issue no 129 - 25 October 2003
*Union news: *union claims moral victory over bullying BBC * UNISON calls for action on mesothelioma * Scottish Exec 'complacent' on NHS violence * police fail to arrest retail crime * teachers refuse violent pupils * Xmas comes early for shopworkers * seafarers working a dangerous 85 hour week
* Other news: *stress is costing British firms £1.24bn * bereaved families criticise Scots justice * one in four asthma cases linked to work * payout for demoted jail worker * guide tackles dangerous biological agents * outsourcing, staffing and downsizing are safety issues * move towards safer hours for mobile workers
*International news: *Australia: *striking builders to march over workplace death * union condemns 'culture of abuse' at airports * Canada: asbestos industry dirty tricks campaign revealed! * New Zealand: union bargaining to save lives at work * Nigeria/Benin: child slaves rescued from granite pits * USA: unions sue government for better safety standards
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.
Theres a cash prize waiting for a safety rep out there, so get your applications in soon! Safety specialists organisation IOSH has teamed up with health and safety consultancy Sypol to launch a competition to identify good safety rep practice in inspections and investigations. The lucky winners will receive a cash payout to fund further study or training in health and safety. Safety reps wishing to enter the TUC supported competition should write around 1,500 words describing a workplace inspection or investigation conducted by themselves or with others. The report should illustrate good practice, show how hazards were identified and risks assessed, how the results were communicated and how managers were persuaded to put things right.
An employment tribunal has criticised the BBC for its attempts to discredit a veteran TV journalist who stood up to the corporation, labelled broadcastings top bully (Risks 121). NUJ member Laurie Mayer, known to millions as a BBC newsreader, lost an unfair dismissal case against the BBC because a tribunal found he was not unfairly dismissed and had not suffered any detriment. Mayer claimed a 'moral victory,' however, after the tribunal strongly criticised BBC management. The tribunal ruling said: 'This has been a sad case involving a much respected broadcaster who went out on a limb to try to protect his colleagues from bullying and harassment.' The BBC was further criticised for seeking retrospectively to malign Laurie Mayer's name. The case arose after Mayer raised publicly concerns about the bullying of junior journalistic staff at the BBC's South East newsroom at Tunbridge Wells. The BBC did not renew his contract as a freelance presenter. NUJ broadcasting organiser Paul McLaughlin said: 'This is the first time a case about bullying has been brought under 'whistle-blowing' legislation; we will therefore be examining the verdict closely to see if there are grounds for a legal challenge.'
Urgent action is needed to increase awareness of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, public service union UNISON has said. The union says there is no treatment for the condition and victims suffer a painful death, usually within 12 to 18 months. 'People with mesothelioma are written off. There is no research into the condition and no drugs to help,' said UNISON head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson. 'You can easily prevent exposure but in terms of people who've got it there is nothing for them.' By 2010, more than 10,000 people a year are expected to die from asbestos-related diseases. This will make asbestos the biggest occupational killer by far and about three times as deadly as the roads.
UNISON Scotland has accused the Scottish Executive of complacency on violence to health service staff. Jim Devine, UNISON Scotlands organiser for health, said: 'This year, while working in the Scottish NHS nurses have been stabbed, head-butted, sexually assaulted and threatened with guns. During the summer in a London hospital a nurse was murdered while on duty' (Risks 111). He added: 'Against this background of increased violence against health service workers, one has to ask what the Scottish Executive's response has been. Sadly, the only conclusion you can reach is that it is one of complacency.' UNISON is demanding a six point action plan, including a joint management-unions staff charter, a standard definition of workplace violence, training courses, a football style yellow and red card system for members of the public abusing staff, charges against anyone guilty of physical abuse of NHS staff and proper implementation of a zero tolerance approach.
Thugs and thieves see the retail sector as a soft touch and expect to get away with the offence, shopworkers' trade union Usdaw has said. It says latest police performance tables, published this week, do not include retail crime as a measure of police performance. Usdaw is pressing for retail crime to become a police Key Performance Indicator. Usdaw deputy general secretary John Hannett said: 'The persistent, and often violent, shoplifters and robbers who target retailers are usually involved in many other sorts of crime. All too often, retail crime is regarded as a victimless, economic crime. This is simply not the case.' He added: 'By making retail crime a Key Performance Indicator, we can send a very strong warning to these criminals that the police will do all they can to apprehend, arrest and prosecute them. This will go some way in helping our members enjoy freedom from fear.'
Teachers are increasingly making a stand against pupil violence and refusing to allow dangerously aggressive youngsters back into the classroom, a union survey has found. Research for NASUWT found that so far this year, members in 25 schools have organised ballots to refuse to teach out-of-control pupils. These ballots have followed incidents where teachers have been punched, head-butted, bitten, shot with a ball-bearing gun and victimised by obscene phone calls. The union adds that in other cases, the threat of holding a ballot has been enough for a violent pupil to be found a place elsewhere. The survey identified three main causes for pupil violence: Poor parenting skills, 'dysfunctional' families and children mimicking violent television programmes. 'Where families are not functioning, for whatever reason, parents do not seem to have the time or energy to support schools in their efforts to maintain reasonable levels of behaviour,' said NASUWT general secretary Eamonn O'Kane.
Shopworkers are rejoicing at plans to ban larger stores from opening on Christmas Day. Retail union Usdaw says the move vindicates its three-year campaign on behalf of its 250,000 shopworker members. Currently, large stores must stay shut only if Christmas Day is a Sunday. Usdaw's general secretary Sir Bill Connor, responding to news reports that legislation could be passed during the next session of parliament, said: 'Usdaw has long argued that shopworkers have the right to spend Christmas Day at home with their families. Earlier this year, we conducted a survey of 1,000 shopworkers which found that almost all of them supported a legal ban on Christmas Day trading. Significantly, 98 per cent feared that without protection, staff would be forced to work on December 25th.' The Department of Trade and Industry hopes the ban will become law by Christmas 2004.
More than half the seafarers operating in UK coastal waters are working 'dangerously' long hours, a union backed study has found. Most seafarers working on ferries and tankers around the UK coast get no opportunity for six hours of uninterrupted sleep and more than 45 per cent are working more than 85 hours a week, according to ships' officers' union Numast. The Seafarers' International Research Centre at Cardiff University produced the study in association with Numast, the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The researchers found: More than 90 per cent of seafarers had no training in recognising fatigue or dealing with its consequences; almost two-thirds said their working hours had increased over the last 10 years; 16 per cent said they had been involved in a fatigue-related incident; and nearly 60 per cent said extra crew was vital to deal with the problem. Numast general secretary Brian Orrell said: 'Such excessive hours are presenting a serious threat to health and safety. Seafarers have been waiting too long for effective policing of regulations that are meant to protect them.'
British industry is haemorrhaging a 'massive' £1.24 billion a year because of stress-related sickness and lost productivity, according to a survey. The report in Personnel Today adds that the UK's productivity performance is 'atrocious,' with output per-hour-worked a fifth lower than in Germany and France, and well below the European average. A majority of the 700 managers polled said they thought stress was lowering productivity and 60 per cent blamed it for higher rates of staff turnover. More than a quarter of those questioned by the magazine and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said many potential recruits were put off joining a company because they feared the job would be too stressful. Days lost to stress totalled 1,554,263 among the 581 employers who provided an estimate, suggesting that 11 per cent of the UK's total sickness absence is due to stress, the report said. It concludes: 'The only reason Britain has kept pace at all is because we work the longest hours in Europe. We are having to work harder and longer to maintain our position in the pack, less inspiration means more perspiration.'
The criminal justice system in Scotland has been criticised by families bereaved as a result of workplace fatalities. Catherine Tweedie, whose 21-year-old son Craig was crushed to death in an April 1999 warehouse accident, and Gavin Cleland, whose 33-year-old son Robert died in the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, told a Glasgow conference organised by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (Risks 128) the deaths has devastated their families. Catherine Tweedie said: 'My son was killed and those responsible for his death have got away with it because the Scottish criminal justice system has allowed them to get away with it. Craigs death has totally destroyed our family.' Gavin Cleland said the failure to act after Piper Alpha was 'a national scandal,' adding: 'Despite the deaths of 167 men and a very critical public inquiry report, no company or senior manager was ever brought to account and prosecuted for any offences relating to the death of the workers.' Cleland told the Scottish TUC supported conference: 'I have spent the last 15 years of my life fighting against a brick wall, that is the Scottish criminal justice system.'
Over a quarter of all asthma cases could be related to work, according to a new study. US researchers found people working in the cleaning, farming and transportation industries are among the most likely to develop asthma as a result of their jobs. Other jobs that carried a high risk of causing or aggravating asthma and breathing problems in workers included those associated with entertainment, protective services, mining, construction, mechanics, textile, and fabrication. Overall, the authors discovered that an estimated 26 per cent of cases of asthma in adults are caused or aggravated by the workplace environment. Dr George Delclos, co-author of the study, published in the October 2003 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, said: 'If you were to intervene in these cases, you might be able to reduce cases of asthma by around 26 per cent in adults,' equivalent to the proportion of asthma attributable to the workplace.
A woman who suffered a breakdown following demotion from her prison job could get £400,000 in compensation. Jacqui Beart, 39, said she was demoted from her administrative post after asking to change her working hours. She subsequently suffered depression and never returned to work at Swaleside Prison. The mother-of-two won an employment tribunal case of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination which was upheld after an appeal. The case went to Court of Appeal, which also found in her favour. Both parties in the case agreed sums totalling £40,300 for personal injury, damages to feelings, aggravated damages and unfair dismissal. But compensation for past and future loss of earnings, as well as loss of pension, has still to be agreed by Ms Beart's legal team and Treasury solicitors but is expected to be in six figures.
The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) has launched new official guidance to controlling risks posed by infections at work. ACDP - the expert panel that advises the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and health and agriculture ministers - says the new guidance provides information on the nature, sources and transmission of infections, as well as possible control measures such as hand washing and the provision of appropriate protective clothing. HSEs Dr Jim Neilson, secretary to the ACDP, said: 'This guidance is aimed at providing employers from a wide range of industries with the information and skills needed to assess, understand and control the infection risks to their staff arising from work activities.' He added: 'The guidance is aimed at all workers but will be especially useful to those who may not specifically work with biological agents, but who may be incidentally exposed to biological agents during the course of their work, such as farmers, refuse workers and cleaners.'
Safety just got serious - a new Health and Safety Executive guide says restructuring, reorganisation, outsourcing and downsizing are not just buzzwords, they are key safety issues. The free information sheet for employers in major hazards industries looks at 'how to control safety risks in organisational change.' It says changes at workplace and corporate level 'can have a significant impact on safety at operational level. The information sheet points to changes to roles and responsibilities, organisational structure, staffing levels and staff disposition as some of the changes that may have an effect on safety.' HSEs Chris Wilby said: 'Although organisational changes are a normal and increasingly frequent part of business life, businesses working in major hazard industries must take particular care to avoid risks to their employees and the public.' The HSE awakening comes almost four years after the TUC-backed Hazards magazine warned that the major safety issues of the 21st century workplace were staffing levels, workplace organisation and change, overwork and new management techniques.
Workers in the road transport sector are to have their working hours brought into line with legal limits applying to the rest of the workforce. A Department for Transport consultation document on new working time proposals is intended to bring the UK into compliance by 23 March 2005 with European law. The new rules, which will apply to drivers and crew of heavy goods and public service vehicles, will introduce measures including: A weekly working time limit averaging 48 hours, (typically over a 4 month period), with up to 60 hours work a single week, as long as the average 48 hour limit is maintained; night work restricted to 10 hours working time for any 24 hour period; and additional breaks entitlements. Minister for transport Kim Howells said: 'Lorry and coach drivers are just about the last group of workers to receive the protection offered by working time legislation. As well as reducing health and safety risks for employees, it should in the long term, make the road transport sector a more attractive place for people to work in.'
Construction workers angry over the death of a 16-year-old labourer will stop work on 27 October to march on the New South Wales (NSW) parliament and demand jail sentences for bosses who are slack on safety. Around 300 delegates representing construction and manufacturing workers, plumbers and electricians packed into Sydney's Trades Hall to endorse the stoppage and call for industrial manslaughter to be made a crime in the state. 'If a worker kills another worker you will be charged and go to jail,' Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union state secretary Paul Bastion told the meeting. 'But a boss who lets the workplace go down to such standards that a worker dies, all he gets is a fine. If a boss does the wrong thing, put him in jail where he belongs.' Construction workers in Sydney have already held two strikes following the death a week ago of 16-year-old Joel Exner. The teenager died after falling 15 metres from a western Sydney construction site roof on his third day as a roof plumbing apprentice. Construction union CFMEU says roofing contractor Gary Denson had ignored repeated warnings in safety reports.
An asbestos industry dirty tricks campaign to give the deadly fibre a healthy gloss has been uncovered. A paper in the November 2003 edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM) concludes: 'The Canadian asbestos mining industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results that support claims that their product is 'innocuous'.' The US research team adds that the industry does this by retaining its own, industry sympathetic researchers. 'Researchers complicit in this manipulation seem to be motivated by a variety of interests, including a desire to support an important national industry and a pre-existing ideological commitment to support corporate interests over worker or community interests,' the paper says. 'Conducting industry-friendly research can also anchor an academic career by guaranteeing the steady stream of funding necessary to stay afloat in the 'publish or perish' environment of the university.' The report comes on the heels of a paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) that concluded the continued use of asbestos 'is testament to the effectiveness of a campaign, spearheaded by Canadian interests, to promote a product already banned in many developed countries.'
Strengthening workers' ability to bargain collectively will reduce workplace fatalities and improve New Zealands dismal health and safety record, the countrys top union official has said. Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) president Ross Wilson told delegates to the organisations biennial conference that for the second year in a row there had been 73 fatal workplace accidents, making New Zealand one of the most dangerous places to work in the developed world. 'Workers were not involved enough in occupational safety and health, so were less aware of the issues,' he said. 'Union representation was weakened and there was little bargaining around health and safety issues.' He added that a May 2003 law increasing the union role and creating union safety reps (Risks 105) should be amended 'so it does not merely allow collective bargaining, but actively promotes it.' Cathy Walker, national safety director of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, told the conference that international research shows that workplaces with active union involvement are safer workplaces. 'No matter how successful a union may be at the bargaining table in negotiating excellent wages, benefits and pensions, they will all come to nought if workers are not alive long enough to reap the benefits,' she added.
Seventy-four child slaves, some as young as four years old and none older than 15, have been rescued after being forced to smash granite in a Nigerian quarry for a year. The youngsters are receiving food, clothes and medical care in Benin after being rescued by Nigerian police from the traffickers who sold them into heavy labour. The children have told their rescuers that at least 13 of their young companions had died in the past three months - worn out by smashing and carrying rocks and sleeping, without adequate food, in the open. The children were returned to Benin, ending what Nigerian federal police inspector-general Tafa Balogoun said had been more than a year of work in the granite pits. Child labour and cross-border labour-trafficking is common across west Africa, while such mass operations to recover child labourers are extremely rare. The rescue is reported to be only the second of its kind in west Africa. Intervention by the governments may stem from increased international attention to child labour, said Frans Roselaers of the International Labour Organisation.
Two US unions have filed legal proceedings against the Labor Department in a bid to win better safety standards. The United Auto Workers (UAW) and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) suit against US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, seeks to compel the official safety watchdog OSHA to set clean air standards in US factories. The lawsuit asks the court to order OSHA to issue standards reducing the permissible exposure to metalworking fluids. 'The UAW petitioned OSHA to take action on metalworking fluids 10 years ago,' said UAW president Ron Gettelfinger. 'Since then, millions of factory workers have been exposed to these hazardous chemicals. Tragically, some have developed asthma, pulmonary fibrosis or other severe respiratory ailments, while others have cancer because of the metalworking fluid mists theyve been forced to breathe at work.' Gettlefinger added: 'Our lawsuit with the Steelworkers seeks to right this wrong, and offer our members and other workers who are exposed to these chemicals the protection they deserve.'
GMB on driving at work
GMBs latest online health and safety guide summarises progress made by the union and safety groups campaign on work-related road safety. The campaign led to the creation of an independent taskforce to make recommendations to the Health and Safety Commission and the government on reducing the risks. GMB summarises HSEs September 2003 Driving at Work guide, which highlights employer duties, including risk assessment of the suitability of the vehicle, competence and health and training of the driver and planning and scheduling of journeys. The GMB update also includes pointers for safety reps.
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2003
COURSES FOR JANUARY TO MARCH 2004
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.
Visit the TUC http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/ website pages on health and safety. See whats on offer from TUC Publications and Whats On in health and safety.
Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
Whats new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
HSE Books , PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995.
Newsletter (4,800 words) issued 27 Oct 2003
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printed 24 May 2013 at 17:23 hrs by 18.104.22.168