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Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. 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
Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com
A landmark workers' rights agreement between the TUC and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has already started to deliver. The agreement announced last week sets out to improve the rights of workers making Olympic souvenirs and other goods (Risks 544). A key demand of the Playfair campaigners, a coalition that includes TUC and other workers' rights groups, was public disclosure of locations of factories producing Olympics related merchandise. Just one day after the agreement was signed, LOCOG published a list of their licensees and suppliers. This included details of the locations worldwide where production is taking place. Owen Tudor, head of the TUC's international department, said the list 'covers 72 per cent of the production of goods for the London 2012, and the Playfair campaign hopes that all the other licensees and suppliers will publish their locations shortly.' Writing in the TUC's Stronger Unions blog, he added 'even more important, it is now up to trade unions to use the information to make sure that workers in the Olympic supply chains are treated better.' Companies listed by LOCOG are: Adidas (who disclosed their factories in June 2011); Golden Bear Toys; Haymarket Publishing; Honav; Hornby Hobbies Ltd; Innovative Sports Limited; Merrythought; Samlerhuset; The Royal Mail; The Royal Mint; and WWRD. Most of the factory locations are in China and the UK, 'but there are also workplaces in Bangladesh, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia and Thailand,' commented Owen Tudor. He said 'the TUC has alerted sister trade union movements in those countries to the list, as well as the relevant Global Union Federations covering ceramics, glassware, textiles and toys.'
Blatantly misleading service announcements from London Underground (LUL) are leading directly to assaults and threats against staff, the union RMT has said. The union said the 'catalogue of abuse' of the announcements system has been raised by RMT reps at a senior level meeting with LUL managers. Announcements provoking the ire of Tube users include some saying there is a good service where there are massive gaps or severe delays and describing severe delays or no service at all as 'minor delays'. As well as leading to overcrowding on the Tube, RMT says staff are 'being threatened and even assaulted because members of the public are being told they have a good trains service and turn up with the service in chaos or suspended.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Abuse of service information to create a misleading picture as to what is running and what isn't immediately throws our members on the stations and platforms into a confrontational situation as angry passengers realise they have been misled.' He added: 'We are calling for an end to this practice. You cannot cover up the impact of cuts to jobs and finances by throwing up a barrage of misinformation. It might suit the politicians and the senior managers but it is front line staff who are left to take the flak at station level.'
The proportion of employees in their late 50s and early 60s working unpaid overtime has increased sharply in the last decade - despite a fall in unpaid hours for the rest of the workforce. A new TUC analysis of official figures, published last week to mark Work Your Proper Hours Day on 24 February, shows that over the last decade the number of workers doing unpaid overtime has increased by just 96,000. Given the growing size of the working population, this means that the likelihood of doing unpaid overtime has fallen by 0.2 per cent. However, the analysis reveals sharp age disparities. The proportion of workers in their early 20s doing unpaid overtime has fallen by 36 per cent in the last decade, while the likelihood of workers in their early 60s doing unpaid overtime has increased by 45 per cent. The likelihood of doing unpaid overtime increases the longer someone has been in their job. Workers who have been in the same post for at least ten years are twice as likely to work unpaid overtime (25 per cent) as those who have been working for less than a year (12.5 per cent). Workers in their late 30s are still the most likely to work unpaid overtime, with over one in four employees in this age bracket (26.6 per cent) regularly putting in extra hours for free. Across the UK around one in five workers (5.3 million people) put in an average of 7.2 hours of unpaid overtime per week last year, worth around £5,300 a year per person - and a record £29.2 billion to the economy. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Over the last decade, more people are working well into their 60s - and many of them are putting in extra unpaid hours too.' He added: 'Whilst most people have no objection to putting in some extra hours to help their employer through a busy period, an entrenched long hours culture causes stress, health problems and lower morale.' There are other health and safety implications of longer working weeks and longer working lives. For example, the total exposure years of workers to hazardous chemicals increases as we work longer hours and more years, creating the possibility of an upturn in related conditions like occupational cancer.
A pledge by Boris Johnson to introduce driverless trains on the London Underground network has been rubbished by unions, with RMT describing the plan as 'lethal and unworkable.' Kicking off his bid for re-election as London mayor, Boris Johnson vowed to introduce driverless trains within two years. He told the 27 February edition of the London Evening Standard: 'I don't want to sound confrontational but if there's going to have to be a fight over this then I'm the person that can do it.' In November 2011, RMT warned against the 'lethal combination' of cuts and automation being pushed through on the Tube. It said a similar system led to a deadly crash on the Washington DC Metro system (Risks 530). Driverless trains were ditched in DC after nine people died in the two-train smash. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said Boris Johnson's latest vow to introduce driverless trains was 'empty rhetoric, hot air and another broken election pledge in the making.' He stated deaths resulting from the introduction of driverless Tube trains 'would amount to corporate slaughter. You can only have driverless trains without compromising safety if you have a fail-safe, utterly reliable, infallible signalling system and trains that don't break down. Otherwise you expose travellers to a life lottery every time they go down the Tube. The Mayor is talking tosh.'
An incident on London Underground's Jubilee line on the evening of Sunday 26 February has underlined how the Mayor of London's 'obsession' with driverless trains is 'irresponsible, callous and opportunist,' according to ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan. A child thought to be about five-years-old fell between the train and the platform at Finchley Road on Sunday evening as he ran to try to board a train that was ready to depart. According to ASLEF: 'All the automatic devices in place showed the platform was clear and it was safe for the Tube train to depart. But the driver, on a final visual safety check, saw a tiny hand reaching up from the track. The train remained in position and a young life was saved.' Mick Whelan commented: 'The Mayor has been playing politics with the issue of driverless trains. He thinks he is currying favour with voters with this stand. How many votes are a young child's life worth? How would he explain to those watching horrified parents that his proposal is a good one?' The union leader added: 'On Sunday all the automatic devices showed the platform was clear. Only a driver could have averted a potential tragedy. Boris Johnson is wrong to continue to push his policy for driverless Tube trains when it can threaten the lives of London's travelling public. I want him to accept that it is a mistake. Anyone can make an error, but only an irresponsible person will persist with it.'
Train drivers' union ASLEF has criticised the five year gap between the Grayrigg disaster and Network Rail facing a court this week for related criminal safety offences. General secretary Mick Whelan said the time lag 'smacks more of a leisurely history lesson than a genuine striving for justice. On top of which, I can safely predict that the outcome will be what it always is - a meaningless fine and a gently slapped wrist. I'm annoyed and frustrated by it - but imagine how the family of Margaret Masson must feel.' Mrs Masson died at Grayrigg when a Virgin Pendolino train travelling from London to Glasgow crashed on 23 February 2007. It derailed at 95 mph after hitting a faulty set of points. In all, 86 passengers and two crew members were injured. Network Rail is charged with breaching health and safety laws in proceedings started by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation (Risks 539). It has pleaded guilty to the criminal safety offences. Investigations have shown the derailment resulted from a failure of stretcher bars to hold the moveable rails a set distance apart when the points were operated. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) blamed the immediate cause of the derailment as the poor maintenance of the failed points.
A retained firefighter needed surgery on his ankle after he was injured trying to close antiquated heavy doors at his fire station. The FBU member was attempting to close the huge 12ft high by 16ft wide front doors to the station when he suffered the injury in 2008. One of the doors jammed, causing him to slip and hit his head on a parked fire engine. He was left with a deep cut to his neck, a sprained arm and an ankle injury which needed surgery. The retained firefighter's main job was also affected by his prolonged absence from work. He was in plaster for four months and off work for six months. Lawyers brought in by FBU to represent the member in a compensation case argued that the Fire and Rescue Service failed in its duty of care to the injured employee by not having an inspection system in place to highlight and fix problems with the doors. The fire service admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £20,000. FBU's Adrian Clarke commented: 'Firefighters need to be able to know that they can respond to an emergency quickly and efficiently without putting themselves or others in danger through simple maintenance or systems failures. This member should never have been put in a position where he was at risk of injury. It is fortunate that it was not more serious and it didn't occur in the middle of an emergency scenario.' Kam Singh at Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union, said: 'Having doors fit for use should have been of the utmost priority for this station. Had this accident occurred during an emergency call-out not only would a firefighter have been injured but the delay could have meant a greater injury for those waiting for the fire engine to arrive.'
Government claims that slashing red tape will save businesses millions have been challenged by trade unions and health and safety campaigners. Business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk claimed this week the "one-in, one-out" regulations rule and the government's Red Tape Challenge will save businesses more than £4 million in the first half of this year. Publishing his department's third statement on new regulation, Mr Prisk said: 'The one-in, one-out process is one of the best tools we have to cut the costs and burden of regulation on our businesses. The system is starting to deliver results, capping the costs to business and then driving them down.' But Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign told the Morning Star newspaper the government was living 'in a fairytale world of myth, lies and apocryphal tales aimed at making us believe that workers' protection caused the economic crisis.' In the real world, she told the paper, rules preventing harm to employees or members of the public, which costs the taxpayer £20-40 billion per year, would be seen as cost effective. Preventing through proper regulation and enforcement just two of the 12,000 plus occupational cancers in the UK each year would save significantly more than the minister's claimed £4 million from deregulation. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Of course no-one supports unnecessary or overly bureaucratic regulation but what looks like red tape to a business lobbyist may well look like vital consumer, environmental or employment protection to everyone else.'
People with deadly work-related diseases are demanding justice secretary Ken Clarke ditches his 'abhorrent' reforms that would force them to pay two new fees (Risks 543). The Daily Mirror is backing a campaign by asbestos disease victims, who say they will have to fork out thousands of pounds to claim compensation for their fatal illnesses. On 14 February, prime minister David Cameron backed the reforms, outlining at a Downing St convened 'insurance summit' the measures he deemed necessary to 'to tackle compensation culture, reduce legal costs and cut red tape' (Risks 543). However, campaigners for people affected by industrial injuries and diseases - who were not invited to the PM's summit - are warning thousands of blameless workplace victims will be put off pursuing claims. The new system would require upfront fees and would reduce payouts. Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said: 'The government says their reforms will stop whiplash claims. But they're not just stopping whiplash cases, they're also trying to stop serious industrial disease and workplace injury cases. This is all part of a campaign to protect insurance companies and badly behaving industrial giants at the expense of people who worked hard all their lives and did nothing wrong.'
A woman died of asbestos cancer aged 56 as a result of washing her husband's asbestos-covered work clothes for a decade. Jill Bolstridge would shake off the dirt from overalls worn by her husband James - who worked at Derby engineering firm S Robinson and Sons - before putting them in the washing machine. She had been in good health until last May, when she started becoming out of breath and was given an inhaler, an inquest heard. Doctors confirmed she was suffering from a malignant mesothelioma. She died in October 2011, two days after her family helped her put together a statement about her condition which was read out at the inquest. South Derbyshire Coroner's Court heard her husband's job initially included sweeping up in the asbestos yard and moving asbestos sheeting. Mr Bolstridge, 62, said: 'There was no cleaning system. It was a matter of taking them home and my wife used to clean them for me.' In later years, he said, this was changed so that overalls were sent to professional cleaners in Nottingham but, for 10 years, his wife washed them. In her statement, which was read out at the court, Mrs Bolstridge recalled the clothes were 'dirty and dusty'. She added: 'I could easily have inhaled some of the dust from Jim's working clothes. Thinking about this in detail now, my face would not be far away from the clothes I was shaking. I did this week in, week out, for years.' Assistant deputy coroner Paul McCandless said it was of 'extreme importance' he should record a verdict of death due to the industrial disease of malignant mesothelioma of the pleura, even though it was the result of secondary exposure.
A worker died when a six-metre steel machine landed on top of him after it was dislodged from overhead brackets at a factory in East Yorkshire. Ronald Wood, 59, was struck on the head by the steel vacuum lifter, which weighed two-thirds of a tonne, when it was knocked from its mountings by a trailer being towed out of the Montracon factory. Hull Crown Court heard that Mr Wood, a driver and long-standing employee of Montracon, was standing underneath the steel lifter with a fellow worker as a large trailer, which was being towed out of the factory, hit the brackets holding the machine in place. The impact knocked it loose and it fell more than three and a half metres - landing on top of Mr Wood. His colleague escaped with only a minor injury. Mr Wood never regained consciousness and died in hospital the same day. Montracon Ltd pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two criminal safety breaches. It was fined a total of £100,000 and ordered to pay £33,030 in costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Steven Kay, who carried out HSE's investigation, said there had been 'obvious failures.' Speaking after the hearing, he said: 'If Montracon had a suitable plan to control the movement of trailers in the workshop area, then they would have realised it was not safe to manoeuvre a trailer past a heavy piece of equipment that could be dislodged. But it failed to consider the risks or take basic and inexpensive precautions relating to storing heavy equipment at height.' The inspector added: 'Montracon also failed to follow up several minor incidents which, had they been investigated, could have led to action to prevent this tragedy. All employers need to have a system to record near misses and investigate them. The resulting information could prevent loss of life.' In a statement to the court on behalf of Mr Wood's family, his daughter Emma Wood said: 'It is so difficult to put into words the devastation caused to our family by dad's death. It was traumatic beyond belief and it still is... like a horrendous nightmare. We are all in total disbelief with what has happened and completely lost without him.'
A Fife engineering company has been fined £10,000 after a lathe weighing more than a tonne toppled onto a worker's leg. AG Brown Ltd employee Craig Stewart, 21, was working with a colleague to move a 1.2 tonne lathe from a workshop in Glenrothes to one of the metal fabrication company's other workshops in the town. Mr Stewart and his colleague decided to lift the lathe using a lifting eye and a fabric sling hooked over the forks of a forklift truck. However, the doorway of the workshop was not high enough to move the forklift truck through it with the forks raised. To overcome this problem, Mr Stewart and his colleague decided to use the forklift truck to move the lathe as close as possible to the doorway. This would then allow them to lower the lathe onto three skates to move it outside before re-attaching it to the forklift truck for it to be moved to the other workshop. As his colleague lowered the lathe onto the skates, Mr Stewart noticed that the skate at the heavier chuck end of the lathe was not aligned properly. He crouched down to straighten the skate, but as he did this, the unsecured lathe fell over on to him, crushing his right leg. He suffered a broken leg and needed surgery to insert a pin the length of his shin. Although he expects to make a full recovery, he has been left with scarring where the pin was inserted. He also needed weekly physiotherapy sessions following the incident and had to give up playing football due to the pain it caused in his leg. AG Brown Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to ensure Mr Stewart's safety, failing to make suitable risk assessments, and failing to provide a safe system of work and was fined £10,000. Imposing the fine, Sheriff Williamson said: 'This piece of plant was moved without any thought being given to how it could be done safely. There was no risk assessment, and it was left to the men on the ground to make the best they could of a dangerous job. What they came up with was frankly Heath Robinson. It was doomed to failure and a man suffered a serious injury.'
An employee of an Oxfordshire-based engineering company sustained life-threatening burns after striking a high voltage electric cable during construction work on the new Crossrail railway. At a 27 February sentencing hearing, the Central Criminal Court heard Fugro Engineering Services Ltd employee Samuel Langley was using a hydraulic breaker to create an inspection pit for a borehole outside 1 Hanover Street, London, when he struck a high voltage electric cable. Mr Langley, who was 63 at the time of the 7 February 2008 incident, suffered severe injuries as he was treated for 60 per cent burns. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found effective lines of communication were not established and appropriate training in safe digging techniques was not provided to operatives. Key safety documentation showing the presence of the cable was not kept at the borehole location. Although the site was scanned with a cable avoidance tool to detect underground services, no markings were made on the road to indicate where cables were found. After the hearing, HSE inspector Lisa Chappell said: 'It is completely foreseeable that electric cables would be present in a busy London street, and there is well-established guidance and training to ensure digging is carried out safely. Had Fugro Engineering Services provided the correct training, supervision and a safe system of work, proportionate to the level of risk involved, then this serious incident could have been avoided.' The company pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences was fined £55,000 and ordered to pay £30,000 in costs.
A food manufacturing firm has been fined after a worker was blown off the top of a shipping container while moving corrugated metal sheets. Barry Walton, 64, from Taunton, was an employee of Vion Foods UK Ltd and was working at their food processing plant in Wiveliscombe when the incident happened on 10 February 2010. Taunton Magistrates' Court heard that Mr Walton was standing on top of the shipping container lifting the metal sheets from a forklift onto the roof when a gust of wind knocked him off the edge. He fell more than two-and-a-half metres to the ground, breaking his ribs and damaging muscles in his leg and shoulder. He was off work for seven weeks. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident found that Vion Foods UK Ltd had not carried out a risk assessment or ensured that a safe system of work was in place to prevent a fall. In addition, although the work was being supervised by another employee, he had not had adequate training for working at height. HSE inspector Kate Leftly said: 'Mr Walton did not need to be standing on the shipping container to carry out the work: he could have used a vehicle such as a forklift to deposit the sheets or he could have worked from a contained elevated platform.' Vion Foods UK Ltd of Livingstone, Scotland, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £12,000 and £4,400 in costs. In August 2011, the firm was fined £100,000 after employee George Hardie, 60, died at the Vion Food Group-owned Halls of Broxburn meat factory after being hit by a badly loaded forklift truck (Risks 520).
A fitter had a brush with death when he fell half way through a hole 70ft in the air on a scaffolding platform. The 64-year-old, whose name has not been released, was working for a contractor in Port Talbot in February 2008 when he put his foot into a hole in the scaffolding platform which had been left uncovered. As he attempted to save himself from plunging to the ground he ended up dangling upside down. He dislocated his left shoulder in the incident, which stopped him pulling himself to safety. He was subsequently rescued by work colleagues. He had to take more than eight months off work whilst his shoulder recovered and still has limited movement in his arm. An investigation revealed wooden planks which made up the platform floor had been removed, creating the foot-wide hole. The scaffolding hadn't been inspected. His employer admitted liability for failing to inspect the scaffolding and settled the claim out of court for £20,000. His lawyer, Alex Harvey from Thompsons Solicitors, commented: 'No-one knows why these planks had been removed from the scaffolding platform but it is obvious that it created a significant hazard in breach of the construction regulations which state that the employer must provide safe access to every place their employees work. This accident could have had very serious consequences and as it is our client suffered a painful injury which saw him take significant time off work.'
An Egyptian petroleum company's top legal adviser has blamed the country's former finance minister for a deadly refinery blast. Araby Abdel Hamid, head of the legal department at the Suez Company for Petroleum Manufacturing, has said he holds Youssef Boutros-Ghali responsible for the 22 February explosion in which five workers were killed. Abdel Hamid told state news agency MENA that Boutros-Ghali refused to replace the company's machinery or modernise it on a regular basis even though the company's officials submitted 20 requests to do so. He claimed Boutros-Ghali wanted to merge the Suez Company for Petroleum Manufacturing and Nasr Petroleum as a step towards privatising petroleum refineries, but the General Petroleum Authority rejected the idea. As a result, Abdel Hamid said, Boutros-Ghali insisted that the company's equipment not be overhauled.
Claims that a major supplier to hi-tech giant Apple is having its labour practices subject to effective external scrutiny have been dismissed by labour rights organisation as 'a PR stunt.' In an open letter to Apple shareholders, the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), GoodElectronics and makeITfair are critical of the investigations of the Fair Labour Association (FLA) at Apple supplier Foxconn. The criticism in an open letter, timed to coincide with Apple's 2012 annual shareholders' meeting on 23 February, included a call on the firm's shareholders 'to do the right thing'. Apple recently joined the Fair Labour Association (FLA), which is currently conducting an investigation of labour conditions at Foxconn, a major Apple supplier in China. Although the FLA report is not due until March, it has already been reported that the FLA has formed a positive opinion of conditions at Foxconn. The groups say FLA has reached this 'premature' conclusion without interviewing workers. 'Contrary to FLA's standard methodology, the Foxconn investigation was not unannounced which has allowed the company to hide abuses by banning illegal overtime for 16-17 year olds during the period of the investigation,' IMF added. The open letter tells shareholders that in addition to proper auditing, Apple also needs to look into improving its purchasing practices by ensuring fair prices and well-planned lead times, allowing workers to work normal hours and earn a living wage. Commenting on its 'independent investigation into labour rights allegations at Foxconn', a 21 February statement from FLA said it 'continues to progress in the same way as each of FLA's other assessments and investigations have - fairly, thoroughly and independently.'
The murder of union members in Guatemala's banana industry is continuing. Seven current or former members of the Guatemalan banana workers' union have been murdered since 2011. The US Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) reports the most recent casualty, Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers' union, was shot on 5 February while he was holding his young son. No one has been arrested for murders USLEAP calls 'the slow moving massacre of the largest private sector union in Guatemala.' On the day of Ramirez's murder, the Guatemalan government had lifted its 24-hour security protection for the union's secretary general. In 2008, under the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), US national union federation AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions filed a complaint with the US Labor Department outlining the systemic failure of the government of Guatemala to enforce its own labour laws or to take reasonable action to prevent violence against trade unionists. In 2009, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the second most dangerous country for trade unionists, behind Colombia. Meanwhile, says USLEAP, violence has sky-rocketed against one of the main filers of the complaint, the banana union SITRABI. It is calling for people to contact the Guatemalan authorities to demand 'an end to violence against SITRABI and other Guatemalan trade unions, and that those responsible for the violence are brought to justice.'
Half the 315 construction workers killed in on Israeli construction sites over the past decade were West Bank Palestinians or foreign nationals, an official study for an Israeli parliament committee has concluded. The Knesset Research and Information Centre report found worker fatalities rose 65 per cent between 2010 and 2011, to 38 deaths last year. The report was commissioned for a special 28 February session of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, and followed a series of critical newspaper articles. The session was called by Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz. 'I have to say that I was stunned by the report,' Horowitz said. 'I can't help but think one of the reasons that this disregard for the workers' health and failure to investigate their deaths can continue is that these workers are foreign, Arab or people who are underrepresented.' Although half of all site victims over the past decade were West Bank Palestinians or foreign nationals, these groups represent only 15 per cent to 30 per cent of construction workers, according to the report. The report, compiled by Knesset researcher Gilad Nathan, said the government was not doing enough to combat the safety problem. It also said many non-fatal accidents on the country's many construction sites go unreported. Part of the problem, Nathan said, is the difficulty of filling poorly paid government inspector jobs. He called for inspectors to be given more authority, such as the power to issue on-the-spot fines. Safety engineer Hassan Shuli, who posts daily updates about construction accidents on his Facebook page, described the number of fatalities among Arab construction workers as 'horrific, incomprehensible.'
The National Work Stress Network's 2012 conference will be held in Rednal, near Birmingham on the weekend of 23-25 November. Marking the bicentenary this year of the birth of Charles Dickens, the event has a theme of 'Hard Times, Great Expectations and Victorian values - combatting workplace stress in hostile times.'
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