Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the University and College Union
UCU supports the TUC evidence
already provided to the select committee.
We would like to see more effort
to enforce the legislative support for safety representatives'
UCU believes the HSE to be hugely
Due to resource limitations
we believe it is difficult if not impossible for the HSE to provide
an adequate level of support to our representatives or to take
enforcement action against breaches.
Positive project initiatives
in the tertiary education sector, which UCU supports, are threatened
by resource limitations.
UCU believes an opportunity
to "level the playing field" between small and large
organisations in relation to corporate manslaughter has been missed.
Migrant workers need some special
protection and access to language education.
The HSE should shift its emphasis
towards a closer working relationship with workers and their representatives.
1. THE UNIVERSITY
1.1 UCU is aware of the memorandum of evidence
submitted to the select committee by the Trades Union Congress
on behalf of all its affiliates, and unconditionally endorses
and supports that evidence. The UCU will not respond to all the
points on which the select committee has called for evidence,
but wishes to make a limited number of comments and observations
to support the TUC's contribution, with special reference to the
occupational sector in which we recruit, and of which we have
1.2 UCU regards the health, safety and welfare
of its members as a priority area for improvement. To that end,
its policy is to increase the number of workplace safety representatives;
develop support and resource mechanisms for local organisation;
improve training opportunities for our safety representatives
and work more closely with employers and the HSE to achieve this.
1.3 The University and College Union (UCU)
was formed in 2006 by a merger between the Association of University
Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further
and Higher Education (NATFHE). UCU recruits into membership academic
and academic-related staff in the tertiary education sector. It
covers the whole of the UK, with the exception of further education
staff in Scotland, currently recruited by the Educational Institute
of Scotland (EIS). UCU has approximately 120,000 members.
2. THE LEGISLATIVE
2.1 As a general point, UCU believes that
the legislative framework needs consistent enforcement to be effective.
We still have reservations about the relative weight and balance
currently given between advice and guidance to employers on the
one hand and to direct enforcement on the other.
2.2 We find it regrettable that, no doubt
in part due to under-resourcing, the HSE appears to have been
reluctant to adopt the same "blitz" approach to the
enforcement of safety representatives' statutory functions and
employer duties that facilitate and enable safety representatives
operation, as it has in other areas where non-compliance was widespread.
The experience of many of our local safety representatives is
that too many employers still remain reluctant to provide information,
restrict time-off, and fail to consult effectively, fail to provide
assistance and facilities when requested and prevaricate over
taking corrective action when problems are reported to them.
2.3 On corporate manslaughter, we are disappointed
that individual duties and responsibilities of directors and decision-makers
were not included in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate
Homicide Act. The difficulties of identifying a "controlling
mind" who could be held responsible for breaches of the duty
of care, or statutory duties in anything other than a very small
organisation are well known.
So despite a legislative opportunity to redress
this imbalance, there remains the iniquitous situation whereby
a small employer can be prosecuted for manslaughter when a worker
is negligently killed, but in larger organisations, it remains
highly unlikely that any individual would be held responsible.
Our view is that, no matter how good they are, (and we think the
recent guidance published by the HSE and badged by the IoD is
good) voluntary codes and guidance are usually ineffective in
achieving the necessary levels of compliance with legislative
3. HSE RESOURCES
3.1 In common with the TUC, UCU believes
that the HSC/E generally is hugely under-resourced and need additional
investment, even before the cuts to their budget currently being
proposed are implemented. This demonstrates itself quite starkly
for some of our representatives and branches, who are faced with
employers whose commitment to adopting a positive approach to
collaborative working with our representatives is too often less
than wholehearted. Some examples follow.
3.2 Practical support to workers.
Following a request for advice from one of our college branches,
the UCU health & safety advisor recommended that, in the circumstances
at the college (a blank refusal by the employer to address a number
of serious health & safety problems over a four year period)
that the UCU branch should speak to the HSE and request some advice
and a visit. Following exchanges of a number of e-mails, the HSE
response was that the inspectors already had a full work programme
and were unable to make a visit. It took a more protracted correspondence
between the HSE office and our health & safety advisor to
finally persuade the HSE that they should give our representative
some assistance. We appreciate that this probably took that inspector
away from some other duties.
3.3 More generally, a number of our branches
have reported that they find it very difficult to make contact
with HSE inspectors, and that inspectors are often out of contact
for weeks on end, due to workload. Others report, when asked,
that they have never seen an inspector on the premises, or have
no idea when the last HSE visit took place. This also indicates
to us that there are insufficient inspectors in post, and our
experience adds weight to the TUC's submission in this respect.
3.4 Reducing stress-related absence project.
An initial project, colloquially known as "The Willing One
Hundred" begun early in 2006 involved eight tertiary institutions
in a commitment to take action to improve conditions in their
colleges and universities.
Reports from our local organisations have been
pessimistic; one case study published on the HSE website bore
no resemblance to events at the university. Following representations
from a UCU national officer, it was withdrawn; the management
of the university that had submitted the report apologised unreservedly
to the UCU Branch. Others report little progress, and little involvement
of local trade union representatives in the process.
3.5 A second project on the other hand,
established in mid 2006 is a highly positive initiative, given
that stress-related illness and absence in the sector runs at
about twice the national average. The project's initial series
of workshops were on the theme of managing and reducing sickness
absence. We believe this was influenced by current government
policy to reduce the number of people absent from work due to
sickness, rather than a clear focus on the employers' duty of
care and statutory duties to provide a safe workplace that does
not damage health, thus ameliorating the harm that poor working
environments and conditions cause. To focus on the economic implications
of sickness absence is to ignore the human being who has been
damaged by a negligent and uncaring employer. In the workplace-based
follow-up to the workshops it is also our view that the necessary
action and support at workplace level by inspectors is falling
far short of what is needed, notwithstanding the excellent work
by HSE staff. For example, in the Northern Region, the Gateshead
office of the HSE has a good programme of project-related visits
but which involve only one third of the tertiary institutions
in the area. We are concerned that positive initiatives are thus
only being implemented at the margins due to resource limitations,
rather than across the whole of the sector. We are also concerned
that both the current project and future project possibilities
will be under threat due to insufficient resources.
3.6 Information resources. The HSE
gave a commitment in 2006 that they would be making their publications
available, free-of-charge, via Internet access. This would be
a substantial benefit not only to our representatives, but also
to employers, particularly those in the further education sector,
where funding cuts, reductions and government policy shifts refocusing
the work of the sector have created an almost continuous resource
crisis over the past 15 years. As taxpayers, our members have
already funded the research, writing and production of this materialwe
believe it is iniquitous to then require us to pay for it again.
A lack of resources has now, regrettably, put this at serious
4. MIGRANT WORKERS
4.1 We have insufficient information available
to enable us to comment on whether or not migrant workers are
more at risk of injury or ill-health than other workers as a result
of work. Neither can we say if the HSE does enough to protect
them. But UCU does have some comment to make in the more general
area of language education, a necessary pre-condition for ensuring
workers understand workplace health & safety.
4.2 Our members teach English to students
whose first language is not English. Many migrant workers come
from countries where workplace health & safety standards are
much lower than in the UK, and where there is much less of a tradition
of regulation of those standards.
There is a clear need to ensure migrant workers
can be given instruction and information that is understandable,
and they can follow safe working practices, read notices, give
and understand warnings and so on. If they are unable to do this,
we think that this would be one factor in them having an increased
risk of injury
4.3 UCU believes that open access to language
courses free at the point of delivery is an essential pre-requisite
to give migrant workers the language skills they need to this
end. UCU conducted a sustained campaign when the Government cut
access for free ESOL courses recently, emphasising the health
& safety implications as part of that. While we appreciate
that this is not directly an issue for the HSE, we would hope
that they, and the Commission, would be making this point to Government,
and thus reinforcing the case for the widest possible of free
ESOL courses for a potentially vulnerable section of the workforce.
5. THE HSE, ENFORCEMENT
5.1 It is invariably the case that those
responsible for health & safety injuries and incidents are
employersthey have a duty of care and bear the statutory
duties. The HSE itself has published an analysis stating that
in more than 70% of cases employers are responsible for major
and fatal injuries.
5.2 It is workers who become the victims
when employers breach their duty of care and the regulatory standards.
The statutory standards and regulatory framework are there to
protect workers from the actual and potential hazards related
to their occupation; to ensure their employers exercise a duty
of care and do not expose their employees to danger and risk.
In that sense, workers are the potential victims of crime.
5.3 HSE Inspectors are law enforcers who
hold the Queen's warrant. UCU invites the select committee to
consider whether the HSE should make a philosophical shift in
emphasis from the view that "stakeholders" are all of
equivalent standing, towards an understanding that the HSE should
work more closely with workers and their safety representatives,
and adopt a more positive enforcement stance towards employers.
When Parliament proposes to amend the law related to burglary,
it doesn't undertake consultation exercises with burglars, or
conduct an impact assessment on what effect the proposals will
have on burglars. Occupational health and safety is regulated
by the criminal law. When breaches are prosecuted cases are heard
in magistrates or crown courts as they are criminal offences.
5.4 Of course UCU at institutional and national
level seeks to work in partnership with employers on health and
safety issues wherever possible and we have some excellent examples
where this happens. This is far from the case in all employers,
unfortunately. We would invite the select committee to consider
whether it is now appropriate that the equal status stakeholder
concept should continue to apply to what are, after all, criminal
5.5 We believe that HSE Inspectors need
to make much closer contacts and liaison arrangements with safety
representatives, and with representatives of employee safety in
non-union workplaces, so that they are clearly seen as being there
to enforce the law that protects workers from employer carelessness,
negligence or deliberate failure to comply.
That in turn places a responsibility on trade
unions such as UCU to ensure we also prioritise health and safety
and have in place networks of competent, properly supported, trained
and resourced health and safety representatives. We are working
hard to do that.