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Ministers who 'know nothing' about workplaces should stop attacking safety, a union leader has said. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy, speaking this week at the construction union's annual conference, reserved his severest criticism for the government's attacks on safety laws. 'Most sickeningly of all, the government are making it more dangerous to go to work,' he said. He told the conference he was angered by the 35% cut in the Health and Safety Executive's budget, the closure of the HSE's Infoline, the weakening of the injury reporting regulations RIDDOR and the proposed scrapping of the Tower Crane Register. 'Ministers who know nothing about workplaces claim that red tape is strangling business, that the health and safety monster must be tamed,' he said. 'Perhaps they should try telling that to the families of the 47 construction workers who were killed last year. Or the hundreds of workers involved in major accidents who will never work again.' He warned the government's cuts policy was 'damaging the fabric of society'.
A woman who was fired after challenging a management move she felt would leave her at risk of violence has won an unfair dismissal claim. GMB member Karen Seacombe, 48, lost her job as a social club steward after a dispute with her employer over attending burglar alarm call-outs at night on her own. She had been employed at Great Western Railway Staff Association in Laira, Plymouth since 2006. In March 2011 the club changed its alarm provider and asked for Mrs Seacombe to provide her personal mobile number as well as her home number for call-outs. Later she and her colleagues were asked to carry a mobile phone provided by the club so the alarm company could reach them. Mrs Seacombe refused to pass on her personal mobile phone number or accept the club's mobile phone because she felt she would be vulnerable if someone had illegally entered the building. During a meeting between Mrs Seacombe and the club, where the GMB member had union representation, the union highlighted the absence of a lone worker policy and agreed to write a policy on the club's behalf. Mrs Seacombe left the meeting believing her concerns were being addressed but just a few days later she received a letter dismissing her on the grounds of gross misconduct. The decision was upheld at what GMB described as 'a hastily arranged and badly organised meeting.' GMB supported Mrs Seacombe in an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.
Exeter Employment Tribunal found in Mrs Seacombe's favour, noting she had 'raised genuine concerns about her health and safety, particularly as a lone worker at night following alarm calls'. It added that the club had failed to hold a fair and reasonable investigation into the matter and its appeals process was 'shambolic'. The tribunal awarded Mrs Seacombe £18,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal.
An influential Commons committee has backed pilots' concerns about new European flying hour limits. A report from the Transport Select Committee says that the proposals, which could see pilots landing planes after being awake for a 22-hour stretch, could jeopardise safety. The committee called on the UK government to intervene and secure improvements to the regulations. Pilots' union BALPA has been spearheading the campaign against the flying hours changes (Risks 552). General Secretary Jim McAuslan said: 'This report should be a wake-up call to the government that it must stand up for UK-level aviation safety standards and not allow them to be watered down. This is not for pilots' sake, but for the travelling public.' He added the whole process had been mismanaged. 'That's why we've ended up with pilots landing after possibly being awake for 22-hours - something the committee says is 'extraordinary' - and why flying overnight is less restrictive than the scientists say it should be. The MPs are right to say that the proposed rules accept 'a higher level of fatigue' and 'could well lead to a situation where the accident rate will increase.' Given that, we totally agree that these rules must be improved before adoption could be considered by the UK.' He said in the meantime, the union wanted assurances from the government 'that the high safety standards we have in the UK will remain in force until we can be sure that the EU standards would be a genuine improvement.' Transport minister Theresa Villiers said moving to a Europe-wide system of safety regulation 'would undoubtedly bring up the standards to a broadly equivalent level to that in the UK'.
The retirement in May 2012 of the chief medical adviser for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has left its Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS) close to collapse, a top HSE trade union rep has warned. Simon Hester, a frontline HSE field inspector and chair of the union Prospect's HSE branch, made the warning in a 22nd May letter to The Guardian. 'Twenty years ago EMAS was an internationally respected source of occupational health expertise employing 60 occupational health doctors and 62 nurses. It is now down to 2.2 doctors, only one of whom is full-time,' he wrote. 'Successive years of cuts and 'reviews' (three in the past five years) have effectively destroyed by stealth an organisation committed to the well-being of the nation's workforce.' Citing official HSE figures, he warned well over a million people are currently suffering from ill- health caused by or made worse by their work, 'all relying on medical help from an ever-stretched NHS, the vast majority suffering from preventable illnesses. If the government truly believes prevention is better than cure it must reverse the cuts to HSE and rebuild a service that can help protect the UK workforce.' HSE's ability to respond effectively to workplace health (Risks 332) and cancer problems (Risks 546) has been damaged by the demise of its medical wing, campaigners have warned.
Tube union RMT has reached an agreement with London Underground (LU) over Olympics recognition and rewards, but has unresolved safety concerns they are demanding be addressed. The agreement reached after months of intensive negotiations protects existing terms and conditions. There will also be rewards packages of up to £1,000 for staff in recognition of the additional pressures that will be thrown at the service from the extra three million journeys a day. But RMT says it remains 'deeply concerned' at the staffing levels planned by LU and 'the use of untrained volunteers at a time when safety and security will be absolutely paramount.' RMT has also repeated its demand for a full-scale, mock emergency evacuation to test the robustness of the safety procedures in operation. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the union 'will continue to fight for safe staffing levels to deal with the stresses and strains on the system. We have seen from the repeated breakdowns over the past two weeks the impact of cuts to staffing and maintenance and it is our members who are out there fighting to hold the service together and they deserve both every penny they get and the right not to be bullied into accepting unfair and unsafe working practices.'
Rail union RMT has demanded a halt to safety-critical job cuts after Network Rail was fined £150,000 for criminal safety breaches related to the death of a track maintenance worker and devastating injuries to another in two separate incidents in the Thames Valley region. On 29th April 2007, track maintenance Charlie Stockwell was struck by a train and killed whilst conducting welding work. On 23rd May 2008 at Kennington Junction near Hinksey, track maintenance worker David Coles lost a leg when he was struck by a train while testing the locking mechanism on track points. Network Rail was sentenced at Reading Crown Court following an Office of Rail Regulation investigation. Tom Wake, ORR's deputy director of railway safety said: 'Network Rail's poor planning and inadequate management of track maintenance work on the railway in the Thames Valley area led to the death of one worker and the serious injury of another in two separate, yet similar, incidents. These were serious failings on Network Rail's part with tragic consequences.' He added: 'We acknowledge that Network Rail has made a number of changes to improve safety for track workers since these incidents. But as the failings were significant, Network Rail must be held to account.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'These horrific incidents, involving death and serious injury to rail workers, were wholly avoidable and show yet again that corner-cutting has lethal consequences. The £150,000 fine is a pittance compared to the human cost and the long term consequences. Once again we repeat our demand that the government call a halt to the cuts to safety-critical jobs in the name of profit which is at the core of their McNulty Rail Review.' Mr Stockwell's son Leon, 31, commented: 'Whatever they say it is not going to bring my dad back, but the fine is a joke. They are not going to learn anything.' Network Rail had already received two seven figure fines for criminal safety breaches this year (Risks 551).
The companies and security services believed to be involved in a notorious blacklist of union safety activities are to face closer scrutiny from a union and a parliamentary committee. Construction union UCATT this week said it was determined to find out who has been 'selling state surveillance to companies blacklisting workers.' At its annual conference, UCATT also pledged to push for new laws criminalising blacklisting and compensating victims. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said blacklisting was 'a terrible crime. It will be a long and dire fight, but it's one we're absolutely committed to. The victims of blacklisting have a right to know how the state conspired to destroy people's lives.' Veteran anti-blacklisting campaigner Maria Fyfe, the former Glasgow Labour MP, was the first witness to give evidence on blacklisting at a new inquiry launched by the Scottish affairs select committee at Westminster this week. She told MPs the current law was ineffective and demanded the introduction of tough new measures stipulating that blacklisting is against the law and those guilty of it will be heavily fined or imprisoned.
Working night shifts more than twice a week is associated with a 40 per cent increased risk of breast cancer, a study has found. The long term study, published online on 28th May in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, was undertaken by the Danish Cancer Society's Institute of Epidemiology. Researchers looked at breast cancers in more than 18,500 women working for the Danish Army between 1964 and 1999, all of whom had been born between 1929 and 1968.They were able to contact 210 women out of a total of 218 who had had breast cancer between 1990 and 2003, and who were still alive in 2005/06. Those who had worked nights at least three times a week for at least six years were more than twice as likely to have the disease as those who had not. The association was not found for those who worked only one or two night shifts per week. Commenting on the findings, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This study confirms previous research which has shown that shiftwork is now the second biggest cause of work-related cancer deaths after asbestos. We need urgent advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and government so that employers can reduce the risk of female workers developing breast cancer, for example by identifying safer shift patterns.' In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded shiftwork is a 'probable' cause of breast cancer in humans and urged preventive action. Professor Andrew Watterson from Stirling University said since then 'the majority of follow up-studies on night shiftwork indicate the link between such work and breast cancer in women workers has become stronger and stronger. A public health preventive approach should therefore apply within HSE with greater inspections of night shiftwork and practical solutions developed to reduce the long term risks.'
The government is spending more than £10 million annually on efforts to 'ease the regulatory burden on business'. The cost of the government's deregulation drive was uncovered by Environmental Health News (EHN) in a series of Freedom of Information Act requests. Top spenders include the Better Regulation Executive (BRE), which develops policies to 'reduce regulation', costs £3.9m a year to run and employs 44 civil servants. The Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), which operates the primary authority scheme and advises councils, costs £3.5m a year to run and employs 27 civil servants. Better Regulation Units (BRUs), which are based in each Whitehall department, cost the public purse an estimated £2.2m every year. According to the responses from government obtained by EHN, the Red Tape Challenge website, which allows the businesses to identify regulations they want scrapped, has 13 civil servants working on it and is expected to cost £796,288 to run this year. The Cabinet Office paid a web developer £25,008 to maintain the site and outsourced the moderation of the comments at the cost £37,328. There are also 24 civil servants including finance directors and policy heads who are 'board level champions' who push the better regulation agenda in their departments. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told EHN it would be too expensive to calculate the cost of their work. EHN totted up the total annual cost of the BRE, BRDO, BRU and the Red Tape Challenge to £10.2m. Stephen Battersby, immediate past president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), told EHN the money would be better spent cracking down on firms that put the public at risk. 'There is no evidence of over-regulation, indeed it was deregulation of banking that led to the irresponsible lending that led to the crash,' he said. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the government was wasting precious money and resources on 'an ideological whim.' He added: 'With 20,000 people across the UK dying prematurely as a result of work-related accidents and illnesses, cutting back on vital safety regulation is the last thing they should be doing.'
Many employees feel it to be true and now research has proved it - businesses really don't care how constant change affects their staff. Business failure is directly related to senior managers not understanding or caring that change can knock a workforce off its feet, according to researchers from the University of Portsmouth Business School. Gary Rees said he and co-author Sally Rumbles were 'alarmed' by the findings. 'Employees are an organisation's most valuable asset and collectively have the power to help businesses survive and thrive in bad times as well as in good. Managers seem to think they have a licence to change, but our research has shown high-level executives admit only about a third of changes they've made are successful and have helped sustain their company through turbulent times.' He added: 'Employers and senior managers need to stop foisting continual change upon their staff in a bid to stay viable as a business. The secret is not to ignore the fact change can threaten the staff who, in turn, can become exhausted, cynical or depressed, which destabilises the organisation.' Sally Rumbles said: 'The worst thing is those who are more likely to burnout in the workplace are the most engaged and hardworking staff. If a business loses those people then it risks destabilising the business. Instead of seeing people as the most important asset and what gives a business its competitive advantage, too many senior managers think what is good for business is good for the workers.' She added: 'Continual change can feel like bereavement and employees need time to recover and adjust after change, not be thrust again and again into new periods of uncertainty and new initiatives and restructuring. Businesses need to plan change, execute it and then tell staff the turmoil is over.' The research is published in the International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management.
Fruit pickers, shellfish gatherers and farm labourers could be at greater risk of exploitation under plans to reduce regulation of gangmasters, unions have warned.
Ministers want to scrap automatic inspections for businesses applying to use or supply groups of workers. They said the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) should focus 'on the worst excesses in the areas it regulates.' Agriculture minister Jim Paice announced the plans as part of the government's Red Tape Challenge to reduce regulations and inspections. Government adviser and venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft had recommended GLA be scrapped in his controversial report on how to promote economic growth. GLA is intended to protect workers from exploitation in agriculture, shellfish gathering and food and drink processing and packaging. Any person or business wanting to act as a gangmaster must apply for a licence - issued by GLA after an initial inspection. But under the government's proposals this initial inspection would be removed. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said while unions 'welcome the government's rejection of Mr Beecroft's call to abolish the GLA', the changes announced will reduce protection for many vulnerable workers. 'It will now be much easier for new gangmasters - including those who have lost licenses previously - to set up without facing proper checks. And while it is right to prosecute organised crime, too rigid a focus will send the signal that routine exploitation will be ignored by the authorities. Major retailers at the top of supply chains have customers who ask hard questions about the ethics of the goods they buy. They will now be able to offer far less reassurance that UK-sourced food is free from exploitation.' The Defra announcement came two days after a University of Manchester study concluded forced labour is widespread in sectors including construction, food processing, catering, cleaning and agriculture, and recommended GLA's remit be expanded to other sectors to protect vulnerable workers (Risks 557).
A Labour government will stop dangerous companies using a legal loophole to fold and evade safety fines. Construction union UCATT has been critical of 'phoenix firms' that go into administration and then resuming business under a similar trading name. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told the union's conference in Scarborough this week it was wrong the government was prepared to stand by while negligent businesses evade justice after workplace deaths. 'So I give this commitment today: the next Labour government will legislate to prevent this abuse. It puts the lives of workers at risk,' said Ummuna. 'It is irresponsible. It is wrong. We will stop it.' UCATT wants the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be able to freeze a company's assets as soon as a worker is killed and until investigations into the death are concluded. Similar powers exist in cases involving fraud and drug crimes. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said the law had to be changed in order to ensure safe working practices in construction, an industry in which nearly 50 workers were killed last year. He added: 'Bereaved families also deserve justice. It is bad enough for them to lose a loved one, but for the law to allow those responsible to escape justice is a grievous insult.' The union's president John Thompson welcomed the MP's pledge but said it was 'long overdue,' adding the 'callousness' of the phoenix firms had devastating effects on their victims' families.
An inquest has returned accidental death verdicts on five Lithuanian nationals who were killed when an illicit vodka distillery on a Lincolnshire industrial estate exploded. The inquest was told vapours in the air may have been ignited by a spark when a cigarette was lit inside the industrial unit on 13 July 2011 (Risks 515). A post mortem revealed that the men - Vaidas Krupenkinas, 39, Ovidijus Mejeris, 26, Laimutis Simkus, 32, Ricardas Gecas, 23, and Erlandas Duzinskas, 18 - would have died almost instantly, after inhaling toxic fumes. Survivor Rytas Gecas, who suffered severe burns and spent months in hospital recovering, said the six men would often smoke at the Broadfield Lane Industrial Estate unit in Boston. He added that he thought somebody had lit a cigarette just before the explosion happened. At the inquest at Spalding Magistrates' Court coroner Maureen Taylor recorded a verdict of accidental death for the five men. She said: 'They all smoked inside the unit, sometimes while actually working, and just didn't consider the dangers. I don't know how the fire started, whether it was from a cigarette, who smoked that cigarette, or where. The only certainty was that illegal activities were being carried on in unit eight at the time.' Earlier this year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) changed the system for reporting deaths at work to include some blackmarket jobs. Now fatalities affecting those undertaking illegal jobs that could be performed legally, like the production of vodka, will be included in official work death statistics.
Family doctors have called for an end to the work capability assessment introduced by the government in a bid to get more people off benefits and back to work. The British Medical Association's conference last week called for the fit-for-work checks to be scrapped because of the harm they do to vulnerable patients. The doctors, who represent GPs from across the UK, called instead for a more vigorous and safe process which takes into account the needs of long term sick and disabled patients. Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA's GPs Committee, said: 'When 40 per cent of appeals against the assessments are successful at tribunal hearings something is clearly very wrong with the system. Being in work is good for people's overall health and well-being, but GPs are seeing too many patients who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit coming in very concerned and confused by the system.' He added: 'It's not fair on these patients but it could also have a wider impact as well - having a lower income may lead to people having a poorer quality of health and could therefore increase health inequalities for our nation as a whole. The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose.'
Labour's shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has pledged to raise with government ministers and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency the abuse of lorry drivers, after meeting a delegation from Unite. The MP was told by the union reps of a small number of independent Suffolk haulage operators who have been accused of 'systematic abuses' of their drivers (Risks 557). She said: 'The serious concerns about working conditions and safety for all road users raised with me by heavy goods vehicle drivers must be taken seriously by both the haulage industry and ministers. I will be raising these concerns with the Department for Transport and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). They must take swift action to investigate any practices that put the safety of both HGV drivers and other road users at risk.' Unite regional officer Mark Plumb commented: 'We had a very positive meeting with Maria Eagle and are pleased that she is taking our concerns forward. We hope that this action will stamp out the abuses that Unite has highlighted.' Problems identified by the union included excessive hours, breaches of night time working rules and overloading of vehicles.
A firm, its director and a supervisor have been sentenced for safety failings after a worker died from injuries sustained in a fall from scaffolding at a construction site in East Sussex. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Apex Scaffolding (Sussex) Ltd, its director, Michael Walsh, and Leslie Hustwayte, a supervisor, for negligence and defects that contributed towards the incident on 10th August 2009. Hastings Magistrates' Court heard that Joseph Murphy, 31, from had been constructing a scaffold over-roof when he fell. An HSE investigation identified a number of defects with the scaffolding at the site, including missing hand rails and incomplete scaffold platforms. Evidence of deficient working practices by Mr Hustwayte and a negligent safety culture within the company were also found. Magistrates were told that prohibition notices had previously been served on Apex Scaffolding (Sussex) Ltd and on individual employees for unsafe working practices, but the poor attitude to safety in the organisation continued. Apex Scaffolding (Sussex) Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the work at height regulations and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs. Director Michael Walsh and Leslie Hustwayte also pleaded guilty and were fined £1,500 and £2,000 respectively, with each also ordered to pay £2,500 costs.
A Sheffield property developer has been fined after a building partly collapsed and sent tonnes of rubble through a neighbouring shop roof - just missing two shopworkers. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said developer Ghulam Rasul put the lives of the workers and of the local community at serious risk when he deliberated flouted a legal enforcement notice ordering him to halt all demolition work at the site because the building was potentially unstable. HSE brought the prosecution after investigating the incident on 4th February last year. Sheffield Magistrates heard that HSE found Mr Rasul restarted demolition work on the site in late 2010, breaching a prohibition notice served on him in April 2008. HSE said by doing so, the building was weakened further, increasing its instability and the potential for collapse. On 4th February 2011, the gable end of the two-storey building did collapse. Around ten tonnes of brick and rubble crashed through the roof of the fishing tackle shop next door, which was open for business, and narrowly missed the shopworkers. Ghulam Rasul pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and to breaching a prohibition notice. He was fined a total of £6,000 and ordered to pay £2,418 in costs. Inspector Dave Bradley, from HSE's construction division, said he was astonished there had not been fatal or serious casualties. He added Mr Rasul 'had been warned of the dangers, advised on what to do and yet he recklessly ignored this advice and by doing so put the lives of many people at risk.' Ignoring official HSE notices can attract a jail term.
A new online tool intended to help businesses move from toxic chemicals to less dangerous alternatives has been launched. The SUBSPORT project, which has involved unions in its design and development, provides free-of-charge multilingual tools. 'The idea behind the database is allowing companies to be inspired by others,' said Tatiana Santos Otero from the union-backed research organisation ISTAS. Users can access a case story database which already includes 104 practical real-life examples of successful substitution work. At SUBSPORT's launch in Helsinki this week, Ana García Oliver presented the trade union perspective and highlighted the workers' role in promoting substitution. She described how Unión Sindical Madrid Región de Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) is working to substitute hazardous chemicals at work, pointing to a case history included in the SUBSPORT database involving the substitution of trichloroethylene at a printing school. 'We believe SUBSPORT is a very useful tool for replacement of hazardous chemicals to improve workers' conditions,' she said.
In April 2012, 2,000 migrant workers in a factory in Thailand that processes shrimp for a major supplier to global retail giant Walmart revolted against their abusive and degrading conditions, the global foodworkers' union federation IUF reports. The workers, from Cambodia and Burma, protested the seizure of their passports by factory owners in Thailand. Police were called. Shots were fired. It wasn't just the passport seizure that incited the workers' anger - it was management slashing wages again. Their wages already failed to cover the most basic needs, and this latest action put workers deeper into the factory's debt. Many of them are still legally and financially trapped at the factory, victims of human trafficking. According to IUF, Walmart's internal systems claim to protect against these abuses, some of which have been described by the Bangkok Post as 'the equivalent of actual slavery.' IUF says this example shows the company's system doesn't work. 'Walmart's internal auditors schedule visits to factories - a deeply flawed practice that allows owners to coach workers and hide the most egregious abuses,' IUF points out. 'On the other hand, independent monitors show up unannounced, don't aim to please factory owners, and provide a real check against some of the worst abuses - that is why they are so desperately needed.' The union is urging anyone concerned at the abuse of the Thai shrimp workers to sign a petition to Walmart's VP of Ethical Sourcing, calling on him to demand these factory owners end human trafficking immediately and allow independent monitors to audit all of their factories.
If you work in the hydraulic fracturing industry - better known as 'fracking', a process used to free natural gas and oil from shale rock - you may be exposed to high levels of crystalline silica, putting you at risk of silicosis, lung cancer and other debilitating diseases. The warning comes in a letter sent last week by US unions to top federal safety agencies. The letter from national union federation AFL-CIO, Mine Workers (UMWA) and the United Steelworkers (USW) highlights a recent two-year National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assessment, which found that, among those exposed, 79 per cent of samples for silica exceeded the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits. Silica sand is a major component of the fracking process. The sand is mixed with large volumes of water and chemical additives and injected under high pressure by drilling into shale rock. Massive quantities of sand are used and workers are at risk of high levels of exposure during multiple points of the fracking process. The letter urges the official safety enforcement agency the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to take immediate action and issue a joint 'hazard alert' that identifies the occupational safety and health hazards in the fracking industry, with a special focus on silica exposures. It also recommends OSHA take immediate steps to produce a new silica standard that includes requirements for exposure monitoring and medical surveillance. The union bodies also want NIOSH to expand its field work in the fracking industry to include medical surveillance of workers.
COURSES FOR APRIL 2012 TO JUNE 2012
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 1 Jun 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-21090-f0.cfm
printed 25 May 2013 at 11:15 hrs by 18.104.22.168