|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TUC has condemned the government after it emerged a former employer and business leader had been appointed by the work and pensions secretary to a seat on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) board that is reserved for a representative of ‘employees’ interests’. Safety law requires the Secretary of State to appoint three members of the HSE after consulting organisations representing employees, and three members after consulting employers’ representatives. However, A Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announcement on 2 September revealed work and pensions secretary Damian Green had given one of the employee representative seats to a businesswoman who has no background representing workers and was not nominated or supported by any bodies who represent workers. The TUC said the minister’s selection of Susan Johnson, who holds several other paid board-level appointments, upsets the statutory balance of representation between workers and employers on the HSE board. In another departure from safety law, the TUC says the vacancy wasn’t advertised and organisations representing workers were not consulted on the appointment. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government cannot appoint an employer to represent workers. It’s a blatant abuse of rules that are there to ensure a fair balance between workers and bosses.” She added: “The HSE works best when employers and unions work together as equal partners, as intended by the Health and Safety at Work Act. By rejecting the consensus approach, the government is sending out a dangerous signal to bad bosses who put staff at risk by cutting corners. Along with the Trade Union Act, it’s a further attack on the ability of trade unions to protect the health and safety of working people.” But the TUC leader added: “Despite this, trade unions will continue to work for the welfare and safety of their members. The best way for people to stay safe and well at work is to join a trade union so that there is a trained health and safety representative on hand when you need it.”
DWP announcement. TUC news release. TUC Stronger Unions blog.
Sports Direct has been on the receiving end of a record shareholder revolt prompted by its abusive management practices. At the company’s 7 September annual meeting, more than half (53 per cent) of independent Sports Direct shareholders voted against management and called for an independent investigation into how Sports Direct treats its workers. The support for the resolution tabled by the Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) group and Islington Council, was the highest on record for an employment-related resolution in the UK. Those who voted in favour included investors and fund managers with no previous history of supporting employment-related resolutions. An additional 10 per cent of independent shareholders abstained, making a total of 63 per cent who did not support management on the resolution. Despite this vote, the resolution will not pass, as billionaire owner Mike Ashley has a personal stake of roughly 55 per cent of Sports Direct shares. TUSO chair Janet Williamson said the company should take heed of the vote and instigate an independent review. She added “the shareholder uprising should act as a cautionary tale to other employers. Sports Direct’s reputation has been dragged through the mud and its share price has taken a hammering.” She said: “Hopefully this vote will usher in a new era of investors working with unions to challenge bad employment practices.” A Sports Direct-commissioned report into its employment practices published the day before the AGM was accompanied by a company apology, a commitment to relax the ‘six strikes’ disciplinary procedure and a - heavily qualified - statement that the company would reduce zero hours contracts. Frances O’Grady commented: “An apology is always a good start, but this is too little, too late.” Pressing the case for an independent inquiry, she added: “A report written by a law firm which previously represented Mike Ashley and management simply won’t cut it. Sports Direct cannot be allowed to mark their own homework.” She said: “Cases like this show why the government must act to end the abuse of zero hours contracts, and get serious on enforcing employment rights. This story is a testament to the tireless work of Unite the union, which has played a key role in revealing abuses at the company.” Responding to concerns that employees were suffering ankle and hand injuries because they were expected to work too fast for too long, Mike Ashley said the firm would look to vary their duties.
Around one in eight (12 per cent) workers is forced to stop working before state pension age due to ill-health or disability, according to TUC research. ‘Postponing the pension: are we all working longer?’ finds that nearly half a million (436,000) workers who are within five years of state pension age have had to leave the workplace for medical reasons. The analysis also reveals a stark North-South divide, with ill-health retirements much less frequent in the relatively affluent south. The report also reveals that those who have worked in the lowest paid jobs – including cleaners, carers, those working in the leisure industry and those doing heavy manual jobs – are twice as likely to stop working before retirement age due to sickness and disability than managers or professionals. Workers aged over 50 now make up one in three (30 per cent) of the workforce – up from fewer than one in four (24 per cent) in 2000. The report finds that nearly half (49 per cent) of 60- to 64-year-olds stopped working before their official retirement age. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts. But these figures show that we must hold off on any further rises in the pension age until we have worked out how to support the 1-in-8 workers who are too ill to work before they even get to state pension age.” She added: “People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market but we can’t expect the sick to wait longer to get a pension when they may need financial support more than ever.”
Repeated warning from UCATT that workers in construction trades would not be fit to do physically demanding work to a delayed retirement age (Risks 635) have been proved correct, the union says. Speaking after a TUC report concluded one in eight workers in Britain are too sick or disabled to work by the time they can collect their state pension, the union said ‘desk bound politicians’ are out of touch, ‘ignoring the fact that a lifetime of construction work cannot be sustained into old age.’ UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “You cannot expect a human being to work in construction till they are 68-years-old and still be a healthy human being. Our spectacularly out of touch politicians need to address this issue now and tailor the pension age to the nature of work that you do. I’d like to see some of these politicians do one year in construction, let alone 50 years.” UCATT wants a flexible pension age to allow construction workers and those in other physically demanding roles to retire earlier rather than be forced out of the profession due to ill-health and injury. The UCATT leader said: “We welcome the TUC research because it illustrates what we’ve been saying for years – certain professions, like construction, which are hugely physically demanding, need to be treated differently. Construction workers need to have options to allow them to receive a pension earlier. It’s common sense. We thought we’d gone past the time when exhausted workers retired and then croaked pretty soon after. We should be seeking social progress in 2016 – not regression.”
Members of the rail union RMT demonstrated outside the Scottish parliament on 8 September as part of the union’s ongoing ‘Safer Scottish Trains’ campaign. Activists assembled at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station before moving to outside the parliament building Holyrood to protest as the first minister’s question time proceeded inside. The union wants a government investigation into trains operating without guards, a cost-cutting practice it has evidence is unsafe (Risks 756). RMT is demanding trains are “safe and secure for all” and that are “staffed by safety qualified, operationally trained guards,” also called conductors. It adds that for passenger safety and the safe despatch of trains, the guard and not the train’s driver should control the train doors. The union says safety is compromised on the Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains operating on parts of the network, and says drivers should be free to concentrate on driving the train. RMT adds that safe trains require safe tracks, and is opposing cuts in infrastructure, track workers or rail operation staff. It also wants more staff at stations. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We want to see a guard on every train who is fully safety qualified and operationally trained. That is the only way to guarantee a safe service.” He added: “RMT is calling on the Scottish government to launch an urgent review of safety and service quality on all Scottish trains, including Driver Only Operated services on the network.”
RMT news release. RMT is asking MSPs to sign Parliamentary Motion S5M-01161 in support of the Safer Scottish Trains campaign.
A Hampshire man has received £110,000 in compensation after developing lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. While studies suggest as many people develop lung cancer caused by asbestos as develop mesothelioma caused by the fibre, compensation settlements for lung cancer are relatively rare as it is common in the general population and less likely to be attributed to work factors. In this case, the 77-year-old Unite member worked as a mechanical fitter at a power station in 1962, repairing and replacing damaged pipework that was covered in asbestos. He was never provided with protective equipment. He was also exposed to asbestos at another power station between 1977 and 1990. During this time, his employer provided protective equipment. He also took a role as a supervisor to encourage colleagues to follow the company’s strict asbestos handling guidelines. After suffering with a persistent chest infection in 2015, medical investigations revealed he had a partially collapsed lung caused by his asbestos-related lung cancer. Unite’s Michelle King said: “By the time our member was educated about the risks of working with asbestos, he had already been exposed for more than 10 years. It is unacceptable that he was expected to work in poorly ventilated and dusty areas for so long, with no protection to prevent him from being exposed to the deadly substance in the first place.” She added: “Through his membership of Unite, we were able to provide expert legal advice, securing medical reports that proved his cancer was a result of working with asbestos and a six-figure compensation settlement.”
A plasterer who strained his back when he slipped in his work truck had to retire as a result. Kenneth Berkeley, 67, who was employed as a plasterer by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), was collecting tools from the open back of a tipper truck – supplied to him by his employer - when he slipped on its wet surface and fell, straining his back. The Unite member had previously been supplied with a closed van for his tools, but this was allocated to another worker. He was told to use a tipper truck instead, which had an exposed storage area with no protection from the weather. The vehicle was intended for transporting waste materials. After the fall he went to hospital where he had injections in his spine to ease the pain. The injury meant that he couldn’t return to work. Three years on he continues to struggle with physical activity. Kenneth Berkeley said: “I’d been using my old van for years before it was allocated to another worker, which was really disruptive because the tipper truck was difficult to use. Incredibly, looking back now it even had a ‘do not enter’ sign on the trailer because of its slippery floor but I had no choice – I had to store my tools in the back. The only other choice would have been to have the tools in the cab with me, which would have been incredibly dangerous driving around. My employer knew all this and wouldn’t listen when I raised my concerns with them about it.” He said it was “frustrating that my career ended so abruptly”, but added a Unite-backed compensation claim has secured a £50,000 payout which “means that I have funds to support me in my retirement.” Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said Kensington and Chelsea TMO “ignored Kenneth’s concerns on numerous occasions which ultimately left him with an injury that put an end to his career.”
Parts of the Sellafield nuclear complex regularly have too few staff to operate safely and radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles, a whistleblower has claimed. Speaking to the BBC’s Panorama documentary programme, he said parts of the facility are dangerously rundown. Sellafield said the site in Cumbria is safe and has been improved with significant investment in recent years. But the former senior manager said his biggest fear was a fire in one of the nuclear waste silos or one of the processing plants. He said: “If there is a fire there it could generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe.” He added that areas of Sellafield - which reprocesses and stores nearly all of the nation's nuclear waste - often didn't have enough staff on duty to meet minimum safety levels. Minimum staff levels are set for both teams of workers and whole plants on the site. Panorama said it had obtained figures showing that between July 2012 and July 2013 there were 97 incidents where parts of the site had too few workers on shift. Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said she was shocked by the figures. “It is incredible. It defies belief actually that anything could be working at below safe staffing levels. There is no excuse.” The programme also raised concerns about the way radioactive materials have been stored at Sellafield. It said it had discovered that liquid containing plutonium and uranium has been kept in thousands of plastic bottles for years. The bottles were only intended for temporary storage and some of them are degrading. It said while Sellafield has been working to remove them, there are still more than 2,000 bottles containing plutonium and uranium on the site. The programme makers said they had also seen leaked reports that suggest Sellafield had problems with emergency management and with maintaining the site's infrastructure. One report from 2013 cited by the programme said “years of neglect” had led to “intolerable conditions.”
A newly published ‘enhanced’ registry identifying what over 500 UK companies are doing to prevent slavery and human trafficking should encourage other firms to follow suit, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said. The safety professionals’ organisation was commenting after the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published its new registry of 540 organisations that have produced anti-slavery disclosure statements for the 2015/16 financial year, a measure required for larger firms under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, said: “We would encourage organisations to share their statements with the Centre and those procuring goods and services, or considering making investments, to use this searchable database to help inform their decisions. We believe that enabling enhanced visibility about how organisations are managing risks in this vital area can help drive a ‘race to the top’.” Under the Modern Slavery Act introduced a year ago, companies with an annual turnover of £36 million or more must report annually on what they have done during any given financial year regarding anti-slavery, and preventing human trafficking in their organisations and supply chains. UK government guidance states that producing a regular annual statement “will ensure organisations can build upon earlier statements and demonstrate to the public, consumers and investors that they are being transparent, not because they are required to do so but because they consider it important.”
Regulations are ‘critical drivers’ encouraging industry to substitute hazardous chemicals, a new study has found. Joel Tickner and Molly Jacobs from the Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, concluded the biggest hindrances are too few staff and resources focused on substitution, ignorance on safer alternatives and limited information in the supply chains. They said the REACH regulations and other EU policies coupled with market forces have created strong drivers to avoid the use of very hazardous substances. “The findings and recommendations of this report are very interesting and highly valuable to our work to stimulate the replacement of substances of concern by safer alternatives,” said Geert Dancet, executive director of ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, which commissioned the report. “I believe that this work lists concrete proposals that regulators and industry should seriously consider to implement. ECHA will take the recommendations forward with its co-regulators and stakeholder organisations in the coming months.” Professor Tickner, the report co-author, commented: “One aspect, where Europe can learn from the US, is that the pressure to substitute hazardous chemicals in the US derives more through the supply chains, where the retailers and brands play a key role. In Europe, regulations seem to be a more important driver. Improved sectoral and supply chain collaboration and information sharing could accelerate substitution in Europe even before regulatory actions are taken.”
ECHA news release and report, Improving the identification, evaluation, adoption and development of safer alternatives: Needs and opportunities to enhance substitution efforts within the context of REACH, September 2016. University of Massachusetts, Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production and Toxics Use Reduction Institute.
A company director has been jailed for 12 months following the death of one of his workers. Paul Williamson, who was 51, died on 29 January 2014 when a remote controlled Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP) he was loading on to a truck fell from the ramps and crushed him. Manchester Crown Court heard he had not been adequately trained on the use of the ramps, the lorry or the MEWP. There was no risk assessment in place and no safe system of work had been created for the equipment, which had only been in operation for eight days. The gradient of the ramps was above the manufacturer’s specification and they were not secured to the lorry. The MEWP, a Spider 1800, toppled and crushed the father-of-three. Thorn Warehousing Ltd company director Kenneth Thelwall was charged under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay costs of £4,000. He was also disqualified from being a company director for seven years. The firm was charged with a criminal safety offence and fined £166,000 and ordered to pay £10,400 costs. The company is currently in administration. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Helen Jones said: “Kenneth Thelwall failed in his duty as a director to protect his workers. He was involved in the day-to-day running of Thorn Warehousing Ltd and should have ensured the company provided Paul Williamson with the right equipment and training to carry out his job. Had he done so Mr Williamson would still be alive today.” She added: “This case should act as a stark warning to all company directors of their personal responsibility to protect their workers’ health and safety and the tragic consequences when they fail.”
Construction firm Montway Ltd has been fined £144,000 after a Romanian labourer was seriously injured in a fall from a roof. Southwark Crown Court heard that on 25 February 2013 two workers were working on the roof of a two storey detached house in Golders Green, London. Ioan Vancea fell about five metres from the partly demolished roof and sustained serious injuries including a fractured spine. He was in an induced coma for two weeks and remained in hospital for three months. No scaffolding had been provided – despite the firm being aware it was required - and the work was not being supervised. The site was inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) two weeks after the incident and unsupervised demolition work was still being carried out. Broken pieces of asbestos had been removed from the house and left in a pile with other debris by a neighbouring property’s hedge. HSE enforcement notices were immediately served to ensure workers and members of the public were protected. Montway Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £144,000 and ordered to pay £43,606.15 in costs. The firm had originally pleaded not guilty, but changed its plea and sought a ‘Newton hearing’, which took place in May, to consider disputed issues. HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said: “Mr Vancea’s injuries were life changing and he could easily have been killed. This serious incident would have been avoided if scaffolding had been provided. Montway Ltd’s site documents even identified it was needed.” The inspector added: “Montway Ltd sought a Newton hearing so they could dispute numerous issues in front of a District Judge. They were unsuccessful and the Judge’s ruling confirmed she was satisfied that their approach towards the welfare of their employees was lax and casual, and it was their overall poor management of health and safety that directly led to this incident.”
European Health and Safety Week takes place in October each year and is designed to raise awareness of health and safety at work. This year the week will take place in the fourth week of October, running from Monday 24 October to Sunday 30 October. The theme is ‘healthy workplaces for all ages.’ The European Agency for Safety and Health (EU-OSHA), which organises the event, says it is “aimed at people in organisations, companies and workplaces of all sizes and sectors. Everybody involved in occupational safety and health matters is invited to take part, especially safety and health institutions and occupational insurance organisations, trade unions and employers' organisations, companies, managers, employees and safety representatives.” The Wednesday of European Health and Safety Week – this year, 26 October - is the annual National Inspection Day when all safety representatives are encouraged to inspect their workplace.
The TUC is urging safety reps, union branches and campaigns to make submissions for the Euro-week related EU-OSHA ‘all ages’ themed Good Practice Awards ahead of a 7 October 2016 deadline. More information: HSE 2016 campaign website, including details of how to enter. EU-OSHA Good Practice Awards webpages provide more information on what the judges will be looking for.
The Australian federal court has ordered mining giant Rio Tinto to pay almost Aus$1.3m (£0.74m) in damages, compensation and interest payments to a coalminer fired after claiming compensation for a workplace injury. Rio Tinto had admitted the neck injury suffered by Michael Haylett while driving a bulldozer in 2010 was caused by its negligence. He continued to work at the mine for three years. But in 2013, when the Queensland District Court awarded him Aus$630,000 in compensation for his injuries, he was dismissed by Rio Tinto. The victimisation settlement in a court case backed by mining and construction union CFMEU, was described by the union’s Stephen Smyth as a ‘David and Goliath’ battle against a mining giant. “Haylett is finally getting justice after three years of fighting one of the world’s biggest mining companies for his unfair sacking,” the mines section state president said. “While the payment of $1.3 million in damages and back pay will go some way to compensating Mr Haylett for the pain, suffering, and poor treatment he’s endured over the years, it shouldn’t have to be necessary. This was a vendetta against Michael Haylett that Rio Tinto has been running for years.” He added: “Mr Haylett was injured at work, and then sacked through no fault of his own – these three years of legal proceedings have been difficult for Michael, but today is his victory. Finally, Rio Tinto will be held to account for their behaviour.”
Regulators in Europe are continuing to put the interests of the chemical industry above the health of workers and the wider public, food and farming global union IUF has said. It said on 28 June, the European Commission yielded to the agrochemical lobby and reauthorised the use of the herbicide glyphosate, best known commercially as Monsanto's Roundup. IUF said this happened “despite mounting evidence of the harm it inflicts on public health, workers and the environment. The Commission acted unilaterally in the absence of a 'qualified majority' of EU governments and in the face of opposition from trade unions and civil society groups.” The renewed authorisation, which IUF said imposes few significant restrictions on glyphosate use at EU level, is valid for up to 18 months pending a review by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). IUF said further evidence of the EC’s acquiescence to the industry lobby has emerged. “While the battle over glyphosate renewal was heating up, the Commission introduced proposed criteria on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs, chemicals which disrupt the human hormone system) which would seriously restrict efforts to limit the use of pesticides known for their endocrine disrupting properties.” IUF concluded: “These measures confirm the EU's ongoing retreat from the precautionary principle, sustainable agricultural practices (under which pesticide applications are a last resort) and a hazards-based approach to protecting worker and consumer health and the environment.”
The lung cancer deaths of two former Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory workers have been accepted as work-related by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL). They are the first officially recognised cases of occupational lung cancer among Samsung Electronics semiconductor workers. The ruling is expected to prove controversial, with lung cancer not included among diseases Samsung Electronics has acknowledged as linked to semiconductor work. A 1 September statement from the human rights group Banollim stated that KCOMWEL “issued final rulings on 29 and 30 August recognising the lung cancer deaths of Lee Gyeong-hui and Song Yu-gyeong as industrial accidents.” Lee died aged 38 and Song aged 43. KCOMWEL’s decision came over two years after the family members applied for bereavement benefits. According to the ruling, “the deceased appear to have been continuously exposed to arsenic while performing their duties, and given that their diagnoses of and deaths from lung cancer came at an early age in the absence of other risk factors, a connection with their duties is recognised.” Arsenic is a known cause of lung cancer. An epidemiological report for Lee’s case said there was evidence of four Samsung Electronics partner companies attempting to hinder KCOMWEL’s investigation. At the time, the semiconductor production line where Lee and Song worked had been outsourced to current Samsung partners. Banollim said: “During this investigation, Samsung Electronics claimed not to use carcinogens, but there was no mention of arsenic in the materials it presented as evidence.” The campaign for Samsung victims, SHARPS, said the KCOMWEL ruling meant the Korean authorities now recognise officially eight conditions as occupationally related to semiconductor work: Leukaemia; lymphoma; aplastic anaemia; breast cancer; chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy; brain cancer; ovarian cancer; and lung cancer.
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