Do your bit in the crucial battle for safe workplaces

Tim Roberts turns to the vital role of health and safety reps in his latest regional secretary’s blog

With the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, some of our staff started returning to both our regional offices, in Chelmsford and Bury St Edmunds, this week.

Colleagues in the North West, South East and UNISON Direct also began the return to work, while UNISON Centre and more offices across the UK will partially open next week.

Unsurprisingly, we are only reopening UNISON workplaces after carrying out Covid-19 risk assessments and with a number of safeguards in place.

A huge amount of preparation and planning has been necessary – buildings were deep cleaned, perspex screens put up, lots of hand sanitiser bought, extra daily cleaning arranged and our buildings have been covered in warning signs and hazard tape.

I am confident that all necessary steps have been taken to mitigate Covid-19 related risks in both workplaces. This is partly because our plans were robustly scrutinised and appropriately challenged by elected health and safety reps in the trade unions that represent UNISON employees.

Unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. Across the region, UNISON health and safety representatives have been working since lockdown to ensure public service workplaces are safer.

They have ensured that public service workers still in hospitals, schools and refuse depots are safe. They have ensured staff able to work from home have appropriate equipment. And now they’re ensuring that employers are doing everything they can to minimise the spread of coronavirus when they reopen sites.

Deep cleaning at our Chelmsford office

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted why workplace safety is so important. You don’t need me to tell you that even the best-intentioned managers don’t always appreciate how workers do their jobs and therefore need advice on how to keep them safe.

Our union works hard to dispel the myth that health and safety is all about clipboards and anoraks. UNISON health and safety reps already reflect the diversity of our membership but we need more of them.

This is why UNISON has recently launched our Be on the Safe Side campaign aimed at recruiting more health and safety representatives in all the employers we work with.

Becoming a safety rep means you will be playing a crucial role in making sure your workplace is safe not just for your colleagues but service users and visitors.

Reps have a legal right for paid time to do their training and to engage with their employers about safety issues. I hope that everyone reading this becomes a rep or commits to encouraging a colleague to become one.

It is an undisputed fact that there is “power in a union” – but only if workers are active within their union. Now is the time for more members to get involved in making workplaces the safest they can possibly be.

Sign me up!