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CWU Health & Safety Dept And BT - The Partnership Approach to
Health, Safety And Wellbeing At Work

For many years now, BT and its various lines of business have worked with the CWU's Health & Safety Dept to address, promote and encompass the 'Prevention is Better Than Cure' approach to managing potential risks and hazards at work. But also too in the area of Health and Wellbeing which is a core Health & Safety issue for any Trade Union to deal with.

Utilising too the expertise of the Union's highly trained Safety Reps in such things as Display Screen Equipment changes, rest breaks and ergonomic factors involved in office based work and call centre working, work related stress, eye fatigue, hearing loss and concerns over use of headsets, hygiene, Personal Protective Equipment and the need for gender neutral clothing, Working From Heights, Workplace Stress, Confined Spaces, and of course Dangerous Dogs; to name but a few. As a result BT has some of the best Health & Safety processes in the industry.

A good example of extending this principle beyond the workplace and into the area of personal health and wellbeing, Unions Safety Reps across the country have been involved in BT's annual Health and Wellbeing Days and Workfit Days which were prompted by the CWU Health and Safety Department and indeed, is often organised and resourced by local Branch USR's working with local management.

Whilst the USR is there to help develope strategies and procedures to avoid ill health caused by work in conjunction with BT, the CWU H&S Dept, and through conference motions which determine CWU H&S policies, it must not be forgotten that many ASR/USRs deal with health and wellbeing issues such as; return to work following long-term illness, avoiding unemployment by working with management in making local adjustments and including making use of the Government's Access To Work programme aimed at keeping workers with manageable health conditions, at work.

Mental health issues: work related stress, and the anxiety and depression which often manifests itself in response to work pressures that have become too great for the individual to deal with, creates an unhealthy working environment; which can lead to bad mental health in workers.

Prevention is better than the cure, and this is the whole point of Well-being and Workfit days run by CWU USRs and BT.

Unionsafety Reps working with responsive and understanding managers, can do a lot to alleviate suffering and speed up the recovery time required for an individual to be able to get back to work.

One CWU Union Safety Rep in the North West was able, through their voluntary work and training with the Samaritans, to support a CWU member suffering from stress and depression and on the brink of suicide. Whilst another used their training to alert managers of the risk to the life of a CWU member suffering severe depression following a harrowing experience when visiting family in Northern Ireland.

Another USR, was instrumental in getting support for a member suffering a non-work related trauma due to a sexual attack and ensuring the person was not dismissed by the employer due to numerous days of spasmodic non-attendance.

When the USR looked unto the case, it became evident that the person had to walk past the area of the attack on the way to work, forcing the individual to have to face the reminder of what had happened to them, everyday.

This accounted for the frequent single day off sick-leave record. The USR had to liaise with management and a family member and follow up with home visits with the manager to give support and encouragement and help the person come back to work.

Yet, another helped to ensure their CWU member suffering from work related stress as a result of a bullying manager, was not dismissed on the grounds of compitency due to needing long-term sick leave to recover from the mental breakdown it caused.

These type of cases, are sadly not uncommon across the country and Branch USRs and Health & Safety Officers will be able to tell of similar cases.

The problem of the need for mental health awareness training for USRs and Branch Officials and support for them in dealing with such cases was highlighted at this Year's CWU Annual General Conference with the passing of Motion 69 and indeed during the debate on Motion 63 which dealt with the extension of training on mental health awareness to all CWU reps.

With health and wellbeing at work being the number 1 reason for the formation of Trade Unions, it is the 10,000 Union Safety Reps across all Trade Unions, who are best placed to deal with such issues.

As with the majority of health and safety issues, IR reps are not well suited or trained to deal with Health and Wellbeing issues, just as USR's don't have the knowledge or training to deal with IR problems.

In reality in Branches across the country the USR is brought in to advise or even take over personal cases which involve health, safety and welfare issues.

But given the attacks on worker's rights that the Trade Union movement is going to have to defend, IR Reps certainly don't have the resources to take on even more work from Union Safety Reps. A well resourced team of Union Safety Reps and national Health & Safely Dept is going to be even more required than it is currently.

Brexit is the greatest threat to worker's rights, healthy and safe at workplaces and the legislation which gives Safety Reps their authority and rights, and the CWU is going to need every resource it currently has, and much much more.

It is imperative therefore that it's Union Safety Reps (aka 'a small army of lifesavers') remain able to work with good employers in promoting good Health and Wellbeing policies and make good national agreements which can only effectively be negotiated by the Union's Health, Safety and Environment Department.

Source: unionsafety / NWCCP

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