Connecting with safety reps

50 years of Health and Safety at Work Act marked at London event

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Health and safety reps from across the UK gathered at the TUC’s Congress House on Thursday (May 30) for a day of workshops, panel discussions and interactive networking sessions.

The day gave reps a chance to learn from experts, gain valuable knowledge and share experiences with fellow reps from around the country.

Safety Reps Connect 2024 was organised by the TUC in a year that marks half a century of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The conference reflected on the progress of the last 50 years, while looking forward to the action needed to protect workers in the years to come.

Many Unite health and safety reps attended the day, and Unite officers and activists led some of the workshops.

The day kicked off with TUC general secretary and former health and safety rep Paul Nowak welcoming delegates to the first ever Safety Reps Connect event.

Paul said, “Health and safety reps are the heroes of Britain’s workplaces, large and small, public and private. They make a huge difference and everybody in this room should be proud of the work they do.”

Paul also called for more people to take on the role of rep, saying, “I believe passionately in the difference that health and safety reps can make, but we have an ageing demographic and need more women, black members and young people as reps to reflect the workplaces of today.”

Speakers then highlighted work accident statistics and recent funding cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has made it more difficult for the regulator to carry out its work.

Union workplaces are safer workplaces, and there was a call for a “single enforcement body” with union representation on it that had real teeth and would strengthen the rights of safety reps and force employers to comply with the law.

Delegates had the opportunity to attend a wide variety of workshops covering issues such as enforcing your rights as a safety rep, stress at work, organising on temperature and air quality, safety and the built environment and recruiting new reps.

In the workshop exploring how to put women’s health and safety on the organising agenda, Unite national research officer Irina Do Carmo spoke about Unite’s “Get Me Home Safely” campaign, which supports women workers in the hospitality sector and beyond.

In another packed hall former construction worker and trade union activist Dave Smith was joined by Luke Collins, Unite national health and safety advisor, to lead reps through the law and regulations relating to reps carrying out inspections.

They gave examples of the positive changes that can result from an inspection carried out by a union rep, and also heard from reps about their own workplace experiences. The session was so popular it ran twice.

Following the session Luke said, “Events like this are really important. They give reps a chance to share experiences, hear about the latest changes to law and good practice, and pick up resources.

“But most importantly they remind health and safety reps that they are not alone. There is a whole community of fellow reps and union officers out there only too happy to support them in the vital work they all do keeping workers safe.”

After the lunch break, there was a brief plug from Dave Smith and Janet Newsham from Hazards Magazine (pictured above) about the publication and how it can support members, before a plenary session looking at occupational health and industrial injuries.

The afternoon wrapped up with more workshops and a chance for reps to network and share ideas.

Safety Reps Connect hopes to become an annual event and will be back in 2025. Find out more about the event on the TUC’s website here.

By Keith Hatch

Photos by Keith Hatch