Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors
The new Hinkley Point nuclear power station, Britain’s biggest construction project, is grappling with a mental illness crisis with several attempted suicides since work began in 2016, a union has revealed. More than 4,000 workers are on the Hinkley Point C site, where Unite officials say there has been a surge in suicide attempts this year. The union also points to a rise in the number of people off sick with stress, anxiety and depression. Unite officials say they have been told of 10 suicide attempts in the first four months of 2019. At least two workers connected to the project are believed to have taken their lives since construction started in earnest in 2016. “We were in utter shock when they told us the statistics around suicides and mental health,” said Malcolm Davies, a Unite convenor at Hinkley Point C. “The scale of the mental health issues at Hinkley is something I have never seen before. We are in a phase now with mental health where we were with safety 50 years ago. The same number of people are going off, only now they are not going off with injuries. They are going off with stress.” Électricité de France (EDF), which is in charge of building the plant, disputes the figures, but does acknowledge two suicides – one of those a former worker who had left the project. Unite is calling for the industry to meet the challenges of mental health problems affecting workers directly. It said the key factors behind mental health problems in the construction industry are a result of the hire and fire culture, where direct employment is low, engagements are short and most workers are bogusly self-employed and working long hours, often away from home ( Risks 843 ). Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said the problems at Hinkley C had become visible because of the strong union presence on the site, but elsewhere there was a “dog eat dog” approach. “Unite is open to talk with sector bodies, clients, contractors, government ministers and civil servants about solutions that tackle the cause not just the symptoms of the mental health epidemic now rife in construction,” she said. “A 21st Century construction 'accord' could establish a turning point that could literally save lives.”
Unite news release . The Guardian . Morning Star .
Recent research on suicide ‘ideation’: A Milner, K Witt, AD LaMontagne and others. Psychosocial job stressors and suicidality: a meta-analysis and systematic review , Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 75, pages 245-253, 2018.
Marianna Virtanen. Psychosocial job stressors and suicidality: can stress at work lead to suicide? , Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 75, pages 243-244, 2018.
More on work-related suicides. Work 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 .
Strikes threatening to halt Scotland’s sleeper trains could be avoided thanks to a significant breakthrough in negotiations, the Morning Star has revealed. Guards and stewards on the Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by outsourcing giant Serco, had voted overwhelmingly to strike over workload concerns. Rail union RMT said workers have suffered ‘intolerable’ stress and mental ill-health since the introduction of the new mark V carriages ( Risks 908 ). However a circular to members from RMT general secretary Mick Cash reports that negotiations have now been productive, and management has agreed to fill all vacancies and recruit temporary staff to ease workload concerns. RMT reps are taking part in an “operational excellence” review with management, with new full-time staff to be brought in if the review says they are needed. “It’s no coincidence that the Serco Caledonian Sleeper only started to properly address our concerns after you had voted so overwhelmingly in favour of action,” Mick Cash told members. “This is what strong industrial trade unionism is all about.” RMT has agreed to accept the offer as a “temporary agreement” for the service, but the union will remain in dispute “until a permanent agreement is in place and all vacancies are filled.” Last week the union TSSA called for “speedy action” after rail safety watchdog RAIB found that a dodgy brake was to blame for a Caledonian Sleeper train overrunning Edinburgh’s Waverley station on 1 August ( Risks 910 ).
Morning Star .
Firefighters’ union FBU has said there has been a denial of justice for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, as two years after the start of the inquiry into the tragedy no findings have so far been published and its second phase has been delayed until 2020. FBU is a core participant in the inquiry, which commenced on 15 August 2017 and has seen over 500 firefighters and emergency control room staff interviewed by the police and some questioned on the stand. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Two years ago, families and communities were promised answers, but the call for justice remains unanswered from those in power. From the start, we have warned that the shape of this inquiry puts the firefighters who risked their lives on the stand, and allows politicians and business interests, who did nothing to stop Grenfell becoming a death trap, to avoid scrutiny.” He added: “Nearly all of the fire safety issues, institutional failings, and social factors that led to the tragedy have been left untouched, leaving communities across the country in dangerous conditions that could lead to another Grenfell. The concerns that firefighters have been raising about public safety for many years have not been addressed. The last prime minister's government utterly failed to deliver the necessary reform. With a replacement who has shown callous disregard for fire safety in his time as Mayor of London, we can have no confidence in justice being delivered, either by the inquiry or by central government.”
FBU news release .
Seafarers’ unions Nautilus and RMT have called on the government to reinstate funding for a key maritime safety programme. In a letter to under-secretary of state for transport Nusrat Ghani, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson urges the minister to “consider the important, and unique” role the UK Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP) plays in “ensuring the continued improvement of safety standards in the maritime sector and the need to increase support and awareness of CHIRP's presence.” As well as the unions, the letter has the support of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Seafarers UK and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. The CHIRP maritime programme originally received UK government funding when it was established in 2003 following the success of a similar scheme for the aviation industry. But government funding for the maritime scheme was withdrawn in 2011. The aviation equivalent, however, continues to be funded by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The maritime programme now has had to rely on funding support from organisations such as Trinity House, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, the ITF Seafarers’ Trust and Seafarers UK. The letter to the minister notes that CHIRP “can help to foster wider dialogue, share ‘best practice’, and influence positive change, as well as serving as a useful reminder of hazards in an inherently dangerous industry.” The cost of funding the CHIRP maritime programme would be “a fraction of the costs of a major shipping accident,” Mr Dickinson indicated. He called on the government to reconsider its decision to withdraw support and to work with organisations in the sector to highlight the work of CHIRP in encouraging improvements in safety standards across the industry.
Nautilus news release .
Unite has demanded ‘decisive action’ as further evidence emerged revealing the extent of the asbestos contamination at a Ministry of Defence (MoD) base in Gloucestershire. The call comes after Unite revealed that although the majority of the staff at Ashchurch in Tewkesbury had been placed on indefinite gardening leave due to the asbestos problems, the MoD guards at the base had continued to patrol the site and had just been instructed just to change their boots when leaving the contaminated area ( Risks 910 ). Unite said it has now emerged that the MoD failed to undertake a risk assessment of the danger of contamination for the guards, who were not supplied with any personal protective equipment (PPE). It said it is now known the contamination is from concrete sheeting in roofs and cladding on external pipework and guttering, which was found to be crumbling and falling as debris on the site. Debris outside the building includes broken asbestos cement roof sheets, gutters and contaminated moss, which has fallen from roofs. Unite has written to the MoD seeking measures including an asbestos register for the site, details of all previous asbestos survey reports and any incidents relating to asbestos exposure. The union also wants a new asbestos awareness programme, medical surveillance and counselling for staff if requested. Unite regional officer Caren Evans, the union officer covering the MoD, said: “The only way that the workforce can have any confidence that their health has not been damaged and that the site is now safe is by the MoD being entirely transparent and providing all the information that Unite is seeking. Not only is there a real possibility of the MoD guards being exposed to asbestos there is a genuine fear of secondary contamination to relatives and loved ones.” She added: “The MoD must swiftly learn the lessons from these failures and ensure that similar situations do not occur at other bases.”
Unite news release .
Tube union RMT has warned it will take strike action over safety concerns and a breakdown in industrial relations on the Central and Victoria lines. The union says the issues at the heart of the dispute on the Central Line are insufficient driver numbers, chronic understaffing, imposed rosters, undue pressure and bullying of drivers by managers, obstruction of RMT representatives’ trade union duties, misuse of the attendance at work and disciplinary policies, inadequate welfare facilities and breaches of local agreements. On the Victoria line the dispute stems from problems with the attendance at work procedure, unlawful deduction of wages, attempts to derecognise some grades, breaches of the framework agreement including enforced and imposed overtime, unacceptable noise levels and undue pressure and bullying of drivers. RMT members working as train operators, night tube train operators and instructor operators at seven traincrew depots have voted in favour of 24-hour strike action commencing 8pm on 29 August. RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “We have an overwhelming mandate in these disputes from our members, who are sick of being treated with contempt. On the Victoria Line 100 per cent of members who voted did so in favour of strike action. Our members deserve better and the union congratulates them on their magnificent show of strength in these disputes.” He added: “The union remains available for talks.”
RMT news release .
Teaching union NASUWT has said its members can return to work at a schools site linked to a possible bladder cancer cluster, as long as promised remedial action and ongoing testing goes ahead. The decision came after a meeting with experts who have been advising the union on health and safety issues at Buchanan High and St Ambrose schools in North Lanarkshire. Members of the union walked out after complaining safety concerns had not treated with the necessary urgency ( Risks 905 ), a claim vindicated in a subsequent independent report ( Risks 910 ). NASUWT leader Chris Keates said: “It is reassuring that our experts believe that the remedial action that has been taken has now made it safe for our members to return to work.” But she added: “The ongoing health issues being experienced by some of our members, including those diagnosed with bladder cancer, remain of deep concern. It has yet to be demonstrated that these are not linked to the conditions on the site in the months and years before the recent remedial actions were taken on the water system and other aspects of the working environment.” She said a further member had now “tested positive for elevated levels of arsenic” and said the union would continue with a related industrial action ballot. “If it hadn’t been for the willingness of the NASUWT members to take a strong stand on this issue, many of the actions which have now been taken on the site would never have occurred and much of the information which staff, parents and the public now quite rightly have access to would never have been made available,” she said.
NASUWT news release .
A think tank headed by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has been condemned for suggesting that the state pension age (SPA) should be raised to 75.The Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) report proposes that the government speeds up the increase in the pension age to 70 by 2028 and to 75 by 2035 to “help boost the UK economy.” The change would hit hundreds of thousands of people currently aged 50 to 64. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell condemned the think tank for wanting to have people work “until they drop.” Glasgow North East Labour MP Paul Sweeney said the idea is “despicable”, adding: “In Glasgow, average male life expectancy is 73, and 78 for females. What is the Tory plan to address this? Raise the state pension age to 75.” The CSJ’s report, ‘Ageing confidently: Supporting an ageing workforce’, claims that working into your 70s would prevent “state dependence, social marginalisation and personal destitution.” In 2017, the TUC and unions condemned the Conservatives decision to bring forward the date the pension age shifts to 68, warning many won’t survive their jobs that long ( Risks 810 ). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “In large parts of the country, the state pension age will be higher than healthy life expectancy.” Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary for Unite, said: “In industries such as construction, the majority of the workforce are already forced out of their roles prior to 65 because of ill-health and injury. This increase will result in even more workers being forced into poverty, too old to work but too young to claim a pension.” Latest official figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show in the UK in 2015 to 2017, “healthy life expectancy (HLE) at birth was 63.1 years for males and for females was 63.6 years.” But this masks a wide disparity between the richest and poorest areas, with ONS noting: “HLE at birth across local authority areas of the UK varies by 21.5 years for females and 15.8 years for males in 2015 to 2017.”
Morning Star . The Independent .
Ageing confidently – Supporting an ageing workforce , CSJ, August 2019. ONS figures on healthy life expectancy .
Latest figures show almost 900,000 workers are on zero hour contracts in the UK, amid growing concern about the rise of insecure jobs among the youngest and oldest workers. Trade unions said the figures confirmed the government has “failed to crack down on unfair employment practices” as the official figures showed a 15 per cent spike in workers on zero hour contracts in the past year. Some 896,000 people, or just over 1 in 40 people in employment, are on the contracts where workers are on call but not guaranteed any work, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. The number of zero hour workers aged 65 or over has also increased by 30 per cent in the past year, while the proportion of 16-24-year-old workers on zero hours now stands at 8.8 per cent. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, commented: “It’s no surprise zero hours contracts are rising when ministers have failed to crack down on unfair employment practices. The government must ban zero hours contracts so that all workers can have solid jobs with full workers’ rights.” A TUC analysis this year found working hours for those on zero hours contracts are more likely to be anti-social and “unhealthy” ( Risks 885 ). It revealed zero hours workers are twice as likely as those on fixed-hours contracts to be working night shifts, and also twice as likely to be working seven days a week. Night working has been shown to increase long-term health impacts, such as heart disease, shortened life expectancy and an increased risk of cancer.
EMP17: People in employment on zero hours contracts, ONS , 13 August 2019. Yahoo Finance .
British safety, food, water and air quality standards are all under threat as vital inspections of businesses plummet, and laws are no longer enforced, according to a new campaign. The startling message comes from 20 organisations representing a diverse range of interests, coming together in support of Unchecked.uk. Announcing the initiative in a letter to the Times, founder Emma Rose noted: “The steep reduction in inspections and monitoring of regulated business in recent years risks undermining the achievement of public policy objectives, and the shift towards industry self-reporting leaves the regulatory system vulnerable to abuse.” Unchecked is backed by the Ecology Trust and is supported by trade bodies, the National Consumer Federation and environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Two workplace safety organisations, RoSPA and the national Hazards Campaign, are also supporters. Commenting on the initiative, the Hazards Campaign noted: “The system intended to protect workers’ lives and health in the UK is essentially broken, workers are harmed daily, and those most at risk now have no reasonable prospect of enforcement of their basic human right to safe and healthy work.” The statement continued: “Employers cannot be trusted. UK governments have slashed workers’ lifeline and left an increasing trail of injuries, ill-health and death from despair at the brutish working conditions employers provide when no-one is checking on them.”
Unchecked news release , letter to The Times and briefing, The UK’s enforcement gap , 20 August 2019. The Times . Hazards Campaign manifesto .
A man who suffered harassment at his workplace so severe he considered taking his own life has been awarded more than £50,000 in compensation. After an employment tribunal ruled in favour of Wayne Hoch, 35, he expressed his relief that the matter was now closed and added that he hoped his case would encourage others to take action. “I know now why people are reluctant to take cases like this to court as the stress was unbelievable,” he told his local paper. “I want to encourage others you don’t need to stand for bullying or verbal racial abuse at work. I almost ended my life from the stress and anxiety this gave me.” In its judgment against Thor Atkinson Steel Fabrication Ltd following a hearing in April, the tribunal's unanimous ruling was that all Mr Hoch's claims, which included constructive unfair dismissal and harassment, were well founded. At the remedy hearing in Carlisle this week, Judge Bernard Hodgson awarded Mr Hoch, who was born in South Africa but came to the UK when he was 18, a total of £54,686. Judge Hodgson explained that £22,000 was awarded in respect of the racial harassment claim, and a number of factors had influenced this decision. “Firstly, the nature of the comments themselves; secondly, the extent, the prolonged period over which the comments were made; thirdly, the fact that the owners of the business were complicit in - and indeed directly partook in - the conduct complained of, and found by the tribunal; and, fourthly and perhaps most significantly, the impact of the conduct on the claimant's mental health.” Mr Hoch said he suffered particular stress when he received correspondence from his former employer's solicitors in respect of a laptop and associated equipment, Judge Hodgson said.
In Cumbria . Mr W Hoch v Thor Atkinson Steel Fabrication Ltd: 2411076/2018 Employment Tribunal decision.
It is not your age, but how long you have been in the job that determines your risks, a major review has confirmed. The paper concludes there should be renewed efforts to raise awareness of the issue, introduce protective policies and to ensure “worker empowerment.” To conduct the systematic review, a team led by Curtis Breslin of the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) searched the peer-reviewed literature for articles published between 1995 and January 2018 on job tenure and risk of work injury. The team found 128 studies that met review criteria, requiring: they were quantitative studies about people doing paid work; they examined the length of time working at a particular job, firm or industry; and they had a method for taking into account other factors that may have affected risk of work injury. After studies were assessed for quality, the team was left with 51 medium- and high-quality studies. The review confirmed that risks of acute injury are higher during workers’ first year at a job or a firm. It found the evidence about the risks of musculoskeletal symptoms, injuries or disorders during workers’ first year at a job or a firm was ‘inconclusive’. The paper concludes: “Our review has potential implications for the prevention of work injuries, providing policymakers and workplace parties with supportive evidence about the importance of prevention efforts focused on new workers, such as developing workplace policies that emphasise hazard exposure reduction, hazard awareness, hazard protection and worker empowerment.” The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned that workers are as likely to suffer a reportable injury in the first six months at a workplace as during the whole of the rest of their working life (Risks 515).
At Work , issue 97, Institute for Work & Health, Summer 2019.
FC Breslin and others. Are new workers at elevated risk for work injury? A systematic review , Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 76, issue 9, pages 694-701, 2019. doi:10.1136/oemed-2018-105639
HSE new to the job webpages .
An advocacy charity is offering free advice on workplace reasonable adjustments to people affected by the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Nacrolepsy UK says the neurological disorder can feature periods of excessive daytime sleepiness that last from seconds to minutes, and may occur at any time. The charity’s research has found that the condition limits the type of work people could do, affects the ability to find work, and impacts negatively on a sufferer’s ability to keep a job and on their ability to progress in that job. Narcolepsy UK recognises that trade union reps are an important source of advice and support for sufferers in the workplace.
Narcolepsy UK charter and advice.
When a courier delivering a takeaway in Buenos Aires was hit by a car, the company’s response was not to check how he was, but to ask: “How is the order?” Courier Ernesto Floridia, 63, was run over on 27 July while delivering pizza ordered through Glovo, an on-demand courier service. When he texted the company about the accident, the co-ordinator replied: “How is the order. It is in good or bad condition to be delivered?” When he said he couldn’t move, the coordinator messaged: “Ernesto can you send me a picture of the products please?” Ámbito Financiero journalist Yanina Otero tweeted a photo of the exchange in which Floridia’s phone appears to be smeared with blood. The tweet went viral, and was retweeted more than 60,000 times, with social media users outraged at Glovo’s response. On 2 August, Judge Roberto Gallardo ordered the suspension of the apps in the city over concerns delivery companies don’t meet transport and labour laws. The ruling means the use of the apps is banned until delivery firms start observing the law. His ruling applies to all companies that fail to comply, but specifically mentions major delivery apps Rappi, Glovo, and PedidosYa. Judge Gallardo commented: “The situation described entails a foreseeable and immediate risk to frustrate the rights to life, physical integrity and work.” He ordered credit card companies to block transactions made via the apps. Delivery companies will also be fined ARS10,000 (£149.35) each time police checkpoints catch a courier breaching health and safety requirements. In recent months there has been an alarming number of road accidents in Buenos Aires involving couriers, with 13 to 40 incidents per month since February, according to figures quoted in the ruling. ASIMM, the delivery workers’ union, said the apps reward couriers for working faster, creating incentives to cut corners with road safety. It added that people sometimes use the platforms to send drugs, turning couriers into unwitting mules. ASIMM’s Gonzalo Ottaviano described the ban as “the last remaining alternative” in a drawn-out struggle against precarious working conditions. “If the most important thing is how quickly the pizza gets there, more guys are going to die,” he said.
Yanina Otero’s tweet . Clarin (in Spanish). The Guardian . More on the dangers of insecure work.
Irish dock workers’ union SIPTU has made an urgent call for better protection for all workers in the country’s ports, through better regulations and enforcement, after a 50-year-old truck driver was killed on a Dublin dock on 14 August. The death of Nicholas 'Nick' Collier at North Docks at Dublin Port marks the seventh death of a worker in an Irish port in the past two years. Media reports say a refrigeration unit was being loaded onto the back of the Collier’s truck when he was struck and killed by another vehicle. SIPTU’s port and docks organiser Jerry Brennan said tragedies are occurring with frightening regularity. “It is beyond my comprehension how the construction industry has had the benefit of a national safe-pass certificate requirement for almost 30 years and yet there is no such corresponding national requirement within our ports and docks,” he said. “We also hope that this is the final such fatality before the long necessary action is taken to ensure our ports and docks become safer working environments,” said Brennan. SIPTU’s campaign is backed by the global transport unions’ federation ITF. It says international reports document port deaths at an “alarming rate” of more than one worker killed every week of the year. Paddy Crumlin, chair of the ITF dockers’ section, said: “It's not good enough, it's not acceptable, that workers are being killed because of shoddy safety practices and short cuts that save time and put money in the pockets of those that should actually be punished.” He added: “This is why industrial manslaughter laws are so important because they not only provide an avenue to true justice for the families of those people killed at work, but because the implementation and enforcement of industrial manslaughter laws will force the cultural change that will hopefully lead to fewer deaths at work.”
SIPTU news release . ITF news release . Irish Times . Irish Independent .
The death on 8 August of a 50-year-old construction worker from suspected heatstroke has again highlighted the deadly risks facing workers preparing facilities for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, the global building union federation BWI has said. Toiling in soaring temperatures, the worker was laying cable to a building which will serve as a media centre for the event when he was found unconscious, dying later in hospital. “Our thoughts are with the worker’s family and co-workers who should never endure this tragedy,” said BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson, who had warned of the deadly risks earlier this year. “Heat stress and work pressure are major concerns in the construction industry, and employers should be actively implementing safety measures to deal with them. With climate change driving new weather extremes across the world as we are seeing in Japan at the moment, these issues need to be at the forefront of discussions with workers, their employers, and trade unions.” This is the third fatality in the Tokyo 2020 construction programme. In July 2017 a young worker engaged on the New National Stadium job killed himself after working 190 hours overtime in a month, with extreme work pressure cited as the major factor in his death. In January 2018 a worker was crushed to death while directing a load suspended from a crane. A BWI report published in May this year noted that there had been insufficient action on occupational safety and health following the first two fatalities. BWI’s Ambet Yuson warned that if working conditions on Tokyo Olympic construction sites did not improve then more fatalities were likely.
BWI news release and report, The dark side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics , May 2019.
NRDC video on the impact of extreme heat on workers and others.
A US asbestos removal firm has been fined after a union worker went undercover and exposed dangerous work practices on the non-union demolition site. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) fined EcoServices LLC, which had been contracted to remove asbestos from a former General Motors plant near Newport, saying it was unsafely disposing of the cancer-causing material. In a violation notice, Delaware's chief environmental regulator, Shawn Garvin, stated the Pennsylvania company was removing the asbestos in a way that caused “large amounts of particulates” to become airborne. What resulted was a visible residue of asbestos on surfaces, Garvin said in the notice, which marked the end of a department investigation. The findings prompted DNREC to fine EcoServices LLC and its foreman $20,000 each for violating emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. The official probe came after a union construction worker went undercover at the worksite pretending to be a non-union labourer, and recorded footage in February exposing poor work practices. James Maravelias, president of the state union federation Delaware AFL-CIO, said the DNREC fine “sends a message” to out-of-state contractors. During a union protest at the site in March, union members had circulating the video of the work methods, which they said showed dangerous asbestos “snow” wafting over the site. As the AFL-CIO protested outside the demolition site, the federal safety regulator OSHA received a tip that EcoServices was removing asbestos unsafely. OSHA staff then visited the site, along with DNREC employees. Following the visit, DNREC reviewed the video, recorded surreptitiously by the union worker, and used its contents to inform its investigation. It “appeared to depict numerous particles suspended in the air and blowing through the workplace,” Garvin said.
Delaware News Journal .
Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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