Prospect reps driving the agenda at HSE through coronavirus crisis

15 April 2020

Prospect has led the argument around the Health and Safety Executive being more robust in fulfilling its duty to enforce health and safety at work.

Health and Safety at Work

The union represents inspectors, scientists and other specialists in HSE.

Prospect reps in HSE have been engaging with HSE management since mid-February on a range of issues related to COVID-19 and the current lockdown.

The key challenges included:

  • working with HSE to successfully move most of its operations to a home working basis
  • protecting the health, safety and welfare of HSE staff
  • tackling what Prospect and the other union reps saw as HSE taking a passive approach, with Public Health England taking the lead (see our story here).

HSE’s reputation

Prospect negotiator Jez Stewart said: “We have driven the agenda in many ways. We wanted to maintain HSE’s good reputation, and that of its staff, and positively influence management’s position on regulation.

“Our members are of course deeply committed to their role in protecting health and safety in the workplace.

“We pressed management to recognise that exposure to COVID 19 at work is an issue covered by the Health & Safety at Work Act, and that the Public Health England guidance around social distancing is a reasonably practicable standard to be adopted during work activities in order to control exposure.

“We are pleased that HSE has now issued guidance on this.

“We also wanted HSE to advise employees who do not believe their workplace is operating safely to report them to HSE so that it could regulate appropriately.

“After some initial resistance, and following input from Prospect, MPs, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Scottish TUC, we are pleased that HSE’s stance is now far more robust and our members continue to play a leading role in regulating health and safety at work,” he added.

See a piece in the Huffington Post here.

HSE staff

Stewart said another key priority was to look after members’ health and welfare and ensure they could continue to work safely – either from home, in offices, labs, facilities or less frequently, on site, as roles and situations demand.

Prospect is continuing to work with HSE on revised risk assessments and protocols to cover all aspects of work – internal (home working) risks, external (visiting staff/enforcement) and lab-based work.

The union is particularly focused on developing guidance for visiting staff. HSE will continue to consult us to ensure the guidance is correct and clear as these procedures are developed.

Demands on teams

Stewart also pointed out that senior members, and those in the emergency response-based teams, have been bombarded with demands from government, industry, the workforce and unions.

“It is important to acknowledge this significantly increased workload, the importance of their work and to remember that they too are not immune to the pressures we are all under,” he concluded.