Unions make the workplace safer, because unions make employers take notice of hazards.
A London School of Economics research paper published in 2000 concluded:
"Labour posses vital, tacit, shop floor knowledge regarding health and safety, knowledge that is imperative for reducing accidents."
Union inspection notices (UINs) help put that expertise to effective use. Union inspection notices alert employers when safety standards are falling short of the law, saying why, where and by when health and safety problems should be remedied.
Management of health and safety is broadly a three-stage process:
- A partnership approach with safety representatives and employers working together
- The use of local negotiating machinery to achieve change. If this fails, and where legislation has been contravened, a safety representative may issue a UIN
- Enforcement or arbitration by appropriate enforcing authority
What is a union inspection notice?
A union inspection notice is a formal notice issued to an employer by an accredited union safety representative.
It registers the view that the employer is not complying with health and safety legislation in respect of an identified workplace hazard, describes the action which should be taken to comply with the law and specifies a date by which action is requested.
Not to be confused with:
A UIN is not an enforcement notice. Only statutory health and safety agencies (usually the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authority) can take enforcement action against an employer in breach of health and safety law.
Using a Union inspection notice
PCS safety reps can issue union inspection notices to deal with a hazard that does not pose an imminent and serious risk to the health and safety of employees, individually or collectively and where other action has failed to have the problem resolved within a reasonable time.
Union inspection notices should only be issued where a specific breach of health and safety law can be identified. That breach needs to be specified in the UIN.
UINs can be used to deal with lower level hazards that have been subject of frequent complaints to the employer, where the employer has failed to take appropriate action.
Preparing to issue a union inspection notice
Before issuing a UIN, the safety representative must be convinced of four things:
- There is a breach of health and safety law
- The breach has been brought to the attention of the employer in a proper manner through agreed channels
- The employer has failed to respond appropriately within a reasonable time
- The matter is not already the subject of enforcement action by HSE or local authority inspectors.
PCS safety representatives should consult with other reps at Branch and/or national level before issuing a UIN.
Different groups within PCS may publish their own procedures for UINs, often in consultation with the employer.
Issuing a UIN
The issuing of a UIN is a serious matter - it signifies that the normal processes for resolving health and safety problems has failed.
It is important that all sections of the UIN are completed carefully.
The legislation that has been contravened must be clearly identified.
The steps that the employer should take to remedy the situation must be explained briefly but clearly.
The employer must be given reasonable time to make an appropriate response - this will depend on the nature of the breach. This time must not be less than seven days after serving the notice.
The UIN must be delivered to an appropriate representative of the employer and its receipt confirmed.
A copy of the UIN should be posted in a prominent position within the workplace and it should be drawn to the attention of all members.
A copy of the notice should be sent to the equality, health and safety department at PCS Headquarters - this will only be used for monitoring the use and success of UINs within the union.
The safety rep should also retain a copy of the UIN.
Disputes/failures to act
If the employer disputes the issue of the UIN, or if they fail to take appropriate action within the designated time, the safety representative should make contact with their full time official, their representative to the PCS National Health and Safety Forum or follow such other instructions as their Group may have issued, before proceeding to copy the UIN to the authority.
If it is agreed to copy the UIN to the enforcing authority, please also inform the Equality, Health and Safety Department.
Proceed with caution
The UIN system has no legal backing at this point - unlike the system of Provisional Inspection Notices in some Australian states.
Part of the intention behind launching UINs in the UK is to challenge the objections of employer organisations who claim that UINs with legal backing would not be supportable in the UK.
For this reason, it is important that the rules for UINs are followed closely - we want to be able to use the evidence from the success of the UIN project to support the introduction of a full, legally supported system of Notices. Please follow the rules and, if in doubt, ask.