Organize and survive: unions and health and safety ‐ a case study of an engineering unionized workforce

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 1 April 1996


The question of health and safety at work is a central issue for trade unions. In Britain it is an area of concern where there were important legislative initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s, although surprisingly this has received relatively little attention in the debates about trade unionism. This neglect results in an aspect of union activity about which little is known. Explores through a detailed longitudinal study of a middle‐range engineering firm, from the late 1970s into the 1990s, the ways in which trade unions organize and act on health and safety questions. Argues that it is almost “routine” that workers face dangers and hazards at work, a central feature of the work and employment experience of most workers. However, this is often difficult to deal with as individual issues, or as matters which are subject to collective consideration. On the one hand, workers often appear to accept the dangers and hazards they face. On the other hand, managements are preoccupied with questions relating to production and finance, rather than the day‐to‐day problems faced by workers. This tension suggests that the future wellbeing of workers in unionized workplaces lies not so much with legislative provisions and rights at work, but in education and the organizing ability of workplace unions, raising and addressing what often seem like individualistic problems in collective ways.



Fairbrother, P. (1996), "Organize and survive: unions and health and safety ‐ a case study of an engineering unionized workforce", Employee Relations, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 5-88.

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Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited

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