Fifteen things every unionist should know about OHS

This advice is reproduced from the AMWU's OHS Manual, and we think it's excellent advice.

  1. The twin goals of a union Health & Safety Program are to improve working conditions and to build the union. They are equally important. In fact, you can't do either one well unless you do both.
  2. Management has different goals, even enlightened management. They may care about safety in its own right, but are probably more concerned about workers compensation costs. (And building the union is never one of the management's goals.)
  3. What you do with the company on Health & Safety is a form of collective bargaining. Even if you don't see it that way, they do.
  4. Health and Safety isn't a technical issue. Technical knowledge helps. But there are plenty of places to get technical information. Strategy and organisation are much more important.
  5. Every workplace needs a union health and safety committee. You should set one up even if you don't have a joint health and safety committee. You don't need the employer's permission to establish a union committee.
  6. It's also good to have a joint health and safety committee, with representatives from the union and from management. The joint committee is a good way to resolve health and safety problems.
  7. Even if you have a joint committee, you still need a union committee. The union committee can be the union H&S Reps on the joint committee, or a larger group.
  8. The union members of the joint committee should meet by themselves as often as they meet with management. You need separate meetings to set union priorities and plan strategy. Can you imagine what would happen if the union delegates met only with the company at enterprise agreement time and never with the members?
  9. You should never, ever, allow the company to appoint your H&S Reps or to veto the union's choices, or dismiss your representatives from their union positions. Never. Ever.
  10. Union H&S Reps should be promoting health & safety in a way that builds the loyalty and commitment of the union's membership. That means involving the membership whenever you can. And it means good communication with your membership, both written and by word of mouth.
  11. "Behaviour" contributes to some accidents. But hazards cause all of them. And it is easier to fix hazards than to change human nature.
  12. Safety programs that focus on behaviour tell our members that they are the problem. In fact, our members and their union are the solution.
  13. The best way to find hazards is for union H&S Reps to talk to every worker about his or her job, and how to make it safer and easier. It's even better to enlist that member in pushing for improvements.
  14. And what's the best way to build the union through health and safety? See #13, above.
  15. You're not alone. You have lots of resources through the AMWU. Delegates, Organisers, State Union Health & Safety Officers, National Health & Safety Officer, yearly Health and Safety Booklet, quarterly newsletter, website, training courses etc.

The AMWU's has OHS information on its website.

We've published "Getting OHS Representation Right: A Workers' Guide to Occupational Health and Safety" Share it with your coworkers or leave a copy next to your union noticeboard. It could save lives!

Last updated July 2022