Why we need to recruit more women safety representatives

About 9% of RMT safety reps are women, whereas women form 17% of RMT membership.  Compare this with workplace reps of whom 12% are women.  Further contrast this will the overall picture in the trade union movement – which is that 20% of women are safety reps.  

The reason why so few women volunteer for the safety rep role needs to be analysed, but anecdotal stories are that the safety rep’s role is seen as nerdy, techie and something men get into (though of course some women enjoy this side of things too!) H&S can certainly have a nerdy, techie side, but there is much more to it than that – and women lose out if they don’t take up the role.  

For example, safety reps have more legislation on their side than any other rep. They are important people in the workplace. Given the work done by many of our members, much of which is safety critical and/or has strong safety focus, the role of the safety rep is very important to RMT. 

Also, the term “health, safety and welfare” covers many workplace issues. Therefore as a safety rep you may want to focus on women’s occupational health and safety; see information from RMT information on women’s occupation health and safety here.

Read what women who have done the role have to say about what they achieved…..

Ann Joss, who was for many years a Network Rail (NWR) safety rep for signalling grades (but is now a Regional Officer in Scotland) writes: 

I picked up being a safety rep having attended a corporate meeting full of managers who were busy with flip charts (more than 20 years ago) who then asked what the frontline staff feel would improve their lot.   

I asked for a ‘fridge (to stop us putting our milk in the wash hand basin in the toilet to keep it fresh) and a microwave to heat up our food (instead of cremating it because we were busy and we had left it to burn prioritising our work instead).  

Of the back of that simple request, we got every signalling location in Scotland completely refurbished and I became a safety rep, energised by the fact that sticking my hand up in a corporate meeting and asking for simple things gave fantastic results. 

Next came sanitary disposal boxes in signal boxes and signalling centres. I got them installed- so one up for the women at long last! We also started sanitary product baskets at various locations in Scotland (mostly topped up by ourselves) but at least it was a start.   

Before I left NWR, I supported a woman with a number of issues securing flexi working in signalling (the first time we’ve managed that and all done under the auspices of welfare - that “W” word that is sometimes missed) - but we’ve done it and now it shouldn’t be so hard going forward. 

These things are the beginning of something bigger and it needs women with a commitment to improving things for women, for example menopause polices, maternity rights, even simple things like risk assessments for pregnant women, flexi working rights, the correct PPE, all  these things.   It doesn’t need fancy qualifications, just the will to want to change things for the better and there is no-one better to take these issues forward than those that are most affected - the women in our union. 

There is plenty of support out there - head office, branches, ROs, other reps and of course our education courses.

I loved my time as a safety rep and although I went on to bigger things such as investigations etc, it’s still the smaller things that make matters better for a group of people who are underrepresented in all grades that gave me the most satisfaction. 

What RMT have done to encourage women to become safety reps….

-       We participated in the TUC Women and Union Safety Rep Role TUC focus groups. Ann Joss, then first woman chair of RMT H&S committee, attended to help facilitate this meeting and to talk about her role as a RMT safety rep. The focus groups were aimed at achieving a better understand how more women can be encouraged to become safety reps

-       In summer 2022 we organised a RMT focus group, hosted by Shelly Asquith, TUC H&S officer with a group of RMT women safety reps, for report see here 

-       On Workers Memorial Day 2022 we held an online meeting on women’s occupational H&S

-       RMT’s Women’s Advisory Committee and subsequently RMT NEC (National Executive Committee) backed the campaign to recruit more women to the safety rep’s role (for more information see relevant Head Office circular: https://bit.ly/4a7VCqT, alongside a campaign to recruit more young reps (for more information see relevant Head Office circular  https://bit.ly/4a1DC1x

-       RMT encouraged women members to attend the TUC “introduction to role of safety rep” one day training course

-       Ann Joss wrote an article for RMT News about her experiences as a woman safety rep; the article included information on the types of work carried out by RMT women members

-       RMT’s 2023 Health and Safety Conference organised a workshop on women’s occupational health and safety see here 

-       On International Women’s Day 2023, we hosted an online meeting about women’s occupational H&S and sent all women members link to new page on health and safety section of web site on women’s occupational H&S which can be viewed here.

What you can do if you want to become a safety rep

RMT safety reps are elected at branch meetings, usually at AGMs (annual general meetings), but this can be done at other times of the year if there are vacancies. 

If you are interested in the role, you should contact your branch secretary or the RMT Health and Safety section by emailing healthandsafety@rmt.org.uk.