HomeHealth and SafetyHealth and Safety Report Harrow Unison

Health and Safety Report Harrow Unison

We have had a disappointing couple of years with Senior Managers not taking health and safety seriously. We have had to redouble our efforts to encourage senior managers to even comply with Health and Safety legislation.

Health and Safety Meetings

Community and Environment have finally agreed to hold health and safety meetings. We have had two meetings and the first the Corporate Director appeared on his own unsupported by his managers. At the second meeting the Divisional Director appeared with only two managers who should be congratulated as the others could not be bothered to attend. We had told the Corporate Director that managers would not be prepared to sit through other department’s issues. Of course he took no notice but now has to explain how his meetings are viable without managerial support. On the bright side they have climbed down from their previously insistence on six monthly meetings and now hold 3 monthly meetings like the rest of the Council.

We are insisting that the locations of meetings are not changed at the last moment so that when we get to the new site they have all gone. We take a jaundiced view as on different occasions this has happened to me and other Union Officers. In the past some managers from Directorates stopped turning up for HS meetings and we would turn up to find the meeting cancelled. Some Departments have held so called health and safety meetings that we had not been invited to and were not constituted according to Health and Safety Commission guidelines.

New Policy Proposals

New policy proposals are not always effectively scrutinised by Departments or Directors and they cannot have therefore worked out the cost implications. We are not prepared to give approval to policy documents that are not costed and that Directors are not able to commit to or implement for lack of resources.

Health and Safety Department

After previous problems some Health and Safety Department senior personnel left for greener pastures and have been replaced by agency professionals. These seem to be more proactive and are tackling the reform of Council policy but they seem unable to reign in the sheer reluctance of some Directors to engage in proper partnership on health and safety matters with the union. Like the reluctant donkey some Directors and managers need prodding with a sharp stick before there is any sign of movement.

The new safety seminars are being held for Heads and School Staff with HS responsibilities. This is a vast improvement but has been a rude awakening for some Heads that did not realise they have so much responsibility.

Schools Asbestos

The sharp stick at the moment is provided by the arrival on the scene of an HSE inspector looking at management of asbestos in schools. The usual crisis management process is in train after years of neglect so wonderful plans are produced with asbestos surveys and reports which they never found the cash for previously. Even the Chief Executive has become involved after previous invisibility in safety matters. Of course we know from past experience that they will go back to sleep when the pressure is off so we intend to keep in contact with the inspector for a continuing review. One thing is clear that where responsibilities are shared between Departments there must be clear guidelines and cooperation instead of a “not me guv” approach.

Bomb Alert Civic Centre

In 2006 the Facilities Management Section altered the procedure in order to reduce the numbers of security staff on the late shift. They claimed that the alteration was done on advice from the police but seem unable to provided any evidence or proof of this. In the end they did not proceed with the staff reduction but carried on with what we consider a less safe arrangement. When we queried this some months ago we received evasive replies and offered a meeting with The Corporate Director Community and Environment. After suggesting we were backward looking and could not see the relevance of our questions he used the familiar phrase “we must move on”. This phrase is now becoming common currency among senior managers when they do not wish to be accountable.

You may remember the fiasco when they actually received a bomb threat no doubt made worse by the fact that they had neglected for years to carry out a bomb alert drill. The Director wanted to see positives in the event seeing it as a learning opportunity. Well it certainly was that as we learned in the chaotic events how not to conduct a Bomb threat evacuation.

Depot Catering

You may have noticed the wonderful vending machines options at the Depot instead of providing nutritious cooked meals. You can have a selection of chocolate bars crisps and Bad Boy pot noodle snacks along with expensive rolls and sandwiches. This may be understandable except that we had been discussing healthy meal options for Depot staff at the Health at Work Group until management imposed this unhealthy and expensive option. It was obvious that they had come to the meeting with a vending machine agenda only which was the going to be imposed whether we liked it or not. Apparently they also signalled the Councillors that healthy options were being pursued while they were doing they exact opposite so perhaps this is not the last we have heard about this. We are hoping the Council members will now be getting a grip on this situation. Meanwhile Depot staff are getting mighty peeved at being treated as second class citizens. When we surveyed the so called dining area we found not one member of staff eating food from the vending machines and when we looked in the bins there was only one wrapper for a pasty that could have come from the machines. Most comments were that the prices were to high and the food not wholesome enough so staff are voting with their feet.

Stress and MSD (muscular skeletal disorders)

Two of the highest causes of sick absence are surprisingly (bad backs / pulled muscles) and stress.

Stress is the invisible condition within the Council as proper assessments are not undertaken and therefore there are no accurate records. Management have been ducking this issue for years and must now take this seriously. No doubt stress cases will increase with the additional pressure of the forthcoming cuts and we will be encouraging the Council to be more proactive and prioritise measures to combat stress and deal more effectively when people have the condition.

A new draft document is in discussion for Display Screen Equipment assessments. This looks at the set up of chairs desks and screens and the proper posture of the users. Up to now the assessments have not been applied uniformly across the Directorates and the risk assessments have not covered all staff.

We have argued without success for management to take a more proactive approach by funding exercise classes such as Pilates and they have been unwilling to fork up even for pilot sessions. They have not been particularly interested in staff investment or encouraging healthy lifestyles unless the cost is approaching zero and then you have to organise it yourself. The Health at work group has however agreed to look at this again so watch this space. In the past when they have finished paying out for horrendously expensive consultants, privatisation companies and so called partnership contractors the cupboard is bare. We were told that the Directors were not interested in funding healthy activities for staff so we will be approaching them again to see if they will pass the hat round. They should be ready to cough up as they have just had above inflation pay increases when we have had a pay cut. They will have saved the cost if one person avoids having a week off but all they can see is the expenditure.

We do hope that reason will prevail when a new Chief Executive arrives on the scene but we have discovered to our cost that usually they are men and women of straw without any real substance. They invariably hide behind catch phrases and are looking for good news stories. When you talk to staff you get the real picture about the lacklustre management people have to work under.

Employees Consultative Forum

We have taken the Council to task with a written report at the last forum meeting and Health and Safety Department have been tasked to report back at the next meeting at the end of October.

In our report we have highlighted the many deficiencies of management and given a proposal for the Branch to undertake health and safety training on the Council’s behalf and at reduced cost compared to private providers.

We will update this item when we see the Council’s response at October / November.

Children’s Department

The ECF meeting also scrutinised the accident / incident statistics per Directorate and the accident rates had generally increased but the Children’s Department had the worst statistics. We have asked HS department for a breakdown of the figures so we can see which are the worst Schools or Departments. After initial reluctance we have been promised the information quickly but it has not been provided yet.

What was surprising was that this examination of the accidents / incidents had not already taken place as this would be the first step to improving safety. This is indeed a worry as it indicates the Council still has a reactive approach as it waits until it is prodded by the Union (with a sharp stick) before doing what it should have been doing anyway.

Housing Asbestos

We are still waiting for a complete reply to our questions about various asbestos incidents at a Community Hall. So far they have provided a list of contractors orders but not details how the work was controlled. Also we are pursuing incidents of damaged asbestos cement roofs on a housing estate. We have written to Corporate Directors at Housing and Environment + Community for answers about the circumstances of the damage and removal process. We hope they have nothing to hide but as time passes and having received incomplete information we are getting suspicious about how it has been dealt with.

Bob Thomas

Harrow Unison L.G. Branch

Health and Safety Officer



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