters arising out of health, safety, and welfare affecting employees at work;
- investigate accidents or dangerous occurrences;
- inspect relevant health and safety documents; and
- establish a joint union-management safety committee
Employers are required to consult safety reps, especially about:
- the introduction of any new measures at a workplace that may substantially affect health and safety;
- arrangements for appointing competent persons to assist the company with health and safety and implementing procedures for serious and imminent risk;
- any health and safety information required to be provided to employees;
- the planning and organisation of health and safety training for the workforce, such as induction training; and
- health and safety implication of the introduction of new technology
Employers are legally required to provide safety reps with the resources to carry out their role. This might include:
- a room and a desk at the workplace with facilities for storing correspondence;
- ready access to internal and external telephones and, now, to email and the internet;
- access to typing, duplicating and computer facilities;
- provision of a notice board; and
- use of a suitable room for confidential reporting back to individual employees and consulting with members.
Other facilities should include copies of relevant statutes, Regulations, Approved Codes of Practice and HSE guidance, copies of safety journals, and legal and international standards that are relevant to the workplace.
Union safety reps have the legal right to paid time off for training relevant to their role.
The TUC and individual unions provide a range of courses for safety reps designed to
- develop awareness of legal rights for health and safety;
- give safety reps practical experience of problem solving and carrying out inspections; and
- update them on developments in health and safety legislation and practice.
For more information about TUC education courses to support safety reps, please click here.
If you would like to find out more about becoming a safety rep, then please click here.
If you like to sign up to Risks, the TUCs on-line resource for union safety reps, then please click here.
Issued: 5 July, 2010