Are you interested in Health and Safety within your work area?

Sheffield UCU is intending to expand its work in the field of Health and Safety (H&S), both by increasing our team of H&S reps, and also by raising awareness among members of what your H&S rights are, and how you can advocate for them. While the legal rights of workers have been significantly reduced since the end of the 1970s, H&S legislation remains relatively strong and provides significant opportunities for collective representation in ways that make a real difference to all those working at and attending the University. Trade Union H&S representatives are therefore an important role in all workplaces, and have a legal right to time off to perform their duties. 

This activity is not limited to matters such as ensuring fire exits are kept clear, hazardous substances are handled correctly and tripping hazards are removed, but many areas that impinge in the daily operation of the institution, including stress and mental health problems, which have reached epidemic proportions across the HE sector. In the past, employer response to workplace stress has often unfortunately been to treat it as a solely individual issue, rather than recognising the systemic and collective causes which can underpin it.


Stress Risk Assessments at the University

Employers have a legal duty to protect workers from stress at work by undertaking a risk assessment and acting on it. They are required to assess the risk of stress, and its impact on mental and physical ill-health, in the same way as other work-related health and safety risks. 

In recent years, we have worked with the new leadership of Health and Safety Services to develop a Stress Risk Management policy to ensure the university is compliant with its obligations.

Stress management includes addressing matters of excessive workload, inadequate training, bullying and other institutional problems with which we are only too familiar. Given the large-scale restructuring underway at the institution, it is essential we know our rights and hold management to account on these questions, and that means we need more people actively taking a role in H&S matters.


Constructive engagement in the approach to H&S

There has been a significant improvement in the institution’s management of H&S in the last two years, and this has provided opportunities for constructive engagement. 

During the pandemic Campus Unions pushed the University to increase ventilation, install CO2 monitors in naturally ventilated spaces and issue staff guidance on reporting risk and vacating unsafe working spaces. After very strong initial resistance, we managed to achieve these things, which form a crucial part of protecting people not only from COVID-19 but also influenza and the other respiratory infections that are common across the institution. 

We need to build on these achievements and ensure the University is a safe place to work and study, but we cannot rely on management to prioritise staff welfare when institutional pressures are to maximise workloads and marginalise professional concerns in order to compete with ‘rivals’.


Become a Health & Safety Rep

H&S representatives are essential to participate in inspections, sometimes alongside management, but often independently, to hold them to account. We need to ensure all risk assessments are, in the legal language, ‘suitable and sufficient,’ and that the policies we have negotiated are being adhered to. We need people to participate in departmental H&S meetings and to ensure staff priorities are being taken seriously.

If you are interested in getting involved in H&S work, or becoming a H&S rep, please do get in touch, via

Employers have an obligation to provide time off normal duties for TU representatives to perform H&S duties – such vital work can be carried out in addition to your day job, but workload remission is essential. Depending on the level at which you are prepared to be involved, UCU provides a range of training, which the employer must also enable you to attend. This might range from shadowing experienced representatives on an inspection to attending a formal course run by the regional union – it is up to you to decide how much you want to be involved, but at all levels of involvement, the work is meaningful and makes a real difference to all colleagues.