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Health and safety issues highlighted in a wide-ranging debate at the Usdaw Annual Delegate Meeting

Date: 25 April 2023 Delegates at the annual conference of the retail and distribution trade union Usdaw have discussed a wide range of important health and safety issues today.
The gathering held in the Empress Ballroom, at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens supported propositions on:
  • Health and safety risk assessments.
  • Dangers of lone working and risk of sexual harassment.
  • Management training on pregnancy risk assessments.
  • Safe journeys to work and staff transport.
  • Home delivery driver safety from abuse and harassment.
  • Workplace temperatures. 
Addressing delegates, Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Health and Safety is a fundamental aspect of what trade unions do. It impacts every worker, in every workplace. It's our role to ensure employers are operating in line with health and safety legislation, that they have the right policies in place, that those policies are followed and to robustly challenge them when they fail in their legal obligations.
“As trade unionists, we should be using health and safety legislation and issues to organise. We need to show members and non-members that unionised workplaces are safer workplaces, that we will raise and resolve concerns at the earliest opportunity and that members' health and safety is at the forefront of our priorities.”
Referring to a proposition calling for guaranteed access to workplace risk assessments and accident reports, Paddy Lillis said: “Let's not forget that health and safety reps should already have access to their workplace risk assessments. They are an essential step in dealing with health and safety issues and employers have a legal duty to consult with our Health and Safety Reps in good time.
“What this proposition highlights is that often risk assessments that are available online for larger companies are generic. It can be difficult for reps to access the actual risk assessment for their workplace. If employers are serious about health and safety, they should provide easy and open access to this information at site level.
“The proposition also calls for access to accident reports for reps. Health and Safety Reps are legally entitled to investigate an accident in the workplace.This is important, so they can find out what happened to ensure it does not happen again. Employers can remove identifying information so that the individual's privacy is protected. So there is no reasonable excuse for employers to withhold accident reports.
Referring to a proposition calling for an end to the practice of lone working in petrol filling stations, Paddy Lillis said: “This is a matter that we have been raising with employers and we will continue to do so. Lone working can make people feel isolated and vulnerable. It can prevent them from taking their proper breaks and it can put workers at greater risk of sexual harassment.
“While there is no law against lone working, employers do have a duty of care to their staff. They should assess the risks involved in lone working and put measures in place to mitigate those risks, but as a union we do not believe that employers should be forcing staff to work alone at all, in petrol stations or indeed in any small outlets.”
Referring to a proposition addressing pregnancy risk assessments, Paddy Lillis said: “Health and Safety Executive guidance is clear on protecting pregnant workers and new mothers. Employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment. This includes carrying out an individual risk assessment. The union receives an alarming number of queries when this hasn't taken place; leaving women feeling, isolated, unsupported, and upset.
“Pregnant women should not have to go through the grievance procedure, just to secure what is already their legal right. Employers must fully train their managers, so they are able to carry out full and meaningful risk assessments, to properly protect pregnant women and new mothers.”
Referring to a on staff transport, raising an important issue about safe journeys to work, Paddy Lillis said: “Many of our members travel to and from work in the early morning or late at night. They are often travelling in the dark and when public transport is quieter or even non-existent.  An Usdaw survey found one in seven women have safety concerns about their journey to and from work. Women members are twice as likely as men to feel unsafe on these journeys and over half of all women feel anxious about their personal safety when walking in the dark.
“Our Safe Journey campaign provides members and reps with advice and support on how they can make work journeys safer. Employers should be aware of which colleagues may have safety concerns around getting to and from work and they should take steps to support them. This could include providing free transport where necessary.”
Referring to a proposition on delivery driver safety, Paddy Lillis said: “The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes drivers and those working alone. Employers should be putting risk controls in place, as part of their risk assessment for delivery drivers. This should include guidance on how to tackle violence and abuse while isolated from the workplace.  
“Delivery drivers are isolated when performing their duties. If they are left unsupported and something goes wrong, it is often their word against the customer's.  Drivers are also expected to enforce the law and company-specific policies on under-age sales. This is difficult enough in a store environment, it can be incredibly intimidating when performed on a customer's doorstep. Delivery drivers can even be subject to attacks by aggressive animals.
“Usdaw's Freedom From Fear annual survey highlighted this as a rising concern, particularly with delivery driver numbers growing. The union has been campaigning to highlight this legitimate concern and we have been providing our members with guidance. Making it clear that abuse is not part of the job.
“We will continue to raise this with employers. To ensure that their risk assessments include risk control measures and that members have the appropriate training to deal with incidents. The proposition also calls for more family-friendly contracts, which we of course fully support. Everyone should get a proper break and have a say on the hours that they work.”
Referring to a proposition calling for the introduction of a legal maximum and minimum workplace temperature, Paddy Lillis said: “This as an important, ongoing, welfare concern for our members. We all recall the unbearable heat last summer, when temperatures reached 40°C for the first time in the UK. At the other end of the scale, we've had a rise in queries during the winter months, with members working in cold stores and warehouses, left waiting for broken heating systems to be fixed.
“Under current regulations, employers are required to provide a reasonable indoor temperature in the workplace. They must assess the risks to workers and put controls in place to protect them. There is legal guidance on minimum temperatures. For working indoors they should normally be at least 6 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.
“There is currently no legal maximum temperature set in the workplace. We know that, as the temperature begins to rise above 24oC, heat exhaustion starts to set in. People can become unwell and the risk of accidents increases. Nobody should be forced to work in uncomfortable or unsafe conditions.
“The TUC has been calling for a change in the law. The law would require employers to take action when temperatures start to rise above 24oC and there should be an absolute maximum temperature of 30oC, or 27oC if you're doing strenuous work. We support the TUC's campaign and we will continue to push employers for better working conditions too.”
Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 350,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades www.usdaw.org.uk

For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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