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PINs and needle - a Hazards exclusive
HSE report says give power to the safety rep
[Hazards, issue 80 October-December 2002]
HSE inspector Sarah Page went to Australia to look at union safety reps' rights, including provisional improvement notices (PINs). She found that UK safety reps, employers and inspectors are missing out on a labour-saving and potentially lifesaving approach.
New research published by the Health and Safety Executive suggests one change could have a big impact - the safety watchdog could make workplaces safer and its own job a lot easier by trusting union safety reps to take a more active enforcement role.
HSE inspector Sarah Page went on an HSE fact-finding mission to Australia, looking particularly at PINs - safety rep-issued, legally-backed, provisional improvement notices (Hazards 76).
She found initial employer and enforcement agency reservations about PINs - the workplace equivalent of our union inspection notices (UINs) on steroids - had been overcome, and they had become an accepted part of the workplace safety enforcement armoury.
Writing in exPress, the in-house magazine of the Health and Safety Executive, she says a PIN "is issued by a worker rep without recourse to the regulator. Powerful stuff! Yet there is more: OHS (occupational health and safety) reps may also 'stop the job' (prohibit work) in circumstances where they identify serious and imminent danger. And there is no requirement for a written notice."
She adds that formal procedures for issuing PINs are "powerful restraints to over-zealousness, as well as promoting fair play in the workplace."
The new HSE report, Worker participation in health and safety: A review of Australian provisions for worker health and safety representation, notes that "legislation for active worker involvement is more empowering for Australian workers, providing them with greater opportunity to challenge management prerogative. Provisions to resolve conflict are legislated for, ie. there are statutory rules governing employer/employee interaction and sanctions available in the event of 'foul play'."
Page adds in a personal commentary that under the UK system: "HSC/E guidance states that 'the aim is to encourage active workforce involvement in developing measures to improve health safety.' However, worker involvement is far from guaranteed. Management prerogative remains so that consultation, in effect, patronises the workforce."
She says that by contrast the Australian system "acknowledges that differences of opinion exist, that conflict is likely and that provisions need to be made judiciously to control this. The co-regulatory model, supported by issue resolution mechanisms, is founded in negotiation rather than consultation."
The HSE report addresses the concern of some employers and inspectors that unions may use PINs to further their own "industrial" agenda. Page says: "My own view is that it is not that simple and I would seek to challenge those who advocate the ready divorce of OHS and industrial relations matters."
She cites Yossi Berger, national health and safety director of the Australian Workers' Union, who says: "It's trite to pseudo-cynically state that workers and unions at times use occupational health and safety (OHS) to fortify or alter the character of industrial disputes. Of course this happens, just as some employers and managers use financial mantras, industrial matters, staffing ratios and fear of job loss to fortify doing 'bugger all' about OHS."
She concludes: "Given the management prerogative history in both UK and Australian work cultures, the appeal to trade unions of this system of power-sharing and hesitation amongst industrialists are understandable sentiments.
"However, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the experience of OHS rep 'enforcement' in practice has shaped an approach characterised by caution."
The report concludes: "PINs and other OHS rep sanctions, supported by issue resolution legislation, appear to have much to offer the UK system of worker participation...
"The system also appears to have potential benefits for HSE itself. The rep sanctions appear to provide genuine opportunities for workplaces to manage health and safety internally, without recourse to HSE, freeing up HSE to concentrate on proactive initiatives and the enforcement of recalcitrant employers. "
And the issue resolution arrangements provide HSE with the option of becoming involved only when a health and safety dispute arises and issue resolution measures are exhausted, ie. when internal negotiation fails."
Worker participation in health and safety: A review of Australian provisions for worker health and safety representation, HSE, 2002.
Sarah Page, The old Australian ways. exPress, the in-house magazine of the Health and Safety Executive, edition 161, May 2002.
HAZARDS MAGAZINE WORKERS' HEALTH INTERNATIONAL NEWS