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Worker involvement: Do Your Bit campaign

Welcome to the HSE Podcast.

In this episode we talk to David Smeatham about HSE's 'Do Your Bit' campaign.

"The campaign's aimed at getting a greater worker involvement in the workplace in terms of health and safety. We know that for good health and safety we need good strong leadership competency in terms of advice and a competent workforce and management but also we need good working relationships between managers and workers."

And HSE's Victoria Brady tells us about the advice Infoline gives callers who are worried about asbestos. But first here's a roundup of the latest health and safety news.

A gas installer from West Yorkshire who's been working without proper gas safety registration has been told he faces a prison sentence if he doesn't sign up.

Ryan Thorpe pleaded guilty to eight Health and Safety Regulations at Pontefract Magistrate's Court. Any engineer undertaking gas work must be registered with Gas Safe the body approved by HSE. After the hearing HSE Inspector Andrew Denison said Ryan Thorpe had put a number of clients at risk by illegally carrying out the work.

Workers are being warned not to use telescopic forklift trucks if they have broken windows. The advice comes after a 36-year-old man was crushed by the telescopic boom as he leaned out of a broken driver's side window. The window is designed to stop drivers accessing the boom. HSE says if the screen is broken operators can be tempted to lean out and make adjustments such as to rearview mirrors. This can result in the boom falling on the operator. This is the third death on a telescopic forklift or telehandler since 2003.

A new online tool has been made available to help employers reduce musculoskeletal disorders at work. MSD's such as repetitive strain injury are the most common occupational illnesses in Britain. The assessment of repetitive tasks tool has been developed by HSE and the Health and Safety Laboratory. It can help identify where the risks lie suggest where to focus risk reduction measures and help prioritise improvements.

You can stay up-to-date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages on our website hse.gov.uk/news

If you'd rather get the latest news by email then sign up for free regular eBulletins on a range of different health and safety subjects. Sign up at hse.gov.uk/news/subscribe

You're listening to the HSE Podcast.

In recent months HSE has been promoting worker involvement to try and get more people interested in becoming safety reps. The 'Do You Bit' campaign is encouraging bosses to listen to employees' suggestions about how to make work safer. The initiative has been given a boost this month with new training courses for organisations of all sizes. David Smeatham head of the Worker Involvement Team tells us more.

"We've been running and developing this campaign for about the last 8 months. The campaign's aimed at getting a greater worker involvement in the workplace in terms of health and safety. We know that for good health and safety we need good strong leadership competency in terms of advice and a competent workforce and management. But also we need good working relationships between managers and workers."

How's the campaign going to work?

"Well we've launched a website which gives practical advice on how employers can improve worker involvement in their workplace and we're also running two training courses as well that the HSE's either heavily subsidising or completely funding these training courses. The first training course is aimed at small to medium enterprises and it's designed to get a new rep in small to medium enterprises. We know that often small to medium enterprises don't have safety reps and this is a way of getting more of these reps in non-unionised workplaces. The course consists of very very basic health and safety but then also soft skills skills what the employee can use to negotiate change in the workplace to make it better. But if the workers are more involved then it helps the manager spot the risks because they're closer to them. It means the controls that managers want to put into place tend to be more practical because they're dealing with the intricacies of the job and how the job's done on a day-to-day basis. And also by involving workers in the design of work means that there's more commitment there from workers into actually making the controls work."

So that's in organisations where there isn't necessarily a trade union. So I'm guessing that the people who work there aren't really used to possibly aren't really used to being able to talk to their bosses about what they see as problems at work and that's really what you're asking the workforce to do?

"You're absolutely right. What we're trying to do here is trying to develop that closer working relationship between managers and workers. So it seems like there's kind of a partnership there in terms of health and safety that the practical things that workers are doing are managed the health and safety is managed in a proportionate way. So that you're dealing with the practicalities of doing the jobs and they're all part of the risk and production management."

So what about the second leg of this campaign?

"Okay the second leg is aimed at larger organisations where they'll probably be some sort of worker involvement already there. And what we're trying to do with this is we're trying to get better practical relationships between line managers and safety reps so that there's a good again a good working relationship between those two groups of people. What that course looks like is it's about getting people around the table to discuss how they sort of how they can work closer together what difficulties they may have in making health and safety practical in the workplace. And the output of that is then better relationships better closer working and increased worker involvement."

You're kind of doing the work of the unions here. So what do they make of it all?

"They've been very supportive. We've taken proposals to the trade unions and they've helped steer the work. They've also we've been running two pilots of the work one for each of the courses that we're running and unions have been very helpful in delivering those courses. So their involvement in this has been fantastic."

So let's imagine I work on a building site I work for a small firm. Am I really likely to hear from you about this course and this project? There must be thousands of very small companies who are working in construction. How do you reach them?

"Well we've got a communications campaign that's associated with this. The communications campaign is particularly targeting three sectors; construction; manufacturing; and also people on the move so people delivering goods. We're going into trade press with those but also for construction I think its really important that we look through the construction supply chain and by that I mean going to larger organisations and getting their help to deliver this to small to medium enterprises."

And how long's this campaign going to run for?

"It runs for a year so it will be finishing in March '11 and by that time we hope to have trained up 2,400 safety new safety reps in non-unionised SME's and we hope to have helped 80 larger organisations to improve the relationship that they have between the first line managers and safety reps."

And what's in it for the employers why would they bother to engage with this?

"First of all it helps them by involving the workers helps them make sure that the controls are practical and there's commitment to health and safety in the workplace. But also there is a certain amount of evidence to say that if you involve the workers in health and safety it actually improves productivity and quality as well."

And an employee what's in it for them?

"It's an opportunity to look after your mates have a different perspective to work so get involved in the different areas of work. But also I think its good for training and personal development as well that this is a different aspect to the job and I think for some people that would be very beneficial."

You can find out more about the campaign and sign up for courses by visiting hse.gov.uk/doyourbit

To read the transcript of this interview visit hse.gov.uk/podcasts

The HSE protecting people's health and safety at work.

Now in our regular feature we put HSE Infoline's Victoria Brady to the test by asking her to answer one of your popular health and safety questions.

"Good afternoon, HSE's Infoline, manager speaking, how can I help?"

"Hi my name's Victoria Brady I'm the training manager here at HSE's Infoline and I'm going to answer all your health and safety questions for you."

I imagine one of the things that you hear about quite a lot is people asking questions about asbestos, people who have worked with it in the past. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

"All asbestos is banned now and the last of it was banned in 1999 so prior to that asbestos was widely used within Great Britain especially during sort of the 60's and 70's. People really didn't know its dangers then so you know sort of worked with it drilled into it cut it up without sort of using any protection. And working with that day in day out can cause you to ultimately contract sort of asbestos-related diseases. I mean the thing is unfortunately those diseases don't show up until sort of 15 to 30 years after you've actually been working with the asbestos. So it's only now that we're actually seeing the sort of real effects of what happened to those people when they were working with it."

Do you get quite a lot of calls about that?

"We do yeah asbestos is definitely one of our sort of top ten calls that we do get here. We sort of get people asking about how to work with it now what personal protective equipment they use and do they need a licensed contractor. Right through to sort of homeowners really who phone up to know you know what to do if they've got asbestos within their house. And we'll certainly try to answer all those questions and sort of really allay people's fears. You know it is those people who were working with it for long periods of time that are seriously in danger of contracting things like asbestosis mesothelioma. You can sort of equate it to smoking in a way. If you suffer like a one-off exposure to it its like you're really smoking a cigarette. So if you have one cigarette it's not really going to do you that much damage in the long run. It's those people who smoke continuously that could potentially end up with sort of lung diseases and it's the same for asbestos. So I think what people need to realise is although people were working with it back then you know could be in serious danger now. If you've had a one-off exposure it probably isn't going to do that much damage."

So if you're an employer and you've got a premises and you discover that there's asbestos in that premises what can you do about it?

"There is legislation in place so that all all sort of employers or owners of buildings do have to have a register in place of where all the asbestos is within their building. So they should already know where it is and should have it labelled up. Then a maintenance program needs to be kept in place so they need to make sure that all the asbestos within the building is in good condition. If its not then they either need to rectify that by encapsulating it or removing it as a last resort. So it in theory in all workplaces now it should be suitably managed and they should possess or should be no risk to the employees."

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Updated 2012-01-13