Case Study

Neil Edmondson: keeping members safe at Sellafield

6 December 2021

Former police officer and Sellafield’s full-time Prospect safety rep, Neil Edmondson, looks back at 30 years of helping to keep colleagues, and fellow members, safe.

Health and Safety

Means of protection on an old wooden background. Top view.

I’ve been in a union since I was 16 years old when I was an apprentice. The guy I worked with was a union rep and he got me to join. So, I’ve just always been in a union.

I’m 53 now, so I’ve been in unions for 37 years!

Prior to working at Sellafield, I was a police officer in Cumbria, although not for very long, and I was the youngest Police Federation representative in the country at 21.

Joining Sellafield

When I applied to join Sellafield 30 years ago, I started in health physics, which is part of the safety department and I progressed into safety training.

First, I was a member of the GMB at Sellafield but as I got promoted through the ranks, I joined IPMS, which became Prospect. I’ve been a Prospect rep since 2000.

Neil Edmondson

Neil Edmondson

I used to do a lot of the courses on the site for the company and then became a safety advisor, then a safety manager, before taking up my role now, three and a half years ago, as Prospect full-time safety rep.

I represent about 5,500 members on site and help to look after, alongside two other full-time safety reps, one for the GMB union and one for Unite, the 13,000 workforce that’s on site at any time.

My remit is really simple, the law gives me rights and the company gives me the time, all I’ve got to do is keep our members safe.

Doing the right thing by the members is the best thing for me. We can have the best terms and conditions that we like for members, but if they’re dead then it doesn’t matter, does it?

Doing the job

There’s no standard day really because you can have as much in your diary as you want, but when you get a phone call from a member out of the blue, you’ve got to deal with it.

Typically, my workload is attending safety meetings; going out and doing safety inspections, random safety inspections and planned ones; we’ll review documents, such as risk assessments and we’ll be in consultation with the company about all that.

We’ll also take part in investigations if, unfortunately, something has gone wrong.

Dealing with member issues takes up quite a bit of my time, as I like to give the best for the members and be there for them.

We also give advice and over the last 18 months, as you can imagine with Covid, I’ve been involved with the consultation for the site risk assessment to keep our members safe.

In the main we have a good relationship with the site management. We have regular meetings with the chief executive and the chief operating officer and they do, although not always, take our advice and suggestions on board.

We’ve got an excellent line manager, who is the corporate head of safety for the company.

Dealing with Covid

Covid has been a little bit different for me, as the Prospect safety rep, because my two colleagues represent the shop floor workers who have been on site working shifts throughout. Whereas, our members can work from home.

But we have a massive site and when the pandemic started we went around with the building managers and did inspections of the precautions, the signage and everything else.

We made sure there was Personal Protective Equipment, hand sanitisers and face coverings all in place.

Since then, the risk assessment has been reviewed and we’re now on issue 27. It’s evolved with the government guidance and now covers things like vaccinations.

Things are changing, so slowly Prospect members are returning back to work. However, we still have certain restrictions, for example, on the site buses, and also precautions when you’re coming to your desk, we have disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitisers.

As a company, we’re starting flexible working, which means not everyone will necessarily have the same desk all the time.

That brings new challenges as well because some of our members may have special requirements, like they have a bad back and they need a specific chair or desk.

Union role

A good union is like car insurance. You might begrudge paying the dues and you don’t need it when things are going well but if things don’t go well that’s when you realise the importance of a good union.

We’re really fortunate that our company recognises the unions.

Obviously, there are us three full-time safety reps but we’ve also got the full-time workplace union reps as well. We’re quite lucky from that perspective.

From a safety perspective, is there a difference between looking at it from the union role, or from a company role? I don’t think so. Conventional safety isn’t rocket science really. If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t right.

One benefit of being the union’s safety rep is that we’re independent and we’re not afraid to say something that’s going to upset the company.

We have around 70 Prospect safety reps across our Sellafield and Warrington sites. Some of them are also professional safety advisers for the company, but they still feel valued for their input as union safety reps.

Overall, I find the role tremendously satisfying and rewarding, and helping to keep our members safe is what it’s all about.


Energy

From generation to transmission, Prospect represents the interests of over 22,000 members working across all parts of the energy sector.