Research calls for safety reps on construction sites

Safety reps are the best and only recipe for
construction safety, new research shows.

The research was conducted by academics in
Northern Ireland (which operates the same health and safety system as the rest
of the UK) and Ireland, for the health and safety authorities in both countries.

The research looked at construction sites with
good and bad safety records, and assessed the impact on that record of a whole
range of factors. The authors concluded: "the variable with the strongest
relationship with safety compliance is the presence or absence of a safety
representative".

Safety reps were praised in the report for:
– pressing management to do what they said they were going to do;

– encouraging workers to
report hazards; and

– communicating effectively
with the workers, including advising them against unsafe practices.

The TUC said unions will use the evidence to
demand more support for safety reps from employers and government.

The union said some employers view safety reps
with outright hostility.

TUC health and safety specialist Owen Tudor
said: "It isn’t just that safety reps are the best way to improve safety.
The research actually found that virtually nothing else had much effect. Safety
reps are the best and the only way to really revitalise construction safety.
The evidence is clear and unequivocal – wherever you look, safety reps have a
positive impact on health and safety. Evidence-based policy-making demands more
support for safety reps."

George Brumwell, TUC spokesperson on health and
safety, and general secretary of building workers union UCATT, said: "The
number of construction workers being killed on building sites is still far too
high – the equivalent of a Potters Bar rail crash every single month. This
report highlights what we have always believed – that only safety reps can make
any real difference. The slaughter has to stop. Safety reps should now be made
compulsory on all large sites in the UK, as they are going to be in Ireland."

The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) is about
to publish a major discussion document on rethinking construction health and
safety, and the HSC is also conducting a year-long experiment into the
effectiveness of roving safety reps in the industry (Worker Safety Advisers).

By Quentin Reade

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