Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 14,500 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
Retail union Usdaw has welcomed government support for its 'Freedom from fear' campaign to combat the physical and verbal abuse aimed at Britain's shopworkers. Justice minister David Hanson - a former Co-op store manager - told MPs during an adjournment debate on retail crime that the government fully supports Usdaw's campaign. 'Usdaw is delighted that David Hanson acknowledged the genuine difference our campaign has made in tackling abuse aimed at shopworkers and offered the government's full support to our members,' said Usdaw general secretary John Hannett. 'The minister rightly pointed out that the number of shoplifters sentenced to imprisonment has increased significantly under this government. Shoplifting is all too often seen as a victimless crime despite the fact that 70 per cent of physical assaults on shop staff are related to shoplifting incidents.' The union leader added: 'Usdaw is a strong supporter of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships that bring shop staff, retailers, police and local authorities together to tackle retail crime and it is encouraging that David Hanson is keen to promote the extensive powers those partnerships have to tackle offenders. The minister also offered to meet Usdaw to discuss the wider issues of sentencing for retail crime and we will take up that offer so we can raise the real concerns of our 345,000 members who are on the receiving end of unacceptable levels of verbal and physical abuse in their stores.'
The public needs to change its attitude to traffic wardens who face abuse and violence for doing a public service, the union GMB has said. Commenting after a London traffic warden suffered a serious head injury in an attack last week, GMB organiser Gary Carter said: 'TV programmes and comedians who ridicule and demonise people who are going about their ordinary jobs enforcing public policy on our highways give rise to these extreme reactions that cause harm to others.' He added: 'What has not helped either is the managerial cultural in the car parking industry which sees the motorist as a source of income and where staff payment schemes are dependent on them issuing a set number of fines each day.' He said the system 'is not fair to the attendants and it is not fair to the motorist. These two things taken together are leading to a culture where the parking attendants are seen as fair game for assaults.'
The local authority health and safety enforcement staff policing England's new smoking ban could need protection in carrying out their duties, public sector union UNISON has said. Speaking ahead of the ban taking affect on 1 July, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: 'Smoke free public places will be healthier and will help persuade people against smoking in the first place. But government and council employers will need to invest in, and protect, staff enforcing the new laws in potentially volatile situations. And employers will need to provide help for those who want to pack it in.' UNISON represents some 850,000 workers in local government including staff charged with advising and enforcing on the ban. Graham Jukes, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), the professional body for these enforcement officers, said: 'This legislation is popular and the requirements are simple. Any reasonable person will find it easy to comply. In time it will become just another routine requirement for running a safe and healthy business.' He added: 'Enforcement tools available to local authorities will only be used where there are clear and persistent offences.' New health secretary Alan Johnson said: 'The smoking ban in England is the 'single most important public health legislation for a generation.'
Rail union RMT has warned of industrial action in protest at plans to close London Underground (LU) ticket offices, a move it says could damage services and put staff at an increased risk of violence. The union said it would campaign with passengers to keep the ticket offices open, warning that 240 jobs are under threat. From March 2008, 40 ticket halls will close and staff will be moved from the quieter stops to the busiest stations. Another union, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) has been handing out leaflets warning passengers the measure will lead to 'confusion and delays'. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'These threatened closures represent a dangerous attack on station staffing and we are asking passengers to fight alongside Tube workers to ensure they are not allowed to take place.' He added: 'No Tube booking office will be safe if LU is allowed to get away with this round of cuts. Tube workers will not tolerate the increase in ticket disputes, assaults, stress and lone working that these cuts would bring about.' An Early Day Motion has been tabled in the Commons by Labour MP John McDonnell opposing the ticket office closures.
Strike action by maintenance workers in Cumbria whose bonuses were withheld over the fatal Grayrigg crash was suspended this week following progress in talks between Network Rail and the union RMT. Action had been scheduled for 6 July relating to this issue and a separate working hours dispute involving Scottish signallers (Risks 312). In talks this week, Network Rail made concessions on both disputes. The company has indicated that the vast majority of maintenance staff in Cumbria would now receive their bonus. 'Nine days ago Network Rail told us that these issues were non-negotiable, but yesterday talks did take place and some progress was made,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said on 3 July. 'However, there are still serious issues that need to be addressed', he added, saying 'we will be seeking urgent talks with the company at national level.'
The firm operating the Newcastle metro system has failed in a bid to block an injury payout to metro train driver. An appeal by transport executive organisation NEXUS at Newcastle Upon Tyne Law Courts was rejected, and the company must now pay the £7,300 damages it owes the metro train driver, who was injured following the failure of an overhead line. In October 2006, train drivers' union ASLEF secured the compensation for member Glyn Richardson. NEXUS appealed this decision and the matter went to appeal before His Honour Judge Walton on Friday 29 June. Because of the appeal, Mr Richardson has still not seen a penny of his compensation, which the court decided he was entitled to over 8 months ago. Describing the incident when he was injured, Mr Richardson said: 'When the train broke down, I had to walk on ballast - the rubble which is laid in between the tracks and is a very rough and an uneven surface to walk upon. This caused injury to my back and my shoulder. I also had to help the passengers with their luggage. It was very painful and I was off work for over three months.' ASLEF branch secretary Trevor Graham, commenting on the case, said: 'He was injured, due to the employer's negligence, while carrying out his duties and ensuring the safety of passengers. Yet he is rewarded with his employer trying to deny him compensation. All employers have a duty of care to their employees, and the medical experts - an orthopaedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon - both confirmed back in October 2006 that it was the walking on the ballast which had caused the back and shoulder injuries.' In a separate case, Chiltern Railways has been ordered to pay compensation of £10,000 to PCS member Richard Wilmot after he broke his right shoulder on the station concourse as he approached the ticket barrier at Marylebone station. He slipped on a wet floor - the company had not repaired a leaking roof.
BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been released by kidnappers in the Gaza Strip after 114 days in captivity. Mr Johnston, 45, was handed over to armed men in Gaza City on 4 July. He said his ordeal was like 'being buried alive' but it was 'fantastic' to be free. Rallies worldwide had called for Mr Johnston's release. Leader of Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Naim Toubassi, whose members stopped work for a day to protest at the abduction, said. 'We have sent a strong message that kidnapping journalists is an evil practice that must be ended. We salute all those who have joined us in demanding that Alan be set free.' Alan Johnston's release was 'a dream come true' for his family, friends and colleagues, said Jeremy Dear, general secretary of UK journalists' union NUJ. 'We have all campaigned, lobbied, appealed and worked for Alan's release - and now we look forward to welcoming him home. The criminals who abducted Alan should now face justice and a strong warning be sent to all those around the world who target journalists that such threats and actions will not go unpunished.' The NUJ leader added: 'Alan's freedom is what we have wished for the last 114 days - but we also know there are hundreds of other journalists in captivity around the world - we must redouble our efforts to secure their release too'. Jim Boumelha, president of global journalists' union federation IFJ, said: 'Journalist unions have shown unprecedented solidarity and we are joyful that the campaign has succeeded'. IFJ says worldwide at least 29 journalists are being held by kidnappers. 'All these cases must now be followed-up and given top priority,' said Jim Boumelha. 'Alan's release must inspire the international community to take fresh action to end all kidnappings and hostage taking of media staff.' Last week the International News Safety Institute reported that more than 100 news men and women died in the first half of this year, a third more than at the same time in 2006, itself a record year for journalist casualties.
A government push for less workplace regulation and enforcement is the opposite of what works and what businesses want, two new reports suggest. Findings of an 18-month inquiry published this week by Tomorrow's Company, a group of prominent corporate leaders, calls for more, and better, regulation to reward environmentally and socially responsible companies. 'There are serious failures in the frameworks of law, regulations and agreements that frustrate many efforts to deal with some of the global issues both companies and societies face,' said the international inquiry team, which includes chairs and senior executives of Alcan, Anglo American, BP, Ford, Infosys, Standard Chartered and Suez. Companies should use their power, not to resist, but to help create better international agreements and national laws, the inquiry concluded. Wolfgang Schneider, vice-president for legal, governmental and environmental affairs at Ford's European division, said for responsible global companies to thrive, governments have to do more. 'You need to go to ambitious maximum conditions and enforce them worldwide,' he said. A second report, published on 4 July by The Work Foundation, said working life in Britain was 'significantly better' after a decade of Labour power. But is said it was 're-regulation' and not deregulation that had led to the positive changes. It added the government had re-regulated the labour market without any credible evidence of damage to economic performance, while unemployment had remained relatively low. David Coats, associate director of policy at the Work Foundation and one of the authors of the report, said: 'Work is one area of policy where Tony Blair's administrations have not only been extremely active over the last decade, but in which that activity has been for the better.' He added: 'The government has legislated to give workers a means of redress against some of the excesses of flexible labour markets - often in the face of resistance from employers - while simultaneously maintaining the dynamism of the economy.'
Prime minister Gordon Brown has named Peter Hain as the new secretary of state for work and pensions, replacing John Hutton. As the cabinet minister overseeing the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Hain's responsibilities will include the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and reform of the benefits system. Lord McKenzie keeps his job as health and safety minister in DWP. Maria Eagle replaces Gerry Sutcliffe as the junior minister in the Justice ministry who will deal with the corporate manslaughter law. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has called on the new secretaries of state for work and pensions and health - the new health secretary is former union general secretary Alan Johnson - to work with IOSH to tackle the 'twin evils' of workplace accidents and ill-health, helping improve the quality of working life and also the country's economy and productivity. Lisa Fowlie, IOSH president, said: 'Prevention needs to be high on their agendas and they need to work with their colleagues across government on this.' She added: 'IOSH is very much looking forward to meeting and working with both new secretaries of state and their respective teams. Our main campaign this year is called 'Get the best' and we hope both ministers will make sure they do just that, by engaging with IOSH on health and safety issues. We're determined to help them make the UK a safer and healthier place.'
A two-year-old child was injured by a conveyor belt in a King's Lynn factory. Bel-Shrimp Ltd was fined a total of £5,000 with £4,300 costs, and its director Eric Oughton was fined £400 with £100 costs at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court last week. The child - who cannot be named for legal reasons - suffered serious injuries to its fingers after putting a hand in the bottom roller of the conveyor at the factory in November 2002. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought the prosecution. HSE inspector Steve Gill said: 'The HSE wishes to make it clear that we expect business risks to be properly managed and machinery to be guarded in accordance with published guidance. A working factory is no place for a child. The risks in this factory were even greater as there was machinery which was not guarded, to the extent it should have been.' He added: 'The message from this case is that HSE will continue to take action against those who flout the law and that managers and directors can be held directly responsible should their actions lead to employees or others being put at risk.'
Tesco faced an unprecedented revolt at its annual general meeting (AGM) last week over the poor employment conditions facing workers in the developing world that supply its supermarkets with everything from cheap clothing to fruit. In some cases workers were employed in 'deathtrap' factories, the shareholder protesters said. Nearly one in ten shareholders (9.3 per cent) at Tesco's London AGM voted for a resolution demanding supplier factories undergo independent auditing to ensure decent pay and conditions for employees. Support came from shareholders representing over 400 million shares, including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, an independent organisation which holds close to a million shares. An even bigger proportion, 10.1 per cent, withheld their backing. PIRC, the independent advisory body to institutional investors, defied Tesco's instructions by advising shareholders to abstain from voting. The resolution - the first from an individual shareholder to be voted on at a Tesco AGM - was proposed by Ben Birnberg, company secretary for the anti-poverty charity War on Want. Backing for the resolution also came from Bangladesh researcher Khorshed Alam, who interviewed employees who produce Tesco clothes in the country's capital Dhaka. The interviews were conducted for War on Want's report 'Fashion Victims', which showed employees were regularly working 80 hours a week for just 5p an hour in potential deathtrap factories. Mr Birnberg said: 'The unprecedented level of shareholders who voted for the resolution or withheld backing for Tesco sends a clear signal that people want decent pay and conditions for workers in the supply chain.' He added: 'Shareholders voted through a package of up to £11.5m in pay and shares for Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy. Now the company must share out some of its record £2.6 billion profits to the workers.'
Interactive whiteboards, now a common feature in UK schools, may pose a threat to the eyesight of teachers and children. A whistleblower from the whiteboard industry itself has pressed the authorities to investigate potential problems. Sam Livermore, owner of Croydon-based company Selectasize, has been struggling to persuade England's education department to put printed warnings alongside all screens because of the light projected onto them. Documents from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, say users 'should make sure that direct beam viewing of the optical output from this equipment is both controlled and restricted to no more than a few tens of seconds at a time.' They say the 'eye aversion response' - the dazzle effect - will be so strong that most people would not be able to view the beam for that long. But it is possible a viewer's peripheral retina could be overexposed even when they are not actually staring directly into the beam. 'In such instances, no protective aversion response is evoked in viewers and so they won't know that they could be overexposing their eyes,' the HSE documents say. A report from the National Radiological Protection Board recognised this risk more than two years ago (Risks 192). And a straw poll conducted by Mike Harrison, an NUT rep in Wiltshire, found only a small number of teaching staff had been told how to use whiteboards safely. He said: 'It's very difficult to avoid the beam because if you are standing in front and demonstrating a point to the class you immediately want to turn round to know that they are aware of what you are saying, rather than ducking out of the beam. You want to stay there and face the class.' A letter from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) admits that only a third of whiteboards have health and safety notices on them and says that its 'current health and safety information does not address projectors.' One of the country's leading experts from City University's department of optometry and visual sciences, Dr Christopher Hull, said: 'What little evidence we have indicates misuse of whiteboards is likely to cause only non-permanent changes. But, in the meantime, there is no reason not to put safety notices up.'
A pesticide-affected local authority groundsman went missing overnight and was discovered by a colleague wandering in a park the following day with no memory of what had happened. Andrew McKeith's employer, Macclesfield Borough Council, was fined a total of £6,000 last week and ordered to pay £3,747 costs after pleading guilty to two HSE charges at Macclesfield Magistrates Court. HSE inspector Catherine Catchpole said: 'The charges were brought after council employee Andrew McKeith failed to return from work. He was reported missing by his wife after spending a day spraying the herbicide 'Enforcer' at recreation grounds throughout the borough.' The inspector added: 'Mr McKeith had not been trained in proper use of the herbicide nor was he given the correct protective equipment and therefore suffered prolonged exposure to its effects. As a result, when he returned to his normal workplace he became disorientated and has no recollection of where he spent the night of 12 April 2006. He was not found until the following morning when a colleague found him wandering in Bollington Recreation Park.' The inspector said it was vital that businesses 'realise that they must ensure their staff has been properly trained in using equipment and materials and are also given the correct protective equipment to reduce the risks from using it.' Vivienne Horton, chief executive of Macclesfield Borough Council, said after the case: 'We very much regret the circumstances of this incident and have co-operated fully with the Health and Safety Executive. I want to reassure the public that we've reviewed the policies that were in place in the grounds maintenance department and, as a result of internal investigations, new safety equipment has been purchased and procedures have been tightened up. This includes refresher training for relevant staff.'
Occupational cancers are killing more people that published official estimates, new figures show. Research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and presented to an HSE-organised seminar last month concluded six cancers alone were responsible for 7,380 deaths a year. HSE's current estimate for all occupational cancers, published on its website, is 23 per cent lower, putting the figure for all workplace cancers at just 6,000 deaths a year. 'The researchers stressed that this was likely to be an underestimation as much of the employment data was out of date or unavailable,' said TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. 'Further work is still to be undertaken on other cancers, and it is expected that this research will lead to the HSE revising their cancer estimates upwards.' He pointed to a Stirling University report published to coincide with the HSE seminar that outlined a series of flaws in HSE's previous strategy for dealing with workplace cancers, including underestimating the problem (Risks 312). It put the number of work-related cancer deaths at more than 12,000 a year, but said the true toll could be much higher. The report added: 'HSE fails to recognise the social inequality in occupational cancer risk, which is concentrated in skilled and unskilled manual workers and lower employment grades, or the greater likelihood these groups will experience multiple exposures to carcinogens at work and in the wider environment.' Solicitor Adrian Budgen, head of law firm Irwin Mitchell's industrial diseases group, also criticised the HSE approach. He said: 'We deal with many cancer related workplace illnesses every week and the immense pressure it puts on our clients and their families is tremendous. It is well known that if employers put the correct health and safety procedures into place then workplace illnesses would be greatly reduced. The HSE need to give the whole picture of the risks to workers if we are ever to win the fight in protecting innocent workers from carcinogens in the workplace.'
Activists lobbied a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) event in Battersea Park last month in protest at deaths caused by collapsing cranes. The Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group - formed after 23-year-old Michael Alexa was crushed to death by a falling crane in Battersea last September (Risks 311) - waved banners saying 'end crane deaths now.' They called for immediate action from HSE to prevent more crane deaths, and for the government to review crane safety law. Liliana Alexa, the group's secretary and mother of victim Michael, said: 'Crane accidents are one of the biggest national scandals of the last year. It seems no building worker or member of the public is safe. All the HSE seems to be able to do is issue prohibition notices on companies after disasters have occurred.' She added: 'This is closing the stable doors after horses have bolted. No one will be safe until there's proper legislation on crane safety and a well-resourced HSE.' Julia Brandreth of Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, which has supported the campaign, said: 'This is becoming more and more of a huge public safety issue because there are more and more building works going on. The HSE only seems to be taking action after an accident has happened, but does not have the resources to prevent these accidents.' Three major crane disasters have occurred in the past year, the groups say (Risks 309).
A Leicester DIY store has been fined £80,000 after an employee was hit by a forklift truck. The man was working at a B&Q store in the city when he was forced to dive out the way of a customer's car and into the path of the truck. The man suffered serious foot injuries and was off work for several months. The company had previously pleaded guilty to three offences at Leicester Crown Court and was also ordered to pay £150,000 costs on top of the fine. Councillor Robert Wann, of the city council that brought the prosecution, said: 'I am very pleased with the outcome of this court case. B&Q is a national organisation, and the court has shown today that regardless of the size of a company, health and safety issues are very important.' The firm admitted not making adequate arrangements for allowing pedestrians and vehicles to circulate safely and two incidents of allowing stock to be stored on pavements.
A month-long strike by 660 chromium miners in Albania escalated late last month as 30 of the striking miners began a hunger strike. On 26 June, five strikers were hospitalised due to dehydration. Another four were brought to hospital on 1 July, with doctors describing their condition as critical. The strike at Deco Metal's mine and one of two ferrochrome smelters at Bulqiza, in north east Albania, is backed by the Trade Union Federation of Industrial Workers of Albania and has popular support as well as assistance from the non-governmental organisation Mjaft. The strike is over safety, pay, life insurance and general working conditions. Neither the mine and smelter management nor the Albanian government officials have acted to address the grievances on pay and the 'abhorrent' safety conditions. Instead, on 1 July, the leader of the strikers' committee, Dilaver Perkoxha, was arrested. Manfred Warda, general secretary of global union federation ICEM, said: 'The striking miners and the Federation of Industrial Workers deserve and will get our full support and solidarity.' ICEM says health and safety concerns were highlighted tragically on 5 June when two mineworkers, Hysni Lezni and Avni Duriçi were killed 1,000 metres underground in Deco Metal's chromium mine.
Seven men have been jailed over the beating to death of a journalist outside an illegal coalmine in China. The head of the mine, Hou Zhenrun, was jailed for life for ordering the attack that killed reporter Lan Chengzhang outside the mine in Shanxi province. Some officials at the time said Mr Lan was not an accredited journalist and may have been trying to extort money. The case triggered an outcry and a rare intervention by President Hu Jintao. He ordered a swift investigation into the attack on the Beijing-based China Trade News journalist and his colleague. Five men were given sentences of between five to 15 years in jail for carrying out the attack, while another man received a year sentence for harbouring the suspects. The court in Shanxi sentenced Hou to life in prison for causing the death of another by malicious injury. Mr Lan's family were also awarded 300,000 yuan (£20,000) in compensation from the defendants. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomed the sentences. 'This is a major blow to those who think they can order the killings of journalists with impunity,' said IFJ general secretary Aidan White. 'It is a welcome sign that governments are starting to take the media safety crisis seriously. With more than 100 journalists and media staff already killed this year this action is long overdue.' The IFJ believes Chengzhang's killing was a brutal warning to other journalists who are probing and exposing the price being paid by workers in the dramatic expansion of the Chinese economy. He was the third journalist to be violently murdered in China within a year, said IFJ. 'We hope that this case is a sign that the Chinese government is ready to do more to protect independent, investigative journalism,' said White. 'Journalism is more powerful than ever, but the killers are more ruthless, more desperate and more daring. That's why every action to challenge impunity and to bring the killers to justice must be applauded.'
A trade unionist has been fired from a Rome outlet of the global fast food giant McDonald's after raising safety concerns. The union FILCAMS-CGIL is organising action to contest the recent dismissal of the union leader. Global foodworkers' union federation IUF says the union representative, employed at the unit for 16 years, 'had denounced the inadequate kitchen ventilation, intolerable psychological pressure on employees and the lack of training, especially on health and safety, which have resulted in many incidents.' It added: 'The IUF supports the union's efforts to force McDonald's to respect the rights of their employees and to oppose the dismissal of their union leader. Should the situation escalate, the IUF will call on affiliates to actively join the campaign.' This is not that first safety protest involving workers from Italian McDonald's outlets. Workers took strike action in 2000 over the 'intimidatory climate' at the firm, with employees in Rome complaining of 'inhuman working conditions, a ban on drinking or going to the bathroom during working time, timed work tasks, non-paid overtime hours and notification of shifts just with a day's notice.'
The US government's workplace safety watchdog has wrongfully withheld data documenting years of toxic exposures to workers and its own inspectors, according to a federal court ruling last week. As a result, the world's largest compendium of measurements of occupational exposures to toxic substances - more than 2 million analyses conducted during some 75,000 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace inspections since 1979 - should now be available to researchers and policymakers. Each year, an estimated 40,000 US workers die prematurely because of exposures to toxic substances on the job. The 29 June federal court ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Dr Adam Finkel, a former chief regulator and regional administrator at OSHA from 1995-2003, and now a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and a visiting professor at Princeton University. His career at OSHA came to an end after disclosing OSHA's secret decision in 2002 not to offer medical testing to its own inspectors who had been exposed to beryllium dust. Exposure to even low levels of beryllium dust, fumes, metal, metal oxides, ceramics or salts even over a short period of time can result in chronic beryllium disease, lung cancer or skin disease. 'OSHA forgot a long time ago that it exists to protect workers, not to protect its own executives,' stated Dr Finkel. 'Ordinary citizens paid to collect these data, and I look forward to analysing this public database to help OSHA find its way back to its original mission.' Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which backed the case, said: 'OSHA's perverse posture in this case fits its pattern of studiously ignoring occupational health hazards ranging from popcorn lung disease to the epidemic of pulmonary maladies among Ground Zero workers.' He added: 'Congress should identify the officials responsible for this fiasco before the Bush administration awards them bonuses.'
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 6 Jul 2007
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