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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Over a third of lost time injuries to workers within Network Rail and its contractor companies over the past five years have not been reported as required by law, an investigation has found. The probe by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), a not-for-profit company owned by major industry stakeholders, came after unions warned that the rail giant had 'rigged' its injury figures to meet performance targets (Risks 467). RSSB found the under-reporting occurred because of pressure - and in some cases fear - felt by Network Rail staff and contractors if they reported accidents or incidents. Network Rail conceded the report had found a 'significant' under-reporting of 'around 34 per cent' of the 'over three day injuries' which must be reported by law under the RIDDOR workplace injury and disease reporting regulations. RSSB criticised a Network Rail safety system linking safety targets, league tables and contractual requirements to the number of reported lost time injuries. Other factors, including a punitive attendance policy, were also blamed. The RSSB report estimates 500 to 600 RIDDOR lost time injuries - a third of the total - may not have been reported by Network Rail infrastructure projects and maintenance over the five years from 2005/06 to 2009/10. In confidential interviews, many managers and staff said Network Rail was not a company where an open and active dialogue could be held about accidents, incidents or safety concerns without fear of reprisals. Contractors believed they would be less likely to be selected for work if they reported a lost time injury. Standing down workers without pay during the course of accident investigations was also identified as a disincentive to injury reporting.
A culture of fear in Network Rail that led to routine under-reporting of workplace injuries came to light as a direct result of union scrutiny. Network Rail only agreed to the independent review by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) after unions exposed a management culture in the company that had led to target-chasing managers being unwilling to report injuries (Risks 477), and to workers and contractors fearing reprisals if they made reports (Risks 467). Unite national officer Bob Rixham commented: 'The review exposes a rotten safety culture where rail staff and contractors were under pressure not to report accidents - in some cases staff were even fearful of reporting accidents. It's scandalous that directors shared £2.7 million in bonuses in 2010. Behind the statistics are real people who have been injured at work.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This important report confirms what RMT have been warning of for a number of years - that the commercialisation of our rail infrastructure has created a climate where business-led targets have overridden safety reporting leading to up to 40 per cent of injuries not being reported.' He added: 'The report also makes clear than in the kind of cuts led environment that has dogged Network Rail in recent years bullying and corner cutting are rife with potentially dire consequences.' TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty accused the industry-funded RSSB of 'pulling its punches' by only saying there was an 'indirect linkage' between under-reporting and bonus payments to managers. Commenting on this 'perverse verdict', he said: 'If this isn't a white-wash, it certainly qualifies as a grey-wash. Regardless of the fact that the report pulls it punches when it comes to directors bonuses, Network Rail would be very unwise to pay those vast bonuses this year. They ignored ministerial warnings last year and awarded themselves payments as high as £600,000. They should cancel that gravy train immediately.'
UNISON has accused employers of exploiting social workers' commitment to their clients by making them do unpaid hours to fill the void left by staffing shortages. In a bid to address widespread burnout in social workers, the union and Community Care magazine have developed 'The social work contract', which includes a demand for social workers to get TOIL (time off in lieu) or pay for working overtime. They have written to key stakeholders in social work, including ministers and MPs, calling on them to support the campaign. They are also seeking public support for an online petition backing the contract. UNISON points to a recent survey showing nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of social workers worked extra hours. Another found 39 per cent said they had to work additional hours at short notice either most days or every week. Helga Pile, UNISON national officer for social work, said: 'Heavy caseloads and high vacancy rates mean many social workers have little choice but to work late. And the stats back it up - 64 per cent work extra hours. It's not as if they can say 'sorry, I've got to go', when it hits five o'clock if a vulnerable child is depending on them.' She warned 'social workers can't keep picking up the slack. This constant overloading is not sustainable. Lots of people in the profession are facing burnout. They are hit with the impossible dilemma of trying to balance their heavy workload, with the needs of their own families. Many simply give up on the idea of having a life of their own. If they have to work extra hours, social workers should be paid or given time off in lieu. This will force employers to stop exploiting their goodwill, and start managing workloads properly.'
Tube union RMT has called for an official investigation into safety breaches on London Underground after the union's safety reps revealed stations along the Central Line have been left unstaffed due to cuts-led staff shortages. The union says the news, 'coming just a week after a brutal assault at unstaffed West Finchley station, nails the lie, repeated by Mayor Boris Johnson and his senior officials on a regular basis that 'no station will be left unstaffed at any time' as a result of their cuts.' Union safety reps reported that on the night of 23 January Buckhurst Hill, Theydon Bois, Debden, Chigwell and North Acton stations were all left unstaffed. 'In a flagrant breach of safety regulations, both North Acton and Debden were left without any supervisory cover even though they have pointwork within the stations that is required to be under the watch of the station supervisor at all times,' the union said. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said new rosters, to be introduced in a fortnight, plan for nearly a third of stations to be unstaffed for a part of the working day. 'Leaving stations with pointwork unstaffed just ratchets up the safety risk a few notches and is the most flagrant breach of regulations, it requires an urgent intervention for the ORR [Office of Rail Regulation] to stop this reckless gamble with safety from becoming institutionalised,' he said.
A maritime union has raised renewed concerns over the safety and welfare of crew on board a Panama-registered cargo ship, which has been detained in the UK since November last year. Ship inspector Tommy Molloy from the union Nautilus is pressing the authorities to ensure there is appropriate care and protection for the mixed nationality seafarers onboard the Most Sky. He claims they have effectively been abandoned by the ship's Turkish owners. Molloy intervened last November to recover owed wages and secure repatriation for eight crew members on the ship, following its detention by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the port of Birkenhead. The vessel was detained as a result of problems including a failure to maintain adequately the ship and equipment, unsigned rest records, no heating, dirty crew showers and toilets and out of date lifejacket lights. Molloy said two of the crew members have required hospital treatment; another pointed out moisture running down the bulkhead to his bunk. 'His bed and bedding were sodden,' he said. 'The plight of the crew raises broad questions about who is actually responsible for the well-being of the crew when a vessel is detained due to the glaring lack of responsibility shown by the owner.' The Nautilus inspector added: 'The onus seems to fall on agencies here in the UK when a ship arrives in one of our ports in such an appalling condition, whereas I believe the flag state should be taking more responsibility.'
Maritime union Nautilus is seeking a meeting with UK government ministers after new evidence revealed the piracy threat to ships and seafarers is worse than ever before. The call comes after the International Maritime Bureau reported more people were taken hostage at sea in 2010 than in any year on record. Pirates captured 1,181 seafarers and killed eight during the year, and a total of 53 ships were hijacked. The number of pirate attacks against ships has risen every year for the last four years, the IMB revealed. Ships reported 445 attacks in 2010, up 10 per cent from 2009. While 188 crew members were taken hostage in 2006, 1,050 were taken in 2009 and 1,181 in 2010. Somali pirates are becoming more aggressive, navy and security experts have also warned, and are using captured merchant vessels and their crews as 'motherships' to extend the range of their operations. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson has written to UK Africa minister Henry Bellingham to voice concern about the 'deeply disturbing' developments. He said Nautilus is particularly concerned about the potential impact of defence expenditure reductions on the already limited ability of naval forces to protect merchant ships and their crews in the expanding danger area. 'I believe that it is important for the Foreign Office to reconvene discussions on these issues and to consider further initiatives that could be pursued to ameliorate the increasing threat to merchant ships and their crews,' he added.
A factory worker whose hand was dragged into a machine and crushed has received £300,000 in compensation. Unite member Wayne Miller, 48, has been left permanently incapacitated after suffering the injury at paper manufacturer James Cropper Plc in Kendal. He was attempting to fix a machine when his sleeve was caught in its workings, dragging in his hand and arm. He suffered serious crush and burn injuries to his left hand and forearm and needed a skin graft from his hip. There was no safe working practice written for the adjustment of the part of the machinery, and two injuries had occurred previously on a similar machine. There were no emergency stop buttons nearby so Mr Miller had to wait until a colleague ran downstairs to the control cabin to switch it off. Mr Miller has been able to return to work but due to his disability has had to take a less well paid job. James Cropper Plc admitted liability in a union-backed compensation case and agreed the £300,000 payment out of court. Since the incident, the firm has installed more emergency stop buttons on the machine and has implemented other safety measures. Mr Miller said one reason he pursued a compensation claim was 'to make sure my employers learnt from my accident. There had been two similar accidents in the factory but the machine I was using was not included in any health and safety changes. If they had, maybe my injury could have been avoided.' Unite regional secretary Davey Hall commented: 'When accidents like this happen, employees may not think of making a compensation claim. But as this case shows, making a claim can help to bring about important and much needed safety changes in the workplace.'
A printers' assistant was left unemployed after suffering a workplace arm injury that resulted in permanent pain and a loss of function in the limb. Unite member Peter Fill, 54, received £115,000 in compensation four years after the incident at Mackays of Chatham. In January 2006, he was trying to lift a stack of six metal cages when they got caught, causing tennis elbow. Despite his arm swelling up and needing to be strapped Mr Fill attempted to carry on with his work until June that year because he thought his condition would improve. But when the pain became so bad it started to affect his driving, he decided to seek medical attention. He was diagnosed with chronic regional pain syndrome and has been told he is likely to suffer from limited use of the arm for the rest of his life. Faced with a union backed compensation claim, Mackays of Chatham admitted liability and agreed the six figure settlement out of court. Mr Fill said: 'This accident has left me unable to work. On a bad day I can't even shave because of the pain. I'm still looking for a job but it is difficult because I am limited in what I am able to do.' Unite acting regional secretary John Rowse commented: 'This member was exposed to unsafe practices at work and as a result is suffering from an injury which seriously limits the type of work he can do in the future. Not forgetting the impact of living with chronic pain and the difficulties caused by having restricted use of his dominant arm.'
A West Midlands factory quality inspector whose arm was shredded by a circular saw was forced to take more than three years off work before retiring earlier than he had hoped. GMB member Sarwan Singh Bains needed three operations after the saw cut through his right arm at Caparo Precision Tubes in Oldbury in October 2006. It caused extensive damage to his tendons, muscles and nerves. The arm was so badly injured Mr Bains has been left with very little function and is now unable to work. Mr Bains, 65, was carrying out a quality inspection on the circular saw when the safety guard failed and it sliced into his arm. 'It was horrific,' he said. 'The saw sliced through all of my tendons before it was stopped. I was terrified I was going to lose my arm and as it is I have been left with little use in my dominant arm which has had an effect on my quality of life and forced me to give up work much earlier than I had originally planned.' Russell Farrington from the GMB said: 'Mr Bains has suffered massively because his employers failed to ensure he was working with safe equipment. He should never have been put in that dangerous position.' Celena Chester from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to handle the compensation case, said: 'Mr Bains' employer had dangerous equipment. There should have been a thorough inspection programme to pick up and rectify potential faults but instead Mr Bains was exposed to a trap.' Mr Bains received an undisclosed compensation payout.
The family of a Unite member has received compensation after he died from an asbestos related cancer. Denis Aspin was 64 when he died from mesothelioma in November 2008. He left behind his wife, Diane, his daughter and four stepchildren. Mr Aspin was exposed to asbestos at Caterpillar UK's Desford factory, where he was employed as an assembler from 1979 until 2008 when he took voluntary redundancy. He worked in a warehouse alongside the maintenance department, where asbestos was used. Asbestos was also present in the heating system. Before his death, concerns for his family prompted him to start a union-backed compensation claim against Caterpillar UK. His autistic stepdaughter, Nicky, 35, needs round the clock care and his daughter Yvette is at university. Following his death, his widow Diane continued his claim, which resulted in an undisclosed out of court settlement. She said: 'Denis decided to pursue compensation as he was worried about how we would cope financially. We have one daughter at university and another who is severely autistic and relies on 24-hour care. This compensation will allow us to ensure that their needs are provided for but no amount of money will ever make up for my husband's death.' Adrian Axtel from Unite said: 'The union willingly supported Mrs Aspin in her claim for compensation. Sadly mesothelioma is a disease which affects many of our members who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace but were never warned of the dangers or protected by the employer.'
A government claim that the 'vast majority' of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants should not be receiving the benefit, contradicts the evidence and its own admissions just two months ago, the TUC has charged. The government said official statistics show most ESA claimants are either being found fit for work after undergoing a Work Capability Assessment or stop their claim before they complete the application process. It added that this demonstrates 'why ministers are determined to reform the welfare system' and to reassess all those currently receiving the 'old style incapacity benefit.' Employment minister Chris Grayling: 'We are determined to get the medical assessment right and provide the necessary help for those that need it, however these figures show just how many people are found to be fit for work and not entitled to ESA.' The government said its figures, based on an assessment system that was found to be seriously flawed two months ago by the government-commissioned Harrington review (Risks 485), showed 39 per cent of claimants were 'fit for work' and a further 39 per cent did not complete their claims. TUC's Richard Exell said the government's plans did not sit well with the findings of the Harrington review. 'This said that 'there is strong evidence that the system can be impersonal and mechanistic', that Jobcentre Plus advisers 'often do not have or do not appropriately consider additional evidence submitted to support a claim for Employment and Support Allowance' and that 'some of the descriptors used in the assessment may not adequately measure or reflect the full impact of such conditions on the individual's capability for work'.' He added: 'At the time the Secretary of State not only welcomed Prof Harrington's report, he went out of his way to say that the government 'fully endorsed' its recommendations. Now, just two months later, the DWP uses results from the same test to justify their plans. The government should call a moratorium on extending the WCA to existing Incapacity Benefit claimants until the recommendations of the Harrison review have been implemented.'
Four men have been killed at a Norfolk factory when a steel structure they were working on four metres underground collapsed on top of them. The men had been working at the site of offshore engineering company Claxton Engineering Services Limited in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Building work was being carried out by external contractors at the premises when the incident occurred at around 2pm on Friday 21 January, the firm said. The victims have been named as Dan Hazelton, 30, and his brother Tom Hazelton, 26, Peter Johnson, 42, and Adam Taylor, 28. In a statement, the company said: 'Everybody at Claxton is deeply saddened by what has occurred... and the company's thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the four men.' All four were working for groundwork contractor Hazegood Construction. Early reports suggested that a steel structure may have collapsed on the men as foundation works were carried out. A joint inquiry was launched by Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Police said the investigation was likely to last several weeks. Labour MEP for the East of England Richard Howitt said the tragedy was 'a deadly example of why plans to lift health and safety protection should be halted.' Mr Howitt said that every effort should be made to investigate whether any criminal negligence led to the deaths 'rather than seeking to dilute the law by which such prosecutions are mounted.' He added: 'If there is any evidence of criminal negligence, those responsible must be held to account.' UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'Sadly it is likely that fatalities will increase as a result of cuts in the HSE.'
The number of incidents of workplace violence increased last year, although the number of victims fell, official statistics show. The discrepancy is explained by an increase in the number of victims who experienced multiple violent incidents, the Health and Safety Executive analysis of British Crime Survey statistics for 2009/10 found. The latest stats show approximately 318,000 workers experienced at least one incident of violence at work last year, compared to an estimated 327,000 workers in 2008/09. There were an estimated 677,000 incidents of violence at work in 2009/10, up 8 per cent on the previous year. This new figures are made up of 310,000 assaults and 366,000 threats. Respondents in the protective service occupations, for example police officers, were most at risk of violence at work, with 9 per cent having experienced one or more incidents of actual or threatened violence while working during the year prior to their interview. Others at risk included health professionals, at 3.8 per cent, and health and social welfare associate professionals, with 2.6 per cent. Overall, 1.4 per cent of women and 1.5 per cent of men were victims of violence at work once or more during the year prior to their interview. An estimated 43 per cent of all people assaulted or threatened at work were repeat victims in 2009/10, an increase from 36 per cent in 2008/09.
The Olympic Delivery Authority has confirmed workers on the 2012 project will continue to be directly employed and as a consequence will receive full employment rights. Construction union UCATT said the clarification came after it was forced to write to ODA, in the wake of a call from the employment agencies lobby group, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), for a 'flexible workforce' on the project. UCATT said the existing rules requiring direct employment have helped to ensure 'there is a very low accident rate on the Olympic Park and levels of security are very high on what is a high profile project.' UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'It is very important that the ODA have rebuffed any suggestion that casualised employment practices will be allowed on the Olympics in the final months of the project. The directly employment rules have ensured that workers have not been exploited, accident levels are low and the project will be completed on time. It is highly regrettable that REC have sought to diminish these achievements.' Mr Ritchie added: 'Rather than talking about flexibility, it is important that the government and the major construction contractors learn lessons from the Olympic Park project. By treating workers properly and not denying them standard employment rights, construction projects can be delivered, fairly, safely, on time and on budget.'
A property company in Aberystwyth has been fined for criminal safety breaches after putting its workers at risk and then ignoring an order to improve safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a prohibition notice to Merlin Homes (Wales) Ltd on 12 February 2010 to stop work immediately behind a housing development in the town, as there was a risk an earth bank behind the properties could collapse. However, despite the prohibition notice, Aberystwyth Magistrates' Court heard that HSE had found the company at work behind the site, failing to act upon the enforcement notice. The company pleaded guilty to contravening the prohibition imposed by HSE by allowing people to work in a prohibited area. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £7,700 costs. After sentencing, HSE inspector Philip Nicolle said: 'Having received a prohibition notice the company should have followed procedures and put correct working practices in place. But they ignored this binding legal order and continued putting contractors at risk from falling or dislodged materials in full knowledge of the potential dangers.' He added: 'This is clearly unacceptable and companies should be aware that ignoring enforcement notices and putting workers at serious risk will see them in court.'
A construction manager in charge of a refurbishment job where a worker suffered such severe leg injuries the limb had to be amputated had no health and safety training, a court has heard. City of London Magistrates Court was told that on 12 November 2007, Howper 291 Ltd (formally known as Urang Ltd), was refurbishing a domestic property in South Kensington. Lukasz Taborek, 23, was working on the first floor when it collapsed. He fell more than three metres to the floor below and falling materials then pinned him to the floor. His right foot was completely crushed and veins and his calf muscles had to be surgically removed. His lower right leg was eventually amputated. Urang Ltd, the firm contracted to manage the refurbishment, had assigned a project manager with no health and safety training. She visited the site for two hours every other day. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution, she did not give the project the adequate supervision required and by her own admission was not trained in construction, nor was her manager experienced in construction. The first floor was incorrectly built by subcontractors, who had left the site a month prior to the incident. Concerns regarding the general safety and tidiness on site had also been raised on more than one occasion by the architect. HSE inspector Peter Collingwood said: 'This incident was entirely preventable. Had there been adequate management and supervision of the site, this terrible incident could have been avoided. This highlights the need for competent supervision to be present on site, so that any significant risks can be managed and controlled effectively.' Howper 291 Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £10,000 plus costs of £4,172.
Australian shipping giant Patrick Stevedoring has been fined Aus$180,000 (£112,600) after it was found guilty of discriminating against a union safety rep who raised safety concerns. The worker, an experienced stevedore and an elected health and safety representative with the docks union MUA, raised concerns about the safety of a new basket-lifting technique on three occasions in 2007. He was subsequently threatened by a manager, then disciplined. In sentencing in the case brought by the official safety watchdog WorkSafe, magistrate Rosemary Carlin pointed to 'serious instances of discriminating behaviour' and the need to deter other employers from discriminating against their workers. Ged Kearney, president of the national union federation ACTU, said: 'Health and safety reps are democratically elected volunteers who play an essential role in protecting their workmates. Their presence is often a key factor in the OHS [occupational health and safety] performance of a workplace. They are often the first to raise the alarm about unsafe practices and they must in turn be protected from intimidation or discrimination by their employers.' She added: 'This ruling against Patrick should be a wake-up call to all Australian employers, who often behave with impunity, and we call on all regulators around Australia to more vigorously prosecute employers who discriminate against health and safety reps.' Kevin Bracken, Victoria state secretary of MUA, said: 'Our concerns over safety are absolutely legitimate - as are our concerns over a management culture that would enable this sort of discrimination of an OHS representative. Management have little respect for their workers, so little they're willing to compromise on safety and put lives at risk. This is not sustainable and Patrick must take action to redress this culture of intimidation."
The physical hazards facing men and women at work differ, a European survey has found. The 5th European Working Conditions Survey, undertaken by the Dublin-based think tank Eurofound, found a third of men (33 per cent) were exposed to vibration at work, but just one in 10 (10 per cent) of women worked with vibrating tools or machinery. The survey also found men (42 per cent) were far more likely than women (24 per cent) to be required to carry heavy loads. However, almost three times the number of women (13 per cent compared to 5 per cent) were required to lift or move people as part of their work. Similar proportions of men and women work in tiring positions (48 per cent and 45 per cent respectively), or make repetitive hand and arm movements (64 per cent and 63 per cent), which are also the most common physical hazards. The survey found the proportion of European workers exposed to physical hazards had not dropped in 20 years.
Safety experts and campaigners have condemned an assault on safety regulation launched last week by US president Barack Obama. An 18 January memo, 'Regulatory flexibility, small business, and job creation,' lays out an agenda for reducing the 'burdens', including safety rules, which put 'excessive and unjustified burdens on small businesses.' The move comes despite a considerable body of evidence showing the benefits of regulation to business, and revealing the anti-regulation argument put forward by the business lobby in both the US and UK 'relies on inflating its estimates of the costs of regulation and ignoring the human and economic costs of health and safety failures' (Risks 482). The president's business-friendly strategy earned a stinging rebuke from critics including University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor (Risks 482). She points to the deaths last year of 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the 29 workers whose lives were extinguished at the Big Branch mine, and 'the uncounted tens of thousands of others who were given cancer by airborne toxics at work or in the neighbourhood.' Steinzor concludes: 'As for the argument that we need to loosen regulation in order to create jobs, the believers in this superficially appealing bit of dogma have yet to cite research showing that regulations are slowing the economic recovery. They just serve up the assertion, in part to distract us from the hard reality that it was deregulatory fervour that got us into this mess in the first place. And while President Obama may not accept it, he's apparently willing to let the debate be conducted in those terms.' Some critics suggest the president, with an eye to the polls, is suffering first term jitters. When President Clinton saw his numbers falling in his first term, he also started to court the business lobby and was subsequently elected to a second term.
A long-delayed state health department report on a 2006 incident at an Alaska military base has concluded an unknown volatile chemical was the probable cause of the serious nerve damage that afflicted several construction workers. At least four workers at the Fort Wainwright base were permanently disabled and are still seeking compensation for medical bills. More than 30 construction workers were hospitalised after exposure to the chemical in Aircraft Maintenance Hangar No.6. When the workers broke through a cap covering a black, oily substance they were immediately afflicted by nausea, headaches, and a host of other symptoms. The report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services entitled 'Chemical exposure incident at the Hangar 6 construction site June 29th and 30th, 2006' is still to be finalised. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said: 'The casualties at Hangar 6 were utterly avoidable.' He added: 'The original negligence at the base, however, has been compounded by government health authorities who have dawdled so long that it appears to be a deliberate decision to render any review irrelevant by the passage of time.'
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