Risks 31 - 8 December 2001

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issue no 31 - 8 December 2001

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to Owen Tudor.

Risks is the TUC’s weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 2,500 subscribers and 1,000 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer Privacy The TUC website lists future health and safety events in What’s On - new events are covered below.

Safety reps turn professional after TUC training

The TUC has told an HSC sub-committee that 160 union safety reps have secured professional health and safety status through TUC training. Under an arrangement between the TUC and the health and safety professionals' body IOSH, safety reps who pass through the three stages of TUC safety rep training - culminating in the TUC Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health - are able to register to become Technician Safety Practitioners and use the initials TechSP after their name. Four safety reps have gone further, and have qualified as full Members of IOSH (MIOSH). TUC told HSC the new qualified and credentialed safety reps are part of a growing pool of talent from which Worker Safety Advisers (WSAs) can be picked by unions. WSAs will visit non-union workplaces and advise on worker involvement and consultation in health and safety under the HSC pilot scheme, due to start in January.

Jobcentre staff set to strike for safety

Thousands of workers in benefit offices and jobcentres are to stage a two-day strike in a dispute over the removal of security screens. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) will walk out on Wednesday and Thursday unless their concerns about safety in new-style jobcentres are met. The decision by the union's executive followed a ballot in favour of taking up to five days strike action every month until the dispute is settled. Mark Serwotka, the union's general secretary, said: "Benefits staff do not take strike action lightly and this ballot result shows that they are prepared to make a major financial sacrifice to ensure their safety at work. Now's the time for management to get back in to talks with PCS and avert this damaging action. We will not gamble with staff safety and will press ahead with our campaign until we can agree a satisfactory solution."

TUC backs occupational health drive in construction

The TUC is backing a report calling for a national occupational health scheme to tackle work related ill-health in the construction industry. The report, The case for a national occupational health scheme for the construction industry, was launched at the TUC by George Brumwell, general secretary of construction union UCATT. He highlighted 'the urgent need to make the industry a healthier place to work. As well as having one of the worst safety records, construction remains one of the least healthy environments to work in.' Frances O’Grady, head of organisation and services at the TUC, said: 'It is only through tackling occupational ill-health that the industry can deal with issues such as skills shortages, days lost due to ill-health and the early retirement of skilled workers.' Health minister Hazel Blears MP and HSC chair Bill Callaghan also spoke at the launch.

Marine pilots win the right to stand together for safety

Pilots on the Humber estuary have won an historic settlement in the Court of Appeal. Tension between the Humber pilots, members of the T&G union, and AB Ports (ABP) had started to rise as the company pressed for cost-cutting measures that raised 'very real safety concerns for the future of the Humber pilotage service.' The union’s maritime pilots’ association said ABP attempts to introduce measures including reduced entry qualifications and slashed training times would undermine safety. The company had sought to block union industrial action in defence of existing standards. ABP argued the pilots were self-employed so couldn’t take collective action. At the Court of Appeal, however, Lord Justice Mummary ruled that an injunction preventing industrial action on these grounds should be overturned and refused the company leave to appeal to the House of Lords. T&G said the ruling 'was a victory for all contractors.'

Report on teachers' workload is 'weak on remedies'

Responding to the publication of the final report of a government commissioned Study into Teachers' Workload, Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: "Like the interim version published last August (Risks 15), the Final Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is strong on description of the problem but lamentably weak on remedies.' He added: "Now that PwC has completed its work, discussions must start between government, unions and employers to focus upon effective remedies… Such talks must succeed and be seen to make progress quickly, otherwise NASUWT, along with the three other unions (ATL, NUT and UsCAC) will have no option but to rely upon the common resolution carried at their conferences earlier this year, to establish a reasonable length to the working week.'

RMT says driverless trains are a mad idea

Rail union RMT has said it would be 'complete madness' to replace trained Underground drivers with 'train captains'. RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow called the idea 'ludicrous', adding: "Who would be on hand to evacuate passengers if a train broke down? The so-called new grade of train captain, employed to interact with passengers, would not have a driver's training. He or she would be completely unable to evacuate large numbers of passengers who were packed tightly into carriages. This madcap idea calls into question the sanity of London Underground managers.' He added that a better focus of their energies would be service improvement 'rather than doing away with trained drivers."

Staff as well as customers say no to smoky pubs

It is not only customers who prefer pubs that are less smoky but staff as well, according to new research. Speaking at the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association’s annual conference, Mike Pitts, an independent consultant who carries out air quality audits, said: 'Eighty-four per cent of staff prefer working in a ventilated area and search for a pub they would like to work in.' He added that the employees of well-ventilated pubs were likely to stay longer and take less time off sick than those who work in smoky environments. This in itself would pay for the investment that licensees have made in ventilation systems, he said. Australian hotel and bar workers’ union LHMU this week called for gaming machine approvals in hotels to be conditional on the companies providing resources for workplace anti-smoking initiatives.

Bill seeks to tackle workplace bullies

A Dignity at Work Bill to tackle workplace bullying has been introduced in the House of Lords. If enacted, it would penalise persistent bullies and employers who allow bullying to take place. The Bill was introduced by Baroness Gibson who until joining the Lords was a TUC representative on the HSC. It says all employees "shall have a right to dignity at work", with lapses deemed a breach of contract. The Manufacturing Science and Finance union has been campaigning to have the bill tabled in parliament. General secretary Roger Lyons said: "This bill is very important because it will give employees the right not to be bullied at work and will set out clear definitions of bullying behaviour." An estimated 40 million working days are lost every year because of bullying, costing industry up to £4 billion.

Protest highlights the need for deaths action

Thirty supporters of the Simon Jones Memorial campaign blockaded Euromin's Shoreham dock where Simon Jones was killed in 1998. The 3 December protest followed the failure last week of manslaughter cases against the company and its general manager (Risks 30). A Simon Jones Memorial Campaign briefing reported a number of lorries were stopped from entering and leaving the dock, and added that Euromin's on-site offices were occupied and a giant banner reading "Simon Jones - killed by casualisation" hung from a dockside lighting rig. Five protesters were arrested. Jo Makepeace of the campaign said: "The law currently puts very little value on the lives of workers. The message to companies is that it makes good business sense to pay small fines rather than take steps to ensure that workers aren't killed or injured. Our action today was intended to send out a very different message - that if the law won't take action against killer companies, we will.'

Sickness 'costing UK economy £23bn a year'

The Confederation of British Industry has warned that absence from work due to sickness is costing the UK £23 billion a year. The CBI report adds: 'More flexible working arrangements, better attention to occupational health and enhanced career development should be used to retain and develop quality staff.' Director-general John Cridland said: "For the first time, the CBI is highlighting how much a healthy population also matters to business. Reducing the cost of workplace absence should be seen as part of the overall drive to improve competitiveness." TUC’s Owen Tudor commented: 'We share the CBI’s concern that not enough is being done to get people back to work and back to health quickly enough. But bosses mustn’t expect the health service to batter people back to work before they are ready.'

Blunkett crackdown on police sick days

The Home Secretary is to outline measures to tackle high levels of sickness, absence and early retirement on medical grounds in the police. David Blunkett has been reported as planning to make officers undergo a more thorough medical examination before going off sick. He wants to reduce dramatically the 1.5 million days lost every year through police sickness absence. He also wants to implement closer monitoring to ensure they are back at work as soon as they are fit. The latest reported figures show that the average officer took 11.55 days off sick a year compared with 8.4 for the average worker.

HSE accepts latest Tube safety case

The HSE has accepted a revised railway safety case submitted by London Underground Limited (LUL). An HSE spokesperson said: "Acceptance does not, in itself, provide any guarantee of safety. LUL must now put into effect the practices and procedures set out in this safety case, and ensure that they are operated. Responsibility for safety on the Underground rests with LUL. HSE will continue to audit, verify and validate LUL's performance… and take enforcement action where necessary." HSE adds that any privatisation of services would require a new safety case to be submitted.

Safety reps could help end New Zealand’s deaths 'disgrace'

New Zealand’s unions say the country’s safety record is a 'disgrace' and have called for sweeping changes to the failing safety system. Union federation NZCTU says: 'In NZ there are around 500 deaths. Our work-related death rate is far higher than in Australia and the USA.' With a working population of under three million, the annual death total means New Zealand’s work fatality rate is over 10 times that of the UK. NZCTU says a proposed new safety law could make a big difference, by covering more workers, increasing fines and by introducing safety reps: 'The new law supports trained elected health and safety reps, who will be able to issue hazard notices if the rep has brought a safety problem to the employer's attention and nothing has been done.' Evidence from other countries including the UK shows a marked 'union effect', with safety rep cover making workplaces much safer. NZCTU has launched a national campaign in support of the proposed law.

Australia: Union call centre guide is adopted as official code

The Australian Services Union has welcomed the Queensland government’s adoption of a Code of Practice for Call Centres. Australian Services Union branch secretary Julie Bignell said the Code of Practice was modelled on the national Australian Council of Trade Union’s Call Centre Code, and tailored to suit Queensland conditions. She added: 'It is a welcome development for call centre workers across the state, and follows months of consultation and negotiations between unions and government.' The Code sets out minimum standards for health and safety and promotes training opportunities and consultation. ACTU is now calling for all the country’s states to adopt the code.

Chile: Asbestos protest 'blaze man' dies

A Chilean man who set himself ablaze in front of the presidential palace in an apparent protest over the misuse of asbestos has died. Eduardo Mino, 51, set himself alight on 30 November after stabbing himself in the stomach and dousing himself with petrol. News organisations said they had received faxes signed by Mr Mino saying his protest was to draw attention to the cases of hundreds of people who had become ill through contact with asbestos. Mino said he was a member of the Chileans Against Asbestos organisation and had lived for years near a factory using the substance. Government spokesperson Claudio Huepe said the use of asbestos in Chile had been banned in July. The move came despite 'forceful' objections from Canadian Premier Jean Chretien, whose country remains a major asbestos exporter.

South Africa: 'Homicide' call after newborns die in lock-in

Following the death of twins born inside a locked factory in Newcastle, South Africa, the Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (SACTWU) has urged the police to charge the factory owner with culpable homicide. A union spokesperson said the union attempted to contact the owner of the Three Circles factory but "he was a very aggressive person and is avoiding speaking to us". The company was shutdown by authorities after the death. The factory was found to be breach of safety laws after Nokuthula Hlatswayo gave birth to twins as she and 15 other employees were apparently locked in for the nightshift. Workers at the clothing factory claimed that attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful because his cellphone was switched off.

USA: Republican war on safety laws

Aides of President Bush's new regulatory czar, John D. Graham, have produced a chart of 57 'burdensome' rules business wants eased - with health and safety protections a top target. The chart includes controls on pesticide use, coal-mine ventilation, needlestick safety standards, truck safety inspections and toxic-release reporting. Graham, who became administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in July, had previous been based at an ultra-conservative safety thinktank. Sources say the campaign 'has Graham's blessing, if not his fingerprints.'

Safety crimes website

The TUC-supported health and safety journal Hazards has launched a new 'safety crimes' website, to provide the latest news on ' corporate health and safety crime at work'. Welcoming the initiative, TUC's Owen Tudor said: "Consumers as well as workers say that health and safety is a major factor in corporate social responsibility. But responsibility means owning up to what's gone wrong, not just trying to do your best. This Hazards site draws attention to the all too common examples of corporate ir responsibility, which are a vital part of the argument for stronger laws, tougher enforcement and higher health and safety standards."

GMB guide for contract labour

The GMB has issued guidance to members on the health and safety rights of workers employed by contractors. The union says these workers 'can also be marginalised or forgotten when it comes to workplace health and safety issues. Added to this, contractors often have to work on sites and in situations that are unfamiliar to them. In the worst cases this can have lethal results, it can also result in needless injury and ill health at work.'

Latest from Europe

TUTB, the TUC-backed European trade union safety thinktank, has released new publications on occupational health policy and on sustainable development in Europe.

NIOSH en español

The website of the US government’s safety research body, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, is now available in both English and Spanish.

Skill up: TUC Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The TUC Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety was developed so workplace union reps could acquire a better understanding of health and safety principles and practice. The courses are organised as a one year day-release course, 1 day per week, for 36 weeks spread over 3 terms. It is a flexible programme - participants need not complete all the units one after the other and can join the course at the beginning of any unit or term and continue through to the next year.

Only newly announced events, events next week and very important events will be listed here in future. But there is a comprehensive listing of health and safety events on the TUC website - bookmark it for easy reference!

No excuse: beat bullying at work seminar, 18 December

A TUC organised seminar in London aimed at union and workplace reps, employers and managers, intended to help make everyone take workplace bullying seriously. £11.75 TUC member organisations; £23.50 employers - registration form and details.

About time: TUC conference on working time, 5 February

A TUC conference in London for trade unionists, employers, HR and personnel professionals, academics and policy makers.Keynote speakers: Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and John Monks, TUC General Secretary. The conference will be chaired by Sheena MacDonald. Application form in text and pdf versions. Union members wishing to attend this conference, please contact your head offices which are co-ordinating numbers from each union due to the limited number of places available for this conference.

Workers' Memorial Day 2002, 28 April

TUC is planning to highlight occupational health, including access to occupational health services, and rehabilitation. Ask your union for details of Workers’ Memorial Day events or organise your own. Hazards magazine round up of Workers’ Memorial Day resources.

European Week of Health and Safety 2002, 14-21 October

Next year’s week will take place in Britain from 14 October, on the theme of stress.

Visit the TUC health and safety website or the main TUC website pages on health and safety. See what’s on offer from TUC Publications and What’s On in health and safety.

TUC courses for safety reps

January to March:

South East Wales North West South West East Midlands West Midlands Scotland

September to December:

Wales Scotland Southern and Eastern (plus COSHH Essentials courses) South West North West Northern Yorkshire and Humberside

Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.

What’s new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.

HSE Books , PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995.

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