Since 1978, trade unions that have been recognised by the employer for bargaining purposes have been entitled to appoint safety representatives, with specific rights and functions, as laid down in the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC Regs).
A copy of these regulations is available on request from the PCS Equality, Health and Safety Department.
In 1996, the Government introduced wider duties on employers for consultation with workers in specific circumstances.
This was to meet the requirements of a directive of the European Commission, on worker involvement in health and safety
Appointment of safety reps
Within PCS, safety reps should be appointed to cover every workplace.
They should, generally, be elected at the same time as other workplace reps.
If small workplaces of the same employer are grouped together geographically, there is nothing in the SRSC regulations to prevent one rep being appointed to cover more than one workplace.
However due consideration will need to be given to the practicalities of how that rep can service the needs of members across those workplaces - consider whether time and resources allow the rep to properly look after the embers and whether you might need to.
Number of safety reps
The SRSC regulations allow for the appointment of more than one safety rep for a workplace. Circumstances that might mean more than one rep is advisable include:
- large number of employees
- variety of jobs
- shift systems
- variety of hazards - e.g. offices and workshops on the same site.
It is for the union to decide the appropriate number of safety reps - not management.
However, we need to ensure that we can support our arguments for the number of safety representatives - in case management deny some reps the time to perform their functions.
Similarly, in small workplaces with more than one union, there is nothing to stop a PCS rep agreeing to look after the interest of another union's members.
Any union member can serve as a safety rep, though they should normally have at least 2 years experience with the employer or on similar work.
This stipulation, which is in the SRSC Regs, is to ensure that Safety Reps have sufficient knowledge and experience of the types of hazard typical to the area they are responsible for.
A structure for safety
In small enterprises, it may be that a single safety rep is responsible for all aspects of safety consultation within the company.
In most PCS locations, the local workplace safety rep will form part of a wider organisation to deal with safety matters.
It is important that the structure adopted by PCS reflects the management hierarchy, so that we have key negotiators at appropriate levels throughout the organisation.
One example might be in a large building or site, where there is a need for local safety reps to cover each part of the workplace, but only some of these form the core negotiating team that deals with management for issues affecting the site as a whole.
A further example would be with larger employers where safety is discussed not only at local workplace level but at national and maybe also intermediate levels.
Safety reps will need to be appointed to act as contact points with these various tiers of management.
Support and 'back-up'
Safety reps are a vital part of the PCS organisation. However, they are not alone.
Other local reps, including local stewards or workplace reps, safety reps from other parts of your workplace (or other unions) may be able to help in dealing with management or suggesting possible solutions to problems.
Branch officers and staff at the PCS regional offices may also be able to help. They will know about local agreements, training courses available and where to take problems that cannot be resolved within the workplaces.
Each group and many national branches have appointed a senior lay rep to serve on the PCS national health and safety forum.
These people often negotiate at national level with management on health and safety issues and can advise local reps on agreements and procedures.
Finally, PCS Headquarters has an Equality, Health and Safety Department, who can advise on legal requirements and best practice.