Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
Flexible working is an important contributor to keeping staff happy and to turning down work stress, but many employers are still not getting this worker wellbeing message, the TUC has found. Nearly one in three (30 per cent) requests for flexible working are being turned down, according to the union body’s new poll. The polling – published as children around the UK go back to school this week – reveals that flexible working is not available to many workers, and that people in working class jobs are the most likely to miss out. It shows flexi-time is unavailable to over half (58 per cent) of the UK workforce. This number rises to nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) for people in working class occupations, where pay pressure and work stresses are already highest. As part of its push for flexible working, the TUC is joining the Flex for All alliance – along with Pregnant then Screwed, Fawcett Society, Mother Pukka, the Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute. The campaign has launched a petition to change the law so that flexible working is open to all workers from day one in the job, with employers required to advertise all jobs on that basis. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Flexible working should be a day one right that’s available to everyone. But under current law bosses have free rein to turn down requests.” She added: “It’s not right that millions are struggling to balance their work and home lives. Ministers must change the law so that people can work flexibly – regardless of what type of contract they are on. Allowing people more flexibility in how and when they do their work makes them happier and more productive.”
TUC news release. Flex for All petition.
Transport for London (TfL) is being urged to take definitive action to tackle fatigue among London bus drivers. The demand from bus drivers’ union Unite follows the publication last week of new research that found 21 per cent of bus drivers had to ‘fight sleepiness’ at least two or three times a week. The Loughborough University study, commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan after pressure from Unite, found 36 per cent had a ‘close call’ due to fatigue in the last 12 months, 17 per cent had actually fallen asleep at least once while driving and five per cent had been involved in at least one accident in the last year due to fatigue. Unite said it believes that a combination of workers undertaking excessive hours due to inadequate levels of pay, a lack of recovery time between poorly scheduled shifts and overly long shifts without sufficient rest breaks are all major factors in causing fatigue. Unite said the publication of the Loughborough Report is a direct result of the union’s lobbying. Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “TfL must take decisive action and force bus operators to stop flogging their workers to the point of exhaustion. The safety of the general public and workers is being placed at risk because of fatigue being suffered by London bus drivers.” He added: “Unless TfL’s proposals for a fatigue reporting system are given real teeth it will make little difference. The low pay culture is a fundamental source of fatigue. No one wants to work long hours but drivers are forced to do so to make ends meet.” The union official warned: “Fatigue is not going to be tackled unless the standard five and half hour shifts without a break are ended and shift patterns allow drivers adequate time to recover. The establishment of a fatigue reporting system must include all key players including unions, in order for it to be credible and beneficial to drivers.”
Unite news release. UniteLive. Loughborough University: Bus Driver Fatigue – Final Report, August 2019.
GMB has stepped up its call for a bus drivers’ ‘Bill of Rights’ to help combat fatigue in the industry right across the UK. The union was commenting in the wake of the Loughborough University report highlighting dangerously worrying levels of fatigue in London bus drivers. A study by GMB London Region this year found that since 2014, 1,062 people were killed or seriously injured in bus collisions on Transport for London (TfL) run bus services (Risks 897). GMB regional organiser Steve Garelick said: “When a respected university provides such an important insight it proves that previously voiced concerns are valid. Decisive action is needed to change the culture at Transport for London to make the safe operation of buses by the outsourced private for-profit operators the top priority.” He added: “Safe operation of buses require drivers rested and with a safe system of work and well-maintained vehicles, all items clearly spelled out in the London Bus Drivers’ ‘Bill of Rights’. We see the need more than ever to bring bus services back in house to TFL as it seems private companies are more concerned about profits than workers’ and public safety.”
GMB news release.
Members of the union RMT ‘stand united and determined to protect passenger safety’ the union has said. The union comment came on 31 August during four days of strike action on South Western Railway. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union was proud unions members “have not been deflected from the long-running fight to put safety first despite the efforts of the company to kick the issue into the long grass.” Speaking on the final day of the industrial action, he said: “If SWR thought our members would melt away as they kicked the can down the road in the talks process they were clearly wrong. I am challenging the company today to get back round the table in serious negotiations that put safety at the top of the agenda and which bolt down a robust and lasting agreement that addresses the fundamental issue of safe operation at the critical platform/train interface.”
RMT news release. BBC News Online. Personnel Today.
Greenwich council is putting the health and wellbeing of it workers and some of the local authority’s most vulnerable residents at risk by cutting back emergency care cover, the union Unite has warned. A plan for emergency care workers to start work at 01.30 in the morning to look after particularly vulnerable residents has been branded as ‘bizarre’ by the union. Unite is also angry that more than 2,000 vulnerable people will now be visited by only one Telecare Service worker in an emergency, instead of the current two, under a proposal tabled this week. The seven Telecare Service workers have voted unanimously to strike continuously if the council does not backtrack. Vulnerable adults can call the service when they have a fall or need help – it provides reassurance so that people can continue to live independently rather than go into care, which would be the more expensive option. The proposed changes would introduce a shift starting in the early hours where a single worker might then be required to singlehandedly lift and manoeuvre clients with severe mobility issues, placing the worker and the client at risk. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “The dispute stems from council bosses wanting to restrict visits/calls to one staff member for emergencies and also to introduce a new night shift which begins bizarrely at 01.30. Who starts work at such a strange time?” He added: “Two carers are required for those with such conditions as dementia and curvature of the spine who have fallen and then require assistance involving the raiser lifting chair.” The council is also proposing to charge some its poorest residents to use the service. “We have tried to negotiate with the authority and have produced a workable rota. We have also called on the council to fill the vacancies that currently exist - 178 staffing hours are vacant each week,” Kasab said. Warning the service is severely underfunded, Unite Greenwich branch secretary Danny Hoggan said the support needed “can be as simple has someone getting stuck in a chair or a serious fall in the home that could be life threatening.”
Unite news release.
Britain is training record numbers of workplace “mental health first aiders” to confront a sharp rise in people expressing mental distress, though evidence of success is mixed, according to a Guardian study. Requests sent by the paper to every FTSE 100 company show that these firms alone have trained more than 10,000 staffers, while mid-tier and even tiny businesses are appointing first responders who can be approached confidentially by those with depression, anxiety, stress and other conditions. A national training body, Mental Health First Aid England, said 140,000 people were trained in 2018-19 – the most ever in a single year. Almost half a million people in Britain have now been through an MHFA programme – about one in every 100 adults. The Guardian acknowledges concerns raised repeatedly by the TUC that “mental health first aiders are being viewed as a panacea when actually their impact can be quite limited” (Risks 841). It points to a report last year, where the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded: “There is limited evidence that MHFA training leads to sustained improvement in the ability of those trained to help colleagues experiencing mental ill-health” (Risks 864). Academic research has found that training is good for raising awareness, but unproven as a strategy for improving mental health, the Guardian added. Last year the TUC, writing in Hazards magazine, said that while support for workers is a good thing, mental health first aiders are not the only option and for union reps usually are not the best option. The TUC noted: “Employers have a major role to play in prevention and providing support over and above just providing MHFAiders. MHFA, like traditional first aid, is not about prevention. And ill-health prevention – mental or physical - is a priority unions will not ignore.” The TUC says Britain is in the grip of a workplace stress epidemic, and that needs to be addressed (Risks 874).
TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace. TUC mental health awareness training. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question, Hazards magazine, 2018.
Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards, TUC and HSE guidance for health and safety representatives. More on work-related stress.
One of the UK’s largest school uniform manufacturers has been challenged by unions to show its clothing isn’t being made using sweatshop labour. Trutex has so far refused to release information about the factories it uses, according to labour rights campaigning organisation Labour Behind the Label. Companies including Marks & Spencer, Primark, New Look and ASOS now all regularly provide supply chain information about the factories producing their clothing, following public outrage about brands exploiting workers. The half a billion pound UK school uniform sector has so far avoided the intense public scrutiny directed at high-street brands. But now a joint campaign by two unions and Labour Behind the Label, aims to hold Trutex – the biggest player in the UK school uniform sector – to account. UNISON head of international Nick Crook said: “There’s no reason why Trutex and the other school uniform suppliers can’t do what Marks & Spencer, Primark and New Look have already done, and open their supply chain to greater public scrutiny.” Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said: “It is incumbent upon employers such as Trutex to ensure their employees are treated ethically. For customers to be reassured of this fact Trutex needs to ensure transparency by listing the factories it uses.” Advocacy director at Labour Behind the Label Anna Bryher said: “Trutex has failed to respond to requests to commit to publishing details regarding its production and processing sites. As a leading supplier of school uniforms Trutex must release its supplier list and take a step towards transparency. If its workers are treated ethically and there are no human rights abuses in its supply chain, then Trutex has nothing to hide.” The groups are urging concerned individuals to sign on online petition calling on Trutex to release its suppliers list.
UNISON news release. Labour Behind the Label. Campaign video.
Sign the online petition calling for Trutex to release its supplier list.
A company that ignored warnings about dangerously low staffing has been prosecuted for criminal safety offences that saw a worker narrowly escape death. Dramatic CCTV footage recorded the moment when Devonport dockyard worker Allan Jones was almost killed as a 5.25 tonne stack of weights toppled towards him. District Judge Diane Baker sitting at Plymouth Magistrates' Court heard how workers had raised their fears about staffing levels before the incident in September 2018. The judge said: “If Mr Jones hadn't leapt out of the way he could have been killed.” The judge was told that supervisors were expected to be in two places at once and that on the day of the accident there was a shortage of qualified 'slingers' which meant that Mr Jones had to do two jobs at once and was unable to adequately supervise his colleague. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) brought the prosecution against Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd (DRDL) - owned by Babcock International - who pleaded guilty to criminal offences under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998. After the near miss, Mr Jones could not sleep and suffered from post traumatic nightmares, prosecutor Craig Morris said. ONR’s Jane Bowie said: “Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd continues to be under enhanced regulatory attention and we will continue to monitor its progress through regular inspections.”
ONR news release. Plymouth Herald.
A manufacturing company has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a worker suffered severe crush injuries while fault-finding on a mesh welding machine. Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard how on 26 January 2016 an employee at Siddall and Hilton Products Ltd was injured while assisting a colleague on the GRS 144 welding machine at the company’s Brighouse premises. To identify a faulty wire on the machine, the worker opened the interlocked gate which stopped the machine and climbed on top of the PV, the part of the machine that creates the mesh from the welded materials. To release the wire the weld head needed to be lifted. To do so, his colleague exited and restarted the machine. As the machine was in automatic rather than manual mode, the PV immediately continued travelling towards the weld head, trapping the worker’s lower left leg. He suffered double compound fractures of his tibia and fibula. He was taken immediately to hospital where he had surgery. He required further surgery in November 2018, nearly three years after the injury, to fuse his ankle. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to implement robust isolation procedures as part of a safe system of work for entry into and out of the machine’s hazard zones. Siddall and Hilton Products Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay £4831.45 in costs. HSE inspector Jackie Ferguson commented: “Maintenance and breakdowns are often the most hazardous and poorly controlled area of work. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life-changing injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”
HSE news release.
Sarah Albon has taken up her post as the new chief executive of Britain’s workplace health and safety regulator. Ms Albon has vacated her post as inspector general and CEO of the Insolvency Service, where she has been since 2015, to take charge of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). She replaces acting chief executive David Snowball who has held the post since June 2018 and will be retiring from HSE at the end of the year. The last permanent HSE chief executive was Richard Judge, who resigned last year after a period of ‘gardening leave’, and who also came from the top role at the Insolvency Service. Sarah Albon said: “I am honoured to have the opportunity to lead this important and hugely respected regulator. Working together with my new colleagues across HSE, my focus will be on continuing to deliver improvements in health and safety performance as our workplaces move into a future with new challenges, new technologies and new opportunities.”
HSE news release.
A new online tool – Working Women at Risk – intends to help researchers and advocates to visualise the exposures to chemicals that might be putting working women in California at risk for breast cancer. Using the tool, which is equally useful wherever you live and work, individuals can search data on over 1,000 chemicals, sorted into 24 chemical groups, by occupation, ethnicity/race, and age. The tool is part of a project exploring working women’s risk of breast cancer and is funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of California, and supported by occupational health experts at the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Public Health, and the University of California San Francisco.
Working women and risk tool and background.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated and ‘refreshed’ the RIDDOR workplace injury, disease and dangerous occurrence reporting forms, with the watchdog saying this involves “moving to a more modern platform to improve user experience.” Union reps may also be interested in the HSE safety representatives report form. This document is available online and is intended to help union safety reps ensure employers are aware of areas of concern, which could include RIDDOR reportable incidents, with union reps encouraged to maintain a record of the correspondence.
HSE RIDDOR webpages. Safety reps’ reporting form.
A building safety initiative launched in Vietnam and India in August that says it aims to improve safety for workers in the garment industry, it is set to fail because it “is set on a path to ignore workers’ voices,” a labour rights group has warned. The Clean Clothes Campaign says that although the ‘Life and Building Safety Initiative’ (LABS) professes to learn from the programme that made factories safer in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza building collapse, “it ignores its most vital elements.” The Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) created the “industry-driven” LABS safety programme. Participating companies are Bestseller, Gap Inc, PVH, Target, VF Corporation, and Walmart. There are plans to expand cover to Pakistan and Cambodia in 2020. But the LABS initiative does not follow example of the transparent and binding Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety, which was highly effective and operated with union support. Instead it replicates flaws in the non-binding Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety favoured by some US retailers. “It is telling that four of the brands now behind the LABS initiative were main movers behind the Alliance as a business-controlled alternative to the Accord,” said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). “Walmart, Gap, VF, and Target have consistently rejected our calls to sign the Bangladesh Accord - why would the initiative pushed by them now be trusted to draw on the lessons of the Accord and put workers’ wellbeing over business interests?” Expressing concern at the planned expansion of LABS to Pakistan, Nasir Mansoor of the Pakistani National Trade Union Federation commented: “True worker safety, securing the lives of millions of workers in garment supply chains, can only be achieved if workers and their representatives are involved and have a meaningful say in the creation of any mechanism or scheme along with other stakeholders.”
CCC news release. ILRF news release.
Transport union activists from around the world have stood side by side with Korean truck drivers demanding the government keeps its promise to make the roads safer. The Road Safety Freight Rates Committee in South Korea is currently considering the minimum wage truck drivers should receive, known as the ‘safe rate’. Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the global transport unions’ federation ITF, said: “There is a global trend towards safe rates. They make sense for employers, workers and wider society. This ITF delegation is to remind the South Korean government that it cannot ignore its international responsibility to pay drivers what they are worth, and ensure that employers are responsible for the working conditions throughout their supply chain.” The ITF delegation included activists from unions in the UK, the Netherlands, Australia and the USA. As well as meeting with drivers from the KPTU TruckSol union, the delegation spoke to Korean media and joined a national demonstration of over 5,000 drivers demanding safe rates. Matt Draper from the UK transport union Unite addressed the deomonstration. “Safe rates are not just about money, they are about the safety of the public and the driver, and about the mental health and wellbeing of the driver,” he said. “I am confident that TruckSol will achieve full implementation of safe rates and provide further inspiration to other unions around the world. Remember we are all ITF, we are all part of one global family.”
ITF news release.
A union-backed campaign has won action to end widespread sexual harassment at factories in Lesotho producing garments for major high street brands. The action by the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) to stop long-running gender-based violence at Nien Hsing Textile company factories has resulted in the binding agreements signed by unions, apparel brands and women’s rights organisations. Global union IndustriALL said its affiliate IDUL has been fighting gender-based violence and harassment at Nien Hsing Textile company factories in Maseru for many years. In response the company, which employs over 10,000 workers, “even cancelled a memorandum of understanding in retaliation for being asked about the violations when IDUL wanted to access the factories to organise.” IndustriALL said the agreements to address the pattern of abuse and harassment come after a report by the US-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealing that managers and supervisors at Nien Hsing forced workers into sexual relationships by “conditioning the maintenance of employment contracts/or provision of more favourable working conditions on a female worker’s willingness to engage in such a relationship.” It found management was complicit as it did not take disciplinary action against the offenders, creating a tolerance of the abuse and a fear of reporting the violations. After extensive negotiations, IDUL together with four other unions in Lesotho, IndustriALL US affiliate Workers United, WRC and the Solidarity Center signed agreements with Nien Hsing, Levi Strauss & Co, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands to address gender-based violence at five factories in the country. May Rathakane, IDUL deputy general secretary, said: “We are committed to protecting workers’ rights and well-being at factories, and to ensure that female workers feel safe, valued and empowered.” She added: “This is a breakthrough to better working conditions and will protect workers from retaliation by employers.” A complaint and fact-finding body will be set up to investigate the abuses. Education and training on sexual harassment for factory workers, supervisors and managers will also be carried out.
IndustriALL news release. WRC news release and investigation.
Nurses providing hospital care, people delivering food to homes, domestic workers cleaning hotel rooms, office workers accumulating overtime hours, waiters and waitresses taking on two or three jobs to make minimum wage: no one would consider these to be dangerous occupations. But, more than ever, they have become high-risk jobs in Spain. “Psychosocial risks are the great pandemic of this century and they are related to the precarious conditions of the labour market,” warns Ana García de la Torre, the occupational health secretary for Spain’s General Union of Workers (UGT). The union’s latest prevention campaign focuses specifically on ‘invisible’ threats such as overloading and hyperconnectivity. “They are not new, we’ve been suffering from them for a while, but they have definitely gotten worse,” the union safety expert says. Isabel Mariño, a labour and social security inspector, acknowledges that these psychosocial risks, combined with ergonomic risks related to harmful movements and postures, are “the most serious today.” However, companies still fail to take preventive measures. “There are usually no protocols in place, just as there are no protocols for dealing with harassment and even sexual harassment,” says Mariño. She says there is no point in designing algorithms to predict accidents when the labour market itself has become the primary risk factor. “The key to improving prevention is slowing down processes, better regulating hours, and curbing this insane competition.” Protecting workers is impossible in a market that is unrestrained and insecure by nature.
Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox