Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
Unite had given its strong backing to a campaign to force the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the workplace exposure limit for silica dust, a move it says will save 4,000 lives a year. The union call came in response to a new ‘Choked’ report from Hazards magazine. This presents evidence for cutting the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m 3, a move the report says would dramatically reduce the incidence of the lung scarring occupational disease silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions. Hazards reviewed the international scientific literature and internal HSE documents to calculate the annual excess silica-related death toll resulting from HSE’s repeat refusal to switch to and enforce the tighter standard, instead sticking with a level it admits comes with “significant risks”. It reveals that HSE’s own internal reports estimate the silicosis risk for workers is six times higher at the current HSE limit of 0.1 mg/m3, calculated at 30 cases per 100 workers exposed compared to just five per 100 at the tighter 0.05 mg/m3 standard. The United States ( Risk 853 ) and a number of other jurisdictions already work to the safer standard. The Unite-backed campaign is asking supporters to send an online postcard to Sarah Albon, the new chief executive of the HSE. Over 600,000 workers in the UK are regularly exposed to silica at work which is created when cutting, grinding drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is a major constituent in bricks, tiles and concrete and materials. At least one-in-five workers in these jobs – and in some like stonemasonry and construction, possibly half – are exposed at or above the current deadly UK limit. Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel said: “It is time that the HSE took action on exposure to silica. The lives of thousands of workers can be saved if exposure levels are cut and the HSE starts to properly enforce exposure levels.” He added: “It is vital that everyone supports the Hazards campaign and puts pressure on the HSE to do the right thing and cut the maximum legal exposure level.” Last month Unite launched an online silica register ( Risks 909 ).
Unite news release and silica exposure register . Unite silica dust film .
Choked! The evidence for introducing a livesaving new silica dust exposure limit , Hazards, Number 147, September 2019.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³. www.hazards.org/HSEstopkillingus
Amazon's ‘lies’ about it's shocking health and safety record have been exposed, according to an investigation by the union GMB. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the union ‘it does not recognise’ the evidence Amazon claims shows its warehouses are safer than the industry average. In response to GMB’s earlier investigations into Amazon's working practices - which revealed hundreds of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses - the company claims on its website: “According to the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive RIDDOR, Amazon has 43 per cent fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK.” However, after the GMB wrote to the HSE to query this, the government safety regulator replied to say that it ‘does not recognise’ the company's claim. GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “The reports we get are horrific and Amazon needs to sort it out ASAP. Instead, they appear willing to tell barefaced lies to paper over reality and avoid their responsibilities. It’s an obvious whopper - it shows the contempt they hold the UK taxpayer and their customers in that they thought they wouldn’t get caught.” He added: “The bottom line is, conditions at Amazon sites are appalling.” Labour shadow minister Laura Pidcock commented: “Amazon should be ashamed of the way it has misrepresented its warehouse workers’ need for emergency treatment.” She added: “Labour will put power in the hands of workers by establishing a Workers’ Protection Agency that, unlike the current system, will actually enforce rights, standards and protections – so that every job is a good job.”
GMB news release .
The UK government bears ultimate responsibility for the Grenfell Tower fire which left 72 people dead and hundreds homeless, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. A new ‘meticulously researched’ report from the union argues decisions made by every government since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration led to the ‘gutting’ of the UK’s fire safety regime and, ultimately, to Grenfell. ‘Grenfell Tower Fire: A crime caused by profit and deregulation’ concludes that the expertise of firefighters “has mostly been substituted with management consultants, industry lobbyists and chief fire officers. These agents have operated within a political climate that has emphasised the need for reducing regulation… driven by central government.” Matt Wrack, FBU’s general secretary, commented: “Deregulation has been the dominant political ideology of most politicians in central government for decades. But it has also been fostered by the direct lobbying of private business interests. A deep-seated culture of complacency has developed regarding fire policy and fire safety and central government bears ultimate responsibility.”
FBU news release and report, The Grenfell Tower Fire: A crime caused by profit and deregulation , FBU, September 2019.
The leader of the UK maritime union Nautilus has called on unions worldwide to work together to force out shipowners who flout rules governing decent working conditions. Speaking at the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) inspectors seminar in Sri Lanka, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “A bad flag state, an exploitative shipowner, those who flout the norms of decency and who breach conventions. We take them on together.” Policy makers must know about the challenges seafarers face and the 'schemes and scams' of the shipowners and the shortcomings of flag and port states, he said. The Nautilus leader was addressing the conference of the ITF Inspectorate, run by the global union ITF, which in 2018 undertook nearly 11,000 ship inspections. He said ITF inspectors police and enforce ITF-approved agreements covering 280,000 seafarers globally, making shipping safer. These global union inspectors enforce global minimum standards for decent work set out in the International Labour Organisation’s 2016 Maritime Labour Convention. He added that the ITF inspectors lead targeted operations against bad shipping companies, undertaking campaigns ‘to highlight and resolve the scourge of abandonment and resourcing union capacity building through education and awareness raising’. With nearly 140 trained ITF inspectors worldwide, covering 119 ports in 56 countries, there really is nowhere to hide for bad shipowners, Mr Dickinson said. “Together, we will force bad operators out of business,” he said.
Nautilus news release .
Rail union RMT has confirmed it is now in dispute on West Midlands Trains over plans by the company to ‘bulldoze through’ driver only operation (DOO), a move the union says will ‘rip apart the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface.’ Preparations for a ballot of guards for both strike action and action short of a strike are now underway. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility, the company knows that and they should pull back from their threat to bulldoze through driver only operation and their attack on the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface. RMT will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand firm on that very basic principle.” The RMT leader added: “We are in dispute, we are preparing to ballot and we remain available for talks but it is down to the company to come back to the table with safe and sensible proposals that recognise the anger that their cash-driven plans have sparked amongst our members who deliver the service day in and day out.”
RMT news release .
The number of sexual assaults reported on London’s Tube system has soared by 42 per cent in the past four years, latest official figures show. Attacks on the London Underground recorded by the British Transport Police (BTP) rose from 844 in 2015/16 to 1,206 in 2018/19, according to Mayor of London statistics. Calling for urgent action, the rail union RMT said violence on the network was ‘out of control’. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said the figures were “a truly shocking indictment of our crime-ridden transport system. Both passengers and staff alike are being subjected to an unprecedented surge in crime and violence and this trade union is sick and tired of the warm words and excuses while those in charge ignore the brutal reality.” He warned: “If you hack back staffing numbers and fail to invest in safety and security measures you are giving a green light to those with criminal intent and that is exactly what has happened.” The union leader added: “RMT will not be fobbed off and if Tube bosses think they can just kick the can down the road on violent assaults on the Tube network then they need to think again, and quickly."
RMT news release . London Evening Standard . The Guardian . The Independent .
A transport union has urged Transport for London (TfL) to ‘rethink’ further cuts to its workplace safety cover, warning the move would inevitably come with grave risks. The union TSSA was speaking out after engineer Christian Tuvi, 44, was killed while working on a travelator at London Waterloo underground Station in the early hours of 18 September. The contractor from Cambridgeshire, a father of three young children, was pronounced dead at the scene. Commenting on the tragedy, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the death of the TfL engineer was “tragic and deeply troubling,” adding TSSA “has for some time been concerned about health and safety issues in TfL.” He said TfL’s safety system was about to undergo its second reorganisation in two years. “We have already seen deep staff cuts, many involving experienced safety professionals, and we are now on notice by TfL to expect further cuts in line with TfL’s plans to cut ‘back and middle office’ staff by 30 per cent. We have been clear - you can’t have major cuts and expect there not to be an impact on staff and the public, or indeed contractors.” Cortes concluded: “This incident should be a moment for TfL to reflect on its current path. Our union will continue to urge TfL to halt the proposed cuts to health and safety staff and review these proposals in the light of this tragedy.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said an urgent inquiry was “vital” to ensure such an incident did not happen again. Managing director of London Underground Vernon Everitt said transport bosses were “fully supporting the urgent investigations being carried out by the Office of Rail and Road and the British Transport Police.” He added: “It is absolutely vital that we understand how this happened and ensure that it never happens again.”
TSSA news release . BBC News Online . Construction Enquirer .
The TUC is calling on the UK government to cut Britain’s overworked workforce a break, by creating four new public holidays. The union body says workers in England and Wales get just eight bank holidays a year, fewer than any other EU country and lagging far behind the EU average of 12 days. Workers in Germany and France get three additional public holidays a year, while workers in Sweden get 13 days – equivalent to an extra week off. Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Cyprus top the table with 15 days each, enjoying nearly twice as many public holidays as their British counterparts. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “work is becoming more intense.” She added: “Workers in Britain put in millions of hours of unpaid overtime every year but get fewer public holidays than their counterparts across Europe. Working people deserve a break. And as the days start to get shorter we could all do with something to look forward to. The government should create a new public holiday between now and Christmas.” Overwork is linked to increased risk of work-related accidents, injury and ill-health, and to more road traffic accidents involving fatigued professional drivers ( Risks 914 ) or over-tired workers on their daily commute.
TUC news release .
Poor management practices, including most managers being required to put business interests ahead of employee welfare, are fuelling an increase in the ‘psychological harm’ experienced by staff, a major survey has found. Two in every five UK workers (39 per cent) have suffered poor mental health because of their job in the past year, Business in the Community’s (BITC) survey indicates. BITC’s ‘Time to take ownership’ report suggests many organisations do not acknowledge or deal with the impact work has on employees’ mental health. More than a third (36 per cent) of the 4,236 full- and part-time employees polled said excessive workloads had contributed to their symptoms of poor mental health, while a similar proportion (35 per cent) said feeling unsupported in their role was damaging. Over half (52 per cent) of those experiencing mental health problems related to work said this was due to pressures such as too many priorities or targets. Only four-in-ten (41 per cent) survey respondents thought their organisation was doing well in supporting staff with poor mental health, down from 45 per cent in 2018. Louise Aston, BITC’s wellbeing campaign director, said “our research shows that too many employers are tinkering at the edges of change rather than making the fundamental differences that are really needed to improve their employees’ mental health.” She added: “People who come to work don’t expect to be physically injured and they should also not expect to be psychologically harmed. A profound cultural shift is paramount so that work itself doesn’t cause poor mental health but instead should enhance it.” More than six in ten (62 per cent) of the managers surveyed said they had to put their company’s interests above staff wellbeing.
BITC news release and report, Time to take ownership , 26 September 2019.
The average working week in the UK would be cut to 32 hours within 10 years under a Labour government, John McDonnell has announced. This would effectively reduce the average working week to four days - something the shadow chancellor said could be done “with no loss of pay.” The UK works longer hours than any other European country bar Greece. The shadow chancellor also promised to eliminate in-work poverty in the first term of a Labour government. He made the announcements at Labour's annual conference in Brighton. “We should work to live, not live to work. As society got richer, we could spend fewer hours at work,” he told delegates. “But in recent decades progress has stalled and since the 1980s the link between increasing productivity and expanding free time has been broken. It's time to put that right.” The average UK full-time employee clocks up 42.5 hours a week compared to an EU average of 41.2 hours. Mr McDonnell said negotiations over working hours would be carried out as part of plans to roll out collective bargaining across different industries. “We'll require working hours to be included in the legally binding sectoral agreements between employers and trade unions… And we'll set up a Working Time Commission with the power to recommend to government on increasing statutory leave entitlements as quickly as possible without increasing unemployment.” TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady welcomed the Labour plan. She said: “It's time for working people to share in the benefits of new technology.” A report by cross-bench peer Lord Skidelsky - commissioned by Labour and published earlier this month - recommended that people should work fewer hours to earn a living.
John McDonnell’s speech to the Labour Party conference . BBC News Online . The Independent.
Large employers would be forced to provide flexible hours to women experiencing the menopause under plans announced by Labour. Shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler announced the ‘bold’ policy at the party's conference started in Brighton. Under the plan, companies with more than 250 employees would also be required to train managers on the effects of the menopause so they can accommodate the needs of employees. She said: “Together we must end the stigma and ensure that no woman is put at a disadvantage, from menstruation to menopause.” The shadow minister said in addition to flexible working, the new menopause related duties would include conducting risk assessments and requirements to review of sickness absence procedures and to consider the specific needs of menopausal women. The proposal was backed by shopworkers’ union Usdaw. “Symptoms of the menopause can be aggravated by working conditions, but can be alleviated to some extent by simple but effective adjustments to the working environment or working practices,” said the union’s general secretary Paddy Lillis. Usdaw’s own survey found that more than half of menopausal women did not feel able to approach their managers about their symptoms. “We very much welcome Labour's recognition that the menopause is an increasingly relevant issue for workers, as the proportion of older women in the workplace rises,” the union leader said. Other Labour policy commitments include enabling the use of the Equality Act to tackle sexual harassment at work.
Speech by Dawn Butler to the Labour Party conference . Usdaw news release . BBC News Online . Personnel Today .
TUC guide to supporting women through the menopause .
Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman has responded to pressure from UNISON and patient and community groups and announced a public inquiry to investigate safety issues at two Scottish hospitals. The inquiry will examine deaths linked to pigeon droppings at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow and costly delays to the Royal Hospital for Children & Young People (RHCYP) in Edinburgh. Thomas Waterson, chair of UNISON’s health committee, welcomed the news. He said: “The Scottish government has finally bowed to pressure from UNISON, patients and community groups to hold a public inquiry into these lengthy and costly delays – a decision that is long overdue. The failings have not only taken millions of pounds out of the public purse – money which should have been spent on patient care – but it has seriously disrupted patient care and been hugely frustrating for NHS workers.” He added: “The whole fiasco yet again highlights the weakness of the Scottish government’s private finance system: The Scottish Futures Trust. Patients, staff and taxpayers should not be left paying the price for this catalogue of errors and it is vital this inquiry ensures this is never allowed to happen again.”
Scottish government news release . UNISON Scotland news release . The Scotsman . Holyrood . Morning Star . Scottish Sun .
The company that won a tender for a steelworks demolition job where two workers died last week had agreed do the job for significantly less than the official valuation for the work. The deceased men are understood to have been working in a cherry picker when they were engulfed in flames following an explosion on 19 September. The John F Hunt team was retained to demolish old ammonia washers at the former Redcar SSI coke oven site following its closure in 2015. One of the victims worked for John F Hunt and the other for Nationwide Platforms. A John F Hunt company statement said the incident “has resulted in two fatalities and we are currently engaging with the HSE, client and emergency services to thoroughly investigate and ascertain the circumstances surrounding this heart-rending event.” Nationwide Platforms said: “It is with deep regret and shock that we confirm that a much-loved Nationwide Platforms employee died as a result of yesterday’s explosion at the former SSI steelworks site in Redcar.” The coke oven plant closed in 2015 following the collapse of SSI UK. The site remains under the control of the Official Receiver. John F Hunt was awarded the contract by the South Tees Site Company on 14 May. South Tees Site Company is the government-owned ‘arm's length’ company set up to oversee the management of the former SSI land, including keeping the site safe. The work had been valued at £150,000-200,000, but the firm agreed to do it for £100,257, documents show. Anna Turley, the Labour MP for Redcar, said: “They must leave no stone unturned to find out how on earth this could have happened,” adding: “There must be total accountability and a complete review of what is happening on the site.”
The Gazette . Construction Enquirer . BBC News Online .
The former director of a now-dissolved landscaping company has been given community service and a suspended jail term for criminal safety breaches after a worker was impaled on a spike. Leeds Crown Court heard that on 25 August 2016, an employee of RK United Ltd was using a lorry loader crane to deliver a load of soil to a new house in the city. As he brought the crane arm down, his left arm was impaled on a spike which was protruding from the control system. The impact caused several bones in his arm to be shattered. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the crane had severe defects, including a disabled safety system, and part of the safety guard around the controls had been cut off, leaving the spike on which his arm was impaled. In addition, the worker had not received appropriate training to operate the lorry loader crane. RK United Ltd director Hafeez Ghafoor pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service. HSE inspector Yolande Burns-Sleightholme commented: “This injury was easily preventable, and the risk should have been identified.” She added: “The lorry loader crane should have been properly maintained, regular inspections carried out, and a thorough examination taken place every twelve months. The disabled safety system would have been found during the examination, ensuring that this incident could not have occurred.”
HSE news release . Construction Enquirer .
The director of a waste management company has been ordered to carry out unpaid work after an employee was critically injured while using equipment the boss knew was unsafe. Poole Magistrates’ Court heard that on 18 April 2017 Justin Tinsley, then aged 33, had only been employed by Mike Toon Ltd for a few weeks when he was trapped between a telehandler and a gate post at the company yard in Poole. Mike Toon Ltd processed and recycled builders’ waste and soil at the yard. The worker was struggling with a manoeuvre and the machine became stuck. With the engine running and the door blocked, he climbed out through the window to allow company boss Michael Toon to free the machine. However, the machine moved unexpectedly, and the worker was crushed between the machine and a gate post. He was unconscious in hospital for a period of weeks and has never fully recovered from his crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Justin Tinsley was being trained to drive a telehandler by the company owner and director Michael Toon. HSE found several serious long-term faults with the telehandler including some relating to braking. Michael Toon pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was given a community order requiring him to undertake 120 hours unpaid work. HSE inspector Ian Smart said: “Michael Toon was well aware of the unsafe condition of the telehandler yet allowed it to be used by an inexperienced employee.” He added: “HSE promotes safe-stop procedures where drivers should apply the parking brake and turn off the ignition before exiting any mobile machinery. Justin could not do this as the telehandler was in such poor mechanical condition.”
HSE news release .
A French Supreme Court decision that gave workers exposed to asbestos the right to claim compensation for emotional distress caused by the fear of contracting a serious disease ( Risks 905 ) can be applied more broadly, a new ruling has indicated. In its September decision, the same court expanded the scope of the April 2019 compensation ruling to include all ‘harmful or toxic substances’. This means an employee who demonstrates they been exposed in the workplace to a substance creating a high risk of developing a serious disease and has developed anxiety as a result can seek compensation from their employer. The employer would be liable if they had not implemented minimum measures to protect the employee, provided the claim was also made within a five-year statute of limitations. While the latest decision applies to mine workers specifically, the broad wording of the French Supreme Court's decision makes clear the provision is open to all employees exposed to any harmful or toxic substances. To escape liability, firms will have to demonstrate that they had complied with their legal safety obligations and had also documented the measures taken to protect their employees from exposure.
The blanket of choking smog over Malaysia should be regulated as an ‘occupational hazard, a coalition of unions, environment, women’s and migrant workers’ groups has said. The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) says while flights have been re-routed or grounded and schools have been closed, “the nation’s workforce perseveres in daily routines with inadequate protection from the unknown long-term health effects of inhaling the carbon-rich smoke.” The LLRC wants the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) amended to cover the haze, which is believed to be generated each year from peat land fires in Indonesia, to require employers to implement measures to protect workers from detrimental effects. LLRC chairperson Gopal Kishnam said: “The prime minister may have indicated that an extra-territorial law could be a possibility, but in the meantime, workers’ health is at risk with clear long-term implications. It is the responsibility of the government, together with the employers, to ensure the health and safety of workers are safeguarded.” Employers are for now encouraged to follow government guidelines on the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) website, which suggest measures including minimising outdoor work, providing respirators to workers who have to work outdoors and reassigning job tasks. “These guidelines need to be implemented as OSH [occupational safety and health] requirements in the workplace,” Gopal said. LLRC co-chairperson Irene Xavier urged the DOSH to carry out frequent checks to ascertain whether worksites, such as construction sites, needed to be issued with official Stop Work Orders by the safety regulator OSHA to protect workers from the haze.
A safe patient-handling intervention decreased injuries among nurses, but not among lower-wage care workers, a US study has found. Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health confirmed the “inequality paradox” when they compared self-reports of safe patient-handling practices and hospital injury rates at two large Boston area hospitals from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, nurses and patient care workers at one hospital received the same safe patient-handling intervention while workers at the other hospital did not. The intervention included initial and ongoing training on using new equipment, including slings and special devices, to help move patients safely. After the intervention, lifting and exertion injuries among nurses decreased by about a third, but no decrease in injuries occurred among patient care workers. At the same time, both groups reported similar improvements in their own safe handling of patients. The authors say their findings are an example of interventions unintentionally widening the gap between less and more advantaged workers. The results highlight the importance of accounting for differences among workers when designing and evaluating health and safety interventions, the authors conclude, noting: “Although the population-level injury rate decreased after the intervention, most improvements were among higher wage workers, widening the socioeconomic gap in injury and exemplifying the inequality paradox. Results have implications for public health intervention development, implementation, and analysis.” Hazards magazine warned last year that “low pay is a genuine occupational hazard,” associated with higher rates of work-related injuries and diseases ( Risks 855 ).
Sabbath EL, Yang J, Dennerlein JT and others. Paradoxical impact of a patient-handling intervention on injury rate disparity among hospital workers , American Journal of Public Health, volume 109, number 4, pages 618-625, 2019. NIOSH Science Blog .
Degraded , Hazards, Number 142, 2018. Unjust pay rates can be deadly , ETUC, 2018. More on the health and safety and low pay.
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