02. A walk in the park

Some time ago, I was training safety reps on how to carry out workplace inspections. It was a sunny day, so we took a short walk to a local park to put the theory into practice. In a five minute inspection the 12 new reps identified some low hanging branches and a pile of dog's mess on a section of uneven paving slabs.

I was sceptical and asked if anyone had talked to any of the ground maintenance workers. The answer was "no". So we wandered over to the Tudor Lodge where the park keepers were based. When we asked if there were any safety issues worth reporting the response from the keeper was, “no, not really.”

After we persuaded him that we were not from management, he reconsidered. “Well, except that I get assaulted about twice a day, usually when we have to get people to leave the park late at night.” He then pointed to an axe mark in the Tudor door frame where he had been attacked the week before.

We looked inside the medieval building crammed full of gardening tools and a rep asked: "It's much smaller than I imagined, where is your toilet?” The answer was: “There isn't one. I have to use McDonald’s across the road.”

By now he was opening up. “My first job every morning is to walk round the park benches picking up the syringes which appear overnight.” After a few minutes we found out that he was employed via an agency, worked a 14-hour shift during the summer and had no way of communicating with his office because the walkie-talkie had been broken for months.

A short conversation with a park worker, uncovered issues around potential needlestick injuries, training needs, excessive hours, welfare facilities and assaults. Without any input from the workforce, the safety report was useless. What is the most important thing to remember when becoming a union safety rep? Make sure you spend most of your time talking to people!