The airline industry is deploying a ‘cloak of silence’ over toxic cabin air and fume events onboard jet airliners, the cabin crew union Unite has charged. Speaking at the International Aircraft Cabin Air Conference this week, Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs, Howard Beckett, called on the airline industry to clean up its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and to fit cabin air filters on planes. The two-day conference at Imperial College in London, was told how Unite is currently supporting 51 high court actions against five UK airlines after independent expert evidence concluded the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals (Risks 910). The union says the medical evidence used in the claims 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. Unite’s Howard Beckett said: “The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk. The cloak of silence must be lifted.” 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 by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board 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. International Aircraft Cabin Air Conference.
Porters, care workers, security staff and parking wardens are at greater risk of physical and verbal attack, injury or illness, because they work alone for long periods, the public service union UNISON has warned. Launching a new gig economy safety guide, it said that staff cuts, the growth of zero-hours contracts and an increase in the number of home care workers has led to the creation of a vulnerable and isolated workforce. Government regulations haven’t kept pace with the changing workplace, leaving staff unprotected, the union said. UNISON said its guidance is the first union health and safety document designed to tackle the dangers faced by lone workers in the gig economy. It encourages employers to minimise lone working where possible and suggests how good health and safety management may reduce risks if staff have to work alone. UNISON acting head of health and safety Robert Baughan said: “Working alone is inherently more hazardous than working with the support of colleagues. Public sector workers often visit people in their homes, which brings a unique set of risks.” He added: “Lone workers get less support from colleagues and it’s more difficult for them to get help if something goes wrong. As the number of lone workers increases, employers must put safety above profit and put measures in place to protect workers.” The union said public sector workers particularly at risk include maintenance workers, porters, security staff, parking wardens, rent collectors, community and residential nurses, care workers, ambulance staff, homecare workers, librarians, receptionists and career advisers. UNISON news release.
Lorry drivers staged a protest this week at the Department of Transport over growing fears that the government will weaken or suspend the rules governing driving hours in the event of a no deal Brexit. The 17 September protest heard their union Unite warn the government against suspending the strict working hours limits in work time driving regulations. The union said it believes that any relaxation would be ‘profoundly dangerous,’ for lorry drivers and all road users. A survey of Unite members employed as lorry drivers found most were suffering from exhaustion due to long hours (Risks 913). Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Lorry drivers are becoming increasingly alarmed that a no deal Brexit will result in driving regulations being suspended or weakened. If driving regulations are cut then drivers who are already exhausted will be placed on a highway to hell.” He added: “Forcing drivers to drive for longer and cutting their rest periods is dangerous for the drivers themselves and for all road users. The government needs to both start engaging with Unite about its no deal Brexit planning and also provide reassurance that driving regulations will not be weakened or suspended.” Unite news release.
NEU’s Jenny Cooper is this year’s recipient of the TUC Safety Rep Award. Jenny, a music teacher, says she is passionate about keeping her pupils and staff safe at her school. In a TUC video interview, Jenny said: “Everything should be seen and campaigned for through a health and safety lens.” She first got the safety bug after an accident at the school where she worked. “I made a promise that if things were wrong, I would never again not speak about them. Health and safety is life or death, it’s something that everyone should be concerned with. When things are wrong you need to speak out and say things are wrong.” Becoming vocal on union health and safety had knock-on benefits, she said. “I ended up applying that lesson to all sorts of other things that became campaigns in my school and in other schools.” She concluded: “If it wasn’t for the support of the union, I don’t think I would still in teaching today. You might have the worst day possible and I will go to a union meeting after school and its sounds really cheesy to say it, but it is like being with family.” TUC news release and video on the TUC health and safety award 2019.
Rail union RMT has confirmed a combination of strike action and action short of a strike on the Caledonian Sleeper services after the operator, SERCO, reneged on pledges to address a raft of serious concerns raised by staff (Risks 911). Workers on the service say their working lives have been ‘ruined’, the union said, with staff placed under ’intolerable pressure’. The industrial action is timetabled to run from 29 September to 1 October. Additionally, RMT members have been instructed not to work any overtime or rest days, not to perform higher grade duties and to work to their original job description from 2 October 2019 until further notice. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The union is angry and frustrated that promises made to us to address the serious concerns of the Caledonian Sleeper staff at the end of July have not been honoured and that leaves us with no choice but to activate our industrial action mandate.” He added: “RMT members have been put under intolerable personal stress as a result of the company's mismanagement of the sleeper service. They know it, they have promised to do something about it but they have failed to deliver. The move to strike action is entirely SERCO's fault and the public will understand that. Everyone knows that when it comes to failure they are global specialists. The union remains available for genuine and serious talks.” RMT news release. BBC News Online.
Tube workers on a key section of London Underground’s District Line have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in protest at the growing levels of violence and anti-social behaviour on the resource-starved network. In an overwhelming vote, RMT members on the eastern end of the District Line backed action short of strike action. The vote came after a female member of staff was attacked in her office by a violent passenger. The union said other London Underground workers have been threatened. The action is due to commence on 27 September, with RMT members told to “work from a within a place of safety when lone-working and not to detrain alone or attend incidents on trains alone.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that it was clear that staff were living in a constant state of fear and had simply had enough of the inaction of local managers,” he said. “There has been an explosion of violent crime and sexual offences across the network and our members are bearing the brunt of it particularly on the District Line.” The union leader added: “It is clear that violent crime is spiralling out of control as staffing levels are hacked back to the bare bones in the drive for profit-driven cuts. RMT has warned repeatedly that the all-out drive towards an automated and faceless Tube would turn our trains and stations into a criminals’ paradise and those who have ignored those warnings should act now before more serious injuries or worse occurs on the Tube.” RMT news release.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue (SFRS) service must commit to year-on-year improvements to response, training, prevention, equipment and the creation of national standards, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said. The union was speaking out as members of the Scottish parliament debated fire service reform. The union said after decades of gradual improvements, Scotland has seen fires, fire deaths, non-fire incidents, and false alarms all plateau in recent years, while the total number of incidents firefighters responded to increased again this year. Denise Christie, FBU Scotland secretary, said: “After years of improvements, fire safety indicators have plateaued – and it’s simply naive to say massive cuts to firefighter numbers over the last decade have nothing to do with it. It’s vital that MSPs agree a serious long-term funding plan that can support firefighters in their life-saving work. Standards are slipping – we can’t allow these dangerous trends to continue. The service is letting the public and firefighters down.” Firefighters responded to nearly 500 more incidents last year than the year before, a total of 91,695. In Scotland, there have consistently been more serious fires per-head than in England or Wales every year since 2010. Firefighter numbers in Scotland have been cut by nearly 700 in the same period. This cutback workforce rescued over 3,500 people last year; 3,000 were rescued from non-fire incidents, while nearly 500 were rescued from fires. FBU news release.
In what it described as ‘a major boost’ to employment standards for construction workers in London, Unite has welcomed the London Mayor’s office signing the capital up to Unite’s Construction Charter. The union said the charter requires that construction firms planning to work on Great London Authority (GLA) building projects will need to meet a set of high employment and safety standards. These include ‘the highest standards’ in respect of direct employment status, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment, the union said. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “The charter combines the GLA’s procurement power with Unite’s influence in the workplace to ensure construction projects under the control of the authority meet the highest standards. Workers will have the right to speak out on safety issues and be paid a fair rate for the job. The charter means there will be no blacklisting of workers. Vitally, the charter also protects workers from the scourge of bogus self-employment.” Two London boroughs, Newham and Barking and Dagenham, have also separately signed on to the charter. Unite news release. Mayor of London news release. Morning Star.
The TUC’s campaign to protect terminally ill workers has taken to the road. The Dying to Work campaign began its national roadshow on 11 September at the TUC Congress in Brighton. It will visit NHS sites in England and Wales over the next two weeks, with a final stop at the Labour Party Conference on 24 September. The focus on health service workplaces comes after NHS employers backed the campaign in July. The Dying to Work campaign is seeks greater security for terminally ill workers to ensure they cannot be dismissed as a result of their condition. The campaign’s charter is supported already by a number of well-known employers, including Rolls Royce, Royal Mail and Lloyds Bank. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis. We are delighted that we have over a million workers covered by the TUC Dying to Work Charter and the support of the NHS Social Partnership Forum means we hope to be able to add the entirety of the NHS workforce to this total over the coming months.” She added: “That’s why we are taking this tour around the country. Our NHS is there for us when we need it, and thanks to NHS employers and unions working together, we are proud that that NHS will be there for its workforce at all times.” TUC news release and Dying to Work campaign.
Unite has expressed ‘alarm’ after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) scrapped its guidance on how to deal with asbestos, without consultation with the union. The official government statement said: “An important note about Chapter 36 Asbestos (January 2016) currently being reviewed and no reference or use should be made of the currently published guidance therein. The Defence Safety Authority take no responsibility for the use of the current guidance.” The decision to scrap the existing guidance will alarm many MoD workers who have lost faith with management about dealing with asbestos issues, the union said. Concerns heightened this year following the closure of the Ashchurch MoD base in Gloucestershire due to asbestos contamination (Risks 911) and the government’s refusal to warn former employees that they could have been exposed to asbestos when maintaining and repairing Sea King helicopters (Risks 901). Unite national officer for MoD workers Jim Kennedy said: “This latest action demonstrates once again that the MoD is failing in its duty to protect workers from exposure to asbestos. To remove the existing guidance, without consulting or even informing unions, is completely unacceptable. To do so before new guidance is in place demonstrates that the MoD is yet again failing in its duties to protect workers.” He added: “It is now incumbent on the MoD to explain why the guidance was withdrawn, when new guidance will be introduced and what processes must be followed in the meantime.” Unite news release.
The government and businesses must do more to fight the ‘growing global scourge’ of modern slavery, safety professionals’ organisation IOSH has said. The top safety officers’ group was speaking out after its new poll indicated there is now strong public support for action. IOSH found 63 per cent of people in Britain are concerned modern slavery is involved in products or services they use, 84 per cent want national awareness campaigns, and 76 per cent believe all organisations legally required to make modern slavery statements must say how they tackle it. A new report from IOSH, ‘Tackling modern slavery together: the roles of governments, employers, professionals and the public’, calls on the government to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act and to extend reporting requirements to more businesses. IOSH said health and safety professionals and consultants who advise businesses should ensure they are aware of the risks of modern slavery. Its report also calls for a labelling system to demonstrate if products and services have been created in good working conditions, a recommendation supported by 81 per cent of poll respondents. IOSH news release and report, Tackling modern slavery together: the roles of governments, employers, professionals and the public, September 2019.
Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani has rejected a call backed by all sides of the industry for the government to reinstate funding for the UK's Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP). The snub forces the vital offshore safety system to continue to operate on charitable grants only. 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. However, this funding was withdrawn in 2011. The minister, responding to a request from the unions Nautilus and RMT as well as key industry bodies (Risks 911), said there were “no current plans to reconsider that decision.” The maritime programme, which seeks to make British waters safer for everyone, has since 2011 had to rely on the support of organisations such as Trinity House, Lloyd's Register Foundation, the ITF Seafarers' Trust and Seafarers UK to continue. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said the maritime minister's response was ‘at odds’ with the government’s stated 'firm commitments' to its Maritime Safety Action Plan, launched in June. “Why can't the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) be funded sufficiently to support maritime CHIRP?” he said, adding the cost of funding the CHIRP maritime programme “would be a fraction of the costs of a major shipping accident.” 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 to encourage improvements in safety standards across the industry for the benefit of seafarers and shipping. Nautilus news release.
Asda profits have rocketed more than £92 million with a healthy chunk paid to directors – but at the same time the supermarket giant is threatening staff with no sick pay and the sack if they don’t sign a controversial new contract. Asda’s latest accounts show pre-tax profits have shot up almost 13 per cent to almost £805 million. Asda directors trousered a whopping £12 million, the union GMB said, up 25 per cent from £9.4 million the year before. The accounts also show the supermarket has slashed almost 5,000 jobs from shops and distribution centres. The company has told its remaining workers they must sign a new 'flexible' Contract 6 - which will see them lose all their paid breaks and be forced to work bank holidays – or be dismissed on 2 November. This month, Asda has told those who are yet to sign the contract they will not be paid for any sick leave until they do (Risks 914). Gary Carter, GMB national officer, said: “Asda is making a fortune on the backs of its loyal workforce. But instead of rewarding them, bosses are forcing them to choose between signing a brutal contract or getting the sack in time for Christmas.” He added: “Shoppers will be horrified to see Asda turning the lives of its workers upside down while at the same time lining directors' pockets to the tune of 12 million quid. Asda can more than afford to show respect to its workforce and offer dedicated, long-serving staff a better deal.” Asda news release. GMB news release.
Action is needed to reduce the use of stress-inducing fixed-term contracts for university researchers, the education union UCU has said. The union, responding to a new Researcher Development Concordat, said the ‘huge levels of casualisation’ in universities was bad for staff and bad for students. A report from UCU published in July this year revealed the toll that a lack of job security has on staff, with seven in 10 saying insecure contracts had damaged their mental health and eight in 10 researchers saying their work had been negatively affected by being on a short-term contract (Risks 905). The revised Concordat states that institutions must seek to improve job security for researchers, “through more effective redeployment processes and greater use of open ended contracts.” The union said it should have gone further, and called for universities to be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts. UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: “Whilst we welcome the new Concordat as an improvement on previous versions, we feel an opportunity has been missed to tackle job insecurity and the continued use of fixed-term contracts. The endemic use of precarious contracts in universities is damaging for staff and students and the overwhelming majority of researchers complain that their work has been impacted by being on short-term contracts. Institutions should be obliged to work with trade unions to reduce the use of fixed-term contracts.” Vitae news release and Researcher Development Concordat. UCU news release. More on the hazards of insecure work.
Energy giant BP has been fined £400,000 for criminal safety failings after the release of more than three tonnes of ‘extremely flammable’ and ‘unstablised’ crude oil at the Sullom Voe terminal in Shetland. The company admitted the safety offences at Lerwick Sheriff Court. The incident, during maintenance work in 2012, led to the crude oil being released from a pipe into the ground at high pressure. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident and prosecuted the company, said the leak “was not noticed for about 30-40 minutes. During this time approximately 3.8 tonnes of extremely flammable, unstablised crude oil spilled on to the ground.” BP Exploration Operating Company Limited pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974. HSE principal inspector Greg Haywood, commenting after the case, said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.” The day before it was sentenced, BP announced it was using ‘Mars technology’ developed by NASA to monitor its offshore North Sea emissions, including those off Shetland. HSE news release. BP news release. BBC News Online. The Shetland Times.
An Aberdeen-based roofing contractor has been fined after an employee fell to his death from an unsafe scaffold that had been erected by an unqualified worker on the orders of a company director. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard that on 21 September 2016, Joseph Kane, an employee of Henderson and Aitken Limited, fell from the top rungs of a ladder when it slipped sideways on the scaffold. He died of multiple injuries. The scaffolding had been erected by Henderson and Aitken Limited employees and the ladder was tied, using a blue nylon cord, to the scaffold ledger at only the left stile. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a Henderson and Aitken Limited employee had erected the scaffold even though he was not a qualified or competent scaffolder. He had been asked to do this by the company director who was aware he was unqualified. The director then allowed three people to access the scaffold, which was not erected to the correct standard. Henderson and Aitken Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £53,000. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “This tragic and preventable death highlights the need for those undertaking work at height to ensure that it is carried out safely, that industry guidance is followed and that the relevant regulations are complied with. It is vitally important that those planning and arranging for such work give sufficient regard to the risks posed to workers and members of the public through their actions.” HSE news release.
A Scottish engineering company has been fined following the death of an employee who was struck on the head in the yard of a fabrication workshop. Hamilton Sheriff Court heard how, on 7 September 2017, James Longair was helping a colleague who was operating a side loader at IODS Pipe Clad Limited in East Kilbride, moving pipes from one part of the yard to another by lifting the pipes on the forks. The men decided a pipe should be lifted at one end, using a side loader. Once the pipe had been lifted at one end, it rolled off the forks and struck Mr Longair on the leg before falling onto a wooden bearer. This propelled the bearer into the air, striking the 62-year-old on the head, causing fatal injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no method to secure the pipe on the forks when lifted, which meant when the pipe began to roll along the forks the operator had no control over it. The pipe subsequently fell off the end of the forks, ultimately leading to Mr Longair’s death. IODS Pipe Cad Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000. HSE inspector Martin McMahon said: “This tragic incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.” HSE news release.
A new report has revealed how the multi-billion social auditing industry is using ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) to protect brand reputation and profits while aggravating the risks to garment workers. The report, ‘Fig Leaf for fashion: How social auditing protects brands and fails workers’, published by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), examines the practices of major ‘corporate controlled’ social compliance initiatives, including Social Accountability International, WRAP, the FLA, and amfori BSCI, and the auditing firms, including Bureau Veritas, TÜV Rheinland, UL, RINA, and ELEVATE. CCC says its report “clearly shows how the social audit industry has failed spectacularly in its proffered mission of protecting workers’ safety and improving working conditions. Instead, it has protected the image and reputation of brands and their business models, while standing in the way of more effective models that include mandatory transparency and binding commitments to remediation.” Citing ‘glaring examples of corporate negligence’ including the Ali Enterprises factory fire in Pakistan in September 2012 and the the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in April 2013, CCC said the report establishes that in each case the factories had been assessed and declared safe by several of big name auditing companies. “In the cases of both Ali Enterprises and Rana Plaza, accredited auditors had deemed these facilities safe just weeks or months before they were reduced to ruins. In terms of Ali Enterprises, this assessment was made by auditors who reportedly never even visited the building,” CCC notes. Report co-author Ben Vanpeperstraete of CCC commented: “Brands cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Binding regulations with the threat of sanctions and worker empowerment via unions are the only mechanisms that can ensure brand responsibilities are taken seriously, due diligence is performed and workers’ lives are protected.” CCC news release, full report, Fig Leaf for fashion. How social auditing protects brands and fails workers, and report summary.
Unions and workers, remembering the victims of a deadly fire seven years ago at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan, have pledged to continue their fight for safety and justice. On 11 September 2012, more than 250 workers were killed and over 50 were injured at the ready-made garment manufacturing factory in Karachi. To mark the anniversary, the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Association of the Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire gathered at the site of the tragedy. Participants included a minister from the Sindh provincial government, survivors of the fire, family members of the victims, garment workers and social and political activists. Saeeda Khatoon, the chair of the victims’ association, said: “In order to get justice and to bring closure to this great loss in our lives, the law enforcing agencies should pursue the legal process to punish those responsible for the accident. Workers lives must be respected and no worker in Pakistan should face a similar situation in future.” NTUF leader Nasir Mansoor said: “Workers continue to suffer hazardous working conditions. The government has diluted the labour inspection regime when it should to be strengthened to improve safety. The occupational health and safety law passed by the Sindh government in 2017 should be implemented, and Pakistan must abide to ILO core labour conventions and GSP [Generalised Scheme of Preferences] plus commitments.” Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL, the global union for the garment sector, said: “The government of Pakistan should deploy adequate financial and human resources to address the health and safety crisis in factories.” He added: “Efforts to replicate initiatives like the Accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh in Pakistan should be expedited. These efforts should involve genuine consultation with Pakistan’s unions.” IndustriALL news release.
The global transport unions’ federation ITF is calling for a landmark law in California to be the inspiration for global rules that protect ‘gig’ workers from exploitation and abuse. California’s ‘AB 5’ law makes it hard for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors. ITF said companies typically do this as a means of avoiding their duty to provide basic rights, such as minimum pay, sick pay, overtime pay and paid leave. ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said: “What the California senate has done in passing this law, with the support of transport workers in the USA, is nothing short of historic and must be the beginning of something big.” He added: “Global rules similar to AB 5 would revolutionise the working lives of millions of transport workers by challenging the business model that relies on exploitation and appalling working conditions. We are not just talking about drivers for ride-hailing companies, but subcontracted truck drivers, precariously employed logistics workers, airport workers on contract and more. All transport workers play a full part in the globalised world we live in, and they deserve full workplace benefits whatever they do and wherever they are; they deserve justice.” Workers in in sectors from catering to care work have been victims of exploitative forms of ‘platform’ work, with a study backed by the TUC this year finding the number doing gig work in the UK has doubled in the last three years (Risks 904). ITF news release. Vox. NPR report. New York Times. BBC News Online. The Guardian.