A free trade agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the US must not be allowed to undermine employment and safety standards, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal was on an “unprecedented scale” and “could have major implications for health and safety regulation and unions throughout Europe need to be on their guard to ensure that we protect what we have.” A TTIP objective is “to remove regulatory barriers that it is claimed restrict profitable trade between the US and EU, either by harmonising them or through mutual recognition,” he said. “These ‘barriers’ are what unions call ‘protection’.” He added that unions are particularly concerned about the possible creation of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules, which could “allow companies to sue governments in secretive courts,” warning: “Even if TTIP does not include ISDS rules that can be applied to safety standards, it could have a significant effect on health and safety regulations and unions should be campaigning to ensure that it is not used to undermine any existing regulations, or prevent any further ones being passed.” Robertson said that the chemical industry is already using the TTIP process as a focus for its lobbying in the EU and US against safety regulations (Risks 646). He said unions would be seeking “guarantees that any TTIP will be used to raise (rather than lower) standards of protection (and enforcement) on both sides of the Atlantic,” and “we should campaign to ensure that, if we cannot prevent the inclusion of ISDS, the rules governing such dispute resolution fully endorse the ‘right to regulate’ on health and safety.” The Corporate Europe Observatory this week said leaked documents reveal that current TTIP proposals “would grant foreign governments and corporations an increased opportunity to influence public protections in both the European Union and the United States. This would include standards related to food safety, toxic chemicals, occupational health, and the protection of the environment.”
A campaign by the union CWU has won new legal protection from dog attacks. The postal and telecoms union, which represents large numbers of dog attack victims in the UK, says that during its seven years push for changes to the Dangerous Dog Act, 30,000 postal workers were attacked. This week tougher penalties came into force for dog owners in England and Wales who allow their pets to attack people. The maximum prison sentence for allowing a dog to carry out a fatal attack on a person has increased from two to 14 years. Allowing a dog to cause injury can now be punished by five years in prison. CWU’s high-profile 'Bite-Back' campaign, supported by animal charities, the police, trade unions, employers, vets, medics and dog trainers, first won changes to the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland. On 13 May, changes also took effect in England and Wales. CWU's national health and safety officer Dave Joyce, who spearheaded the 'Bite Back' campaign, said it was an “historic day for all workers who over the years have been victims of dog bites because of careless owners,” but added “there is still work to be done. We will now focus on ensuring there is effective, consistence enforcement of irresponsible dog ownership and an increased public awareness of the rights of workers when carrying out their duties on private land.” CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “I am delighted that after a long and hard campaign, workers around the country will now be properly protected.”
Non-binding guidelines on safe nursing levels are not rigorous enough to deliver necessary improvements, the health service union UNISON has said. The union was speaking out after the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) published draft NHS guidance on safe staffing levels in hospitals in England, but refused to stipulate mandatory minimum safe staffing levels. NICE deputy chief executive Prof Gillian Leng said: “There is no floor or ceiling number on the required number of nursing staff that can be applied across the whole of the NHS.” She added decisions about the number of nursing staff should “allow flexibility on a day-to-day or shift-by-shift basis.” Gail Adams, UNISON’s head of nursing, responded: “The most effective mechanism to ensure patient safety is the introduction of national, mandatory, minimum staffing levels on wards.” She added: “There is safety in numbers when it comes to caring for patients and that means legal staff patient ratios. In a recent survey of nurses by UNISON, 65 per cent of staff said they did not have enough time with patients with 55 per cent saying that care was left undone as a result – this is clearly unacceptable. We do welcome NICE’s recognition of the link between caring for eight patients or more and the increase in risk to patients, but it is a shame that it falls short of calling for a national mandatory minimum. Our survey showed that 45 per cent of nurses were caring for eight or more patients so action is needed now” (Risks 616). Unions in US states have won safe staffing levels after arguing they benefit patient safety and the safety of health care workers, who are less likely to suffer lifting injuries and other problems (Risks 457).
Occupational therapists (OTs) at Greenwich council, fed up with an alleged ‘bullying culture’, have voted unanimously for strike action on Wednesday 21 May. The move came in response to concerns over bullying and harassment and the suspension of a work colleague accused of being too friendly with staff (Risks 651). Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “I am extremely proud of the Unite members who have voted to stand up against ‘a bullying culture’. We have given the employer every opportunity to deal with the bullying – but it has failed to tackle this issue. Even worse, it has victimised the whistleblowers, leading to the suspension on ludicrous charges of one of our members.” He added: “We have designated Wednesday 21 May as a day of action against bullying and harassment in the borough. However, Unite’s door remains open for constructive talks to resolve this dispute.”
The government has not learnt the lessons of a parliamentary probe into the blacklisting scandal, the union Unite has said. The Scottish Affairs Committee published its second report on blacklisting, ‘Blacklisting in employment: addressing the crimes of the past: Moving towards best practice’, on 12 March 2014 (Risks 647). But in a letter to the committee’s chair, Ian Davidson, employment relations minister Jenny Willott rejected the report’s call or the promotion of direct employment in the construction industry. Unite said the widespread use of agencies in the construction industry means agency workers do not enjoy the same level of employment rights and this includes protection from blacklisting. The union said the minister also failed to appreciate the importance of the committee’s recommendations to ensure that contractors that have had a history of blacklisting demonstrate they have ‘self-cleaned’ before being allowed to tender for public contracts. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “We’re disappointed that the employment minister Jenny Willott has not supported the Scottish Affairs Committee’s recommendations on direct employment and self-cleaning. Ensuring construction workers are directly employed and forcing employers who have blacklisted to demonstrate how they have cleaned up their acts would be effective measures to prevent blacklisting.” She added: “There still needs to be a full public enquiry into blacklisting and the activities of major construction employers who still to this day restrict trade union activities in major construction sites, leading to poor practices, health and safety risks and increased fatalities.”
Cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that government ministers value the interests of the business lobby over workers’ health, the conference of retail union Usdaw has heard. West Yorkshire delegate Beverly O’Toole, quoted in the Morning Star, told last week’s event: “This government sees health and safety inspections as a burden on business. Far from being a burden to the businesses those that are inspected are more successful and last longer into the future.” Government cuts to local authorities’ health and safety inspections have affected 90 per cent of Usdaw-organised workplaces, she pointed out, warning: “This makes it more difficult for health and safety reps to carry out their work.” Usdaw deputy general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “There have already been three reviews of health and safety law by this government and more damage has been done. We will do all we can to stop accidents at workplace.”
As part of a wider project on discrimination against pregnant women and women on maternity leave, the TUC is keen to hear from women who have been treated unfavourably while pregnant, on maternity leave, or on return to work. A TUC survey, which is entirely anonymous, covers employment and health and safety issues including if you were “made to do work that was difficult or hazardous because of your pregnancy”. You can fill out the short survey online.
Hundreds gathered at a memorial service this week to remember those killed in an explosion at a Glasgow factory a decade ago. Nine people died in the 11 May 2004 blast at the Stockline plastics factory and 33 others were badly injured (Risks 156). A build-up of leaking gas from corroded underground pipes was blamed for the disaster, which provoked a countrywide pipe replacement programme and led to questions about the effectiveness of official workplace safety enforcement (Risks 322). A public inquiry concluded in 2009 it was an “avoidable disaster” (Risks 416), with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) admitting its “serious failings” were a contributory factor (Risks 422). Marie Murray, who lost her husband Kenny, said the families have paid an “immeasurable” price that has gone well beyond the £200,000 that ICL Plastics Ltd and subsidiary ICL Tech Ltd were each fined in 2007. The memorial service was held at Maryhill Community Central Halls, close to the former factory site. Mrs Murray said: “Kenny left the house to go to work and never returned. You hear about this happening to other families but that day it happened to ours.” She added: “You cannot lose somebody like him without it being felt throughout the extended family and it is a loss we have to suffer every day, even now, 10 years later.” STUC general secretary Grahame Smith, whose organisation has supported the families, said: “It is hard to believe that it is 10 years since this tragedy occurred, an event that would forever change the lives of the nine families who lost loved ones and those left impaired by their injuries.” A March 2014 Stirling University report warned that lessons of the Stockline disaster had not been learned, adding regulatory processes were still flawed and were being further damaged by the government’s ‘obsession’ with deregulation.
The timescale for implementing safety changes for offshore helicopter flights have been changed. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said only allowing passengers to fly if they are seated next to a push-out window exit was being delayed from June until September. But an improved emergency breathing system will be compulsory from January next year rather than April 2016. The CAA said the changes followed consultation with the industry. It said it had received evidence that reducing helicopter capacity through seating restrictions could have an adverse impact on vital maintenance work due to take place at offshore installations over the summer (Risks 651). CAA head of flight operations Rob Bishton said: “The safety of those who work offshore is our absolute priority and as such we must also consider their safety on offshore installations as well as onboard flights. We have listened carefully to the views of the industry, the unions and the helicopter operators.” He said the new timetable “will mean that helicopter flights will only be permitted after 1 January 2015 if passengers are fitted with the improved emergency breathing equipment - that's much earlier than originally planned. But we are also giving the industry an extra three months before the temporary seating restrictions are applied, so that they can complete planned, safety-critical maintenance work offshore over the summer.” The new rules came out of a review of helicopter safety prompted by the deaths of four people when a CHC-operated Super Puma crashed into the sea off Shetland last August. It was the fifth serious incident involving an offshore helicopter in the UK sector since 2009.
A natural stone supply firm has been fined for failing to protect workers from exposure to deadly silica dust – despite a previous official warning. Teesdale Architectural Stone Ltd (TASL) was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failings identified in an inspection of its Barnard Castle premises on 16 October 2012. Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard that exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), a substance that can cause fatal lung diseases, was not being adequately controlled. Inspectors also found that the required health surveillance for the silica – which can cause lung cancer, the debilitating lung scarring disease silicosis and other deadly ailments - was not being carried out by the company. The court was told that a previous inspection in 2007 identified similar concerns, with the company given advice on suitable control measures. The HSE investigation established that despite tests revealing a high level of exposure to silica in 2007, little action had been taken to reduce exposures. The HSE inspection five years later also identified that equipment was not maintained in efficient working order, in good repair and was not in a clean condition. The court also heard that although health surveillance on employees was carried out once in 2007, no further health surveillance was provided for employees exposed to RCS. Teesdale Architectural Stone Ltd (TASL) pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,525.40 in costs. HSE inspector Sal Brecken said: “Teesdale Architectural Stone Ltd should have done more following the guidance offered to them by the HSE in 2007.”
A south London building firm has been fined after a foreman and others were kept in the dark about asbestos exposures. Redwood Contractors Ltd was in possession of a detailed asbestos survey that clearly identified the location of the asbestos wall panels inside a warehouse in Wokingham, Berkshire. However, the survey conducted two months prior to the work starting wasn’t shared with the team on the ground. So when the foreman mistook the asbestos insulating board (AIB) for asbestos cement, it was removed without the required control measures and protective equipment. The foreman and others were exposed to potential harm when the boards were ripped out during refurbishment work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Redwood Contractors Ltd after investigating the contamination of the warehouse with asbestos in December 2011. Reading Magistrates’ Court heard that AIB should only be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor. Redwood Contractors Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,857 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. HSE inspector Karen Morris commented: “The company is guilty of a clear oversight that may have compromised the future health and well-being of its workers. Everyone knows that asbestos is a potential killer, and the onus is on duty holders to implement proper control measures at all times when dealing with asbestos.”
A company responsible for maintaining the grounds of a naval base in Cornwall has been fined after three workers were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that left them with permanent nerve damage. The three men, who do not wish to be named, were employed by Babcock Flagship Ltd to maintain the extensive grounds at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint, where they were exposed to high levels of hand arm vibration (HAV) caused by using tools such as hedge cutters and strimmers for long periods. Truro Magistrates Court heard that all three were diagnosed with work-related hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in January 2012. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed the company was aware each worker had vibration-related conditions or health issues that could be aggravated by vibration, having had health surveillance reports between 2009 and 2011. The court was told, however, that Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to put control measures in place before or after the condition was identified in the workers. The permanent damage caused to the three men’s health had a significant impact on their ability to work and their quality of life. Babcock Flagship Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs after admitting two criminal breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. HSE estimates almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of vibration-related ill-health such as hand arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome.
A farming business in south west Wales has been sentenced for criminal safety failings after a roof worker plunged 15 feet to his death in front of his two sons. Ronald Clarke, 59, fell through the fragile roof of a cowshed while working at Rhyd Sais Farm, Talgarreg, near Llandysul, on 23 July 2010, hitting the concrete floor below. He died in hospital a short time later as a result of his injuries. The fatal incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted farm owners John Evans, his wife Glenys and his mother Margaret Evans for failing to ensure work on their property was safely managed. Swansea Crown Court heard that Mr Clarke was working with his sons Bobby Joe and Acer on cowsheds at the farm, all of which had fibre cement roofs. One shed had a sign reading ‘Danger – Fragile Roof. Use Crawler Boards’, although Mr Clarke had limited reading skills and may have failed to understand it. The court was told that on the day of the incident, all three were standing on the unsupported fibre cement sheet roof using a pressure washer and trowels to remove moss when the section beneath Ronald Clarke gave way. HSE’s investigation found no evidence of adequate planning for the work, and that Mr Clarke, who was registered sick and not in full time employment, did not produce any evidence of training, qualifications or expertise in roof work. John Evans, on behalf of a partnership consisting of John, Glenys and Margaret Evans, of Rhyd Sais Farm, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. The partnership was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £15,000 in costs.
A Southampton worker suffered life-changing injuries after he plunged five metres through a hole in the roof of a London church, a court has been told. Father of three Allen Smith, 58, sustained a collapsed lung, smashed pelvis and head injuries in the fall at Anerley Methodist Church in Penge, south-east London, on 25 October 2011. Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told Mr Smith was part of a four-strong Nationwide Roofing and Cladding Ltd team, including the firm’s director, that was replacing the leaking church roof. Mr Smith was standing on a lightweight staging board while grinding off bolts, working from the roof ridge down toward the gutter and sliding the asbestos cement sheets down to labourers to lift onto a forklift truck. As the work went on, one of the labourers heard a loud bang and turned to see Mr Smith had fallen through the roof opening to the hall floor below. A length of the staging board was also on the floor. Mr Smith was in hospital for two months, has had a subsequent operation on his lungs, will need a hip replacement and is likely to suffer long-term arthritis. He is unlikely to ever work again. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the court it served an enforcement notice on Nationwide Roofing and Cladding immediately after the incident, preventing any further work until suitable safety measures were in place to prevent falls. The firm was fined £8,600 and ordered to pay £11,280 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
An Essex dock company has been fined for its criminal safety failings after a dock worker suffered severe leg injuries when an operation to unload a cargo container went wrong. Agency worker Andrew Gotts, 26, of Felixstowe, Suffolk, suffered multiple fractures and destruction of soft tissue on his lower right leg when it was trapped and crushed as a jammed container suddenly freed itself. He needed extensive reconstructive surgery after the incident on 4 October 2012. It is not yet known when or if he will be fit for work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Harwich Dock Company for serious criminal safety breaches. Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Mr Gotts was helping to unload containers from a ship using the ship’s crane and chains on one of the dock company’s two berths within the Port of Harwich. He had been standing on an access platform on the deck of the ship while colleagues tried to free a jammed container. The container moved suddenly towards him, trapping him against the handrail of the platform and crushing his leg. Harwich Dock Company Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £14,761 in costs. HSE inspector Toni Drury said: “If Harwich Dock Company had properly assessed and managed the risks to all dock workers during the unloading of containers, and particularly to agency workers who are less familiar with tasks and settings, an alternative method of working would have been used and risks reduced. As it was, they were exposed to significant dangers exacerbated by failings in the company’s supervision.” Almost all docks activities are exempt from HSE’s preventive inspections.
Proposed reforms of the safety system in Australia will put workers at increased risk, unions and the opposition Labour Party have warned. Shadow employment minister Brendan O’Connor said that recommendations of the Commission of Audit created by Tony Abbott’s government – and headed by the former president of the country’s top business lobby group - will mean cuts to workplace health and safety. The proposals including merging official safety, asbestos, compensation and gender equality regulatory agencies. “Make no mistake, when the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit’s recommends ‘consolidating’, that is just a weasel-word for abolishing these agencies,” Mr O’Connor said. “If these recommendations are implemented it will mean cuts to jobs, cuts to services, and will result in reduced safety in workplaces across the country.” He added the right-leaning government “has already shown it has little regard for workplace safety” by announcing its intention to abolish the ‘safe rates’ Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and to change the workplace compensation agency Comcare. The widely feted Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency created last year by the previous Labour administration (Risks 616) is thought to be in particular jeopardy, with the commission report recommending the abolition of its Asbestos Safety and Education Council. Dave Noonan, construction secretary of the union CFMEU, said: “In order for asbestos related diseases to be stamped out, this issue is one that cannot be held hostage to any political agenda.” He said the asbestos agency should remain intact, adding: “Saving people’s lives should take priority over saving money.”
New Zealand’s national union federation has been granted permission to take a private prosecution against forestry firm M&A Cross Ltd, the employer of forestry worker Charles Findlay who was killed at work. Judge Phillip Cooper granted an application by Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly to bring a prosecution - despite the requirement for charges to be laid within six months after a death. The father-of-three was killed on 19 July last year. “Charles' death was totally avoidable. If his employer had taken reasonable steps to ensure his health and safety he would still be alive today,” CTU’s Helen Kelly said. “The forestry industry cannot continue to be allowed to take such a cavalier attitude with people’s lives. They must prioritise people’s lives over profits. So many of the problems in the forestry industry would be assisted though regulation by the government.” She condemned the government for its ongoing refusal to act to make New Zealand’s most dangerous industry safer. “This private prosecution is being taken because Charles shouldn't have died at work and the industry must be held to account,” she said.
Over 200 workers have been confirmed dead and hundreds more left trapped underground after a deadly coal mine blast in western Turkey this week. The explosion on 13 May is one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. Energy minister Taner Yıldız said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of İstanbul, at the time. By Wednesday several hundred had been rescued, but 201 were already confirmed dead and many others were still missing. The tragedy occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which it is thought raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside the mine than usual. Yıldız said the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and feared the death toll could end up much higher. SOMA Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş., which owns the mine, said the blast occurred despite the “highest safety measures and constant controls” and added that an investigation was being launched. Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Turkey's worst mining disaster to date was a 1992 gas explosion that killed over 260 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak. In a statement issued in the wake of the blast, the labour ministry said the mining company was inspected four times in the past two years. It added that the most recent inspection was two months ago, when the mine was found to be complying with work safety regulations. But Özgür Özel of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) told journalists that less than three weeks earlier the government had rejected a request for a parliamentary inquiry into safety in Soma. Lignite coal mining is a major industry in the Soma area, helping to supply a nearby power plant. “Turkish government and employers have responsibility for this carnage,” said Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of the global mining unions’ federation IndustriALL. “When governments fail to protect their citizens, it is not merely irresponsible; it is a breach of one of the most fundamental duties entrusted to any government. Turkey aspires to greatness, and it can achieve it: but not at the cost of workers' lives.”
COURSES FOR 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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