Hazards magazine, issue 102
April-June 2008

Image right - Andy Vine. Click here for the full cartoon

Don’t be a safety nerd
Around the world in a training daze
Take your time!
TUC’s education courses



TUC Education: Get trained, get active, get organised

Don’t be a safety nerd

Workers join unions because they are concerned about safety, and stay in unions for the same reason. That’s why training trade union safety reps in the links between safety and organisation is a top priority for TUC. And it is how global building union BWI is recruiting members worldwide.

If you know how many parts per million of toluene will send you loopy, but don’t have the first clue how to get rid of it, you’ve sort of lost the plot. Being a trade union safety rep is not about what you know, it’s about what you do – involving members, uncovering problems and, crucially, demanding action.

This means you do need to hone your skills and knowledge on health and safety, without transforming yourself into what some shop stewards describe as a ‘Single Issue Freak.’ The trick is to investigate and identify problems with the intention of using the union’s influence to win improvements.

Liz Rees, head of TUC’s education service, knows the value of safety reps and says “safety rep training is the jewel in the crown of TUC Education.” She adds: “We aim to provide everything a safety rep needs to know to represent their members effectively, and to assist and support in dealing with workplace problems, supporting members and organising for health and safety.”

Courses are free to safety reps from affiliated unions and come with accreditation from the National Open College Network (NOCN) and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). “During the past year, we have been working with the Qualification Curriculum Authority (QCA), the body that determines the adult education curriculum for the UK, to pilot their new qualification framework, which is based on the kinds of credits we have been making available to reps for more than 10 years,” she adds.

“This means that during 2008, safety reps who attend TUC courses will be achieving formal qualifications at three levels – awards (short courses), certificates (Health and Safety Stages 1 and 2) and diplomas (TUC Certificate in Safety and Health, now the TUC Diploma in safety and health).” She says there have been growing reports of union reps facing problems getting their legally-permitted safety reps’ training. Overall, though, she says course participation “is still on an upward trend.”

“Refreshing the take-up of rights to paid release and the understanding of the importance of the core provision in safety rep development is a priority for TUC Education.” She says the TUC’s Diploma, previously known as the certificate, “continues to grow in popularity, with significant numbers choosing to take the course online. It continues to be one of the most popular - as well as one of the most challenging - courses offered at this level, and represents a real achievement on the part of those safety reps who obtain IOSH membership through this uncompromisingly trade union route.”

According to Rees, health and safety remains the most popular of all the online training offered by TUC. “Online students are either those who have no release arrangements for training or those who have already exhausted their release entitlement and want to continue to update their skills. The health and safety curriculum has a well thought out continuing safety rep development programme, which is used both by trade union IOSH members who want to fulfil their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements the trade union way and by safety reps who want to keep themselves up to date with developments.”

TUC is setting out to give greater priority to occupational health training for union safety reps. ‘Occupational Health – dealing with the issues’, a workbook launched on Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April, will be the key resource for a new nationwide course which will see at an anticipated 500 safety reps receive specialist training each year . An estimated 10,000 reps each year will receive training with a greater emphasis on occupational health issues.

Around the world in a training daze

Fiona Murie has trained thousands of safety reps in locations from Tring to Timbuktu. She has got – literally - a world of experience.

After a stint training union reps on TUC courses in the UK, Fiona (above) moved to Spain where she worked in the safety department of the national union confederation Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO). From there she went global, as the director of health and safety for the Building Workers’ International, an umbrella group of unions in the sector with over 12 million members in 135 countries.

“It is not so much about the technical knowledge, it’s about organising,” she told Hazards. “It’s about union building, having a trade union perspective, and undoing the brainwashing. Unions are about defending rights and having the capacity to defend conditions.” She said a key objective is taking reps beyond just acquiring technical knowledge to making safety “a central part of the organising strategy. We teach union reps to communicate with the workers and get them in the union. If you don’t have the members, you are not going to be taken very seriously by the boss.”

Safety can come pretty low on the pecking order for firms, she says. “Managers think about money, money, money and time. We have to resist that sort of pressure. Your job as a trade union rep is to know what the problems are, make coherent proposals and convey the problem and what needs doing to the members. It is essential to communicate with the workers. If you get them clued up they will take it seriously. There’s so much about making workers responsible - work safe, wear your hard hat, behavioural safety - which really turns workers off. It gives them the idea it is about being nagged at.”

BWI’s global drive to empower workers on safety issues through training has had some stunning successes.

In Uganda, within two months of completing an intensive training course in October 2007, the union recruited more than a thousand members as a result of a series of site meetings. Over the past year, we’ve had complete safety stoppages of the forestry industry in Chile and the construction industry in Panama,” she said. “The unions realised there was no alternative but to challenge really lousy employment conditions. Action in both countries has resulted in new industry collective bargaining agreements, large increases in the official safety inspectorate, and tangible improves in health and safety.”

As well as recruiting members on the back of health and safety training, there have been knock-on benefits. “The Chile forestry union recruited thousands of members, more than doubling their membership. For the first time they got huge increases in wages and got new systems of health and safety with committees and inspections (Hazards 98).

“This was about trade union participation, setting the agenda. Things that were not being discussed or addressed at all, like musculoskeletal disorders, for example, are now really a focus, and the union is getting good work organisation solutions in there. It’s not what you know, it’s about what you do. Either there’s a collective response or not.”

BWI website


Take your time!

The Safety Reps and Safety Committees Regulations require employers to provide time off with pay during working hours for training that is “reasonable in all the circumstances”. The code of practice to the regulations says the training should be TUC or union approved.

As soon as possible after their appointment, safety representatives should be allowed paid time off work to attend this training. Further training should be undertaken when the need arises. This may involve refresher courses or further training on specific hazards such as stress, chemicals or display screen equipment (Hazards 86).

The amount of time required for training is not rigidly prescribed, but the length of TUC courses provide the benchmark.


TUC’s education courses

Health and safety stage 1
Covers the role and functions of the trade union health and safety rep, organising for health and safety, preventing accidents and ill health, skills for safety reps, and planning for the future. This is the foundation course for all new safety reps; takes 10 days in the classroom. Also available online. Safety reps attending during 2008 will be able to achieve a Certificate in Health and Safety through the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) pilots.

Next steps for safety reps
For safety reps who have some practical experience and have completed Stage 1. Focuses on: building a safe and healthy workplace; building health and safety organisation; keeping up-to-date on health and safety; effecting change in health and safety; and planning for the future. It is a 10 day course and is available online. Participants can achieve a Certificate in Health and Safety through the QCF pilots.

Diploma in occupational health and safety
This course, previously the certificate course, is intended to develop understanding of health and safety principles and practice and includes modules on: occupational health and safety organisation; health and safety law; health, safety, welfare and environment; research, communication, study skills, technology; and working with figures/statistics. The TUC Diploma in Occupational Health & Safety at OCN Level 3 is accredited to meet the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) academic requirement for Safety Technician (Tech IOSH) grade. Takes between a year and 18 months to complete and is offered as evening classes, day release or online.

TUC short course programme
Short courses are organised as part of the TUC Education programme or on request from affiliated unions. They can be organised in the classroom or online and last between one and five days, covering topics from tackling individual hazards, to organising for health and safety and workplace inspections.

TUC Education
Liz Rees, Trade Union Education.
Tel: 020 7079 6923
Unionlearn website

Hazards safety rep webpages