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Getting active as a Health and Safety Representative

The Health and Safety Representative has a key role in representing the health and safety interests of NASUWT members within the workplace. The NASUWT believes that a trained health and safety representative is a vital member of the Union team within a school or college. A safe, inclusive and healthy working environment is crucial to safeguarding the wellbeing of NASUWT members and in achieving key union policies such as a satisfactory work/life balance.

Under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSC), and the SRSC 1979 for Northern Ireland, Health and Safety Representatives’ functions are defined as:

  • representing NASUWT members health and safety interests in consultation with the senior management;
  • investigating potential hazards and dangerous occurrences;
  • examining the causes of accidents at work;
  • investigating complaints from the people you represent;
  • occasionally meeting a Health and Safety Inspector;
  • carrying out safety inspections of the workplace;
  • attending meetings of the Health and Safety Committee;
  • reading health and safety information provided by an Inspector, your employer and NASUWT.

A person appointed by the headteacher/principal to oversee health and safety, commonly known as the school or college’s health and safety officer, or competent person, has quite a different role and is responsible in law for the way in which he/she carries it out. Union Health and Safety Representatives cannot be held legally liable for failing to carry out their functions. An NASUWT Health and Safety Representative is indemnified by the Union.

Teachers seek legal and professional protection from a teachers’ union. They often overlook the role that the NASUWT plays in the protection of their health, safety and welfare. It is important to ensure that all staff are involved in and made aware of the work done in their interests by the NASUWT Health and Safety Representative. Non-members should be encouraged to join and receive the full benefits of NASUWT membership.

The NASUWT believes that all Health and Safety Representatives should be trained and the Union’s training courses are progressive, with Stage 1 and Stage 2 courses aimed at school or college representatives, and a Stage 3 course aimed at senior Health and Safety Representatives such as Co-ordinators and Local Association Health and Safety Officers.

Additionally, there is an annual briefing held for Health and Safety Training Officers and Co-ordinators at Hillscourt Education Centre, with a mix of NASUWT and external speakers and an opportunity to discuss developments and guidance in the field of health and safety.

The Health and Safety Representative:

  • is elected by fellow members of a recognised trade union to represent them on matters of health, safety and welfare at work;
  • can be elected to represent members of each trade union within the workplace by agreement;
  • may represent members of other recognised unions (not only the teachers’) if so requested;
  • is not liable in law for any duties beyond those common to all employees (see ‘Duties: Employees’);
  • has rights established in law;
  • is not ‘appointed’ by the headteacher/principal or governing body/board.

Resources for Health and Safety Reps

The NASUWT provides a comprehensive handbook for Health and Safety Representatives which contains useful information about the role and function, plus other sources of information on a wide range of health, safety and welfare issues. Reps can also read our health and safety bulletins for the different nations.

The Union's ground-breaking DVD-ROM 'Take The Risk Out', is a tool designed to equip representatives with the tools, knowledge and support required to carry out effective risk assessments. It is avaiable to Health and Safety Coordinators/Officers and is an integral part of the Health and Safety Stage Two training course. The Union is in the process of publishing a second DVD resource 'A Lesson in Safety'.

The Union produces a range of leaflets and advice on health and safety issues and these are available from publications.