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Risks is the TUC’s weekly Union Health & Safety newsletter for union members, reps and activists. Sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

Union News

RMT marks 21 years since Potters Bar tragedy 

Rail union RMT has marked the 21st anniversary of the Potters Bar rail disaster. On 10 May 2002, a northbound train to Norfolk, derailed at high speed, killing seven and injuring 76 at Potters Bar station. The Health and Safety Executive report released in May 2003 found that the points were poorly maintained and that this was the principal cause of the accident. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Potters Bar could have been avoided if safety had been put ahead of profits.” Calling for a “strong independent regulator”, he added cutbacks risked a repetition of the tragedy. “We need an end to the axing of safety-critical jobs, the shelving of maintenance and renewals work and the downgrading of inspection time. We believe that this is going to be highly unsafe, and it is only a matter of time before we see another Potters Bar tragedy,” he said. 

RMT news release

Rail union slams longer lorries approval 

Train drivers’ union ASLEF has slammed a government decision to approve the use of longer lorries on British roads from 31 May, warning it will be bad for road safety and the environment. Ministers said the lorries, which have been trialled since 2011 and at 18.55m are about 2.05m longer than the standard size, are safe. Stating the government should instead by encouraging greater use of safer and less polluting rail freight, Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, said: “To encourage the use of longer, heavier, lorries will only mean more emissions, more deadly particles in the air that we breathe, and more danger – with the six extra feet, deadly tail swing, and a bigger area at the rear end when the truck is turning – for pedestrians, cyclists, and people in cars. It will mean more accidents, more injuries, and more deaths on our roads.” 

DfT news release. BBC News Online

Other News

Woman killed herself because of work pressures  

A community care officer took her own life after the ‘cumulative pressures of her employment became too great’, an inquest has found. Kasey Browett, 25, was found dead at her home in Spalding on 1 July 2022. Coroner Paul Cooper recorded a verdict of suicide at the conclusion of a May 2023 inquest into the Lincolnshire County Council employee’s death. The Record of Inquest stated: “The deceased died on July 1, 2022, at Chamomile Way, Spalding, when the cumulative pressures of her employment became too great for her and despite extensive medical treatment she was unable to cope and took her own life.” The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) refuses to investigate or record work-related suicides, so they do not appear in work fatality statistics.  

Spalding Today.  
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to tell HSE to investigate and record work-related suicides and suicide risks.  


UK a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ journalists 

LGBTQ+ journalists face a hostile environment in the UK, with most finding themselves the objects of online harassment and abuse, a study has suggested. The research, which was commissioned by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity (LHC), indicated that many saw their roles as dangerous and wanted more support from senior colleagues. The report, ‘Are media organisations adequately protecting LGBTQ journalists from harassment and abuse?’ and based on a survey of 40 LGBTQ+ journalists working in the UK, was overseen by Birmingham City University’s school of media. It found 82 per cent of respondents reported having faced trolling, with 56 per cent facing homophobic harassment. Four in five respondents said they had experienced stress, with almost three in four reporting anxiety, the researchers said. 
The Guardian.   

Majority of NHS trusts poor on harassment prevention 

Only one of 199 NHS trusts in England provides dedicated training to prevent sexual harassment, according to research. The University of Cambridge study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, found that the vast majority of NHS trusts did not provide any dedicated training to prevent sexual harassment. The report analysed data from freedom of information requests from the 199 trusts in England and found that just 35 offered their workers any sort of active bystander training (ABT), while only one NHS trust had a specific module on sexual harassment. Helga Pile, UNISON’s deputy head of health, said: “NHS managers must step up, do more to protect staff and ensure there’s no place for any kind of inappropriate conduct by patients or other health workers.” 

Ava Robertson and Sarah Steele. A cross-sectional survey of English NHS Trusts on their uptake and provision of active bystander training including to address sexual harassment, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, first published online 4 May 2023. The Guardian.  

Firms told to cut the booze at work parties 

Businesses are being urged to limit the amount of alcohol served at work social events iorder to prevent people from acting inappropriately towards others. The warning from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) came as it released a new poll of 1,009 managers, suggesting a third have seen harassment or inappropriate behaviour at parties. CMI chief executive Ann Francke said alcohol “doesn't need to be the main event” at parties. The poll found that almost one in three managers (29 per cent) report that they have witnessed inappropriate behaviour or harassment at work parties. Thirty-three per cent of women surveyed said they had seen this behaviour, compared with 26 per cent of men. Overall, two in five (42 per cent) said work parties should be organised around activities that don't involve alcohol. Younger people, aged between 16 and 34, were most likely to say this. 

BBC News Online.  


Scottish police officers challenge ‘clean-shaven’ policy 

At least four front line police officers are pursuing discrimination claims after Police Scotland announced plans for a “clean-shaven” policy without adequate consultation, according to their professional body. Officers are being told to shave off their beards and moustaches so they can use protective respirators, which are face-fitted and require the wearer to be clean-shaven. The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said it had been deluged with complaints about the policy, which it said was being introduced with no assessment of its impact on equality or human rights. Police Scotland said officers and staff who could not shave for religious, cultural, disability or medical reasons would be exempted. An SPF statement cites Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance that says respiratory protective equipment should only be used as a last resort.  

SPF statement. The Guardian.  


Woman fired while battling breast cancer 

A marketing manager who was sacked after bosses avoided criticising her because she had breast cancer has won a discrimination claim after successfully representing herself. Lucy Lyddall had been underperforming in her role at The Wooldridge Partnership construction company but was never told her managers were unhappy with her, an employment tribunal heard. Rather than speak to the 50-year-old about improving her work, she was given “positive reinforcement” by bosses who didn't want to add to her stress. When she returned from time off to recover from breast cancer treatment, she says she was “completely shocked” when she was fired. She was awarded compensation of £32,351, with a judge criticising the business for firing her “at a point of exceptional vulnerability”. 

Daily Mail. Yahoo News


Nuclear safety incidents on the Clyde leap by a third 

The number of nuclear safety incidents recorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde has rocketed by a third in a year. MPs at Westminster were told that the total number of “nuclear site events” at the two Trident bases increased from 153 in 2021 to 204 in 2022. Some more serious incidents doubled in frequency, and figures for the first three months of 2023 suggested further rises. The MoD insisted the significance of the incidents was “low” and none had harmed health or caused radioactive pollution. The 204 incidents reported overall at the two bases in 2022 were by far the highest in four years, with a further 58 reported in January to March 2023. The number rated as category C rose from 10 in 2021 to 27 in 2022. The MoD previously defined category C incidents as having “moderate potential” for radioactive releases which could cause “unplanned individual exposure to radiation”.  

The Ferret.  


Mowi fined over worker’s death at salmon farm 

International salmon farming company Mowi has been fined following an employee’s death at one of its sites in the Highlands. Clive Hendry, 58, was crushed as he tried to move from a work boat to a barge at a fish farm near Kyle of Lochalsh in February 2020. Mowi Scotland was fined £800,000 after pleading guilty to criminal health and safety charges. Inverness Sheriff Court heard Mowi Scotland had failed to provide risk assessments, maintain a system of work and failed to provide supervision. The 12-year veteran died while he was trying to transfer from the work boat to a barge at Ardintoul fish farm on Loch Alsh. Mowi Scotland said the practice - known as touch and go transfers - had been discontinued and new safe working practices had been implemented. 

COPFS news release. BBC News Online.  

International news

Global: We have a Right to Know about toxics! 

A major UN toxic treaty remains paralysed by the tactics of the chemicals industry and a small group of countries, campaigners have warned. An open letter from unions, public interest and asbestos and pesticide action groups, notes that no more than 10 countries, led by China, Russia and India, continue to block the listing on the Rotterdam Convention of highly hazardous chemicals, chrysotile asbestos and pesticides. The treaty requires hazards warnings to accompany exports of listed toxic substances. The global coalition of more than 40 trade unions and civil society organisations expressed their frustration and dismay that again the parties to the convention have again failed to list chrysotile asbestos, paraquat and other hazardous chemicals. The open letter says these blocking tactics threaten the viability of the Convention and make a mockery of its objective to warn countries of the most dangerous chemicals entering their country.   

Global coalition news release. Open letter. Rotterdam Convention

Myanmar: H&M questioned on continued presence 

A global union has accused H&M of sullying its good record by refusing to stop sourcing garments from Myanmar, a military dictatorship where unions are banned and foreign exchange is used to buy weapons. The Swedish fashion giant’s continued presence in Myanmar was questioned by IndustriALL last week at the company’s AGM. IndustriALL has a global framework agreement with H&M, which has been used to challenge union-busting in supplier factories and to remedy workers’ rights violations. IndustriALL said the global brand has set important precedents by upholding freedom of association in supplier factories and contributing to workers’ health and safety, and yet it refuses to stop sourcing from Myanmar. H&M was the first company to sign the Bangladesh Accord, the groundbreaking safety agreement created after the Rana Plaza factory collapse ten years ago. 

IndustriALL news release

Peru: Gold mine fire kills at least 27  

At least 27 people have died in a gold mine fire in Peru, in the worst mining accident in the country in decades. The mine company, Yanaquihua, said 175 miners were rescued from the small mine in the Arequipa region. An electrical short circuit is thought to have sparked the fire on Saturday 6 May 2023. Officials said the miners were working about 100m (330ft) below the surface when the blaze broke out. Peruvian media reported the fire was fuelled by the La Esperanza gold mine’s timber tunnel supports, many of them soaked in oil. Yanaquihua said it was carrying out an urgent investigation and “at this very sad time we are prioritising help for the bereaved and the rescued miners.” Peru is one of the world's largest gold producers, mining more than 100 tonnes a year - or about 4 per cent of the entire world's annual supply. 

San Diego Union-Tribune. BBC News Online.  


Qatar: Experts urge Qatar to pass heat stress law 

Occupational health experts have urged Qatar to establish new heat stress regulations. The call came at an International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference this week in Doha. They say in the Gulf region workers are exposed to dangerous temperatures that increase risk of injury, heat-related illness, and death. Additionally, the experts believe that Qatar has the resources to enforce these worker protections to ensure employers are maintaining the heat safety of their workers. It is hoped that creating these workplace safety measures in Qatar will also influence other Gulf countries to do the same to protect workers from extreme heat.  

Reuters News


USA: Posties demand action as robberies surge 

Robberies of US postal carriers surged 78 per cent to nearly 500 in 2022, according US Postal Inspection Service figures. Commenting on the statistics obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, Paul Barner, the postal union’s executive vice president, said: “The National Association of Letter Carriers is outraged and angered by the assaults, armed robberies and even murders that America’s letter carriers increasingly face as they deliver the mail. These attacks are completely unacceptable.” In a statement, he said letter carriers “demand solutions now,” adding: “While we will continue to engage with the Postal Service and relevant law enforcement agencies to develop measures that will enhance the safety of letter carriers, the fear and the danger that letter carriers are confronting has to end.” 

PBS News. WBUR Radio. The Independent

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