Number 876 - 24 November 2018
|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.
Tens of thousands of people do not have access to basic toilet facilities in their workplace, according to Unite. The union said it has uncovered evidence of staff at branches of major high street banks being required to urinate in buckets, and construction sites failing to provide any female toilets. Bus drivers have been denied toilet breaks for up to five hours, the union said, and workers in call centres for big financial institutions have been told to log in and out to take a toilet break. In total, Unite said tens of thousands of workers across the UK suffer a lack of “toilet dignity”, where they are either not provided with proper toilets or have restrictions placed on their use. The sectors where Unite has identified problems are wide-ranging, including banking, bus driving, construction, finance, lorry driving, warehousing and agriculture. The union said employers have a clear legal duty to provide decent toilets and washing facilities as part of the Welfare (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, with separate regulations applying to the construction industry – which means it a crime to deny workers access to decent toilet facilities. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is simply disgraceful that in 2018 tens of thousands of UK workers are denied toilet dignity at work. The examples that Unite has revealed are simply staggering and it is clearly deeply humiliating for the workers who are being denied toilet dignity.” She added: “Employers have got absolutely no excuse for ensuring toilet dignity and if they fail to do so they should be prosecuted by the HSE [Health and Safety Executive]. Unite will not be passive on this issue, if workers are denied toilet dignity we will name and shame the guilty parties.” Regularly being denied access to toilets is iinked to a range of serious health disorders.
Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis is urging retail staff not to suffer in silence as Usdaw’s latest survey shows that 59 per cent of those who experienced violence, threats or abuse at work did not report the incident to their employer. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said “it is very concerning that over half have never reported an incident, with one in six not reporting something as serious as an assault to their employer. Nearly half said they didn’t report attacks and abuse because they don’t feel it would make any difference, they don’t understand the reporting mechanism or it’s too complicated. Sometimes retail staff feel that it’s just a part of being in a frontline job, dealing with the public and the problems that sometimes throws up.” He added: “My message to shopworkers is very clear, abuse is not a part of the job. We are talking to employers to ensure that reporting systems are easily accessible and will make a real difference to the protection. However it is really important that staff do tell their manager when they experience violence, threats or abuse. If they report it we can help sort it.” Last week Usdaw called on the Scottish government to back a protection of workers bill. Labour MSP Daniel Johnson’s member’s bill has been through an initial consultation and has been backed by Asda, the Co-op and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation. The Bill is currently in the drafting stage.
The lack of earmarked funding to make schools free from the “scourge” of asbestos is “totally unacceptable”, unions have said. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) – a trade union campaigning group comprising eight education unions – said the government knows there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and children are more likely to develop the cancer mesothelioma after exposure than adults. The union comments came after the Department for Education revealed last week it would not be publishing the results of its much-anticipated school asbestos survey until next spring, prompting fears the report could come too late to influence long-term spending plans. Instead the government re-opened its ‘asbestos management assurance process’, which asks schools to declare whether or not they are compliant with their legal duty to manage asbestos on their sites. The process originally closed at the end of May this year, but schools minister Nick Gibb has now admitted that almost a quarter of schools failed to respond, prompting his department to re-open the process until next February. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said: “This is totally unacceptable. We already know that nearly 90 per cent of schools contain asbestos and that as asbestos ages, it deteriorates and becomes more difficult to manage. There is already plenty of evidence about poor standards of asbestos management across many local authorities and academy trusts. What we urgently need is earmarked funding to make our schools safe from this scourge.” JUAC said increasing numbers of teachers and school staff are dying from the cancer mesothelioma because they were exposed to asbestos while working in schools.
A lorry driver who injured his arm when his vehicle overturned on a road near Wolverhampton has secured £35,000 compensation with help from his union. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, fell awkwardly on his right arm after the HGV he was driving toppled and landed on its side. Paramedics treated him at the scene and he was taken to hospital, and while he was able to return to work a few days later, he continues to suffer pain and restricted function. He later found out that his lorry has been loaded unevenly by a third party working on behalf of his employer, whose name has not been released. This meant his vehicle was at risk of tipping over any time it cornered. Commenting on his injuries, he said: “My accident shows how important a fastened seatbelt is, because my injuries could have been so much worse. Even so, I still find certain things more difficult since my accident. I used to help friends and family with plastering and other DIY tasks, but that’s almost impossible now. Even picking up my grandchildren is difficult – my arm can lock up in an ‘L-shape’ and can be really painful.” Unite’s Mel Palmer commented: “It’s important to load any vehicles safely, especially large HGVs. This didn’t happen and meant our member’s vehicle was effectively an accident waiting to happen. It’s fortunate that there were no other road users nearby and that our member had followed safety precautions like wearing a seatbelt, or else this could have been far worse. Through the hard work of our legal team, we were able to prove that our member’s employer was liable for the mistake of the third party.”
Addison Lee has lost its claim at the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) that its drivers are self-employed. The EAT ruling upheld a previous decision that the taxi and courier company’s drivers are workers and should quality for minimum employment rights, including working hours limits, holiday pay and breaks (Risks 819). The judgment could impact thousands of other gig economy workers, according to the union GMB, which brought the case. It called the EAT ruling, which establishes a legal precedent, as a “huge win for workers’ rights.” GMB has won similar ground-breaking victories against Uber and Hermes. Sue Harris, GMB legal director, said: “Once again the courts have agreed Addison Lee drivers are legally entitled to workers’ rights such as the national minimum wage and holiday pay rights. Other employers should take note – GMB will not stop pursuing these exploitative companies on behalf of our members.” Liana Wood, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day who represents the drivers on behalf of GMB, said: “It is clear that Addison Lee’s business model of providing a fleet of highly trained, regulated drivers is incompatible with their arguments that drivers are not workers who are entitled to workers’ fundamental rights.” She added: “We hope that Addison Lee will accept this decision; drivers shouldn’t have to continue to work very long hours, often in excess of 60 hours per week, to earn just enough to meet their basic living costs.”
A prominent activist and safety rep with the rail union RMT has been reinstated following negotiations between management and union representatives, the Morning Star has reported. Benjamin ‘Ben’ Frederick, a guard on Great Western Railway (GWR) and a well-known health and safety representative at Paddington depot, was assaulted, racially abused and spat on by a passenger in August (Risks 874). While no action was taken on his assault report, he found himself suspended from work in September after his managers claimed he had assaulted a member of the public, despite no complaints being filed against him. After two disciplinary hearings, management dismissed him, which led the union to begin balloting members for strike action in his defence. The union’s leadership lined up behind the safety rep, with general secretary Mick Cash claiming that he was the victim of a “vexatious and false allegation, which has been cooked up by managers with a grudge against an active trade unionist.” Following the announcement that workers would ballot, management eventually conceded, and agreed to reinstate him. In a statement, Ben Frederick’s RMT branch, Paddington No 1, commented: “Ben was represented at appeal by our senior assistant general secretary Steve Hedley who this branch congratulates in his representation, as well as our own branch secretary Alex Gordon who defended Ben in the previous stages of this case. We are RMT — do not go to work without us.”
Five trade union general secretaries have written a joint letter to The Guardian condemning government proposals that will deny access to justice for workers suffering injuries that could include a collapsed lung, a fractured wrist or elbow and loss of front teeth. The 16 November letter, written ahead of the Civil Liability Bill completing its passage through parliament on 20 November, states: “The government say that the bill will tackle a whiplash ‘epidemic’, but it hides a £1.3bn annual gift to the insurers, a loss to government coffers of £146m a year, and an assault on access to justice that will impact hundreds of thousands of people whose claims have nothing to do with whiplash.” It adds: “By statutory instrument, the government plans to sneak through a doubling of the small claims limit, below which injured people don’t get their legal fees paid. Up to 40 per cent of those injured at work will lose their rights. Thousands of workers will be left fighting insurers on their own and in their own time. Injured people whose claim has a value of up to £2,000 – thousands of people a year – will be expected to take on well-funded insurers on their own.” The letter concludes: “The government’s proposed changes are a green light to irresponsible employers to cut corners on safety in the knowledge that injured workers will either not seek compensation or struggle to do so on their own. The government is using the furore around whiplash claims as a smokescreen to attack vulnerable claimants and further enrich their friends in the insurance industry (who have already saved £11bn since 2013 due to earlier injury legal reforms). Injured workers should be exempt from any increase, and on behalf of those injured through no fault of their own we intend to oppose these proposals every step of the way.” The letter is signed by general secretaries Paddy Lillis of Usdaw, Len McCluskey of Unite, Tim Roache of GMB, Dave Prentis of UNISON and Mick Cash of RMT.
Business leaders and unions have called for mental health to be given the same weight as physical first aid in workplace legislation. An open letter urging Theresa May to prioritise manifesto pledges to act on mental health has been signed by some of Britain’s biggest employers, including Royal Mail, WH Smith, Mace, Channel 4 and Ford, as well as the unions Unite, NASUWT and Community. The prime minister said last year she would shake up mental health service provision, describing the shortfall as “one of the burning injustices in our country” (Risks 822). The joint letter calls for the government to overhaul health and safety rules to equip first aiders to deal with early signs of mental health problems, as much as handing out bandages or performing CPR. It said employers’ duty of care should mean “equalising their number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders” and trying to “break the stigma of mental health in the workplace.” Simon Blake chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, said: “The principle [of physical first aid training] is enshrined in workplace law. Just as a physical first aider might know how to use CPR to save a life or put someone in the recovery position, a mental health first aider also uses a set of skills to guide a person who is struggling or in crisis to a place of safety and support.” TUC head of health and safety Hugh Robertson said while the letter raised important points, mental health first aid (MHFA) alone would not get to the core of the issue (Risks 841). “Our view is simple, while MHFA training can be a useful way of raising awareness of mental health issues, the TUC is concerned that too many employers see it as the first line response to dealing with preventable workplace issues and it must never be seen as a substitute for a good and effective stress management policy underlined by line manager training. Nor can it be an alternative to providing comprehensive occupational health support.” A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research report this year confirmed that as yet there is ‘no evidence’ that MHFA training leads to improvements (Risks 865).
Ÿ Mental Health First Aid England news release and Letter from business and union leaders. The Guardian. BBC News Online. TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace. TUC mental health awareness training. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, 2018.
Theresa May has appointed Amber Rudd as the sixth work and pensions secretary since 2016. The Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye replaces Esther McVey, who resigned in protest at the prime minister’s proposed Brexit deal. Since Iain Duncan Smith left the role in March 2016, no-one has survived a year in the work and pensions post, whose responsibilities include workplace health, related benefits and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Rudd’s appointment marks her return to the Cabinet after she resigned in April this year from the post of home secretary after she ‘inadvertently misled’ MPs over targets for removing illegal immigrants. Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, expressed dismay at Rudd’s appointment. “After enforcing Theresa May’s hostile environment in the Home Office, Amber Rudd will now be in charge of the DWP’s hostile environment for disabled people and the poorest in society,” he said. “With Universal Credit in absolute shambles, appointing a disgraced former minister who was only recently forced to resign for her role in another scandal is a desperate choice by a weak prime minister.” Sarah Newton remains the DWP minister of state responsible for work and health, the HSE and industrial injuries and disease benefits.
The families of five men who died while working at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in Birmingham have rejected an inquest ruling that the tragedy was ‘accidental’. Almamo Jammeh, Ousman Diaby, Bangally Dukuray, Saibo Sillah and Mahamadou Jagana were killed when an 11.8ft concrete partition fell on them on 7 July 2016 (Risks 782). An inquest jury found the “foreseeable risk” of the incident had not been identified, a failure which “caused or contributed” to the deaths. Reacting outside the court to the verdicts of accidental death – reached at the direction of the coroner - the men’s families said they would continue to look for “justice” following the “very violent deaths.” The two-week inquest at the Birmingham’s coroner's court heard from a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigator that the site could have “most definitely” identified the risk of fall. Another HSE expert told jurors “the wall was overloaded and not safe.” HSE investigator Paul Cooper was asked by area coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Emma Brown if the "risk of the wall falling" could have been spotted. He replied “most definitely” and said it would have been “common sense” to have identified that risk. Lang Dampha, the families’ spokesperson, commenting after the conclusion of the inquest, said: “No-one expects to go to work to die. We never imagined this would happen, but we now know why it did. We believe it was because of obvious and serious failings by the company that ran the workplace. We believe that they thought of our loved ones as cheap labour and didn’t really care if they lived or died.” He added: “The company and its directors should face the full force of the legal system and not be allowed to get away with what has happened. They should face criminal prosecution.”
Furnace relining company, Calderys UK Ltd, has been sentenced for failing to control exposure to both vibration and silica for its workers. Leeds Crown Court heard the company reported two cases of employees suffering hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) in early 2017. During the subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation it was found that no measures had been put in place to control exposure to vibration when using pneumatic tools. It was also found no health surveillance had been put in place to identify any early signs of effects on workers’ health. These failings had been on going from as early as 2006. The investigation also found that between April 2004 and December 2017, no measures were implemented to control workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica while stripping and replacing furnace linings, and no health surveillance was put in place, despite previous advice from HSE indicating what was needed. Calderys UK Ltd pleaded guilty to four criminal health and safety offences and was fined £60,000 with £4,864 costs. HSE inspector Julian Franklin commented: “Exposure to vibration can cause HAVS, a loss of nerve function, strength and dexterity in the fingers which is permanent and untreatable while exposure to silica can cause silicosis, leading to impaired lung function, lung cancer and death. It can also lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).” He added: “Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action against those failing to protect their workers.”
A dyeing company has been sentenced for criminal breaches of safety law after two separate incidents saw employees suffer serious injuries. Leeds Crown Court heard how, on 27 August 2014, a worker was dyeing hanks of wool using a large tank and overhead crane when the hook block on the crane failed. The crane lid dropped into the tank, causing boiling dye liquid to splash the employee who suffered serious burns to his body. In a second incident on 15 January 2015, the clothes of a worker clearing a blockage on a yarn scouring line became caught on a rotating part. He became entangled in the machine and sustained serious chest and leg injuries. Holmfirth firm Premier Hank Dyers Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined a £12,000 and ordered to pay £12,014.70 in costs. HSE inspector Jacqueline Ferguson commented: “Employers must ensure that they properly assess the risks associated with dangerous moving parts of machinery and then apply effective control measures to minimise those risks.”
A facilities management contractor’s failings could have put staff at an animal lab at serious risk from ‘high hazard biological agents’, a court has heard. Interserve (Facilities Management) Ltd was fined £93,600 with £32,056 costs for multiple criminal safety failings at an Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency laboratory in Weybridge. Hove Crown Court heard how, on Sunday 21 September 2014, mains power was lost at the site which includes high containment laboratory facilities required to safely handle high hazard pathogens that are a serious risk to human health and the environment. Interserve was responsible for the maintenance of many of the mechanical and electrical systems required for containment and control of high hazard biological agents in the laboratories. The court heard that when mains power was lost, of the twelve generators in place to supply emergency power to the site, two failed to operate and two started but subsequently failed in operation, one of which also caught fire. The emergency escalation system was triggered, and the Fire and Rescue Service attended the site. Power was fully restored later that day. As a result of the emergency generator failures, the court was told all power was lost to a number of high containment facilities for several hours, affecting the site’s safety systems. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a number of failings by the contractor in relation to the maintenance of standby generators that could have resulted in employees being exposed to harmful biological agents. HSE lead investigator in the case, Dr Keith Stephenson, said: “Fortunately, the consequences of the multiple generator failures were significantly reduced by the timing of the incident, both in terms of the day of the week and the laboratory studies being undertaken at that time.” But he added: “Had the incident happened on a different day or when different studies were being undertaken, staff and the nearby environment could have been exposed to high hazard biological agents with serious consequences.”
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has been fined £1 million after admitting criminal health and safety breaches that saw a worker injured. AWE was also ordered to pay costs of £26,096.88 during a sentencing hearing at Reading Magistrates Court. It was prosecuted after an electrical incident on 27 June 2017 at the company’s Aldermaston site resulted in an employee being injured. The prosecution followed an investigation into the incident by the ONR, the UK’s nuclear safety regulator. Donald Urquhart, ONR’s deputy chief inspector, said: “This related to a conventional safety hazard and should have been avoided – and indeed would have been – had the right procedures and processes for safety been in place. Fortunately, in this case the individual involved was not seriously harmed but easily could have been.” He added: “I have a team that inspects the site and they will monitor progress towards achieving the standards we expect.” AWE’s chief operating officer, Haydn Clulow, commented: “AWE continues to operate safely and remains committed to achieving the highest standards in safety performance, working collaboratively with our regulators, contractors and partners.”
Some 61 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men say they have experiencing sexual harassment at work, according to a survey conducted by Australia’s top union body. Preliminary findings of the ACTU survey on workplace harassment, which has so far received over 7,500 responses, reveal the widespread nature of sexual harassment in the workplace as unions lobby for the Fair Work Commission to be given powers over workplace disputes including harassment. A total of 3,612 respondents (53 per cent) reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, either in their current workplace (25 per cent) or their previous workplace (28 per cent). The survey found that 64 per cent of people had witnessed sexual harassment at work. Despite the prevalence of sexual harassment, two-thirds of those who had witnessed sexual harassment in their workplace did not make a formal complaint, and 40 per cent did not tell anyone at all. More than half said they feared negative consequences if they spoke up. The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign has called for the Fair Work Commission to gain jurisdiction over underpayment of wages, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace dispute which require litigation in courts under the current system. ACTU president Michele O’Neil said Australians “need access to fair, effective and efficient complaints mechanisms that support people who’ve been harassed, not punish them.” She added: “Sexual harassment is a workplace issue and people who experience it should be able to take it up through the workplace umpire.” Asked how current processes could be improved, survey respondents wanted better protection from victimisation (62 per cent), more support for victims (57 per cent), better remedies (47 per cent), a quicker complaints process (33 per cent) and more involvement from the union (33 per cent).
Unions representing dock workers have called for better protections and safety protocols for all dock and port workers following the death on 14 November of Dennis Gomez Regana. The seafarer, from the Philippines, was killed on Southbank Quay in Dublin, Ireland, doing a job the unions maintain can only be done safely by skilled dock workers. Jerry Brennan, an organiser with the Irish ports, docks and harbour union SIPTU, said: “SIPTU representatives have been campaigning with all stakeholders across Ireland and the UK over recent years to highlight our members’ concerns on lashing and securing. This tragedy in Dublin port, the third in 18 months, is ultimately the consequence of the relevant authorities, including ship owners, agents and operators, not listening to or heeding our members’ warnings and implementing best practice.” Peter Lahay, a dockers’ section representative with the global transport unions’ federation ITF, said it is “clear that it is better for dockers and seafarers if this work is done by dock workers. Lashing is dockers work, full stop.” He added: “We must put an end to unscrupulous shipowners and port operators putting pressure on seafarers to do lashing and securing. I hope they take notice of this tragedy today and change their ways, if they don't then more seafarers will be seriously hurt or killed. We look forward to reading the report and recommendations of the Irish authorities."
The suicide rate in the US working age population increased 34 per cent over the period 2000 to 2016, with construction topping the at risk list for male workers and creative jobs for females. The new official analysis published in the US government’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) examined lifetime occupations of 22,053 people aged 16-64 years old who died by suicide in the 17 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) in 2012 and 2015. In 2012 and 2015, suicide rates were highest among males in the ‘construction and extraction’ occupational group (43.6 and 53.2 per 100,000 civilian non-institutionalised working persons, respectively) and highest among females in the ‘arts, design, entertainment, sports and media’ group (11.7 and 15.6 per 100,000, respectively). From 2012 to 2015, suicide rates increased most for males in the ‘arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media’ group (47 per cent) and for females in ‘food preparation and serving related occupations’ (54 per cent). “Increasing suicide rates in the US are a concerning trend that represent a tragedy for families and communities and impact the American workforce,” said Deb Houry, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Knowing who is at greater risk for suicide can help save lives through focused prevention efforts.”
Ÿ CDC news release and Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices and the National Violent Death Reporting System. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 15 November 2018. Resources: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists , January 2018. Work and suicide prevention checklist , Hazards, number 141, 2018. More on work-related suicide.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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