LETTER : For employers it pays to be safe

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From Mr John Monks

Sir: Employers are certainly under pressure to raise their safety standards ("Accidents will happen, but not quite so often", 23 February). The costs of injury and ill-health are a powerful argument for them to do so.

But workers are not just passive victims. Unions play an important part in improving safety standards. There are more than 200,000 union-appointed workplace safety reps, and 14,000 new reps are provided every year with the TUC's basic 10-day safety course at 84 colleges countrywide. This is by far the most comprehensive network of safety training in Britain.

These safety reps are a standing army potentially far stronger than the Health and Safety Executive's excellent inspectorate because they are at the sharp end all the time. When it comes to enforcement, unions are in a powerful position to win better safety standards. Compared to the HSE's 1,500 prosecutions last year (producing fines totalling £4.5m), unions took 125,000 cases against negligent employers, securing £335m in damages for our members.

Litigation is, rightly, not the main priority for the HSE. But employers need to be aware that, where they are negligent and workers suffer, unions will wield a big legal stick to increase the incentive for better safety at work.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN MONKS

General Secretary

Trades Union Congress

London, WC1

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