Health and Safety Expertise within Branches

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2016 Health Care Service Group Conference
14 December 2015

Conference has concerns in regards to the way Healthcare organisations are attempting to meet the safer staffing levels recommended by the Francis Report. Often organisations are meeting these staffing requirements by the use of poor or inadequate skill mixing which includes the use of unsatisfactory banding levels of agency and bank staff in most health settings. These staff are often inexperienced in clinical environments compared to the work they are required to do, leaving staff feeling vulnerable, harassed and under huge amounts of pressure and increasing low morale. Conference regards the health, safety and welfare of workers as paramount across the NHS. This leads to high attrition and poor recruitment rates and creates a downward spiral of inadequate staff provision leading to a self fulfilling prophecy.

For example, due to the increase in A&E attendances reported in the recent media this had led to an increase in outliers on wards. Often these outliers can be vulnerable mental health patients and/or drug/alcohol abusers. Clinical staff on wards are only trained to deal with their speciality and struggle to manage patients outside their remit. This happened prior to the cuts, however Conference is concerned that this has increased significantly due to increases in A&E attendances and cuts/privatisation of all levels of care particularly in mental health. Wards outside the speciality do seek support from specialist areas (i.e. mental health, alcohol/drug liaison). However, this support is reducing due to cuts and privatisation of services.

As a result clinical staff are overworked, stressed and have low morale, compounded by a failure of recognising staff’s hard effort with no real pay increase since this Government came to power in 2010.

As a result there has been a significant increase in:

• Stress at work

• Musculoskeletal injuries at work

• Assaults

• Harassment and bullying

• Sharps injuries

Conference believes the successful pursuit of health and safety legislation, regulations and practice in the workplace rest in large part on the efforts of unionised workplaces.

Conference recognises the attempts of the Department of Health to roll back health and safety provision.

Conference considers the role of UNISON health and safety representative has never been more important in the face of government’s public service austerity measures across the public and private sector for the NHS.

Conference understands safety reps can feel isolated at times in the face of the avalanche of cuts and changes and it acknowledges that local support for safety reps has never been more important in ensuring a continuing effective safety network across Health Branches.

Conference calls on the Health Service Group Executive to:

1)Instigate a research into the impact of austerity measures on health and safety representatives. This research should include:

a)The identification of the workload on Health Branches safety reps.

b)The employer’s response rate in tackling safety reps concerns, highlighting continuous no or poor responses.

c)The barriers health and safety representatives encounter whilst undertaking their duties in their NHS workplace.

d)The barriers placed on safety reps’ paid release to undertake trade union duties or training.

e)Identifying where safety reps are encountering restrictions and/or reductions in their involvement on safety matters by NHS employers. (Public and Private)

f)The growth or decline in workplace safety concerns in the NHS, as a consequence of austerity measures.

2) Carry out an appropriate review investigating the needs of UNISON Health Branches safety reps and the provision of local, regional support and resources.

3) Identify what other additional support could be offered to safety representatives, branches and regions.

4) This support could include but is not limited to:

a)Further training (examples East Midlands Region Branch Health H&S Officers such as Autumn Branch Officers training weekend, as well as promoting the Hazards Conference held annually at Keele University).

b)Supported campaigning on health and safety matters (example being Needlestick Injuries).

c)Local support mechanisms responsive to the personal and workplace needs of safety reps. (Example – Regional Health & Safety contacts points and notification of the Regional Health & Safety committee meetings).

d)The identification of suitable local resources to assist health and safety reps in their front line duties.

e)Ask for Health and Safety issues to be a regular agenda item for HSGE and Regional Health Committees.