LRD Booklets April 2012

Safety, health and equality at work - a practical guide for trade unionists


The need to equality-proof health and safety

The decades since the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations came into force in 1978 have witnessed seismic changes in the UK labour market, particularly through the decline in manufacturing jobs, the increase in service sector industries and the onward march of globalisation.

Along with these developments have come changes to the workforce, with women now making up almost half of all workers (46%), greater ethnic and religious diversity among workers, more migrant workers attracted to the UK, and significant numbers of disabled people in work.

But despite legislation outlawing discrimination and harassment on the grounds of gender, race, disability, sexuality, religion or belief and age, these issues remain, together with health and safety problems for particular groups of workers, exacerbated in some cases by widespread job segregation.

Union membership has also changed. From a high point of half the workforce in 1980, estimates published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2011 showed that less than 27% of employees are now members of a trade union. To increase membership and be relevant to today’s workforce, unions need to represent the full range of workers and be sensitive to the particular needs and issues facing them.

This is particularly important at a time when the government is attacking workers’ rights and union organisation including health and safety legislation and its enforcement. For example, the safety enforcement body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is facing a funding cut of 35% from the government over the four years of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) to 2015. Unions estimate that this will add up to a budget reduction of more than £80 million each year by 2014-15.

And during a period of high unemployment, as a result of the economic crisis and the government’s swingeing public spending cuts, workers are more fearful of raising health and safety concerns for fear of losing their jobs.

For all these reasons, union reps need to be aware of the connections between safety, health and equality. Policies and best practice agreements can be negotiated to go beyond the letter of the law and provide for a healthier and safer workplace. These can be developed from the collective activities of unions in workplaces as well as guidance from professional bodies.

This booklet contains checklists, examples of model policies and information on other measures covering health and safety in relation to the various equalities strands: gender, black and minority ethnic (BME) and migrant workers, disabled and older and younger workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) workers.

Key facts and comments on the law are included and reps can use these in negotiations to ensure equal access to health and safety at work for all workers. Each chapter contains examples and case studies of union action and initiatives.

The booklet is designed to be used in conjunction with other LRD publications which tackle related issues (for example, young workers), and particular hazards (such as violence and harassment) as well as the law (see LRD’s annual health and safety law booklet and the guide to the Equality Act 2010).