Frank Vaughan interview - health and safety in the workplace

6 Nov 2019

Frank Vaughan

As he prepares to step down from the Board of the HSA after six years, returning to his role as convenor of ICTU’s health and safety committee, Frank Vaughan, presents challenging insights and views on the future of OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) in an interview with Health and Safety Review.

Among the ideas he puts forward are more inspections, a greater focus on health, a stronger role for safety representatives, the appointment of trade union preventative agents (mobile safety representatives), and a new directive on psychosocial risk. He expresses “some concern” that the multiplicity of HSA roles may dilute the focus on OSH. He speaks of his respect for the board and staff of the Authority. 

“Life-long learning was a traditional part of the trade union movement’s mission”

Before joining ICTU in the 1990s, when Peter Cassells was the general secretary, Frank Vaughan had a career in journalism and communications, working with the Irish Family Planning Association on health education, with a period in between as an arts administrator.

He was invited to join Congress to lead a project on the new forms of work. As he talks about that role, he gives an insight into the work of the trade union movement that often goes unnoticed. He explains that at that time Japanese concepts of management were very much in vogue. The buzz words of the time – JIT (just in time), CNC (computer numeric control), TPM (total productive maintenance) – trip off his tongue. 

The purpose of the project was to identify sectors in which union members’ jobs would be vulnerable. An engineering strand worked closely with unions, such as the TEEU and the AEEU, many of whose members had done traditional apprenticeships and spent their working lives with one company. Another vulnerable group were machinists in the clothing industry. A third strand sought to develop management skills for people in the newly established social employment schemes. 

From there he moved on within Congress, where his main responsibility was as head of education and training. He recalls the funding Ireland got from the European Social Fund, the bulk of which went into education and training. He adds that it was money well-spent. In that context he mentions that life-long learning was a traditional part of the trade union movement’s mission, even before the phrase itself was coined. 

Among the courses, he was involved in running were FETAC safety representative courses. He makes the point that ICTU was one of the satellite centres for the UCD OSH certificate course. They would, he recalls, have 25 people on every course, adding that some of that fell away during the recession. He adds that Congress and its affiliated unions also delivered health and safety training as part of the broader training of officials and shop stewards. That, he says, is how he was nominated for the HSA board. 

 Vaughan’s philosophy of a fair society

To understand Frank Vaughan’s approach to health and safety it is necessary to take a step back and understand his philosophical approach, which can be summed up in the words ‘a fair society’. 

The concept of society is a core value of Vaughan’s. He says he has always “baulked at the phrase Ireland Inc” as if the State was just an economic entity, where everything is measured against profit. Speaking of the Value for Money Framework, which is at the heart of public policy, he says public money must be used carefully and wisely, but sometimes such frameworks exclude those who most need help. For that reason, he has a strong dislike of the value for money society. His beliefs are community, solidarity, and human values. There is, he says, a “need to have a vision which takes cognisance of broader issues”. 

It is not surprising, given his role in education and training, that a commitment to life-long learning is a core value for him. People need to develop personal skill sets, which help them get satisfaction from work, which is a huge part of life.

Extracts from Frank Vaughan’s interview with permission of Health and Safety Review

Read the full article here.