Workplace health and safety: follow-up report - Work and Pensions Committee Contents


5  Worker engagement

Improving worker engagement

46. On 14 October 2008, HSE launched guidance aimed at improving the quality and quantity of worker consultation and involvement in health and safety.[37] HSE aims to mainstream worker engagement, particularly in construction and the public sector; promote worker involvement with HSE and local authority field staff; and work with others to encourage worker engagement.

47. In 2003, HSE launched the Workers' Safety Adviser Challenge Fund to try to stimulate partnership working between workers and employers on health and safety matters in small businesses and organizations that lack union representation. The fund provided £1m a year for three financial years 2004/5, 2005/6, and 2006/7 with grants of up to £100,000 for each project. Workers' Safety Advisers visited non-unionised workplaces, with the agreement of employers, to discuss health and safety issues with the employees. Our 2007/08 report on HSE concluded that:

"worker involvement is a means of improving health and safety standards in non-unionised workplaces, benefiting employers and employees alike, and we call on HSE to work with industry to explore models for the future funding of such projects."[38]

OLYMPIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (ODA)

48. The Committee visited the ODA on 9 June 2009 and met with Lawrence Waterman, Head of Health and Safety and Dr Marianne Dyer, the onsite Medical Director. We were impressed with the excellent health and safety record at ODA and were told that the ODA's worker involvement initiatives had been integral to ensuring high standards of health and safety.

49. On every project there is a set of arrangements for worker consultation including a Health and Safety Committee with worker representatives, and a Project Leadership Team which maintains worker engagement under review (it represents one of the priorities for the Leadership programme). Furthermore, regular meetings take place with trades union representatives and senior ODA/Delivery Partner staff to review worker engagement and any other issues on the programme.

50. We were told that, at least annually, a Climate Survey is conducted ascertaining the views of over 50% of the workforce by questionnaire and the ODA also operates a privacy-protected telephone hotline for any issues any worker wishes to raise, including health and safety matters.

51. We were very impressed with the efforts the Olympic Development Authority has made to encourage worker engagement in health and safety. For example, we commend the operation of a private hotline for workers who wish to raise health and safety issues. We hope HSE disseminates the practices of ODA to other organisations, as an example of how to develop a positive health and safety culture in the workplace.

NEW WORKER ENGAGEMENT PILOTS

52. Geoffrey Podger said that HSE had identified businesses of 200 employees or less as those in which worker engagement is most difficult to mainstream. In order to address this, he told us that:

"one of the first activities that is already in our business plan for next year is to initiate some pilot projects that will look at improving training for safety representatives among smaller businesses and encourage workforce members and first-line managers to work together on health and safety problem-solving. We are running those as pilots and we are already talking to organisations like EEF and FSB about how they will work with us to find small businesses to act as "guinea pigs" to go through that process with a view to them becoming case studies that we will promulgate with other businesses."[39]

53. We were told that the new pilots were "part of the inheritance of the Worker Safety Advisory Scheme", which was meant to "pump prime" worker involvement, rather than "run in perpetuity".[40]

54. We welcome HSE's plans to pilot approaches aimed at improving worker engagement. If the pilots prove successful, we urge HSE to invest in a worker engagement scheme on a permanent basis. We accept that there are many pressures on HSE's resources; however, increasing worker involvement in health and safety is an investment that will reap its own rewards in the long term if health and safety standards are improved and accidents avoided.

Blacklisting

55. In March 2009, the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) reported that a company called the Consulting Association had provided 44 construction companies with details of construction workers who had raised health and safety concerns and/or were union members. Subscribers included companies such as Amec building, Amec Construction, Amec Facilities, Balfour Beatty, Emcor Rail, Kier and Sir Robert McAlpine. The ICO contacted all 44 companies that had subscribed to the database to establish the extent of their involvement and "determine what, if any, action may be appropriate."[41]

56. The Consulting Association's companies database was found to contain details of 3,213 construction workers, including their names, dates of birth, national insurance numbers, locations and trades and notes on their union activity, employment history and conduct, industrial relations "threats" and personal relationships.

57. On Wednesday 27 May 2009, the owner of the Consulting Association, Mr Kerr, was tried by Macclesfield Magistrates Court. He pleaded guilty but failed to attend in person. The case has now been transferred to the Crown Court where Mr Kerr could face an unlimited fine.[42]

58. The threat of blacklisting could act as a disincentive to worker involvement. Geoffrey Podger emphasised that HSE is "totally opposed" to blacklisting:

"we have a variety of ways of intervening in this area, and we do, because part of what HSE rightly does is to spend a lot of time actually talking with and to large companies, and that is an area where they are very well aware of our views on the importance of worker involvement. We have the specific initiative we have been discussing, which we are spending £4 million on in the next two years, and there is the option to spend more if we find it is successful and we still have the resources to do so."[43]

59. The Employment Relations Act 1999 included provisions to outlaw blacklisting but these were never enacted. However, in May 2009, the Government launched a consultation document seeking views on proposals to revise the regulations and ban blacklisting, which it hopes to introduce in autumn.

60. Blacklisting is a reprehensible practice, which acts to discourage and undermine worker involvement and accordingly threaten health and safety standards in the workplace. We welcome the Government's intention to introduce regulations to ban blacklisting and ask for assurances that it will ensure this practice is eradicated completely. We look forward to receiving further information about the initiatives HSE are undertaking to address the issue.


37   Guidance includes: Involving your workforce in health and safety: Good practice for all workplaces HSG263; Involving your workers in health and safety: A guide for small businesses WEB35; Consulting workers on health and safety: Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (as amended) and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (as amended) - Approved Codes of Practice and guidance[11]; Consulting employees on health and safety - a brief guide to the law INDG 232.  Back

38   Work and Pensions Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, The role of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in Regulating Workplace Health and Safety, HC246 I, para 218. Back

39   Q49 Back

40   Q51 Back

41   Information Commissioner's Office website: http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/consulting_association.aspx. Back

42   Information Commissioner's Office Statement 27 May 2009: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/pressreleases/2009/ico_statement_ca_guilty_plea.pdf. Back

43   Q54 Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 12 July 2009