Memorandum submitted by the University
and College Union (UCU)
UCU supports the memorandum of evidence submitted
to the Select Committee by the TUC, which refers to evidence from
HSE-commissioned research showing that where safety representatives
are active, and there is good co-operation between them and the
employer, the level of injuries was reduced by half. We wish to
submit further information related to worker involvement, safety
representatives functions, and duties imposed on employers by
the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977
Our concerns are:
(i) that previous consultations on safety
representative functions drew large responses with a majority
for more and stronger functions, yet no action resultedon
both occasions the HSC decided there was no consensus for further
(ii) that we would wish to see the HSE take
a much more positive approach to the enforcement of both safety
rep functions and employer duties in the SRSCR.
We are concerned that, despite the many statements
and exhortations to employers by the HSC/HSE on the importance
of involving workers and their representatives, these remain pious
statements which neither the HSE nor Government sufficiently enforces.
We note, however, that following the recent
Construction Safety Forum meeting, Peter Hain expressed the view
that "there should be a safety rep on every site." UCU
believes that the HSC/E needs to adopt a much more direct approach
to enforcing safety rep functions and employer duties, and move
on from simply encouraging employers to co-operate.
Safety Reps statutory functions establish a
framework for safety representative activity. A 1993 amendment
to the SRSCR imposed an additional duty on employers to consult
with safety reps in a number of specified cases; apart from this
they have remained unchanged, despite substantial changes in both
industrial structure and working practices. Safety reps functions
are often, wrongly in our opinion, called rights. UCU believes
that it is better to emphasise that these are functions given
to reps by statute, and consequently need to be vigorously enforced.
Grouped under a number of main headings, these
investigation of complaints,
hazards and incidents;
regular and formal inspections
of the workplace and incidents;
represent specific issues and
general matters to the employer;
make contacts with inspectors
of the enforcing authorities;
request a safety committee be
to be consulted prior to employer
To facilitate these functions, the SRSCR impose
a number of statutory duties on employers, all of which are absolute.
We comment on employer duties below.
UCU supports an extension of safety representatives'
functions to better meet the changed and changing circumstances
of the UK economy, including within the further & higher education
sectors. Large manufacturing workplaces with strong traditions
of trade union organisation have been replaced by small and medium-sized
service sector workplaces, with less tradition of union organisation,
but where echoes of traditional work relationships remainboring
and repetitive work, lack of control over the work process; system-determined
speeds and outputs; hierarchical management structures, with a
range of newer "built-in" hazards such as stress-related
illness, repetitive strain injuries, aggressive and hostile management
techniques, long hours and extended workloads; all of the latter
reflected in our experience in further and higher education.
There has also been a huge increase in sub-contracting
services, where traditional employer-employee relationships are
significantly undermined. This can mean workplaces having a multiplicity
of employers on site; problematic where legislation refers to
"employees"we believe this should be amended
to references to "workers"a wider definition
that encompasses all people on site performing some economic function
for the employer, but not necessarily employed by them. There
has also been a huge increase of temporary working in further
and higher education with health and safety consequences.
Previous consultations explored developments
including roving safety representatives, provisional improvement
notices; the ability to recommend employees leave the workplace
and increased protection against victimisation. The 2006 consultation,
more limited in scope, sought opinion on two relatively minor
changesa duty on employers to respond to safety rep reports,
and to involve them formally in the broad approach to risk assessments.
UCU believes these are still valid extensions to safety representative
Roving Safety Reps
The current SRSCR Regulation 8 make provision
for roving safety representatives in theatres and music venues;
these specific provisions should be extended to other sectors
where trade union organisation is difficult, union membership
density low, or where there are many small and medium sized employers.
This could include colleges and universities, agriculture, small
retail sector, construction, hotel and catering and home-working.
There are already some voluntary examples in finance, local authority
education and past projects in agriculture.
Provisional Improvement Notices (PIN's)
Closer partnership links between safety representatives
and inspectors could be forged by an additional function to issue
PIN'swhere representatives can more formally indicate a
failure by the employer to meet legal standards, and where the
employer has ignored representations and failed to take action.
Copies of PIN's are forwarded to the Inspectorate, and this enables
the HSE to come-in and arbitrate and enforce if the employer continues
to refuse to comply. PIN's operate successfully in some Australian
states. On one occasion, the erstwhile Chair of the HSC stated,
in public, that trade unions would get PIN's "over my dead
To advise workers to refuse dangerous work
Enshrined in the Employment Rights Act 1996
this is currently an individual worker right difficult to exercise
in practice, as there are often fears of victimisation. We would
prefer a system where the representative can make the recommendation
to withdraw from potentially dangerous work to protect individual
workers from action by their employer.
Recognition and protection for safety representatives
UCU also believes that trade union safety representatives
should be automatically recognised (there is no provision in the
SRSCR for "non-recognition" by the employer), and need
stronger protection against victimisation by employers. UCU representatives
have been summarily dismissed, made unfairly redundant or otherwise
victimised simply because they have been effective in representing
their members and improving conditions at work. Management attitudes
often imply that it would not be in a rep's best interests to
continue to be an effective rep.
To enable safety representatives to perform
their functions effectively, the Regulations impose a number of
absolute duties on employers. These are:
to permit a safety representative
to take necessary time off to perform their functions and undergo
to provide such facilities and
assistance as safety representatives require for the purpose of
carrying out their functions;
to inspect and take copies of
any document the employer is required by law to keep;
to make available any information
within their knowledge to enable reps to fulfil their statutory
to establish a safety committee
There is some evidence that employers often
see the SRSCR as relevant only to safety representatives; the
HSE need to make a sustained effort to impress on employers the
relevance of the SRSCR to them.
Enforcement of employer duties
Until December 2006, questions relating to a
breach of these employer's duties, or actions that obstruct safety
representatives in their functions were not considered appropriate
breaches for HSE Inspectors to enforce, and unions were encouraged
to use the established industrial relations machinery to resolve
disputes, using ACAS help.
In 2006 the HSE produced a draft Topic Inspection
Packguidance for inspectors on worker involvement,
consolidated in July 2007. This outlines the HSE's view, and importantly
provides guidance to inspectors on enforcement action to ensure
effective worker involvement. One part gives inspectors guidance
on enforcing the employer duties contained in the SRSCR; Paragraphs
4347 apply. The guidance says immediate action may be appropriate
where employers are in breach of the statutory duties. Although
this guidance does not advocate special enforcement visits, it
recommends a system of encouragement towards more involvement
as part of a normal inspection visit. UCU welcomes this approach,
and considers this a step forward for the HSE, but more needs
to be done.
We accept to some degree the argument that you
cannot compel employers to co-operate and consult meaningfully,
and that effective partnership between unions and employers often
requires a cultural shift on the part of employers, and requires
them to trust trade unions, but we believe this can only be forged
within a framework of strong and rigorously enforced legislation
to support it.
The HSC/E argument that consensus is necessary
to achieve change in the statutory regulation of safety reps is
entirely unconvincing given the track record of most employers
and runs the risk of the continuing failure to have effective
enforcement in place.
A more sustained to approach to regulation requires
resources. The Government must as a minimum maintain, but preferably
increase, the resource allocation to the HSE to ensure sufficient
resources for this important work.