Part 2: Tackling stress, bullying and harassment using health and safety

Read Time 9 mins | Friday 13 January, 10:57

Jon Benson (he/him) has over ten years’ experience in the higher and secondary education sectors as a union lay officer and official. Jon has a strong interest in health and safety, with additional union experience in organising, bargaining, negotiations and change management.

This is the second part to an article originally published on 2 December 2022, see Part 1: Tackling stress, bullying and harassment using health and safety.

In part one, I explored how safety inspections can shine a light on bullying, harassment and stress in the workplace. In this second blog, I focus on what to do after the inspection – how to write up your report, forming a bargaining plan that holds the employer to account and approaches to maintain functioning industrial relations should you reach a stalemate.

1. Analyse your data and write up your inspection report

There are two reports to write up:

  • Standard statutory inspection report that summarises observed hazards. It should also include the headline scores from the HSE Management Standards and any red flags identified. 
  • Analysis report based on the survey and any individual conversations.

Here are a few tips to be aware of:

  • Include an extra column in your statutory report to reference specific regulations – the Labour Research Department Health and Safety Reps guide is a great resource to quickly work these out. This helps you directly link an observed hazard to a regulation.
  • If adding ‘stress’ to your statutory inspection report, reference Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, which is the requirement to risk assess hazards. It is highly unlikely your employer will have a suitable and sufficient organisational risk assessment for stress – but don’t forget to ask the employer in advance for one just in case.
  • Free text comments can be helpful but you will probably need to paraphrase or redact some comments and make that clear in your report. You want to avoid situations that could create conflict if individuals are named or are accused of something; or for the employer to make spurious GDPR claims (that then becomes a baseless distraction) on any perceived private conversions being disclosed. You won’t always get this right and get opinions from other reps to help you check.
  • The analysis report doesn’t need to be complicated and UWU branches can access our template report to produce this very quickly.

2. Have a plan on what to do with your reports

Your reports will need to be returned to the employer and their receipt acknowledged, pending a formal response from the employer. Typically this should involve discussions at a Health and Safety Committee and potentially through a JNC, so you will need a bargaining plan to negotiate an outcome your members will back.

In most organisations, H&S departments are separate to HR – have a plan on how you approach and engage the employer’s representatives from these areas as they are of completely different professional backgrounds and it’s not uncommon for internal politics to occur.

If workers have responded to a survey they will inevitably want to see the reports as well. Depending what the report contains, it might be sensible to agree with the employer how to communicate the findings with workers. Ultimately though, your report is union owned and the employer cannot dictate what you communicate with union members. Generally it’s best practice to:

  • Share the reports just with your members and ask that they not share the report further – it’ll encourage non-members to join and it avoids accusations from the employer that you’re communicating with non-members.
  • Include signposting to support for members eg. workplace wellbeing, TU reps, Samaritans etc. This stops the employer from claiming you’re making a bad situation worse.
  • Have a clear timeline eg. include details for a member meeting so there’s a clear next step for members.

Also consider if you need an organising plan as part of a wider campaign, for example if you’re dealing with one hot-spot area the visibility and power building may only be needed in that work area. Alternatively you might be doing a case study example to shine a light on an organisation more widely.

3. Monitor the impact

Basically, make sure your plan improves things in the workplace!

  • You can do safety inspections every three months in the same workplace area, so you might want to repeat and compare results – the HSE Analysis tool lets you put in data from several occasions and will compare them for you.
  • You can agree an action plan with the employer with measurable targets and ongoing review.
  • You can use your findings to negotiate new policies and procedures.

4. What if you end up at a stalemate?

It can happen… and it’ll feel very frustrating! That’s why you should have a plan as outlined above and carefully consider how you can organise members. But that’s not always an option. If the concerns raised are serious and deep rooted in an organisation, your inspection report may simply be paid lip service or deemed biased – that’s where independent scrutiny might help with employer agreement. This will usually be persuading the employer to fund an independent investigation and report of recommendations. Examples of this are appointing a legal professional to lead an independent investigation such as the GMB independent investigation into sexual harassment and reviews facilitated by ACAS such as the Review of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospital NHS Trusts. Ultimately there are more traditional routes of a collective grievance and ultimately a dispute, and the above options can hopefully create space to de-escalate.

Final thoughts

I’ve explored an outline approach on how to enhance safety inspections so that they aren’t just walkthroughs for physical hazards – but that they also put women’s health and safety, stress, bullying and harassment as equally important areas. Safety inspections and the protected rights of safety reps create unique opportunities to access a workplace, raise the profile of the union and make real change where your traditional bargaining framework might not be delivering for members.

If you’re a UWU member and would like to explore the approaches in these articles for your branch, please get in touch and we can form a branch level plan or deliver union wide training for members. We also offer training to other trade unions, please contact us to talk about your requirements.