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
Top managers of Arcardia-owned Topshop have asked for talks with journalists' union NUJ after a photographer was manhandled by security guards and police while covering a demonstration in the retail giant's flagship Oxford Street store. An NUJ protest outside the store schedule for Saturday 11 August was cancelled after the offer of a meeting. Photographer Jess Hurd had been attempting to photograph arrests of peaceful UK Uncut protesters in Topshop, Oxford Circus in March 2012. 'I was asked by a person I thought to be a security guard to leave, I said 'OK',' she said. 'As I was leaving I took a couple of pictures of an arrest. The man then said 'right I'm arresting you for aggravated trespass'. He was not wearing a uniform and had not identified himself as a police officer.' The veteran photographer said she was manhandled, despite informing him she was a member of the press and was trying to leave. 'He continued to use force to move me towards the back of the store and pulled my clothing up, exposing my upper body. I was sure that he didn't have arrest powers and challenged again, he then said he was detaining me for 'resisting arrest'. He was using quite a lot of force and I was shouting 'you're assaulting me, get your hands off me'.' She was subsequently grabbed by police officers, who said she had been arrested for a public order offence and who refused her permission to record details of the arrest on her phone. At the police station she was told she would be released but 'was banned from Topshop' because she had 'trespassed'. Jess Hurd said: 'I would like to thank fellow NUJ members who organised solidarity and put pressure on Topshop via social networks. Collectively we will continue to make companies accountable when they refuse to respect press freedom and defend members who suffer abuse in this way.' Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: 'It is simply unacceptable that NUJ members face abuse and harassment whilst doing their jobs.'
Public sector union UNISON is calling on its safety reps to take 'active steps' to tackle violence at work after a court said employers can be held liable for worker-on-worker violence. The Court of Appeal ruled that, where an employee inflicts violence on another employee or third party, there can be vicarious liability of the employer for the employee's violent act where the incident is linked somehow to the employee's job. The January 2012 judgment notes 'that, since employees must receive instructions and respond to them, an improper form of response, even a violent one, is an act within the course of employment.' According to UNISON: 'The Court of Appeal concluded that a broad view must be taken of the nature of an employee's employment and what was reasonably incidental to the employee's duties when considering his or her violent act.' UNISON added that the ruling 'acknowledged that the possibility of friction is inherent in any employment relationship. The danger of a violent reaction to a lawful instruction is therefore a risk created by the employment. On this basis, a violent reaction may be connected to the employment rather than unrelated or independent of it.' The union said there are implications for employers. 'If an employee inflicts violence on a fellow employee or third party, where there is a sufficient connection between the violent act and the wrongdoer's employment, there is a real risk that the employer will be vicariously liable for the wrongdoer's violent act.' UNISON says its safety reps 'should negotiate to ensure that their employer takes active steps to reduce the risk of violence in the workplace by reviewing their policies on this issue, ensuring that these policies are brought to the attention of all staff and, where there is violence, taking action in line with the disciplinary policy.'
There is widespread under-reporting of accidents and dangerous occurrences in schools in England and Wales, with some schools discouraging reports, a survey by teaching union NUT has found. The union received responses from NUT health and safety advisers at 32 local associations, with the majority (72 per cent) identifying an under-reporting problem in local authority schools in their area. Over two-thirds (68 per cent) gave an estimate of the extend of under-reporting, with nearly six out of 10 of these putting the level of under-reporting at between 20 and 50 per cent of all accidents and incidents. But over a fifth of those giving an estimate thought at least threequarters went unreported. Thirty-nine per cent of survey respondents said they were aware of schools discouraging staff from reporting incidents. In its response to the findings, NUT is calling for greater clarity from employers about 'what has to be reported, how it is to be reported and the importance of doing so,' with accessible and robust reporting and recording systems. NUT notes: 'Reporting/recording arrangements are capable of easily generating data for use by safety representatives and others so that risk assessment and general health and safety strategy are efficiently and reliably informed.' The union is also calling for local authorities to 'respond meaningfully where problems are identified with health and safety management in any school, or where individual schools fail to return accident reports.' It wants local authority oversight and reporting 'raised as a standing item at Health and Safety Committee meetings.'
The UK safety authorities have been jolted into action by a high profile Europe-wide UNISON campaign for the introduction of a law to protect workers from sharps injuries. On 8 August the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) started a three month consultation on the implementation of an EU directive which requires member states to introduce regulations to protect health care workers from potentially life-threatening sharps-related infections. UNISON says the move was a result of its 'pressure and influence'. The union played a significant role in drafting the directive, and is now pressing the UK government to fully implement the directive as speedily as possible. On 1 June this year, UNISON hosted the European Bio-safety Summit 2012 where representatives from across Europe met to discuss the progress and implementation of the EU sharps directive (Risks 447). Commenting at the time, UNISON head of health Christina McAnea accused the UK government of 'dragging its heels' and said: 'An EU Directive in 2009 set May 2013 as the deadline for the introduction of safer needles across the European Union,' adding: 'But why wait till then to stop the misery of needlestick injuries?' (Risks 559). HSE says the consultation will lead to new regulations that 'will require employers in the healthcare sector to introduce arrangements for the safe use and disposal of medical sharps, to provide information and training to employees, and to record, investigate and take action following a sharps injury. The regulations will also introduce a duty on healthcare workers to promptly report any sharps injury to their employer.' Unions have put on pressure for a switch to inherently safer devices were possible.
Jobcentre staff took strike action this week over oppressive working conditions and unrealistic targets. On 13 August, more than 6,000 PCS members in 32 call centres in England, Scotland and Wales reignited industrial action first taken last year against 'draconian conditions' they say prevent them from providing the kind of service callers require and deserve. PCS says despite negotiations and a review of services designed to ease the excessive target-driven culture, jobcentre management is still refusing to give staff the flexibility they need to deal with enquiries fully and professionally. A shortage of staff is also adding to problems, with hard-pressed staff encouraged to keep calls short to deal with the volume of queries. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'With unemployment remaining high and our economy in the grip of recession, it is shameful that jobcentre bosses are still refusing to let their staff provide the kind of help and advice that people need. These call centres provide a vital lifeline. Enquiries are often complicated, and people struggling to find their way around the benefits system are often understandably desperate and upset, but staff are being forced to end calls as quickly as possible just to meet an artificial target.' He added: 'Our members care about the services they provide and they want to be able to help people properly, not have to fob them off.'
The shopworkers' Union Usdaw has written to business secretary Vince Cable to seek an urgent assurance that the government has no plans to permanently deregulate Sunday trading hours in England and Wales. The action came after the prime minister's official spokesperson, when asked if a permanent law change to extend temporary changes introduced during the Olympics was on the cards, said 'a lot of people will want to look at the issue'. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has also indicated he is now willing to look at the impact of the temporary relaxation on trade. The Telegraph reports that extending opening hours on Sundays is thought by the Tories to be a 'pro-growth' move which should be included in the 'economic regeneration' Bill being planned for the autumn by David Cameron he plots a political fightback. But when the extended hours measure was introduced (Risks 554), Liberal Democrat business minister Norman Lamb told MPs: 'I want to make it clear that this is a temporary measure and not a test case for a permanent relaxation of the rules in the future.' John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary said: 'Parliament only agreed a temporary suspension of Sunday trading laws during the Olympic and Paralympic Games because the government promised it was neither a trial nor Trojan horse for permanent deregulation. Any move to deregulate now would justifiably be seen as a betrayal of that commitment and a gross breach of trust.' He added: 'Longer Sunday opening hours won't put more money in the pockets of hard pressed shoppers and there is no evidence it would boost jobs or growth. It would however have a very detrimental impact on the family and caring commitments of our members and fly totally in the face of the prime minister's commitment to lead a family friendly government.'
A refuse collector who was run over by the bin wagon had to have his leg amputated. UNISON member Kenneth Armstrong, 50, from Barry in South Glamorgan needs to use a prosthetic limb following the incident in October 2009. The experienced binman for Vale of Glamorgan County Borough Council was getting down from the refuse collection lorry when he was caught by the vehicle's front wheel and fell to the ground. The driver didn't notice he had fallen and drove on and over his foot, stopping the heavy vehicle on top of it. It was moments before the driver realised what had happened and reversed the lorry back off him. Mr Armstrong was rushed to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to try and save his right foot. It was so badly crushed that a week later he needed to have the leg amputated below the knee to reduce the risk of infection. He now uses a prosthetic limb and was able to return to work for the council within 10 months. But he has been unable to return to collecting bins and is now a street care assistant - which is a lower paid job. An investigation for a union-backed compensation claim found in 26 years as a binman Mr Armstrong had never been trained on the safest way to leave the lorry. Despite that lack of training he had been filmed doing his job, including leaving the lorry in the way he did at the time of the accident, for training videos shown to new recruits. The council admitted 80 per cent liability and settled the claim out of court for £400,000. Margaret Thomas, head of UNISON in Wales, said: 'People operating heavy vehicles need appropriate training, and we hope that councils across the country take note of this case and make sure their refuse collectors - and other workers - have the training they need to keep their colleagues safe.'
A Norfolk and Suffolk Probation Trust worker had to change jobs after she was badly injured when she fell at work and seven metal wheelbarrows came down on top of her. The 45-year-old UNISON member, whose name has not been released, was left suffering from severe long term back and hip pain after she tripped on a builders' line and fell. The trained painter and decorator has had to change jobs and take a pay cut because her mobility is restricted and she can no longer stand for long periods. She was working as a Community PayBack Supervisor for Norfolk Probation Service on a scheme supervising offenders working in the community, when her foot became tangled as she returned tools to the store. She fell, landing on her bottom which caused the stack of wheelbarrows to fall onto her neck and shoulder, causing a trapped nerve. She received intensive physiotherapy, acupuncture, denervation treatment to her spine and injections for the progressively worsening pain but still must take painkillers on a daily basis. In a union backed compensation case, Norfolk and Suffolk Probation Trust admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £45,000. Glyn Hawker from UNISON commented: 'What may seem like a simple accident to an outsider has had a real impact not just on our member's life and health, but on her bank balance. Employers have a duty to keep workplaces free from hazards and very simple measures could have been taken by the Probation Service to keep the tool store tidy. Employers have to take steps to make sure that potential hazards are removed or stored more safely.'
A healthcare assistant ended up having knee surgery after falling in the hospital grounds. The 63-year-old UNISON member from Colchester, whose name has not been released, was walking from the staff car park to the entrance of Colchester General Hospital on an evening in May 2010. She was due to start her shift but instead ended up in accident and emergency. The path from the car park to the hospital was in such a poor state of repair it was unsafe to walk on and the most direct route to the entrance was fenced off for building works. As a result she was forced to take an alternative route across a grassy area. Her heel fell in a six inch hole, causing her to twist her left knee and to tear her meniscus. She ended up needing surgery on the knee and had to take three months off work. In a union-backed compensation case, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £10,000. The UNISON member said: 'I decided to pursue compensation because I missed so much time off work and lost a lot of money but also felt that the hospital had shown no consideration for the staff who had no choice but to use that car park." Samantha Vallis from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by UNISON to act in the case, said: 'Clearly marked walkways to and from buildings is a fairly basic requirement for employers. A very basic risk assessment of the situation which would have highlighted the need for an alternative pathway.'
The UK recession has led to a sharp rise in suicides, a new study has found. The researchers warn that the government's austerity programme is not worth the human cost and efforts should instead centre on job creation. Their paper, published this week on the bmj.com website, says suicides began to rise in 2008 following 20 years of decline. It estimates 846 more male suicides and 155 more female suicides took place between 2008 to 2010 than would have been expected if previous trends had continued. Each annual 10 per cent increase in the number of unemployed was associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the number of male suicides. There was a small reduction in suicides in 2010, following a slight recovery in male employment, although numbers were still above the 2007 figure. The researchers from Liverpool and Cambridge universities and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine took data on suicides from the National Clinical and Health Outcomes Database (NCHOD) covering the years 2000-2010, and unemployment statistics were taken from Office of National Statistics figures on the number of people claiming benefits. The researchers say 'although the initial economic shock of the recession does increase suicide risk, policies that promote re-employment may reverse this trend'. They warn 'the human cost of continued high levels of unemployment will outweigh the purported benefits of budget cuts'.
Doctors are failing to give an accurate cause of death for one in four patients, according to the results of a pilot scheme that double-checks death certificates - and work-related deaths may be significantly under-estimated as a result. Results suggest that doctors may blame the wrong type of disease in as many as one in 10 cases, by either getting it wrong or failing to acknowledge a pre-existing underlying cause. The findings came in a Sheffield pilot of a medical examiner system due to be introduced across England and Wales in April 2014. A 1,000-strong body of medical examiners will be tasked with double-checking death certificates. Alan Fletcher, who is leading the Sheffield pilot scheme, found a quarter of more than 8,000 certificates studied over four years fell short. He said faults stemmed from doctors not 'reading' the full stories behind patients' fatal illnesses. He added doctors do not always understand when they must refer cases to a coroner. 'There was a failure to appreciate a cause of death that might be unnatural,' he told The Guardian. 'Take pulmonary fibrosis - a disease that might be acquired industrially. This is an area of mining and steelworks. The registrar would be required by law to refer this to a coroner. Doctors receive little or no training in death certification or coroner referral.' Dr Fletcher told Hazards magazine there 'are definitely a significant number' of cases where 'industrial causes' are overlooked.
A man who provided cheat sheets to workers taking a construction safety test has been ordered by a court to publicise his offences and is facing a bill for thousands of pounds. CITB-ConstructionSkills, which operates the industry skills-card schemes, won a High Court action against Peter Balint. The ruling requires him to stop reproducing tests and selling information intended to give candidates an unfair advantage in the Construction Plant Competence Scheme theory test. The High Court Order requires Balint to pay CITB-ConstructionSkills £13,000 costs, with further damages to be awarded later. He is also required to give his entire stock of publications to CITB-ConstructionSkills or provide evidence that the stock has been destroyed. He must carry a prominent statement on his website setting out the conditions of the High Court Order and why it was granted. He must also provide CITB-ConstructionSkills with contact details of the individuals he has provided with test materials and those of individuals who have provided him the information. Commenting on this and other recent cases, Braden Connolly, head of testing at CITB-ConstructionSkills said: 'We will not allow the efforts that genuine candidates make to achieve the required standards to be undermined by cheats. Some individuals have clearly been under the mistaken impression that we aren't as rigorous as we might be in monitoring what's going on.'
A company making modular timber buildings has been fined after an employee was seriously injured when he fell from a canopy at a Shropshire school. RG Stones (Buildings) Ltd had been contracted to replace the canopy between two temporary buildings at Lakelands School in Ellesmere when the incident happened on 8 August 2011. William Phillips, 52, was standing on the canopy with two colleagues when he fell three metres between the timber joists onto the concrete floor below. He fractured his back, breastbone, six ribs and right wrist and has not yet been able to return to work. Shrewsbury Magistrates' Court heard an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had not installed any edge protection to prevent a fall. It had put two soft landing bags on the floor to mitigate the effect of any fall, but neither was in the area where the work was being carried out. RG Stones (Buildings) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay costs of £3,105. After the hearing, HSE inspector Guy Dale said: 'This incident was entirely preventable. The company had obviously appreciated the risks of a fall, as shown by the provision of the landing bags, but it's a shame they didn't think to put them under the area it was most needed.'
A property developer has been fined after the routine inspection of an Essex construction site discovered safety failings that endangered the lives of workers. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors visited Stefano Di Piazza's construction site in Waltham Abbey during a 10 February 2011 inspection blitz. They saw contractors working three metres above ground without measures in place to prevent them from falling. A prohibition notice was served by HSE to stop all work immediately until safety measures were put in place. Developer Stefano Di Piazza pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court to four criminal breaches of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £10,000 plus £5,741 costs. He admitted failing to appoint a competent principal contractor or to take reasonable steps to ensure that work was carried out without risk to health and safety. Nor did not appoint a construction design and management (CDM) co-ordinator or notify HSE of the construction project to convert two buildings into nine apartments and two retail units. The principal contractor was fined at a previous prosecution. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David King said: 'Developers have a big influence on how work is done safely and they have legal duties as the construction client. They have to appoint the right people, provide information to the team and make sure there are suitable management arrangements and a health and safety plan in place.' He added Mr Di Piazza had 'blatantly disregarded the importance of a safe working site', leaving workers in serious and unnecessary danger.
A routine inspection at a construction site in Wales revealed no-one was running the dangerously substandard job. T Richard Jones (Betws) Ltd was operating the site in Manselton, Swansea on 10 August 2011 when Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors visited as part of a routine inspection. Swansea Magistrates' Court heard that on arrival, HSE's inspectors were informed that the site manager was on holiday. Construction sites need a site manager to ensure that risks to health and safety are adequately controlled. Washing facilities were found to be inadequate and workers were found not to be wearing protective glasses or gloves, which was of particular concern as lime mortar was being used. Use of lime mortar creates a serious risk to health and can lead to the loss of sight, skin burns or dermatitis. Two employees were working at height without measures in place to prevent falls. Ammanford firm T Richard Jones (Betws) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,658. HSE inspector Phil Nicolle said: 'This company put the safety of its own workforce at risk by failing to ensure the site was managed by a competent person, and the catalogue of failings suggested a lack of regard for workers' health, safety or welfare.'
Workers injured at a subsidiary in Colombia of the US multinational General Motors (GM) have gone on hunger strike a year after being fired. The members of ASOTRECOL, an association of ex-workers and injured workers at Colmotores, say they have been fired illegally and their medical records have been handled illegally. GM Colmotores management and the Colombian Ministry of Labor have denied them workers' compensation and other benefits after being injured in the workplace. The injured workers have conducted a peaceful protest outside the US Embassy in Bogotá. On the 1 August first anniversary of the protest, they decided to begin a hunger strike to highlight their plight. The workers have the support of US unions. Richard Trumka, president of the US national union federation AFL-CIO, called for dialogue and said 'the Colombian Ministry of Labor must thoroughly examine General Motors' occupational health and safety practice...' AFL-CIO says the case is particularly disturbing since Colombia and the United States are supposedly committed to the effective implementation of the Labor Action Plan, a critical part of the recently signed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which includes 'strong protection for workers' rights.'
Children are being hurt, brutalised and poisoned toiling for long hours on US farms, an investigation has found. Introducing an NBC News multi-part investigative series, 'Children in the field: American kids pick your food', the channel's anchorwoman said: 'They are too young to drive, work in an office, or even a local fast food joint, but thousands of them work long hours in brutal conditions to make sure we eat well, and on the cheap.' It is all perfectly legal under US child labour law. Recent attempts to improve the law have been dropped by the Obama administration, which had faced the threat of a counter Republican 'Preserving America's Family Farms Act' intended to block any improvement to the law. The NBC team observed children working in North Carolina's tobacco fields. Norma Flores-Lopez of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs told the programme how the green tobacco leaves expose the children to highly toxic nicotine, which is absorbed through the skin. A regulation the Labor Department proposed in September 2011 included a provision to protect these young workers from green tobacco sickness, or acute nicotine poisoning. It would have prohibited children age 15 and under who are employed on non-family farms from all work involving the production and curing of tobacco. That was part of the proposed rule that the Obama Administration scrapped abruptly three months ago, citing family farming 'traditions.' It seems poisoning children is a tradition that is set to continue on US farms.
Temporary staffing agencies in Massachusetts will no longer be allowed to send temporary workers to jobs without informing workers of the name of their employer, the wages they will be paid, or the basic safety training they need to protect themselves from jobs that are often hazardous. The law signed by Governor Deval Patrick, which will come into effect in January 2013, also prohibits agencies from charging certain fees that could drive a worker's pay below the minimum wage, including the cost of registering with the staffing agency or for performing a criminal record check. In addition, staffing agencies are required to reimburse any worker sent to a job only to find no work is available. Safety and labour rights campaigners welcomed the law, and said it shines a light on those temp agencies operating in the darkness of Massachusetts' underground economy, where worker injuries are often unreported and millions of dollars in overtime and minimum wages are unpaid. 'Thousands of Massachusetts workers are sent off to work by staffing agencies without any idea of where they are going, what work they will do, and what they will be paid,' Governor Patrick said in a statement. 'This bill levels the playing field for all of our businesses while fulfilling our responsibility to make sure all of our workers are being treated fairly.' Marcy Goldstein-Gelb is executive director of grassroots safety group MassCOSH and coordinator of the Reform Employment Agency Law Coalition (REAL), which advocated for the bill's passage (Risks 566). 'With the governor's signature, this law will bring essential sunlight to the shadows where these abuses have taken place, and help ensure fairness for workers and employers who follow the state's labour laws,' she said. 'We are grateful for the leadership the governor and legislature has taken to ensure that workers receive basic and essential information about their jobs.'
The Northern TUC and Macmillan Cancer Support are holding a 'Battling cancer together' fringe meeting at this year's TUC Congress. Macmillan and the TUC have established an active partnership to deal with issues related to cancer in the workplace. They point to official - conservative - figures suggesting 8,000 cancer deaths each year are attribute to work, with 13,000 new cases occurring each year. They add all cancers can have a detrimental impact on employment; workers can suffer reduced hours, lower income, discrimination and unfair treatment. Where workers do develop cancers it is critical that union reps support members to ensure they are properly protected against bad practice at work. Macmillan cancer support and the TUC are working together to give union reps and employers the skills, knowledge and good practice to make sure workers get the best support possible. Speakers include TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 17 Aug 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-21328-f0.cfm
printed 18 May 2013 at 23:50 hrs by 22.214.171.124