As a safety rep, you are entitled to investigate complaints, carry out regular inspections and receive information and be consulted by your employer. The law gives you a range of rights and powers to fulfil your role without imposing any legal responsibilities on you.

Safety reps are democratically elected/appointed by members without the need to consult with employers and are entitled to receive facilities and support for their work as safety rep. While one NEU safety rep will usually be sufficient in most schools, more than one can be appointed.

Role of health and safety rep

Regulation 4, which sets out the functions of safety reps, gives them the legal right to:

  • investigate potential hazards and dangerous occurrences and examine the causes of accidents at the workplace;
  • investigate complaints by any employee they represent;
  • make representations to the employer on matters arising out of the above;
  • make representations to the employer on general matters affecting health, safety and welfare at work;
  • carry out inspections of the workplace in a variety of circumstances; and
  • represent employees in consultations at the workplace with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors and receive information from them.   

The “workplace” is not restricted to the school but is defined in Regulation 2 as “any places which the employees represented are likely to frequent in the course of their employment”.
All of these functions are legal rights which the employer is bound to observe.  The subsequent Regulations and the accompanying ACOP and guidance notes set out in more detail how safety reps can exercise these rights.  Appendix 2 summarises the various circumstances in which inspections and investigations can be carried out and the rest of this briefing considers these matters in detail.
The job of safety rep will, of course, involve other matters as well, in particular keeping members consulted and informed.  Appendix 1 sets out the NEU's basic "job description" for safety reps.  Safety reps should know and understand their rights and functions, but shouldn't be put off by them!  Taking on the role of safety rep does not create any legal obligations.  
A system for union health and safety representatives to use to report serious concerns to the HSE was launched in September 2014.  The HSE’s ‘Concerns and Advice Form for Safety Representatives’ which can be submitted by post or on-line, is intended to be used only when other formal processes have been exhausted.
Where a health and safety representative believes there to have been a breach in the law which the employer fails to resolve, the health and safety representative should raise the issue with a senior union representative (for the NEU this will be the health and safety adviser) or paid union official.  If, despite doing this, the issue still remains unresolved, the health and safety representative has the option of contacting the HSE

Watch and listen to NEU health and safety reps on making schools safe

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    Find out:
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    • how to make best use of your school's CO2 monitors

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    NEU H&S reps making schools safe

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    Jenny works as a music teacher and is passionate about keeping her pupils and staff safe at her school. Being part of a union helps her to run campaigns to change things for the better, not only in her school but in others too.

Guidance and resources for health and safety rep

  • Advice Man in hard hat with checklist on clipboard
    Managing Health and Safety

    This briefing considers the management of health and safety in schools and colleges and the respective roles of the employer, governing body, head teacher and other staff of the school.