This consultation document is very welcome indeed. In spite
of the best of intentions, when the Health and Safety etc at Work Act became
law in 1974, many hoped (and to some extent Hansard reflects this) that
workers would become informed empowered and motivated and behave
like a cohort of inspectors aware of health and safety issues. However
employee consultation and involvement has not achieved the level which
was envisaged at that time. Therefore steps need to be taken to rectify
Question 2 - What measures would be most
effective at promoting greater general workforce consultation and involvement
in health and safety?
Although one could argue that all nine of the options listed here individually might have some merit I would highlight the following: training and support is needed for all workers (and their employers) and not just for safety reps as in (d).
A very cost effective way of reaching a large number of people in due course and at minimal expense is to make full Codes of Practice, Guidance Notes, Regulations and relevant HSE reports freely available on the Internet. At the risk of over quoting a cliché: "knowledge is power" . Thus if employees know what hazards they may have to contend with, learn about the skills they need to assess risks and are aware of the measures recommended by the Health and Safety Executive to reduce those risks, they can be more vocal and effective in exercising their responsibilities as safety representatives.
In the UK much of the Health and Safety legislation, Approved Codes of Practice ACoPs), relevant research reports and 'statistics' are only available for purchase in paper copy and in due course will be available online (but through subscription). This is not generally a problem for the well resourced larger employers, nor for academic institutions and many other organisations. However for small and medium enterprises, or for individual employees and their safety representatives there may be inequitable access to these important sources of information, because of the cost and process of buying this information.
Yet if all employees had free access to the information which parliament intended them to have - this would be an important avenue to educate, inform and empower employees as well as employers. On a national and strategic scale, the dissemination of information on line is probably much more cost effective than the current situation. If an employer expected an employee to pay for his own protective gloves or mask this would (rightly) be deemed illegal by HSE. So why should the employee or his/her safety representative have to pay to click and download the Approved Code of Practice or Guideline which governs the wearing of that protective equipment or the use of other relevant control methods?
(The image shows a typical small enterprise as an example of a workplace where safety representatives would be a valuable asset - a foundry).
Extension of the legal requirements for safety committees may help but I believe that the problem at the moment is that the current legal provision is not being fulfilled. Companies should be expected to publish initially at the very least the dates and attendances at safety committee meetings, and later on the minutes of the meetings. This can be achieved not necessarily through investing in large amounts of paper, but perhaps on the Intranet for medium and larger firms, and in an available register or noticeboard for those firms which do not have an electronic medium . In any case within the firm itself the minutes of these meetings should be made freely available. Legal requirements and appropriate guidelines regarding health and safety representation and safety committee meetings should form part of an explicit management standard. However I do not believe that awards would promote greater general workforce consultation and involvement (they might perhaps prompt the topmost few to try a little bit harder to strive for the award but would do nothing for the masses).
Question 3 - This is similar to question
2 but relates to small firms.
A similar response to question 2 is appropriate. However in addition I believe that there are some particularly bad examples of "under the railway arches" type premises where greater enforcement of the current law would help - also a peripatetic type of safety representation may have some special merit amongst these smaller work places.
Question 4 - This relates to consultation
and involvement of peripatetic or mobile workers, home workers, etc.
The above mentioned response regarding the availability of information for all workers applies particularly to this category of employee.
Question 5 -
The unfortunate biases that relate to gender, ethnicity or language, do not spare the issues relating to work force consultation and involvement in health and safety. Indeed they may perhaps in fact be worse in these contexts.
Question 6 - Regarding the provision of
The first and most important step forward would relate to access to specific information as indicated in paragraph 75, as well as the generic information from the Health and Safety Executive etc as mentioned above. I believe that this should be made available more freely to all workers. Safety representatives in particular should be provided with their own individual copy of such documentation as COSHH assessments etc as a matter of right rather than them having to request access through management. The same rights should be available to safety representatives whether they belong to Trades Unions or not. In matters regarding health and safety I believe that all matters require greater protection against victimisation/suffering detriment. Currently only a few adverse health consequences of occupation are scheduled for the purposes of protecting the individual against dismissal (lead poisoning - to cite one example). Just as employees must not be penalised for suffering occupational ill health, they must not be penalised for trying to prevent this ill-health. Greater powers to industrial tribunals may be a way of remedying this.
Question 8 -
There should be common basic standards of training/competence for all safety representatives (just as there are for first aiders). However on top of that special training will be needed because different jobs have different specific hazards and risks. There are several ways of ensuring competence: Trades Unions and even other agencies such as colleges of further education and so on - could be approved for the purposes of training in much the same way as different bodies are approved for the purposes of first aid training. In general I believe that roving safety representatives do have a role especially in industries where there are lots of small work places. A simple answer cannot be provided without some form of pilot experiments and reviewing the results and lessons learned from these pilots.
Dr Raymond Agius MD, DM, FRCP (Edin & Lond), FFOM, MIOSH
17 March 2000