Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 16,000 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 PrivacyUnion News
The union Unite has secured a 'great victory' for workers with disabilities. An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that dismissed employees can be awarded future loss of earnings when they are receiving incapacity benefit. The decision was the result of a claim brought by Unite on behalf of one of its members, Mr Fox, who suffers from a debilitating skin disorder and who went on to contract Bell's Palsy. He was dismissed by his employer, Sheffield Forge Masters International Ltd, earlier this year. The firm accepted that it had told Mr Fox his disability-related absence was unacceptable. An employment tribunal judgment that the firm failed to follow its own absence procedures, had discriminated and had failed to make reasonable adjustments was upheld at an Employment Appeal Tribunal. The firm's had argued at the appeal that as Mr Fox had claimed incapacity benefit after his dismissal he must have been 'incapable of working'. As a result, it claimed, he should not have been awarded compensation for future loss of earnings. However, this argument was not upheld by the EAT and Mr Fox was awarded £40,000 in damages. Siobhan Endean, Unite's head of equalities, said: 'This decision should make it easier for dismissed and disabled employees who are fit to work but claiming incapacity benefit to win compensation when they are unfairly dismissed and discriminated against by their employer. This is a great victory both for Mr Fox and Unite and our victory has meant that this will set a precedent for similar cases in the future.'
A sharp rise in firefighter deaths has been linked to a lack of training, investment and government safety guidance. Eight firefighters died on duty in 2007, the worst year since 1985. A report from firefighters' union FBU says in the five years since 2003, at least 22 firefighters have died while on duty, significantly more than in the five years prior to this. More firefighters are being killed while actually attending fires. From February 1996 until October 2002 there were no recorded firefighter deaths at fires in the UK. In the period from 2003 to 2007, however, at least 13 firefighters have been killed at fires, the FBU report says. 'The figures have shocked even me,' said FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. 'I knew firefighter deaths were increasing, but I am horrified at the rate by which they are increasing. And there is no comprehensive, consistent, UK-wide system for recording firefighter deaths.' The report identifies a series of factors contributing to the increase, including a 'policy vacuum', inadequate risk assessments and risk management plans and insufficient training. According to Matt Wrack, these causes of the fatalities surge 'can all be changed, if the government really wants to change them.' The report calls for measures including the creation of a national Fire and Rescue Service body to implement lessons from tragedies, an investment in safety and training, and improved planning.
There are wide regional disparities in construction deaths, the union UCATT has found. Official figures released last month revealed that in 2007/08 there were a total of 72 construction deaths, down from 79 in 2006/07, but up on 2005/06. But UCATT's research found some areas were far more risky than others. Scotland and London topped the deaths list, each recording 11 site fatalities in 2007/08. There were 10 site deaths in Eastern England, nine in the South West, seven in Yorkshire, seven in South East England, six in the North West, four in West Midlands, four in Wales and one death in the East Midlands. There were no deaths recorded in the Northern Region. The Health and Safety Executive was unable to identify where two of the workers were killed, said the union. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie commented: 'Too often bosses regard deaths in construction as an inevitable consequence of the industry. That kind of shocking attitude must be stamped out.' He criticised the falling levels of enforcement action by the cut-back Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 'Unless the number of prosecutions and the penalties increase, bosses will believe that they can continue to get away with cutting corners on health and safety,' he said. 'Inevitably this attitude leads to serious injuries and loss of life.'
A meat inspector trampled by an escaped cow has received a £6,000 compensation payout for his injuries. UNISON member Melvyn Treen was working at Chitty Wholesale abattoir in Guildford. 'The cow was being moved into the stunning pen, it managed to push out of the top between the release handle for the revolving door and fell on top of me, injuring my right shoulder, neck and back,' recalled Mr Treen, 62. 'Due to my injuries I've had a lot of time off work and have lost out on overtime on many occasions. It's very frustrating.' UNISON regional secretary, Phil Wood, commented: 'This was a totally avoidable accident. The restraining bar over the stunning pen that would have prevented the cow jumping over the barriers, had been removed. And it was Mr Treen who paid the cost. Employers must accept their responsibilities to make sure that safety equipment is in place and properly functioning.' Ranjit Sond from Thompson Solicitors, who brought the case for UNISON, said: 'This was an unusual case but once proceedings were issued the defendants were keen to settle and a settlement figure of £6,000 was agreed.'
A GMB member has received £10,000 in an out-of-court settlement after his hands were left permanently damaged as a result of using vibrating tools at work. Frederick Roebuck, 61, was left with debilitating condition Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) - also known as vibration white finger (VWF) - after using a vibrating poker for up to five hours a day in his job at manufacturing firm Charcon Tunnels. The condition means he suffers pain in his hands and cannot undertake simple tasks like trimming his garden hedge or buttoning up his grandchildren's clothes. He was diagnosed with HAVS in 2007 after experiencing problems with his hands, including numbness, since 2005. Frederick still works for the Ashfield-based firm, which makes cement segments used in underground tunnels and which admitted liability for the condition. He no longer works with vibrating tools but until 2007 his work involved using a vibrating poker for up to five hours a day, five days a week. Until he developed the condition, Frederick believed it only affected miners. 'But in 2006 my fingers started going white and when I was pokering they would cramp up and go numb,' he said. 'I would have to stop what I was doing and shake my hands to get the circulation back into them.' GMB regional secretary, Andy Worth, commented: 'Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 employers are required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk to health and safety to their employees arising from exposure to vibration at work. We are pleased that in this case Mr Roebuck has been compensated for his injury and that his employer has been held to account.'
The economic downturn could lead to more bullying at work, the TUC has warned. The alert comes as new figures from TUC have identified workplace bullying as one of the top 10 workplace problems identified by safety reps. Speaking on 7 November - Ban Bullying at Work Day- TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the TUC safety reps survey 2008 found bullying was a concern at work for one in five safety reps (20 per cent), an increase on both the previous two biennial surveys, with 15 per cent highlighting bullying in 2006 and 12 per cent in 2004. The TUC leader said: 'Concerns about bullying at work have increased by 25 per cent since 2006. And as the economic downturn puts workers under greater strain, there is a danger that bullying could spread even further.' Mr Barber added: 'There is simply no excuse for bullying at work. It can leave people traumatised, unable to work and unhappy after work, and harms office morale too. We urge employers to look at their working culture and policies to ensure that whenever bullying rears its head at work, it is stamped out straight away.' CWU national equality officer Linda Roy, who was instrumental in the setting up of her union's bullying and harassment helpline several years ago, commented: 'We know that there has been excellent progress made by some employers in terms of genuinely trying to tackle bullying in a constructive and committed manner, but the fact remains there are still huge problems that our members face in relation to bullying.'
Urgent government action is needed to avert the 'major public health disaster' caused by occupational cancers, Stirling University researchers have warned. Writing in the European Journal of Oncology, Professor Andrew Watterson reports that more people die in Scotland from occupational cancers than from road accidents, murders and suicides combined. He called for the Scottish government to implement a range of prevention measures. The professor, chair of the university's Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, said: 'The high toll taken by occupational cancers has been neglected, and UK regulators have been silent on this subject for a quarter of a century. Approximately 539,172 Scottish workers are exposed to workplace carcinogens. Each year, new carcinogens emerge and more people are exposed to them.' With 10-12 per cent of all cancers estimated to be work-caused or work-related, this means there are up to 1,800 deaths each year in Scotland. Professor Watterson called for practical solutions, some well tried and tested in other countries. 'Scotland is well placed to run a national cancer prevention campaign on occupational and environmental cancers, and to introduce cost-effective toxics use reduction measures and policies,' he said. Although health and safety is reserved to Westminster, Watterson said the Scottish parliament could still make a difference by working with companies to introduce toxic use reduction and by introducing other public health measures. Journalist Joan McAlpine, writing in the Sunday Times, was critical of the Health and Safety Executive, commenting that 'the executive has taken a laissez-faire approach to this issue, despite the advice of academics such as Watterson and campaigning organisations like Hazards journal. The Scottish government would do well to take an independent, more moral, position.'
The dwindling band of frontline Health and Safety Executive inspectors do not have the capacity to properly enforce criminal safety law, a new report has concluded. 'Where is the justice?', an analysis published this week in the trade union health and safety magazine Hazards, reveals: 'In 2004, HSE had 1,483 'operational frontline inspectors'. This number fell year on year, until by April 2008 the watchdog has just 1,238 inspectors on the workplace beat, a fall of over 17 per cent from 852 to 706.' The drop in numbers of factory and agricultural inspectors, offshore inspectors and quarry inspectors was more dramatic still. Frontline inspection cover fell in every sector enforced by HSE, the report said. At the same time the number of offences prosecuted had fallen year on year, while the overall workplace death rate had not fallen. In 2003/04, HSE prosecuted 1,720 offences, this falling to just 1,028 according to the latest provision figures - which are expected to drop still further when the final tally is announced. Describing a 'growing corporate accountability deficit', the report says every key HSE enforcement measure - prosecutions, convictions and enforcement notices - fell last year. According to Hazards magazine: 'Several factors have left the beleaguered watchdog with little room for improvement. It has far fewer inspectors to do the gruntwork, far more workplaces to inspect and a government intent on less enforcement activity in fewer places.' It adds that HSE's new strategy, to be launched next month, 'will not be an ambitious blueprint for better enforced, more safe and more just workplaces. It will be linguistic acrobatics, presenting a neutered watchdog as still relevant.'
Business groups, unions and the government joined forces last week for the first meeting of the Fair Employment Enforcement Board. Ministers say the board will lead the fight to protect vulnerable workers from the minority of unscrupulous employers who exploit their staff and undercut their competitors. Among its key functions is coordinating the work of the existing enforcement bodies covering low pay, health and safety and gangmasters. New measures include allowing these enforcement agencies to share data. Employment relations minister Pat McFadden said: 'We must safeguard workers' rights and ensure unscrupulous employers cannot prey on those who are desperate to earn a living in difficult times. Denying workers basic rights on wages, leave and conditions is not only illegal, but cheats the majority of honest businesses. These practices must be stamped out.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'We welcome these moves to improve enforcement of existing rights and make sure that workers and their bosses know their rights and obligations. A single contact point and closer joint working were calls made by the TUC Commission and we are pleased to see the government respond.' Katja Hall, CBI's director of employment policy, said: 'The UK has a strong and extensive framework of employment law and there should be no hiding place for rogue employers who block their staff from benefiting from it.'
Nanomaterials are likely to kill people in the future unless extensive safety checks are put in place, a Royal Commission report has said. The team of experts assessing the likely impacts of the emerging technology called for urgent action after concluding current testing arrangements 'are inadequate' and there are 'areas of particular concern regarding governance and regulation of nanomaterials.' Past generations have brought into general usage materials such as asbestos, leaded petrol, CFCs and cigarettes without adequately considering the potential damage and the Commission fears nanomaterials will prove similarly dangerous. Only by introducing rigorous safety systems, including widespread monitoring and intensive research, can threats posed by nanomaterials be identified and countered, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded. Commission chair, Sir John Lawton, said: 'While we welcome action taken by government and organisations such as the OECD to try to address some of the uncertainties around the environmental and human health impacts of nanomaterials, there is far more to do, not least as the rate of innovation in this sector far outstrips our capacity to respond to the risks.' He added: 'There is an urgent need for more research and testing of nanomaterials. It will be necessary to extend the coverage within the European Union of the existing regulatory regime for chemicals (REACH). This must be taken forward as a matter of urgency.' Sir John said while evidence of adverse health effects had yet to emerge, it was clear existing controls were not good enough. 'Current testing arrangements and existing regulations are inadequate,' he said. 'The Commission strongly believes that new governance arrangements are vital to deal with the challenges posed by current and future innovation in this sector.' Professor Susan Owens of the University of Cambridge and a member of the Commission, said: 'If we don't do anything and we leave it, then things manifest themselves in 10 to 15 years' time.' Recalling the problems associated with CFCs, asbestos and other products, she called for research and monitoring.
The widow of a former electrician has been awarded £172,000 in compensation after her husband died of an asbestos related cancer. The former electrician, whose identity has not been disclosed, was exposed to asbestos while working for Greater London Council (GLC) and the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) from 1966 until the late 1980s. During his early career he worked in confined spaces close to colleagues who were using asbestos-based products to insulate heating pipes. In his later career as an electrical inspector he was exposed to asbestos dust in the general work environment. He was never given any protection against the dangerous dust. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2003 and died aged 69 in July 2004. The widow's representative at Thompsons Solicitors, Eamonn McDonough, added: 'This electrician's life was sadly cut short by mesothelioma, a devastating disease caused by asbestos. He was negligently exposed to the dust by his former employers and it is only right that his family are compensated for their loss.'
An East Sussex firm has been fined £20,000 after a worker suffered serious head injuries when he fell from an unprotected mobile tower scaffold. E&F Joinery pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. In addition to the fine it was instructed to pay costs of £11,895. The prosecution followed an incident during fitting-out of a shop as part of the construction of Enfield Shopping Centre. Self-employed duct installer Robert Wilson, now 67, was working from the tower scaffold while fitting ductwork, when he fell three metres onto a concrete floor in September 2006. Mr Wilson suffered severe head and chest injuries and was left permanently disabled. He can no longer work and needs to be winched into a specially-adapted car by his family. An HSE inspection showed that while Mr Wilson was not working directly for E&F Joinery, the firm was in control of the work and responsible for planning and supervising it. It also showed that the tower scaffold did not have the correct edge protection on it, and it was not inspected before use. Both of these measures would have helped prevent the fall. Judge Richard Hone said: 'Robert Wilson was extremely seriously injured when he fell from a scaffold tower which was in breach of the work at height regulations. This has had a terrible impact, not only to himself, but to his family.'
A Nottinghamshire scrap firm has been fined £2,000 after a worker was engulfed in flames. Thomas Cooper, 59, suffered severe burns to the backs of his legs, hands and arms, covering 17 per cent of his body, after a spark from cutting equipment ignited a fuel spill. A district judge sitting at Nottingham Magistrates Court found Phoenix Autoparts 2000 Ltd negligent in not identifying the potential risk or carrying out a sufficient assessment. District judge Morris Cooper said: 'I do accept that the company simply failed to see what was in fact a fairly serious and fairly obvious risk. I believe it to be serious negligence because it was a failure to recognise an ongoing and serious risk.' Thomas Cooper's injuries resulted in him being hospitalised for five weeks and undergoing two skin grafts. He has not been able to work since the incident in August 2006. Mr Cooper had been showing a less experienced employee how to cut up a car using an oxyacetylene torch. While this was happening, another less experienced employee was extracting fuel from another vehicle using a 'retriever unit'. A petrol puddle under the unit ignited. Judge Cooper fined the company £2,000 for two safety breaches, plus £2,374.96 in costs. He said the fine would have been higher were it not for the 'dire' financial state of the company. Two directors and an employee of a scrap company were jailed in September after one of their workers, Thomas Mooney, died in a workplace fireball. The bosses of Reliance Scrap Metal Merchants were jailed for perjury, not the safety offences, after lying in a bid to escape blame (Risks 375).
Customer services workers, such as call centre operators, are more likely to take days off sick than any other occupation, according to official figures. Almost 5 per cent of employees in customer services questioned during the 12 months to the beginning of June had taken at least one day off in the week before they were surveyed. This compared with a national average of 2.5 per cent, according to the latest Economic and Labour Market Review published by the Office for National Statistics. Train drivers, air traffic controllers and pilots were the least likely to take a sick day. Transport professionals had a sickness absence rate of just 0.8 per cent, according to ONS. People working in smaller organisations were less likely to take sickness absence. Workplaces with fewer than 25 employees had a sickness absence rate of 2.3 per cent, compared with 2.8 per cent for those with over 500 employees. TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, commented: 'It is hardly surprising that industries with high stress levels should have higher sickness rates and it shows the need for a legal duty on employers to deal with stress.' He added: 'The difference between large employers and smaller ones can also be explained by the different attitudes that they have to long term sickness absence with small employers being more likely to dismiss these with a long-term illness that larger employers who are more likely to have sick pay schemes.'
A senior state government minister in New South Wales (NSW) has led a group of union officials onto the site of Sydney's proposed desalination plant to conduct a safety audit. NSW water minister Phil Costa visited the site run by construction firm John Holland. Under NSW state law, unions have the right to make safety visits when concerns are raised by members. For the past 12 months, John Holland has been fighting construction union CFMEU in the courts to limit their access, arguing federal workplace safety laws and not state laws apply to the site. Commenting on the visit, the minister said: 'The unions have met with me and expressed some issues concerning the desalination plant construction site. I decided to go on site today to have a look for myself. The proper approvals to enter the site were obtained from Sydney Water and the builders John Holland were very accommodating of my visit. This visit was of my own undertaking following discussions with the unions.' Officials and organisers from the CFMEU, Australian Workers Union (AWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), accompanied Mr Costa on the 20-minute visit. CFMEU assistant secretary Malcolm Tullock said the last time he had visited the site, over a worker who refused to return to work over safety issues, John Holland had called the police. He said unions had been contacted by members who had many concerns over safety at the site, including hazardous dust and wetness and the danger of people falling from heights. 'There is an atmosphere of fear, loathing and intimidation on the site here in regards to safety,' he said. 'We believe we have got a right under the NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act to be here and John Holland believe we don't.'
Unions in Australia have said they support new proposals to increase the maximum fines for companies and directors who cause death or injury to workers, but say the penalties proposes are not severe enough to be an effective deterrent. They are also concerned that bad employers will still find it easy to escape prosecution. The first report of the National Review of Occupational Health and Safety Laws has made 75 recommendations to the Australian federal and state governments on harmonising the laws that cover health and safety at work. The report calls for fines for recklessness or gross negligence and serious harm including death to jump to Aus$3 million (£1.3m) for companies and to Aus$600,000 (£257,000) for individuals such as directors. The recommended maximum jail sentence for individuals will be five years, which is higher than that applying currently in most states. ACTU assistant secretary Geoff Fary said: 'These recommendations are a step in the right direction, but need to go much further to protect working people by tightening up the rules on employers' duty of care to their workforce.' He added: 'Unions believe that the ability to fine companies a percentage of the turnover would be a better deterrent, because even a $3 million fine is a drop in the ocean for some big corporations. At the moment employers can get fined more for breaching trade practices law than for being found guilty of contributing to employees being killed or maimed in their workplace.' Mr Fary concluded: 'Unions will continue to campaign for laws that put an unqualified duty of care on employers to provide a healthy and safe workplace.' Other issues, including the harmonisation of trade union safety rights, will be considered in part 2 of the review.
Global trade union confederation ITUC has joined the chorus of condemnation of the decision last month to exclude chrysotile asbestos and the pesticide endosulfan from the list of dangerous products under the Rotterdam Convention, the international agreement which regulates exports of hazardous chemicals. 'Industry lobbies and the profit motive have tragically prevailed over the safety of workers and consumers with the refusal to include these two highly dangerous substances from the coverage of this Convention' said ITUC general secretary Guy Ryder. 'Governments must move urgently to correct this mistake, which leaves the health of many thousands of workers in mining, construction, agriculture and other sectors at grave risk.' The ITUC leader added: 'Instead of governments responding to the urgent need to protect, this development underlines the powerful influence of a few vested interests and poses extremely serious questions about the credibility of the Rotterdam Convention. Transparent and democratic decision-making should replace the current practice where collusion between powerful industry lobbies and a few countries can allow commercial gain to push public health aside. The legitimate concerns of the great majority of countries and the clear weight of scientific evidence have been ignored with this inexcusable decision.'
The International News Safety Institute (INSI) has provided safety training to 35 Russian conflict reporters and other media staff working in danger areas in the Caucasus. Organised jointly with the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), the free two-day course was held last month in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Participants came from the war-torn regions of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kalmykia and Dagestan itself. They were taught personal security, such as precautions against abduction, pre-deployment planning, conflict management and dealing with hostile crowds, landmines and checkpoints. Basic first aid was included. 'This safety training will help reduce the risks that Caucasian journalists and other media workers face while they carry out their professional duty,' said Ali Kamalov, president of the Dagestan Union of Journalists. The project was supported by the Norwegian Union of Journalists in cooperation with the Russian Union of Journalists. INSI has now provided safety training at no cost to 997 journalists and other news media staff in 17 countries.
Experienced safety reps who want to take the TUC Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety can now apply for next year's intake of the online course. The course gives reps the opportunity to question the development and function of health and safety law, discover how to build trade union organisation for health and safety and tackle health, safety, welfare and environmental problems. The course is delivered over 36 weeks spread over three terms. Only experienced safety reps can apply - check out the TUC website to see if you fit the bill.
A copy of the newly revised 1977 Safety Representatives and Consultation Regulations, the related Approved Code of Practice and associated guidance can now be downloaded from the TUC website. The new, improved resource replaces the 'Brown Book' and is the key resource on safety reps' legal rights at work.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2008
Briefing document (5,100 words) issued 14 Nov 2008
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-15604-f0.cfm
printed 19 June 2013 at 03:46 hrs by 220.127.116.11