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
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
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.
MERGING HSC &
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 sectorsin 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 taskFebruary 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.