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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.Thompson's logo

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

Work-related suicide should have legal recognition

Work-related suicide should be “recognised in legislation”, with the employer required to prove a suicide was not related to their job rather than putting the burden of proof on the victim’s representatives, the union CWU has said. The union call came a written response to a UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) consultation on Suicide Prevention Quality Standards. The proposed standard, which is due to be published in September this year, will cover ways to reduce suicide, with an emphasis on local organisations combining their expertise and resources to implement a range of suicide prevention measures. CWU’s national executive (NEC) and Mental Health Strategy Project Working Group said the union’s response was informed by a decision at the union’s conference this year calling on it to campaign to “ensure that workplace suicide is recognised in legislation” and that it “place the burden of proof on the employer to demonstrate that the suicide was not work-related.” The CWU’s detailed submission notes: “Although the overall UK suicide rate has fallen since the 1980s and 1990s, evidence suggests that there has been a rise in work related suicides in the face of growing pressures at work” (Risks 793). It adds: “Not only are employers well placed to assist in the prevention of suicide, but they should be under an obligation to do so because of the enormous influence of work on mental wellbeing and suicide.” The union submission concludes “the CWU supports the NICE suicide prevention quality standard but we believe employers should be involved in this initiative. Work has a huge impact on mental health, and evidence suggests that work-related suicides have increased due to the growth of job insecurity and work intensification. Employers have a responsibility to contribute to suicide prevention and it is in their interests to do so. We believe it is reasonable to expect that many employers would be open to being part of a multi-agency suicide prevention partnership. The involvement of trade unions is equally important as the representatives of millions of workers across the UK.” CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce commented: “We hope that NICE will take on board the comments from the CWU in drafting the quality standards, particularly as the CWU’s submission highlights the absence of employers and trade unions in the draft suicide prevention quality standard, and argues that employers and unions should be involved in supporting multi-agency suicide prevention partnerships.”
CWU briefing and CWU response to the NICE Suicide Prevention Quality Standard Consultation.
More on work-related suicidesWork and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists. We won’t die waiting: Union action call on work-related suicides, Hazards, number 146, July 2019. ‘Don’t despair’ pin-up-at-work suicide prevent poster.

Gaming industry workers face the ‘crunch’ and bullying

Entertainment trade union BECTU has vowed to help tackle a toxic culture of exploitation and bullying within the gaming industry as a cross-party group of MPs prepares to hold an inquiry into working conditions. Results of a new workforce survey by BECTU, which received 305 responses from games workers from across the UK, identified a major problem with ‘crunch working’ – undertaking up to 80 hours per week for 6-week periods, with regular demands to work 12-16 hour days and through weekends. Bullying and harassment was also widely reported, with more than half (57 per cent) of respondents reporting being bullied or harassed at work. The findings also revealed that the majority of workers who had experienced bullying and harassment (70 per cent) felt that if they reported the bullying and harassment it would not be dealt with appropriately. Nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) of respondents said they regularly worked beyond their contractual hours and more than a quarter of workers (27 per cent) said they were forced to opt out of the working hours regulations when they accepted their role, to make themselves available beyond the 48-hour maximum working week. Head of BECTU, Philippa Childs, said that the success of the industry “has not been without the sacrifice of a dedicated workforce who are yet to reap the benefits, being forced to work under stressful and oppressive circumstances to get games to market. We urge employers to take action if they want to sustain their economic success as productivity, employee morale and retention can only occur when you treat your workers fairly.” The survey is being sent to MPs and BECTU will be presenting the results to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Video Games to express concerns about working conditions in the industry.
BECTU news release.

Union call for action after sleeper train brake failure

Rail union TSSA has called for speedy action after a safety watchdog reported that a dodgy brake was to blame for a Caledonian Sleeper train overrunning an Edinburgh station on 1 August. It has emerged Caledonian Sleeper executives issued a safety alert to the rail industry after one of its trains was forced to make an emergency stop when it overshot the platform at Waverley station. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), which has launched an investigation, said the train eventually came to a halt, but approximately 650 metres beyond its intended stopping point. While there was no damage or any injuries as a result of the incident, the RAIB said the outcome could “potentially have been worse, had it led to a collision with another train.” Investigators said that on the approach to Edinburgh at 7.26am on 1 August, the driver discovered that the train's braking performance was “well below normal” and it “failed to stop as scheduled.” The RAIB’s preliminary investigation indicated that he had no control of the brakes on the coaches because a brake pipe isolating valve was in the closed position when the train left Carstairs station. The RAIB said this meant that the only effective brakes on the train as it approached Edinburgh were those on the locomotive, which were “insufficient to maintain control of the train”. It subsequently emerged that four days later Sleeper train operator Serco issued a safety alert to the industry in relation to the incident, details of which have not been made available publicly. Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the rail union TSSA, called for speedy action over the incident.  “Only sheer good luck and the quick thinking of the train manager saved the passengers on the morning of 1 August. We cannot rely on luck to keep passengers safe,” he said. “The failure of the brakes could have led to a catastrophic accident. We need to find out as soon as possible what led to the brakes valve not being opened and then act to put in place whatever is needed for this not to happen again.”
RAIB news release. TSSA news release. The Herald. The Scotsman. BBC News Online.

Action calls on phoning while driving risks

The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has said there should be zero tolerance of any mobile phone use while driving. The union call came a week ahead of a recommendation from MPs that a ban hands-free phone use while driving should be considered. “No phone call is more important than your life, or the lives of other road users,” said CWU health and safety and officer Dave Joyce as the union and Royal Mail prepared for the company’s August Road Safety Campaign. Royal Mail’s fleet of 49,000 vehicles is the biggest in Europe, CWU said. The campaign sees the company join forces with the CWU and its with area safety reps to push home the message “that using mobile phones while driving is dangerous, illegal and a risk to your job.” Dave Joyce said: “If you’re driving and your phone rings, then ignore it and let it ring. If your text alert sounds, ignore it. No phone call or text message is more important than your life, your safety, or the lives and the safety of other road users.” He added: “No phone call or text message is worth breaking the law and risking the possible loss of your licence, or a big fine. And no phone call or text message is worth risking disciplinary action at work.” A Transport Select Committee report published on 13 August recommended a ban on hands-free phones for drivers “should be considered”. Current laws give the “misleading impression” that hands-free options are safe, the MPs warned. While it has been illegal to use a hand-held phone at the wheel since 2003, using a hands-free device creates “the same risks of collision,” the committee said. Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, said “any use of a phone distracts from a driver's ability to pay full attention” to the road.
CWU news release and ‘no hands free, no phone calls, no exceptions’ poster. Transport Select Committee inquiry on road safety and mobile phones, news release and report, Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone. BBC News Online. The Independent.

MoD exposing guards to asbestos, warns union

Unite has raised serious concerns that members employed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are being potentially exposed to asbestos at a military base. The majority of the 500 strong workforce including contractors at the Ashchurch military base in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, have been placed on indefinite leave after asbestos was discovered throughout the site. The base which is operated by Defence Equipment Services, is the primary centre for the long term storage and distribution of military vehicles. Unite says that while the majority of staff have been placed on indefinite leave, this does not apply to the MoD Guard Service (MGS) who are still required to patrol the base either on foot or in vehicles. The MGS workers undertaking the patrols are required to wear a specific pair of boots which have to be removed on the completion of their patrols and that are not allowed to be taken to other areas. According to the union, this has raised “serious concerns” among the affected guards that their health is being put at risk. Unite has written to senior management at the MoD raising their safety concerns but has not yet received a response. Unite regional officer Caren Evans, who has national responsibility for the MoD, said the situation was “alarming”. She added: “Requiring MoD guards to continue to patrol a site which is otherwise shutdown owing to asbestos contamination is alarming. The fact that workers have to change their boots clearly indicates there is a risk of further contamination; no worker should be placed in harm’s way. Changing boots does not protect workers from breathing in asbestos which can have fatal consequences.” The union officer said: “The MoD must introduce a zero tolerance approach to ensure that no one is exposed to asbestos.”
Unite news release. BBC News Online.

Unite calls for toxic cabin air inquiry

Airline cabin crew union Unite has called for an inquiry into toxic cabin air and fume events on board jet airliners. The move comes in the wake of an incident on a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Valencia where the plane landed safely after the cabin filled with smoke. Demanding health and safety guarantees from British Airways, Unite pointed to an analysis by toxic cabin air campaigners that suggests the same plane involved in the Valencia incident also suffered two fume events in June leading to the aircraft being grounded. The analysis of industry sources suggests there were over 40 fume events in June this year. Warning that this was just the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ Unite called on the airline industry to ‘come clean’ over toxic cabin air and ‘clean up’ its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on planes. Unite is currently supporting 51 high court actions against UK airlines easyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic after independent expert evidence concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals. The union points to expert medical evidence it says shows long term exposure to cabin air or to high dose fume events can lead to pilots and crew members developing chronic ill-health and life-threatening conditions. The expert evidence used in court in the claims supported by Unite, reveals how fumes from jet engine bleed air used to pressurise airline cabins contains a mix of toxic compounds including organophosphates and TCP. Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett commented: “The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk. Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.” He added: “We need a public inquiry into the extent of fume events and toxic cabin air. The airline industry must start to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes. We would urge anyone involved in a fume event to log it on our fume event register.”
Unite news release and toxic cabin air factsheet, poster and campaign card. Unite fume event register.

John Lennon Airport staff vote to strike over safety

Flights from Liverpool’s John Lennon airport could face wide-scale disruption after GMB members voted to strike over safety and other concerns. Around 200 workers on the Swissport EasyJet and Swissport Mainline contracts voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over health and safety issues, working practices, pay and the company’s breach of the union recognition agreement. The strikes are scheduled for 22, 24 and 29 August. Further dates are expected to follow, and workers will also observe a continuous overtime ban. GMB organiser Eddie Parker said: “Our members have voted to take strike action with a heavy heart – the last thing they want to do is stay off work or make trouble for the people going on their holidays. But these are serious issues and they’ve been backed into a corner by the attitude of airports management.” He added: “Health and safety of workers and travellers must come first – not to mention the pay issues and the company’s breach of the recognition agreement. In fairness to the company, they have just proposed a last-minute new offer which we will now put to our members.”
GMB news release.

Unions says government complacency behind rise in fires

Fires in England have increased by almost 10 per cent this year, while the government continues to impose damaging cuts to fire and rescue services, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union added the overall number of incidents, including flooding and wildfires, attended by firefighters also continued to rise, amidst heavy cuts to fire and rescue budgets and firefighter numbers. The latest Home Office data shows there were nearly 10 per cent more fires than the year before, with firefighters attending over 180,000 fires. The number of overall incidents increased by 2 per cent this year, with firefighters attending 575,000 incidents. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “These latest figures confirm what firefighters are feeling on the ground – they are under increasing pressure, responding to more incidents with scarcer resources, as budgets and firefighter numbers continue to be cut. Shamefully, firefighters are being thanked for their efforts this year with yet another real-terms pay cut.” He added: “We are deeply concerned that, after massive cuts to fire safety officers and years of fire safety deregulation, there has been a significant increase in fires in England. We have warned of the impact of climate change on fire for the last decade, but the government has failed to listen. Long, dry summers are making fires more likely, while firefighters are responding to a huge number of floods across the country. The Westminster government has been utterly complacent about fire safety for years and it is clearly taking its toll. We urgently need to invest in fire and rescue services and to radically boost firefighter recruitment – people’s lives, homes, businesses, and communities are at stake.”  Firefighter numbers have fallen by a fifth since 2010, while the number of specialist fire safety officers has been cut by a quarter, the union said.
FBU news release.

Union safety reps ‘save lives’ – so be one!

By becoming a trade union safety rep you could save lives, the union Community has said. Speaking after one of the union’s popular courses for safety reps, the union’s national safety officer Rob Sneddon said: “We regularly see a high attendance on these courses, and it’s great to see positive engagement and new ideas being brought to every session. Whether you work in a factory filled with chemicals or an office block, having a Community health and safety rep on site makes all the difference when it comes to getting home safe after every shift.” He added: “To any Community member looking to make a difference for themselves and their colleagues, consider becoming a health and safety rep, you could save lives.” Nobody knows the dangers of the job quite like the workers, Community said, adding this on-the-ground knowledge ensures that its members “have the tools they need to keep their workplace safe.” According to the TUC: “Evidence shows that workplaces with union safety reps and joint union-management safety committees have major injury rates less than half of those without. Unions make a difference. We reduce injuries, improve ill-health and help change the safety culture within an organisation. At the core of this are safety representatives.”
Community news release.
TUC ‘union effect’ health and safety briefing and safety representatives and worker involvement webpages. More on the union safety effect.

OTHER NEWS

Questions after probe dismisses school site health risks

An independent review into fears of dangerous contamination on a school campus in North Lanarkshire has concluded the schools are safe but criticised authorities for their “slow” and “defensive” response to health concerns raised by unions and parents. The report said there was no link between Buchanan and St Ambrose high schools in Coatbridge and ill-health, where concerns had been raised about a possible bladder cancer cluster. The review team did find that one soil sample on the periphery of the site had elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - a chemical subject to an international industrial ban. They recommend that North Lanarkshire Council completes a full and independently verified removal of the chemical as soon as possible. Commenting on the report, NASUWT leader Chris Keates, whose members have taken strike action over their unanswered safety concerns (Risks 905), said the findings would now be reviewed by its own expert advisers. “Once we have received their comments, we can then make a decision about the return to work of NASUWT members,” she said. North Lanarkshire Council should adopt all the report’s recommendations and should “confirm whether they will agree to pay for the heavy metal testing for our members as requested by our solicitors last week,” she added. Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the teaching union EIS, said: “The EIS believes that when employees raise health and safety concerns employers should react quickly and effectively by conducting the appropriate tests to reassure them. In addition, employers should be fully transparent in sharing information and reports with health and safety representatives from trade unions. Unfortunately, as is referenced in the report, this clearly did not occur, with North Lanarkshire Council's actions in key areas being described as 'too slow and too defensive'.” He added “it is clear that the concerns at these schools should have been treated very differently by North Lanarkshire Council. Its mishandling of the situation on several occasions has increased stress and anxiety levels amongst teachers, parents and pupils. It is essential that the Council now works positively to rebuild trust with all members of the school communities.” Concerns have been raised about the report’s “very quick” assessment of health risks. Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University said “there’s more work needs to be done.” He added: “We haven't seen the detailed analysis of the cancer cluster, we haven't seen details about necessarily all the chemicals that have been tested and the decision making. We haven't yet seen - which is probably the most important thing for the parents - details about how the assessments were made that there were no health problems. That needs to be transparent and out in the public domain.”
NASUWT news release. EIS news release. STV News. BBC News Online.

Record high asbestos deaths defy official assurances

Despite being long banned, asbestos continues to be the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with the toll increasing remorselessly and defying official estimates that it would peak years ago. According to asbestos law specialist Louise Larkin, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) originally “predicted that the number of deaths caused by the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma would peak in 2012. This was later changed to 2016 and then 2018 and now it’s 2020.” The personal injury solicitor with the union law firm Thompsons said in the face of this growing tragedy, moves to quickly implement preventive measures are crucial. “It is vital that plans are put in place to control asbestos safely wherever it is present. More needs to be done by those in charge of public buildings to ensure that asbestos is properly managed, which involves identifying where it is and what condition it is in. It may not be an issue - if it remains undisturbed and it is highly unlikely that there is a significant risk - but turning a blind eye is no longer an option.” The asbestos disease compensation expert added: “Let’s hope that asbestos deaths do drop at the turn of the decade, but sadly it will still be a long time before we can say that the impact of asbestos is something of the past. Until this is the case, Thompsons Solicitors will continue to campaign for the rights of the families and communities who have been devastated as a result of avoidable exposure.”
Thompsons Solicitors news report.

Unions back call from fire chiefs for sprinklers in all schools

Firefighters in London have not attended a single school or college fire this year where sprinklers were fitted, shocking official figures have revealed. London Fire Brigade (LFB) data, for this year up to 25 July, show that none of the 57 educational establishments in the capital that had fires were fitted with automatic fire suppression systems. The analysis also shows that only 13 of the 565 school fires attended between 2014 and July this year were at institutions with the safety systems installed. Unions have welcomed an LFB call for sprinklers to be made mandatory in all new schools and that older institutions should be retrofitted with them during refurbishments over the summer holidays. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU, said: “Sprinklers can assist in the control of a fire in its early stages, limiting damage and giving occupants additional time to escape, as well as reducing the risks faced by firefighters attending the incident.” He added: “The government are trying to build schools on the cheap and the cost could be the complete disruption of our children’s education.” Schools union GMB also backed the LFB campaign. It is calling on its members to urge their MPs to press for action on sprinklers. GMB regional officer Mick Lancaster said: “Unfortunately, like most health and safety concerns raised in the UK, action isn’t taken until a disaster happens. When people have been seriously injured or lost their lives!” He added: “Taking a proactive approach and ensuring all schools are fitted with sprinklers will not only protect the children and those who work in schools many of which are GMB members. Sprinklers also save the Department of Education money dealing with the aftermath of school fires and disruption to children’s education.”
London Fire Brigade news release. GMB news release. Morning Star.

Injured workers at greater risk from suicide or overdose deaths

Workers injured in the workplace are ‘significantly’ more likely to die from suicide or opioid overdose, a study has found. The research findings published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine follow early studies showing that injured workers have elevated rates of opioid use and depression. The authors of the new US study say that while depression is among the most well-documented health consequences of workplace injury, no studies had previously measured the increased deaths related to opioid use and depression among injured workers. The study, supported by the US government occupational health research body NIOSH, linked New Mexico’s state workers’ compensation data for 100,806 workers injured in the period from 1994 to 2000 with Social Security Administration earnings and mortality data up to 2013 and National Death Index cause of death data. Among women, losttime injuries were associated with a near tripling in the risk of drugrelated deaths and a 92 per cent increase in the risk of deaths from suicide. For men, a losttime injury was associated with a 72 per cent increased risk of suicide and a 29 per cent increase in the risk of drugrelated death, although the increase in drugrelated deaths was not statistically significant. The authors warn their study could under-estimate the true effect due to limitations in the available data. They conclude: “Workplace injuries severe enough to require more than a week off work may impair workers' long-term health and wellbeing. Drug-related deaths and suicides may be important contributors to the long-term excess mortality of injured workers. Improved workplace conditions, improved pain treatment, better treatment of substance use disorders, and treatment of post-injury depression may substantially reduce mortality consequent to workplace injuries.”
NIOSH Science Blog, 8 August 2019. Katie M. Applebaum and others. Suicide and drugrelated mortality following occupational injury, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, published ahead of print, 12 July 2019.

Wheelie bins better for bin workers’ backs

The use of wheelie bins by refuse workers leads to less time off due to bad backs and strains, new research has found. A study led by David Thomas of the University of Greenwich examined the relationship between the type of recycling and waste management systems used and absence rates among local authority waste collection workers due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The research, published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, shows that the use of wheeled bins is linked to lower sickness absence rates among council waste collection workers and that changing waste collection systems used by councils in the UK could reduce staff absences due to MSDs. Even lower absences were linked to the use of larger four-wheeled bin, when handled by two workers. The researchers based their findings on staff absence data from 15 local authorities in the UK. David Thomas, a member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's (IOSH) Environmental and Waste Management Group Committee, said: “This study shows that there is a clear pattern between the type of waste collection management systems procured by local authorities and staff absences, providing a method which can be used by organisations to identify relationships between work and ill-health absence in order to improve health and safety working conditions.” He added: “There are over 60,000 waste collection workers in the UK and employers should evaluate ill-health risks before new waste collections systems are adopted and rolled out. They should also monitor absence rates specific to work activity to ensure that they move to more sustainable systems that create less MSDs."
IOSH news release and MSD toolkit. David Thomas, Mark Mulville and Billy Hare. The identification of the domestic waste collection system associated with the least operative musculoskeletal disorders using human resource absence data, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, volume 150, November 2019.

Binman died after collapsing on hottest day of the year

A binman died in hospital last month after collapsing on the hottest day of the year, it has been confirmed. The man in his 40s was working in Thornton Heath, south London, when he was taken ill around 1.30pm on 25 July. Temperatures on that day hit almost 38 degrees Celsius in parts of London, making it the capital's hottest ever July day. The worker, who has not been named, died later that evening in hospital. Contractor Veolia said: "We can confirm a member of our collection team, in their 40s, was taken ill without warning at around 1.30pm in Thornton Heath, on Thursday, 25 July. An ambulance was called immediately and he was taken to St George's Hospital for treatment where he died later that evening. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed to us. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time.”
London Evening Standard. Sutton and Croydon Guardian.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

USA: Climate change drives increase in site heat deaths

Construction workers account for over a third of all heat-related workplace deaths in the US at a rate six times that for the workforce as a whole, a new study has found. Between 1992 and 2016, 783 American workers died because of exposure to excessive heat, and nearly 70,000 were “seriously injured,” according to federal figures. Those surviving heatstroke can still suffer life-altering health impacts, including organ failure and brain damage. Construction workers account for about 6 per cent of the total workforce in the United States but accounted for 36 per cent of heat-related deaths since 1992, according to a study published last month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Construction workers’ risk of dying due to heat has steadily increased over time, researchers from the Washington DC based Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), the University of Illinois and Georgetown University found. They noted those workers most at risk for heat-related deaths are, generally speaking, the workers who enjoy the least rights in the Trump era: Latino workers, and particularly Latino workers born in Mexico. During this period, the risk of heat-related death for Latino construction workers increased by more than 20 per cent, and the risk of heat-related death for Mexican workers nearly doubled, according to the report. “US construction workers are at a high risk of heat-related death, and this risk has increased with climate change over time,” wrote the researchers. “Effective workplace interventions, enhanced surveillance, and improved regulations and enforcement should accompany broader efforts to combat global warming.”
Xiuwen Sue Dong and others. Heatrelated deaths among construction workers in the United States, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, First published online 22 July 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23024. CPWR research summary. Observer.

Global: Monsanto's 'intelligence fusion center' targeted activists

Monsanto operated a “fusion center” to monitor and discredit its critics, internal company documents have revealed. The agrochemical giant, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, also monitored a not-for-profit food research organisation through its “intelligence fusion center”, a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused on surveillance and terrorism. The documents, mostly from 2015 to 2017, were disclosed as part of an ongoing court battle on the health hazards of the company’s Roundup weedkiller. Monsanto planned a series of “actions” to attack a book authored by former Reuters journalist Carey Gillam prior to its release, including writing “talking points” for “third parties” to criticise the book and directing “industry and farmer customers” on how to post negative reviews. The fusion center also monitored the not-for-profit US Right to Know (USRTK), producing weekly reports on the organisation’s online activity (Risks 900). The internal communications add fuel to the ongoing claims in court that Monsanto has “bullied” critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. In the last year, two US juries have ruled that Monsanto was liable for plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, and ordered the corporation to pay significant sums to cancer patients. Bayer has continued to assert that glyphosate is safe. Gillam, author of the 2017 book ‘Whitewash: The story of a weed killer, cancer, and the corruption of science’, and now research director at USRTK, said the records were “just one more example of how the company works behind the scenes to try to manipulate what the public knows about its products and practices”. The internal records don’t offer significant detail on the activities or scope of the fusion center, but show that the “intelligence” operations were involved in monitoring critics. In May this year, the newspaper Le Monde revealed French government officials were investigating a potentially illegal file compiled by Monsanto on critics of its chemicals and genetically modified crops (Risks 897). The document was prepared for the company by PR agency Fleishman Hillard, which in 2018 also “helped Monsanto Company (now part of Bayer) develop their 2017 Sustainability Report: Growing Better Together.”
USRTK news release, The Monsanto Papers and Monsanto Roundup trial tracker. TUC glyphosate guide. The Guardian.

Australia: Four in five workers injured or ill due to work

Nearly four in five (78 per cent) working people in Australia have been injured, or become ill, or both, as a result of their work, according to a nationwide union survey. A similar proportion (80 per cent) believe existing penalties for employers are not enough to make them take safety seriously, national union federation ACTU found. It says its ‘Work shouldn’t hurt’ survey “exposes an underbelly of unsafe work practices that has led to unacceptable numbers of working people dying as a result of their work, being exposed to trauma, experiencing violence, or sustaining psychological/physical illnesses and injuries.” More than 26,000 working people responded to questions about their experiences of work health and safety, including the sorts of working conditions they had faced in the past 12 months. Topics surveyed included exposure to traumatic events like the death of a colleague, occupational violence, hazardous conditions, poor management, and remote or isolated work. As well as the expected risks, ACTU said the results “highlight an alarming growth in the rate of psychosocial (mental) injury as a result of high exposure to hazards at work. Three in five working people surveyed [61 per cent] had experienced psychological illnesses or injuries such as stress, depression or anxiety at work. This needs immediate attention and regulation.” The union body concluded: “We need a strong commitment from the Morrison government and all states and territories to prevent all workplace deaths and end all forms of workplace injuries, including the increasing level of psychosocial injuries. We need better rights for workers’ representatives to enforce safety so that no one is hurt at work. Work shouldn’t hurt. Unions play a vital role in making sure work is healthy and safe.”
ACTU news release and report.

Hong Kong: Authorities use force in bid to silence criticism

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) have reiterated calls on authorities to protect the journalists, and have condemned the police violence towards the media as they cover the protests in Hong Kong. In a statement, HKJA said police were “repeatedly singling out working on-site journalists who have made their identities clear – violently obstructing their work, intentionally chase-beating them and aiming tear gas cannisters directly at them. The situation is growing increasingly out of control.” Some frontline reporters were made ill after being exposed to tear gas at recent protests, according to a new study conducted by doctors. Whampoa district councillor Kwong Po-yin, who also works as a public hospital doctor, told a 9 August press conference her team had interviewed more than 170 reporters in the previous week about their experiences with tear gas. After police used the gas on 28 July in Sheung Wan, 96.2 per cent of respondents said they had difficulty breathing, persistent coughing or had coughed up blood. Additionally, 72.6 per cent said they developed skin conditions such as rashes, redness or itching. Over half (53.8 per cent) said their eyes were affected by tearing or swelling, and 40.6 per cent said they had gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea or vomiting. Commenting on the ‘very critical situation’, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said: “The ever-escalating police violence shows a government out of control and uninterested in engaging with its people except by force. There must now be international pressure for cessation of direct attacks on the people of Hong Kong, many of them trade unionists.” She added: “We are calling on trade unionists worldwide to put pressure on their local Chinese embassies, and we will be working with global union federations to counter the pressure on Hong Kong employers like Cathay Pacific who have been pressurised by the Chinese government to discipline staff exercising their fundamental human right to protest.”
IFJ news release. ITUC briefing note and news release. Hong Kong Free Press.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2019    

Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/