Health and safety saves lives, and UNISON reps are at the forefront of that work. That was the clear message from the union’s first Safety Rep of the Year awards held in London this week.
Tom McWilliams from Scotland got involved in health and safety after a friend died in an explosion at work.
Recently, he and colleagues noticed an increase in illness at work. As a UNISON safety rep, he organised an inspection which led to the discovery of carbon monoxide leaking into a work area and slowly poisoning staff.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas. Exposure leads to hundreds of hospital admissions and up to 50 deaths each year.
Symptoms of exposure include headaches, nausea and vomiting, general tiredness, dizzyness, difficulty in concentration and, in extreme cases, collapse and death.
But in this case, Tom’s action identified the problem. He alerted management and liaised with them to restore a safe working environment and health surveillance monitoring for the workers.
The other safety rep of the year was Adam Taylor from the union’s Northern region.
He implemented a confidential stress audit within a department of social workers, using a stress management tool from the Health and Safety Executive.
The survey picked up horrendous findings of overwork and lack of control.
As a union safety rep, Adam was the conduit for the social workers to voice concerns to the management.
He worked with the employer to put proper management controls in place to relieve social workers’ stress.
Both Adam and Tom received prizes of holiday breaks in the union’s Croyde Bay holiday centre in North Devon, while regional winners each received a certificate of excellence from UNISON president Wendy Nichols and general secretary Dave Prentis.
The event also offered reps the chance to share stories of how they came to be involved in health and safety and the differences they have made at work.
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