|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.|
Transport unions have welcomed measures to tackle the sale of unsafe laser pointers, including new safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country. The government has pledged additional support to local authority ports and borders teams to stop high-powered laser pointers entering the UK. The 8 January announcement came the day before the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill introduced by the Department for Transport (DfT) had its second reading, with the measure set to expand the list of vehicles, beyond just planes, which it is an offence to target with lasers. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, commented: “Lasers being deliberately and maliciously shone at trains and aircraft has been an issue for us for many years, as well as for others in the transport sector.” He added: “It’s good to see that the government is taking this issue seriously. The DfT recently announced the introduction of tougher laws for those who shine lasers maliciously and tougher restrictions on importation should, we hope, prevent them reaching the hands of those with ill-intentions in the first place. Shining a laser at a train or plane is not just extremely stupid but extremely dangerous. It can cause a crash which could prove fatal to train drivers, pilots, passengers and passers-by too.” Brian Strutton, general secretary of the pilots’ union BALPA, said: “This is more welcome news from the government on lasers and shows that it is taking this important issue seriously… Shining a laser at an aircraft is extremely dangerous and has the potential to cause a crash that could be fatal to not only those on board, but people on the ground too.” Consumer minister Margot James, said: “The government has listened to concerns from pilots, health professionals and safety experts, which is why we are going further than ever before to crack down on the sale of unsafe devices. Public safety is of the utmost importance and we are working to increase the public’s knowledge of the potential dangers associated with these devices and strengthening the penalties for when they are misused.”
A disabled member of PCS working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), dismissed for non-disability related absences, has won her claim of unfair dismissal and discrimination. The member, who had worked for DWP for nearly four years, was awarded £110,165.14 in compensation plus 36 months pension contributions following her dismissal on 5 March 2016. An employment tribunal found that her managers had breached the duty to make reasonable adjustments for her mental and physical health needs. It also found that she was treated unfavourably “because of something arising in consequence of” her disability, without justification. The tribunal found that the loss of her job and before that her treatment by her managers had had a profound effect on her. After a liability judgment in March 2017, she was offered reinstatement by the DWP but with the caveat that she would have to go through an occupational health assessment. She declined the offer and decided she did not want to return to her previous workplace. PCS said that although she had a ‘happy’ relationship with her colleagues, she felt that she would not be able to trust management in the future. In a reserved judgment, an employment judge this month ordered DWP to compensate the PCS member for ‘non pecuniary loss’ and the ‘anger, distress and upset caused by the unlawful treatment she has received.’ The award also includes compensation for her loss of earnings, injury to feelings – including an element of personal injury compensation for psychiatric damage - interest and pension loss.
Low pay, excessive workloads and scrutiny and bureaucracy are behind a huge drop in teacher recruits, teaching union NEU has warned. The number of teacher training applications fell by a third from 19,330 in December 2016 to 12,820 in 2017, according to latest Ucas figures. It represents the fifth year in a row that the government has missed its teacher training targets. The drop comes after tens of thousands of teachers left England’s schools before reaching retirement age last year. The main problem is a high workload caused by over-scrutiny and a “lack of trust” in teachers, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said. “We wish the government would stop using soundbites to manage a very real problem. It is impossible to massage away a drop of nearly a third of applicants and in particular the drop of a third in female applicants. If the government loses female graduates from teaching we will face a huge problem.” He added: “This situation has arisen through a combination of ill-thought out government measures. An unacceptable workload driven by accountability measures that treat all teachers as incompetent, in addition to low graduate pay, are not only driving many out of the profession but are also deterring new graduates from entering teaching.”
Teaching union NEU has warned of an “epidemic of stress” as research revealed that 3,750 teachers in England were signed off on longterm sick leave last year because of pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness. Figures obtained through freedom of information requests show a 5 per cent rise on the year before, revealing that one in 83 teachers spent more than a month off work in 2016/17. Altogether 1.3 million days have been taken off by teachers for stress and mental health reasons in the last four years, including around 312,000 in 2016-17, the figures compiled by the Liberal Democrats show. Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, warned of an “epidemic of stress”. She added: “Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over a week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week. And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system.” Bousted warned that the problem had contributed to a steep decline in teacher training applications, despite expensive advertising campaigns. “You’ve got half a million teachers in England and Wales. Everyone is someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, aunt or friend, and they see the stress,” she said. “So you can’t talk up the profession when people see the reality.” The Liberal Democrats sent a request for data to 152 English councils. Eighty-two responded, while 53 said they did not hold the information and 17 did not reply. This suggests the overall figures are likely to be significantly worse.
Ÿ The Guardian.
The Scottish government is being urged to establish a maximum acceptable temperature in Scotland’s schools. Teaching union EIS says that while workplace regulations set a minimum acceptable temperature - 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees where rigorous physical effort is taking place - there is no equivalent maximum temperature. The union says the Scottish government should set a maximum temperature in schools, in the interest of the health and wellbeing of pupils and staff. The EIS has included this recommendation in its response to a Scottish government consultation on updating the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Too much heat can cause fatigue, tiredness and loss of concentration which can lead to increased accident risks and impaired learning experiences for children and young people. Unfortunately, current Workplace Regulations do not apply to non-employees and, therefore, can only be considered as guidance when considering health and safety concerns in schools. School classrooms are not just accommodation; they are learning environments each requiring their own specific temperatures.” He added: “Essentially, the Workplace Regulations are too vague to be applied meaningfully in school settings.” Currently, there is no national maximum temperature for any workplace. The union leader said: “Schools sometimes send pupils home when the school is too cold – but we also need to be aware of the potential risk of classrooms being too hot for pupils and teachers to work in safely."
Maritime union RMT has written to safety regulators and the cruise ship industry body demanding urgent action on lifeboat safety after a routine training exercise on a Bermuda-registered vessel almost ended in tragedy. Five people were hurt in the incident on the Carnival Cruises vessel MV Arcadia in the Azores on 6 January, one seriously. RMT says this is the latest in a catalogue of serious incidents involving lifeboats – an issue on which the union says it has been campaigning for change and improvements on for a number of years. In a letter to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), RMT is demanding a tighter regulatory regime and improved maintenance to ensure both crew and passenger safety. The letter asks “what the MCA are doing to ensure immediate improvements in the working process of lifeboat drills, what the MCA consider requires changing, when they believe those changes will be introduced and finally what narrative they have in ensuring the safest and best practices are deployed and acted upon accordingly, for lifeboat drills.” The union has also written to both Carnival Cruises and the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) raising similar points. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The incident on Saturday on the Carnival Cruise ship Arcadia in the Azores should serve as a wake-up call to entire cruise industry that we need improvements and changes to the regulatory and maintenance regime and we need them now. RMT will fight with every tool at our disposal to ensure that safety of both crew and passengers is the absolute top priority the length and breadth of the industry.” RMT national secretary Steve Todd said: “RMT has raised the issue of lifeboat safety in the past and after the latest incident we will not be fobbed off with any more delays and excuses. RMT is blowing the whistle on this issue before there is a major tragedy and we expect urgent and decisive action from both the safety regulator and the cruise companies.”
A 16-year-old boy who is alleged to have attacked a shop worker who refused to sell him cigarette papers has been arrested on suspicion of murder. The victim, named as 49-year-old Vijay Patel, was critically injured with one blow on 6 January after refusing to sell the papers to three teenage boys at a north London shop because of their age. After he died from his injuries on 8 January, the Metropolitan Police said a 16-year-old had been arrested on suspicion of murder. DI Ian Lott, who is leading the investigation, said: “We believe this to be an unprovoked spontaneous incident sparked entirely by refusal to let the suspects buy what they wanted. A man has lost his life for no reason other than trying to uphold the law.” The shop’s owner suffered minor injuries when he was punched by the teenagers, who fled from the scene. In November 2017, shopworkers’ union Usdaw called for tougher penalties on those assaulting shopworkers, and highlighted the risks posed when these workers are required to uphold the law. “Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases of products like alcohol, knives and acid, refusing to sell alcohol to drunk customers or detaining shoplifters,” said Usdaw general secretary John Hannett. “Parliament has given shopworkers the duty to enforce the law, so parliament should provide the necessary protection. I have been shocked by the leniency of some of the sentences for assault of workers. Around 265 shopworkers are assaulted every day and it is time to say enough is enough. We must give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”
Attacks on emergency service workers in Scotland have reached a three-year high, according to new official figures. A total of 6,509 common assaults were recorded on police, fire and ambulance workers across Scotland in 2016/17, equivalent to more than 17 per day. The actual number of incidents is likely to be higher, as more serious attacks are not included. The figures were revealed in a letter to Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Liam Kerr. Common assaults on emergency service workers have risen by nearly 100 since 2015/16 when 6,414 were recorded. However, this was a drop on the previous year when 6,480 were recorded. A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Emergency Workers Act includes a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment, a £10,000 fine, or both and we have extended the act to include GPs and doctors, nurses and midwives working in the community. For more serious attacks other offences can be used with maximum penalties all the way up to life imprisonment.” The spokesperson added: “All workers deserve protection from abuse and violence at work. That is why Scotland's justice system provides for protection for all workers under our common laws of assault, threatening and abusive behaviour and breach of the peace.”
Self-cleaning windows, very high strength concrete and thin, lightweight, super-efficient insulation are among the new construction materials using nanotechnology, and could carry significant risks, new research has suggested. Estimates suggest that by 2025 up to half of new building materials might contain nanomaterials. A research team at Loughborough University, sponsored by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), has produced guidance based on their investigation into where these materials are used, how widespread this is, potential risks and how workers in construction and demolition might manage these risks. The researchers set out to discover what is known about the prevalence of nanomaterials in construction, to test possible risks in the lab and to give guidance for manufacturers of nanomaterials or products containing them and people working in construction or demolition. The project was led by Professor Alistair Gibb and Dr Wendy Jones, both from Loughborough University. Dr Jones said: “The team found that nanomaterials are used primarily in surface coatings, concrete, window glass, insulation and steel in different ways and to differing extents. Some nanomaterials, such as certain types of carbon nanotube (CNT), are reported as potentially harmful, but these do not currently seem to be in common usage in the UK.” Vanessa Harwood-Whitcher, IOSH’s Director of Professional Services, said: “It’s vital that industry works together in sharing information about nanomaterials used in products more effectively. Steps such as this will help increase our knowledge and make a real difference in improving occupational safety and health practice.” Unions and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have called for a precautionary approach to the use of nanomaterials, many of which have had little or no scrutiny of the health risks posed to workers.
The emotional impact of their daily workload and confrontational patients are among the key stressors for family doctors in England, a new study has found. The analysis of feedback from general practitioners (GPs), published in the online journal BMJ Open, reveals dysfunctional working relationships and unsupportive or bullying colleagues, combined with the fear of making mistakes, complaints, and inspections, are additional factors compounding this emotional labour effect. The study authors base their findings on in-depth interviews with 47 GPs to gauge their wellbeing and how well they cope with workplace stressors. The interviewees were either depressed/anxious and/or suffering burnout, or returning to work after treatment for mental health issues, or off sick or retired due to illness, or had no mental health issues. Over half, 33, were women. They found many of the reported stressors were interlinked and cumulatively contributed to, or worsened, existing distress. “Providing a safe space for GPs to process the emotional and clinical content of their work and the potential stressors related to the organisational culture (eg bullying in the workplace) and relationships at work (eg collegial conflict) is imperative,” emphasised the authors. The ability to respond appropriately to patients’ suffering without becoming overwhelmed should be taught in GP training as well as in ongoing supervision and support, they suggest.
Ÿ Ruth Riley and others. What are the sources of stress and distress for general practitioners working in England? A qualitative study, BMJ Open, 11 January 2018. doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017361
Research by the BBC has found almost a quarter of staffers working for MPs have been bullied at Westminster, with 1-in-7 of all those responding saying they had suffered at the hands of the MP for whom they worked. The findings came in responses to a questionnaire sent by BBC 5 live to all staff publicly listed as working for MPs in parliament. Some 1,500 questionnaires, guaranteeing anonymity to respondents, were sent out in November. In total, 166 people responded, out of which 39 said they had experienced bullying while working at Westminster. Of these, 24 said they had been bullied by the MP they worked for, seven had been bullied by another MP and eight had been bullied by someone else, a colleague or other person in the House of Commons. Only a third of people who said they had been bullied reported the behaviour. The most common reasons for not reporting it was belief that “it wouldn't make any difference” and “fear of losing my job.” The BBC 5 live research also asked staff employed by members of parliament whether they had experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment while working at Westminster. Three women in their twenties, and one woman in her fifties said they had been victims of sexual assault. All four said they had experienced unwanted touching and three had also experienced unwanted groping. None of the women chose to report the alleged assaults. In response to several well publicised allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying, Theresa May has set up a cross-party committee headed by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom (Risks 831). The prime minister this month updated the ministerial code, which now has provision for ministers to be sacked for bullying, harassment or “inappropriate or discriminating behaviour”. This follows scandals that claimed the scalps of former cabinet members Damian Green and Sir Michael Fallon. The union Unite has said workers in parliament and those working for MPs will only gain effective protection if they are given formal union recognition and representation (Risks 828).
A civil engineering company has been sentenced for criminal safety breaches after father-of-three Darren Richardson suffered fatal crush injuries. Sheffield Crown Court heard that on 5 December 2014 RMB Contractors Ltd was laying a new concrete slab at Ballast Phoenix Ltd in Sheffield. During ground preparation an old cable duct had to be dug out before the concrete could be laid. A 21-tonne tracked excavator was being used to dig out the duct, parked behind it was a stationary dumper truck. As the excavator was working back towards the dumper, Mr Richardson was crushed between the two pieces of plant. The 42-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. RMB Contractors Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £24,482.80 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Medani Close said: “Back-to-back plant activities should be avoided as both pedestrians and vehicles could be put at a higher risk of coming into contact with each other. If the two separate work activities cannot be avoided, then the area should be safeguarded and effectively managed with segregation in place, for example using fencing or barriers to delineate the ‘no go’ areas for pedestrians.”
An engineering company has been fined £8,000 after its criminal safety failings cost a worker his leg. West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court heard how the Puma Engineering and Construction Limited employee was seriously injured when carrying out a lifting operation involving transporting and loading pipe spools onto a flatbed truck. While he was acting as banksman for a forklift truck, the vehicle drove into the back of his left heel. As a result of his injuries, his left leg had to be amputated below the knee. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 16 November 2016, found the company had failed to properly plan, organise and carry out the lifting operation in a safe manner. Puma Engineering and Construction Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and has was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £3,781.04. HSE inspector Andrew Johnson said: “All lifts must be properly planned, assessed and carried out in a safe manner. There were other safer, reasonably practicable options that the company could have taken to prevent the forklift coming into contact with the individual. The safest method in this instance was to use tag lines or push sticks to control the load, as opposed to controlling the load by hand.”
Conservative MP Esther McVey has been named as the new work and pensions secretary in Theresa May’s mini-reshuffle, replacing David Guake. Sarah Newton retains her role in the department as Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work.
A spike in fatal accidents involving trucks in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has prompted the transport union to call for the return of a road safety watchdog. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) said deaths were “out of control” and demanded something be done. A total of 88 people were killed in crashes involving trucks in NSW in the 12 months to September 2017, an increase from 61 deaths in 2016, according to statistics from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. Nearly half of Australia’s truck deaths were in NSW. The TWU said the number of transport workers killed on the job nationally rose from 56 in 2016, to 65 in 2017. The jump contrasts with a drop in workplace deaths overall. TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said transport workers now accounted for 40 per cent of all work-related deaths. He said the federal government had to take responsibility, because in April 2016 it chose to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which was established in 2012 to make trucking safer by establishing pay conditions for drivers. Mr Sheldon said truck drivers were being forced to break the law but the return of a watchdog would stop major companies from forcing transporters to act illegally. “The financial pressure they put on transport operators and drivers through low-cost contracts means trucks are not maintained and there is constant pressure on drivers to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks,” he said. He added that a cross-party Senate committee had unanimously recommended the government facilitate industry talks to establish an independent industry body.
Unions and campaigners have welcomed progress on Canada’s promised asbestos ban. The Canadian federal government had now published a draft law prohibiting the use, sale, import and export of asbestos and products containing the hazardous material. The federal health and environment departments are both sponsoring the proposed changes aimed at eliminating the market for asbestos products in the country. The government now acknowledges that all forms of asbestos fibres, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases. According to the proposed regulations, the government estimates asbestos was responsible for approximately 1,900 lung cancer cases and 430 mesothelioma cases in Canada in 2011. A single case of lung cancer or mesothelioma costs Canada's health system more than $1 million, the government says. “By launching these new, tougher rules to stop the manufacture, import, use and sale of asbestos, we are following through on our promises to protect all Canadians from exposure to this toxic substance,” said environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna. The newly proposed regulations include some exemptions, including an allowance for the cleanup of millions of tonnes of asbestos residue around former mines to make way for redevelopment of the sites. “What we've seen so far, we're quite pleased,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Fe de Leon, a researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), said: “This regulation provides some certainty that asbestos exposure to Canadians and workers will reduce over time starting in 2019. However, the government should take this opportunity to build on its strategy to address potential exposure from legacy asbestos.” Laura Lozanski, occupational health and safety officer with the university union CAUT, noted: “Canada has the momentum to be amongst the global leaders to address exposure from legacy asbestos.” She added: “It would require the collective efforts by key government departments to address very difficult issues including tracking and recording non-federal buildings containing asbestos and those people who have been exposed to asbestos.”
Almost one in two women journalists have suffered sexual harassment, psychological abuse, online trolling and others forms of gender-based violence (GBV) while working. Overall, 85 per cent say no or inadequate action has been taken against perpetrators and most workplaces do not even have a written policy to counter such abuses or provide a mechanism for reporting them. The trend is revealed in survey findings from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The global union’ survey of almost 400 women journalists in 50 countries revealed almost half (48 per cent) had suffered gender-based violence in their work and a similar proportion (44 per cent) had suffered online abuse. Among the most common forms of gender-based violence suffered by women journalists were verbal abuse (63 per cent), psychological abuse (41 per cent), sexual harassment (37 per cent) and economic abuse (21 per cent). Almost 11 per cent had suffered physical violence. Only 26 per cent of workplaces had a policy covering gender based violence and sexual harassment. IFJ gender council co-chair Mindy Ran said: “Women journalists from 50 countries tell the same story – gender-based violence in the world of work is widespread and action to combat it is either non-existent or inadequate in virtually every case. We need urgent action to bring the perpetrators to justice and give confidence to women journalists to report such abuses”. IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “Workplace collective agreements, robust reporting procedures and action against perpetrators are urgently needed to combat the terrible toll of gender-based violence at work. For the IFJ and its unions tackling the violence and abuse suffered by women journalists every day in every continent will be a major priority”.
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