Issue date
26 May 2017
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 801 - 27 May 2017
 
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 [email protected]

UNION NEWS

 - Few with long-term mental illness are in work

 - TUC concern over Tory mental health sticking plaster

 - Outrage at secret target to reject most benefit appeals

 - Performers face pain and bullying

OTHER NEWS

 - Review will order zero-hours contracts overhaul

 - Right to request fixed hours ‘useless’, says Unite

 - Safety bashing UKIP hopeful’s less than stellar safety record

 - Director convicted of manslaughter after site deaths

 - Farm fined after worker crushed to death

 - Three directors jailed following fatal roof fall

 - Director fined after worker breaks back in fall

 - Truck company fined after worker’s death

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

 - Canada: Ontario vows to help ailing factory workers

 - South Africa: ‘Reckless direliction’ caused mine deaths

 - USA: Immigration officials entrap injured worker

 - USA: Tesla production drive hurts car workers

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

 - Courses for 2017

 

UNION NEWS

Few with long-term mental illness are in work

Only 1 in 4 people with a mental illness or phobia lasting for 12 months or more is in work, according to a new TUC report. ‘Mental health and employment’ contains a new analysis of official employment statistics, and reveals while 4 in 5 (80.4 per cent) non-disabled people are in work, people with mental illness, anxiety or depression have substantially lower employment rates. Only 1 in 4 (26.2 per cent) people with a mental illness lasting, or expected to last, more than a year is in work. Less than half (45.5 per cent) of people with depression or anxiety lasting more than 12 months have a job. This suggests employers are failing to make adequate changes in the workplace to enable people with mental illnesses, anxiety or depression to get a job, or stay in work, says the TUC. It notes that mental health problems can often be 'invisible' to others, so a lack of mental health awareness amongst managers and employers is also likely to be a factor. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s simply not good enough that so few people with long-term mental health problems are able to stay in work. Not only is the economy missing out on the skills and talents these workers have, but having to leave your job can worsen your mental health.” She added: “The next government and employers must do more to support people with mental health conditions. Simple steps like giving an employee paid time off to go to counselling appointments can make a huge difference.” Health and Safety Executive figures suggest work factors are a major cause of mental health problems. The safety regulator’s latest statistics estimate in 2015/16 half a million workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

TUC news release and report, Mental health and employment. Morning Star.
HSE summary statistics for Great Britain 2016.

TUC concern over Tory mental health sticking plaster

The TUC has expressed scepticism about Conservative plans to ‘transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace’ while cutting mental health services and doing nothing on prevention. The union body was commenting on the Conservative Party election manifesto, which notes: “We will amend health and safety regulations so that employers provide appropriate first aid training and needs assessment for mental health, as they currently do for risks to physical health.” This followed prime minister Theresa May’s announcement earlier this month that larger organisations would be required to provide mental health first aid (Risks 799). The TUC said this approach has been around for years, and has been promoted by the Department of Health since 2012, with over 100,000 people already trained in mental health first aid. “But there are two things wrong with what the Conservatives are proposing,” notes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “The first is that mental health services in many areas have been consistently slashed over the last seven years with a lot of local mental health budgets being raided for other purposes, yet the manifesto is offering no new funding. This means that there are often no suitable support services available for mental health first aiders to point workers towards. Secondly, they are saying nothing about prevention.” Noting official statistics show half a million people in Great Britain are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, he added: “For years the trade unions have been saying that we need simple clear regulations on stress so that employers know what they have to do and enforcement agencies can ensure they are doing it. Yet successive governments have refused to act. Instead employers are increasingly investing in training for workers about how they can manage stress which throws the problem on to the worker and sees it as their responsibility.” He said while mental health first aiders are welcome, “they are not a response to workplace stress. If the government really wants to help then give us legal protection from one of the main causes of mental health disorders – stress, and at the same time put some new ring-fenced money into improving early access to NHS mental health services.”

TUC Stronger Unions blog and Mental Health in the Workplace workbook. TUC Touchstone blog. The Conservative Party manifesto 2017.

Outrage at secret target to reject most benefit appeals

A government policy requiring Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff to reject 80 per cent of benefit appeals has been condemned by the civil service union PCS. Disability organisations have also slammed the ‘outrageous target’. The furore follows a Freedom of Information request that revealed staff conducting mandatory reconsideration reviews were subject to a “key performance indicator” that said “80 per cent of the original decisions are to be upheld”. Mandatory reconsiderations are the first step in an appeal against decisions on jobseeker's allowance, the disability living allowance and other key benefits like employment and support allowance. The DWP says claimants ‘normally’ cannot progress to the next stage, a tribunal, without one. Between April 2016 and March this year, 87 per cent of mandatory reconsiderations resulted in the original decision being upheld. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, whose union represents DWP staff, said: “Our members making the original decisions are under pressure to churn out numbers with little regard to accuracy or fairness of the decision. The 80 per cent target is not used to make sure that 4 out of 5 decisions are correct, but is used to put pressure on people carrying out the mandatory reconsideration to simply ‘rubber stamp’ the original decision. The fact that the DWP continues to lose many of the cases that are considered independently by the appeal tribunal, shows that it continues to fail vulnerable people who should be receiving benefit payments.” Phil Reynolds, of Parkinson's UK, said: “These shocking findings have uncovered a blatant disregard for the health and well-being of thousands of people with the condition, who are forced to go through a stressful appeal process to get the support they should have received from day one. There should be trust that the DWP are working towards making the right decision, first time. These outrageous targets must be abolished.”

PCS news release. Daily Mirror. The Independent.

Performers face pain and bullying

Performing for a living can come with unacceptable risks, Equity’s conference has heard. Delegates to the performers’ union conference this week heard bullying is so widespread in the acting profession that most actors admit having been victims. Ayvianna Snow, who called the debate the most important at the conference, said: “I’ve been a victim of bullying and sexual harassment.” She added: “Bullies operate in a culture of fear. If you do speak out, it’s your word against theirs, and their powerful friends may not side with an unknown actor. We can often only help after the bullying when the damage is already done. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.” The Federation of Entertainment Unions’ (FEU) ‘Creating Without Conflict’ survey found that 56 per cent of those working in theatre said they had directly experienced bullying, the conference noted. Delegates backed a call for dedicated union resources to address bullying and mental health issues. They also supported a call for improvements to the Equity insurance package for dancers who suffer injury, which currently covers scans but not treatment. The union’s dance committee chair Gareth Mole said dance membership has increased 26 per cent in the last year alone. “Dance is used in an ever wider range of art forms. Therefore, they are at greater risk of injury,” he said. And Nicholas Keegan noted: “As many as 60 to 70 per cent of dancers are injured a year. The time and cost of rehabilitation can easily force dancers to leave the industry altogether, given the freelance nature of the work.” Equity agreed to look at the cost of expanding its insurance package to include physiotherapy, chiropractic and other treatments.

Morning Star articles on the Equity conference’s bullying and dance injury debates.

OTHER NEWS

Review will order zero-hours contracts overhaul

The government-commissioned inquiry into controversial working practices is set to call for employees on zero-hours contracts to be given the right to request a move onto fixed hours. According to a BBC report, Matthew Taylor, the head of the Royal Society of Arts who is leading the review, will say that some workers might be being exploited by businesses. The “right to request” fixed hours will be similar to the present right to request flexible hours - after having a child for example. Employers would have to respond “seriously” to the request and give reasons for their decision. The idea was proposed in a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) submission to the review. The new "right to request" fixed hours could be used by some of the 900,000 people on zero-hours contracts, a number that has risen from 143,000 in 2008. Labour has proposed banning zero-hours contracts if it wins the general election and the Liberal Democrats have said they back a right to request change to employment regulations. The Conservatives - which commissioned the Taylor review - said that they would look at new rights for people working in the “gig economy” who are often classed as self-employed even though they may be regularly working for one company. Unions warn that there are higher rates of work-related injuries and ill-health in insecure workers, who are less able to raise or challenge health and safety concerns.

BBC News Online. Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy. More on health and safety and insecure work.

Right to request fixed hours ‘useless’, says Unite

Just giving workers the right to request fixed hours will be ‘useless’, Unite has warned. The union said it would do nothing to combat the use of exploitative zero hours and short hours’ contracts. Responded to reports that the Taylor Review was considering backing an idea contained in the business lobby group CBI’s submission to the review, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Merely giving workers a ‘right to request’ fixed hours will not stop exploitative bosses or curb the use of zero hours and short hours’ contracts. It is a totally useless measure which will continue to see workers denied the security of knowing how much they earn from one week to the next.” He added: “With a shocking 3.8 million people experiencing in-work poverty it’s high time that work in this country paid and the misery of insecure work was eradicated. Workers shouldn’t be reduced to begging for more hours like Oliver Twist and should instead have the security of guaranteed hours. An incoming government must act to end the abuse of zero hours and short hours’ contacts by following the lead of New Zealand by banning them. It must also strengthen workplace rights as part of a package for decent work to give workers security in the workplace and make work pay.”

Unite news release. The Guardian.

Safety bashing UKIP hopeful’s less than stellar safety record

A UKIP candidate who has blamed “health and safety madness” for slowing the human conquest of space had earlier been brought down to earth by Health and Safety Executive enforcement action. South Suffolk candidate Aidan Powlesland wants the government to offer £1.23 billion in prizes to encourage plans including asteroid mining and an “interstellar colony ship”. In a blog posting, he noted: “I think a slow and cautious dispatch of unmanned probes to nearby stars before risking any human exploration or colonisation is guilty of the charge of health and safety madness. Interstellar colonisation should not be postponed by 250 years while unmanned missions map the sphere within, say, 10 lights years of Earth.” However, the Morning Star found Powlesland, 57, was issued with an improvement notice by the HSE in 2014 for “failure to produce a current Landlords Gas Safety Record dated within the previous 12 months.” This was a criminal breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. HSE records show he complied with the order. A UKIP spokesperson said its candidate was “ambitious.” Powlesland’s 10 light year travel plan is certainly ambitious – it would have taken the Space Shuttle 350,000 years to cover the 60 trillion mile journey.

Morning Star. HSE enforcement notice database. Daily Post. The Irish News. East Anglian Daily Times.

Director convicted of manslaughter after site deaths

A company director has been convicted after he failed to undertake an adequate risk assessment and provide training to two construction workers who fell to their deaths. Martin Gutaj, 44, and his company Martinisation London Limited, were tried at the Old Bailey. Gutaj was found guilty of two criminal safety charges while Martinisation London Limited was convicted of two counts of corporate manslaughter. Gutaj was bailed to appear at the Old Bailey on 7 July for sentencing. The court heard how on 21 November 2014, Tomasz Procko, 22, and Kyrol Szymanski, 29, both Polish nationals, were working at a construction site in Cadogan Square in central London run by Gutaj’s company. The workers were expected to use a rope to haul a sofa over a balustrade and into a first floor apartment. Advice from an experienced and reputable lifting company on how to carry out the process safely was ignored due to time and budgetary constraints. Both workers fell after the Victorian railings on the balcony gave way as the furniture was being manoeuvred into the premises. Tomasz Procko was pronounced dead at the scene. Karol Szymanski was taken to a central London hospital in a critical condition where he later died. Detective Sergeant Simon Rogers from the Homicide and Major Crime Command said: “Tomasz Procko and Kyrol Szymanski fell to their deaths during the lifting operation which was entirely foreseeable and avoidable. Martinisation London Limited and the operation director Martin Gutaj failed in their duty of care to protect the men.” Nick Vamos, deputy head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “Martinisation Ltd and its director Martin Gutaj showed an appalling disregard for the safety of their employees, with terrible consequences. Sadly, this incident was entirely foreseeable and preventable. Neither was it an isolated breach. The evidence put forward by the prosecution clearly demonstrated to the jury how these tragic deaths were part of a pattern of serious neglect of basic health and safety.” He added: “Our thoughts are with the families of Tomasz and Karol.”

CPS news release. Construction Enquirer. Evening Standard.

Three directors jailed following fatal roof fall

Three company directors have been jailed following the death of a man who fell during a cut price roof job in Essex. Nikolai Valkov, 63, died in hospital after falling through the roof of a warehouse in Harlow on 13 April 2015. At Chelmsford Crown Court, Koseoglu Metalworks Ltd pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter and its sole director, Kadir Kose, admitted a criminal safety offence. Ozdil Investments Ltd denied corporate manslaughter and a criminal safety offence but was convicted following a trial at Chelmsford Crown Court. Two of its directors, Firat Ozdil and Ozgur Ozdil, were convicted of a criminal safety offence. Firat Ozdil was jailed for one year, Ozgur Ozdil for 10 months and Kadir Kose for eight months. The court heard how Ozdil Investments Ltd was the owner of the warehouse, Ozdil House, where the roof needed repairs. Both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Harlow District Council issued warnings to the company about the dangers involved in the repair work and specifically the need for safety measures such as netting to be put in place. Despite this, Firat Ozdil and Ozgur Ozdil paid their friend Kose to carry out the work without netting or other safety measures. The court heard Koseoglu Metalworks Ltd had no experience of roofing work and the fee paid by the Ozdils was approximately £100,000 less than a recognised roofing contractor would have charged. Kose did not carry out a risk assessment at the site and sent staff onto the roof without training. While working on the roof, Mr Valkov stepped onto a discoloured skylight and fell to his death. Luke Bulpitt, a specialist prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: "By ignoring the safety measures they knew were required, the Odzils and their company risked the lives of everyone working on the roof in an attempt to save money.” He added: “Faced with the evidence against him, Kose and Koseoglu Metalworks admitted their guilt but the Ozdils and their company contested the charges. However, having heard the compelling case put forward by the prosecution, the jury returned guilty verdicts.” The prosecution followed an investigation by Essex Police.

CPS news release.

Director fined after worker breaks back in fall

Eco NRG Solutions Ltd and its director Jon Luke Antoniou have been fined after a worker suffered serious injuries in fall through a roof at a farm in Cornwall. Taunton Magistrates Court heard how Lewis Harding, 28, had been fitting solar panels on a fragile roof at Venn Farm on 19 May 2015. He fell more than three metres through a fragile skylight and broke his back in three places. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to take adequate precautions to prevent workers falling from height. There was no edge protection, under-roof netting or boarding provided on site. The company instead relied on an ineffective use of harnesses. Unsafe working had been taking place for months before the incident and then continued for months afterwards. HSE’s investigation found that the bad practice was attributable to the neglect of director Jon Antoniou. Eco NRG Solutions Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £115,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,879.60. Jon Luke Antoniou pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,957.40. HSE inspector Sue Adsett said: “The worker is lucky to have not sustained more life-threatening injuries from what we found to be a serious breach of the law. This case highlights the importance of directors being vigilant and acting on their obligations.”

HSE news release.
Farm fined after worker crushed to death

A Welsh farm has been fined after a contractor was fatally crushed by a reversing farm machine. Swansea Crown Court heard that Jonathan Evans, 43, was contracted to spread fertilizer on the Penhill Farm Limited in Ferryside. On 31 July 2014 the father-of-two was struck by the reversing telehandler in the farm yard. He died from crush injuries sustained to his chest and body. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the farm failed to maintain the machinery, for which farm owner and sole director Selwyn Andrew Thomas Richards, 52, was directly responsible. The telehandler was in poor condition with visibility compromised by the dirty and badly positioned mirrors and dirty glass in the cab. Penhill Farm Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. The farm’s owner, Selwyn Andrew Thomas Richards, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence, but no separate penalty was given. HSE inspector Steve Richardson said: “This is a tragic incident which cost a popular family man his life. This case highlights the need and importance for duty holders to properly maintain dangerous machinery and vehicles, including mirrors and glass to avoid fatal incidents such as this.” Mr Evans’ daughter Jodie read an impact statement from her mother Kay to the court. It noted: “I will spend the remainder of my life grieving for him. I have considered ending my own life, but I did not because I know Jonathan would never forgive me for abandoning our children. The agony of our loss continues.”

HSE news release and webpages on farm vehicles and vehicle safety. Press and Journal. Wales Online.

Truck company fined after worker’s death

ATE Truck and Trailer Sales Ltd, a company that buys, refurbishes and sells heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and trailers has been sentenced after the death of a worker. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard that on 21 February 2013 William Price suffered fatal head injuries when he was struck by the roof of a trailer he was dismantling at the Marston Industrial Estate site. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found ATE had undertaken this task before and had an established method in place. However, it failed to properly consider the risks involved in this work and did not provide the 63-year-old with any information in relation to his safety when ‘stripping down’ the trailers. ATE Truck and Trailer Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £475,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000. HSE inspector Judith Botwood commented: “This tragic accident was preventable had all parties considered the risks involved and taken appropriate measures to reduce that risk.” Mr Price’s daughter, Hayley, said she hoped the fine would prevent a similar tragedy. “It has been awful,” she said. “There are so many things we have missed out on.”

HSE news release. Express and Star.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: Ontario vows to help ailing factory workers

Ontario will do the “right thing” for factory workers left fighting work-related cancer and other diseases but who have been routinely denied compensation, the province’s labour minister has said. The commitment from Kevin Flynn came in the wake of a 173-page report by General Electric (GE) retirees and the union Unifor documenting working conditions in a GE plant in Peterborough from 1945 to 2000. The report said workers were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals, including at least 40 known or suspected human carcinogens. “These GE workers have suffered horrific and often terminal diseases at a disproportionate rate, yet approximately half of the compensation claims filed have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn due to what was deemed to be insufficient proof,” said Joel Carr, Unifor national representative. Workers were exposed to large quantities of hazardous substances including asbestos, arsenic, vinyl chloride, beryllium, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, PCB, uranium and lead, without proper protection. There are currently 31 Unifor members with claims to the province’s compensation board (WSIB) for GE job-related illness, including several forms of cancer. The report, authored by experienced occupational health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo, was commissioned by the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposures, consisting of retired GE workers and supported by Unifor. Responding to the report, Ontario labour minister Kevin Flynn said he wants an “expedited” settlement process in place “as quickly as possible” for those struggling without workers’ compensation. Flynn signalled the government is considering a way to process the claims similar to how compensation for work-related illness is handled for firefighters, for whom a list of cancers are presumed to be work-related. “We’ve talked about a presumptive approach to this,” the minister said.

Unifor news release and full report. Peterborough Examiner. Toronto Star.

South Africa: ‘Reckless direliction’ caused mine deaths

High death rates in South African mines are a consequence of a ‘reckless dereliction’ of duty by the government and mining sector, national union federation COSATU has said. The union body was commenting in the aftermath of a deadly 11 May explosion 3km underground in a decommissioned Harmony Gold mine in Welkom, Free State. More than 40 zama zamas - illegal artisanal miners – were killed. A COSATU statement noted: “Government cannot continue to explain away these senseless deaths and the mining sector cannot pretend that these incidents have nothing to do with them. Mine owners have to deal with the fact that they are primarily responsible for creating an environment, where people are dying like flies every day. Their quest for super profits and failure to properly close the old mine shafts has created orphans and cost poor artisanal workers their lives.” It added the government “must urgently put measures in place to make amends and clean up the mess that they have created all across the country. We want to hear them offering concrete proposals on how they are going to improve in implementing mine closures, especially considering the mining industry's poor environmental legacy.” It said official reports had established the increase in illegal mining had left workers “under the control of criminal syndicates… working with the so called legitimate companies to exploit these vulnerable workers.” COSATU said it wants ‘strategic commodities’ such as gold, platinum and steel brought under government control. “This strategic nationalisation will go a long way in addressing the problems engulfing the mining sector including artisanal mining,” it noted.

COSATU news release. The Times.

USA: Immigration officials entrap injured worker

US immigration officers have identified a new way to entrap undocumented workers – arrest them when they seek compensation after being injured at work. Honduran national Jose Flores attended a meeting this month with his employer regarding compensation for a serious injury he had suffered when he fell off a ladder. The 37-year-olds injuries included a broken femur, requiring several surgeries and meaning has been unable to work. Benitez and his wife, Rosa Flores, had fled Honduras seven years ago to escape gang violence. Three of their five children were born in the United States. In Massachusetts, where Flores worked, undocumented workers are eligible for workers’ compensation payments. But when Flores went to a meeting arranged by his employer, officers from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service were waiting and arrested the injured worker, who could now be deported. Flores’ employer, Tara Construction, had no workers’ comp insurance. The concern for Flores’ immigration attorney, Christina Corbaci, is that this could signal another new enforcement approach by ICE under President Trump. “Before, I wouldn’t have really had a concern telling someone, ‘Yes, you should go ahead to report something like this and assert your rights’,” Corbaci said. “But now we have this added fear that, could an employer in this kind of case just, you know, use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

Confined Space blog. Talking Union.

USA: Tesla production drive hurts car workers

Tesla’s much-vaunted and highly automated “factory of the future” in Fremont, California, presents some old fashioned hazards for the workers making Elon Musk’s cutting edge electric cars. Reports have revealed the relentless work pressure from Musk’s aggressive production goals are causing high rates of sometimes life-changing injuries. Ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, according to incident reports. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues. The Tesla CEO conceded to the Guardian his workers had been “having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs”, but said he cared deeply about their health and well-being. His company says its factory safety record has significantly improved over the last year. However, 15 current and former factory workers told the Guardian of a culture requiring working long hours under intense pressure, sometimes through pain and injury, in order to fulfil the CEO’s ambitious production goals. In February, workers distributed a blog article written by Tesla worker Jose Moran that detailed allegations of mandatory overtime, high rates of injury and low wages at the factory, and revealed that workers were seeking to unionise with the United Auto Workers. A month after that, management called a meeting and told workers “they were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by the Employer.” Some workers argue the real extent of work-related ill-health is hidden. They contend workers are reluctant to report injuries, because this can result in reassignment to ‘light duties’ on much lower wages. “No one wants to get a pay cut because they’re injured, so everyone just forces themselves to work through it,” said Adam Suarez, who has worked at the factory for about three years. The company has succeeded at increasing its production rate every quarter. In the first three months of 2017, the factory produced more than 25,000 cars – a Tesla record. To meet Musk’s goal for 2018, they will have to quintuple that rate. Still, Musk says it is all about caring. “We’re trying to do good for the world and we believe in doing the right thing,” he said. “And that extends to caring about the health and safety of everyone at the company.”

Capital and Main. The Guardian. American Prospect.

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