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Trained safety reps work
- TUC Education at work
TUC training works
- The union difference
- A safety rep at work
- Safety rep profiles
Union safety courses
- Stage 1
- Stage 2
- Short course
- Certificate course
- Online courses
Time off for training
- Take your time
- Time off - the law
Case history
- Learning on site
Safety reps' rights
- TUC regional education officers
- Hazards



Hazards, number 86, 2004

HAzards 86 April-June 2004Safety reps at work

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 [1] and 2001 [2] 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." [3]

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.

TUC Education at work

TUC Education provides training for upwards of 10,000 safety representatives every year, almost 700 of these at Certificate level. Roughly 40 per cent attend stage 1 safety reps courses, 40 per cent short courses and the rest Stage 2 and the Certificate courses. Between a quarter and a third of students are women.

According to Liz Rees, TUC's head of education and training: "Whilst this is a sizeable number, it is not good enough. Many safety reps go without training, either because the course information doesn't reach them or because they don't know they are entitled to time off to come to the course.

"The priority for the next three years must be growing the next generation of safety reps as well as updating and up-skilling the current generation. We are working on taster packages for activists interested in becoming safety reps, which will get them started with some basic learning."

Liz Rees adds: "TUC health and safety tutors are the best in the business - well trained, well informed, committed and professional. And that's not just my point of view - countless inspections, evaluations and research over the years have made these same points.

"Tutors spend time with safety reps assessing their needs and working to help them deliver improvements in the workplace and they continue to be inspired by the ambitious nature of the workplace projects safety reps undertake as part of the courses."

Training works

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 [4] 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:

• representing members' interests;
• investigating complaints;
• investigating hazards;
• finding and using health and safety information;
• inspecting; and
• making representations to employers.

The more training a safety rep underwent, the greater the impact.

What's so different about union training?

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."

SAFETY REP AT WORK Pauline Russell, GMB convenor for health and safety at Diageo's plant in Leven, Scotland, is rep for 400 trade union members.

She's well trained - she's done all the safety basics and has now completed the TUC Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety at Fife College. And Pauline, 40, has used her training and 25 years of experience to great effect - last year she was a winner of an Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) safety award.

"I first decided to do my risk assessment certificate and after getting past that challenge I was hooked," said Pauline. "Diageo have also seen the benefits and they have encouraged me to keep going."

Harry Cunningham, head of Fife College' trade union studies programme, said: "Pauline is one of many excellent examples of how engagement in learning leads to direct improvements in the quality of life, in this case health and safety in the workplace."

More case histories of safety reps at work

Training courses

TUC Education offers a range of courses for trade union safety reps (Hazards 75).

Course: Stage 1 health and safety course
Time commitment: 60 hours of guided learning (usually 10 days of day release, a day per week)
Course content:

• 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
• Planning for the future

Course: Stage 2 health and safety course
Time commitment: 60 hours of guided learning
Course content:

• 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
• Planning for the future

Course: Short course programme
Time commitment: Two to five days
Course content:
Examples include:

• Risk assessment
• Stress at work
• Bullying at work
• Violence at work
• Body mapping
• Introduction to Improving Occupational Road Safety
• Asthma
• Training for HSC Advisory Committee members
• Health and safety in the quarrying industry
• Asbestos
• Passive Smoking
• Union Inspection Notices

Course: TUC Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health
Time commitment: One day or two evenings per week for 36 weeks, plus work in own time.
Course content: The course is designed to develop an understanding of health and safety principles and practice. There are modules on:

• Health and safety organisation
• Health and safety law
• Health, safety, welfare and the environment
• Range of skills including those focused on a project

The certificate at OCN level 3 is accredited to meet the academic requirement for IOSH Technician Safety Practitioner membership, a professional safety qualification.


TUC Online

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.

Time off for training

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."

Take your time!

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).

Amicus news release

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.

• Miss S Catten v The Department of Social Security, case no. 2200805/2000, London Central Employment Tribunal, 9-12 January 2001.

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 [1992] 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.

• Mrs P Davies v Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council [1999] IRLR 769. Thompsons Solicitors report

 A Employment Appeal Tribunal in April 2003 ruled that UNISON health and safety rep William Duthie had a right to training that was "reasonable in all the circumstances," rather than to training that is "necessary." The EAT overturned an earlier employment tribunal ruling where Bath and North East Somerset Council claimed successfully that the training was not necessary. The EAT said the original tribunal has misinterpreted the requirements of the ACoP to the safety reps regulations.

• Duthie v Bath and North East Somerset Council [2003]. EAT/0561/02 RN.

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).

• Denys Rama v South West Trains, case no. CO/310/96, High Court London, 5 November 1997.

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).

Time off - the law

The Approved Code of Practice to the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations has this to say on time off for trade union safety training:

"Under Regulation 4(2)(b) of those Regulations the employer has a duty to permit those safety representatives such time off with pay during the employee's working hours as shall be necessary for the purpose of 'undergoing such training aspects of those functions as may be reasonable in all the circumstances'.

As soon as possible after their appointment safety representatives should be permitted time off with pay to attend basic training facilities approved by the TUC or by the independent union or unions which appointed the safety representatives. Further training, similarly approved, should be undertaken where the safety representative has special responsibilities or where such training is necessary to meet changes in circumstances or relevant legislation.

With regard to the length of training required, this cannot be rigidly prescribed, but basic training should take into account the functions of safety representatives placed on them by the Regulations. In particular, basic training should provide an understanding of the role of safety representatives, of safety committees, and of trade unions' policies and practices in relation to:

(a) the legal requirements relating to the health and safety of persons at work, particularly the group or class of persons they directly represent;

(b) the nature and extent of workplace hazards, and the measures necessary to eliminate or minimise them;

(c) the health and safety policy of employers, and the organisation and arrangements for fulfilling those policies.

Additionally, safety representatives will need to acquire new skills in order to carry out their functions, including safety inspections, and in using basic sources of legal and official information and information provided by or through the employer on health and safety matters.

Trade unions are responsible for appointing safety representatives and when the trade union wishes a safety representative to receive training relevant to his function it should inform management of the course it has approved and supply a copy of the syllabus, indicating its contents, if the employer asks for it. It should normally give at least a few weeks' notice of the safety representatives it has nominated for attendance.

The number of safety representatives attending training courses at any one time should be that which is reasonable in the circumstances, bearing in mind such factors as the availability of relevant courses and the operational requirements of the employer. Unions and management should endeavour to reach agreement on the appropriate numbers and arrangements and refer any problems which may arise to the relevant agreed procedures."

From the Approved Code of Practice to the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977. "The brown book": Official guide to safety reps' rights, HSE (on UNISON's safety website in pdf format):

Also see: GMB guide to time off for training

Learning on site

Construction workers on one of Britain's biggest building sites are becoming computer literate and keeping their health and safety knowledge up to date at the Canary Wharf Learning Centre.

Building workers at Canary Wharf's massive 86-acre site are gaining safety and computer skills at an on-site centre run by their union, UCATT, and Lewisham College's trade union studies department.

The centre also offers the many migrant workers from Eastern Europe the chance to improve their English - vital in a workplace where clear communication can mean the difference between life and death.

The courses have been swamped, a major reason being the new legal requirement on all site employees to carry a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme card. The cards, for trainees, operatives or experienced workers, prove that their holder has both the skills they need for the work they do and up-to-date knowledge of health and safety procedures, assessed by a touch-screen test.

The courses make sure workers have the computer skills to demonstrate their job and safety skills.

Contact: Rossina Harris, Project Manager, Lewisham College

TUC learning services, 29 March 2004

Safety reps' rights

In the UK, the legal rights of union health and safety reps in workplaces where the union is recognised by the employer are laid out in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSC Regs).

Key functions are:

• Representing workers in consultations with employers (Regulation 4c and 4d)
• Investigating potential hazards and dangerous occurrences (Regulation 4a)
• Examining the causes of accidents, dangerous occurrences and diseases (Regulation 4a and 4b)
• Investigating complaints by members (Regulation 4b)
• Making representations to the employer (Regulation 4c and 4d)
• Carrying out workplace inspections (Regulation 1)
• Representing employees in consultations with inspectors (Regulation 4f)
• Receiving information from inspectors (Regulation 4g)
• Attending joint health and safety committee meetings (Regulation 9)

Employers must establish a joint safety committee if requested to do so by two or more trade union health and safety representatives. In general, employers must make available to safety reps all the information necessary to enable them to fulfil their functions.

Employers must provide any help and facilities reasonably required by safety reps to carry out their functions (Regulation 4a as amended by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations section 2). Union safety reps must be provided the time off with pay to carry out their safety reps' duties and to undergo TUC or union approved training (Regulation 4(2)b).

These are minimum rights. Many union safety reps negotiate rights to facilities, information and time off that go well beyond the legal minimum.

Trade union safety reps are protected from victimisation for any acts or omissions in their execution of their duties - the law gives safety reps' rights, not duties (Regulation 4).

The Employment Rights Act 1996 says safety reps have protection if they are unfairly treated or placed at a disadvantage in circumstances including:

• Raising health and safety concerns;
• Carry out designated health and safety functions (s.44(1)(b) and s.100(1)(b));
• Propose to leave or actually leave their workplace or any dangerous part of it, or refuse to return, in the event of what they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent danger (s.44(1)(d) and (e) and s.100(1)(d) and (e)); or
• Propose to take action to protect against a perceived serious or imminent danger.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 gives workers "whistleblower" protection in a range of circumstances, including where raising issues relating to health and safety being endangered (Hazards 79).

In workplaces without union safety reps, a watered down version of the safety reps' regulations apply - the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (HSCE Regs). A similar regime covers those working offshore.

The HSCE regulations are generally regarded to have been a total flop, in part as a result of leaving many of the arrangements at the discretion of the employer, in part because their is no substitute for trained and supported union safety reps.



TUC Education
TUC learning services
Time off for learning

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

TUC regional education officers
Check with your Regional TUC about health and safety training opportunities near you. If you have done most of the courses on offer then see if you can get a colleague interested. Don't forget this training is free of charge for union members. Take advantage of it now.

Larry Cairns
STUC, 4th Floor John Smith House
145 - 165 West Regent Street
Glasgow G2 4RZ

Yorkshire and the Humber
Bill Adams
TUC, Friends Provident House
13/14 South Parade
Leeds LS1 5QS

Bill Adams
TUC, Transport House
John Dobson Street
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8TW

North West
Peter Holland
TUC, Suite 506-510
The Cotton Exchange
Old Hall Street
Liverpool L3 9UD

Tom Cook
TUC, 24 Livery Street
Birmingham B3 2PA

Julie Cook
TUC, Transport House
1 Cathedral Road
Cardiff CF1 9SD

Southern and Eastern
- Maggie Foy
- Rob Hancock
TUC, Congress House
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3LS.

South West
Marie Hughes
Ground Floor
Church House
Church Road
Bristol BS34 7BD

The TUC learning webpages include details of courses, locations and your rights to training.

TUC in the regions

Union safety effect
Tools for safety reps
Safety reps' rights in the UK and worldwide
Victimisation and whistleblowing

What makes a rep work? Research shows how union education leads to effective health and safety reps. Peter Kirby. Hazards 75, pages 8-9, July-September 2001 [pdf].

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].


HSE workers' webpage
HSE safety reps' webpage

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 452/2002.

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 pdf]

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