Europe: Safety reps are a 'powerful force'

Trade union safety reps have a 'huge potential' for improving workers' health, a Europe-wide investigation has concluded. The ESPARE project - full name 'The Impact of Safety Representatives on Occupational Health: A European Perspective' - was launched in 2006 by the European TUC's health and safety research arm, REHS. The project found having trade union representation leads to better observance of safety rules, lower accident rates and fewer work-related health problems. It concluded that unions need to better 'integrate key health and safety issues into their strategies.' This includes incorporating safety into collective bargaining and ensuring 'safety representatives are not just informed or consulted on health and safety problems but also have the influence and power to negotiate them.' The report says its proposals 'may help to design future research and policy needs, develop new surveillance indicators, identify more effective actions or interventions, and evaluate the impact of safety reps' actions on a variety of occupational health outcomes.' It adds that 'available knowledge and research supports the conclusion that unions, workers' representation and safety representatives constitute a key powerful force for improving workers' occupational health in the EU. In sum, research mainly conducted in Anglo-American tradition and Nordic countries has shown that workplaces where trade unions are present are safer and have better occupational health outcomes.'