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       Hazards special online report, June 2016
In a unionised workplace you should consider mapping at work
In a unionised workplace, one of the first things that you should consider is mapping. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson says mapping can identify the workplace union’s strengths and weaknesses, and the hazards hurting your members, leaving you prepared to organise for safer, healthier work.

 

Workplace mapping can be used to gauge the union’s organising capacity, where hazards can be found in the workplace and what this means for the health and safety of the workforce. It identifies the problems in the workplace and the tools you have - or need to develop - to put them right.

Organisation mapping is just an audit of the current situation that can establish where you should be prioritising recruitment efforts. You also get an idea of any changes that might be needed.

SAFE BET The union Community mapped the structure of Ladbrokes betting shops to find out how small isolated offices kept in touch and made to be part of the ‘corporation’. Community realised that Ladbrokes’ own internal communication system could be used to wear down the company’s resistance to doing away with all-day lone working in their betting shops. more

What do you have to do to promote health and safety in areas which may not have effective representation or an active membership? What do you need to do to encourage activists to come forward and become safety representatives? The TUC’s 2016 update, Health and safety and organising - A guide for reps, spells out the importance of mapping as a component of an organising strategy at work, and includes an organising checklist.

Mapping is the first step in organising. It is a simple process. In smaller workplaces it can be done on a piece of paper. Where there are a number of existing union activists, it is best to do it as a group.

Remember the aim is to get workers to become active themselves and not to leave it to “the union”. After all a union is its members.

 

Workplace intelligence

Organisation mapping is really just a quick status check. You can map the union’s capabilities on the ground, or the problems within the workplace. It is simple and is key to any campaign on recruitment or organising. It works best if you do it with other health and safety reps in the same branch or workplace.

There are several ways of mapping a workplace, or group of workplaces if your branch covers more than one. It will depend on the type of workplace, its size, and its complexity. If the branch covers only one workplace, the simplest option is to draw an actual map of the area. However in other cases it may be easier to break it down by areas or departments.

Make sure that as well as recording the number of health and safety reps, you cover the adequacy of their training, information and support.

Where the branch covers a geographical area, rather than just a workplace or group of workplaces, then another option is to have a geographical map of the area that is covered. You can then use stickers to indicate each workplace where members and potential members are based.

Remember that this is not intended to be a scientific survey, just a way of getting an overview of the level of organisation within the workplace or branch. As one of the reasons for doing this exercise is to identify those parts of the branch that are most likely to need attention, it may be that the areas that are most in need of work are those where you have the least information.

 

Problems and causes

Other mapping techniques can help you assess the health and safety issues in the workplace.

        

Mapping is a way of involving all your members. It can often be done during a lunch break. Workers find it to be a real eye-opener as they realise their personal concerns are actually shared by their workmates. The first step in a health or safety campaign is to find these common problems.

Then the detective work starts, to find the hazards behind the symptoms. Many health and safety activists use body and risk maps to see how workers are injured in their workplaces now or how they are affected by what they did years ago.

CHECK THIS OUT  Checkout staff
in a supermarket had been raising concerns about their physical environment, including poorly maintained chairs, no chairs, no footrests, lack of rotation, too much standing, cold temperatures and the checkout layout. The union Unite used body mapping and surveys, which showed the extent of the problem and made management listen. Worker participation was key, and let to more of the staff signing up to the union. more

Body mapping is participatory and fun. It can be used where workers speak different languages or don’t read well, and is a quick way to make sense of complex situations. Maps can show the different experiences of workers by age, seniority, job, or gender. Body maps can show the patterns of symptoms and the long-term effects of hazards. Who is hurting and where?

Risk maps give an overview that individuals do not have – what substances, environments, processes or work patterns are causing problems? You can use body and risk maps together to see the workplace in a new light.

 

Deciding a direction

The first question to ask after you’ve made any of these maps is, “What do you see?” Look for patterns and things that don’t fit the patterns. Put together maps of work areas to get the overall picture of a workplace. Over time, come back to them to record new information or check on changes.

Workers know best

Management can have a very different take on problems to workers. In its occupational health and safety manual, the Australian Metal Workers’ Union (AMWU) notes:

•   Management has different goals, even enlightened management. They may care about safety in its own right, but are probably more concerned about workers’ compensation costs. And building the union is never one of the management’s goals

•   What you do with the company on health and safety is a form of collective bargaining. Even if you don’t see it that way, they do.

•   Health and safety isn’t a technical issue. Technical knowledge helps. But there are plenty of places to get technical information. Strategy and organisation are much more important.

Be creative – make sure that everyone’s story is recorded, if they want it included. If you want to add even more information, you can overlay see-through plastic layers for separate categories of information or to represent the experiences of different groups.

What is hurting workers on the job?  What symptoms, injuries and illnesses are workers experiencing?  What and where are the hazards that are causing – or could cause – problems? How is on-the-job stress affecting workers’ lives?  How can unions involve members and develop strategies for solving health and safety problems?

UNION DELIVERS  A ‘dirty tricks’ campaign by parcels company DHL, attempting to derecognise the union GMB, drew attention to serious safety shortcomings at the firm. A survey of GMB members revealed working time, welfare, vehicle ergonomics and personal protective equipment concerns. Union representatives became active around these safety issues, leading to an increase in rep numbers and increased confidence. After the initiative, GMB reported “a consolidation and growth in the membership.”

Mapping techniques provide a way for workers to use their own experiences to document workplace health and safety problems. These techniques are participatory methods by which workers gather and analyse their own knowledge and experiences. With the information gained, workers and unions can develop strategies to eliminate or reduce workplace hazards and to improve health and safety on the job.

Mapping techniques are effective because:

 

 


 

CASE HISTORIES

Unions are a safe bet at work

The union Community ran a campaign to try to organise workers in betting shops.
The use of one member of staff to cover all day in a betting shop had become common practice particularly in ‘small’ shops. Community mapped the structure of Ladbrokes betting shops to find out how small isolated offices kept in touch and made to be part of the ‘corporation’. Community realised that Ladbrokes’ own internal communication system could be used to wear down the company’s resistance to doing away with all-day lone working in their betting shops.  The system could become a potentially useful means of internal communication for the union.

Ladbrokes have a ‘Speak-up’ programme that encourages staff to contact management, through email, with their suggestions. Having been engaged in a series of discussions and negotiations with Ladbrokes’ management but getting no-where, Community escalated the action by getting members to use ‘Speak-up’ on a particular day to complain about having to work alone. In fact, as the Ladbrokes betting shop community is a tight-knit one, non-members found out what was going on and called in as well.  ‘Speak-up’ was flooded with messages, all on the topic of single working.

Ladbrokes, if nothing else, is image conscious. With this sort of direct action from the workforce, and with the union threatening to go public on the issue, management backed down. An agreement was reached on doing away with single working in the majority of circumstances, though recognising that on some occasions, such as staff sickness or training, this may be unavoidable.

Union members took action and found that they could do something themselves to improve their working conditions. It established a greater awareness of the strength of the union and working together. And it led to more employees signing up as Community members because of the effective action.

Surveying the damage in supermarkets

Checkout staff in a supermarket had been raising concerns about their physical environment, including poorly maintained chairs, no chairs, no footrests, lack of rotation, too much standing, cold temperatures and the checkout layout. They also reported suffering aches and pains in various parts of their body which they believed were linked to their work.

The union at the supermarket, Unite, produced a body map which was included in a health and safety resource pack for safety reps, a members’ guide explaining how to survey the workforce and what Unite was doing and why; an HSE leaflet on ergonomics at work; and Unite health and safety information. The initiative was carried out across 22 stores and nearly 350 workers participated.  It found that the top three concerns were back pain (76 per cent), neck pain (54 per cent) and wrist pain (46 per cent).

When the findings were presented to management they took notice and began discussing with Unite what could be done to address the problems.

Unite found the direct and personal contact from the safety representatives raised the profile of the union. The initiative also raised awareness amongst the members about health and safety and their job which in turn encouraged them to raise health and safety concerns. Unite also reported that, as a result of the campaign, more workers joined the union and more members volunteered as safety representatives.

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In a unionised workplace, one of the first things that you should consider is mapping at work. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson says mapping can identify the workplace union’s strengths and weaknesses, and the hazards hurting your members, leaving you prepared to organise for safer, healthier work.

Further information

Health and safety and organising - A guide for reps, TUC, 2016, available in pdf and e-book versions.

Hazards do-it-yourself research webpages, Hazards detective and organising webpages.

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