14th October 2013
Ref : HSR/2/7
Circular No. NP/281/13
All Branches & Regional Councils
FIRE BRIGADES UNION (FBU) DISPUTE
Further to our Circular NP/241/13 of 20th September 2013 the FBU have announced that a further dispute between them and the Fire Service Employers will take place on Saturday 19th October 2013 between 18:30 and 23:30.
Since the last dispute Network Rail have communicated to say that their plans to train up MOMs to act as volunteer fire fighters have been withdrawn due to the concerns raised not only by the RMT but by senior safety managers within Network Rail. This is a victory for the stance taken by this union and a common sense approach to safety management within Network Rail.
Many of you will remain extremely concerned at the health and safety implications for your members, your colleagues and the travelling public should the Fire Brigades Union take strike action. RMT are fully supportive of the FBU stance in this dispute.
I share your concerns, as do the Council of Executives, and so I have obtained legal advice on members’ rights under the Health & Safety at Work Act. This Circular covers the following points:
• The date of industrial action by FBU members.
• Health and Safety concerns of reduced fire service cover during the dispute.
• Safety advice to RMT Representatives.
• Practical steps RMT Representatives and workers can take in the workplace.
• Possible actions of employers leading up to and during the dispute and the RMT’s response.
• Advice to RMT members on their legal rights in relation to “serious and imminent danger”.
FBU Strike Dates
The FBU Executive Council has now confirmed the following date for the second period of strike action.
18:30 hours Saturday, 19th October 2013 to 23:30 hours Saturday 19th October.
This initial action currently only affects FBU members working in England and Wales, we understand that action will not take place in Scotland due to on-going talks with the Scottish Government. Fire Services in Northern Ireland are also outside the remit of this dispute. Should the dispute not be resolved further action may be called in the future and action may yet still be called in Scotland.
Health & Safety
Unlike with the disputes in 2002 and 2003 the Fire Service no longer have “Green Goddesses” to rely on for alternative cover. Ironically they were sold off in 2005/06. Our discussions with the FBU have indicated that the FBU have not been made aware of the employer’s contingency plans for dealing with fire and emergency cover during dispute.
However we do understand that the Fire Service employers do not intend to deploy military personnel on a routine basis. Additionally we understand that should a "major incident" occur in any particular location, the FBU has agreed it will exempt fire-fighters and operation managers from strike action if they volunteer to help.
Despite this you should be aware that any dispute has potentially serious implications for the health & safety of RMT members and the public in the event of fire or other emergency.
Advice to RMT Representatives
RMT wrote to all rail employers demanding that they involve and properly consult health and safety representatives or Union officials regarding the review of fire risk assessment that needed to be undertaken in the light of the impending FBU strike. RMT health and safety representatives should check with local management to ensure that the planning that was put in place following the first dispute was adequate to ensure that no one is exposed to additional risk as a result of FBU industrial action.
Our safety concerns, which have been raised with railway employers, include, but are not limited to, the following issues:
• Replacement services may not be able to deal with emergencies underground and may have a lack of familiarity and competence with underground locations .
• Replacement fire services may not have the equipment e.g. foam, to deal with electrical emergencies.
• There may be slower response times to fires and other emergencies.
• Replacement fire crews may not have been trained in evacuation in the case of a train crash.
• Replacement fire crews may not carry specialist cutting equipment.
• Replacement fire crews may not be trained to deal with train derailments, broken rails and the effects of vandalism.
• Replacement fire services may have difficulty in dealing with emergencies related to the carriage of nuclear fuels and other dangerous and hazardous goods.
• Replacement fire crews may not be able to deal with emergencies arising in high rise work places.
• The current Terrorist Threat level for the UK is substantial and there is a risk that replacement fire crews may not be able to deal with emergencies arising from a terrorist incident.
There are a number of sensible precautions health and safety reps and members can take in order to protect themselves in the workplace:
1. Check existing fire precautions
2. Check evacuation procedures in all places of work. Representatives are advised to ensure the following:
• all fire extinguishers are in place and have been appropriately serviced
• all fire alarms and automatic detection systems are regularly tested, are fully operational and are audible throughout the workplace.
• all fire routes are clearly marked, clear of obstruction and easily navigated.
• all fire procedures are up to date and all staff are aware of evacuation routes etc.
3. All fire extinguishers on board trains are in place and have been properly serviced.
All staff on board trains have been adequately trained and briefed on the additional safeguards that their employer has taken to reduce the risk to staff and the public.
4. Members in work places with dangerous processes, which increase the risk of fire, should review their operation during strike days. If the fire or environmental safety plan for the establishment relies on the attendance of the Fire Brigade, these plans will need to be revised.
Existing risk assessments should be checked to ensure that they have been reviewed in light of the FBU industrial action.
5. Locations like stations, which are open to members of the public, will need to review their emergency procedures to ensure that no additional risk is caused to either staff or visitors.
Existing legislation protects members from dismissal or other detriment for leaving or proposing to leave their workplace in circumstances of serious and imminent danger. Members are also protected for taking “appropriate steps” to protect themselves or others in similar circumstances.
Members are protected if they reasonably believe themselves to be in serious and imminent danger which they cannot reasonably prevent. The employer cannot victimise a member who leaves the area of danger and refuses to return while the danger lasts. These reasonable concerns may also cover serious and imminent danger to members of the public.
Advice To Members
The RMT is not calling upon members to take industrial action in support of the FBU dispute. However, if management do not provide a safe workplace then we will have to consider balloting members for industrial action.
The RMT is seriously concerned at the health and safety implications caused by the withdrawal of existing Fire Brigade personnel and their replacement by less well trained staff and inferior equipment. In many areas this will place the Union’s members and the public at great risk.
Safety representatives must raise these, and related, issues with their management at the earliest opportunity. Members who genuinely and reasonably believe that they are working in a place of serious and imminent danger must notify management of their concerns. In the absence of a satisfactory response, members must exercise their judgement as to whether they should leave the area and advise colleagues and members of the public to do so as well.
Any member who is dissatisfied with management response to a legitimate request of this nature and/or is victimised as a result of raising such issues should initially contact their Regional Organiser or Regional Office for advice at the earliest opportunity. If they are unable to make contact with the Regional Organiser than contact RMT head office.
Enclosed with this letter is a Pro Forma that is designed to be sent to an individual’s employer. This is a standard form that does not identify the workplace or potential hazard(s). Members will be required to specify the potential danger when submitting the pro forma. Members must make sure they keep a copy for their own records. Where members are faced with an outright refusal or a failure to respond from management then, as stated earlier, they should contact their Regional Organiser or Head Office immediately.
Please copy the pro forma and ensure that these are available for your members to use if necessary.
Management have in some instances consulted with staff but I must emphasise this does not mean any agreement has been reached. Health and Safety issues can change minute by minute and members must be aware that if they feel it necessary they utilise the advice given above.
Please ensure the content of this letter is distributed as widely as possible.
14th October 2013