Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of RISKS, the TUC’s weekly update on union health and safety news.
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TUC calls on employers to keep staff safe in the heatwave
Firefighter shortage warning as wildfires threaten
‘Frightening’ drop in site safety inspections exposed
Rail unions announce Network Rail strike dates
Safety concerns as P&O again found lacking
Devonport security guards in safety strike vote
Better conditions key to solving crisis in social care
Film and TV firms urged to join wellbeing pilot
Comedian safety is no laughing matter
VXF artists speak out against Marvel
TV drama highlights NHS work suicide risks
Future PM must end ‘national shame’ of asbestos deaths
Mining firm fined £3.6m after electricians sustain burns
Site boss fined for refusing entry to HSE inspectors
India: Garment workers hospitalised after gas leak
Iran: UN’s ‘grave concern’ over harassment of journalists
New Zealand: Union concern over seasonal worker abuse
South Africa: Mineworkers discuss safety strategies
With Britain facing a fresh heatwave, the TUC has repeated its call on employers to make sure their staff are protected from the sun and heat. The union body is calling on government to improve protections for workers by bringing in rules on maximum working temperatures. It warns working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness or death. Outdoor workers are three times more likely to develop skin cancer. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Indoor workplaces should be kept cool, with relaxed dress codes and flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day. And employers must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.”
TUC digital guidebook, Too hot, too cold digital guidebook.
Firefighters’ union FBU has warned that the fire service continues to be understaffed and needs huge investment, as another heatwave looms and with it the risk of wildfires. It said the last heatwave, in July, saw firefighters fighting wildfires across the country, including in Wennington, East London, where two rows of terraced houses were destroyed. Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “Just over a fortnight ago firefighters had to deal with many serious wildfires across much of the country. Several firefighters were injured and many people lost their homes.” He added: “Understaffing has been so bad that throughout the last period of wildfires nearly all fire and rescue services in the most severely affected areas had to call up off-duty firefighters and ask them to perform extra shifts. If we are to properly protect life and property from wildfires the fire service urgently needs huge investment."
FBU news release.
There has been a shocking and frightening decline in vital unannounced construction inspections being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), research by Unite has revealed. The union’s Freedom of Information (FOI) requests discovered that inspections have declined by 31 per cent in less than a decade. In 2013/14 the HSE undertook 11,303 proactive (unannounced) construction inspections but the figures for 2021/22 - the last full year - reveals that just 7,793 inspections took place. Unite’s research has also revealed a huge decline in the number of HSE enforcement notices - issued to employers to ensure that safety improvements are made - following an inspection. These have declined by 51 per cent from 2,293 in 2013/14 to just 1,119 in 2021/22. Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter said: “The HSE must explain and justify the sharp decline in construction inspections. For too many employers it is only the fear of being caught which ensures they follow safety laws.”
Unite news release.
Members of the unions Unite, RMT and TSSA working for Network Rail (NR) on essential track work will take strike action on 18 August and 20 August in a dispute over pay, job security and working conditions.
TSSA news release.
Nearly 20 deficiencies have been found onboard another P&O Ferries vessel, raising concerns from maritime unions about the safety of the travelling public. More than half the 17 deficiencies were identified on the Cyprus-flagged Spirit of France, relating to safety failures with fire doors and fire extinguishers and an invalid safety management certificate. Labour conditions were also deficient on the vessel with crew contracts improperly filed and some seafarer’s medical fitness ‘not as required’. Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) inspectors surveyed the vessel over two days on 1 and 2 August. Seafarers’ unions Nautilus and RMT had jointly flagged safety concerns on Spirit of France to MCA in July.
Nautilus news release.
PCS members working at the Devonport naval base are balloting for strike action over Covid-safe working conditions. The security guards and supervisors employed by MOD Guards Service are concerned about having to physically touch visitors’ passes every time they enter or leave the site - a so-called Touch Pass Protocol (TPP) that was dropped for safety reasons in March 2020. PCS says the ballot is a direct result of the employer not negotiating or consulting with the union about health and safety and working practices. The union added it remains concerned about the immediate risk of Covid-19 infections to members and others on the base, further risk of biological, viral and bacterial infection to the general population and a lack of health and safety monitoring, consultation, and engagement with employees, as required by law and industrial relations at Devonport. The ballot runs until 17 August.
PCS news release.
Low wages and inadequate sick pay are to blame for thousands of care workers quitting, Unison has warned. Unison head of business and community Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “The urgent priority must be a proper pay rise across the entire care sector. Low wages and inadequate sick pay explain why thousands of staff are quitting for better paid jobs elsewhere.” She added: “The government also needs to ban profiteering, bring in proper regulation, and create a national care service. This would help improve staffing levels and the quality and availability of care, lessening the pressure on an overwhelmed NHS.”
UNISON news release.
Creative industries union Bectu is urging film and TV production companies in Wales to place a freelance ‘wellbeing facilitator’ on their productions, as part of a new union managed pilot that seeks to combat poor mental health in the industry. The pilot programme is a partnership between Bectu, through its joint union learning programme CULT Cymru, and mental health and wellbeing specialists 6ft from the Spotlight. An Advisory Group that includes Bectu and sister union Equity, broadcasters, independent production companies, Creative Wales, Ffilm Cymru and Cardiff University has been established to drive forward the pilot. Bectu said it hopes that recruiting wellbeing facilitators to productions will be an important step towards a more inclusive screen sector, that supports the mental welfare of its workers.
Bectu news release.
The performing arts and entertainment trade union Equity has launched a ‘comedian’s charter’ in an effort to ensure good working practices and the safety of performers. Developed by the union’s comedians’ network, the measures included in the charter “will ensure pay transparency, a safe working environment, late-night safety, and anti-harassment and discrimination policies”, according to Equity. Speaking about the charter, which was launched at the Edinburgh fringe festival, Equity’s organiser for comedians, Rob Lugg, said: “In the months ahead, we’ll be reaching out to venues and promoters across the country and seeking to work with them to make the charter the industry standard.” He added: “Our members will also need the support of audiences to help us achieve this by making sure that they only attend comedy gigs that carry the comedians’ charter mark once it is rolled out.”
Equity news release and Comedians’ Charter.
Marvel, the Disney-owned multibillion-dollar franchise, has been accused of placing impossible demands and of bullying its visual effects (VFX) artists. Joe Pavlo, an Emmy award-winning visual effects artist and chair of the animation and visual effects branch of the creative union BECTU, said: “The visual effects industry is filled with terrific people with lots of goodwill who really care but, at the end of the day, there’s nothing in place when their backs are up against the wall and Disney is making crazy demands.” He added: “Disney-Marvel is very famous for wanting multiple versions running parallel so that they can decide what they want. A strong union would be able to reel that in a bit.” Union organising drives are under way at corporate giants such as Amazon and Starbucks, offering a possible blueprint. Pavlo added: “If they can do it, all the bosses and clever people in the visual effects industry can figure out how to do it.”
Suicides among NHS staff are being “brushed under the carpet,” the creator of the hit BBC medical drama This Is Going To Hurt has warned. Former junior doctor Adam Kay was speaking out as he planted the Shruti tribute tree at London’s Ealing Hospital, named after a character in the programme who took her own life. A plaque at the west London site says: “In memory of healthcare professionals who have died by suicide.” Kay joined NHS leaders, charities and bereaved families to plant the first official memorial, after an estimated 300 nurses died by suicide in the seven years to 2017. More than 220 nurses attempted to end their lives during the first year of Covid in 2020, according to the Laura Hyde Foundation, which saw a 550 per cent rise in demand for clinical mental health support from medical staff in 2020. Adam Kay said: "Suicide simply is not spoken about and in my experience, sadly, sometimes even the staff don't know, it's simply brushed under the carpet.”
BBC News Online. ITV News. More on work-related suicide.
The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management (FAAM) have urged upon both candidates for the Tory party leadership – and with it the role of prime minister - to commit to a proper national plan on asbestos. BOHS said the call to end the ‘national shame’ of asbestos deaths follows latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics showing an increase in asbestos deaths, with deaths from asbestos-related mesothelioma and lung cancer in Great Britain still at over 5,000 each year.
BOHS news release.
A mining company has been fined after two electricians suffered severe burns in separate incidents – seven years after the first incident. The owners of Boulby Mine in Saltburn-by-the-Sea were fined £3.6 million and ordered to pay costs of £185,000 after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Cleveland Potash Limited (CPL) own the mine, which extracts organic fertiliser known as Polyhalite. The HSE found deficiencies from the owner of the mine in risk assessment, planning of works, and shortfalls in providing warnings about which parts of the electrical systems the two electricians were working on remained live. Cleveland Potash Limited (CPL) pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence.
HSE news release.
A man who was in control of a construction site in Scotland has been fined £1,500 for not allowing two HSE inspectors access to the site to deal with unsafe work activity. In 2021 multiple concerns about unsafe work at a construction site in Irvine had been sent to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). On 16 March 2021, two HSE inspectors attended the construction site and observed unsafe work at height taking place on a steel structure. The inspectors tried to gain entry to the site, but the gates were locked. They spoke to the person in control of the site, Baldev Singh Basra, but he refused to unlock the gates and let them in. Despite explaining the powers to enter a premise given to HSE inspectors as part of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Mr Singh Basra still refused entry to the site. After officers from Police Scotland attended and gained entry to the site, the HSE inspectors were able to take enforcement action to stop the unsafe work.
HSE news release.
A total of 121 workers at a Brandix India Apparel City garment manufacturing unit in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Atchutapuram, were hospitalised this month after inhaling poisonous gas. On 2 August, the women workers at the Seeds Intimate Apparel India PvT Limited garment factory complained of difficulties in breathing, suffocation, nausea, coughing and headaches while some of them also fainted before they were hospitalised. This is not the first poisoning incident. A similar incident occurred in this factory on 3 June. Global union IndustriALL said no action was taken by Brandix to prevent a recurrence. Most of the women are contract workers who make up the majority of the workforce in SEZs. IndustriALL warns that since trade union recruitment and organising in SEZs is restricted, it becomes difficult for workers to speak out against plant owners’ negligence that is threatening their health and safety.
INdustriALL news release. Times of India.
The United Nations (UN) has raised its ‘grave concern” over the harassment of BBC Persian Service journalists and has requested an explanation from the Iranian government. The UN communication came after the BBC filed an urgent appeal to the UN in February 2022 about the online violence and gendered attacks faced by women journalists, as well as increased financial pressure from an ongoing asset freeze, which operates as a blunt financial sanction against BBC News Persian journalists and their extended families. The UN experts expressed their “grave concern over the continuation of reported harassment and intimidation of the BBC News Persian staff and their family members, which appears to be aimed at preventing them from continuing their journalistic activities with BBC News Persian”. They also warned Iran that they intend to raise public concern about the treatment of BBC News Persian staff, stating “the wider public should be alerted” to Iran’s conduct towards journalists.
UN communication to Iran. NUJ news release.
Revelations that seasonal migrant workers are being exploited, forced to live in cold, damp homes and are being threatened against joining unions, must prompt urgent action from the New Zealand government, the Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) has demanded. “We are simply appalled at reports that Pacific workers have been forced to live in crowded, unhealthy homes in the middle of winter and face other restrictions which amount to a breach of human rights,” said NZCTU president Richard Wagstaff. The revelations follow an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo. The workers are in New Zealand under a Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme. “We need to do more to ensure workers who come to our country in good faith to support their families are treated fairly,” said Richard Wagstaff.
NZCTU news release.
South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) national health and safety committee met on 4 August in Johannesburg to discuss the impact of the union’s health and safety campaigns and training programmes in the mining, energy, construction, and metals’ industries. Masibulele Naki, the NUM national secretary for health and safety, said: “Despite the challenges, we are joyful in that the fatalities related to the fall of ground are getting less. This makes us confident that achieving zero harm and zero fatalities is possible. We continue with our campaigns and training on health and safety and so far, we have trained 500 workers, in addition to the regular training that we provide to the health and safety shop stewards.” Glen Mpufane, director for mining and occupational health and safety lead at the global union federation IndustriALL, told the meeting: “The NUM must not lose sight of the gains it has made in making South African mines safer for mineworkers. The union’s success stories are a global model for the mining industry.”
IndustriALL news release.
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