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Health and Safety

Mental health – top tips from Ruby Wax, but can we also fix the structures?

We are pleased to see that our new Chancellor Ruby Wax has given a short interview in the latest staff magazine, drawing attention to mental health. [intranet only] This is clearly very well-intentioned, and a welcome intervention. Ruby reminds us to look out for the signs that someone is distressed and to be more open and honest about mental health matters. Like Wellfest – the University’s day of wellbeing – the message is aimed more at students than staff, but nonetheless this interview is a positive start to Ruby’s tenure.

UCU will be running and participating in events next week to raise awareness about workloads and stress and mental health. We hope that senior managers will begin to recognise that a key factor in reducing mental ill-health and a lack of wellbeing are structural factors e.g. excessive workloads, intolerable and unachievable performance expectations and metrics, and (as the staff survey shows) lack of the resources and support needed to do one’s job. Whilst we want to encourage healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness activities, we recognise that half an hour of these a week will not address the cultural and organisational contexts that staff and students report as damaging to their mental health and wellbeing.

Next week is UCU recruitment week and Mental Health Awareness week and so our events will focus on wellbeing at work and what we can do to help remove the stigma and discrimination that people living and working with a mental health condition or issue face. Please come along and talk to us about what you would like us to do to address wellbeing in the workplace – our reps/officers will be very interested to hear your ideas.

Schedule of events:

Monday 13 May – 1-2pm, room 2/1079, Highfield Wellbeing – An interactive session for all staff
This session will start with a brief presentation from Dr Sarah Kirby, a registered Health Psychologist in the Department of Psychology. Sarah is the FELS Wellbeing champion and has been actively engaged in this field of work for many years. Following this introductory overview, there will be an interactive discussion during which colleagues can raise their own concerns and/or concerns on behalf of their friends and colleagues.
The session will be mainly focused on well-being and everyday hassles, barriers, challenges and opportunities. The session is open to all staff, whether union members or not.

Tuesday 14 May – 12.30-1.30pm, room 58/1025, Highfield
Our sister union, Unison, will be running a Lunch and Learn event – How to Deal with Stress
Places are limited so to book a place please email unison@soton.ac.uk

Wednesday 15 May – 10-4pm, Garden Court
The University is hosting Wellfest and there will be mindfulness sessions running at 10 am and 1pm as well as other events. UCU will be hosting an infostand at the event, so please come along to say hello, pick up some information and share your ideas on how to improve wellbeing at the university. Free gifts available.

Thursday 16 May – 12-2pm, Staff club
Visit our infostand in the foyer of the staff club and discuss how you would like the University to address wellbeing and support staff facing mental health issues/concerns. Free gifts available.

Friday 17 May – 4pm onwards, Arlott bar
End the week with a coffee/beer and relax with UCU reps, officers and fellow members for an informal gathering.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our events. And please do feel free to pass this information on to non-member colleagues and encourage them to join UCU.

Health and safety – shared concerns

At our General meeting last year, we reported that the branch was experiencing problems trying to engage with the senior management to address serious safety concerns at this University. Managing risks to the health of staff and students is, and should be, a shared concern. This is an area where the trades unions can work in partnership to keep us all safe and well. Sadly that partnership is breaking down.

Nationally UCEA (the body that represents employers), the trades unions, and USHA have agreed that “in exercising their statutory functions, trade union health and safety representatives have a key role to play in representing the views of staff groups, participating in employers’ health and safety consultation structures and promoting opportunities for joint working and collaboration”. This is something that we want senior managers to recognise. This role for trades union representatives makes sense; union reps are ‘on the ground’ in our workplaces, and so can monitor safety and take action to address risks. Crucially, they are also protected by health and safety legislation, making it possible for them to speak out when needed.

The TUC describes the benefits of the ‘union effect’ on health and safety: organised workplaces are safer workplaces and, when asked, 70% of new trade union members say that health and safety is a “very important” union issue (more important than pay). UCU health and safety representatives across the UK make a real difference in Universities, helping to prevent workplace hazards, injuries and accidents, and intervening on matters ranging from open plan offices to excessive workloads, and prevention of bullying, through to fire safety and the storage of chemicals.

We are saddened that our attempts to work with the University to ensure and improve the health, safety and welfare of staff, students and visitors, appear to have been thwarted in recent months. In the closing months of last year this manifested in the senior management’s repeated refusal to hold an emergency Joint Negotiating Committee meeting, delayed responses to communications about our concerns, and a refusal to allow our national H&S officer to support our representatives undertaking an inspection. We had invited our national H&S official to support our H&S reps in an inspection of Building 53 because we have long had serious concerns about safety, following casework related to staff sickness, problematic water quality, and a dangerous incident with a pressurised system. Despite giving ample notice of this inspection UCU, were told at short notice that our official, Adam Lincoln, was banned from entering the building. Adam frequently accompanies UCU reps in such inspections across the country and at our General Meeting he wryly observed that he had found it easier to conduct such inspections in some of the UK’s most challenging prisons than here.

We had hoped that by undertaking this inspection we could clarify the actions needed to protect people working in this building. Reluctantly, because of the serious nature of the threats to health and well-being, the joint campus trades unions decided to report our concerns to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We are awaiting their response.

UCU are now taking the unprecedented step of detailing our concerns here in the hope that the senior managers will take action to protect staff and students. We are concerned about the following reported hazards and threats to health and wellbeing:

1. We do not believe that senior managers have enacted appropriate control measures, mitigation and remedial actions in Building 53 in response to concerns listed in our previous communications to the employer (beginning in 2014) and as set out in the formal complaint to the HSE (also copied to the senior management). The health and safety risks to staff health and wellbeing posed by significant structural defects with Building 53, include but are not limited to:

a. pipework in this building has been installed incorrectly and uses wrong and incompatible components. This has led to several “minor” incidents and at least one spectacular, and potentially fatal, near miss.

b. exposure of staff (and potentially students) to harmful dust that includes a category one sensitising agent, and that several colleagues appear have been harmed

c. potential drainage problems, due to drains that are not constructed of appropriate material

In addition to these specific issues in Building 53 we have raised further concerns that:

d. Near-miss and incident information is not being passed on from the safety office to Departmental managers

e. The campus trades unions are experiencing difficulty in obtaining safety information from the University about halls of residence, notably pertaining to fire safety and cladding.

2. We do not believe that effective or appropriate health and safety consultation arrangements are in place across the University to enable the University, its employees and recognised trade union representatives to cooperate effectively. The reorganisation of trade union representatives on the Health and Safety Committees and forums represents a negative shift away from a culture of joint working and cooperation.

3. The Joint trades unions Joint negotiating Committee (JJNC) is the appropriate body to resolve disputes and disagreements in relation to these matters. The senior management have refused repeated requests for an emergency JJNC to discuss matters relating to Building 53.

We will be reiterating the concerns outlined above to the senior management.  We have offered to resolve B53 issues via a working group and joint inspections and we hope to be able to tell members that we have made progress soon.  Please tell us if you have additional health and safety concerns about your workplace at the University.

When he spoke at our General Meeting last year, Adam Lincoln outlined the new UCU Workloads campaign designed to tackle the problems associated with the ever-increasing workloads. Following the sad death, from suicide, of a colleague at Cardiff last year we feel impelled to speak out about workload-related stress at University of Southampton. We note the successful campaign at Liverpool Hope University which resulted in the HSE serving an enforcement notice on that University for failing to properly assess workplace stress risks. [apologies, for the paywall]. At our General Meeting last year, members agreed that we needed to run the workload campaign locally, and we are recruiting a number of new Health and Safety representatives who will focus only on these workload concerns. This will be a key UCU branch priority for 2019. If you think you can help, or want to find out more please contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk).

While we are here we would also like to promote the Hazards Campaign manifesto for a ‘safety system fit for workers’. Launching the manifesto Janet Newsham said: “Work contributes to a huge amount of public ill-health, to health inequality, lower life expectancy, fewer years of healthy life, kills over 50,000 people in the UK each year, makes millions ill, injures over half a million and the quality of jobs contributes to poverty and ill-health. But all of this is preventable. The right framework of strong laws, strict enforcement and support for active worker and union participation will have massive payback for workers, employers and whole economy.” The campaign seeks to create “a health and safety system based on prevention, precaution and participation of strong active unions.” Southampton UCU are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and students and we hope that the senior management shares this commitment.

New Year – New Hopes

This time last year we were preparing for what turned out to be the biggest and longest strike action taken at this branch – to protect our USS pensions. UCU members came out in the rain and snow (and occasionally in the sunshine) in unprecedented numbers to defend their defined benefit pension. UCU made a clear case that our pensions are deferred salary and that the proposed changes and cuts to benefits were unacceptable, coming as they had after years of below inflation pay settlements and significant increases in workloads.

The strike campaign revealed fundamental flaws in the valuation of the pension, and in the way that many of our employers – including our own VC – represented our interests in negotiations with USS. Our pressure on our employers won concessions from USS, not least the establishment of the JEP, which reviewed the methodology and valuation of our pension. Unfortunately, intransigence on the part of USS and some employers means that we have to continue to press USS to implement all the recommendations of the JEP. To that end this branch has written an open letter to our VC Sir Christopher Snowden to ask him to ensure that the JEP recommendations are implemented.

Against the backdrop of this vital national campaign about USS, this branch was busy in 2018 supporting UCU members facing job cuts and highly disruptive organisational change. We helped staff facing Voluntary Severance across several departments, and those affected by Voluntary Redundancy in Health Sciences. We were sad and angry that the VC and senior managers reneged on earlier promises of ‘no more reorganisations’. Once again we found ourselves having to protect individual members and groups facing threats to their livelihoods. Sadly it was often necessary for us to push the senior management to adhere to employment law and recognise the damage of poorly managed organisational change.

Members of the branch attended numerous consultations with senior management on a range of issues from the project restructuring our Faculties from 8 to 5, as well as reviews of professional services, and closures of units. We constantly asked senior management to follow, and where necessary, improve, policies.  Over the course of 2018 we were forced to raise many concerns, in particular, about the abuse of appraisal and performance metrics. Members also raised complaints about the introduction of the new Clarity travel system and, thanks to positive engagement by the senior management side with UCU, many initial problems were resolved. We will continue, of course, to take your complaints about the new travel process to the management team – please let us know of  difficulties you experience.

In 2018 we lobbied the University Council as part of our campaign to improve University governance. We highlighted staff and student concerns about the cuts to frontline staff and dissatisfaction with the excessive rates of pay for both the VC and the ever growing number of senior managers. Linked to this, and prompted by members we created a petition about the new VC, and you may have seen that the UCU elves reiterated our demands before the Christmas break. We will continue to push the university to improve senior management.

Throughout the strike and beyond we had several successful branch General Meetings and these were well attended and sparked vigorous debate. We held three branch strategy days, and have been able to offer training for new representatives. We have outlined priorities for the branch in 2019 as follows:
Better Governance – more diversity in membership of key governance committees and restore effective staff representation at Senate and more public sector and education to Council.
Improve Appraisals – fix the many problems with new appraisal metrics and processes to restore the positive and developmental appraisal process negotiated with UCU
Ensure Equality – focus on the gender pay gap and take action on unconscious bias
Deliver Living Wage – work with sister unions to ensure living wage for all staff at the University and push for fairer VC and senior management salaries
Defend Health and Safety – focus on excessive workloads and overwork culture at the university, stamp out bullying and harassment, but also continue to push senior managers to mitigate serious risks to health of staff and students.

Alongside these our network of volunteer caseworkers and reps will continue to support members across the University. As ever the more members we have the stronger we are – so please do speak to your colleagues about joining UCU. We will be continuing our series of UCU workshops and Take a lunch break meet ups. We welcome ideas from you about how to get members involved in the work of the local branch.

As we head into Semester 2 we will retain our optimism for 2019. Let us hope that the new VC is able and willing to listen to frontline staff and our students, and will work with us to improve our University.

Workloads matter

Thanks to all members who attended the GM last week. We were really pleased to have Adam Lincoln, the Bargaining and Negotiations Official (Health, Safety and Sustainability) from UCU HQ as our speaker. Adam reminded us of the sad death of a colleague at Cardiff who took his own life after expressing concerns about being overloaded, UCU have for a long time been aware of rising workplace stress and staff concerns about workloads. Indeed action on workloads this was one of the elements in our recent pay claim. We know it is of concern to many of you especially following the recent round of cuts to staff which has seen the reallocation of their work to already over-burdened staff.

Adam told us about a new UCU campaign to build a network of workload reps who can use the Health and Safety legislation and legal protections to address workload stress and overload. This will begin with a process of identifying and appointing H&S workload reps in target departments. If you care about rising workloads talk to us about becoming a workload rep for your department – this is a small, defined role that means you can do your bit to make a difference. If you want to help please do volunteer – contact Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk). (The ppt slides and campaign packs on workloads are available from the UCU office).

 

If you can’t stand the heat?

Your branch continues to be busy with lots of casework and more redundancy threats but last week we had a new kind of firefighting to do as several members asked us about regulations for workplace temperatures.

SUSSED offers helpful advice for staff and students about staying safe in the sun, but some of us found the lack of guidance from senior management on staying safe and well within overheating buildings disappointing. We asked senior management to address this lack of information and support but were told that they believed that line managers were dealing with this appropriately at a local level.

The recent thunderstorms and rain have reduced the temperature but we urge colleagues who experience uncomfortable work environments to report the issue as a health and safety concern. The University ‘Adverse Weather policy’ promises that the University “Will ensure that they take additional care during adverse weather and don’t do anything which may put themselves at risk”. Managers should make sure staff are aware of this policy. The HSE also provide useful advice about heat stress on their website. Incident reporting can be done on-line and if you find a room too hot to work in this can be reported to Estates and Facilities call x27474 or email efhelp@soton.ac.uk with the room number and state it is a Priority One call.

Some managers signposted actions we can take when our workplaces become too hot and we’d like to give a shout out to the fab managers in Chemistry who circulated helpful advice and allowed staff to alter working patterns, and alerted them to adaptations required to ensure sensible and safe working conditions.

Adverse weather conditions – hot or cold – are of course not under the control of University, but the University does have a duty of care to staff and students. We continue to push them to support our wellbeing, and as ever UCU are here for you – rain or shine – to help make your working lives better.