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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

You are the people who stand up for Edinburgh's services - New Year message from branch president

This year was dominated by the independence referendum, pay, and the continuing savage cuts to local government. UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch played a major campaigning role in all three.

We ran a hustings early in the referendum campaign and activists on both sides campaigned to ensure that public services and social justice were at the forefront of the debate. Independence, or even the new powers under devolution, are worthless unless politicians are prepared to use the powers to tackle poverty and inequality.

Nowhere does that stand out more than in local government. 40,000 jobs have been lost across Scotland with services cut to the bone. People outsourced by local councils to care for the most vulnerable are paid poverty wages. Even more cuts are to come with more jobs lost and those left behind facing intolerable stresses to keep services going.

It is a disgrace that, amidst all that, politicians line up to criticise local councils while at the same time starving them of the funds they need. The fact is that, independence or enhanced devolution aside, the powers are there to do something about these cuts now. All it takes is politicians with the will to use them.

But there have been successes. We have won the living wage for council staff and the campaign goes on to win the living wage for workers in procured services.

In her first year as branch secretary Amanda Kerr has shown great leadership and built a new outlook on organisation in the branch with members’ surgeries and a ‘member benefits day’ that saw a surge in recruitment.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Health & Safety - Cold weather advice

 We have been approached by members in a number of workplaces complaining both about the cold temperatures and about the failure of management to improve these.

The Council's Frequently Asked Questions section on the Orb states that

"Q1. My office is too hot/cold. What can be done to make it more comfortable?

Normally the temperature in an office should not be less than 16°C. No maximum temperature is specified in the legislation which only requires it to be 'reasonably comfortable'.

By law offices should be provided with thermometers so that you can check the temperature. During times when the main heating or cooling systems break down or when extremes of temperature are experienced (e.g. mid winter or high summer) then temporary heating or cooling can be provided.

Individual preferences on temperature vary and it is often difficult to achieve a temperature that everyone will find comfortable. Most people are happy with a temperature within the range of 18°C and 24°C.

Where the main heating/cooling system is defective then this should be reported through your normal management structure or, in buildings serviced by Facilities Management, to the Facilities Helpdesk.

Q2. There is an uncomfortable draught in our office. I think it might be giving me a frozen shoulder.

The Health and Safety (Workplace) Regulations 1992 require workplaces to be kept free from uncomfortable draughts. Your manager will need to identify the source of the draught and either take action to eliminate the draught or reorganise the arrangement of the workstations to minimise exposure to the draught.

It may be necessary to obtain technical assistance from service areas in the Council who have responsibility for the maintenance of Council properties (e.g. Property Management; Facilities Management)"

Further Information

It is clear that the intention is to maintain a temperature of between 18 - 24 degrees in the working environment. Offices should have access to thermometers so that accurate readings can be taken in the areas where workers are complaining.

The HSE recommend that employers should consider carrying out a Thermal Comfort Risk Assessment where 10% of workers in an air conditioned office or 15% of workers in a naturally ventilated office complain of being too hot or too cold. I would recommend that in any instances where the temperature is out with the 18 - 24 range are reported on a Council Accident/Incident form as it has the potential to cause harm.

It could be that even temperatures within this banding are not acceptable. There are air comfort factors other than temperature for example air quality, wind chill and humidity that can make workers feel uncomfortable in a workplace where on the face of it measurement by temperature alone makes the workplace seem within the guidance.

Particular workers for example pregnant workers, workers with a pre existing medical condition or older workers may suffer within the range. The nature of the work also has an affect.

Wholly sedentary (permanently desk based staff for example) will need a higher workplace temperature to be comfortable than more physically active workers.

Another issue that has come up is that of workers who are required to work outdoors during the severe weather. Your manager is responsible for your Health and Safety. If duties outside a set workplace are part of your job then the Risk Assessment of your job should reflect this. Severe weather is a factor that needs to be taken into account.

If the Risk Assessment doesn't do this then it needs to be revised when severe weather is a factor. Whether workers should be carrying out duties in adverse conditions is a decision for managers to make but they must ensure that the work is safely carried out.

Issues such as lone working, the provision of PPE (protective clothing) or temporary transfer to other duties are amongst the issues that managers may want to consider.

Please ensure that if you complete an accident/incident form it should be forwarded to your manager who should in turn forward it to Health and Safety Section. A copy should also be forwarded to your Safety Representative. If you don't have one on your site please forward it to the Branch Health and Safety Officer, UNISON Branch Office, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

The Health and Safety Executive define a manager's responsibilities for Thermal Comfort with regard to Cold Temperatures as follows; "This section outlines your responsibilities as a manager, and suggests some ways you can improve thermal comfort in the workplace.

· Managing thermal comfort in the workplace

· In organisations where thermal discomfort in indoor environments is a risk, it is vital that management provides a visible commitment to the health and well-being of their employees.

· In many workplaces, thermal discomfort may only occur during unscheduled repair and maintenance work, when heating ventilation and air conditioning systems either break down or don't work as intended, e.g. during the hottest or coldest months. When this occurs, it is important to consider the possible impact of increased thermal discomfort on employees.

· It is the responsibility of management to ensure that a company adapts as necessary to reduce or eliminate the risk of thermal discomfort amongst the employees. If thermal discomfort is a risk, and your employees are complaining and/or reporting illnesses that may be caused by the thermal environment, then you will be required to develop a thermal comfort programme:

· You may need to train and/or re-train staff. Training may be required for the thermal comfort risk assessments, analysis of data, and interpretation of results and implementation of controls. Training may also be required to explain to staff how, by modifying their working practices (such as clothing worn, work rate etc), they may be able to adapt to their thermal environment.

· The thermal conditions may need to be monitored and where possible recorded.

· Health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff that have special requirements such as pregnancy, certain illnesses, disabilities and/or maybe taking medication. Medical advice should be sought if necessary.

· Adequate and appropriate risk assessment procedures are essential. Records of all procedures and results should be kept as part of your risk management programme.

· Working habits and current practices need to be reviewed periodically and (where necessary) changed, to meet your obligations to control the risks your employees may face. When people are too cold You can help ensure thermal comfort when working in the cold by:

· providing adequate workplace heating, e.g. portable heaters; · reducing cold exposure by designing processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products where possible;

· reducing draughts;

· providing insulating floor coverings or special footwear when workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors;

· providing appropriate protective clothing for cold environments

· introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, e.g. flexible working patterns, job rotation;

· allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas".

If you have any queries about problems in your workplace please contact your local Safety Representative or the Branch Health and Safety Officer.

Dave McConnell
Branch Health and Safety Officer

Friday, 5 December 2014

UNISON response to Edinburgh cuts - government must put cash in

As Edinburgh fights to find £67 million in cuts on top of almost £200 million in recent years, UNISON’s Edinburgh Branch is calling on the Scottish Government to put cash in now ‘before local services disappear for ever’.

“All the salami slicing has now been done. Reorganisations, back office cuts that create more work and are false economies, and a wage freeze have delivered as much as they can and we are going to see frontline services disappearing never to return”, warned John Stevenson, UNISON Edinburgh branch president.

“Councils like Edinburgh cannot wait for a review of funding a year down the road. The Scottish Government must step in now before local government becomes unviable.”

UNISON has yet to consult on the detail of the budget cuts but it is warning that lessons from the past need to be learned. It understands that a neighbourhood system is envisaged with cuts at middle management level. This is deeply worrying in several services which are only able to carry on functioning because managers are covering for staff shortages and to manage huge workloads. The dangers of undermanaged services for staff and for service users have been writ large in Edinburgh before and in other authorities.

Aberdeen had a neighbourhood system that was roundly condemned in a child protection inspection. Edinburgh had a neighbourhood system a few years ago that cost £9 million and lost direct lines of accountability for social work which was also criticised in an inspection. Any new system must learn from these lessons.

UNISON will also be demanding that the council sticks to its no compulsory redundancy pledge.

“One of the biggest pressures faced by councils amidst the cuts is the growing need for social care and children’s services. These are all provided directly by people, many of whom are paid a pittance. Cut the people and you cut the services”, added UNISON’s Tom Connolly who is secretary for the staff side of all the council unions.

“Labour and the SNP have shown in Edinburgh that they can work together and we are calling on them to stand up for the services they were elected to protect”.