Health & Safety News

H&S | 16.11.2012

Hazards Conference

Dear Colleagues

Steve Wrighton (HMP Bullingdon) and Mick Longstaff (HMP & YOI Low Newton) attended the Hazards 2012 conference at Keele University on behalf of the POA H&S Consultative Committee.

Hazards is the biggest conference solely for union H&S reps in the country with over 400 delegates attending. It comprises a mixture of workshops, keynote meetings and campaigning meetings on a whole range of issues which affect workers’ safety at work.

The opening session reviewed the “We Didn’t Vote to Die at Work” campaign and launched the slogan for next year’s Workers Memorial Day (28 April) “Stop it: you’re killing us!”

Families Against Corporate Killers

Louise Adamson from Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) gave an emotive presentation on the effects and suffering that occurs when members of family are killed at work due to the failure of employers to protect their workers, and the fight for justice just to get these employers in a court, let alone the appalling low punishments and fines that are imposed even if the employer is convicted.

We strongly recommend that branches buy FACK’s DVD called: “FACE the FACKS: The human face of workplace killing”. It costs £10 and will inspire any branch membership to fight against the wrongs of their employer when dealing with our Health and Safety. (Visit www.fack.org.uk to buy the DVD.)

Understanding fire risk assessments

Steve attended two workshops; the first one on fire risk assessments and the second on Provisional Improvement Notices (PINs) and Union Inspection Notices (UINs).

In the first it was apparent that although most safety reps carry out their inspections, fire risk assessments are not always reviewed in the same way and many reps rely on the information given to then by fire advisors / officers who are often contracted staff - not directly employed. For those safety reps out there that do not review or have a good understanding of their fire risk assessments, get involved and if that means you need more facility time then make the case.

The workshop on PINs and UINs focussed on the huge reductions in HSE inspectors and Local Authority inspectors, as a consequence, the chances of your workplace being inspected (unless there has been a serious accident) is greatly reduced and may even never happen. In reaction to this, members’ safety is increasingly reliant on union safety reps enforcing the regulations and formally notifying the employer where there are breaches of H&S and the use of UINs is a tool which can make a manager sit up and take notice.

The POA H&S Consultative Committee has taken the idea of a standard POA UIN to the prison board and despite initially considering the proposal, opted not to adopt the idea but this is still on the agenda.

Mick attended two workshops, the first one on managing sickness absence and the second one on Health and Safety Representatives involvement in risk assessments.

Sickness absence

It became clear in the workshop on sickness absence that there appears to be a clamour from employers to link this policy with their disciplinary policies. Now forgive me for thinking this; but I thought the reason anyone was brought before a disciplinary meeting was that they had done something wrong. Our own Conduct and Disciplinary Policy states: “The Conduct and Discipline Instruction provides a range of options for dealing with staff employed by NOMS (including HMPS) who fail to meet the required standards of behaviour”. How can this then be allowed to happen? The recent news on the link between occupational cancers and shift work needs to be highlighted with our employer and over 90 percent of uniformed staff work this pattern yet nothing is done by our employer to protect us from the risks, so safety reps in our branches need to start taking this forward as we on the national committee will do at a Whitley level.

The risks from night work have been known for years but once again, how many of our members receive regular health screening? The most serious health effects related to shift and night work are cancer, heart disease and metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Five years ago, in 2007 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that “shift work involving circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans” and classified shift work as a category 2A carcinogen.

No, they wait for them to report sick and use the big stick to beat them into submission and make them come into work as they are letting the side down.

Risk assessments

The second workshop on safety reps’ involvement in the risk assessment process inspired lots of debate amongst the participants. A lot of other unions weren’t aware that health and safety is our only legal way of action and by becoming involved in the risk assessments, we can influence managers to ensure that we have safer workplaces than we would have had if we weren’t helping. After all, a lot of mangers who completed risk assessments are also our members too.

There was a lot of debate centring around the use of Regulation 4 of the SRSC Regs 1977 where an employer must give the reps all the information required. This discussion started due to reps stating that their employers never allowed them to even see their risk assessments let alone become involved in them.

Occupational/Environmental Cancer

At a campaign meeting on Occupational/ Environmental Cancer we asked the panels’ views on why, despite the No Smoking at Work Legislation, the exemption on prisoners has left prison officers subjected daily to second-hand smoke; a known carcinogen. The panel agreed with us and a healthy debate was held between those attending the meeting, the safety reps from other unions were on the whole oblivious to this and surprised that this is still happening so many years on from the original ban. The panel put the question back on us to ask what we the POA as a Union was doing to raise this issue with Government other unions to campaign for an end to this exposure on behalf of our members.

We need to make sure our members continue to report every exposure to second hand smoke as accidents / injuries. This is a fight which the POA can win if we organise our membership.

Asbestos awareness

The dangers of exposure to Asbestos was also discussed and many thanks go to a UCATT delegate who is a member of the estates department at one of our prisons for highlighting the amount of Asbestos that is still present in many of our prisons. Local safety reps need to ensure that they have a copy of the Asbestos register / map for their establishment as any work that is carried out or damage incurred to the fabric of the building does put the health of members at risk.

Safer workplace

One other interesting fact – watch out for next years injuries figures dropping! Yes you heard it right, the workplace has just got safer, or is it the fact that the changes to Riddor (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) reporting could result in the fact that 30,000 fewer accidents will appear on the official figures?

We would encourage all branches to become more involved in spreading the word of Health and Safety amongst fellow trade unionists as many are unaware of the types of risks we face everyday, but we also have many similar concerns and we need to spread the work and network with other like-minded union activists.

Hazards magazine

Start by purchasing a year’s subscription to Hazards quarterly magazine, and if your branch can afford it consider sending your Health and Safety representative to next years Hazards conference at the University of Keele in July 2013.
 

 

Yours sincerely

 

Joe Simpson
Assistant Secretary