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UNION SAFETY REP TRAINING
Union safety reps have a dramatic, positive impact on safety at work - and the more training they get, the more marked the "union safety effect." Hazards reports how the union training on your doorstep and now in cyberspace can be a workplace lifesaver.
The presence of union safety reps prevents thousands of major injuries at work every year (Hazards 78). And there's an army of them out there - over 320,000 trade union safety reps have been trained by TUC Education and 10,000 more are trained each year.
Dangerous employers can face a safety double whammy - safety is a subject on which trade union reps spend more time than any other, and it is an issue, opinion polls indicate, that is considered one of the key areas people at work regard as a legitimate topic for trade union action.
The argument for greater and better informed employee participation in health and safety is irrefutable. Health and Safety Executive publications in both 2000  and 2001  noted that active workforce participation in managing safety leads to large reductions in accident rates.
A 2002 HSE-backed evaluation of a successful accident prevention project in the printing industry concluded that one of the key factors to be maintained was "the encouragement of workforce involvement in health and safety, including involvement in the development of action plans." 
But it is union safety reps that have by far the greatest positive impact on safety at work - and the more training they get, the more marked the "union safety effect" (Hazards 78). The presence of union safety reps prevents thousands of major injuries at work every year.
And it's union safety reps that make the difference. The alternative "representatives of employee safety" (RES) system for workplaces without recognised unions has been a lamentable failure, because they don't have the training, resources and support to make bad employers give a damn.
Efforts to harmonise the regulations covering the RES and union safety rep systems were abandoned by HSC last year. The prospect of effective safety reps getting into non-union firms, together with a union call for a nationwide system of "roving" union reps, was a prospect too dangerous for some employers to stomach.
Trade union trained health and safety reps give "added value," says Rees. As evidence, she points to a Health and Safety Executive-backed study that found trained reps are more likely go back to work and do something - for example, calling for formation of safety committees, undertaking health surveys, recruiting more safety reps and organising training days.
The impact of trade union education and training on health and safety reps  concluded: "The findings provide powerful evidence of the extent to which trade union training supports workplace activities and achievements of health and safety representatives. However it is likely that training does not simply support the continued existence of such achievement, but acts as a stimulus for their initiation and development" (Hazards 75).
A survey of safety reps for the report found that after attending the advanced "stage 2" 10-day course, 89 per cent of safety reps went on undertake health and safety initiatives on returning to work. Two-thirds of those completing the preliminary stage 1 10-day course (65 per cent) said their health and safety activity had remained at the same level or had increased after training.
The HSE evaluation concludes "that the training is perceived by representatives to be of considerable benefit in supporting all of their key functions." They indicated that training was particularly helpful with:
The more training a safety rep underwent, the greater the impact.
Factors that make trade union safety training so effective, the HSE evaluation says, include: sharing experiences with others; knowing legal rights and standards; and knowing how to access information and tackle problems at work.
Courses are also "an important stimulus for taking up 'new issues' in health and safety," for example: pursuing gender sensitive strategies in health and safety; designing surveys on stress; representing workers at other worksites; becoming involved in participatory risk assessment; dealing with health and safety issues of work organisation; and dealing with musculoskeletal disorders.
Unions provide a reality check on workplace safety, the report suggests, because "occupational health and safety policies at both national and company levels are often evaluated against simple indices, such as lost time injuries, workers compensation cases or sickness absence."
It adds: "Unless these approaches are compensated by influence of the workers, what is labelled occupational health and safety management may aim more to minimise the number and costs of claims than to improve the underlying conditions."
Union training is different in that it "considers the whole production system and takes account the interaction between technology and organisational factors."
This is important because "blame the worker" arguments, though discredited, are "tenacious" and can offer employers both a scapegoat and a cheap solution, it says.
The report adds: "There is no form of training for worker representatives other than trade union training in which this fundamentally worker-centred set of normative arguments on health and safety are so comprehensively adopted. Such approaches to achieving an active and worker centred participation in occupational health and safety management are basic to both the character, quality and success of training.
"Furthermore they are a crucial reason why such training is so highly valued by representatives as both a stimulus and support to their workplace actions."
Liz Rees, TUC's head of education and training, says: "The most exciting development in health and safety training for reps is the online facility which TUC Education is working to consolidate, refine and relaunch." The initiative, which is due to go nationwide in 2005, "has the makings of a real success story," she says.
"Well over half of all the applicants for courses online are for health and safety courses, ranging from induction through to Certificate level provision."
Lecturers' union NATFHE has run stage 2 safety courses online. UNIFI provided mixed online and college-based stage 1 safety courses for its network of "roving" safety reps in Barclays Bank (Hazards 79). Other unions, including UNISON and GPMU, have also offered online safety rep training.
UCATT provided tailored online training for safety reps, convenors and UCATT researchers ahead of the Worker Safety Advisers (WSAs) pilot scheme that proved such a success in 2002/3 (Hazards 78).
All the Worker Safety Advisers used TUC online services, both to get trained and to network with other WSAs.
According to Liz Rees: "The prospect of delivering training to a generation of reps and potential reps unable to access classroom provision and to offer supplementary training to experienced union reps is fast becoming a reality. By the end of this year, safety reps will be able to access high quality online provision from wherever they choose to learn."
The online courses are reaching the union reps other courses cannot reach. A third of all applicants are from smaller firms and a quarter are shiftworkers.
"The health and safety stage 1 course should go online early 2005," says Rees. "We're currently piloting online work-life balance courses, the Union Learning Reps online course is due to pilot in November and the health and safety stage 1 course shortly after."
Online support tools and resources will be available from early 2005 and will include links to Hazards, affiliated union health and safety pages and copies of the safety reps regs and other relevant materials.
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations give union reps the right to attend in paid work time union-approved safety courses (Regulation 4(2)b) - although employers are sometimes reluctant to approve requests.
According to TUC's Liz Rees: "Safety reps have the right to reasonable paid time off for training that is approved by their union or the TUC. The training must be 'reasonable in all the circumstances.' Recent court and tribunal cases have ruled that this must be interpreted widely, as meaning that the training is helpful to the safety rep in carrying out their duties and should not be restricted to workplace issues."
The regulations do not specify precisely how much safety reps training should be allowed. But an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) to the safety reps' regs on time off provides guidance to the sort of arrangements that should be considered reasonable.
The code say that as soon as possible after a union safety rep is elected or appointed in their workplace, they should be allowed paid time off to attend basic health and safety training approved by the TUC or by the union that appointed them. Further training can be taken as the need arises - for example, refresher courses or courses on specific hazards or issues like new safety laws.
Safety reps' training is in addition to the health and safety training the employer is required to provide the entire workforce.
And safety reps must be allowed to keep their skills up to date. The ACoP (paragraph 3) says further training "should be undertaken where the safety representative has special responsibilities or where such training is necessary to meet changes in circumstances or relevant legislation."
Where reps are denied access to union safety training, they can take the case to an employment tribunal - and these have repeatedly supported the safety rep's case. Some key cases are listed here.
ADVANCED COURSES An employer was wrong to deny a union safety rep paid time off to attend an advanced TUC safety course, a 2004 employment tribunal ruled.
Amicus safety rep Paul Debenham had asked his employer, KLM UK Engineering of Norwich, for time off to attend the TUC Stage 3 heath and safety certificate course. The employer refused requests in both 1998 and 2001. He applied again in 2004 and was again refused at short notice. As a result he states the 36 day course in his own time.
Backed by Amicus, he took the case to an employment tribunal which ruled his application should not have been refused. It said he should receive 20 days holiday as compensation and should attend the remainder of the course in paid work time.
Amicus regional officer Mark Robinson, who represented the safety rep, commented: "This tribunal demonstrates that senior health and safety representatives should approach their employers to attend this course. Whilst it is longer and more detailed than other courses, it is relevant and employers cannot just decline it on the grounds of cost or operational requirements" (Hazards 85).
NECESSARY TRAINING PCS safety rep Sue Catten won a similar tribunal case in 2001. She had been refused time off to attend the TUC Stage 3 certificate health and safety course by her employer, the Hackney office of the Benefits Agency.
The tribunal concluded time off should have been granted, and that the "business case" test was not appropriate in the circumstances. It ruled the appropriate criterion was whether attendance at the course was reasonable to allow the representative to carry out her health and safety duties (Hazards 74).
The tribunal also rejected the suggest from her management that working in an office should minimise the extent of training she could reasonably seek, pointing out that office environments had given rise to repetitive strain injuries, stress and risk of violence. She had already completed TUC stage 1 and 2 safety courses.
The tribunal also rejected the Benefit Agency's contention that it was not "necessary" to give Catten time off because the certificate course was available as an evening as well as a day release course. It said the intention of the regulations was to make time off during work the norm for safety reps' training.
PART-TIME WORKER, FULL-TIME PAY A 1999 Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that a part-time worker who attended a full-time union-organised health and safety training course, was entitled to be paid on a full-wages for the duration of the course.
Mrs Davies, who worked 22 hours per week for the council's meals on wheels service, was elected as a GMB health and safety representative. She attended two five-day training courses organised by the GMB, one a health and safety course and the other an induction course. She was paid only in accordance with her usual part-time hours, despite both courses being full-time, running to 40 hours and 32.5 hours respectively.
Backed by the GMB, she pursued a tribunal claim arguing that she should have received full-time pay from her employer, in line with her full-time colleagues who also attended the training courses. The case was lost at an original tribunal, but won on appeal.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal followed a key European Court of Justice decision, Arbeiterwohlfahrt Der Stadt Berlin v Botel  IRLR 423.
Importantly, the Employment Appeal Tribunal also rejected the suggestion made by the original tribunal that union-organised health and safety courses are only of benefit to the employees involved and the trade union, and not the employer.
RMT safety rep Denys Rama was told initially he would be given paid leave to attend a TUC stage 2 health and safety course, but later withdrew the offer. Denys attended the course in his own time and then claimed for loss of earnings at a tribunal.
The tribunal found in favour of the employer, saying that stage 2 training was not "necessary" for the rep to be able to perform his functions. However, an RMT-backed appeal over-ruled this judgment. It said the original tribunal had misinterpreted the law in placing the emphasis on what the employer felt to be "necessary" rather than what was "reasonable" (Hazards 61).
There are other useful precedents. Pork Farms was found by a tribunal to have unreasonably denied a safety rep time off to attend a two day TUC course on repetitive strain injuries. It rejected the company's claim that the training was irrelevant (Pearson v Pork Farms).
Hazards at work - TUC guide to health and safety. Over 30 chapters covering types of hazards, summaries of the law, dealing with accidents, and checklists for action. ISBN: 1 85006 368 0. Member price: £20.00; educational price: £30.00; non-member price: £45.00. Yearly update: £5.00. From TUC Publications
Yorkshire and the Humber
Courses, courses: TUC safety rep's training makes you
so good you save lives. Graham Petersen, Hazards 75, pages
6-7, July-September 2001 [pdf].
Digest of "Initiatives that industry and trade unions
have implemented to get workers more involved and improve health and safety,"
HSE website [pdf].
"The brown book": Official guide to safety reps' rights, HSE (on UNISON's safety website in pdf format):
1. Employee involvement in health and safety - some examples of good practice, HSL, 2001.
2. Examples of effective workforce involvement in health and safety in the chemical industry, HSl, 2000. ISBN 0 7176 1847 1.
3. The effectiveness and
impact of the PABIAC initiative in reducing accidents in the paper industry.
Greenstreet Berman Ltd, HSE, CRR
4. The impact of trade
union education and training in health and safety on the workplace activity
of health and safety representatives. Walters, D; Kirby, P; and Daly,
F. HSE Contract Research Report 321/2001 [large
Training and Action in Health and Safety. David Walters and Peter Kirby, TUC, January 2002 (TUC summary of the HSE report, above). £5.00 from TUC Publications
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