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Tube union RMT has praised a Bakerloo Line Tube driver which prevented a potential tragedy involving a 12-year-old boy, and has said it exposes the folly of the newly shelved proposals to move to driverless trains on London Underground. In the incident on Monday 8 October, the boy remained on the train after its final passenger stop and was carried to Queens Park sidings. Against RMT's objections, checks to make sure trains are empty prior to going into the sidings are no longer undertaken, a move the union links directly to a cuts programme. The boy shimmied up and out of the train and got onto the track. He could have been killed as he was in close proximity to the 430 volt live positive rail. RMT says the driver spotting him before he was hurt and got him back on the train. The union says this and two similar recent incidents involving children on the tracks 'have reinforced the safety critical role of Tube drivers.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Management have rightly called an investigation into this shocking incident but this does not go far enough for RMT safety reps. We want a meeting to review the whole detrainment process and a return to a safe way of working.' Earlier the same day London Underground announced driverless Tube trains would not be introduced for the 'foreseeable future'. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers' union ASLEF, welcomed the move, adding driverless trains would 'fundamentally compromise safety on the Underground.'
Shropshire council has been accused by UNISON of 'cheating' workers out of their sick pay and increasing pressure on workers to turn in when ill. The public sector union said it believes sick pay changes forced through by the council combined with 'the fear of being sacked or earmarked for redundancy could lead to more employees continuing to work or returning to work while still feeling sick - a concept known as 'presenteeism'.' The union said changes introduced by the council last October in a bid to cut costs had left workers in a far worse position without delivering the anticipated savings. Last year, the union agreed to end its dispute on the changes because it was promised a binding review. Alan James, branch secretary at Shropshire UNISON, said: 'The reason we ended the dispute in the first place was because we were promised this review would be carried out and the results abided by. We feel cheated and absolutely furious after going along with it, for them to discard it.' He warned that industrial action was an option. According to UNISON: 'Although everyone would like to see reduced absence from work the best way to achieve this is to tackle the underlying causes of ill health in the workplace, not by forcing employees to continue to work or return to work while still feeling sick. This can result in reduced productivity among people who come to work and are not fully engaged or perform at lower levels as a result of ill-health. It can also actually increase sickness absence in the long term.'
A Wiltshire councillor found to have bullied and sexually harassed a UNISON member and council worker will escape meaningful sanctions. Julia Densham, a Wiltshire council worker whose health suffered as a result of the 'harrowing' experience, raised a complaint in July 2011 about inappropriate language and behaviour from councillor Chris Humphries. The hearing of the Wiltshire's Standards Committee found that Mr Humphries had breached the council's code of conduct regarding five allegations, and breached the code on 11 counts of respect, equality and bullying. However, Tanya Palmer, UNISON regional manager, said that 'because of the Localism Act there is no meaningful sanction.' She continued: 'Mr Humphries remains in his elected position as the sanctions available do not allow him to be removed from post. If he could have been debarred from office this would have given a clear message that sexual harassment and bullying is totally unacceptable in today's world of work.' Julia Densham said: 'This has been a harrowing and difficult process with a profound effect on both me, my health and family. However, I am pleased that my complaints and experiences have been upheld. No woman should have to live with the kind of behaviour I have experienced.'
University staff are suffering 'damaging' stress levels arising from intense workloads and a long hours culture, union research has found. A report of a UCU survey of 14,000 higher education academic and academic-related staff ranks nearly 100 institutions by reported levels of stress. It concludes stress levels related to workload at all of the institutions were higher than for the British working population as a whole. A second table ranks universities by the percentage of full-time respondents who work more than 50 hours a week. The report's launch marked the start of UCU's campaign against excessive workloads in post-16 education. The union warned the problem of workload and stress is likely to get even worse if universities do not act now. It said as funding cuts start to bite in higher education, workloads will increase and there will be even greater pressure from students and parents expecting much more for heavily increased university fees. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We call on institutions to hear this collective cry for help and take action to mitigate the increasingly intolerable pressure on stressed-out staff.' She added: 'As the survey shows, the problem has got worse over the past four years and with funding cuts, increased workloads and rising expectations from students and parents paying much more for their education, the situation is likely to become even worse. Many academics and academic-related staff are clearly under far too much pressure and we know this level of stress in the workplace can be very damaging to mental and physical health.'
Indications the government may proceed with plans to slash compensation for people injured by criminals have been greeted with dismay by unions. Ministers want to cut a quarter of the £200m awarded annually by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme in a move that has attracted criticism from senior Tories as well as unions and legal experts. According to the government's impact assessment, almost half of victims currently eligible for compensation would receive nothing if the reforms go through. In addition, payments would be cut by up to 60 per cent for the third of victims who suffer severe injuries. The Communication Workers' Union, which represents postal workers, said each year 1,000 of its members receive between £500 and £1,000 from the scheme after being attacked by dogs belonging to irresponsible owners. 'The scheme is a last resort, but it's better than nothing,' said Dave Joyce, the union's national health and safety officer. 'But if these proposals go through, then our people will end up with nothing.' Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, said the reforms would cut payments to seriously injured victims by capping compensation for loss of earnings at £4,500 a year. Usdaw's general secretary, John Hannett, cited the case of a shopworker who was attacked by a shoplifter and was left with blurred vision, stress and anxiety, forcing her to take weeks off work. 'Usdaw won that woman £2,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Under the new plan she would get nothing,' Hannett said. 'Is that the sort of justice the coalition believes in?' Under the current proposals, employees would only receive statutory sick pay of £85.85 a week while unable to work.
A welder needed surgery after a steel beam fell on his foot from a faulty crane. The 51-year-old GMB member from Wetherby, whose name has not been released, was moving the 10ft long and two foot wide beam using an overhead pendant operated crane as part of his job as a welder for Severfield Reeve Ltd. The beam broke free from the crane's plate grab and fell to the floor, crushing his left foot. He suffered severe crush injuries, including a broken big toe and a large open wound in his foot which needed surgery. He was in hospital for a week and off work for three months. Investigations found the plate grab was faulty and it was removed from use. The welder has been left with permanent symptoms including pain when standing and working for long periods of time. He has a 25 per cent chance of developing arthritis and if he does develop the condition he will need further surgery. In a union-backed compensation case, Severfield Reeve admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Tim Roache, GMB regional secretary, said: 'Employers have an absolute duty to maintain work equipment. The consequences of failing to do so can be expensive and in the worst case scenario may result in the death of a worker. Our member is now permanently disabled but is fortunate that he came away with his life.'
A cleaner fractured her foot when she slipped on debris from building works as she walked to work along an unlit pathway. The RMT member from Pwllypant Caerphilly, whose name has not been released, was walking to Arriva Trains' Canton Depot, where she was due to begin a night shift cleaning trains, when she fell. Lights, usually present on the walkway, had been disconnected for building works being carried out close by. Debris from the building work was scattered across the walkway but since it was dark she wasn't able to see it. She turned her ankle and fell to her knees, causing a stress fracture to her right foot. Despite in a lot of pain, the cleaner of 11 years continued with her 12 hour shift by walking on her heel. Having finished work the pain became so bad she went to accident and emergency where she was told she had broken her foot. She was put in plaster for 13 weeks and was unable to return to work for seven months due to the injury and medical concerns about the impact of walking on ballast around the tracks. She eventually returned to work part-time for a period of weeks before finally returning to her regular role. Faced with an RMT-backed compensation claim, Arriva admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'This is a classic example of an employer failing to use common sense when there was an obvious health and safety hazard. Building works' debris combined with an unlit recognised pathway was a recipe for disaster.'
Unions have angrily attacked government plans to use employee ownership schemes to encourage workers to give up hard won employment rights. Chancellor George Osborne told this week's Conservative Party conference businesses will be allowed to remove 'gold-plated employment rights' in exchange for handing out shares to employees. The £100m 'employee-owner' scheme will allow employees to received tax-exempt shares worth £2,000 to £50,000 if they give up their rights to claim unfair dismissal and redundancy. They would also have to sacrifice the right to request flexible working and time off for training, and would be required to provide 16 weeks' notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, instead of the usual eight. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the measure 'looks more to be said for effect, than because it will make much difference', but added: 'We deplore any attack on maternity provision or protection against unfair dismissal, but these complex proposals do not look as if they will have very much impact as few small businesses will want to tie themselves up in the tangle of red tape necessary to trigger these exemptions.' Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: 'Slashing people's employment rights under the guise of ownership schemes won't create jobs and it won't create growth,' adding: 'George Osborne has as much knowledge about economics as a stick of rhubarb.' In conference and fringe meeting speeches, ministers including Eric Pickles and Francis Maude also said they would cut dramatically the facilities time available to civil servants. Unions said the move 'makes no sense', as unions have been shown to deliver a massive cost saving by providing a well-organised negotiating structure for employers, reducing costly legal proceedings and by dramatically reducing lost time related to work-related injuries and illnesses by delivering safer workplaces (Risks 535). The prime minister, in a throw away sound bite in his conference speech, said he wanted he wanted 'less nonsense about health and safety.' Bereaved relatives group FACK responded: 'As the families of people who went to work hard to provide for their families, but never came home, we know that treating health and safety as 'nonsense' is deadly.'
A move to give Europe control of offshore oil and gas safety has been watered down by a committee of MEPs. The European Commission planned to introduce tough regulation following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, fearing the risk of a major offshore incident in European waters is unacceptably high. However the European Parliament's industry committee, in a 9 October vote, decided there should be a less strict directive instead. Under the draft directive, offshore oil and gas firms would have to submit major hazard reports and emergency response plans before receiving a licence to drill. UK unions RMT and Unite and offshore employers had warned that Britain's more stringent safety controls would be undermined by a shift to an offshore safety system regulated from Europe (Risks 553). Unite said the controversial plans 'would have fuelled a race to the bottom in offshore health and safety across Europe at a time where more than 50 per cent of offshore installations are approaching the end of their 20 year shelf-life, and impacted the recent progress made in UK offshore safety standards.' Unite regional officer John Taylor, who chairs the International Trade Union Working Party, said: 'The decision by the European Commission to seek a fresh directive rather than imposing regulation on safety standards for the offshore industry is a victory for common sense. European trade unions have spent six months working in Brussels to achieve this result. We held firm in our argument that the original regulatory proposals would have made the offshore industry an unsafe environment for workers.' He added 'this is not the end of our fight. We will continue our lobby to ensure this the new directive delivers a high standard of training and employment rights for safety reps throughout Europe - it should drive up standards and not down.'
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of sitting on a report backing stringent enforcement of gas safety laws. PHCA, the umbrella organisation for plumbing and heating contractor trade groups across the UK, made the charge in a 4 October open letter to HSE. The move came after the report, Enforcement Review 2010, was finally made available to PHCA as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. PHCA said it had been concerned HSE's recent claim 'that there was no evidence that respondents wanted fundamental change' did not fit with views received from registered gas engineers who it said had expressed a 'strong desire for change.' It is a position the report, which HSE had refused repeatedly to provide to PHCA, appears to support. Key findings on the industry's position summarised in the recently released review include: 'Prison sentences, fines, and Prohibition Notices are seen as effective current activities', scoring highest in an effectiveness ranking, and 'Key improvements which could be made included more working with industry, greater fines or sanctions, simplified processes and improved communication with all those involved in enforcement.' The report concludes: 'Effectiveness of current gas safety enforcement was considered to be low for most areas...' John Thompson, chief executive of the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC), the England and Wales trade body, said: 'It is clear that many stakeholders want activity on enforcement and illegal gas work to be increased. We suspected that the review document would highlight the changes needed but we cannot understand why the HSE is reluctant to act on some of the more important findings detailed.' He added: 'We feel that we had no other option than to write to the HSE and make this debate public to ensure that the industry gets the outcomes that many have worked towards for some time. We have requested a meeting at which our concerns can be addressed. '
New health and safety minister Mark Hoban has defended the scaled back legionella inspection levels criticised after two major and deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreaks. A spokesperson for the minister said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and councils are developing 'better control of legionella risks', in response to questions from Environmental Health News (EHN). The magazine, published by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, uncovered a 40 per cent cut in the number of proactive legionella inspections at cooling towers carried out by local authorities and a 44 per cent cut in the number carried out by HSE (Risks 574). A spokesperson for Mr Hoban told EHN that although it was the government's policy to concentrate inspections on businesses considered to represent 'the highest risk', all duty holders were expected to take responsibility for public safety. The outbreaks in Edinburgh and Stoke-on-Trent earlier this year killed five people and affected over 120. Five cases have now been identified in a new outbreak in Carmarthen. Mr Hoban's spokesperson said: 'No regulatory regime can act as a substitute for companies meeting their well-established legal duties. When the HSE receives new information or evidence we review that and decide whether further interventions, including inspections, are warranted.' Critics say in the absence of preventive inspections it is impossible for enforcement agencies to identify which businesses present the highest risk.
A fall in absence levels could be masking deeper problems in the workplace, as workers fearing for their job take their sickness to work, a new report suggests. The average level of employee absence fell by almost a day compared with last year, from 7.7 days to 6.8 per employee per year, according to this year's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey. But the fall in absence levels coincides with almost a third of employers reporting an increase in the number of people going into work ill. CIPD said the threat of redundancies and concerns over job security are shown to contribute to 'presenteeism', with organisations that are expecting to make redundancies in the next six months more likely to report an increase in employees going into work when unwell, than employers that are not expecting to cut jobs. Stress-related absence, which was the most common cause of long-term sickness absence, also appears to be on the increase, with two-fifths of employers (40 per cent) reporting a rise over the past year and only one in ten (10 per cent) reporting that the problem had decreased. According to the survey, organisations who have noted an increase in presenteeism over the past year are more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence over the same period - 52 per cent compared with 38 per cent of those who did not report an increase in people coming in to work ill. Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at CIPD, commented: 'Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appears to be taking its toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety. Failing to address employees' concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment and may cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems.'
A building contractor has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a worker died of an infection over two years after he fell through a roof while working on a shopping centre construction project. Thomas Whitmarsh, 21, was employed by a roofing contractor working for principal contractor, Watkin Jones & Son Ltd, on the roof of the Menai Centre in Bangor, Wales on 29 May 2007. He fell nearly six metres through an unguarded opening in the roof to the floor below, sustaining serious head injuries. He spent several months in hospital and was making a gradual recovery. However, a brain injury left him at a much higher risk from infections. He contracted acute meningitis and died on 17 December 2009. Evidence presented to Mold Crown Court included a pathologist's findings that there was more than an 80 per cent chance that the injuries from the fall contributed to his death. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Watkin Jones & Son Ltd for failing to ensure Mr Whitmarsh's safety while at work. The company was found guilty of a criminal safety offence and was fined £450,000 and ordered to pay £98,000 in costs. Following the hearing, HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said: 'Poor co-ordination between the principal and the roofing contractors on this particular part of the site led to the edge protection being removed from around the roof opening without alternative safeguards in place.' He added: 'This tragic case should remind all contractors that work at height must be managed effectively and adequate safeguards should be in place to prevent falls.'
A Doncaster solvents firm destroyed in a huge fire had ignored two official warnings about the potentially deadly procedure that led to the inferno. Employees were transferring highly flammable toluene from a bulk container into a smaller drum at Solvents With Safety Ltd on 16 June 2010. They were attempting to fill the drum using a pipe from the container, however the pipe they used was too short. It meant dropping the liquid from the pipe into the drum, a process called 'splash filling' that is known to generate static electricity - a potential ignition source. Doncaster Magistrates' Court heard the flash point of toluene is just 4 degrees. On the hot June evening when the process took place, the toluene would have a flammable vapour over its surface. The build-up of static electricity in the drum is thought to have ignited the vapour and sparked a fire that quickly took hold and spread to other containers of flammable and dangerous solvent mixtures at the site, some of which exploded. Seven workers escaped unharmed after a quick-thinking supervisor ordered them to evacuate the site and called the emergency services. The court heard that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had twice written to Solvents With Safety, in May 2006 and December 2007, to warn of the dangers of splash filling containers. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £6,860 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Jayne Towey said: 'The Solvents With Safety workforce were extremely lucky to escape unharmed from this incident. The size and scale of the fire was immense, it took hold in minutes and caused total devastation to the company's premises.'
Australia's national safety watchdog is developing measures to tackle the health and safety hazards of fatigue at work. Work Safe Australia is proposing a new code intended to 'eliminate or reduce the need to work extended hours or overtime' so staff don't get dangerously fatigued. The Daily Telegraph reports that the draft code states 'Safety critical' tasks - such as administering drugs, driving a truck or electrical work - should not be performed in the post-lunch 'low body clock period' of 2pm to 4pm, adding: 'Likewise, if a worker arrives at work unfit for duty due to a lack of sleep, illness or other condition, they may be less productive or could be a danger to themselves and others in the workplace. To avoid any potential conflicts between personal and work demands, controls include (to) consult with workers and design shift rosters that will enable workers to meet both work and personal commitments.' The code of practice - which the Telegraph says will be finalised next year - will be admissible in court if an employer is charged with breaching workplace health and safety laws. The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) has called for the fatigue checklist in the draft code to be improved and made more practical. 'How would a workplace assess such things as 'reduced immune system function' or `hallucinations' and headaches'?,' it told Safe Work Australia in a response to a consultation on the draft code which ended in December 2011. National union federation ACTU suggested that high risk tasks be minimised between 2am and 6am - not the 2pm to 4pm suggested in the code. Safe Work Australia said it was revising the code to address concerns.
As workers as young as 11 fall sick in tanneries in Bangladesh, the government is standing by and doing nothing, according to a new report. Research by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals workers in many leather tanneries in the Hazaribagh neighbourhood of Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital become ill because of exposure to hazardous chemicals and are injured in horrific workplace accidents. The tanneries export leather worth hundreds of millions of dollars for use in luxury goods. The 101-page report, 'Toxic tanneries: The health repercussions of Bangladesh's Hazaribagh leather', documents 'an occupational health and safety crisis among tannery workers, both men and women, including skin diseases and respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to tanning chemicals, and limb amputations caused by accidents in dangerous tannery machinery.' Pollution from the tanneries means the ill-health spills over into the community. HRW senior health researcher Richard Pearshouse said: 'While the government takes a hands-off approach, local residents fall sick and workers suffer daily from their exposure to harmful tannery chemicals.' The human rights group says government officials admit they do not enforce environmental or labour laws at the tanneries. The Hazaribagh tanneries, which make up about 90 per cent of the industry nationwide, employ up to 15,000 workers. Workers told HRW that many tanneries did not supply appropriate or sufficient protective equipment or training to work with the harmful chemicals and aging machinery. Some managers deny sick leave or compensation to workers who fall ill or who are injured on the job, in violation of Bangladeshi law. Children, some as young as 11, were engaged in hazardous work, such as soaking hides in chemicals, cutting tanned hides with razor blades, and operating dangerous tanning machinery. 'The Hazaribagh tanneries effectively operate in an enforcement-free zone and the government has ignored deadline after deadline for solving the problem,' Pearshouse said. 'Foreign companies that import leather produced in Hazaribagh should ensure that their suppliers aren't violating health and safety laws or poisoning the environment.'
Workers will remain at risk from nanomaterials under measures set out by the European Commission this month, a European trade union group has warned. ETUI, which is part of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and has a dedicated health and safety unit, was commenting after the publication on 3 October of the Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials. ETUI said the review 'fails to propose a consistent strategy to guarantee the protection of workers handling or in contact with nanomaterials.' It warns that the Commission is making policy decisions while acknowledging it does not have the necessary health information to formulate an 'appropriate regulatory framework'. The union body said submissions required under the REACH chemicals regulations are 'insufficient and not useful to assess nanomaterials.' It warns: 'There is insufficient data and the Commission is not willing to adapt and make the rules for chemical safety assessment applicable to nanomaterials. The ETUI believes that no nanomaterials products should be in the market without their potential human health and environment effects being known.' It also notes: 'Information on the health of workers involved in the manufacturing and processing of nanoparticules is missing the in the Communication as well as in the Staff Working Paper. Additionally, the Commission expects data results on occupational health and safety legislation by 2014. This proves that the Commission feels the need to obtain more data.' ETUI concludes: 'Clearly, the current Commission strategy on workers' protection is not sufficiently informed.'
Neglected safety regulations, outdated equipment and low safety standards make the Ukraine one of the world's most dangerous countries for miners. But unions are warning a recent law excluding them from accident investigations is making a deadly situation worse. On 29 July 2011, 28 miners died in an underground explosion at the Suchodilska-Shidna mine in the Lugansk region, 80km southeast of the capital Kiev. The disaster at a depth of 915 metres while miners were working the night shift is thought to have been caused by a methane gas blast. However, unions claim the Ukrainian government has refused to investigate the causes properly, with miners' representatives excluded from accident investigation. Seven of the 28 miners who died at Suchodilska-Shidna were members of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU). However, neither NPGU head Mykhailo Volynets nor any representatives of the local union were invited to take part in the Government Commission. The NPGU took the case to the District Administrative Court of Kiev and in October 2011 the court declared the commission illegal. The government appealed. In May 2012 the court rejected the appeal, noting that because no properly constituted commission had been created - a Cabinet directive requires union participation where the incident results in more than five deaths or 10 injuries - no real investigation had taken place. There are concerns that the NPGU exclusion is political. Volynets, the union leader, is also an opposition MP from Yulia Tymoshenko's All-Ukrainian Union 'Fatherland' party. Unions say NPGU's exclusion from investigations is depriving miners of the right to information about crucial safety matters.
The European agency for safety and health at work, in collaboration with the Europe-wide union confederation ETUC, has published a guide on worker participation for European Health and Safety Week. The annual event will this year run from 22-28 October. In line with the worker participation theme, the TUC has updated its 'union effect' guide and is also urging union reps to make use of its guide to inspections for National Inspection Day on Wednesday 24 October.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 12 Oct 2012
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