Safety rep toolkit: 5
Getting the job done
Here we explain your role and responsibilities as a safety rep.
- risk assessment
- resolving problems
The law requires employers to consult their staff on health and safety at work. In workplaces where Prospect is a recognised trade union, our H&S reps must be consulted. This is about actively seeking the views of employees via safety reps and taking account of them before decisions are reached. This doesn't remove the right of managers to manage - they must still make the final decision - but it does impose an obligation to involve staff and listen to their views.
And in good time: the employer must allow enough time to explain to safety reps what is proposed, for safety reps to discuss this with fellow workers to get their views, and for these to be fed back to management prior to a final decision. Only in an emergency, which good planning should avoid, should there be a need for a speedier process. Where trust is high, safety reps will work to a quicker turnaround.
Effective consultation requires arrangements for communicating with the staff you represent (your constituents). Good employers will support meetings being held during work hours and will provide appropriate facilities (for example a meeting room). ACAS has excellent guidance on communication and consultation.
Carrying out regular inspections of the workplace is one of the ways your employer will wish to monitor risk control and compliance with H&S standards. As a safety rep you have rights to inspect the workplace, and may do so at your own behest. However, given your role is to promote H&S and support your employer, you are encouraged to make joint inspections with management. HSE has produced good practice guidance on workplace inspections, including inspecting together.
Making inspections allows you to check standards, look out for new hazards, be visible and re-assess your priorities. Be creative. Options for inspecting include:
- general inspections of a work area (the TUC guide contains a checklist [PDF download] which may help)
- targeted inspections of a procedure, policy or team
- surveys, questionnaires and workplace or body mapping may identify a hidden problem. We cover this further under 'campaigning' below.
Safety reps should be involved in risk assessment to input employee experience and practice. Involving reps also makes sure that proposals for risk control will work in practice and won’t introduce any new dangers.
The TUC has provided a risk assessment guide for safety reps [PDF download].
Top tip: see guidance on some of the common errors in the risk assessment process.
Investigations include pro-active methods such as surveys, questionnaires (see bullet-points above) and reactive enquiries after an accident, near miss or case of occupational ill-health. It is important safety reps are involved for the following reasons:
- prevention - by identifying the cause of an accident or near miss, lessons can be learnt and you can negotiate improvements to prevent a recurrence.
- compensation - if a member is injured they may wish to consider making a claim against the employer’s insurance. To start a claim for an injury or an industrial disease, the member needs to contact Prospect’s legal services assistant Helen Hall or Prospect’s personal injury ClaimLine for legal advice on the prospects of a claim. Your findings on the injury, health and safety procedures and compliance in your workplace may be vital evidence.
As with inspections, a joint approach to investigation is preferable.
Remember, as a safety rep you must be given information necessary for you to fulfil your functions. This includes rights to see accident and ill health reports. Remember, disclosure can be sensitive and Data Protection law may apply.
Problems come to light in various ways, for example:
- during an inspection or after an accident, near miss or complaint
- from discussions with constituents
- new information or a press 'scare'.
Whatever the route, the keys to making progress are your approach and how you raise the problem. Some of the ways you can influence management are:
- being organised:
- encouraging members to raise concerns themselves through their line management
- putting things in writing
- using procedures and structures, such as grievances and safety committees
- using the strength of members and the union – see 'campaigning and communicating' below
- establishing agreed ways of working with your employer.
- using the law:
- being clear about employers’ duties and your legal rights
- getting involved in risk assessments
- using inspectors where appropriate. Referrals to enforcing authorities (such as HSE or the fire brigade) should only be made with full-time officer approval. This is to ensure Prospect has exhausted internal negotiating provisions, recognising that a referral is our last resort.
Campaigning and communicating
You may have anecdotes of issues relevant to your workplace and want to build evidence. Carrying out a local survey, questionnaire or campaign will help. For instance:
- the WorkTime YourTime campaign is excellent for long hours, stress and health & wellbeing
- the Healthy Workplaces Campaign promoted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is currently focusing on leadership and worker involvement, so definitely worth pursuing
- or if you're in energy supply, Prospect supports the Powering Improvement industry campaign.
Feel free to ask your Prospect Organiser to assist (not sure who your Organiser is? Ask membership via 01932 577007). It is only when a union safety rep has the support of an informed and involved membership that they can effectively secure improvements and be a part of the process of organising their workplace. This means:
involving colleagues in identifying issues, finding solutions and dealing with problems
dealing with problems early, when they are manageable, rather than leaving them to get worse.
A good example of involving workers is by conducting risk or body mapping exercises. These exercises enable colleagues to discover for themselves what may be harming them or what is dangerous at work and involves them in the process of remedying the problem.
Case study: National Trust Branch conducted a body-mapping exercise of company cars and identified one model as being associated with back and neck pain. This has enabled an informed and targeted campaign to enlighten the employer on future vehicle selection.
Remember: health and safety is a top reason for people joining and staying in a union, so it is a powerful means of recruiting - provided you publicise your work. So do communicate - for more see Getting Results.
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