GMB union Health & Safety officer, Paul Holleran, believes Health & Safety has never been more important.
The next phase of government advice on Covid-19 and the easing of lockdown restrictions is going to be a matter of life and death for many people. Life - as in a potential return to socialising in a way we remember from the distant past and for people going back to work after furloughing or working from home. Death as a potential threat for vulnerable people if any of the latest variants of Coronavirus get through the barriers and protected measures even for people who have had the vaccine.
Government legal duty and responsibility
There is a legal duty and massive responsibility for the governments of these isles and all employers not to rush headlong into lifting all the previous safety guidelines and protective measures. As a union we talk to the relevant government ministries and it would be fair to say it is currently a bit scary at the potential U-turn we are about to see. Caution and protection still need to remain the way for now, otherwise we could end up with another lockdown in September with all the chaos and damage that will mean, particularly to our health and well being.
Things are bad enough for many of our members in a wide range of workplaces. Too many employers are already breaking the law by ignoring health and safety regulations. By excluding our reps from consultation on what should be ongoing risk assessments, employers are trying to cut corners and save money. Our reps and officers need to be all over those employers like a rash, holding them to account.
It is not just the direct Covid threat but loads of associated problems, such as staff with anxiety being forced to return to not fully safe working environments. The issue of bullying is tied into that with managers under pressure to put workers through unreasonable and excessive demands which further causes widespread stress and anxiety. In a number of workplaces we have challenged employers on this expectation that our members will work in unsafe environments and we’ve had success but it is an ongoing battle.
At the same time employers and organisations are under financial pressure - we get that. And that is the case in both public and private sectors - we get that too. But our members should not be used, abused and exploited to compensate or make up the difference for lost profits or central government funding cuts in local authorities and public services.
GMB union to oppose job cuts
That means redundancies need to be looked at very closely before being put forward by bosses. It means the GMB and sister unions need to work together to oppose job cuts which will impact on the livelihoods and health of those losing their jobs and those left to pick up their workload.
We are seeing examples of poor management all over the country. Badly thought out, short term, knee jerk decisions that are beyond belief in many cases. Corners being cut and chances being taken that put our members at risk in the most irresponsible manner. Public service staff for example in hospitals and colleges, where there is a lack of security or safety measures in place. This lack of duty of care by employers is leading to increased threats and real violence and is unacceptable. Too many managements are not following through to ensure risk assessments are not only in place but implemented and monitored on a daily basis. We can’t let that continue.
The bullying is on a scale and can be threats of violence from the public or service users but also managers putting pressure on staff to carry out numerous roles on top of their own core work without training or support, which is extremely stressful. As a union we will be asking our reps to demand one thing of their employers - just do the right thing.
Health & Safety Officer
North West & Irish region