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Listen to the safety reps says TUC

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The TUC claims that safety reps are being undermined by a lack of support from employers and the government’s official safety watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

According to a survey of unions featured in the TUC-backed health and safety magazine Hazards, the top problem facing union safety reps is the difficulty of getting employers to act on safety concerns.

Getting employers to listen was ranked as the number one problem by 35 per cent and as a top three problem by 90 per cent of reps surveyed.

Another problem ranked in the top three by most respondents was getting the legally-allowed time off for training and to undertake inspection, investigation and other workplace safety functions.

The TUC says that because union safety reps are able to spot dangerous areas of the workplace and identify ways of working that can make staff ill, they are able to reduce the number of days lost to UK businesses by as much as 616,000 days a year. Even conservative estimates suggest that union reps already prevent over 11,000 cases of work-related ill-health or injury a year.

At the moment if a safety rep wants to do something about an employer who is refusing to give them the time to carry out their duties, their only recourse is to go to an employment tribunal. As a result, the majority of reps don’t take the issue any further.

The TUC would like to see the HSE provide safety reps with far more support and take legal action against employers who consistently fail to give safety reps enough time away from their jobs to carry out their safety duties properly.

Worryingly, a third of all the survey respondents (35 per cent) said one of their top problems was getting support from the official safety enforcement agencies. This is reflected in official enforcement statistics, which show no record of the HSE ever prosecuting an employer for breaching the regulations on safety reps’ rights.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Up and down the UK, thousands of safety reps are trying to make work safer for their colleagues, in some cases with little help from employers. It would make the world of difference to the poor safety record of UK workplaces if the HSE gave safety reps more support and got tough with bosses who refuse to give safety reps their legally entitled time off.”

Stirling University senior occupational health researcher Rory O’Neill, who undertook the survey, said: “With more people in work and a massive increase in the number of workplaces nationwide, the HSE should be grateful for all the help it can get and must provide robust support for safety reps at work.

“This isn’t just common sense, it is the law – and as the workplace law enforcement agency, the HSE must ensure it is observed.”

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