Safety rep toolkit: 3
Secure the support of your members, liaise with your fellow reps, and organise yourself.
Knowing your union
As a union representative, you need to secure the support of the people you represent. Working in isolation of members is not the way unions operate. So be visible and keep in touch - cascade consultations from management, obtain members' views and make sure you are in touch with what's going on at the ‘coal face'. Practical advice on arranging meetings, member surveys, carrying out investigations etc is found in part 6 of the toolkit - getting the job done.
Your section and branch
Fellow reps, particularly those with experience, will be able to guide and support you. Work closely with them to ensure that appropriate branch priorities are pursued and with a consensus behind you. Remember, health and safety is not separate from other trade union activity. Many of the issues trade unions tackle within the workplace, such as shifts, staffing levels and sickness absence management, have implications for health and safety. Your Branch can use the TUC "Organising for health and safety" (PDF download) to review its arrangements for promoting H&S.
If you don't know who your local section or Branch reps are, contact our membership department by email or phone 01932 577007.
Other health and safety reps
Also work closely with fellow H&S reps, including those from other sections or unions. Safety rep meetings can be useful to ensure a coordinated strategy - but make sure these meetings fit into other decision-making structures, such as your Branch council or BEC.
Your full-time officers
Make sure you know your Prospect negotiator and organiser. Your negotiator can step in if your Branch has serious health and safety problems and needs help. In turn, they can obtain expert assistance from Prospect's health and safety officer if necessary. Your organiser can help you raise the profile of health and safety and assist your branch with recruitment (not sure who your organiser is? Ask Chris Perry on 0207 902 6617 or Robin Smith on 0207 902 6679).
Facilities for the job
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees' (SRSC) Regulations entitle you to ‘facilities' from the employer. What this means in practice depends on what is available where you work, and what you and Prospect can persuade the employer to provide. Facilities you will need include:
- somewhere secure to keep your papers
- a place for consulting members in private
- access to a telephone
- access to notice boards, internal mail and any other communications systems in your workplace (some Branches have intranet ‘virtual communities')
- access to typing and copying facilities
- use of a quiet area to write letters, read reports etc, particularly if your workplace is noisy or crowded
- a place for consulting other H&S reps prior to an H&S Committee meeting.
The better the facilities your employer provides, the more effectively you will be able to do your job. If your employer has a genuine commitment to health and safety they should give you all the help they can. Find out more about the business benefits of worker involvement.
It is important to keep your files in order from the start. A lockable filing cabinet is the easiest storage space to use. Draw up a list of the sorts of information you will be collecting:
- letters between yourself and your employer
- letters between yourself and members
- hazard information sheets on materials and equipment you use
- safety committee minutes
- checklists and inspection reports
- your employer's written safety policy and safety instructions
- union health and safety publications.
The SRSC Regulations say you are entitled to time off during working hours to carry out your H&S rep job. In practice many reps say they have problems persuading the employer to give them enough time:
- it may be that they don't make any allowance in your ordinary job for the extra demands of being a rep
- it may be difficult to leave your main work when something urgent has to be attended to.
Try to negotiate an agreement that facilitates your H&S rep role. Here are some examples of agreements some Branches have secured:
- H&S rep work is recognised in individual performance agreements, so that reps have equal opportunity of achieving performance awards
- employer commitment demonstrated through a consultation policy that tells line managers to arrange cover for H&S reps so they may take time off
- H&S reps provided with pagers or mobile phones so that they are quickly told about accidents and immediately involved in investigations.
If you are having difficulties with time off, take it up with your union rep/branch secretary or full-time officer.
Let members know how to get hold of you. This doesn't mean you have to be available 24/7. You may find it easier to manage your workload, diary and roles if you ask people to make an appointment or outline in advance the matter they wish to discuss. This will help you prioritise and manage your work demands.
We are interested in your views and welcome suggestions on how these webpages could be improved or your ideas for new content you would like to see. Please email us at SafetyReps@prospect.org.uk