Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 13,000 subscribers and 1,500 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 and Privacy statement .UNION NEWS
The TUC has welcomed a European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment this week that said the UK government is breaking the law by not forcing employers to give their staff rest breaks . The ECJ ruling, which follows a complaint from the union Amicus, said current DTI guidelines 'are liable to render the right of workers to daily and weekly rest periods meaningless because they do not oblige employers to ensure that workers actually take the minimum rest period, contrary to the aims of the Working Time Directive.' The Working Time Directive, which was implemented as the Working Time Regulations in the UK, established the right for most workers to a 20 minute rest break if they work more than 6 hours per day. The problem has been that the UK regulatory guidance says that 'employers must make sure that workers can take their rest, but are not required to make sure that they do take their rest.' This has been widely interpreted by employers as meaning that rest breaks can be lawfully denied. The European Commission, which brought the legal challenge against the UK government, successfully argued that the wording encouraged 'a practice of non-compliance'. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This judgment stems from a complaint made by the trade union Amicus to the European Commission and is the latest victory in a long line of trade union legal challenges on working time rules for UK employees. Employers will now have to do their utmost to ensure their staff get the breaks they are entitled to. The government must now change its guidance on rest breaks to ensure that workers know their rights and can benefit from them, and that employers know their responsibilities and meet them fully.' The TUC has called on the government to review all its guidance on EU employment law to ensure that UK workers benefit from their rights and that employers are observing the law.
Research into serious workplace and public health risks is being put at risk as a result of cutbacks in government research agencies, a union has warned. Prospect, the union representing 3,400 scientists and specialists in Defra, says 'a barrage of cuts' are facing Defra agencies and laboratories undertaking research into problems including avian flu, BSE, foot and mouth disease and anthrax. Its report, 'Who's looking after Defra science?', comes on the heels of work-related anthrax and rabbit flu fatalities and a major outbreak of Q fever in Scotland, all caused by occupational exposure to animal-related infections (Risks 271). The report warns the research units face privatisation, closure, merger, relocation or other change in status under a series of reviews launched by Defra over the last year. Paul Noon, Prospect general secretary, said the bodies under threat 'are the nation's front line of defence against animal diseases' and added: 'They carry out worthwhile science to the benefit of everyone in the UK and the environment in which they live and work.' He said: 'Science is not just an economic commodity, it is first and foremost a public good. The government's obsession with privatisation and reviews is creating huge uncertainty and driving good people out of science. That is a loss to the UK as a whole, as well as to the science base that the government claims to support.'
A trade union safety rep has exposed 'blatant' safety failures at cleaning company Romec. Postal union CWU said a 'determined investigation' by CWU area safety rep Andy McArthur has 'uncovered a number of unacceptable health and safety shortcomings in Romec Cleaning Services', a contractor providing cleaning services to Royal Mail and a range of blue chip companies. A final report prepared by the safety rep found that in his region risk assessments, safe systems of work, chemical safety assessments and safety policies had not been updated for years. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said the report had triggered a national union investigation. He said: 'I want our national network of area safety representatives to investigate whether similar deficiencies exist in the 31 UK postcode areas.' He added that he would draw the findings to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is currently involved in a large-scale inspection drive in Royal Mail. Davie Joyce added: 'I have requested details from Romec Ltd a plan of action to rectify the problems discovered by Andy,' and said 'I'm frankly amazed that both Royal Mail and Romec Ltd's own health and safety audit systems did not pick up and action such basic blatant failures'. The union says both CWU branches and some Royal Mail managers have been critical of Romec Cleaning Services for its 'deteriorating cleaning service provision'. It said the problem dates from when Balfour Beatty's wholly-owned subsidiary, Haden Building Management (HBM), acquired a 49 per cent interest in Romec in 2002. In June, Romec was fined £100,000 with costs of £22,000 in a case brought after the death of CWU engineering member Ian Dicker (Risks 262).
Farming union TGWU has warned that a major UK strawberry grower is exploiting migrant workers. The union says it has 'no option' but to submit hundreds of grievances on behalf of workers at the Herefordshire farm of S&A Produce, whose customers include Sainsbury's and Tesco. It says despite initially positive talks with the union, where agreement was reached on dropping charges for basic medical services and on the provision of overnight accommodation for workers at the end of their contract, S&A has not put in place an agreement to ensure that the practices will not repeated next year when additional seasonal workers will be hired, or to ensure proper access for the union to represent its members. The union says it has ongoing concerns about the standard of accommodation, safety and hygiene at the farm. It is calling on Sainsbury's and Tesco to participate in a meeting with the company in a bid to resolve outstanding issues. TGWU deputy general secretary Jack Dromey said: 'They supermarkets have already usefully played a role in bringing S&A to the negotiating table, but we should meet together to end this shameful treatment of vulnerable workers.' He added: 'We are faced with no option but to take individual grievances for at least 200 workers to force our legal right to represent our members. We urge the supermarkets to meet with us and S&A so that we can ensure this sorry situation is brought to an end.'
Print union Amicus has kicked off the latest stage in its campaign against workplace bullying with the help of the David Beckham Academy. The union has teamed up with Beckham's academy to offer prizes for staff in print and publishing who complete a union bullying questionnaire. The workplace survey, which is not restricted to union members, quizzes people working at all levels in the print industry, from pre-press and print, to floor cleaners and warehouse staff, on whether they have been bullied, harassed or stressed - in fact anyone in the newspaper trade except for journalists can participate. 'Members face many problems in their day-to-day work and this is a new way to identify them,' said assistant general secretary Tony Burke. He added that Amicus was 'always looking for new ways to appeal' to workers, and said coaxing them with the David Beckham Academy was a coup.
More needs to be done to protect young people when they start work, Britain's top safety body has warned. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said 1,500 workers under the age of 19 are badly injured and five killed every year through poor training and induction when starting work. Launching its 'Wiseup2work' campaign last week, safety professionals' organisation IOSH said the initiative was necessary because 'far more needs to be done to protect our young people when they are starting work, apprenticeships or work experience.' Neil Budworth, president of IOSH, said 'many have no experience of work or the hazards that lurk in the workplace.' He added: 'The Wiseup2work campaign aims to make young people aware of the risks they face when starting work, and to get the government, business leaders, teachers and youth workers to make young people's safety a priority.' IOSH has produced a six-point plan to be circulated at the forthcoming party conferences and within government. The first copy was handed to Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, which is backing the campaign. He said: 'Young workers are not killed and injured at work because they goof around. All too often employers are failing to realise that young workers, who could even be in their first jobs, have not had the experience or training to recognise and manage healthy and safety risks at work.' A TUC-backed report published last month in Hazards magazine reported nearly 4,500 workers aged 16 to 24 were seriously injured or killed at work last year, over 20 per cent more than five years ago (Risks 269). It identified a lack of training and supervision as the major responsible factor.
The consortium selected to build the 2012 London Olympic facilities has been welcomed as a 'safe' choice by construction union UCATT. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) announced last week that the CLM consortium - comprising CH2M Hill International, Laing O'Rourke and Mace - had been named as 'Olympic Delivery Partner' and will have the job of delivering the £5.2bn contract for the 2012 London Olympics. ODA said the selection of the CLM consortium 'will ensure the construction process runs as smoothly as possible, addressing key issues including logistics and health and safety.' Welcoming the decision, UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'Laing O'Rourke, a key partner in the consortium, has a track record of delivering major projects on time and on budget with a good health and safety record. We would expect this experience to produce a positive approach from the consortium to industrial relations and a clear commitment to direct labour on all Olympics work.' He added: 'The construction of Heathrow's Terminal 5 has shown that major building projects rely on a constructive relationship with the trade unions' (Risks 228). TUC last year said that safety must be a priority for the 2012 Olympics (Risks 214).
A local authority has been fined after its failure to act on official safety warnings led to a worker being seriously injured. Preston City Council was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay almost £8,000 in costs after an incident in which plumber Graham Butterworth fell 12 feet onto a concrete floor from a garage roof. Preston Magistrates' Court was told that Mr Butterworth, a plumber, was working on the roof at a council depot on 13 September 2004. Just four months previously, following a similar incident, the council had been warned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to improve safety. Preston Council pleaded guilty to the latest incident in which Mr Butterworth suffered a fractured finger and ruptured kidney. The council admitted the fall could have been fatal.
People who are routinely exposed to lead at work are 50 per cent more likely to die from brain cancer than people who are not exposed, according to new US research. The University of Rochester Medical Center study, based on information from the US Census Bureau and the National Death Index, could be the largest study ever to find a lead-cancer link, the researchers say. Study co-author Edwin van Wijngaarden said: 'If we are able to help explain the cause of even 1 or 2 per cent of the total number of cases, that's important.' The findings, published this month in the International Journal of Cancer, computed the risk estimates for lead exposure and brain cancer from a census sample of 317,968 people who reported their occupations between 1979 and 1981. The study found the death rate among people with jobs that potentially exposed them to lead was 50 percent higher than unexposed people, and the number of deaths was larger than in many previous studies, van Wijngaarden said. Scientists have suspected for years that lead is a carcinogen, which passes through the blood-brain barrier, making the brain especially sensitive to the toxic effects of lead.
New guidance aimed at stemming a spate of deaths involving waste vehicles has been issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It says since December 2005 there have been six fatalities reported involving reversing waste or recycling collection vehicles (Risks 256). Launching the guidance, Health and Safety Commission chair Bill Callaghan said: 'This partnership between local authorities, the waste and recycling industry and the Health and Safety Executive has produced a set of clear standards that will control those risks. We want to encourage these partnerships, using the skills and experience of key workers at grassroots level to develop solutions that will work for them. The challenge now is for the industry to implement the controls and ensure that tragic incidents are prevented in the future.' The guidance describes simple measures that can be taken such as safe systems and aids for reversing, including trained assistants to ensure that pedestrians do not enter the reversing zone. The HSE guide is based on an award-winning publication by Northamptonshire Local Authority Safety Advisors Group and the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH).
As many as one in 10 people has sustained an injury in the workplace in the past five years, according to new research from AXA Insurance. AXA's study found that whilst employee injuries are most likely to be caused by work-related accidents (81 per cent), a 'shocking' eight per cent of work-related injuries sustained by employees resulted from a physical assault. AXA's Douglas Barnett commented: 'Accidents and injuries sustained in the workplace can be extremely costly for companies - through employees having to take time off work to recover or because of compensation pay outs. In light of this, we are advising businesses, of all shapes and sizes, to assess the potential risks and dangers that the working environment may pose to their employees and ensure that they have stringent health and safety procedures in place.' John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers' union Usdaw, welcomed the report 'as it highlights the grim reality that over 20,000 shopworkers are physically assaulted in their workplaces every year.' He added: 'Thousands of workers across the UK live in fear of violence so this report will highlight to the shopping public the unacceptable extent of violence in shops and that tough measures like ASBOs banning abusive customers from stores will be used to protect our members.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'The AXA report only tells part of the story as it omits the main cause of workplace ill-health, which is stress. However all the injuries the report covers are preventable, and insurers have a responsibility to ensure that employers take action to reduce this terrible toll.'
Despite temperatures cooling in August and the country generally getting rather damp, the campaign for a workplace temperature ceiling remained a hot issue. Central Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe last week joined forces with the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) to lobby for a change in the law regarding maximum working temperatures. He said: 'Yet again this summer we have experienced periods of excessive heat which has left many people working in virtual 'sweat shops.' I believe the demands for a maximum temperature have never been so prevalent, particularly with all the debate surrounding climate change. As a result the debate is increasingly relevant and I believe the government must address this situation now.' The MP has written to the chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and safety minister Lord Hunt in support of the GFTU call. In July, TUC called for an official workplace temperature ceiling (Risks 267).
The offshore industry must do more to improve the sector's safety record, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The call this week came after latest official accident figures revealed that two workers were killed and 50 suffered major injuries in 2005/06, up from no fatalities and 48 major injuries in 2004/05. The combined fatal and major injury rate decreased by 11 per cent to 225.4 per 100,000 workers compared with 253.4 in 2004/05. This improvement is explained by the 21 per cent rise in the number of people working offshore. Head of HSE's offshore division Ian Whewell said: 'The industry must now push on with its programmes of improvement if it is to deliver its agreed objectives of being the safest sector in the world by 2010 and to bring about more pronounced incident rate reductions.' He added: 'The offshore industry faces considerable challenges as the North Sea infrastructure ages. Many offshore installations have exceeded their expected working lives and requirements for maintenance, repair and replacement are now increasing rapidly. HSE believes that the goals of significantly improving installation integrity and securing a long safe future for the UK Continental Shelf are inseparable and that investment in infrastructure is crucial to securing a safe and sustainable offshore environment.'
Unions in Australia have warned that a new temporary visa system is resulting in the exploitation of migrant workers in hazardous conditions. The alert comes after unions revealed dozens of Chinese workers were being employed on a construction site in Sydney without adequate safety protection or the required workers' compensation coverage. A union investigation found the workers used equipment that did not meet minimum safety specifications, did not have the appropriate licences to operate vehicles and were allowed to carry out dangerous tasks. Sharan Burrow, president of national union federation ACTU, said: 'Unions have exposed unsafe and exploitative working conditions for the Chinese workers at the $60 million (£24.3m) Wetherill Park tissue-paper mill construction site in western Sydney.' She added: 'We are worried that the government is creating a tier of second-class workers in Australia who have no rights and are vulnerable to being underpaid, mistreated and abused.' A separate report in Workers Online identified a Korean worker whose employer tried to have him deported after he lost four fingers in a workplace accident. The 46-year-old, who was working in the country illegally, said his employer refused to call an ambulance. Construction union CFMEU has launched a campaign calling for strict penalties on employers who use illegal workers as cheap labour. The union claims there are more than 50,000 illegal immigrants working in Australia without any protections. A study this week published by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said there has been a massive growth in the number of guest worker visas issued over the last two years. AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron said 'unscrupulous employers' are using the visas to bring in overseas workers 'who don't know their rights and are too scared to speak up when they are underpaid or treated badly.' AMWU NSW secretary, Paul Bastian, said many of the violations at the tissues factory construction site related to the inability of imported workers to speak, read or understand English-language safety instructions or procedures.
The European Commission has launching a publicity campaign in all 25 European Union member states to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure. It says the European Asbestos Campaign 2006 slogan will be 'Asbestos is deadly serious - prevent exposure'. The initiative has been organised in concert with the European Senior Labour Inspectors Committee (SLIC), the co-ordinating committee for labour inspectorates throughout the EU. EC officials say that despite an EU-wide ban on all asbestos use, 'the practical problem of preventing exposure to asbestos in the course of removal, demolition, servicing and maintenance activities remains. And with the increase in globalisation and increasingly close economic ties, the EU has to take extra care not to counteract its efforts by re-importing asbestos-containing materials.' SLIC says 'the main focus of the campaign is on the protection of workers in maintenance-demolition-removal activities and waste disposal.'
The global asbestos disease epidemic continues to be bad news worldwide. An official committee in India this week indicated that asbestos related health problems are rife among workers employed in shipbreaking in Alang, Gujarat. The report, prepared by the Delhi-based National Institute of Occupational Health, found x-ray evidence of lung damage in almost one in six of the workers tested. The report added that all 'stakeholders', including medical professionals, need training on health issues related to asbestos exposure. In Japan, the government said it will require all registered businesses in Japan to pay a total of 7.38 billion yen (£33.5m) annually over four years to meet compensation payouts for asbestos related cases. The government estimates asbestos related compensation costs will reach 76 billion yen (£345m) by 2010. Companies are being asked to shoulder about 30 billion yen (£136.2) of the total bill. Employers are not being held to account everywhere, however. A court in Spain last week found two doctors and two directors from the Uralita group not guilty of the murder of eight workers, who died of asbestos disease after being exposed to the fibre at the company's asbestos factory in San Vicente del Raspeig ( Risks 265 ). The court said that those affected became ill before regulations on the use of asbestos came into force in 1982, and ruled that the company was not therefore responsible. The verdict is expected to be appealed.
The organisation representing occupational health doctors in the US has been labelled an 'embarrassment' after making claims about the supposed 'success' of occupational cancer prevention measures. The flak heading the way of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has been amplified because of its support for a 'CEO Cancer Gold Standard?', backed largely by pharmaceutical companies and concentrating entirely on lifestyle measures. Launching the ACOEM 'controlling cancer in the workplace' checklist on Labor Day, 4 September, ACOEM president Tee L Guidotti said: 'The identification of occupational cancers and the reduction of occupational cancer rates in the United States due to uncontrolled exposures has been a major public health success and how to do it is well known, but more remains to be done.' In reality, there is no evidence to support ACOEM's claim of a major public health success, in fact the more credible available evidence suggests an opposite trend (Risks 225). ACOEM's checklist was developed in conjunction with the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, a pharmaceutical industry dominated organisation which developed the CEO Cancer Gold Standard?. Jordan Barab, editor of the Confined Space health and safety blog, said the standard highlights as prevention priorities giving up smoking, getting more exercise and eating better, but downplays industry's responsibility to make workplaces safer and healthier. 'Instead of spending their time and resources telling people they smoke too much and don't eat well, occupational physicians, organised by ACOEM, could use this opportunity to call attention to real threats in the workplace, and the sick, injured and dead workers that almost no one else in this country seems to know or care about,' he said. Barab added that for ACOEM to choose smoking and diet as the main focus of their anti-cancer campaign amounts to 'an embarrassment to occupational medicine.' Risks editor Rory O'Neill was contacted by several other top US occupational cancer experts expressing concern at the ACOEM checklist's lifestyle focus.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed new work rules on air traffic controllers, a move which unions say will leave a dwindling band of over-tired controllers monitoring US skies. The move was a 'brazen, arrogant trampling of the collective bargaining process,' National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) president Pat Forrey said. He added: 'It's the worst, punch-in-the-gut blow to the morale of this workforce imaginable. But our position is very simple: We do not consider the imposed work rules to be valid because they were not negotiated and have not been ratified by the NATCA membership.'
Some of the new rules pose real and potentially dangerous consequences for the safety of airline passengers and crews, NATCA said. It points out that under the imposed rules, controllers who do not feel they have had enough rest before a shift would be forced to work anyway. And controllers can no longer take a break after two hours, a longstanding practice controllers say was a major way to fight fatigue. Controller fatigue may have contributed to the fatal Comair crash in Lexington, Kentucky, in which 49 passengers and crew died last month. The lone air traffic controller on duty had only nine hours between two work shifts - and had only two hours sleep before going back on duty, according to the Associated Press. With control towers already short of staff, controllers are forced to work overtime.
HSE has published online guidance for employers on welfare provisions at the workplace. It's a handy source for workers too. The guide answers questions on whether employers should provide toilet and washing facilities (yes), drinking water (yes), facilities at remote workplaces (maybe) and temporary workplaces (yes, so far as is reasonably practicable), arrangement for meals and meal breaks (yes) and rooms for smokers (no, but...). It adds that just providing facilities isn't enough. 'You must also ensure that the facilities are kept clean and in good condition, and that there is always an adequate supply of toilet paper, soap etc. This means that you need to put in place an effective system to maintain them to a high standard, including regular cleaning.' The guide also gives a breakdown of numbers of toilets and washbasins required and pointers to additional information. The big, gaping monstrous hole in the guidance is the absence of information on the rights of workers to use these facilities. Having a glistening bathroom at work is no consolation if you are not allowed the chance to use it. And given the European Court of Justice ruling this week that UK employers must be told to ensure workers get their rest breaks, there's never been a better time for HSE to promote these legal rights.
A Centre for Corporate Accountability conference in Glasgow on 3 October 'will discuss the decision by the UK government to apply its corporate manslaughter bill to Scotland - preventing the Scottish Executive from legislating on the issue itself.' The conference will also look at the role and limitations of Fatal Accident Inquiries and review claims that work-related deaths are being under-counted.
'Worker involvement: safer workplaces', a free conference hosted at TUC's London HQ by SERTUC and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 6 October intends 'to bring together HSE staff with union safety reps.' There will also be presentations on HSE's new research on migrant workers' and health and safety.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2006
Newsletter (5,100 words) issued 8 Sep 2006
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-12359-f0.cfm
printed 20 May 2013 at 22:58 hrs by 18.104.22.168