The union Unite is taking legal action over the “grotesque” treatment of a prominent Ineos union rep fired “on trumped up charges” while he visited his doctor. Mark Lyon, who Unite say is suffering from a serious stress-related illness as a result of his treatment by the company, was dismissed this week after Ineos said he had not stopped the union from commenting over fears of job losses at the Scottish plant. The union said there is “significant medical evidence” to support its claim that the Ineos convenor’s stress-related illness is related to his treatment by management. Unite said it believes Ineos was determined to rush through a disciplinary process against the 25-year Ineos veteran, who is also vice-chair of the union’s national executive, denying his legal representatives the necessary time to prepare his defence. It said the union will be appealing the company’s decision and issuing an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and victimisation for trade union reasons. Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary, said: “Mark Lyon has been subjected to a grotesque mockery of the disciplinary system which saw him tried in his absence. While he attended a doctor’s appointment, his employer was sacking him on trumped up charges. From start to finish, this has been a circus and reflects extremely poorly on Ineos.” He added: “We would urge Ineos to think again about a decision that is bound to send shock waves through the workforce. Worryingly skilled people are choosing to leave Grangemouth. Ineos needs to realise that this is not a time for further unrest and that they need to get the workforce on side to deliver a successful future.” Mark Lyon has been a prominent union advocate for improved safety at the Grangemouth plant.
Ÿ The Herald.
A care worker has won a GMB-backed legal case after being denied rest breaks at work. Alan Hood, who has worked for Consett-based Accept Care Limited since 2007, complained that the company failed regularly to provide him with legally required rest breaks. His complaints were upheld at a Newcastle employment tribunal, which found the firm was in breach of the Working Time Regulations. Under the regulations, employees are entitled to daily rest of not less than 11 hours in each 24 hour period. Employees are also entitled to a rest break of not less than 20 minutes where they work more than 6 hours. Gail Johnson, the GMB regional organiser who supported Alan Hood with his claim, said: “GMB sees this as a victory for all workers in care homes across the country in the fight to improve working conditions. GMB supports all GMB members who are denied their legal rights. It is important that workers join GMB so that they have expert legal experts provided by GMB membership as new Tory laws increased the cost of taking bosses to court for anyone not in a trade union” (Risks 609).
A decade on from the tragedy at Morecambe Bay which saw 23 Chinese workers lose their lives, vulnerable workers are still at risk of abuse, injury and even death at work, the TUC has warned. On the evening of 5 February 2004, 23 untrained and inexperienced men and women were drowned by an incoming tide off the Lancashire and Cumbrian coast as they collected cockles. In the wake of the tragedy the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was established, and since 2006 has worked to prevent further exploitation of vulnerable, mostly migrant, workers. Since October 2013, however, the GLA has been stripped of responsibility for regulating the forestry sector, land agents or cleaning contractors operating in the food processing industry. The TUC believes this means that exploitation of workers is increasingly likely, as bad employers realise there is little chance of them getting caught out. And since last spring, the GLA no longer automatically inspects businesses when they first apply for a licence. GLA research suggests that as many as one in ten rogue gangmasters could be slipping through the net. The TUC believes instead of reducing the scope of the GLA, its remit should be extended to other high-risk sectors including construction, hospitality and social care. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The GLA provides vital safeguards for people working in high risk industries, it ensures that people are paid the minimum wage and makes sure apprentices are not exploited. It also increases consumer confidence that workers who help prepare their food are not being mistreated. Instead of reducing the GLA’s ability to protect workers, the biggest testament the government could pay to what happened at Morecambe Bay would be to extend the reach of the GLA so that rogue employers know that there is no hiding place for those who break the law.”
The scope and powers of The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) need to be expanded, Unite has said. The union said undetected abuses by gangmasters were the equivalent of ‘modern day slavery’. It said the fact that only seven gangmasters were convicted for operating without a licence in 2013 prompted the Unite call for more GLA investigations and for prosecutors to get tough with rogue gangmasters. The union said it wanted the legislation extended so GLA could also cover construction, hospitality and social care, where it believes workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “We believe that the scope and powers of the GLA need to be increased. The 2004 act is neither strong nor adequate enough to tackle what is modern day slavery.” She added: “Unfortunately, the GLA is hampered by this government in its efforts. Last year, ministers 'deregulated' the legislation to ensure that first time licence applicants escaped inspection. This is playing fast and loose with worker safety to save business the inconvenience of having to demonstrate it is law-abiding. It also undermines those employers who joined with Unite to support the establishment of the GLA.” She added: “Gangmaster-controlled work is worth £1.34 billion to the UK economy – and we need legislation to reflect and control the scale of this industry. Prosecutors must take these gangmaster abuse cases much more seriously. It is not enough to give a fine and a slap on the wrist. People traffickers need to be put behind bars. We need GLA powers extended to sectors where people employed could be vulnerable to exploitation, such as the hospitality trade and construction. There are gangmasters operating below the radar exploiting people and ripping off the country. They need to be subject to the full rigours of the law, with the GLA given the power and the remit to collar them too.”
The deaths of four firefighters in a 2007 tragedy were the result of a “catalogue of organisational systemic failings” by Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, a report from the union FBU has found. FBU’s Fatal Accident Investigation report looked into the deaths of Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, who attended a fire in a vegetable packing plant on Atherstone Industrial Estate on 2 November 2007 (Risks 331). FBU’s investigation found “severe problems” with risk assessment and planning, the quality of information available to the incident commander, the use of breathing apparatus, and with training, particularly for ‘retained’ or part-time firefighters. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The deaths of these four brave men were caused by a catalogue of systemic failings at Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.” He added: “Over the last decade, twice as many firefighters lost their lives in fires as in the previous ten years, and it’s clear that fire and rescue services and government are not learning lessons from these deaths. It is appalling that firefighters are in some cases being killed in almost identical circumstances to those in which others have died. This is a terrible failing by those making key strategic decisions within the fire service and by central government.” The union leader concluded: “We need ministers in all four governments in the UK, as well as chief fire officers, fire authority members and other politicians, to take heed of what happened at Atherstone and work with firefighters to ensure such a tragedy is not repeated.” The FBU also said it was working with health and safety specialists from the University of Stirling to review firefighter safety and fatal incidents. The review will report later this year. In January 2012, Warwickshire County Council entered a guilty plea at a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court, admitting its criminal failure to ensure the health and safety of its employees. It was fined £30,000.
Bus drivers’ union Unite has welcomed a Transport for London (TfL) plan to no longer accept cash payment on board buses, but has warned it must also protect drivers from confrontations with irate passengers. London bus drivers will no longer accept cash payment on board their vehicles when the new measures are introduced this summer. Unite regional secretary for London, Peter Kavanagh, said: “Unite has always pushed for cashless buses. Fare collection can cause confrontation plus there is the ever-present risk for drivers at the end of a route or duty.” He added: “The big issue now for drivers is how they will be supported going forward. One per cent cash paying customers is still around 60,000 passengers a day. A tiny minority can cause confrontation if they are turned away. There are still too many assaults on drivers and TfL must work with Unite to introduce the necessary protections ahead of the roll out. Vulnerable passengers need protection - but so do bus drivers.”
An officially endorsed construction apprenticeship scheme which has advertised a position that would require the successful candidate to undertake arduous unpaid work experience at height presents serious safety concerns, the union UCATT has warned. The union says its officials were told Evolve Apprenticeships had advertised for an apprentice scaffolder in London. The advertisement said the successful applicant would initially have to complete two weeks of unpaid work experience. He or she would also be required to work at heights and carry and lift heavy loads. UCATT said only fully qualified scaffolders should work at heights and expressed concern that the apprenticeship when complete would not lead to full scaffolder qualifications. The union has written to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to demand it removes its endorsement from Evolve Apprenticeships. UCATT regional organiser Andy Rudd said: “As an industry we are crying out for apprenticeships but young workers must not be exploited, apprentices must not be placed in danger, and they must be given the opportunity to become fully qualified. The CITB should not be endorsing organisations which fail to meet these standards.” The apprenticeship was part of the Shared Apprenticeship Scheme, which allows apprentices to be moved between different employers, rather than the traditional single employer apprenticeship. UCATT said it believes the scheme “has major implications for the quality and consistency of training as well as reducing the safety of apprentices.”
Contracting out of services must not be allowed to lead to a reduction in safety standards, the union UNISON has said. UNISON head of health and safety Tracey Harding told a conference of health and safety managers in Pontefract, Yorkshire, that “you may be able to contract out the work, but you can't contract out the responsibility,” adding that “keeping services in-house is often best for the safety of service users and workers.” The union, which is running a ‘Don’t cut corners on health and safety’ campaign, is urging reps to remind their employers to actively consider health and safety implications when procuring services.
A former tool maker has been awarded £33,000 in compensation after he developed occupational asthma from almost two decades of exposure to metalwork fluid mist at a Ford plant in Dagenham. Unite member Ronald Hymans, 60, operated machines cutting cast iron and hard steel. He was given a basic particle mask, but it did not provide any protection against the harmful coolant mist in the air. He began to develop intermittent chest complaints that progressed over a number of years to the point that he could only breathe properly when sitting down. In 2007, a knee injury meant Ronald had three months off work. During this time his doctor recorded that his breathing improved by a third and he was subsequently diagnosed with occupational asthma. On his return to work, his employer moved him from the plant floor to work in an office. After seven months, however, he was required to return to his previous role, once again exposing him to the harmful metalworking fluid mist. In 2011, he had seven months off work because of his asthma. When he returned to work, he spent the remainder of his career working in an office. He said: “I have been left with life-long breathing difficulties and I am now classed as partially disabled. It is an extremely frustrating and limiting condition that has a very negative effect on my quality of life, I can’t even walk my dog without getting out of breath.” An attempt to gain compensation using a ‘no win, no fee’ law firm failed. But when he took his case through the union’s legal service, he secured a £33,000 payout. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “This case proves the importance of union membership and the quality of legal care that our members can expect. Ronald would have missed out on a significant sum of compensation if he had not approached Unite Legal Services for a second opinion.”
A former oil executive criticised for his role in a deadly BP refinery explosion, and whose last company was fined over 50 health and safety violations connected with fracking, has been appointed to lead the government's Major Projects Authority (MPA). John Manzoni will be responsible for overseeing big-budget projects including the HS2 high-speed rail line and the new nuclear programme. His new role will come under the remit of the Cabinet Office, where his ex-boss Lord Browne, a former chief executive of BP, is the lead non-executive director. While at BP, an internal company report published in 2007 found Manzoni should be held accountable for the Texas City refinery blast that killed 15 people and injured 170 (Risks 330). He resigned from the company shortly after publication of the report, taking up a role as chief executive at Talisman Energy, a company heavily engaged in fracking in the US. In July 2012 Talisman agreed penalties of more than $60,000 for alleged violations in reporting hazardous chemicals at 52 sites in Pennsylvania. Manzoni left his Talisman post shortly after. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said Manzoni’s “experience will be invaluable to the civil service and to taxpayers. I'm delighted he is joining the Cabinet Office, and this is a great example of how we can bring talented men and women with private sector experience into Whitehall.” Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “John’s experience speaks for itself, and his leadership will ensure we continue to spend money wisely and eliminate the waste of the past.” Manzoni becomes the third BP old boy to be recruited by the current government to top posts. His former boss Lord Browne is the top non-executive director in the Cabinet Office, which oversees MPA. They were together implicated in the cost cutting project that led to the Texas City explosion (Risks 463). And in May 2013 John Morgan, who led BP Alaska when dangerous chemical practices led to a record fine and the firm being put on five years’ probation, was appointed by David Cameron to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) board.
Ÿ Safe hands? BP old boys linked to disasters find favour with the PM, Hazards magazine, number 122, April-June 2013.
Network Rail has said it intends to proceed with retention bonuses totalling £900,000 to three executives despite a High Court judge calling for bonuses to be “severely reduced” because of the company’s devastating failings on level crossing safety. TSSA leader Manuel Cortes, who has been strongly critical of the company ‘gravy train’ (Risks 639), accused the firm of “hard hearted cynicism” after outgoing chief exec Sir David Higgins said the bonuses would still be paid this April. However, Lord Tony Berkeley, a Network Rail public member, has indicated he will vote against all bonuses after reading the Lord Chief Justice's January judgment, in which he threw out an appeal by the firm over a £500,000 fine for criminal safety failings that led to a 10-year-old suffered life changing injuries on an unsafe level crossing. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “It simply beggars belief that Sir David can say he is paying three of his fellow executives £900,000 of taxpayers money in the light of the Lord Chief Justice's scathing criticism of his firm's safety record at level crossings down the years. Such has been the failings, we now have a Commons Transport Select Committee enquiry into it as well. Yet, like Pontius Pilate, he simply washes his hands and gives his fellow members on the gravy train yet another bonus on top of their huge annual and long term bonuses.” He added: “This is an insult to the victims and their families.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has endorsed workplace health and safety standards put forward by the NHS staff council’s health, safety and wellbeing partnership group (HSWPG). “I am pleased that the HSE has been able to assist in the development of the revised workplace health and safety standards,” HSE chair Judith Hackett said. “HSWPG continues to provide a valuable service to the sector as a whole in driving improvement in occupational health and safety in healthcare. I am confident that implementing these standards will help organisations achieve effective management and control of risk in a practical and proportionate way.” UNISON head of health and safety Tracey Harding welcomed the HSE endorsement. She added: “The NHS staff council working group is a good example of how trade unions and employers can work together - even in these difficult times - to drive up standards of health and safety management.” The NHS staff council is the national body responsible for negotiating NHS terms and conditions, and includes representatives from NHS trade unions and the employers.
Coastguard stations across the UK were dangerously understaffed last year, new figures have confirmed. The worst hit areas were staffed below safe levels more than half the time in 2013, data obtained by the broad-based Coastguard SOS campaign group shows. In one summer month, almost nine in 10 of the shifts at one station operated below the “risk assessed” minimum. Coastguards’ union PCS said this latest information, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has failed to address the staffing crisis it raised last year. The union says three stations have been shut ahead of a new national centre opening on the south coast of England, despite an assurance this would not happen. Six others – Brixham, Liverpool, Portland, Solent, Swansea and Thames – are earmarked for closure. PCS said that the recent storms and floods in the UK showed the need to retain expert coastguard resources and knowledge “and we again call on ministers to halt the closures.”
Rail staff are scared they will lose their jobs if they speak out about safety, a BBC investigation has found. BBC’s Inside Out programme examined the death of a worker who was hit by a train on the track. Scott Dobson, 26, died near Saxilby, Lincolnshire, in December 2012. Speaking to the programme, a worker employed by Network Rail through an agency said: “Because you speak up, that agency can't put you out and if you are part of a gang the whole gang loses work.” Following the death of Mr Dobson, who was from Doncaster, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) highlighted a string of failures. It found a safety assessment had not been carried out on the day of the tragedy and that Mr Dobson, who was hired through an agency to supervise site safety, had been standing in an unsafe position and “became distracted” as the train approached. Speaking to the BBC, the anonymous agency worker said: “Some people stay quiet because they are scared of losing work. I lost work with for nearly a year because I wouldn't do work because it wasn't safe.” Mick Cash from the rail union RMT said using casual staff compromises safety. “Saxilby is a sad reminder of how dangerous the railway is,” he said. “This accident could have been avoided and the root cause is Network Rail's high usage of contractors.” Gareth Llewellyn, from Network Rail, said safety supervisors would no longer be employed through agencies. He added: “We need to make sure this is the last fatality that happens on the railway and we will make any changes necessary to ensure that.”
A logistics firm has been fined £250,000 after a worker was killed when he fell through a warehouse roof in Wythenshawe. Michael Sweet, 48, from Stockport, was cleaning out the guttering at Aramex (UK) Ltd on the Ringway Trading Estate near Manchester Airport on 12 December 2011 when he stepped on a fragile panel and fell to the concrete floor below. Aramex and Mr Sweet’s employer, roofing contractor Gary Edwards, were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found no safety measures had been put in place. Manchester Crown Court heard Aramex had hired Mr Edwards to fix a leak when water began to drip into the warehouse and offices. He arrived on site with Mr Sweet and they were asked to fix the leak and clean out the guttering. Later that day, Mr Sweet fell through the warehouse roof when he stepped on a clear roof panel, designed to let light into the warehouse. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. During an interview under caution, Mr Edwards admitted that the only safety equipment he had provided for cleaning the warehouse roof had been a pair of gloves. The HSE investigation also found Aramex had ignored its own health and safety guidelines. Aramex (UK) Ltd and Gary Edwards each pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. Aramex was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £20,000. Gary Edwards, 55, received a four-month prison sentence suspended for one year. HSE inspector Ian Betley said: “Michael Sweet sadly lost his life because neither Aramex nor Gary Edwards put enough thought into his safety while working on a fragile warehouse roof.”
A scaffolder died of his injuries a week after he fell eight metres through a fragile roof light while working on top of a chemical store at a creamery in Cornwall. Two companies were sentenced over the incident at Dairy Crest premises at Davidstow near Camelford on 4 November 2008. Truro Crown Court heard that Michael Stone, 44, of Hartley, Plymouth, was erecting a scaffold at the premises when the incident happened. Self-employed Mr Stone was contracting for specialist fabrication firm Dartmeet Services which was contracted to creamery owners Dairy Crest to replace the roof on the chemical store. The building had fragile roof lights but Mr Stone had not been made aware of this and no signs or markings were evident to indicate the danger. Mr Stone landed on a concrete floor when he fell, suffering multiple injuries. He died in hospital seven days later. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mr Stone and others were not required to sign in to gain access to the roof and no-one at the site checked his risk assessment for the work. Dairy Crest Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of health and safety law. Also sentenced was Dartmeet Services, the main contractor, which was fined £30,000 with £10,000 costs after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Barry Trudgian said: “Simple, straightforward, commonsense procedures could have saved Mr Stone’s life.”
The UK division of a global packaging company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a long-serving worker lost a finger in an unguarded chain on a machine. The 54-year-old from Gosport, who does not want to be named, cut the first finger on his right hand to the bone in the incident at Huhtamaki UK Ltd in Gosport on 4 February 2013. It was amputated the following day after surgeons were unable to save it. Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court heard the injured worker, who had worked for the company for 34 years, was part of a two-person team feeding plastic sheets into the machine after a product change. As he worked from the side of the machine to feed a sheet onto a chain that would draw it inside – described as a spiked bicycle chain – his finger was caught between the chain and a roller. HSE identified that had the feeding line been properly guarded to prevent access to dangerous parts then the incident could have been avoided. The court was told that Huhtamaki UK Ltd failed to fully assess and identify the risks posed by the lack of guarding, and take appropriate action. The firm was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £3,088 in costs after being found guilty of a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Huhtamaki specialises in food and drink packaging and operates 60 manufacturing sites worldwide.
A Bedfordshire fitting company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker sustained a serious head injury in a preventable fall from a temporary scaffolding platform in Kensington. Stewart Alazia, 51, fractured his skull and left cheekbone, and was left with bleeding to his brain as a result of the incident on 21 December 2011. He has since required regular assessments at a specialist brain injury clinic, and may need indefinite treatment for depression, black outs and headaches linked to his trauma. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Alazia, who was working for DM Specialist Limited, was working to dismantle boards and other materials from a temporary platform spanning two scaffolding towers. He lost his balance and fell to the ground below, hitting his head and losing consciousness. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was nothing in place to prevent or mitigate the fall, such as suitable edge protection or fall arrest equipment. The court was told that had such provisions been in place then the incident could have been avoided. DM Specialist Limited was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £7,377 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Compensation authorities in Canada should recognise cases of work-related breast cancer and approve payouts to those affected, a top cancer research has said. Michael Gilbertson, who co-authored a 2012 research paper demonstrating greatly elevated cancer risks in a range of occupations from farm work to metal and plastics manufacture (Risks 583), said Canada’s official no-fault Workers’ Compensation Boards had not approved a single award for work-related breast cancer. Writing on the Prevent Cancer Now website, he noted: “The research is now sufficiently developed that we can predict that a compensation case for breast cancer will be forthcoming and successfully awarded. At some work locations there are suspicions that there are clusters of breast cancer associated with particular occupational settings and at some point, a scientifically defensible case will be made to a Canadian compensation board or appeals tribunal using these methods and data.” He added: “When the precedent is set, it will be dramatic and will likely revolutionise breast cancer activism and the social movements involved in reform of environmental protection and occupational standards. One measure the authorities for labour and industrial standards could take to pre-empt the backlash would be to set up panels under existing workplace legislation to designate certain occupations and substances as causing breast cancer and thus expeditiously award compensation to those affected and seeking justice.”
A global cancer research agency has called for “urgent” action to prevent cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), made the call this week at the launch of its World Cancer Report 2014. The report reveals how the global cancer burden is growing at an “alarming pace” and emphasises the need for “urgent implementation of efficient prevention strategies to curb the disease,” including laws to protect people from exposure to carcinogens at work. Christopher Wild, director of IARC and co-editor of the book, said: “More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.” IARC noted that cancer control measures in high-income countries show that prevention works and confirm that health promotion alone is insufficient. It said adequate legislation plays an important role in reducing exposure and risk behaviours. Report co-editor Bernard Stewart said: “Adequate legislation can encourage healthier behaviour, as well as having its recognised role in protecting people from workplace hazards and environmental pollutants.” He added: “In low- and middle-income countries, it is critical that governments commit to enforcing regulatory measures to protect their populations and implement cancer prevention plans.” In 2012, the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, IARC said, a figure it expected to rise to 22 million cases annually within the next two decades. Over the same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million per year.
A ban on asbestos in Thailand could be imminent after the Thai Public Health Ministry (MoPH) last week passed a resolution calling for an immediate prohibition on the use of chrysotile asbestos, the only form of asbestos still legal in the country. Members of the Thailand Ban Asbestos Network (T-BAN) met with a ministry official the day after last week’s announcement. Welcoming the government support for an asbestos ban, T-BAN coordinator Somboon Sreekumdokkae urged politicians and officials to work alongside civil society campaigners. A 2011 government attempt to introduce a ban was derailed by a huge backlash from the local and global asbestos industry. T-BAN member Vithaya Kulsomboon told the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS): “We are more optimistic now than we have been for three years that the use of asbestos will be ended in Thailand. Banning asbestos is the first step in ridding our country of a deadly hazard; there remains a lot of work to do.”
The theme for Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April this year will be: 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights'. ITUC, the global union body coordinating the event worldwide, says it is also encouraging unions to use the slogan, 'Unions make work safer' on their materials.
Ÿ For news, resources and updates on UK Workers’ Memorial Day 2014 activities, see the TUC 28 April webpages.
COURSES FOR January to March 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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