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Journalists' union NUJ has expressed dismay after a woman doing work experience for the Sun newspaper was asked to strip off and pose with a member of staff for mocked-up pictures of Prince Harry. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said although 21-year-old Sophie Henderson said she was not forced to do it 'she should not have been asked to in the first place. It was highly inappropriate of the paper to ask the young woman, who presumably wanted to impress, to do such a task. What would have happened if she had said no?' The NUJ leader said she had presented witness statements to the Leveson phone hacking inquiry 'to paint a picture of the level of bullying in some newsrooms. One member, who had been taunted by members of the newsdesk because of her weight, was forced to dress in a Lady Gaga-style dress made from meat and walk the streets.' She added: 'We believe that it is no coincidence that where unions are not recognised by newspaper organisations a high level of bullying can be allowed to flourish. That is why the NUJ is calling for the introduction of a conscience clause into journalists' contracts of employment, which will allow them to refuse unethical assignments. We also demand that workers have the right to be represented in their workplaces so they can defend themselves from unacceptable work practices.'
The union representing staff in benefits offices and job centres has backed a national protest against Atos, the private firm undertaking the controversial government fit-for-work tests. Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) organised the five days of action against Atos, which ran from 27-31 August. According to DPAC, the impact of the Atos tests has been devastating on claimants. 'Many have committed suicide because of its testing programme, and over 1,000 people have died of their illnesses soon after being found 'fit for work',' it said. A statement from PCS said the union 'wholeheartedly supports the campaign's aim, which is to fight back against the unfair workplace capability assessments. The 'fit-for-work' tests have led to severely ill and disabled people being forced off the benefits system.' It added: 'This system, which comes as part of the government's brutal cuts agenda, has led to real stress and hardship for many disabled people and their families, with some extreme cases even leading to suicides.' The union, which has members in Atos, added: 'The members we represent in Atos offices are not responsible for the failings of the government's unfair welfare policy which victimises people who are not able to work through no fault of their own. They deserve your support, consideration and respect during what is a difficult time for any worker trying to deliver public services.'
Teachers in Wales say they are being subjected to 'punitive' monitoring and surveillance practices in their classrooms, teaching union NASUWT had said. Online survey responses from over 1,000 members indicated sick workers were being targeted for extra scrutiny. NASUWT added that only union action has prevented the position worsening. The survey found that prior to the commencement of the NASUWT industrial action, two-thirds of teachers 'did not find observations to be helpful and more than a fifth stated that they found their school's monitoring to be intimidating.' The union survey also indicated 'almost half did not believe that observation is applied fairly across the school, believing that other teachers are often singled out for extra scrutiny because they have been off sick.' Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, said: 'Unfortunately, too many teachers, as this survey shows, are being subject to surveillance and monitoring which is designed to be punitive and negative rather than to support enhanced teaching and learning.' She added: 'One of the most disturbing aspects of the survey is the belief that certain teachers are being deliberately targeted for inappropriate reasons. Classroom observation is being used as a punitive management tool to pressurise and intimidate teachers.' Rex Phillips, NASUWT Wales organiser, said: 'The survey has confirmed that the NASUWT was absolutely right to ballot members to enable them to insist on a limit on classroom observation. Using observation as a punitive management tool does not improve standards of teaching and learning, it simply demoralises teachers, undermining their ability to teach effectively.'
The union for film, television and theatre technical staff has devised a new safety passport scheme. BECTU's Creative Industries Safety Passport (CISP) is to be available to those passing a one-day course accredited by the Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). According to BECTU: 'The CISP is designed to promote safety in live events, theatre, film and TV production and is suitable for both staff and freelances.' It covers core issues including background on the law, how to write safety policies, undertake risk assessments and raise safety concerns, as well as dealing with practical action and workplace standards. 'Those who successfully complete the course will receive an accredited picture card, valid for three years, to demonstrate competence to employers in the creative industries,' the union says.
A council blacksmith who developed asthma when he was exposed to dangerous fumes in the workplace has been awarded a payout six times the original offer from his employer, thanks to help from his union. Simon Litherland, 47, was initially offered £16,000 in compensation by Sheffield County Council despite his condition meaning he could no longer work in his trade. The GMB member was eventually awarded £104,000 in damages when the union-backed case went to court. He was diagnosed with occupational asthma after he was exposed to fumes from metalworking fluids. The trained blacksmith, who had been employed by Sheffield County Council all his working life, began to suffer from breathlessness in 2005. The council introduced the metalworking fluids in 2000 but from 2004 his job required him to use the fluids more often. In July 2007 he was diagnosed with occupational asthma caused by the metalworking fluids. He is now working in a temporary clerical role for the council but medical experts have said if he lost his job he would never be able to work again. Tim Roache from the GMB commented: 'Sheffield County Council could easily have had measures in place to make sure that Mr Litherland was protected against these noxious fumes. They failed to do that and then thought they could buy off his claim for £16,000 when the health, livelihood and future employability of a relatively young man has been severely restricted.'
Labour MP Jim Sheridan has called for construction firms guilty of blacklisting trade unionists to be barred from publicly funded projects. The MP was speaking at a 27 August Blacklist Support Group protest outside the Glasgow HQ of construction giant Balfour Beatty. The Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP said he would lobby government on the issue. 'Any contracts from British taxpayers' money - don't give them to criminals like Balfour Beatty who are blacklisting people,' he said. Mr Sheridan told the demonstration that years ago he had been blacklisted by the Economic League, a predecessor to the covert blacklisting agency The Consulting Association shutdown by the Information Commissioner's Office, because of his own trade union activities. 'I want to send a message to Balfour Beatty and the big construction firms: it really doesn't have to be this way,' he said. 'It is a long time since the days when trade unions and trade unionists were seen as the enemy within. You don't have to get into blacklisting. How much profit do they want to make before they stop attacking and victimising people at the workplace?' Mr Sheridan warned: 'If you're gonna keep blacklisting people - then we're coming after you.' The protest had been called to expose the role played by Balfour Beatty in The Consulting Association blacklisting scandal, which commonly targeted union reps for their safety activities at work. The firm's human resources director Gerry Harvey came in for particular criticism after it was revealed in parliament recently that he had attended meetings of the covert, construction industry-backed blacklisting organisation.
A blacklisted construction worker has accused a top executive of construction giant Balfour Beatty of perjury. Colin Trousdale, a blacklisted electrician and UNITE member from Manchester, told a 27 August protest outside Balfour Beatty's Glasgow HQ that in 2008 he had taken an Employment Tribunal against the firm. He alleged the company's human resources director, Gerry Harvey, had sent a letter to the court asserting 'there is no blacklist, we are not blacklisting you, you are paranoid.' In 2009, when the blacklisting group The Consulting Association was exposed by the Information Commissioner's Office, the electrician obtained his blacklist file. The Employment Tribunal incident was covering in the file, together with the information supplied by the firm. Also in the file was information on his safety activities. Colin Trousdale commented: 'Perjury is a crime. Being a union rep is not. We need to see these people in court. We need to see these people in prison.' The website of Balfour Beatty Engineering Services identifies Gerry Harvey as a member of the company's nine strong 'executive leadership scheme.' The Blacklist Support Group is preparing a submission to the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the alleged perjury.
A construction firm and a roofing company have been fined after a self-employed subcontractor suffered serious injuries in a fall at a Lincoln retail park. Taylor Pearson Construction Limited was the principal contractor building a new retail unit. The company sub-contracted roof cladding work to Roofwise (Bourne) Limited, which in turn engaged a sub-contract labour team of its own. On 24 May 2011, the cladding team were installing gutter sections along one side of the roof. As one of the team, a 53-year-old self-employed roofer from Sheffield who asked not to be named, attempted to fix the last section of gutter he fell, striking the handrail of a scissor lift before hitting the ground more than eight metres below. He suffered a fractured pelvis, shattered heel and broken thumb. He spent several weeks in hospital and had to have several metal plates inserted to his fractures. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that roof edge protection and safety netting had been installed to the majority of the roof, but an indented corner had been left unprotected. It was in this area that the fall occurred. HSE inspector Tony Mitchell said: 'The injured worker is lucky to be alive. There is no room for complacency when it comes to work at height.' Taylor Pearson Construction Limited pleaded guilty a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 in relation to the fall. The firm was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,710. Roofwise (Bourne) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £3,000 with £1,710 in costs.
A brick-making firm has been prosecuted after one of its employees suffered 'life-changing' crush injuries to his leg in a poorly-guarded machine. Nikoloz Demetrashvili, 42, was in hospital for three weeks with a multiple fracture of his right leg after the incident at Michelmersh Brick and Tile Company Ltd on 12 October 2011. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and found that flawed protective measures meant the worker was able to access dangerous parts of a brick-making machine while it was still 'live'. Southampton Magistrates heard Mr Demetrashvili had been trying to free a blockage caused when two trays dropped on a brick mould rather than one. In an attempt to clear it, he followed work instructions and disabled pressure sensitive mats designed to prevent access to the machine as he needed power running to free the trapped tray. Although the power was on, the machine was not in production mode but sensors were still active. He then climbed on the machine to reach the tray, as he had done on previous occasions to free blockages. As he leant over the turntable and pulled the tray, a sensor activated and the turntable rotated, crushing his leg and trapping him in the machine. After the incident, HSE served an improvement notice on the firm requiring further safeguarding of the machine. It complied by removing a switch that allowed the pressure mat to be over-ridden, meaning it is no longer possible for operators to access the machinery whilst there is power running to it. Michelmersh Brick and Tile Company Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £4,945 in costs. HSE inspector Daniel Hilbourne said: 'Had the pressure mat been configured properly, it would have prevented the machine from operating with anyone near it. Sadly, Mr Demetrashvili has been left with very serious and life-changing injuries because of safety failures that could easily have been avoided.'
Two companies have been prosecuted after workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at a mill in Bolton. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took legal action against mill owner Hazelwise Ltd and letting agent RH Property Management Ltd after finding dozens of damaged asbestos boards stacked up at Brownlow Mill during a visit on 20 October 2010. Manchester Crown Court heard neither company had put a plan in place to manage the asbestos in the mill, where several small businesses rent units. HSE became aware of the issue when a contractor on the site raised concerns that asbestos insulation boards had been stripped out of unoccupied floors at the mill, releasing potentially deadly asbestos fibres into the air. HSE inspectors issued two prohibition notices banning the removal of tools and other items from four floors of the mill in case they had become contaminated with asbestos, and preventing access to the floors. They also found that asbestos was present in other parts of the mill, occupied by tenants, but nothing had been done to protect it and make sure it was safe. Both RH Property Management Ltd and Hazelwise Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. Hazelwise also admitted a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 by failing to properly assess the risks from asbestos at the site. Hazelwise Ltd was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £8,969 in prosecution costs. RH Property Management was fined £15,000 with costs of £11,011.
Two Lincoln companies have been fined after workers were exposed to asbestos during the refurbishment of a Northamptonshire hospital ward. Contractors Simons Construction Ltd hired Rilmac Insulation Ltd to carry out an asbestos survey for them before work began on Martin Roth ward at St Mary's Hospital, Kettering. The survey identified an asbestos coating on the underside of the ceilings, but missed over 200 square metres of asbestos insulation board (AIB) above. Northampton Magistrates' Court was told that when two workers contracted to Simons were told to knock holes in the ceilings on 17 December 2009, they were not told it contained asbestos and they disturbed both layers. Their masks were not the correct type, they were not wearing protective overalls and they were not working in a way that would minimise and contain the release of fibres. Asbestos material landed on the clothes they wore for the rest of the day, increasing their chances of contamination. The court heard the workers unwittingly increased the risk to themselves when they swept up the debris and left it in a pile on the floor. It was only discovered when a company contracted to remove the ceilings came onto the ward in January 2010 and recognised the material. A licensed asbestos removal company then spent several weeks removing the ceilings. Rilmac's surveyor had identified asbestos on the underside of the plasterboard ceiling but had failed to identify the layer of AIB above it, which should have been removed by a licensed contractor. Simons Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,911. Rilmac Insulation Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £3,500 with costs of £2,911.
Better workstations and posture are not delivering the anticipated benefits as computer-bound office workers creak under the strain of escalating workloads. A new study has found even good posture and ergonomic office equipment do not prevent back, neck, wrist and shoulder injuries and are failing to protect overburdened sedentary workers from a raised risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Researchers from the University of Sydney blamed the overall workplace environment for the poor health of office workers. Their survey of nearly 1,000 Australian workers across six government departments found about 85 per cent of people who spent more than eight hours a day working at a computer experienced neck pain. The study, published in the journal Work, also found threequarters reported shoulder pain and 70 per cent reported lower back pain. Lead author Karin Griffiths commented: 'I know the amount of money organisations are putting into improved workstations and ergonomics, and it's not that those changes aren't important.' But she added: 'The problem is nearly everything can be done at the desk now - communication, library research, file retrieval, even meetings. It doesn't matter how good the chair is, it is not going to address the health problem of what some researchers are calling 'chair disease'.' Long hours of computer work may also contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, she said.
Australian workers are keeping quiet about their doctor-diagnosed work-related health problems, and this is leading to a massive under-estimate of the extent of work-related ill-health in the country. Researchers at the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) and the University of Sydney examined 486,400 general practitioner (GP) consultations around Australia recorded in the BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) research programme between April 2004 and March 2009. In these consultations, the doctor recorded whether the patient's health problem was work-related and whether the costs of the visit were being claimed through workers' compensation. ISCRR's chief research officer, Dr Alex Collie, said that over 22 per cent of workers didn't make compensation claims even though their GP had determined that the illness was work-related. The figure rose to 45 per cent for work-related psychological problems. The findings, published online in the International Journal of Social Security and Workers Compensation, are particularly alarming as under the Australian system workers may end up paying medical costs out of their own pocket if they do not submit a claim to the workers' compensation agency. According to safety blogger Kevin Jones, 'the research provides further evidence of the under-estimation of workplace illnesses and injuries in Australia. Preventative strategies and the magnitude of safety costs are almost always based on workers compensation data. Dr Collie has found over 100,000 additional workplace injuries or illnesses that were absent from five years' data - around 20,000 each year.'
The deaths of two workers on a drilling rig off the Australian coast on 27 August underlines the need for offshore petroleum workers to be given the same workplace health and safety rights as those on dry land, national union federation ACTU has said. It is believed the men died when part of a 40-year-old drill dislodged and struck them as they worked on the Stena Clyde rig, which was involved in exploration for a new gas field. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said: 'We need to get to the bottom of this tragedy, but unfortunately, unions have been warning for some time that the offshore petroleum industry is an accident waiting to happen.' He added: 'The harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) laws should be extended to the offshore petroleum industry, so that workers in the industry can have the same standard of training and regulation as other workers. Occupational health and safety representatives in the offshore industry do not have the same rights to OHS training or access to OHS experts as on-shore representatives.' He warned: 'The offshore regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), has taken a completely hands-off approach to policing its patch, putting workers at risk every day on the job,' concluding: 'We cannot fathom why the federal government has one set of laws for workers on dry land, and a cavalier attitude and different laws in the dangerous offshore industry.' The Australian Workers Union (AWU), which has members on the rig, said it will go to court to ensure it has a formal role in the investigations into the tragedy. It added AWU members would not return to work on the Stena Clyde until the union was satisfied with the progress of investigations and measures taken to improve safety standards.
The New Zealand forestry industry has a death rate 34 time higher than the UK's but is a 'one trick pony' when it comes to prevention, concentrating on testing its workers for drugs. National union centre CTU said despite 'massive' drug testing programmes, the forestry industry had failed to arrest sky-high fatality and injury rates. CTU president Helen Kelly said the industry pushed drug tests 'as a one trick pony and need to take into account all the other things that must be addressed to ensure the number of deaths reduce. These include ensuring hours worked are reasonable, all staff are trained and represented by trained health and safety representatives, proper breaks are provided, safety standards are kept up to date, wages are sufficient to retain senior experienced staff, dangerous work areas are especially carefully managed, and contractors are carefully regulated to ensure they meet standards.' CTU says there have been 30 deaths in the country's forests in the last six years with at least four this year alone. 'Most of the labour is contracted, with forestry owners taking the benefits of that labour but avoiding the reciprocal obligations that would be created through an employment relationship,' CTU's Helen Kelly, whose criticisms prompted a personal attack by the forestry contractors body FICA, said. 'The response when challenged about a death is often to blame the nature of the industry but the fact other countries are doing so much better means this excuse is weak. Employers that recognised they have a problem would not assert high safety standards when the record so blatantly speaks for itself. This denial is part of the problem.' The union body says the death rate in the UK forestry industry is 10.4 per 100,000 workers and in New Zealand is 343 per 100,000.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has ordered an urgent investigation to find the cause of a huge explosion at the country's biggest oil refinery. At least 41 people died in the blast at the Amuay plant in Falcon state, in the north-west of the country. More than 80 others were injured in the explosion and fire, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday 25 August. President Chávez, who declared three days of national mourning, said the tragedy had touched all families in the country. 'I want to send out to the families of those who died, civilians and military, all our pain, mine, that of all my family, everyone in the national government and the people of Venezuela,' he said. The victims included 18 national guard troops and 15 civilians.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (4,300 words) issued 31 Aug 2012
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