issue no 128 - 18 October 2003
Risks is the TUCs weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 8,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. 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 statement.
Health and safety minister Des Browne MP has launched a quickie consultation on A strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond. He said: 'The strategy recognises that HSE cannot do it all, we must get everyone involved in health and safety pulling in the same direction.' Speaking on the launch of the consultation, which ends on 1 December, the minister added: 'My challenge to business is work with us as we develop this thinking so that workplaces are safe, productive and fit for the 21st century. In particular, I welcome the emphasis on the need to do more on rehabilitation. Far too many people who suffer ill health at work do not get back into employment soon enough - or at all. That represents an unacceptable cost which we all, as a society, have to bear.' In response, TUCs Owen Tudor said that without a strong emphasis on safety reps, the strategy would not succeed, and outlined the TUCs vision: 'Workforce consultation, involvement and participation should be as central to the British health and safety system as consultation.' Unions and safety reps are being urged to make that the central plank of their responses. Tudor added: 'We want as many safety reps and unions as possible to say to the HSC that enough is enough - safety reps should be at the heart of the HSCs strategy, not an optional extra.'
Construction union looks for more roving safety advisers
Following the success of the HSE Worker Safety Adviser pilot scheme, the construction union UCATT has decided to add a further two posts to its national network (Risks 99) of health and safety advisers (HSAs) in Yorkshire and Scotland. The remit of the HSAs is to meet with employers to encourage the following: raising health and safety standards in construction; promoting the benefits and cost-effectiveness of good health and safety management in the construction industry; increasing employers' and workers' knowledge of health and safety matters; helping employers to identify training needs; providing training and toolbox talks on health and safety; encouraging employer/worker links to identify appropriate actions to address health and safety issues and workplace hazards; and encouraging UCATT health and safety representation within the construction industry. Salary £20,000 - £22,000, depending on experience.
Over half a million workers every year suffer ill-health caused by dangerous substances at work, according to the TUC. It says of the 2.3 million workers in the UK made ill by their jobs, around a quarter of them (575,000) can blame their illnesses on hazardous exposures. Backing the dangerous substances themed European Safety week, which started on 13 October, TUC urged union safety reps to keep the six point ESCAPE route in mind when raising safety issues relating to the use of dangerous substances with their employers: E for Elimination - finding ways of reducing risk by changing the way toxic materials are used; S for Substitution - swapping the dangerous substance for something altogether safer; C for Control - if neither elimination or substitution are possible, then the hazardous material must be enclosed, with any emissions dealt with properly, and protective equipment always used; and A, P and E for 'And Prevent Exposure' to as many of the workforce as possible. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'If employers begin to follow the TUC ESCAPE route, they can help stop today's workers developing tomorrow's illnesses and diseases We must put a stop to this annual roll call of death and disease, and raising employer awareness this week is a good way to start.'
Half of health visitors, school nurses and community nurses working in the NHS have been bullied by their managers, according to a union survey. The survey by the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA), a part of the union Amicus, found one in three of the 563 people questioned said the bullying was so bad they had to take time off work, and criticised NHS bosses for failing to eradicate the problem. It found that very few people who had been bullied complained to senior managers. Of those who did complain, just one in 10 said they were satisfied with the response and one in three said they were appalled by their manager's response. A third (34 per cent) said they had called in sick as a result of being bullied, with most off work for at least a month. Amicus is calling on the government to introduce a system of anti-bullying 'ombudsmen' to co-ordinate and monitor policies. Karen Reay, the Amicus/CPHVA lead officer on bullying, said: 'The ombudsmen working at strategic health authority level should have the power to instigate further investigations, seek specialist advice, order compensation for staff, and to order disciplinary procedures against the bullies.'
Unions have won their first victory in the battle to protect workers from pointless speeding prosecutions aimed at workers delivering emergency medical supplies including blood and human organs. Charges against GMB member Mike Ferguson, who was delivering an organ for transplant (Risks 125) and who was due to appear in court on 20 October, have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, which said 'prosecution is not needed in the public interest.' The move follows a high profile GMB campaign. In a separate case, UNISON member Paul Stockbridge, who was caught on camera doing 41mph in a 30mph zone, appeared before magistrates this week accused of breaking the speed limit while delivering emergency blood supplies. With the union's backing, he pleaded not guilty. UNISON head of health Karen Jennings, said National Blood Service drivers received special training and added: 'Surely, there must be a balance between ensuring urgent blood supplies get to patients as quickly as possible and the safety of road users. Only if a driver is recklessly causing danger to other users should a prosecution even be considered.' The case was adjourned until 13 November.
Health union UNISON has called for a tougher line to be taken on members of the public who are violent or abusive towards NHS staff. Karen Jennings, UNISON head of health, said: 'Health service staff are dedicated to caring for the public and they should not have to put up with aggressive or abusive behaviour from those they are trying to help. UNISON has consistently argued that violent attacks on NHS workers should be treated as serious assault, with tougher penalties to match the crime.' She welcomed government moves to get tough on antisocial behaviour violence and abuse, through the work of the Counter Fraud and Security Management Special Health Authority, but added that 'for many health workers the changes can't come quick enough. Violence towards NHS staff is a crime. Every incident should be reported and where appropriate lead to prosecution.' UNISON Scotlands Jim Devine said there is strong public support for tough action. 'In April of this year an independent opinion poll carried out for UNISON Scotland showed that 99 per cent of the respondents agreed that violent attacks on public service workers should be treated as serious assault,' he said.
Almost 50 Co-op stores were subject to armed robberies last year and there was a 39 per cent increase in the number of physical attacks on staff, a new report has shown. Shopworkers union Usdaw says the report from the Co-operative Group 'paints a stark picture of retail life in the convenience sector with 698 staff attacked in 2002. Guns were used in one in four of the 214 armed robberies. There was also more than 25,000 incidents of abuse reported in 2002.' Co-op Group chief executive Martin Beaumont described the report, Retail crime: Breaking the hearts of communities, as 'shocking' and 'disturbing.' He criticised the Home Office and the police for not doing enough to reduce retail crime. Usdaw deputy general secretary John Hannett commended the Co-op for its support for the union's 'Freedom from fear' campaign. Recent incidents have illustrated the deadly risks facing some shopworkers. An unnamed man died on 13 October after being stabbed several times outside a picture framing shop. Marian Bates was shot dead in a 30 September robbery at a Nottingham jewellers.
Workers at a Leicester factory have banned overtime work and taken part in selective work stoppages after bosses introduced a Big Brother-style monitoring system forcing them to wear red tags on breaks. The 84-strong workforce at chemical company Trelleborg complained of being treated in a demeaning way after management insisted they wear the tags when away from their normal place of work. 'This is a relatively small factory where everyone can see each other most of the time,' said TGWU regional industrial organiser Deric Whale. 'What sort of management is it, therefore, that has to tag people when they go for lunch and tea breaks? What sort of management is it that lets a dispute like this go so far?' Mr Whale said negotiations with the company had been held over a number of weeks but he was amazed that the managers insisted on the new tagging system. Workers have to ask for a tag when they want to go for their breaks. ACAS has been approached to broker talks. Production workers, meanwhile, have banned overtime and training of new staff and have taken part in selective one hour work stoppages.
Transport and General Workers Union members have laid siege to Whitehall to demonstrate against long hours in the transport industry. TGWU says the long hours culture, in which many drivers frequently work a 70 hour week, is known to lead to fatigue. The 'static demonstration' formed part of a global road transport day of action involving over 250,000 workers and organised by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). The London demonstration included lorry and bus drivers, train, bus and tram drivers and cabbies as well as warehouse, administration and support staff. Speaking before the demonstration, Graham Stevenson, TGWU national organiser for transport, said: 'The shouts from Whitehall will be clearly heard in No.10 and No.11. Those united voices of the transport workers will be sending a clear message to Tony Blair and the government that in 2003 it is wrong, unjustified and dangerous to allow employers in the public and private sectors to let drivers and workers throughout the transport sector work up to 70 and sometimes 80 hours a week.' TGWU says studies show tired drivers are in a more dangerous state than drunk drivers.
Police have charged a man over the death of Plymouth yacht yard worker Benjamin Pinkham. Mr Pinkham, a 21-year-old heating engineer, of Saltash in Cornwall, died six days after suffering serious burns in a 3 February explosion at Princess Yachts International. A 45-year-old Plymouth man, who was originally arrested on 6 March, will face a charge of manslaughter at the city's magistrates court on 28 October. Police charged the man when he attended a local police station to answer bail. A Plymouth company, which has not been named at this stage, has also been summonsed for corporate manslaughter and breach of health and safety laws. Another Plymouth company has been summonsed in relation to a breach of health and safety legislation concerning the explosion. The court action follows an eight-month investigation involving Devon and Cornwall Police and HSE.
Only two company directors or senior managers in Scotland have been convicted of health and safety offences since April 1999, according to research by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA). The independent corporate crime watchdog says one of the directors received only an 'admonishment' and the other director received a £1,000 fine. It adds that no director or company in Scotland has ever been convicted of a homicide offence following a work-related death, compared to eight company directors and five companies convicted of manslaughter in England and Wales. CCA director David Bergman said: 'Whilst in England, the police follow investigation protocols that require them to undertake manslaughter inquiries into work-related death, in Scotland no such protocol exists.' CCA criticised the Procurator Fiscal - in Scotland, it decides which prosecutions proceed - for the low prosecution rate. In the rest of Britain the official safety enforcement agencies can decide to prosecute.
Microchip workers in Scotland hope a lawsuit against electronics company IBM in the United States (Risks 125) could strengthen their case for compensation. Workers from the National Semiconductor plant in Greenock have already opened compensation claims and believe that the IBM case could strengthen their hand. Campaigning group Phase Two represents 37 former workers at the plant who are pursuing damages claims for cancer and other health problems. Spokesperson Jim McCourt believes the case in California could be vital for Scottish claims. 'It will be ground-breaking stuff, there's never been a semiconductor company in court at any time for something of this magnitude,' he said. 'If the case is a success then it will be another weapon that Phase Two can use, I don't want to raise the group's hopes too much, but it will take us a lot further forward if the cases come out in our favour.' In 2001, higher than average rates of cancer were found among workers and former employees at the National Semiconductor plant in a study by the HSE.
People are now twice as likely to blow the whistle on workplace wrongdoing as they were five years ago - and safety has moved to the top of their concerns, according to a report from the whistleblowing charity. 'A decade ago when whistleblowers were branded misfits and traitors, people never found out about the national helpline in the workplace,' said Guy Dehn, director of Public Concern at Work (PCaW). 'Now over a third of callers are coming to us straight from the workplace, as organisations begin to realise - post Enron - that they discourage and ignore whistleblowing at their peril.' A PCaW analysis shows that the top two issues dealt with by its helpline, which received 561 calls last year, are now safety risks and financial misconduct - each making up 30 per cent of calls. The report, Two years back, three years forward, ten years old, includes workplace case histories, including the case of train driver and union safety rep Laurie Holden, forced out for warning that longer shifts were increasing the number of signals passed at red (Risks 50).
The government has stated a blanket ban on smoking in public places cannot be justified at present. In a Westminster Hall debate public health minister Melanie Johnson MP stressed the government's desire to increase provision of smoke-free or non-smoking areas, but added ministers believed 'a universal ban on smoking in public places is unjustified whilst we can make vast and substantial progress by other means.' A code of practice on smoking in public places was still being considered, she told MPs. 'The Health and Safety Executive have been asked to look further at the costs as they affect the small business and the hospitality sector.' However, the cost excuse for delay has been thoroughly dismissed in research from TUC and Hazards magazine (Risks 105). The government update came as a worker with asthma was awarded £17,000 compensation against a former employer who failed to stop smoking in her presence. Karen Whitehead, 34, worked at the Granby Island Community Centre in Plymouth for only 45 days, but because she was registered disabled she was entitled to sue for unfair dismissal after being sacked for taking 16 days off sick.
Staff accidents are costing the NHS around £170m a year, according to MPs. A report by the Commons public accounts committee says millions are lost as a result of staff taking time off ill and compensation payouts. There were 135,172 accidents involving NHS staff at work last year, up more than a third on 2001. These ranged from minor bruises to major injuries. The report, Improving management of health and safety risks to staff in NHS trusts, found a 'lack of consistency' in the way accidents are identified and reported. Overall, just 42 per cent of accidents that are supposed to be reported under the law are reported, it concluded. MPs also highlighted the growing number of NHS staff who suffer needlestick injuries, and called for better training to tackle the issue. 'The aim should be for trusts to reduce unnecessary use of needles; to upgrade their training for safer working practices; to evaluate the effectiveness of preventative measures; and to follow appropriate surveillance and reporting procedures' the report said.
Hospital workers will be sent on training courses on how to deal with workplace violence under a £50 million government plan. Health secretary John Reid MP has ordered extra protection for the 1.3 million NHS doctors, nurses, hospital workers and paramedics after latest figures showed the number of assaults on them had soared. Dr Reid said: 'People in the NHS dedicate their lives to offering pain relief to the sick and injured. Assaults on them while they are working flat out are disgusting.' The training exercise is the largest ever carried out by the NHS in England and is designed to equip staff with high-level mediation and anger management skills. Dr Reid also wants specialist security officers to be appointed to every health body in the country to investigate assaults on staff and to help ensure that those who carry them out are prosecuted. Gail Adams, head of nursing at health union UNISON, said: 'There has been a tremendous increase in violence against NHS staff and, although hospitals try their best, they often struggle in a very difficult financial climate. This is a step in the right direction.'
The HSE has given its stamp of approval to industry 'safety passports.' It says the passports - developed and used in various industries, notably construction, and often supported actively by unions - help workers gain minimum levels of health and safety knowledge and ensure they are aware of their environmental responsibilities before being allowed access to a workplace. Workers receive passports by attending training courses designed to raise awareness of the risks associated within the trainees working environment. HSE director general Timothy Walker commented: 'Passports are an industry initiative that help trainees develop a positive health and safety culture - where safe and healthy can become second nature. They are not required by HSE or by law but are very welcome as a simple but important way of improving health and safety. They really can make a difference.'
Smoking in pubs and clubs is to be phased out in New South Wales. The state government has establishing a working party, to include representatives from pubs and clubs, the NSW Cancer Institute and relevant government officials, to work out the details. Assisting health minister Frank Sartor said smoke-free environments were 'an eventuality.' The move follows the endorsement at this months ruling Australian Labor Party state conference of a motion by the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU) for enclosed areas to be smoke-free by 2005. Legislation is being drafted to make the current voluntary bans law. LHMU assistant national secretary Tim Ferrari said the union was keen to see bans in place by the end of next year. 'We know the risks of passive smoking - the bans have to put in place sooner rather than later,' he said.
The International Federation of Journalists, the worlds largest journalists group with over 500,000 members in more than 100 countries, has called for a 'global campaign to expose the secrecy, deceit and arrogance of the United States authorities' surrounding the killing of up to seven journalists during and after the Iraq war. An IFJ report, Denial of justice on the road to Baghdad, focuses on four separate incidents in which journalists were killed or are still missing, presumed dead. 'These incidents have caused outrage within journalism worldwide,' said IFJ president Christopher Warren. 'It is shocking that after six months the families, friends and colleagues of the victims still await credible explanations about how and why they died.' The report, prepared by IFJ general secretary Aidan White, accuses the US of 'flagrant disregard' for the safety of journalists by not instructing the military in the field to avoid hitting media targets. IFJ has written to UN secretary general Kofi Annan calling on him to urge the US to end its secrecy and to support demands for the independent investigation.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has paid tribute to a man who devoted his last years to supporting asbestos-related disease sufferers. Robbie Brown (65), a former shipyard worker living in Carrickfergus, has died after a long battle against lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure during the fifties and sixties. The trade unionist formed the campaign group Justice for Asbestos Sufferers and lobbied for speedier compensation for victims and their families. ICTU health and safety official Tom Moore said Robbie had learned first hand of the pain and suffering endured by those affected and the financial burden which they shouldered. 'It was poignant that his death came at the start of the European Health and Safety Week which this year is concentrating on 'dangerous substances' such as asbestos,' he said. 'To help ensure that Robbie is not merely part of that statistic, trade unionists and trade union activists are asked for their support for the Justice for Asbestos Victims group as a fitting tribute to Mr Brown.'
The US Senate has voted with an overwhelming majority to approve legislation that would prohibit companies from using genetic test results to make employment decisions, deny health coverage or raise insurance premiums. After nearly 8 years of negotiations, the bill - which has the support of the Bush administration - will now move forward for consideration by the House of Representatives. The measure would bar insurers from requiring genetic tests, from obtaining test results, and from using the results of tests to increase insurance premiums or deny coverage. Employers would be barred from seeking most genetic information, and from using any such information to influence hiring or promotion decisions. Employers could, however, require testing to monitor potential ill effects from workplace exposure to hazardous substances. Last month, a report from TUC and campaign groups called for genetic discrimination to be outlawed in UK workplaces (Risks 125). Similar calls have been made by unions in Australia and elsewhere (Risks 37).
A US subcontractor has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the deaths of five workers killed in a Manhattan scaffold collapse (Risks 76). Phillip V Minuccis guilty plea to a single count of second-degree manslaughter was in exchange for a sentence that state Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller said will not exceed four to 12 years. She set sentencing for January 14. Minucci, president of Tri State Scaffold and Equipment Supplies Inc., admitted that he erected a scaffold that could not support the weight put on it, and he conceded that he did not have a licensed engineer inspect the structure as the law required. Minucci had faced up to five to 15 years in prison on each count of second-degree manslaughter, and up to seven years on each count of second-degree assault.
New HSE web pages highlight latex dangers and asbestos good practice. HSE says the latex page, part of its Euro safety week package, was prompted by a group of asthma sufferers and will help health care professionals avoid getting occupational asthma from their use of natural rubber latex products. The asbestos good practice guidance 'provides examples of some of the ways that organisations are managing or planning to manage their asbestos-containing materials. The examples come direct from dutyholders who have real experience of dealing with asbestos-containing materials in their premises.'
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2003
COURSES FOR JANUARY TO MARCH 2004
Corporate safety crimes conference, Glasgow, 23 October
Ministers from the Scottish Executive and Westminster, Crown Office officials, trade unions, employer organisations, the Health and Safety Executive, lawyers, academics and bereaved families will be among the speakers at a Centre for Corporate Accountability 'Safety and corporate criminal accountability' conference in Glasgow on Thursday, 23 October 2003. CCA says it is Scotlands first major conference on the issue.
HSE stress conference, London, 30 October
HSE will be launching its new guide to organisational interventions for work-related stress at a London conference on 30 October. It says the conference will also be an opportunity to reflect on the pilot of HSE's draft management standards for work-related stress.
The Construction Safety Campaigns 2003 AGM and national meeting is to be held in Liverpool on 8 November. Key issues are corporate killing, asbestos risks, employee consultation and roving reps. Further details from CSC, PO Box 23844, London, SE15 3WR, email or phone 07747 795954.
IIAC public meeting, Glasgow, 18 March 2004
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), the body that advises the government on which accidents and diseases should qualify for industrial injuries payouts, is giving members of the public a chance to find out about its work. A day of presentations and structured workshops at the 18 March 2004 meeting in Glasgow will: Describe the process of 'prescribing' occupational diseases - picking the ones that get added to the list; seek opinions about new issues of concern in occupational health; and will provide an opportunity to contribute ideas on IIACs future work programme. IIAC says individual cases or claims cannot be discussed at the meeting, however.
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Newsletter (5,500 words) issued 18 Oct 2003
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printed 24 May 2013 at 08:33 hrs by 18.104.22.168