In order to understand the role of unions in workplace health and safety, the workplace health and safety incidents need to be studied. In spite of the fact that colossal efforts have been made to improve the work place safety for employees still the number of casualties have been currently reported to be around 2 million and 330 million accidents had taken place at work stations. Among all other divisions BWI are the most unsafe ones. Construction sector has the highest number of casualties compared to other large industrial sectors and reportedly 100,000 fatalities take place per year at the sites. This figure reflects 35%-40% of all the causalities that may occur at work place. The prime reason behind deadly incidents is illegal and poor working environment for employees. Hazardous and detrimental working atmosphere can be very lethal for the health of employees and a significant number of premature deaths may occur per year due to different chemicals, fumes and dust particles, asbestos has been established as the leading killing chemical. The machinery used in wood industry causes highest number of serious injuries than the machinery being used in other sectors. Tropical loggers are at the risk of every one person out ten to get killed during lifetime .
Undoubtedly, the fundamental reason behind frail coverage and safety measures is poverty. Nonetheless, the contributors and researchers are now of the view that majorly the casualties that occur as a result of unhealthy and unsafe working conditions have nothing to do with the existing economical position. Precautionary measures can be taken to circumvent these mishaps in future. Curbing the work place diseases and fatal accidents will facilitate the process of alleviating poverty. It has been estimated that 4% of GNP of the country is spent on recovering from the losses of the work place casualties .
The concept of Trade unions was started in 19th century and since then it has strengthened and protected the basic rights of the employees. Unions have been striving hard to safeguard the rights related to workplace wellbeing, health condition, minimum wage level, social and job safety, work hours and likewise. It is highly recommended to promote the cooperation and communication between the employers and employees in order to improve legislations and policies related to health of employees .
The philosophy that backs the decision of employees in joining trade union is to have better compensation and safety at work station and a continuous assurance of support from union if any problem encounters .
Trade union act of each country provides an organized and accepted definition of trade unions and clearly states its goals and objectives. The basic and foremost objectives of trade union are set by the labour relation code of 1976 and it is precisely stated as follows: -
The chief role of trade unions is to uphold the interests and benefits of its participants, keeping in view the concern of overall labour force while giving prime importance to national concerns. In order to fulfil this goal, unions are bound to maintain the possibility of its responsibilities by assuring healthy and understanding relations with the management so as to encourage good and efficient industrial terms .
Trade unions should :
- When it is feasible, maintain and promote cooperation with the administrative authorities and with other unions. These efforts should be made both at local as well as industrial level for the sake of fruitful negotiations, communications, dispute resolutions and consultation.
- All reasonable and possible efforts should be carried out to assure that officials examine all activities and arrangements.
- All necessary arrangements should be done to provide training to the delegates in accordance with their assigned duties and routine dealings of unions.
- Adequate and effective opportunities are to be provided to educate the members for the advancement of their understanding level.
- Sufficient number of staff members are needed to be able to serve the needs and demands of the members
- Members of the unions are encouraged to take active and productive part in day to day dealings by empowering them to compile and distribute information.
- Information regarding the basic doctrines and rules of union should be made available to all the members.
- Adequate and effective assistance and advisory counselling of the members in order to facilitate them in understanding their employment terms and rules.
- Discover the upcoming trends and changes in relations, so as to educate the members accordingly.
Roles of the Trade unions :
- The main political aspect of unions is to build pressure on behalf of its members and society to influence any decision.
- The leading market role is to discuss wages and to set minimum wage level, thereby impacting and influencing on the economy.
- Defining the standards related to rules and regulation and matters related to job.
- Maintaining a balanced democracy at work station.
- The foremost service role is to enhance the involvement of members.
- The basic welfare role is to assist peculiar group.
Trade unions have played vital role during past decade in elaborating and implementing various workplace safety rules and regulations. Unions are also fighting to include the un-registered work into the government’s regulatory bodies in order to ensure workplace health and safety of all the workers. Since the number of industrial jobs are decreasing due to the advent of modern technologies and number of office jobs are increasing, there is fair chance that workplace health and safety in the industrial zone could get neglected especially for maintenance works of the automatic machines. Unions are raising their voice on the issue and it is just the matter of time that regulations on this issue will also be made part of the workplace health and safety rules/regulations. There is another serious issue pertaining to office jobs that the people working in offices have to sit in front of various displays like monitors and other screens for hours which pose great threat to their health. Unions are considering this issue and trying to bring up an effective solution of it .
The representatives of safety are the only option of defence when it comes to working conditions at workplace. The involvement of workers is highly regarded in today’s world in describing the health and safety measures at workplace. Unions safeguard the rights of employees and ensure a better and safer place to work in. Trade unions have transformed the sick, retarded, dysfunctional working workplace into a safe and healthy work station. The representatives of union’s safety assure less sickness and lesser number of accidents at work stations. Employees generally join union to feel safe and protected and remain connected for the lifetime for the same cause. Training of the safety reps is the first and foremost priority to ensure improved and secured working atmosphere. Fatalities rose when health and safety executive were denied to investigate serious level workplace injuries. Unions raised the question of expanding the role of these executives in order to get better understanding of the workplace injuries and mitigating those accordingly. Since unions compose of the workers themselves, so any issue that may have missed the eyes of expert health and safety analyst, can be identified by the workers and the same workers can suggest better solution to the problem due to their experience of the problem . Alan et Al. (2013) discussed various aspects of OHS legislation including the changes from time to time that have been made part of the legislation. These changes were the result of various initiatives taken by trade unions. The authors also discuss about the Fair Work Act that is a great success of trade unions for the workers .
The best possible way to improvise the safety and health standards at work station is through advance and effective involvement of trade unions. Unions can be very helpful in bringing awareness and persuade pressure on the management. Union can also play a productive role in facilitating the negotiation procedures. Legal laws say that preventive measures should be taken by the employers to assure safe and healthy working ambience. Inspectors are appointed by the government to enforce these laws. The available numbers of inspectors are not good enough to keep a constant check at every workstation. Better regulation of rules, more number of inspectors, and rigid implementation would be helpful in bringing improvement. Although the strong hold of unions is inevitable in keeping a close check on employers so as to curb any anticipated casualties. Despite having strict rules, enough number of inspectors but still the unions and workers are directly concerned. It is the matter of health, limbs and lives of people that are at risk .
A number of rights and protections given to workers that are taken for granted were fought for by the unions in the past. Unions have worked a long way with primary aim of protecting workers’ health, pay, and other rights. Involvement of trade unions in the workplace health and safety initiatives is well covered under the primary objectives of unionization. Worker feel safer than even in todays’ working environments due to the efforts of these unions. Various chemicals’ handling procedures have been modified in the benefit of the workers. Worker have been enjoying rights to following due to the efforts of unions in the area of workplace health and safety : -
- A healthy and safe working environment
- Knowing what safety and health hazards are and what they are exposed to at the work
- Having the right to get involved and negotiate how the health risks are dealt with at the workplace
- Determining their reps on safety and health issues
- Refusing unsafe work
After analysing the important role of trade unions in the area of ensuring workplace health and safety, it can be concluded that involvement of trade unions in the workplace health and safety comes under the primary jobs of these unions. Hence, placing focus on workplace health and safety by trade unions does not mean losing focus from primary job.
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