Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 14,000 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
Ministers from European Union (EU) countries have been unable to agree an end to the UK opt-out from Europe's 48-hour working week ceiling. Commenting on the failure of the Social Affairs Council to resolve the issue, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This was a missed opportunity to ensure that UK workers are properly protected against the dangers of overwork. The trend in the UK is now towards a slow decline in long hours working. New legal rights would have speeded up that process without hitting economic success.' Speaking after the 7 November meeting of ministers, he said: 'Because the UK government would not support a compromise today to phase out the UK's opt-out it is now likely to face legal action on the way that on-call time is treated in UK law. But the government is not off the hook. It is clear there is widespread ignorance of working time rights, extensive employer abuse of the opt-out and precious little enforcement of working time rules. The TUC will step up its campaign to bring the UK into line with existing EU law.' Mr Barber concluded: 'Although the legal approach is not the only way to counter our long hours culture. We will continue to work with government and employers to shift the culture of UK workplaces and attack the poor productivity and work organisation that long hours working covers up.' A TUC analysis of unpublished findings from the government's Labour Force Survey showed that removing the opt-out would have little economic effect. It revealed only 800,000 to 1 million UK employees would have had to make a serious change to their working patterns if the opt-out was ended, but many of these work excessively long hours with at least 130,000 regularly putting in more than 60 hours a week. John Monks, general secretary of the European trade union confederation ETUC, commented: 'We regret that there was no progress in Council, as this is yet another signal of Social Europe being stalled. However, we would not have been able to accept just any agreement as 'progress'. We would have welcomed an agreement which would have taken on board trade unions concerns'. ETUC emphasised the Working Time Directive is concerned with the protection of workers against the health and safety risks of long and irregular hours. It added it was 'surprised' nobody from the Council or the Commission has mentioned the word 'workers'.
New evidence revealing the massive number of work vehicle crashes each day highlights the need for urgent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) action, the union GMB has said. The call comes as Department for Transport (DfT) annual road casualty statistics, which for the first time recorded the purpose of journeys, showed work vehicles were involved in over 54,000 crashes in 2005, or150 per day. The union, which represents retail delivery, road rescue service and mini-cab drivers as well as chauffeurs and couriers, said reporting rules should be changed so all serious work related road traffic accidents are officially recorded under the workplace accident reporting regulations, RIDDOR. GMB said HSE, however, is reluctant to add work-related road accidents to its responsibilities, adding: 'It would appear unlikely that at a time when the HSE is under threats of frontline job cuts and close scrutiny of their budget that they will be able to investigate work related driving deaths and serious accidents.' GMB national safety officer John McClean said: 'At a time when the HSE claim that workplace deaths are at their lowest recorded level there is a concern among GMB members, many of whom drive as part of their daily work, that not enough is being done to ensure that they and others are safe on our roads.' He added: 'Long hours of working drivers, a lack of regular breaks and unnecessarily tight deadlines all lead to dangerous driving conditions in many occupations. There is a need for the HSE to investigate all work related deaths, including those on the road which are currently not part of the reporting regime.' 'Driven to death', a March 2000 report from the TUC, estimated that one in four vehicle drivers killed on the road died whilst at work, making driving Britain's most dangerous job. These deaths are not included in official work fatality figures.
The UK semiconductor industry and the official safety watchdog must take urgent action to address cancer risks in the semiconductor industry, a union has said. Manufacturing union Amicus has called for an inquiry into cancer risks in the computer and semiconductor manufacturing industry following damning new research from the United States (Risks 280). Amicus said the US findings, taken with those of previous studies covering Scotland and the West Midlands, provide 'sufficient evidence to suggest long term health risks to current and former workers in the semiconductor, chip and computer sector.' Amicus national officer Peter Skyte said: 'This US study provides powerful evidence of the increased health risks faced by past and present workers in the computer, chip and semiconductor industry. Government health and safety agencies and employers must act urgently to reduce this risk to stop more people dying in years to come.' The union wants the industry to initiate its own study and to remove or minimise exposure to key toxins. Amicus is also calling for an HSE investigation of the cancer risks and an urgent review of the toxic substances used in the industry. It adds that union safety reps should ensure their employers take action to reduce risks.
Marine professionals' union Nautilus UK has expressed disappointment at the UK government's response to a report on piracy produced by the House of Commons transport committee earlier this year. The government has dismissed the committee's criticism of its approach to the threat to merchant ships and seafarers and says it is 'proud of the lead it has taken' in tackling piracy. Nautilus UK senior national secretary Allan Graveson said he was appalled by the government's response. 'The transport committee was right in identifying the failures of the government and the response is woefully inadequate,' he added. Mr Graveson said the government appeared to have accepted that the right of free passage for merchant ships no longer exists off the coast of Somalia. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea requires all countries to 'cooperate to the fullest possible extent' in repressing piracy, he pointed out. The UK government instead appeared content to set out measures that seafarers should take to protect themselves rather than setting out the ways in which it would protect UK ships and seafarers, Nautilus UK said.
A GMB member who suffered a serious wrist injury in a workplace fall has received £90,000 compensation. Ian Mitchell suffered 'terrible injuries' in a fall from a ladder caused by dangerously uneven flooring. The injury occurred in May 2002 while he was working as a fibreglass laminator at Condor Environmental plc in Peterlee, County Durham. The ladders fell from under him as they stood on an uneven floor caused by pieces of fibreglass which had hardened over time. Mr Mitchell, 41, suffered a fractured right wrist and ulna and has endured several operations to try to repair the damage and ease the pain. He has been unable to return to his job at Condor and his job prospects are bleak. He said: 'I'm still in a lot of pain and having medical treatment. I've had various operations to fix my arm and will have to have my wrist permanently set. This will get rid of the pain but will result in total loss of movement. Since the accident I've managed to obtain work as a courier but I can only work for two hours per day.' Tommy Brennan, GMB Northern regional secretary, said: 'Employers who expose their workers to unsafe working environments must pay for their negligence. Every employee has a right to work in a safe environment. We would urge other local employers to take heed and learn from Condor's errors.' Mr Mitchell had been told he will only be capable of light sedentary work for the foreseeable future.
A welder who suffered an horrific hand injury leading to the amputation of a finger has received a £100,000 payout. Amicus member Donald Ford received the out-of-court settlement from Langley Holdings plc after suffering a serious injury to his left hand in December 2003. He was cutting up a steel barrel with an oxyacetylene torch when the two ends of the barrel snapped together crushing his left thumb, index, middle and ring fingers and causing traumatic injury to his left hand. Mr Ford said: 'My middle finger was completely crushed to a pulp and had to be amputated at the knuckle. I've lost my job as a result of the accident and the resulting injuries.' He added: 'I'm very pleased with the support from Amicus and their solicitors Thompsons; I previously tried the 'no win no fee' solicitors but got absolutely nowhere.' Amicus regional secretary Nev Jackson said Mr Ford had lost his job, and his income and future pension were both adversely affected, adding the union hoped 'other employers will take note and ensure that correct health and safety procedures are in place.' Monique Lubbe of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Mr Ford, said: 'Donald Ford's case is another example of the benefit of being a union member when one is faced with a serious life-changing injury following an accident at work as we were able to pursue this claim through the court system, almost to trial, in order to secure the compensation Mr Ford deserved.'
Bullying is steadily increasing in UK workplaces, according to new TUC figures released on 7 November to coincide with National Ban Bullying at Work Day. Fifteen per cent of the union safety reps questioned in the latest TUC biennial survey of union safety reps said bullying was a major problem in their workplace. Two years ago, 12 per cent of reps raised bullying as a big concern, which was up from only 10 per cent in 2002. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Bullies in the workplace must not go unchallenged and should not be given free rein to intimidate and victimise their colleagues. For individuals who are targeted by the office bully, the taunting and the jibes can severely damage their work and their home lives.' He said that bullying is not hard to tackle. 'Every workplace should have a policy which makes clear that intimidating behaviour towards colleagues will not be tolerated and that those who persist in undermining their fellow members of staff will be dealt with severely.' He added that a new Dignity at Work Bill 'would encourage employers to take the problem more seriously.' Psychology professor Cary Cooper from Lancaster University said a large scale national research study had found 'bullying doesn't just affect the people who experience it first hand, but the people who witness it too. It lowers morale in the office and in some cases can lead to an increase in time taken in days off work for stress-related problems. Moreover it can also impact on other areas of life including relationships and family life.' Professor Cooper urged employers to use the Health and Safety Executive's stress management standards to help address the problem.
A major drop in official enforcement action could lead to an increase in work-related injuries and illnesses, the union Amicus has warned. Calling for more inspections, better enforcement and stronger laws, the union said the statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released last week show that enforcement notices and prosecutions have now fallen for the last three years (Risks 281). Amicus said the figures show workplace safety inspections in the UK have plummeted to a new low, increasing the chances of workers being killed, made ill or injured by their jobs. It added that while the overall number of injuries and ill-health cases at work continue to decline, the enforcement figures suggest this fall could have been much greater if HSE was more effective. HSE enforcement notices fell from 11,335 in 2003/04, to 8,471 in 2004/05, and to only 6,383 in 2005/06. Prosecutions have shown a similar decline. Amicus said these figures confirm that UK employers are now less likely to be inspected, less likely to be prosecuted, less likely to be convicted of safety crimes, and less likely to receive a notice from an HSE inspector demanding safety improvements. Amicus deputy general secretary Tony Dubbins said: 'Amicus wants a strong HSE and strong local authority inspectors. We want more inspections and more enforcement. All the evidence shows us that it is the most effective way to stop employers breaking the law.' He added: 'We want an effective Corporate Manslaughter Act, and specific health and safety duties on directors. Unless business leaders feel the heat of the law they will not change their behaviour on health and safety.'
Too little is known about the work and health of older women, according to a new report. 'Older women, work and health', a research paper jointly commissioned by Help the Aged and TAEN - The Age and Employment Network - shows that few studies have explored the links between the work and health of older women despite their increased participation in the labour market. Report authors Lesley Doyal and Sarah Payne of the School of Policy Studies at the University of Bristol conclude that greater commitment to age and gender equality is needed in occupational health research, the organisation of work, workplace health interventions and in the framing of wider social policy if the needs of older working women are to be met. Commenting on the findings, TAEN chief executive Patrick Grattan said: 'This report highlights a neglected issue. There has been little research on the work and health of older people, and of older women in particular.' He added: 'Employment amongst people in their 50s and 60s is rising, driven recently by a growth in the number of older working women. Today, 69 per cent of women aged 50-59 are in paid work and 12 per cent of women aged 60 and over. It's vital that there should be more focus on the needs and health of older working women, an increasingly important group in the labour market, if the government is to realise its ambition of adding a million older people to the workforce.' Pamela Holmes of Help the Aged said: 'It's critical that women who need or want to work in their 50s and beyond should be able to so - and for work to be beneficial rather than detrimental to their health. We hope the publication of this report will help draw attention to the gaps in our knowledge in this important area. We urge government, employers, occupational health professionals and researchers to take steps to address the issues raised.'
A 45-year-old woman dying as a result of exposure to asbestos from her grandfather's work clothing has been awarded a £145,000 payout. Michelle Campbell said she loved sitting on granddad Charles Frost's knee and enjoying a chat when he popped in to visit on his way home from his job at Portsmouth dockyards. Mr Frost, who died in 1992 after suffering for years with respiratory problems, worked on ships at the dockyard from the end of the Second World War until his retirement in 1974. There was often asbestos around while he was working. Mrs Campbell won her legal battle against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in what is believed to be the first case of its kind. Mrs Campbell said: 'He used to call in to our house after work nearly every night when we were little. He always wore the trousers, jacket and shirt he wore to work. I would sit on his lap and give him a cuddle. Doctors think there must have been asbestos on his clothes that was passed on to me.' Mrs Campbell launched her compensation claim after being diagnosed with the cancer in January. She has undergone operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy but stopped treatment in May because it was not making enough of a difference. The MoD agreed to settle out of court after a writ was issued in the High Court in September. The government's Chief Medical Officer reported in July that the absence of laundry facilities at certain dockyards, including Portsmouth, could explain the 'striking difference' in mesothelioma rates in women, compared to Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth, which did provide an on-site laundry (Risks 268). The report pointed out that while the male to female ratio of mesothelioma cases in Plymouth was 25 to one, in Portsmouth it was nine to one, with far more women affected.
The number of NHS staff being physically assaulted has fallen, official figures have shown, although NHS hospitals have bucked the trend. NHS Security Management Service data showed there were 58,695 physical assaults against NHS staff in England in 2005/06, down 1,690 from 2004/05. Despite the overall fall, assaults against staff working in NHS hospitals rose last year. The new figures equate to an assault on one in every 23 staff members - down from one in every 22 staff in the previous year. The number of people prosecuted for assaulting staff also increased by 12 per cent, from 759 to 850, the NHS Security Management Service (SMS) said. A detailed breakdown of the figures showed assaults on ambulance staff, primary care trust staff and those working in mental health services all fell last year. However, the number of assaults on staff working in hospitals rose from 10,758 in 2004/05 to 11,100 assaults last year. Health minister Rosie Winterton said: 'It is totally unacceptable that NHS staff should face violence and aggression in the course of their job.' She said the government wanted to make anti-social and nuisance behaviour on NHS premises a criminal offence punishable by fines of up to £1,000 and give hospitals the power to remove people from their premises (Risks 261). Ms Winterton added: 'By giving the NHS the power to remove a potential threat, it would help reduce violent attacks on staff. This, alongside an increase in prosecutions, conflict resolution training for over 250,000 staff and our close working relationship with the Association of Chief Police Officers, means we can win the war against these violent offenders.'
Individuals who abuse staff at a Greater Manchester hospital face on-the-spot fines in a bid to crackdown on yobs on its casualty ward. The Royal Bolton Hospital has launched the initiative as part of a three-month pilot to curb misbehaviour. Offenders face £80 penalties, and being arrested, if they threaten or abuse staff in the course of their duty. Police patrols will also be stepped up in the accident and emergency (A&E) ward to help prevent trouble. The pilot scheme is the first of its kind in England and follows a rise in anti-social behaviour towards staff in accident and emergency departments. Although more serious offences are dealt with by the police, this is the first joint NHS and police scheme where fixed penalty fines - already in use in town centres - will be used to deal with disruptive behaviour in a hospital. Between April and September, 40 people were escorted from the Royal Bolton's A&E by security staff for unacceptable behaviour such as spitting, shouting, swearing, and being disruptive or abusive towards staff. During the same period, A&E and security staff were verbally abused by 41 people. Dr Richard Parris, consultant in accident and emergency medicine at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: 'We feel this is the tip of the iceberg as staff don't always report incidents of aggressive behaviour towards them - many feel it is part of the job, but this is unacceptable and it has to stop. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of behaviour in their workplace and it also causes distress for other patients and visitors in the department.' Chief inspector Martin Greenhalgh of Greater Manchester Police said: 'Behaviour of this nature towards public healthcare staff will simply not be tolerated. Here in Bolton, we hope that by working in partnership with the hospital we can reduce crime and disorder in the A&E department, making it a safer environment for staff, patients and visitors.'
A 21-year-old refuse collection worker has been awarded £3.75m compensation after an accident which left him paralysed. Birmingham High Court heard Richard Taylor was in a refuse lorry which overturned last year. The accident happened when the driver performing a 'shift load' - a manoeuvre where the lorry is driven fast before braking hard. Mr Taylor was 19 and working as an employee of Lichfield District Council when the incident happened on 21 February 2005. Richard Davis QC, who represented Mr Taylor in court, said: 'He now needs a lifetime of care, with two carers round the clock.' In court cases earlier this year the vehicle driver was convicted of dangerous driving and a supervisor convicted of aiding and abetting dangerous driving. Both have been dismissed from the council. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found the council had not been negligent. In a statement, the council said it 'would like to make it clear that it did not and does not condone any practice of so-called 'load shifting' either by its employees or by agency workers engaged in refuse collection on the council's behalf. Such an activity is obviously highly dangerous and must not be carried out under any circumstances.'
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned construction firms of the dangers of working even at relatively low heights after a teenage worker suffered multiple fractures when he fell from the open edge of a first floor working platform. Lotus Construction Limited of Otley, West Yorkshire, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £1,143 and compensation totalling £500, for failing to provide an edge protection barrier would could have prevented 17-year-old sub-contractor Richard Green from falling. The young plasterer had only been working in construction for three months when he fell a distance of around 2.4 metres from first floor level. The company pleaded guilty last week at Barnsley Magistrates' Court to safety offences. HSE's investigating inspector Mark Gough said: 'Last year, over 3,700 major injuries were recorded from falls at workplaces across the UK - 60 per cent of those injuries coming as a result of working at below head height. Yet falls are preventable when work is planned properly, the risks are accurately assessed, and the correct equipment is used.' He added: 'Contractors and sub-contractors alike have a duty to ensure that this preparation is done and that methods of work are safe. Had this happened in this case the young man involved would have avoided injury.' Figures released last week by HSE show in 2005/06 there were 917 major injuries in construction caused by falls from height.
A new qualification has been designed to improve young people's understanding of safe working when taking part in work experience. Last week the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in partnership with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), British Safety Council Awards (BSC Awards) and ENTO, unveiled the new workplace hazard awareness course and qualification. The intention is to provide Year 10 students in England with a basic understanding of health and safety in the workplace, so that they understand hazards, and what to expect of their employer. All schools in England will soon be notified about the qualification and course, says HSE. The Workplace Hazard Awareness Qualification at entry level 3 is based on the new national occupational standard for basic hazard awareness developed by ENTO. Martin Shevill, headteacher of Ossett School, Ossett, West Yorkshire, one of the schools that piloted the teaching materials, said: 'This is a very positive development to ensure the safety of school students in the workplace. We are looking at the possibility of introducing this for students on extended work placements.' Teaching materials to support the qualification have been produced by IOSH and will be free to schools and colleges. HSE says the materials will be accessible for students to work online and have been piloted in schools in England to ensure they meet the needs of teachers and students.
Europe: Work still risky, now more frantic
Over a quarter of Europe's workers believe their job places their health and safety at risk and over a third believe it is affecting their health, according to the first findings of the fourth European Working Conditions Survey. Interviews carried out with 30,000 workers in 31 countries late in 2005 found that 27 per cent felt they were at risk at work. The Dublin-based European Foundation, which conducted the survey, said the proportion expressing concern had dropped consistently since 1991, when the corresponding figure was 31 per cent. There are, however, big differences between the former EU15 countries (25 per cent) and the new Member States, where considerably more workers considered their work a health and safety risk (40 per cent). Over a third of workers surveyed reported that work affects their health (35 per cent). Actual exposure to risks appeared to have remained relatively stable or even increased slightly since 1991. The survey found work intensification is on the increase with rising numbers working at high speed and to tight deadlines. Standard working hours still appear to be the norm for most workers in Europe. Over 55 per cent of all workers work the same number of hours every day, and over 70 per cent work the same number of days every week. The proportion of people working non-standard hours (working at night or at weekends) has fallen slightly since 1995. The full report of the fourth European Working Conditions Survey will be available in February 2007.
Unions and health campaigners are calling for a ban on all uses of the pesticide paraquat in agriculture and an end its 'devastating health impacts'. Sue Longley of the global farmworkers' union federation IUF said her members overwhelmingly oppose paraquat use. 'Paraquat not only kills weeds, it kills workers, which is why our members, agricultural workers' unions around the world, are committed to its elimination. There are proven, less toxic alternatives,' she said. 'On banana plantations in Central America, palm oil plantations in South East Asia, and in many African countries workers suffer from the effects of paraquat on their health. The product must be banned worldwide.' The 'Stop Paraquat' campaign has support from non-governmental organisations, trade unions, and scientists around the world and is calling for an end to the production and use of the highly toxic and harmful herbicide. A public opinion campaign hopes to increase pressure on Swiss-based Syngenta, the company producing paraquat. 'The world's largest manufacturer of paraquat, Syngenta, acknowledges the highly toxic nature of paraquat but contends that it can be safely used when the prerequisite precautions are used,' Sue Longley said. 'However, the IUF's experience indicates that these safety measures are often ignored, especially in tropical countries where heat and humidity make personal protective equipment (PPE) uncomfortable for users. Also many farmers do not provide the necessary PPE to employees and workers cannot afford to buy their own - a pair of protective gloves is equivalent to a day's pay in Kenya.' Calling for an immediate prohibition on paraquat, she said: 'This is vital in view of the number of fatal poisonings that have occurred with undiluted and diluted paraquat and the inadequate work safety standards due to lack of resources and tropical climates.'
The family of a Suzuki Motor Corporation employee who killed himself in April 2002 due to work pressures and depression are to receive compensation for karoshi, death from overwork. A lawsuit brought by the family was settled on 30 October 2006 when it was determined Suzuki had not implemented appropriate policies to reduce employee workloads and so was liable. The employee worked in Suzuki's design department in Japan from February 2002. Before his death, he worked 144 hours overtime per month. In the month of his death he worked 315 hours in total. He suffered from depression before taking his own life. The lawsuit brought by the family sought 59 million yen (£263,000) in compensation.
The Health and Safety Executive has produced new 'young people at work' webpages. HSE says that inexperience and others factors mean workplace novices - and that frequently means young workers - are at a far higher risk of workplace injury. The webpages outline the law and common risks faced by young people at work. There's a specific 'work experience' section too. And there's useful links and resources sections.
The 6th Scottish Hazards Conference will take place at STUC's Glasgow offices on 16 November. Speakers include occupational medic Dr Thora Brendstrup, who works with trade unions in Denmark. Top asbestos campaigner Tommy Gorman will speak on occupational cancer risks and the lessons of Scotland's asbestos disease epidemic. HSE commissioner Margaret Burns and representatives of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) will also contribute.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2006
Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 10 Nov 2006
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