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RCN safety reps have been keeping members safe in their workplaces for decades but what does their role involve?

Imagine working in a place with no regard for safety. Where fire exits are blocked, slips and trips occur routinely, assaults against staff are commonplace and equipment is faulty and dangerous.

Despite legislation being in place for many years, there are still a number of health and safety issues in the workplace, including work-related stress and musculoskeletal injuries. 

Employers need to understand the importance of health and safety; staff are a valuable asset so protecting them is sensible – and a legal requirement. 

A safe working environment doesn’t happen by chance. It requires commitment, knowledge, partnership working, plus a lot of hard work. Which is where RCN safety reps come in.

Safety reps do remarkable things, sometimes unnoticed, often behind the scenes. But the focus of everything they do is ensuring that members are able to carry out their work without risk of harm to themselves or their patients.

A safe working environment doesn’t happen by chance

Cath Jones, a neonatal sister at Wrexham Maelor Hospital (pictured above), is an RCN safety rep and the role brings her immense satisfaction. 

“Making sure that members’ concerns have been resolved and that you’ve got a healthy workforce out there – that’s the greatest reward,” she says.

She works on a wide range of safety issues, from problems with heating to serious incidents reviews and the implementation of safe staffing legislation. The historic Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act became law in 2016. 

There are also meetings to attend, inspections and assessments to carry out, and various laws and directives to digest and understand. 

Trade union legislation allows reps to take time off from their substantive post to carry out union duties. Even so, on top of her role in a neonatal baby unit and her work as an RCN steward, isn’t all that extra work too much to fit in? 

“It is a lot but it’s thoroughly rewarding and totally enjoyable,” Cath says. “And the feedback from members is very satisfying.”  

She has been a safety rep since 2008 but the training never stops. Cath doesn't need to know about everything of course, but she does need an overview and know who and where to go for advice and support. RCN officers offer valuable support and close networks mean there is always someone to ask for advice. 

Safety reps are also vital cogs in the RCN’s campaign work, spreading messages about initiatives such as Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel and Healthy Workplace, Healthy You.

European Week for Safety and Health at Work runs from 21 to 25 October and is a good reason for members to meet with their RCN safety rep and find out more about what they do to make your workplace safer. You may even be interested in joining them in changing things for the better.

RCN safety reps are absolutely vital to protecting our members from harm and working with us to ensure nursing staff are able to work in safe and healthy settings. If you’re interested in finding out more about the role we’d love to hear from you.
Kim Sunley, RCN National Officer

Further information

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