From Technician to Union health and Safety officer – A Journey

Beverley Merry from the Faculty of Biological Sciences tells us about her role as the Unite Health and Safety Officer.

I have been a technician here at the University for nearly 40 years and have worked in many different disciplines from human cell culture to plant and soil biology so I consider that I have a good grasp of health and safety in the laboratory setting. Indeed, all those years ago we never had risk assessments and COSHH forms so I have seen the development of a better safety culture throughout my career.

I have always been a union member from what was ASTMS to what is now Unite as I believe that workers’ rights are worth fighting for and we need to continue to fight to retain the hard-won rights from the past. We also need to take on new issues that occur at work such as threats to our pensions, working hours etc. We did not get the rights that we enjoy today (paid holidays, 35 hour working week, maternity leave etc.) without our predecessors fighting for them in the past.

With this, and improving H&S in mind, I became a H&S rep about 12 years ago and discovered that Unite provides brilliant training which reps have a right to paid time off to attend under law. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 section 2 says that employers have to consult with safety reps and form safety committees where there are recognized trade unions so where H&S matters are concerned management and union reps are treated as equals. I am also quite an inquisitive person by nature so the right to go and inspect other areas and see what goes on there was very attractive to me!

Having done a lot of union H&S training, when the opportunity to do the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational H&S was offered to me I jumped at the chance. I got funding from my PI, Head of School and Faculty to do the training over 14 weeks at Leeds City College. The course was very intense and hard work but I got my qualification in summer 2017 and this gave me the confidence to be able to challenge management on issues and ultimately lead to me taking on the Unite H&S officer role last year.

Workers Memorial DayOne of my first roles on becoming H&S officer was to organise the International Workers Memorial Day event last April which the Trade Union Congress (TUC) organises every year to remember all the people who have been killed at work both locally and around the world. This was a challenge but I managed to get the VC and a local MP to speak. I now attend inspections and committee meetings all over campus and I am seeing parts of the University that I never knew existed. I also attend regular meetings with the Director of H&S services and University-wide events such as the VC awards, and new Chancellor Installation. I sit on the University Health and Safety Committee alongside colleagues from Unison and UCU. The role has opened up a new chapter as I enter the last few years of my career and has opened a few doors that were previously closed to me.

Beverley Merry

Research Technician and Unite HSO.

Posted in: