A ‘Dignity at Work’ charter for the energy sector

Dignity At Work Energy

>> Download:  Dignity At Work Leaflet (PDF)

>> Watch & share: Members say why the Charter is important to them (video 1, video 2)

>> Read: Sector president Richard Clatworthy on why the Charter is needed

>> Read: Award for EDI rep ‘living the values’


The energy sector is facing major challenges as a result of the drive to decarbonise our economy, the introduction of new technology and new business models, and an ageing workforce.

Yet, the available evidence suggests that, from the perspective of people working in the sector, it is poorly equipped to face those challenges.

Decades of poor management practices have resulting in a steady deterioration of working conditions, stagnating pay, a lack of workforce diversity, and rising problems with stress, fatigue and long working hours.

As a union which has represented engineers and specialists working in energy for more than a century, Prospect is deeply concerned at the current state of working life for many employees in the sector. It is often our members who face the greatest workload and managerial pressures.

We believe energy sector employers need to take urgent, concerted action to ensure workplaces are safe, healthy, diverse, and offer all employees the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

That is why Prospect is launching a Dignity at Work charter. We are calling for commitment to meeting the following objectives:

A culture of respect and engagement

Extensive research shows that unionised workplaces are safer and healthier. But to fully realise this, employers need to build a collaborative company culture based on respect and constructive worker engagement. Yet certain parts of the industry have shown a reluctance to engage with the union about the most basic of matters.

There is also a pervasive culture in the energy sector of blaming – and sometimes disciplining and dismissing – individuals who make honest mistakes while carrying out potentially dangerous work.

Systems of work should be designed, as far as possible, in such a way so that if an employee does make a mistake, they do not expose themselves or their colleagues to danger. People are more likely to make mistakes if they are fatigued or stressed.

Accident reports often single out individuals’ deviation from documented methods of working without establishing the reasons for doing so. This not only blames the individual for an outcome which was beyond their control, but it misses an opportunity to truly learn from the incident and ensure it does not happen again. This creates a culture where employees fear reporting incidents.

As a minimum, employers should immediately:

  • Establish and maintain a company-level health and safety committee, with subsidiary committees covering particular business units or geographical areas as necessary. The committees should meet regularly and have an appropriate number of union representatives.
  • Consult health and safety representatives in good time before changes are made which could affect employees’ health and safety, including the introduction of new technology.
  • Engage union representatives before, during and after periods of organisational change.

In the next year:

  • Involve health and safety representatives in the accident investigation process and provide them with training in the principles of human and organisational factors.
  • Consider human and organisation factors – including fatigue – during risk assessments, providing those who carry them out with suitable training.

In the next two to five years:

  • Implement a just and learning culture, where the root causes of accidents are established and blame is avoided, unless the individual commits gross negligence, a wilful violation or a destructive act.

Fatigue and working time

Energy is a high hazard industry, so it is vital that anything which impedes an individual’s ability to make sound operational decisions is thoroughly assessed and carefully managed.

Fatigue is one such factor – it can result in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information and underestimation of risk, leading to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury.

Fatigue needs to be actively managed, just like any other hazard. Arrangements should be documented and incorporated into the employer’s safety management system.

However, Prospect research has shown that energy sector employees are struggling with fatigue, potentially putting themselves and their colleagues at risk.

Nearly one in three respondents to our recent survey said that at some point they had felt too fatigued to work safely, while nearly 60% said they often or very often work more than their contracted hours. Only 30% said they always get the legal minimum of 11 hours rest after being called out.

As a minimum, employers should work with health and safety representatives to:

  • Identify employees whose work places them at risk of fatigue and make organisational and administrative arrangements to reduce the risk.
  • Provide workers with a minimum of 11 hours rest at the end of the working day.
  • Ensure safe levels of staffing.
  • Ensure employees have adequate and regular breaks during working hours.
  • Ensure that attendance for call out duty is suitably distributed across employees.
  • Take account of commuting times when scheduling work.
  • Provide the workforce with suitable information about the causes and effects of fatigue

Equality, diversity and inclusion

While a number of employers have made positive statements on the need to increase diversity, meaningful action has been much more limited. As a minimum, employers should commit to taking the following steps:

  • Increase the proportion of women in the workforce to at least 40%, and the proportion of BAME workers to at least 10%, by 2030.
  • Halve their gender pay gaps by 2025, and eliminate them by 2030.
  • Review workplace policies on bullying and harassment, and institute a zero tolerance approach to all forms of bullying and harassment.
  • Review existing flexible working policies and role requirements to identify and ameliorate barriers to entry for those with caring responsibilities or other flexible working needs.

Training and development

All employees should have access to adequate training and development opportunities to enable them to reach their full potential, while employers should be expending the necessary resources to build the workforce of tomorrow. As part of tackling this challenge, employers should commit to:

  • Increasing the number of apprenticeships and graduate training opportunities and guaranteeing employment to those who complete these programmes.
  • Ensuring every employee has a career development plan, which includes access to training opportunities throughout their working career.
  • Developing common accreditation and training standards across the energy sector, and removing any barriers to the movement of workers between different companies.
  • Embedding skills acquisition within pay and reward systems by developing competency-based, rather than performance-based, pay systems.


The last decade has seen the worst pay outcomes for people working in the energy utilities in at least the last forty years. To promote fairness and transparency in pay, employers should:

  • Commit to sharing all relevant data on the operation of their pay systems with trade unions, to enable a proper, balanced assessment of the fairness of pay outcomes.
  • Ensure all employees are aware of the ‘rate for the job’ for their particular role, and be given a reasonable timetable for progression to that rate upon entry into the role.
  • Undertake an equal pay audit, in conjunction with trade unions, at least once every three years, and publish a plan for eliminating any equal pay gaps identified.
  • Commit to ensuring, as a minimum, that pay awards at least meet the rising cost of living each year.


The energy sector has long had a problem with stress. In the final progress report for Safelec 2010, the tripartite strategic plan for health and safety which preceded Powering Improvement, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) revealed that 10% of the workforce took time off due to stress in 2009.

While the ENA has since stopped publishing data, employers attending the national HESAC have said that stress is currently the most common cause of sickness absence among DNOs.

Recent Prospect research has highlighted the depth of the problem in the energy sector. Our survey revealed that one in three people feel “overwhelmed” every day or most of the time. Three quarters say their workload is heavy or extremely heavy.

As well as being psychologically and physically harmful, stress is a performance influencing factor, affecting how people behave and the decisions they make, increasing the risk of accidents.

Working with health and safety representatives, employers should:

  • Take a primary preventative approach to stress using the HSE’s Management Standards methodology. This involves identifying organisational-level factors which cause stress and consulting with employees about the steps necessary to address them.
  • Accurately record and publish statistics detailing the rate of absence due to work-related stress and mental health problems.
  • Reduce the rate of absence due to work-related stress and mental health problems. Energy sector employers should secure a greater reduction that the HSE’s whole economy target of 5% by 2025.


>> Download:  Dignity At Work Leaflet (PDF)

>> Watch & share: Members say why the charter is important to them (video 1, video 2)

>> Read: Sector president Richard Clatworthy on why the charter is needed

>> Read: Award for EDI rep ‘living the values’