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Union safety reps have a dramatic, positive impact on safety at work – and the more training they get, the safer the 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' rights and functions include a legal right to: Represent employees in discussions with the employer on health, safety or welfare and in discussions with HSE or other enforcing authorities; investigate hazards and dangerous occurrences; investigate complaints; carry out inspections of the workplace and inspect relevant documents; attend safety committees; be paid for time spent on carrying out their functions, and to undergo training.
Safety reps in union recognised workplaces have the legal right to paid time off for union approved safety training. HSE's evaluation of the impact of safety reps training found the more training a safety rep underwent, the greater the positive impact at work.
It has been repeatedly demonstrated in studies from a range of countries that worker activity, with union support behind it, is a major factor in reducing injuries and disease at work. Statistics show that better standards of health and safety are achieved in unionised workplaces than in similar non-unionised ones. At the core of this are Safety Representatives. The TUC has produced a report which shows how safety representatives make a difference in practice and how shortcomings in the present regulations limit their effectiveness. It also makes proposals for improving the effectiveness of safety representatives - Charter for change (PDF).
The legal rights of safety Representatives can be found in the "Brown Book" which is the regulations, code of practice and guidance on safety representatives. The TUC has produced a version of the "Brown Book" for training purposes (PDF).
To help safety representatives undertake their role there are a considerable number of resources available.