Health & Safety News

H&S | 14.08.2013

The POA at Hazards 2013: Countering the attack on the safe workplace

Steve Wrighton HMP Bullingdon and Mick Longstaff HMP & YOI Low Newton, attended the Hazards 2013 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 is 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 years Workers Memorial Day April 28th “Stop it: you’re killing us!

One of the main campaigns being put forward at this years Hazard’s is to highlight how ineffective the HSE has become, the change to many workplaces being re-designated “Low risk” has meant they will no longer be inspected by the HSE and even a death at work might now not be enough for the inspector to call, the Health part of the HSE is now down to 2 doctors for the whole country. Rory O’Neill the editor of Hazards Magazine has started a campaign to apply for the position of director of the HSE called “Citizen Sane: We love Red Tape” highlighting that the HSE should be for the working people of this country and protecting them from Injury and work related illnesses not supporting the current governments deregulation policies

Louise Adamson from FACK (Families Against Corporate Killers) 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 purchase their dvd entitled “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.

Omana George of the Asia Monitor Resource Centre gave an overview of how the lack of H&S legislation across the whole Asian area is a direct cause of thousands of deaths every year and the idea of self-regulation just results in bribery and corruption and has no impact on improving the working lives of ordinary people, this is the sort of system that the Con – Dem government is currently extorting the value of cutting H&S regulation and down classifying the what they consider low-risk work places

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group gave an update of the court proceedings and campaigns that are on-going to highlight the fact that most of the major building companies that operate in this country have on file, illegal documents with the consultants they employ which effectively means that hundreds of mainly construction workers are blacklisted for raising H&S issues at work or for being a registered H&S rep for the union they belong to making them unemployable

Professor Phil Taylor of Strathclyde University gave a lively presentation on “Performance Management the new Workplace Tyranny” he outline how a combination of Sick Absence Policy’s, setting targets and Performance Management have become the tools of the employer to manage people out of the workforce, prevent promotion and keep wages down. The widespread use of what is known as the bell curve on performance by large companies was explained and although most companies deny using it their own polices look exactly like it, this system will mean that there will always be workers who appear to be underperforming in any organisation even if that are not . Members may have noticed that the prison service has recently changed and re-published its own PSI on performance management it will be interesting to see if this becomes the new tool for getting rid of staff.


Steve attended two workshops the first one Safety rep functions / employer duties, the common theme from this workshop was the attack on H&S reps facility time and preventing them carrying out what they are entitled to do under the SRSC regulations. It is vital that POA H&S reps in every branch ask for the paid time off from work that they are entitled to carry out their functions and record every time that they are denied, if we are to build a case against the employer on H&S facility time.

The second workshop was on stress risk assessment and reinforced the need in law for employers to carry out stress risk assessments and have separate stress policies that are accessible to all workers and have suitable staff support structures which benefit staff and do not form part of a sickness absence policy. Individual stress risk assessments should be carried out on staff who return to work following an absence due to a psychological illness, this is critical in order not to place them straight back into the position which could have triggered the harm in the first place.

Mick attended two workshops, Getting Enforcement where we discussed the following points – what we believed the HSE can do, what we could expect from the HSE using there guidelines and the actual reality following massive cuts forced upon it by the coalition government. The facilitator was a former HSE inspector who explained how the senior management of the HSE has blindly followed the conservative agenda on demonising health and safety.

The second workshop was on fire risk assessments and was hosted by a college fire officer who was also a former fire-fighter and a member of the GMB. We covered the role of the trade union representative and how to achieve the best results for you members. The responsible person was also discussed and their responsibilities in upholding the fire act. Custodial settings were discussed as the workshop was also attended by members of the fire service who have prisons within their area. I mentioned the use of smoke hoods within prisons, an idea that was condemned by the fire-fighters present as being a dangerous practice, especially due to the lack of other PPE.

I attended the meeting on defending sick pay and the persistent attacks by both government and business on the rights of employees to receive sick pay. There was a presentation on the plans to introduce a “independent” assessment service where GP’s will be compelled to send patients who have been on the sick for 4 weeks. As you could guess the dangers in this are immense especially following the on going disaster of the ATOS led attacks on those on ESA.

I attended the campaigning meeting in developing a campaign to challenge occupational and environmental cancer and how this is the new danger facing workers. This is due to advances in science that have now proved links between previously deemed safe substances and cancer. The meeting was interested to here about our current plight regarding smoking in the workplace and the proven risks following the release of the Suzy Diamond White report which showed the real risks and the inability from senior managers to ensure our safety in applying a smoke free workplace. The meeting agreed to assist the campaign to protect our health and safety and I would encourage all members to bring our plight to the local trades councils, as I know Steve Gillan is with the General Council of the TUC and at it’s public sector liaison group meeting.

At a Keynote meeting on Europe and the European Union discussed whether or not it still has a major role to play in driving the H&S agenda forward there has been precious little legislation since the introduction of the six pack many years ago, Dr Aida Ponce Del Casteillo a senior researcher working in Brussels on behalf of the ETUI, reported that there were serious concerns being expressed by trade unions right across Europe that H&S legislation was not being protected within the charters of the European parliament and that lobbying from the UK government with support from the new nations in Eastern Europe were pushing for deregulation and the rights to set individual H&S legislation which protects the interests of business and not those who are injured and killed working in them.

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

Start by purchasing a years 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 2014.

For more information on the Hazards campaign and lots of useful H&S information visit www.hazards.org
 

 

Yours sincerely

 

Joe Simpson
Assistant Secretary