LRD Booklets April 2011

Safety reps in action

Introduction

There are around 150,000 safety reps appointed and supported by trade unions. This booklet makes the case for trade union safety reps. As well as citing academic research that confirms reps’ effectiveness, it contains many examples of interventions by safety reps that have improved conditions for workers and the public.

This booklet is being published at a time of tremendous uncertainty for workers in need of health and safety protection, and in the teeth of a determined assault by the current government on health and safety regulation in its current form, most recently announced in the government’s 2011 strategy paper, Good health and safety: Good for everyone. This booklet is a contribution towards reinforcing the simple message that safety reps save lives, not just in so-called “high risk” sectors, but right across the economy as a whole. They prevent injuries and ill health, helping workers and making workplaces safer.

And as well as saving lives, safety reps save money. A Department of Trade and Industry paper published in January 2007, Worker representatives, a review of their facilities and facility time, estimated that safety reps, at 2004 prices, save society between £181 million and £578 million a year. This is as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses of between 286,000 and 616,000 days a year (Safety reps: A charter for change, TUC 2009).

To produce this updated booklet, the Labour Research Department surveyed safety reps for an up-to-date picture of their achievements. We found that reps continue to play a vital role in ensuring employers comply with the law, and many go beyond the law to ensure higher standards of safety. This booklet is a manual of examples other reps can borrow from, copy and build on. We found many encouraging examples of partnership and collaboration between safety reps and management. We also found examples of bad practice and refusal by management to recognise the role played by safety reps and the benefits they can bring.

Our research shows that safety reps are as relevant today as they have ever been. They are tackling established hazards such as asbestos and newer ones like repetitive strain injury. They are also tackling the UK’s occupational health crisis, playing a leading role in addressing stress and bullying issues.

LRD also found that many safety reps are attentive to other aspects of trade unionism, such as equality. This booklet contains many examples of how reps are taking up gender, race and disability issues to ensure that everyone in the workforce is protected.

Effective, well-trained safety reps, in close touch with their members and backed by strong workplace organisation are vital to the renewal of the labour movement. Unions are actively organising campaigns to recruit more workers, and health and safety protection remains a central reason for joining a union and becoming active within it.