|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.|
The TUC is developing exciting new ways to train its legions of union safety reps. Every health and safety representative recognises the benefit of good trade union training, says Jackie Williams of TUC Education, noting it is what gives reps the skills to do their lifesaving, life enhancing job and to keep a safe distance from the employer. And she says there are a lot of life-saving reps out there - every year the TUC trains around 10,000 safety reps, and many more are trained through their own union health and safety programmes. She says there is an increasing demand for an expanding suite of online training courses. “Some of these learners will have been unable to negotiate release arrangements for training; others will have already exhausted their release entitlement and want to continue to update their skills,” she explains. “However, online courses are not an easy option, or an acceptance that reps should not be getting time off from their employers. Quite the opposite. They are meeting demand from a new generation who are used to doing much more on their tablet or phone.” The Health and Safety One online course, eNotes and webinars are available from the TUC Education website, she says. The site also hosts the course directory which advertises classroom and blended - a mix of classroom and online - courses and allows reps to enter their details and apply directly for courses. “Crucially, the new online programme and resources can be independent of public funding and can accommodate thousands of learners. They can be accessed by health and safety reps as soon as they take up their role, and from a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer.”
Rail union RMT has predicted that over a million more trains a year will run without safety critical guards on the five companies with whom the union is currently in dispute - Greater Anglia Railway, Merseyrail, Northern Rail, Southern Rail and South Western Railway. Figures obtained by the RMT show that on Southern Railway alone, where driver only operation is being rolled out, over 15,000 trains a year are already running fully or partly without a second person. If the same ratio was applied to South Western Railway that would be the equivalent of 32,000 trains a year across that single franchise alone, RMT calculates. The union said “these figures, shocking as they are, represent the thin end of a very large wedge,” with massive cuts planned on Northern Rail and Merseyrail. Under the Northern Rail Franchise agreement up to 50 per cent of services must be able to run without a guard, the equivalent of 457,000 trains a year, and it is planned that all of Merseyrail’s 218,000 trains will run without a guard. The union has calculated that if, as expected, the same cut is applied to South Western and Southern, well over a million more trains a year will be given the green light to run without a guard. That figure will rise even higher if the extension of driver only trains on Greater Anglia takes place, the union warns. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “These shocking new figures show the reality of the rail bossed plans for driver only trains… The government and the train companies should be hanging their heads in shame that their real plans have now been rumbled and they must be forced to halt and reverse the dash to Driver Only Operation on our railways."
A civil engineering company working at the Sellafield nuclear site could face industrial action after firing a shop steward who raised serious safety concerns. DSD Construction, based in Carlisle, is undertaking work to enhance security at the nuclear reprocessing site at Sellafield. The work includes improving fencing at the complex. The dispute arose after Unite’s newly elected shop steward, James Bainbridge, was sacked by DSD just 26 days after being elected to the position. Unite says that within 24 hours of his election the shop steward had been victimised by the company, as he was told to relocate to the Carlisle depot which is 40 miles away from the rest of the workforce. When he was reinstated to the Sellafield site, he held a meeting with the workforce and submitted a written grievance on their behalf to DSD management. The grievance concerned issues including working in the rain, provision of sufficient uniforms and inadequate and substandard personal protective equipment. James Bainbridge was again relocated and Unite says meetings seeking to resolve the situation were cancelled repeatedly at short notice and without good reason. Mr Bainbridge was then sacked at a meeting on 22 November 2017, without the company adhering to any form of disciplinary procedure. Unite regional officer Ryan Armstrong said: “Unite’s members are furious with the way that their shop steward has been treated, for simply trying to undertake his normal trade union duties. Our members at DSD have genuine concerns about pay and safety issues. Rather than address these issues, the company’s management has instead decided to victimise then sack the union’s steward.” The union said if strike action goes ahead it is likely to cause widespread disruption to the entire Sellafield complex. “This dispute is of DSD’s making and the solution is in its hands. DSD needs to immediately reinstate our shop steward and to deal with the genuine concerns of the workforce,” said the union regional officer.
Postal union CWU has questioned whether the police and the courts are ‘going soft on dog attack crimes’ after a succession of offenders faced no or little penalty after their dogs savaged postal workers. Liverpool postman Steve Kelly lost a finger after being bitten through the letter box while delivering mail in February, as did Gavin Murrell, in Ipswich a couple of months later. Cornwall postwoman Claire Stayner was seriously injured in Newquay, and Sharron Singer was mauled by two dogs while on duty in Boston, Lincolnshire in July. “But in each of these cases, the dogs remained with the owners and either a lenient sentence or no sentence at all was passed,” CWU head of safety Dave Joyce said. “In none of these cases was there any sanction as to future dog ownership.” He added: “Of course every case before the courts is different and it would be wrong to single just one instance, but this is now starting to look like a developing trend – it’s very worrying and it makes me wonder if the law is going soft on dog attacks suddenly at a time when attacks, including fatalities, are on the increase. It’s good to win compensation payments for our members and it’s also good that we now have the law on our side in regard to attacks that take place on private property – but our concern is that if lenient sentencing of owners becomes the norm, then a body of case law could build up that might make more police forces reluctant to institute proceedings. That’s why we’re determined to pursue case reviews and to keep the pressure on the relevant authorities to reconsider lenient sentences – there must be a clear deterrent in order to improve the behaviour of this small minority of irresponsible owners.”
British pilots’ union BALPA has called for a full review into medical restrictions for pilots, describing the current limitations as ‘outdated’. The union was speaking out after it was revealed in December 2017 that an aspiring pilot had been denied a job because of his HIV status. BALPA says similar restrictions are in place for a ‘vast range’ of other conditions. The rules apply to those entering the profession, whereas those who develop the condition after getting a medical certificate or their licence are allowed to continue their career – something which the union says is ‘nonsensical’. BALPA head of flight safety, Dr Rob Hunter, said: “Pilots who develop conditions such as HIV after getting their medical certificate or licence are deemed fit to fly, but those with a pre-existing condition cannot get one. Essentially there is no difference in the prospective safety risk between a person that develops a condition on the day before licence issue and a person that develops that condition on the day after. This shows that this is a nonsensical approach – these conditions cannot pose an unacceptable flight safety risk one day, but not the next, and, in any case, in our view, do not at all.” He added: “We understand much more about how these conditions can be managed since the rules were written and we’d like to see EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency), who enforce these restrictions, undertake a thorough review. The only thing that should matter in becoming a pilot is ability to fly, and medicine has come so far in recent years that conditions such as HIV are extremely manageable, and those affected – as long as treated properly – can lead long and healthy lives. It is not medical science which is restricting these potential pilots from getting the job they dream of, but rather bureaucratic inertia. The current rules are outdated and we support the CAA’s (Civil Aviation Authority) calls to bring the restrictions in line with current medical understanding.”
A 21 December 2017 statement by leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom on progress by the working group on bullying and harassment in parliament reveals not enough progress has been made, unions have said. The statement commits parliament to a new independent complaints and grievance procedure. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet welcomed this commitment, but added: “The union wants the working group to reconvene again as soon as possible in the new year in order to ensure that parliamentarians make swift progress on promises made about implementing the new proposals. Health and safety at work is a legal and moral right. Parliament cannot operate outside of these principles. Implementing robust procedures is only the first step in attempting to change the endemic bullying and harassment culture that has existed, further work must remain a top priority in order to tackle the problems coherently and effectively.” Unite said the Leadsom statement exposed the limited progress by the bullying and harassment working group. Measures introduced so far include temporary establishment of qualified sexual harassment support and guidance services, establishment of a helpline for staff to seek support if they are experiencing bullying or harassment, the creation of a cross parliamentary human resources function accessible to staff, and new training for MPs and staff. Unite, which represents hundreds of MPs’ staff employed in both parliament and constituency offices, believes that the reforms “are nowhere near sufficient in terms of establishing a dignity at work strategy and end the culture of bullying and sexual harassment which has been found to be rife.” Unite says formal union recognition is necessary, and “would give its lay activists legal protections to work on behalf of and represent members in complaints procedures, secure participation in negotiations concerning bullying and harassment and guarantee both facility time and a space in order to speak to members with appropriate confidentiality.”
There has been a sharp rise in the number of work-related stress compensation cases among teaching staff in Scotland, the union EIS has said. Last year the union secured over £450,000 in compensation settlements for members injured at work over the past year, many for slip and trip injuries. But EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the union had “observed an alarming rise in the number of cases of work-related stress illness and injury claims over the past few years. Factors such as budget cuts, and the declining number of teaching and support staff have had a significant impact on the workload demands placed on teachers and lecturers. Yet those in the charge of the management of the education system simply demand more output from less resource.” He added that the problem was “compounded by the fact that many teachers return to work when they clearly should still be off sick, either from fear of being disciplined because they will hit a sickness absence management trigger or more often to ensure that pupils are not losing out. This increases the incidence of work-related stress injury, which can be absolutely debilitating for the individuals concerned.” The union leader raised concerns about possible changes to health and safety legislation in the near future as a result of Brexit. “Many of the valuable workplace protections that we enjoy today are the result of EU legislation. It is encouraging that the number of instances where teachers have been injured at work has decreased in the last year. This is testament to current health and safety regulations which must be retained following the UK’s departure from the European Union.”
An art lecturer driven to the verge of a breakdown by a succession of maddening management decisions has thanked her union UCU after she was ‘vindicated’ in court. Kate Rawnsley was bullied, shunted between successively worse classrooms, and then found her desk had been dumped in a skip. But things reached crisis point after her ‘cry for help’ emails to the college dean went ignored. Criticising the ‘callous’ managers for ignoring her emails, the trial judge noted “it was harder to think of a clearer notification of an impending risk to mental health not drafted by a lawyer or a psychiatrist.” The judge observed the failure to act was a “remarkably cavalier response to clear signposts.” He found that the college dean “believed that she was crying wolf” to get her way. Kate was awarded £159,000 in damages (Risks 824). “It was those two emails, without them I didn’t have a case,” she said. “I went through the wringer. I couldn’t sleep, I still have problems. I became suicidal at times. I cried at work a lot. I’d worked so hard and been treated so badly. I was terrified of going to work. Terrified of my managers. I didn’t know what they were going to do next. I was on antidepressants until a month after I won the case. I still struggle, but I feel vindicated. I am glad it went to court. I feel believed.” Kate is “very grateful to UCU. They’ve been so supportive. Everyone should be a member of a union. You’ve no idea what is around the corner, and you need that assurance. You insure your car, your house. You should insure your work life.”
Ÿ Unravelling: UCU helps vindicate stressed-out college lecturer, Hazards, number 140, December 2017.
West Midlands Police has ended its investigation into the deaths of five workers at a Birmingham metal recycling plant (Risks 759). The move takes the possibility of manslaughter charges off the table. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it has now ‘assumed primacy’ in the investigation into the 7 July 2016 tragedy, and will investigate whether there were criminal breaches of health and safety law. The men - four from Gambia and one from Senegal - died at the Hawkeswood Metal recycling plant in the Nechells part of the city when they were buried under a collapsing wall (Risks 761). Geoffrey Brown, the HSE principal inspector leading the investigation, said: “This remains a criminal investigation into the five deaths. We will be considering whether there were any breaches of health and safety law relevant to the circumstances of this tragic event. HSE’s thoughts remain with the families of those who lost loved ones that day. We will of course keep the families updated as our investigation continues.”
There should be a public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal and there should be criminal sanctions on employers operating blacklists, a new report has recommended. The report from the independent think tank the Institute of Employment Rights comes eight years after the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) found evidence that thousands of workers had been locked out of employment in the construction industry for highlighting dangerous working practices or being a member of a trade union. Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group and co-author of the report, said: “Before the 2009 ICO raid that finally proved us right, we were labelled conspiracy theorists, and even after we had the evidence it was an uphill struggle to be heard in court. Even for those who eventually received compensation, money alone is not justice. Blacklisted workers spent years of their lives struggling to make ends meet, with many reporting to me that the strain stretched beyond finances, to their families and relationships, their mental health, their social lives.” He added: “What blacklisted workers most want to see is the individuals responsible for their suffering to be held to account. We want a full public inquiry to investigate the truth behind what happened, and we want a change in the law to prevent other workers from going through what we have.” The publication concludes with a Manifesto Against Blacklisting drafted by employment law expert Alex Just. It makes several recommendations for changes in the law, including criminal sanctions for employers that blacklist workers, personal criminal liability for staff who knowingly blacklist and a 10-year ban on holding a directorship for any person found guilty of blacklisting. Alex Just said: “A thorough examination of the obstacles faced by blacklisted workers over the last eight years has revealed several key factors that we recommend are reviewed and changed in order to prevent another years-long scandal being dragged through the courts in the future. The law must provide justice to those workers who have lost years of their lives, and it must act as a deterrent to the secret continuation of blacklisting by holding those responsible to account."
The owners of a farm have been ordered to pay almost £100,000 after a scrap metal collector was electrocuted when his crane hit overhead power lines. Edward Evans, 52, was killed as he attempted to collect broken lightweight metal cages by prior arrangement, from Holme Farm in Ince on 17 January 2015. Despite the electricity cables being marked with a yellow warning sign, the strong, low sun and the fact Edward Evans, known as 'Pudgie’, had a sensitivity to bright light meant he was unable to see the signs. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the scrap metal had been left under live 11kz overhead power lines (OHPLs) and Liverpool Crown Court heard that the tragedy could have been prevented if the farm had acted to identify the risks involved with overhead power lines on their land. The court heard Mr Evans and his friend Thomas Harker had driven the crane over to where the scrap was, parked up under the overhead power lines and exited the vehicle. Whilst operating the crane to pick up and move the scrap metal, the grab touched the lines and got tangled in them, electrocuting Mr Evans. Mr Harker ran around the truck and tried to rescue his friend but in doing so, received a shock himself. When paramedics arrived, they tried to resuscitate Mr Evans but he was later pronounced dead at the Countess of Chester Hospital. JH Willis & Sons pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £85,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £11,823.50. HSE inspector Jane Carroll commented: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented if the farm partnership had acted to identify and manage the risks involved with overhead power lines on their land, and to put a safe system of work in place.”
Two companies that admitted criminal health and safety breaches following the death of a Suffolk road worker have been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling nearly £2 million. Sentencing Kier Integrated Services and Ipswich-based Sean Hegarty Ltd, Judge Martyn Levett said the death of 34-year-old Aidan Gallagher in 2014 was “avoidable”. Ipswich Crown Court heard that Mr Gallagher had been working in a gap between a tipper truck and a road planing vehicle when one of the drivers checked his mirrors and saw him lying on the ground. Mr Gallagher was taken to hospital but died from his injuries. Although there were no witnesses to the incident, Judge Levett said he had come to the “overwhelming” conclusion that the father-of-three was run over by the reversing tipper truck. During the hearing, prosecution counsel Andrew Marshall said an investigation had identified failures by Kier Integrated Services and Sean Hegarty Ltd in relation to proper planning of the works and a safe system of work. He said the accident, which happened on the B1063 near Newmarket on 13 May 2014, could have been avoided if the road had been closed during the roadworks but this would have meant a 30-mile diversion for road users. He said there was no safety zone between passing traffic and the road workers and the 60mph speed limit hadn’t been reduced. “Workers had to work in the closed part of the road right next to and without protection from cars and lorries going past at speed,” he said. Sean Hegarty Ltd and Kier Integrated Services Ltd admitted criminal health and safety breaches. Kier Integrated Services Ltd was fined £1.8m and Sean Hegarty Ltd £75,000. They were each ordered to pay £12,400 costs.
The train drivers union, ASLEF are advertising for a new Health and Safety Advisor. They need someone with experience of health and safety work but a knowledge of issues relating to the railway industry would be also desirable. Training can be given if required. You can get further information from the ASLEF website. The closing date for applications is 29th January.
Ÿ Job details.
After a decades-long battle for compensation, the voices of ailing General Electric workers are finally being heard. Early indications are that around two-thirds of the previously denied occupational disease claims made by former employees at the GE plant in Peterborough, Ontario - one of Canada’s oldest industrial operations – are being overturned. The reversals are part of an ongoing review by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), which committed to re-open 250 rejected claims for a range of devastating illnesses, following a Toronto Star investigation into hazardous working conditions at the Peterborough factory. Of the 47 files reviewed to date, the WSIB has now approved 30. Earlier this year, health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo published a comprehensive report which found that GE Peterborough workers were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals in their workplace between 1945 and 2000, at levels hundreds of times higher than what is now considered safe (Risks 801). WSIB spokesperson Christine Arnott said the board’s review is considering “new information or evidence that was not available when an original claim decision was made,” including the DeMatteo report. “We want to make sure our decisions reflect the best available scientific evidence and current knowledge of historical exposures,” she said. A significant part of the evidence that originally weighed against the 660 claims made by GE Peterborough workers between 2004 and 2016 was a health study conducted by General Electric in 2003. That study, which was later submitted to the WSIB, claimed there were no excess cancer rates at the GE factory when controlling for factors like age and smoking. Around half of workers’ claims were subsequently denied, abandoned or withdrawn. Earlier this year, GE workers’ union Unifor commissioned its own expert review of the GE study, which found it was of “mediocre quality” and “too poorly conducted to instill any faith in its results.” It also pointed to flaws in the methodology that may have misrepresented the exposure risks workers faced on the job.
As the first phase of Sri Lanka’s chrysotile asbestos ban was about to take effect, top chrysotile exporter Russia blocked Sri Lankan tea imports to the country, leading international trade unions and health campaigners to condemn the ‘economic blackmail’. On 18 December 2017, Russia abruptly halted imports of tea from Sri Lanka, a serious blow to the Sri Lankan economy. Just two days later the Sri Lankan government announced its decision to defer banning asbestos imports from Russia. Sri Lanka had previously announced a phasing out of asbestos starting 1 January 2018, with a full ban planned by 2024. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said: “Imposing chrysotile asbestos on an unwilling nation is not fair trade, it is culpable homicide. Unions worldwide abhor this cynical economic blackmail. Russia must not and will not be allowed to blow a hole in fair trade rules.” The National Trade Union Federation of Sri Lanka (NTUF) has urged the country’s government to return to the ban timetable and not bow to Russian pressure. “Being a big country, Russia has resorted to arm twisting its weaker trade partner. It is unfortunate that the Sri Lankan government has to give in to these pressure tactics and accept hazardous material from Russia,” said NTUF secretary general Padmasiri Ranawakaarachchi. Kate Lee, executive director of union aid organisation APHEDA said: “We are dismayed that such blatant economic blackmail will mean more asbestos related deaths in Sri Lanka in coming years that would not have occurred had the phase out occurred in January as scheduled.” She added: “Already estimates from global scientists suggest hundreds of deaths from exposure to chrysotile asbestos in Sri Lanka in 2016 alone. With recent high consumption of asbestos and the increased exposure of the population this is certain to rise sharply in coming decades.”
An industry challenge to a new occupational silica rule has been rejected in its entirety by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals, in what unions have described as a huge victory. However, a spokesperson for the business lobby group the US Chamber of Commerce said it is reviewing the decision, “but we continue to believe that [federal safety regulator] OSHA lacks substantial evidence to support its rule.” In the United States, more than 2 million workers currently are exposed to some level of silica. In 2016, OSHA published a final rule regulating workplace exposure to the dust, which can cause lung disease, cancer and other chronic health conditions. The court, in its decision, noted that petitions to review the silica rule came from both industry and unions. “A collection of industry petitioners believes OSHA impermissibly made the rule too stringent and several union petitioners believe OSHA improperly failed to make the rule stringent enough.” The industry lobby had challenged the need for the new standard, whether it was technologically and economically feasible in some industries and its requirements for confidentiality in related medical tests. “We reject all of industry’s challenges,” wrote judges Merrick Garland, Karen Henderson and David Tatel. Richard Trumka, president of the US national union federation AFL-CIO, said the court ruling was a ‘huge victory’ for working people. “This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives,” he said in a statement. “The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations. The labour movement worked for decades to win these lifesaving measures, and we are proud to see these standards remain the law of the land.” He added: “Now we must turn our efforts to making sure this standard is put into full effect, enforced and protected from further attacks so that workers are finally protected from deadly silica dust.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox