Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by GMB


  GMB is responsible for nearly 600,000 members across a wide variety of British industry, both in the private and public sector. Within this there are over 15,000 safety representatives, who through their own endeavours make a real difference to their workplaces in terms of health, safety and welfare. In light of the restriction on the number of words for each submission GMB is submitting a number of subjects under the following headings, which we will be happy to elaborate on, either in person, or further in writing.


  To say that GMB were disappointed with the final conclusions of the HSC response to the Worker Involvement Consultation exercise would be an understatement. Not only were the views of over 90% of the respondents effectively ignored, in favour of the organisations replying on behalf of industry, but that the modest proposals forwarded for safety reps were dismissed as un-necessary.

  These principally centered around the involvement of safety reps in risk assessments, and the right of a rep to a written response from management when they raised workplace concerns. Notwithstanding the fact that it could be argued that the first is covered by ACoP (15) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations, and the second partially, at least, by the report form within the SRSC regulations, the truth is that many find regulations difficult to interpret and to clarify these under safety reps rights would have helped them carry out their functions more effectively.


  Sometimes it appears to GMB office holders that HSE, while appearing to endorse the positive role that trade union safety representatives play in helping to make a real difference in attitudes and culture within workplaces, are reluctant to trumpet this too loudly when challenged by business. A relatively recent study of building sites in the Irish Republic, with a similar industrial setup to the UK, found that the only factor to make a substantial difference to the health and safety "culture" on site was the presence of one or more trade union safety reps!

  At the recent Construction Safety Summit, convened by the DWP Secretary of State, Peter Hain, it was interesting that an employers organisation raised the issue of Workers Safety Advisors (WSA) and regretted that the (nearly) three year project had finished without any replacement idea ( beyond the possibility of presumably using trade union safety reps). Now GMB believes that while the concept of the WSA project was limited and somewhat narrow in its' approach that there were important lessons to be derived from it. The most basic, and important, being the use of workplace peers to engage with, and demonstrate the benefits of a consultative health and safety approach.

  Endorsement of the WSA project does not mean that GMB see it as a substitute for properly trained workplace trade union reps, but it could be useful in reaching difficult to access business areas which are reluctant to change for a variety of reasons, particularly SMEs.


  GMB feel that the use of an RIA during consultation often appears little more than a "guesstimate". On one of the first occasions that an RIA was used, during the consultation on the introduction of non trade union safety reps (in 1996), the estimate of the cost to industry for the first year was £14 million, with £1 million for each subsequent year. In the intervening decade since the introduction of the legislation covering these reps GMB has asked the question to see if the estimates and the "real" figure match, to no avail.

  The suspicion, and this is difficult to overcome, is that without some verification of these figures they are used to endorse, or otherwise, a position that is predetermined rather than what could be achieved if alternative figures were to be used.

  GMB would like to see that in future figures are both explained, and in particular, monitored in a better manner.


  GMB is concerned that government departments do not always consider the changing nature of the UK industrial situation. In the previously mentioned consultation on worker involvement and in the consultation carried out by the (then) DTI on the role of workplace reps (spring 2007), there seemed little acknowledgement of this. Since the introduction of the Health & Safety at Work Act in 1974 there has been a massive shift in the British economy.

  One of the major changes has been the move from manufacturing to service industries and the removal of many large workplaces, resulting in the growth of SMEs and the change in health and safety culture this has engendered. In addition the workforce has changed with a greater number of females, ethnic minorities and an ageing workforce. Allied to a growing casualisation, self employment and a growth in agency workers, acknowledging those for whom English is not their first language, there is a need for these workers to have a challenging voice in workplaces. Unless there exists alternative it would seem that the only organisations speaking on behalf of workers are the trade unions and a conclusion from this is that there is a need to treat health, safety and welfare issues differently in respect of collective recognition for these concerns. Certainly in respect of SMEs there should be some form of imposed dialogue on H&S issues.


  GMB have submitted a response to these proposals. With the proposed expansion of the Executive from nine to 11 we welcome the introduction of a LA representative. We would like to see the other position reserved for a nomination from a victims support group. These groups are active in their respective communities and this would help them reach a wider audience.


  GMB has already responded to the proposed cuts in the HSE and the relocation of HSE HQ. Suffice it to say we think both are fundamentally negative. There is however, an opportunity to look at the role and interaction of the principal enforcers for health and safety legislation, namely the HSE and local authority EHOs. As the industry changes there is a valid argument for using HSE to enforce in areas where they currently do not. The alternatives are either less enforcement, which we believe is too low already, or use EHOs. The latter will only cause inadequate resources to be moved from one regulatory body to another. Local authorities are already under financial constraints and to ask them to increase their role would be futile. HSE cuts should be stopped and resources allocated for the HSE to look at how it could further enforce more effectively, perhaps in areas where they currently do not.

  One area of potential change with respect of the allocation of resources within HSE which GMB could not endorse would be the selective allocation of reducing resources being weighted to individual sectors—in essence "robbing Peter to pay Paul". If a sector, say construction is identified as a priority due to increased fatalities, extra funding, over and above existing budgets, should be found and not re-allocated from already sparse resources.

  HSE are already experiencing difficulties with resources. The difficulty in recruiting Nuclear Inspectors is symptomatic of the general morale within HSE and could cause problems within this specific industry.

  Justification for increased resources for HSE could come from a rationalisation of all H&S legislation under its' control (the Working Time Directive, Gangmasters Licensing)


  As part of the process in submitting GMB views for consideration it was instructive to look at the last time GMB undertook a similar task—February 2004. Unfortunately little appears to have improved in the interim, notwithstanding the WSA project and the new Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Bill. The enforcement and inspection functions of HSE would appear to be going backwards, some of which must be resource driven. Voluntary arrangements, such as the recently issued guidance on Directors Duties only work where there is already compliance with the law and fail to reach hard to get to sectors.

  An old, established, GMB idea, always discounted in the past is the creation of a Work Environment Fund to generate dedicated resources for the promotion and development of an effective preventive strategy to reduce injuries and ill health at work. Perhaps it is time to consider something fresh which will not be considered a "burden on business".

  GMB takes the world of work and how health, safety and welfare operates within this very seriously. Our commitment to this should not be in question. Through our understanding of British industry we believe, unfashionably maybe, that regulation, aligned with understanding, works better than voluntary guidance in ensuring safe workplaces.


November 2007

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