This article is about courses for Unite members - all unions run similar courses.
Organising for health and safety
Five years ago when Peter Suddaby was badly injured working at Lenzing Fibres, a chemical manufacturer in Immingham, he was grateful for Unite’s support. Especially, after a court case, that revealed major flaws in the manufacturing process, resulted in financial compensation.
As a trade unionist all his working life, and determined to give something back, Peter felt it was “only right and proper” to take on the role of safety rep when a position became vacant at the end of 2006.
Fully aware that Unite runs an extensive training programme for freshly elected safety reps at all of its regional/country training centres Peter has faced an uphill battle to get time off work. It meant that it was only in May this year that he finally made an appearance on the five days Organising for Health and Safety reps course at the Unite Grimsby office.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, he’d like to see the law strengthened to give reps an automatic right to go on the course. Nevertheless he’s still glad he kept battling away in order to attend saying “it has been invaluable as I now understand the Health and Safety at Work Act and its operations, as well as how to negotiate improvements at work using legal routes if necessary. I have learnt to take up some of the smaller more winnable issues before trying to tackle the bigger problems, which are centred around noise with the company preferring the cheaper option of distributing personal protective equipment rather than looking at reducing noise levels.”
Fellow student John Iound is a chemical operator at Cray Valley in Stallingborough. He took on the safety reps role in the summer of 2009 and it’s apparent he has gained a great deal from the course when he says, “as a result I have done a work assessment that has involved inspecting areas that may have last been looked at 15 years ago. I haven’t, thankfully, found anything serious but that hasn’t stopped people being supportive including some non-union members who’ve joined the union as a result of my efforts. I have also asked people to complete a health questionnaire after Byron, the course tutor, drew my attention to the Health and Safety Executive’s website.”
Byron Waterman is one of a number of Unite lay tutors. 22 years an employee at Synthomer Limited in Grimsby his workplace experience as a branch secretary, shop steward and safety rep sits nicely alongside the rigorous and robust training programme he had to fulfil before becoming a tutor. With Unite spending significant sums on reps training it “ensures that tutor’s are professionally trained whereby after an initial assessment and a training week each prospective tutor has to complete seven assignments before they get to initially work alongside other more experienced people” said the man behind their training, Educational Development Organiser Mick Bond.
Byron says he “always enjoys running the organising, and the follow up working safely/risk assessment course, at the end of which we would expect safety reps to be able to carry out inspections, including after accidents. We want reps to feel confident about speaking up, not aggressively, but by employing considered arguments, and backed by relevant information, to win support from members into pressurising management to ensure a safe workplace. ”
“The courses are a big help for new reps. They boost your confidence, you learn a great deal and get to know where to go for information, help and advice” said John Iound.
Organising for Health and Safety and its’ follow up course Working Safely/Risk Assessment both last 5 days and are held at regional/country venues throughout the year. They are both accredited through the Passport to Progress Framework.