Guidance for RMT Health and Safety Reps

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Introduction

Consequent upon your appointment as an RMT Safety Representative, the Union will be making arrangements for you to attend a TUC training course designed to assist you in developing the necessary skills to enable you to fulfill your role in the most effective manner. Details of the available courses can be obtained from your Branch Secretary.

Such courses are held on a fairly regular basis at various locations throughout the Country, although it may be short while before there is one commencing in your area, particularly if the course is specific to the industry in which you work. The duration of the course is generally one day per week for ten weeks.

These guidance notes are not intended as substitute for the training, which the TUC courses provide, but it is hoped they will immediately help you understand your role, functions and legal rights as a Trade Union appointed Safety Representative.

Qualifications

You do not need to be a health and safety expert or have a legal mind to be a good Safety Representative. The basic requirement is a common sense approach to health and safety, supported by a knowledge of the workplace and the habits and attitudes of those employed in it.

You should look and listen to what is happening, and be prepared to ask questions. You should also be willing to participate in discussions about health and safety, and have the confidence to put forward suggestions for improvements or to resolve any particular problems.

Legal Responsibilities

Trade Union appointed Safety Representatives do not have any legal duties or responsibilities for health and safety beyond those, which apply to all employees. Such duties and responsibilities clearly rest with the management and any persons they appoint for this purpose. Safety Representatives are given functions in order to contrast their role with that of management. Your acceptance, agreement or absence of objection to a course of action taken by management to deal with a particular health or safety hazard does not impose any share of their legal responsibility upon you.

Functions and Rights

In simple terms, your function is to raise with management any matter of health, safety or welfare at work, which concerns those you represent. To help you in this, you have the legal right to make regular inspections of the workplace and to investigate any potential hazard or dangerous occurrence, including the causes of any accidents suffered by the members you represent.

Your function also includes assisting in the promotion, development and maintenance of effective measures designed to safeguard the health and safety of those you represent. This means you have the right to be consulted by management on different matters relating to health and safety, and also be provided with all the relevant information and knowledge associated with such matters.

Time Off

You are entitled to be granted time away from normal duties without loss of pay to attend any agreed training course, or undertake any of the functions of a Safety Representative including preparation for any meetings, writing of reports or letters, or the gathering of information/background material relating to a particular hazard found at the workplace.

The actual amount of time away from normal duties agreed by your manager should be reasonable in all the circumstances of the situation. For example an inspection of a small compact workplace may only require an hour or so free from normal duties, whereas to inspect a larger more widespread workplace may take a lot longer, particularly if more than one location is involved.

No matter what the circumstances, you must obtain your manager's prior approval for time-off, and when making application, always give as much notice as possible andprovide sufficient information to enable a decision to be made as to the actual amount of time-off which may be reasonably allowed.

Workplace Inspections

Workplace inspections may take either of two forms, pre-planned inspections which should be arranged to take place no less frequently than every three months, and other more specific inspections arising from an accident or where there has been a significant change in the conditions of work caused by introduction of new equipment or work processes etc.

A programme of planned workplace inspections should be drawn up and agreed in advance with your local manager, where necessary taking account of any need for co-ordination with Safety Representatives from other Unions or from overlapping areas. Anychanges to that programme should be by mutual agreement.

There are major advantages if inspections are carried out jointly with management, not least of which is that it provides you with the opportunity to raise points directly with management and for them to offer any explanations or take immediate direct action to correct identified deficiencies. However, this does not preclude you from carrying out independent inspections where desired, or having private discussions with fellow employees.

Someform of checklist can be a good idea in providing a structured approach to pre-planned inspections, and also act as a reminder to monitor whether previous corrective measures are being maintained, or new procedures are working properly. However, if using such a checklist, you must also remain alert to any other hazards that may exist, particularly in relation to the system of work.

More accidents arise from human behaviour than premises, chemicals or machines. Thus when carrying out an inspection itis vital you look not only at where the work is done, but also how it is done. Remember, people do not always do things as set out in the rules. They often modify their working arrangements for the sake of convenience, or even a macho attitude towardssafety.

A form is generally provided on which you should report any alleged unsafe or unhealthy conditions and working practices, even where the manager accompanies you on the inspection. Always retain a copy of your report in order to check whether problem items have been attended to. The manager should notify you in writing of the remedial action taken or proposed with appropriate timescales. Where no action is proposed an explanation should also be given to you.

Investigations

You should have procedures in place for management to advise you of any notifiable accident, dangerous occurrence or disease in the work place. Following receipt of such information you are entitled to examine the cause, which may require a site inspection and discussion with employees possessing relevant knowledge of the accident or occurrence. The same right of investigation also applies in the event of a potential accident or dangerous occurrence whether or not it is drawn to your attention by the employees you represent.

Having said that, the right to investigate does have certain limitations, particularly in the case of a serious incident. You should not attempt to inspect the worksite if it is unsafe to do so, and neither should you interfere with any machine, equipment or substance, which may be required as evidence. Difficulties can also arise where outside authorities such as the Police or H.S.E. Inspectors are involved.

They will want to conduct their own investigations for which they have statutorypowers, and they often see the involvement of the Safety Representative as inappropriate or an unnecessary duplication. Nevertheless, it does not override management's obligation to fully inform and discuss the findings of any inquiry with you.

When carrying out an investigation into an accident or dangerous occurrence it is important to remember that in seeking to determine to causes, the sole intention should be to consider what measures can be taken to prevent a reoccurrence. It is not the role of the Safety Representative to apportion blame.

You should ensure you have all the facts, and not jump to conclusions. There are often a number of contributory causes and corrective action may be needed for each. Care needs to be taken not to confuse causes with solutions. Sometimes there is more than one solution to a problem, and consideration will have to be given to what may be the more effective and practicable.

Consultation and Information

Your manager is required to consult you at an early stage prior to introducing any measure which may substantially affect the health and safety of those you represent. Where relevant, this should include details of any health and safety information and training which the employer is obliged to provide for the employees concerned.

This is obviously a very wide but equally important obligation upon your manger. It can cover such matters as the introduction of new technology, process, equipment or chemical. Also any alterations to the organisation or arrangements for carrying out the local heath and safety policy, or changes to the way in which a particular task is normally undertaken.

Your management should also provide you with access to any publications or documentation held which relates to health and safety, such as risk assessments, accident statistics, safety manuals, hazard data sheets or technical literature relating to the particular activity of the workplace. If required, you are in fact entitled to ask for a copy of any such particular document.

Whilst you have the right to most information relative to matters affecting the health and safety of those you represent, your manager can refuse to disclose personal information relating to an individual, matters of national security including any anti-terrorist measures, information which could compromise some legal action, or information, the disclosure of which could substantially damage the undertaking.

Welfare

As a Safety Representative you will be expected to represent employees onmatters of welfare at work. However, in order to clarify this function it should be pointed out that such matters generally refer to the provision of toilet and washing facilities, clothing, accommodation and changing facilities, drinking water, facilities for rest and where meals are taken.

Thus it can be seen how welfare fits in with the other functions of Safety Representative. Indeed, there may be situations where health, safety or welfare issues can come together or the dividing line becomeblurred. For example, a contaminated water supply can be both a health and welfare problem, or a leaking roof in a rest room both a safety and welfare problem.

Facilities

To assist you in fulfilling your functions, your manager should as a minimum provide you with secure storage space for paperwork, such as copies of report forms, letters, minutes of meetings or guidance literature. You should also have access to a telephone and possibly a computer, perhaps with access to the internet, and where provided, the Company's own intranet.

If you work in an office, this should not present any difficulties, but for many Safety Representatives the degree to which a manger can provide these facilities may obviously be limited by what is readily available. Nevertheless, it should be possible to offer at least the minimum requirements.

You should also be given reasonable access to any library of information held by your employer on general health and safety. Such a library should contain reference material, which includes copies of relevant regulations, codes of practice guidance notes and operating standards (rules, procedures etc). Some of this information may be stored on computer from which hard copies can be made.