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Hazards conference

Workplace health and safety reps

 

The annual Hazards conference takes place each year at Keele University. It is organised by Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC), part of a national network of Hazards Centres from London to Scotland, that comes under the umbrella of the Hazards Campaign. Each year, hundreds of trade unionists, the great majority of them workplace health & safety reps, come together to discuss a range of issues.

 

I went to the 2017 on behalf of London Housing LE111, as a recently elected Health and Safety rep for my workplace. The conference was lively and well-attended. Many of the delegates came from the construction, energy and manufacturing sectors, which is what you'd expect at a conference dealing with workplace hazards. There was also a strong representation from postal workers concerned about injuries resulting from dog attacks – a subject that has often been the subject of humour in wider society but is clearly very serious for the workers affected.

 

The structure of the conference consisted of two plenary sessions – one at the start on Friday evening and the other closing the conference on the Sunday afternoon – and a mixed array of meetings and workshops throughout. Key highlights of the Friday plenary included a moving speech by Tracey Steward, the widow of a worker killed at work, and a dramatic talk by Dan Shears of the GMB on the dangers of a Tory-led Brexit. Tracy Steward was speaking on behalf of FACK (Families Against Corporate Killers), an organisation campaigning on behalf of families of those who have died or being injured at work due to corporate malpractice, an organisation that deserves a higher public profile than it does. Shears' speech on Brexit was hugely informative, highlighting how the government's plan to use so-called 'Henry VIII' clauses to bypass parliamentary scrutiny of their transfer of EU regulations into British law would allow them to water down any and all pro-worker legislation.

 

We love red tape

 

Meetings during the conference included one on mental health, during which there was a debate over how health and safety reps should deal with colleagues expressing suicidal thoughts, a discussion on union campaigning on pollution and air quality, and workshops on 'body mapping' and workplace inspections.

 

A theme across the conference was Hazards' “We Love Red Tape” campaign. Launched in the aftermath of Grenfell, it is fronted by the phrase “it's your choice – red tape or more bloody bandages” and is aimed at the Tory government. The centrepiece of it is a campaign to get activists to sign and send postcards to 10 Downing Street calling for a reversal of cuts to regulations.  At the closing plenary there was a photo opportunity in which all the delegates clustered round a cardboard cut-out of Theresa May holding out the cards to it. Hazards' website has published a good summary of both the opening and closing plenaries, alongside a selection of Tweets about the conference that delegates were posting during proceedings.

 

Overall, the conference was a fascinating insight into the labour movement's campaigning on health and safety and an invaluable learning experience for a new health and safety rep like myself. I was particularly heartened to learn that most such reps have to also double up as workplace reps, a situation that I am also faced with. The one thing that was slightly concerning was that the attendees were in the main older workers and there were only a smattering of young people. However it's difficult to tell whether this represents any wider lack of younger health and safety reps as opposed to the membership base of Hazards in particular.

Roderick Cobeley

 

For more articles on Health and Safety on this website see: http://www.housingworkers.org.uk/readcampaign.html?campaign_id=53

 

For more information on the conference and on the Hazards Campaign, please visit their blog: http://www.hazardscampaign.org.uk/

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