HSE has been accused of sidelining workers in the provision of high-level advice after Unite the union said it had seen plans to replace tripartite committees with panels of experts.
Private papers prepared ahead of a closed meeting of the watchdog’s board on 28 October outline how it is considering replacing a number of advisory committees, usually composed of unions and employers, with specialists such as academics.
A spokesperson for HSE said the board was considering a range of options for the composition of the committees, as outlined in the board papers, but would not reveal any further information ahead of the October meeting.
These tripartite committees span a range of risks, hazards and sectors, from textiles to legionella.
According to Unite, WATCH – the Working Group on Action to Control Chemicals – has already been told it is being disbanded, while the board papers outline how its parent body, the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS), also appears to be under threat in its current form.
Tripartite committees provide HSE’s board, with advice and information from workers’ representatives and employers, providing a platform to feed in expert advice, competing perspectives and coal-face experience to decision makers. They have been a feature of HSE since its inception, when the regulator’s first director general John Locke set about establishing a complex system of consultation.
Unite said workers’ representatives and employers need to be on these bodies because they act as brokers for the experience of their members.
“It seems HSE is trying to eliminate trade unions from giving advice on workplace ill health. According to HSE, involving the workforce is a key component of good health and safety – maybe they only say that when it suits them,” said Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey.
“Trade unions know about work, and they know all too much about work-related ill health. It is trade union members and other workers who are killed, injured or made ill by work. Trade unions must continue to have a key role in advising HSE about how to prevent those deaths, injuries and diseases.
“I call on the HSE to halt these plans and ensure trade unions are included in all talks concerning the health and safety of workers.”
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