issue no 33 - 22 December 2001
Risks is the TUCs 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 Whats On - new events are covered below.
Union organisations have condemned major retailers for forcing staff to work on Christmas Day. The shopworkers' union Usdaw argues shop staff could be "coerced" into working on the only day that remains sacred after the introduction of Sunday trading. Last week the Usdaw-backed Christmas Day (Trading) Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Lords. If enacted it would make it illegal for shops over 280 square metres to open on 25 December. In London, Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council has set up a hotline to help anyone forced to work. The hotline is aimed at workers who feel they are being pressurised by their bosses not to spend Christmas with their families. Union officials will answer calls to the hotline - 020 8682 3663 - and contact managers on behalf of workers who want Christmas off.
The TUC has launched a guide to drugs and alcohol in the workplace and called on employers to develop workplace policies. TUC general secretary John Monks said: 'Trade unionists should see that effective policies are pursued at work, both to prevent substance abuse and to help those who may have become dependent on alcohol or drugs. Employers have a duty of care to their employees under both employment and health and safety law The introduction of a comprehensive, planned drug and alcohol policy covering the whole of the workforce can have significant benefits for employers, employees with an alcohol or drug problem, as well as for their colleagues.' The TUC Drunk or disordered report says employers should: Recognise that alcohol/drug misuse is a health problem; prevent drug/alcohol misuse by developing awareness programmes; identify employees with a problem at an early stage; and provide assistance to employees with drug/alcohol related problems.
River pilots on the Humber have decided to continue their strike in protest at a new pilotage service to be introduced by Associated British Ports (ABP). The UK's biggest port operator will introduce the system at the end of January, but the pilots union claims plans to reduce training and entry qualifications will affect the safety of the service. A spokesperson for Humber Pilots Limited, which is affiliated to the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "Despite ABP claims, it is clear that far fewer ships are moving and the professional pilots are appalled at some of the risks being taken. Scarcely a tide passes without some incident taking place that could easily develop into a disaster." Only hours after the pilots started their strike on 11 December, two ships collided near Goole Docks (Risks 32).
The first step towards better safety management legislation has been announced, following a successful campaign by the Fire Brigades Union. FBU had argued successfully that UK safety law had loopholes that allowed employers to evade responsibility when they failed to comply with legal risk assessment requirements, and meant some workers were missing out on compensation. Now an HSE consultative document is seeking guidance on how best to remove the 'civil liability exclusion' from the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations. TUC's Owen Tudor said: "Removing this unacceptable restriction on an injury victim's ability to secure compensation is long overdue. This proposal will mean that employers at last have a real financial incentive to assess risks properly, and we now expect insurers to crack the whip on risk assessment even if the courts and the HSE won't."
Companies that ask employees for their views on health and safety issues can cut down on accidents, a study by the HSE has found. The report concludes: 'by including workers' ideas and involving them in enforcing health and safety rules, companies can create a positive attitude towards maintaining good practice and make significant improvements.' One initiative featured in the report led to 'a huge drop in accidents from 1.2 to 0.1 per 100,000 man hours.' HSE says workforce involvement 'is a vital component of the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy Statement produced by the government and Health and Safety Commission.' TUC's Owen Tudor said: "This report shows bad employers why good employers work in partnership with unions. And it shows non-members why union members are safer. Unions are good for workers and good for health and safety. What excuse has anyone got left for not recognising unions or for not joining one?"
Violence to rail staff has risen to record levels, latest figures show. Introducing the latest HSE annual rail safety report, Vic Coleman, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: 'assaults on staff rose to record levels (up 22 per cent from 379 to 462); train incidents due to vandalism remained at a high level (55 per cent); fatalities involving trespassers and suicides rose by nine per cent from 275 to 299; and 10 children under 16 died trespassing on the railways - up four on the previous year.' Vernon Hince of rail union RMT commented: "More resources should be allocated to curbing staff assaults. These figures are just the tip of the iceberg - only serious assaults are reported to the HSE. The growing number of minor assaults that take place every day are not even reflected in these figures. Passenger rage has escalated since railway privatisation, which raised hopes and failed to deliver. Our members have taken a large part of the rap. They have a fundamental right to work in a safe environment - and the bullies need to hear this message loud and clear."
A member of the Scottish parliament is calling for an urgent study into possible cancer risks at Silicon Glens high tech factories. MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, Duncan McNeil, demanded the study after the release last week of an HSE report on cancer concerns among current and former workers at the National Semiconductor (UK) Ltd plant in Greenock (Risks 32). He said: "Workers have a right to know whether their workplace is putting their health at risk. Employees and ex-employees of National Semiconductor will have no peace of mind until we get to the bottom of this.'
Passive smoking in adulthood is associated with breathing problems - and the problem is particularly bad for workplace passive smokers, according to new research. A report in the 22 December issue of the medical journal The Lancet notes that passive smoking in the workplace appears to be a major problem in many European countries. Report co-author Dr Christer Janson said "the current findings highlight the importance of having workplaces that are smoke-free." People exposed to second-hand smoke were significantly more likely than nonexposed individuals to experience a range of breathing disorders, with a clear 'dose-response' relationship evident.
A survey by a banking software firm has found that people are working longer than ever to hold on to their jobs. According to the survey of 2,000 people by Corillian, one in 10 are putting in more than 55 hours a week. Ian Giles, Corillian's international marketing director, commented: "Even in the run up to Christmas, working lives are changing and more of us are putting in longer hours in the office."
Thousands of Ministry of Defence workers are risking life and limb - in the office. More than 9,000 MoD office workers were injured at their desks last year. The MOD has admitted it paid £3 million in compensation to civilian staff injured in workplace accidents.
Gas fitting firm Avon Lippiatt Hobbs (Contracting) Ltd has been fined a total of £250,000 after admitting two breaches of health and safety legislation. The company, also known as ALCHO, had already accepted responsibility for a gas explosion that injured an employee, demolished a house and seriously damaged two others. At a hearing held at Merthyr Crown Court, the firm received a fine of £175,000 for failing to ensure the safety of the public, and a further £75,000 for failing to ensure the safety of an employee. HSE inspector Dick Worley, who handled the case, said the fines 'send out a clear message to both employees and managers in the utilities contracting industry.'
Justin McCracken has been appointed as the new Deputy Director General, Operations, of the HSE. He will have responsibility for all of HSE's field inspectors and HSE's operational activities in mines, offshore, rail, construction, agriculture, health services, chemicals and nuclear safety. He will succeed David Eves who retires in the New Year.
UK multinational Cape plc has finally agreed to a compensation settlement of £21 million for thousands of South African asbestos victims. This brings to an end a legal battle fought by 7,500 claimants since 1997 (more). Pressure group ACTSA led the public campaign in Britain to hold Cape accountable for the lax safety conditions in its asbestos mines and mills in South Africa. The level of payments will correspond broadly to the severity of the disease, mesothelioma cancer awards being the highest at about £5,250 maximum. Archie Palane of the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa said: "There are too many multinational companies neglecting the health and safety of their workers in their raw pursuit of profits - this case should offer a valuable lesson to those companies who continue this form of inhumane exploitation today. NUM would like to see the establishment of industry-wide compensation funds that mean that workers do not have to fight protracted legal battles like this one."
The ILO Guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems are now available on the ILO website. Unions pressed hard for these guidelines, produced with full union involvement. The ILO standard, unlike the equivalent British Standard, BS8800, refers throughout to worker involvement 'and should be developed by HSC/E into a management system for Britain, a development proposed in the governments Revitalising health and safety strategy,' says TUCs Owen Tudor.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council has welcomed the release of a draft Code Of Practice for the prevention of bullying and violence in the workplace. Trades Hall Council secretary, Leigh Hubbard said: "It is unacceptable that over 1,100 workers had claims approved in the last financial year as a result of bullying in the workplace.' The guide, which will be subject to a consultation ending 4 March 2002 and which will apply across the state of Victoria when approved, will place a responsibility on employers to identify whether there is a potential for clients or intruders to harm employees, to keep a record of incidents, to take steps to reduce the risk of violence and provide post-incident support. Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said the code added moral weight to the union's campaign to lobby the Victorian Education Department to develop a register for teachers to report bullying, verbal abuse, intimidatory behaviour and property damage.
In 1997 Nestlé UK officially recognized the problem of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) among its production workers. It announced that it was developing a programme to reduce the occurrence of this common work injury. In the same year Nestlé management in Brazil denied the existence of RSI - which was in fact widespread - and continued to fire workers, mainly young women, with this injury. At that time the international union confederation IUFs Latin American regional office produced a short film featuring one of the Brazilian women workers disabled then fired by Nestlé. Despite this exposure, a doctor acting for IUF says the company is maintaining its international double standard on strains. IUF reports: 'It seems that four years later Nestlé continues to place a lower value on the health and safety of its employees in Brazil than it does in Western Europe.'
Bank workers in Italy are claiming a "stress bonus" for dealing with the conversion to the Euro. The Italian banking union, UilCa is claiming £680 per person as compensation for the country's 320,000 bank tellers. The union says converting from the Lira to the Euro in the new year is a huge hassle creating stress for workers.
Heavy lifting at work may increase a person's risk of developing osteoarthritis in one or both of their hips, according to a report from the Netherlands. "Overall, moderate evidence was found for a positive association... between previous heavy physical workload and the occurrence of hip osteoarthritis," the researchers write in the latest edition of the Journal of Rheumatology. Heavy work appeared to triple hip osteoarthritis risk, the investigators found. Some subcategories of heavy physical work, such as having worked on farms for more than 10 years and working in a job that required regular lifting of objects weighing 55 pounds or more, were also linked to increased hip osteoarthritis risk. In the UK, unions are pressing for osteoarthritis of the hip to be made a compensable disease under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
The International Federation of Journalists has called for industry-wide action to counter the rising toll of media staff killed in the exercise of their work. An IFJ report into journalists and media workers killed during 2001 records exactly 100 confirmed killings and deaths under investigation - the highest for six years. "The roll of media casualties provides a tragic reminder of the price we pay for press freedom and democracy," said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary. "It is time for media companies to work together on new initiatives to reduce the risks facing their staff. We need more training, better equipment and provision of insurance for all, including freelance journalists." The IFJ says that large media groups - such as CNN, the BBC and Reuters and Associated Press - have shown leadership by defining a code of practice to improve safety for journalists.
Prosecutors have filed what is believed to be California's first involuntary manslaughter case involving the death of a farm worker in a workplace accident. The case was filed last month against Donald William Beeman, a Woodland-area grower who is facing four years in prison and $650,000 in fines if he is convicted on all three counts in the landmark case. Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hedum said the filing is "quite rare, but it's going to be more and more common" - due to a statute that elevates to a potential felony any serious Labor Code violation that results in a worker's death. Another four farm worker deaths in the Central Valley and Northern California are under investigation. Beeman has pleaded not guilty. A UK farmer was jailed last month for the manslaughter of an employee (Risks 29).
More truckers continue to die in accidents each year than workers in any profession in America, a Kansas Star special feature reveals - and it identifies long hours and low pay in the poorly regulated industry as a major cause. The number of people killed in all large-truck crashes in the US has climbed above 5,000, hitting 5,211 last year, or a daily average of 14 deaths. However, the Kansas Star found the trucking industry not only downplays fatigue, it wants to lengthen the hours truckers can drive at a stretch - based on a study that the industry itself helped conduct.
Last year, the number of immigrants killed at work in New York State accounted for nearly four in every 10 workplace deaths. A Newsday investigative series found earlier this year that New York has the nation's highest rate of immigrants killed in the workplace, and that hundreds of deaths have gone uninvestigated by government safety inspectors. The paper says that although the series prompted an investigation by the US Labor Department's inspector general and triggered promises of reform from federal officials and lawmakers, advocates and foreign-born workers say the anti-immigrant atmosphere resulting from the 11 September terrorist attacks has placed them in even greater peril. On International Migrants Day, 18 December, international union confederation ICFTU warned that when immigrants and minorities do find a job ' it is often one of the 3D type - dangerous, disgusting and degrading - and they are victim to racist taunts and violence at the workplace.'
Hazards 2002, the largest regular gathering of trade union safety reps and campaigners, needs your support. The conference relies on funding support from unions and other supportive organisations; the organisers are now seeking sponsors. See the Hazards 2002 appeal letter for more information or send cheques payable to 'Hazards 2002' to Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, 23 New Mount Street , Manchester , M4 4DE . Tel: 0161 953 4037. Fax: 0161 953 4001
Newcastle College is seeking a dynamic, flexible trade union tutor with experience of training learning reps to start work as soon as possible. Must have up to date knowledge and experience of trade union education and current issues facing trade unions. This will be a part-time contract with the possibility of 20 hours per week. Send a CV and covering letter to: Director of adult and community learning, Cramlington College, Dudley Court, Manor Walks Shopping Centre, Cramlington, Northumberland, NE23 6QW. For more information, email Bill Adams, TUC Northern region.
The latest TUC quarterly report on the union contribution to the governments 'revitalising health and safety' strategy is now available. Theres far too much to feature here, ranging from press work, to political work, to partnerships, to projects, and involving dozens of unions - so read the whole document on the TUC website.
The chemical, energy and mining union federation ICEM has updated its excellent health and safety links page. Other top union health and safety links pages, in the UK and internationally, can be found on the Hazards links-to-links pages.
UNISON has published a safety reps guide to safer driving at work. The guide notes: 'UNISON believes that work-related road safety must be given a much higher priority. The safety of our members at work, while driving or being driven, is just as important as other safety concerns in the workplace, and the risks should be assessed in the same way.'
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!
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.
The National Hazards Conference will be held in Manchester for the second year running. Further details from Greater Manchester Hazards Centre. There is a financial appeal to keep registration costs down, backed by the TUC.
European Week of Health and Safety 2002, 14-21 October
Next years 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 whats on offer from TUC Publications and Whats On in health and safety.
Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
Whats 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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Issued: 22 December, 2001