Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 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
Three serious incidents as contractors rushed to finish work on a major retail complex have prompted safety warnings from campaigners. Construction union UCATT called for far higher levels of safety awareness on the final stages of major retail projects, following the spate of incidents at London's Stratford City Shopping Complex, which opened on 13 September. During the official opening event at the £1.4 billion Westfield centre, a 5ft by 2.5ft glass ceiling tile fell 30 feet and smashed in front of London mayor Boris Johnson. On 9 September a worker received a massive electric shock and fell from a ladder, suffering serious burns and other injuries. And on 5 September a 21-year-old electrician also fell from a ladder, sustaining serious back injuries. Colleagues said the firm had earlier removed cherry pickers from the site and that some workers had been doing 15 hour shifts in the rush to meet the completion deadline. The site had already claimed a life. In December 2009 Firesafe Installations employee Shaun Scurry, 39, died a week after being trapped between a steel beam and a scissor lift. UCATT estimates that in the final stages of the project there were 8,000 workers on the site, which has 300 shops. It says rather than being one major well managed project 'it has effectively been 300 small projects.' According to the union, in recent weeks the UCATT convenor on the site had been working seven days a week to ensure that workers were not being placed at risk. A UCATT spokesperson commented: 'These accidents underline just how dangerous the industry is, particularly when workers are required to work long hours in a rush to finish a project. The industry needs to review how safety is maintained in the final stages of projects so that accident risks are significantly reduced.' Tony O'Brien, national secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, said it was 'shameful' those who suffered building the complex were not remembered in the opening ceremony. 'The price workers' pay in building these projects is often their health, disability or even death,' he added.
The bakery union BFAWU is telling the government to introduce a maximum workplace temperature to protect workers from cooking on the job. The union's 'Cool It!' campaign was launched this week at the TUC's Congress in London and saw BFAWU members handing out leaflets to every delegate. BFAWU general secretary, Ronnie Draper, commented: 'It is high time that government, whatever colour, recognises the misery that is heaped upon UK workers by working in extremely hot temperatures. We have to get across the message that we are not seeking legislation that stops the job, but desperately need a consistent approach to control measures being triggered.' He added: 'This major campaign will build on the major initiatives that we have run in the past, and will embrace the work that John McDonnell MP, our parliamentary group members, and the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) unions are currently conducting.' An Early Day Motion from Labour MP John McDonnell 'calls on the government to provide clear, coherent and enforceable requirements for employers about how to combat heat in the workplace, including the introduction of a maximum working temperature of around 30 degrees celsius and 27 degrees celsius for those doing strenuous work.'
As MPs return from their summer break, animal charity RSPCA and communications union CWU are calling for urgent changes to dangerous dogs laws. This week, CWU and RSPCA joined a cross-party delegation of MPs to meet Lord Henley, the minister responsible for overseeing related legislation. The delegation presented evidence it says demonstrates the current Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is not fit for purpose. CWU health and safety officer Dave Joyce said: 'Lord Henley accepted the points in our argument and the meeting was positive, but we've been here before. Everybody present acknowledged the case for changing the law - to better protect people and animals, to save NHS money and to streamline legislation.' He added: 'Our members - in particular postmen and women - are being attacked by dogs every day and are left vulnerable because of out-dated laws which the government has promised to change. We've had the sympathy but now we need the substance.' CWU and RSPCA say new legislation needs to provide greater powers and flexibility for enforcers and courts. It should also extend the law so it covers attacks on private property.
Tea giant Tetley has paid compensation to a former employee who suffered a career ending injury at its factory in Stockton on Tees. GMB member Linda Gray, 44, damaged her shoulder lifting a 25kg reel. The grandmother of three needed two operations on her shoulder and was unable to return to work. She eventually lost her job after working 12 years as a production operator. In September 2007 she had been lifting the heavy reel up to head height onto a teabag making machine. No risk assessment had been carried out by Tetley. This would have identified the need to automate the task; newer machines had already been altered to avoid the need to lift the heavy part. Mrs Gray was left in severe pain and requiring strong painkillers. Her injury meant she couldn't lift her nine-month-old grandson and she struggled with household chores. A second operation on her shoulder was successful, but despite retraining as a carer she has not so far been able to find work. Faced with a GMB backed compensation claim, Tetley admitted liability and agreed a 'substantial' payout out of court. Mrs Gray said: 'I worked for 12 years at Tetley and couldn't believe it when I lost my job after being off sick due to an accident which wasn't my fault.' GMB organiser Stephen Thompkins said the 'massive' international firm 'should have known better than to allow a member of staff to lift such a heavy object without a risk assessment. Our member has suffered an agonising injury which cost her her job.' Diane Davison from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act in the case, said: 'This is another example of an employer failing to take its health and safety responsibilities seriously.'
Unions continue to play an effective role in representing workers, a report has concluded, with some non-traditional activities like 'unionlearn' sometimes acting an incubator for new union safety reps. The paper published by the arbitration service ACAS noted a high and rising proportion of workers surveyed believe unions do an effective job. 'What role for unions in the future of workplace relations?' adds that as well as delivering higher wages, unions offer benefits to firms through dispute resolution and learning initiatives. On top of this, there is the well-established positive 'union effect' on workplace health and safety (Risks 514). The paper says research suggests that because union-led learning initiatives in the workplace could better acquaint workers with the work of unions, this could generate 'a 'roles escalator' in union activism by turning non-members into members, members into ULRs [union learning reps], and ULRs into health and safety and workplace representatives.' It adds that this could lead to broader representation in the workplace, as ULRs 'are much more likely to be younger, female workers, and from an ethnic minority background than union workplace representatives.'
A construction safety rep who created a new hazard reporting system at work has been named as TUC Safety Rep of the Year 2011. UCATT safety rep Cliff Mayor is also a network steward with A-one+, a service provider to the Highways Agency. He says he is most proud of the system he launched 18 months ago to encourage more people to raise health and safety issues. Now anyone can flag up concerns in a dedicated folder, noting whether they've discussed them with fellow members or supervisors and if they're happy with any proposed solutions. People can put their name to an entry or do it anonymously - a solution will be found either way. The TUC awards recognise the outstanding achievement of union reps in representing women and young workers, learning at work, union organising and improving health and safety conditions. Commenting on the awards, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Millions of workers up and down the country have benefited from the fantastic work done by union reps in thousands of branches. These reps put in a lot of time, hard work and effort to help their colleagues.'
Most workplace injuries and dangerous incidents are no longer reportable by phone - and in a couple of weeks official safety advice will be consigned to the web too. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says only reports of fatal and major injuries and incidents can now make use of its office hours only Incident Contact Centre number, 0845 300 99 23. All other work-related injuries and incidents reportable under the RIDDOR regulations will have to use one of seven online forms available on HSE's website. The move comes less than three weeks before HSE pulls the plug on Infoline, its telephone based health and safety advice system. Both moves have been driven by draconian cuts to HSE's budget imposed by the current government. Trevor Carlile, HSE's director of strategy said: 'The most important thing is that there will still be somebody at the end of the phone to assist those who are reporting a traumatic event that has resulted in a death or major injury.' He also defending the move to an online only advice service, noting: 'HSE's website is already overwhelmingly the most popular option for accessing health and safety information. We're confident that our web services can be efficient and effective at a fraction of the cost per contact compared with telephone services. We'll continue to make improvements to make the website as intuitive and easy-to-use as possible.' But critics say the move could amplify a 'digital divide' on health and safety. Earlier this year, in comments on the 30 September Infoline closure, TUC warned 'you cannot replace a human interface with a website.' (Risks 504).
Euro-MPs have called for tougher oil rig safety standards, support for elected offshore safety reps and job protection for safety whistleblowers. The overwhelming 602-64 vote of the European Parliament on 13 September also agree there should be a new responsibility on oil and gas rig operators to cover the cost of any spills. The report, drawn up by Tory MEP Vicky Ford, rejects the idea of a pan-European regulator, calling instead for 'site-specific' measures best suited to individual operations. She said standards in the European industry are already high but added: 'We can never be complacent and we should take the opportunity to improve our own procedures, and to put in place mechanisms that enable us to better co-operate and learn from each other.' MEPs backed amendments to the report by Labour MEP Peter Skinner calling for protection for industry whistleblowers. 'If we are to prevent lethal accidents and disastrous oil spills, workers on rigs must be able to speak out if they have concerns,' said Mr Skinner. 'But people are often worried that if they raise their worries about lapses of safety, they will be put under pressure and could even lose their job.' The agreed text 'calls on the industry to follow best practice on safety representatives,' adding 'employees should be able to elect a safety representative who is involved in safety issues at all levels of the operational and decision-making process.' It adds offshore oil and gas workers should be able to ask questions and speak out without fear of harassment. Mr Skinner said the approach was already supported by trade unions representing workers in the offshore sector. The text agreed by MEPs comes ahead of European Commission proposals for the first EU-wide laws on oil platform safety and standards, expected before the end of the year.
A US federal government report into the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has castigated UK multinational BP and its contractors and recommended stronger regulations and more surprise inspections by official safety agencies. BP was 'ultimately responsible' safety on the Deepwater Horizon rig (Risks 500), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement report concluded. The UK oil giant was solely to blame for 21 of 35 contributing causes to the Macondo well blow-out that led to the leak, it said, and shared blame for eight more. But the report added the responsibility for the April 2010 offshore disaster that claimed 11 workers' lives could be traced to 'key mis-steps' and poor leadership by both BP and its contractors. BP tried to save time and money at the cost of safety while rig operator Transocean, which was responsible for safe operations and rig safety, continued to operate the well after hazards were made evident, the report concluded. The disaster was 'the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible,' it noted. As well as declaring BP 'ultimately responsible' for safety, the report blames Halliburton for conducting a poor cement job to seal the well. Halliburton and BP are already embroiled in a legal battle over the issue of the cement seal that failed in the run-up to the blast. It took three months to seal BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and curb what became the USA's biggest oil spill. The report says government regulations could be strengthened and calls for more unannounced inspections on deep-water rigs. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the agency had largely stopped conducting surprise inspections.
Lingering concerns over the state of some of the UK's oil rigs has been rekindled by video footage showing walkways in a state of near collapse. An offshore worker can be seen in the video, which was filmed on an undisclosed rig last month, easily hammering a hole through the metal walkway of one of the platforms, sending chunks of the metal frame tumbling into the sea below. The new evidence adds to concerns about the aging offshore infrastructure (Risks 415) in reports by the offshore safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive (Risks 467), which last month led the union RMT to say the industry is demonstrating 'a blatant disregard for workers' health and safety' (Risks 521). Footage shows the oil worker hammering a hole through severely corroded metal grating, a commonly used test of walkway integrity. It crumbles easily under the blows. Bill Campbell, ex-group auditor for Shell International and now a safety campaigner, said: 'The useful life of a mechanical structure can only be reached if it is maintained and inspected throughout its life, but the dominant failure for offshore installations is age-related. The footage testing gratings shows what we already know.' He added he believed many workers on rigs are 'blissfully unaware of the risks they are taking'.
The owners of a packaging manufacturer have been fined after deliberately ignoring formal safety warnings for more than three years. Company directors Anthony Smith and Yvonne Barrett were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after failing to install guards on machines used to produce packaging for fast food outlets. Trafford Magistrates' Court heard the machines removed paper from the ends of giant rolls. But no guards were provided to prevent workers' hands being pulled in by the rotating machinery. HSE issued First Packaging Ltd with a legally binding improvement notice on 14 January 2008, ordering guards to be installed on the machines at its Bolton factory. The company was then given a six month extension on the deadline to comply with the notice. But when the site was revisited in August 2008, the guards had still not been installed. HSE inspectors were told the factory would be closing, so no further action was taken. In early 2010, HSE discovered that, instead of closing, First Packaging had just changed premises and was still using the same unguarded machines. HSE issued two prohibition notices stopping work immediately and another four improvement notices. Later that year, First Packaging Ltd stopped trading and Anthony Smith set up a new company called First Packaging North West Ltd. Again, HSE found Mr Smith had not had guards fitted to the machines and issued another five improvement notices in February 2011. Anthony Smith and Yvonne Barrett both pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches. Smith was fined £705 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs and Barrett £360 with costs of £1,500. HSE inspector Alex Farnhill commented: 'It beggars belief that they chose to put workers at risk of serious injury after enforcement notices had been served, deciding to put profit over the safety of their employees. We had no choice but to prosecute when they continued to deliberately and flagrantly ignore the formal warnings.'
A worker was left with permanent damage to his arm after being instructed by his site manager to use a heavy-duty core drill by hand on a construction site in Huddersfield. The 32-year-old worker from Rochdale, whose name has not been released, was ordered by Matthew Saville to remove a 34 kilogram, one-metre high, diamond core drill from its stand and hand-hold it to tackle a job. The drill's instructions specifically prohibit hand-held use. As he operated the machine, the rotating core of the drill snagged on the blockwork and the body of the drill, which was being held, began to rotate, taking the operator with it. He suffered a double compound fracture to his right arm and cuts to his head. After the incident in August 2009 he was in hospital for 12 days, had three operations on his arm and now has plates inserted permanently. After an investigation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought a prosecution against Matthew Saville for failing to properly manage the construction site. He pleaded guilty at Huddersfield Magistrates' Court to breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £3,000 plus £2,388 costs. HSE inspector Martin Hutton said: 'Mr Saville allowed his eagerness to get a job done to take priority over the safety of a worker. He failed to pause for a short time to consider the potential risks associated with using the drill in this way. Ultimately, this has led to a serious injury.'
A firm which admitted criminal safety failures over the death of a worker at its Slough factory has been fined £200,000. Mitesh Prashar was killed while operating machinery on a night shift for Manchester-based company Duco International Ltd. Reading Crown Court heard the 24-year-old was working on an automatic inspection machine, which quality checks rolls of rubber and cloth printing blanket before sending to customers. The blanket moves through the machine from one reel to another via a photographic unit, checking the fabric for flaws. Although nobody witnessed the incident, at about 2am on 15 January 2008, colleagues heard Mr Prashar cry out. His body was found with his left arm, shoulder, head and torso trapped between the rubberised blanket and the roller. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An HSE investigation found the company had not assessed the hazards of using the machine and it had not been checked after modification. Inspectors also found there was no guarding to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machine and the firm had failed to give adequate information, instruction or training to employees using the machine. Duco International Limited, which is part of the Luxembourg-based multinational Flint Group, pleaded guilty to criminal safety failings and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £43,352. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ray Kelly said: 'This needless tragedy is typical of what can happen when health and safety management systems fail. Had the hazards been assessed, the lack of any guarding would have been highlighted, and this death could have been avoided.' Mr Prashar's brother Anoop said the death had caused a 'wound which will always be there' and that it 'could have been avoided.'
A garage has been fined after an employee was fatally injured when a metal oil drum exploded. On 18 June 2010, 23-year-old Martyn Massie was cutting a drum that had previously stored used engine oil at the premises of Pitmachie Garage Ltd, in Insch, Scotland. He was using a plasma cutter to remove the lid from the drum. As the blade started to cut through the metal, it generated a shower of sparks which ignited the flammable vapours inside the drum. The drum exploded, causing the lid to strike Mr Massie on the head, knocking him unconscious. He was airlifted to hospital with multiple head injuries but died the following morning. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the cutting operation had not been properly risk assessed. The drum had not been completely emptied of waste engine oil, and this would have been contaminated with petrol, causing the drum to be filled with petrol vapours. The investigation also found that the system of work employed for cutting the drum was such that a lack of information, instruction and training resulted in the worker using an unsafe method to carry out the task. Although it was known by workers at the garage the used engine oil could be contaminated with fuel, they were not fully aware of the dangers of using a heat source such as the plasma cutter to remove the drum lid. Pitmachie Garage Ltd pleaded guilty at Banff Sheriff Court to a criminal safety breach and was fined £15,000. HSE inspector Joanne Nicholls commented: 'This incident was entirely foreseeable, and could and should have been avoided. It was not essential for the drum lid to be removed at all, and in asking him to do so, Pitmachie Garage Ltd failed to protect Martyn Massie - costing him his life.'
A crane maintenance firm has been fined for criminal safety offences after two dock workers suffered injuries in a high voltage electric shock at the Seaforth Container Terminal in Liverpool. One of the men was temporarily blinded and both were burned in the 6,600 volt surge after climbing up a dockside crane to check the electricity supply on 12 March 2008. Their employer, Carrylift Materials Handling Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation revealed the workers wrongly believed that just 415 volts were running through a junction box on a crane platform six metres above the ground. Liverpool Magistrates' Court heard that Lee McFadden, 33, a maintenance worker at the site, was asked to look at the crane to investigate why there had been a power failure. He decided he needed the assistance to fix the fault and climbed back up on the crane platform with three electricians. All four men thought it was a low voltage crane, similar to the one next to it, and had not been given any information or diagrams that said otherwise. After undoing the bolts on the junction box, Mr McFadden used his low-voltage multimeter to test the electricity supply. There was an immediate flash and bang, blinding him for approximately 15 seconds and causing severe burns to his face and hands which resulted in permanent scarring. One of the electricians also suffered minor burns to his face. The HSE investigation found that none of the men had received adequate training or been given sufficient information about the electricity supplies to the dockside cranes. HSE concluded all four men could have been killed. Carrylift Materials Handling Ltd admitted three criminal breaches of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £14,568 in prosecution costs.
An explosion in a nuclear waste recycling plant in the south of France which killed one worker and injured four others has prompted calls for greater transparency and union involvement in devising and implementing safety systems. The blast, close to the Marcoule nuclear power station, near Avignon, was an 'industrial accident' and not an explosion in, or near, a nuclear reactor, French authorities said. They added there had been no radioactive leak and no need to evacuate workers or local people. Officials said that the 12 September explosion had occurred in an oven used to destroy or recycle feebly radioactive objects ranging from metal bars to tools and gloves. The oven was in the Centraco recycling plant at Codolet, part of a large complex of nuclear facilities that has grown up near to the Marcoule power station. Energy minister Eric Besson said he was 'moved' by the loss of life and injuries but that he had been 'reassured' by Electricité de France (EDF), the owner of the site, that there was "no question of any nuclear or chemical leak". The French nuclear safety authority, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, said the blast occurred in an oven which destroyed or recycled objects of 'low or very low radioactivity'. One worker died of burns. Four others were injured but had suffered no exposure to radiation. In response to the incident, the European Parliament's group of socialist and democrat MEPs (S&D), which includes UK Labour Party MEPs, called for greater transparency on industrial safety issues. S&D vice-president Marita Ulvskog said: 'Safety and environmental concerns should be embedded in all legislation and the highest standards applied in order to minimise the risk of accidents.' She added: 'I insist on the need to engage workers and union representatives in devising and implementing safety procedures.'
Many major companies working with nano particles are doing little or nothing to protect their staff - and some are using 'safety' measures that are making matters worse, new research suggests. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) surveyed 78 international companies working with nanoparticles and found many are unsure about the right way to protect those handling the materials, or how to dispose of them. Cassandra Engeman presented the group's findings at August's Fifth International Symposium on Nanotechnology, Occupational and Environmental Health, held in Boston, USA. She said 87 per cent of the companies surveyed had a basic health and safety programme, although less than half the firms had a nano-specific programme. Almost one-in-eight, 13 per cent, reported having no safety programme at all. More than 60 per cent of the companies said they monitored work areas for nanoparticles. But when they were asked for details about how they were dealing with potential contamination, a significant number said they were using methods, such as sweeping or vacuuming, that are more likely to disperse nanoparticles into the air than they are to clean them up. It is a problem that should have been well-understood at the outset, not least because it replicates mistakes made by the asbestos industry decades earlier. Engeman said the survey shows there's still a long way to go when it comes to workplace safety and nanotechnology. She added the views of workers are 'missing from the discussion.'
The number of people dying as a result of work-related injuries and diseases has soared, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found. Figures released ahead of the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, held this week in Turkey, revealed although workplace injury deaths had fallen between 2003 and 2008, there had been a dramatic increase in deaths from work-related diseases. 'Global trends and challenges on occupational safety and health' says that while the annual number of work injury fatalities declined from 358,000 to 321,000 over the period, the number of deaths from occupational diseases increased by almost 4 per cent, from 1.95 million to 2.02 million. ILO says this equates to more than 6,300 work-related deaths every day, a net increase of 33,000 deaths a year on the 2003 figure. It adds 317 million workers are injured at work each year, a daily average of 850,000 injuries that result in four or more days absent from work. ILO director-general Juan Somavia commented: 'Dramatic events such as the nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan this year or the Pike River mining accident in New Zealand last year feature in the headlines. Yet most work related injury, illness and deaths go unnoticed and unreported. Workers and families are commonly left unprotected and unaided to cope.' The report notes 'the global economic recession appears to have had a significant impact on workers' safety and health and on their working conditions. While it is too soon to tell what long-term effect it has had on rates of accidents and ill-health, there is evidence that some of the recent advances in terms of promoting OSH [occupational safety and health] are being lost as enterprises struggle to remain productive.'
Businesses are increasingly concerning themselves with the health and well-being of their staff, with a proponderance of lifestyle initiatives urging workers to exercise and eat healthily. But if firms really want to see the benefits of a fitter workforce, they should give them paid time at work to take the exercise, the experience in Sweden suggests. Researchers from Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet found working out during paid office hours can lead to higher productivity for companies. 'This comes on the one hand from people getting more done during the hours they are at work, and on the other hand, from less absenteeism owing to sickness,' Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz and Henna Hasson, the researchers behind the study, said in a statement. A large Swedish dental organisation took part in the study and employees from a total of six workplaces were divided up into three groups. One group was asked to devote 2.5 hours to physical activity, distributed across two sessions a week. The second group had the same decrease in work hours but without the obligatory exercise, and a third group maintained their usual 40 hours work a week. All employees retained the same salaries. The workload of the practice, in this case the number of patients treated, remained the same while study was being carried out. The study showed that all three groups were able to maintain or even increase their production level during the study compared with the corresponding period the previous year. Those who exercised also reported improvements in self-assessed productivity - they felt they got more done at work and had a greater capacity for work, as well as being absent from work less often.
Stirling University's Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group has organised a free workshop on international perspectives on occupational and environmental health and safety. The 27 September event features big-name speakers from around the world, including Professor Michael Quinlan from Australia, who is an authority on the impact of insecure work on health and safety and on the most effective regulatory approaches to deliver safe work. Pam Eliason of the Toxics Use Research Institute (TURI) in Massachusetts, USA will outline TURI's successes and important lessons. And Stirling University's Professor Andrew Watterson will look at international lessons on occupational and environmental cancer prevention.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2011 TO DECEMBER 2011
Newsletter (5,700 words) issued 16 Sep 2011
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-20064-f0.cfm
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