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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.




Legal challenge against ‘strike-breaking’ law

Eleven trade unions, coordinated by the TUC have begun legal proceedings to protect the right to strike. The unions – ASLEF, BFAWU, FDA, GMB, NEU, NUJ, POA, PCS, RMT, Unite and Usdaw – have taken the case against the government’s new regulations which allow agency workers to fill in for striking workers and break strikes. TUC affiliated unions UNISON and NASUWT are also launching separate individual legal cases against the government’s agency worker regulations. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. But the government is attacking it in broad daylight.” She added: “Ministers failed to consult with unions, as the law requires. And restricting the freedom to strike is a breach of international law. That’s why unions are coming together to challenge this change in the courts.” The TUC has also made a complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
TUC news release and submission to ILO committee of experts, September 2022. Thompsons Solicitors news release. BFAWU news release. NASUWT news release. UNISON news release. Usdaw news release. The Guardian and related story.

TUC warning on dangerously lax labour laws

The TUC has warned the government that another P&O style scandal is on the cards, unless ministers deliver stronger protections for workers. The warning came on 17 September, the six-month anniversary of the P&O scandal, which saw 800 seafarers illegally sacked without notice and consultation. The mass sacking is widely regarded as a nadir for the treatment of workers in recent years. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone deserves respect and dignity at work. But there are too many bad bosses in this country who treat their staff appallingly – and get away with it because of our lax labour laws.” She added: “Now is the time for government action on workers’ rights. Rogue employers need to know they can’t get away with treating staff like disposable labour. Let’s be clear. Without stronger protections for workers, another P&O style scandal is on the cards.”
Nautilus news release. Morning Star. LabourList. More on the hazards of insecure work.

Furlough had ‘damaging’ impact on UK pilots

Flight safety and the performance of pilots could have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 furlough, research supported by the UK pilots’ union BALPA has found. The study carried out by Dr Simon Bennett, director of Leicester University’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, with the assistance of the BALPA, found that many felt their performance on return to work post-furlough was not satisfactory, and that morale across the industry had been impacted by inadequate government and employer actions. BALPA head of flight safety, Joji Waites, said: “It is clear that periods of inactivity and being away from the flight deck have a detrimental effect on pilot performance and we need stakeholders across the industry to really understand this and ensure that flight safety is always a number one priority.”

BALPA news release, full study and summary.


Milk disruption continues over bad Muller rotas

HGV drivers and shunters at Mullers’ Stonehouse factory in Gloucestershire are taking further strike action over imposed rota changes they say are detrimental to their quality of life. The change to a five days on, two days off rota system contravenes an agreement with Unite signed by the company earlier this year. Nearly 70 staff, responsible for delivering milk and other dairy products to M&S and Waitrose nationwide, had already taken nine days of strike action since 25 August. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Muller’s knows very well that the new rotas will negatively impact our members’ quality of life because it recently signed a deal with Unite ruling such changes out. So, Muller should step back from breaking that agreement. Our members have Unite’s full backing in the stand they are taking.”
Unite news release.

Union concern at trade show harassment claims

Stage and screen technical union Bectu has said it is dismayed at reports of sexual harassment and bullying at the Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA) Show. Commenting after this year’s PLASA Show, held at Olympia London from 4-6 September, the union said “bullying and harassment is unacceptable in all its forms and Bectu will always work to stamp out this sort of behaviour, which has no place in our industry.” It added that it was “essential that PLASA Show and all industry events are safe spaces for our members and all creative workers. The mental toll sexual harassment and bullying has on its victims is devastating and it is critical that reports are properly investigated, victims supported and perpetrators held to account. We stand with the victims and call on PLASA Show to investigate these allegations.”
Bectu news release.

Cornwall to cut vital fire service control operation

The firefighters’ union FBU has said Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service should be ‘utterly ashamed’ at plans to scrap its entire control operation on money-saving grounds. The provision by firefighter control staff, who handle calls from the public, provide safety guidance and deploy resources during incidents, is set to end in April 2023. Instead, the calls would be handled by other emergency service control operations, but FBU said this has not been costed despite the move being mooted on money-saving grounds. Guy Herrington, FBU South West regional secretary, said: “Cornwall Council should be utterly ashamed of themselves for refusing to invest in a critical part of the service that ensure the safety of the public and firefighters, when they hold many millions of pounds in reserve.”
FBU news release.

Payout for road injuries on the way to work

A school administrator who was seriously injured when she was hit by a car on her way to work, has been compensated with the help of her union. UNISON member Michelle Miller, 49, was on her way to Kingsmead Primary School in Hackney, London, when she sustained multiple life-changing injuries – both physical and psychological – as a result being hit by a car being driven on the wrong side of road. The drive was subsequently convicted of dangerous driving. Lawyers brought in by UNISON to act in a compensation case secured a payout of over £287,000.
Thompsons Solicitors news release.


Compensation doubt for NHS Covid deaths

The government payouts for families of NHS workers who died in the pandemic are to end. More than 700 bereaved families have so far received a £60,000 compensation payment following the death of a health or care worker from Covid-19. However, the Nursing Standard reports there are fears others could be left struggling following the closure of life assurance schemes across the UK. Dependents of nurses and other health and care workers who died from Covid-19 were able to claim the one-off lump sum under separate life assurance schemes in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the schemes have now closed, with just a one-year window for bereaved families to make claims. Death in service benefits are not affected.
Nursing Standard.

Firefighters warn 100-hour weeks are ‘gamble with safety’

Firefighters are taking second jobs and working up to 100 hours a week to make ends meet, leading to growing concerns that an increasingly exhausted workforce is resulting in a “gamble with public safety”. Firefighters across the country told the Observer that the service was at “breaking point” with more crew than ever being forced to take jobs such as personal trainers, painters and decorators or in warehouses. Wages in the fire service are often about £30,000 but can be as low as £23,000. Firefighters are being balloted by their union the FBU for what would be its first strike in nearly a decade.
FBU news release. The Observer. More on the hazards of low pay.

Firm fined £200,000 after machine cleaning injury

A company specialising in the manufacture of stabilisers and additives used in plastic products has been fined £200,000 after an employee suffered serious hand injuries while cleaning machinery. The employee of Mexichem Specialty Compounds Limited was cleaning the manufacturing line at the site in Chinley, Derbyshire on 21 February 2019 when he was injured. He was attempting to clean a rotary valve, standing with one foot on the machinery framework and the other on a ladder, when he slipped. As he tried to steady himself, his right hand went into the unguarded rotary valve resulting in a severed fingertip and lacerations to his hand. Mexichem Specialty Compounds Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £200,000 plus £7,846.78 costs at Derby Magistrates Court.
HSE news release.

Bosses failed to control risks from vibration

Two partners in a construction firm have been fined for failing to adequately control the risk to its employees from exposure to vibration. Workers at Roywood Contractors were required to use vibrating tools without adequate control on construction sites. As a result, an employee who had been working at the company for 12 years suffered significant ill-health from hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that on or before the 15 January 2020 the company failed to adequately assess the risk to employees from exposure to vibration. Andrew Hatto and Paul Kiff, trading as Roywood Contractors, pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Control of Vibration Regulations 2005 and were each fined £1,150 and ordered to pay costs of £3,500 each.
HSE news release.


Europe: Unions back ban on forced labour goods

A new EU ban on good produced through forced labour is crucial to tackling the rise in the number of victims of modern slavery, Europe-wide trade union body ETUC has said. The European Commission has proposed a prohibition on products found to have been made using forced labour from sale in the EU, whether they are made in the EU or in third countries. The ETUC said it has been a driving force behind the proposal which will see EU member states required to establish and fund authorities tasked with tracking goods suspected of being produced through forced labour. To help detect and eradicate forced labour, the EU should also ensure the huge cuts to labour inspectorates over the last decade are reversed, the ETUC said.
ETUC news release.

France: Authorities link asbestos to more cancers

Some cancers of the larynx and ovaries are linked to exposure to asbestos, French health authorities have confirmed. Laryngeal and ovarian cancers are “under-reported and under-recognised” when they are linked to occupational exposure to this material, reported the National Health Security Agency (Anses). The move clears the way for better compensation for affected individuals, with Anses supporting the addition of both cancers to the list of occupational diseases officially recognised in France. This move would create a ‘presumption’ the cancers are asbestos-related, rather than leaving it to the cancer sufferer to prove their condition is occupational.
France Télévisions.

Turkey: Children sickened is plastics recycling jobs

Children as young as nine are working in plastic waste recycling centres in Turkey, putting them at risk of serious and lifelong health conditions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).  In a new report, HRW accuses the Turkish government of exacerbating the health and environmental impact on the workers by failing to enforce laws that require strict licensing and regular inspections of recycling centres. Krista Shennum, Gruber fellow at HRW and the report’s lead researcher, said: “We call on the UK, the EU and other countries to manage their own waste domestically rather than exporting it to Turkey, where it is causing human health and human rights harms.” HRW interviewed 64 people in the southern Turkish city of Adana and Istanbul, including 26 who now work or have previously worked in plastic recycling facilities, found a third had either begun the work as children or were children when interviewed.
HRW news release and report, “It’s As If They’re Poisoning Us”. The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling in Turkey, 21 September 2022. The Guardian.

USA: Three fam deaths, but regulators are powerless

The deaths of three people killed after being trapped in a grain silo in Pennsylvania will not be investigated because they died on a family farm. Andrew Beiler, 47, and his two sons - a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old whose names were not released - died of asphyxiation from “silo gas.” One son was overcome by fumes, and his father and sibling attempted a rescue. All three were asphyxiated. There will be no official labour department investigation, because family members are excluded from Wage and Hour regulations and the safety regulator OSHA is not allowed to enforce safety standards on farms with 10 or fewer employees, or even set foot on the premises. “In other words, on farms, parents are allowed to kill their children, as long as it’s done in a work context,” said Jordan Barab, a former deputy director of OSHA.
Confined Space blog.

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