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September 27, 2010

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Employers reluctant to invest in worker involvement

There is little enthusiasm on the part of employers to fund worker-involvement programmes aimed at improving health and safety, and the majority have few clues on where to start.

These are some of the key findings from an investigation into the extent of worker involvement in health and safety (WISH) in non-unionised workplaces in Scotland, undertaken by RoSPA on behalf of HSE Scotland.

The project, which aimed to find out what worker involvement looks like in practice, built on evidence that organisations with “properly involved” unionised safety representatives achieved better health and safety performance than those without such representation. It comprised a telephone questionnaire survey of 240 individuals, a series of eight interactive workshops, and the preparation of several good-practice case studies.

The investigation found that the concept of worker involvement was low on the agendas of most employers.

While the researchers found that positive action is occurring in some non-unionised workplaces, they concluded that it generally follows an employer’s agenda and is confined to practical consultation rather than anything approaching joint decision-making.

Examples of very good practice were evident in around 10 per cent of the participating organisations, with a further 20-30 per cent doing something positive. Most of the remaining companies claim they are, in principle, interested in involving their workforce to some extent, but appear to have little idea where to start.

Participants also felt that WISH needs to be sold to directors and managers as something that is integral to the way a company runs its business and support good decision-making. Equally, they felt that if it is sold as a ‘bolt-on’, commitment from management would fall by the wayside, especially in the current economic climate.

Common barriers to worker involvement highlighted by the project included: lack of resources, knowledge and time; fear of managers; lack of respect shown by managers; transient workforces; remote and peripatetic workers; and cultural attitudes among the workplace and wider society.

Among the researchers’ recommendations, the HSE is urged to review progress by employers in adopting WISH during inspection visits, and actively encourage ‘buddying’ between organisations that perform well on worker involvement and those organisations anxious to enhance their approach to WISH. Proposed support resources include an online WISH review tool.

Karen McDonnell, head of RoSPA Scotland, who prepared the project report with researcher Howard Fidderman, said: “Businesses that want to improve the way they manage health and safety are often failing to make use of their single biggest asset, namely the people they employ.€ᄄ€ᄄ“Unless they involve their workers in day-to-day decision-making about health and safety issues or about longer-term plans, they will not be able to benefit from employees’ suggestions, or tap into their knowledge of what actually goes on in the workplace.

“And, unless they actively seek employees’ views on options to improve safety and health, they may face difficulty in getting their buy-in later on. Openness and involvement will build trust on both sides.”

The report Worker Involvement in health and safety: What works? can be found at

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