Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
Firefighters have called for more protection after research found they were being exposed to dangerously high levels of harmful chemicals. Their plea echoed scientific research that said firefighters were at risk of getting cancer because of contaminated clothing and equipment. Firefighters’ union FBU, which supported the research project, has called on the government to protect firefighters. It says the findings will increase understanding of the health implications of exposure to carcinogenic substances and inform best practice for washing and storing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to reduce potential health risks. The FBU is part of a committee looking at a new standard on cleaning, maintaining, storage and transportation of PPE which is expected to be published later this year. FBU national officer Sean Starbuck said “we are pleased that our groundbreaking research is getting the recognition it deserves. The health and safety of our members is absolutely paramount, and we are hopeful that this project will go a long way to improving the way we view contaminants in the fire and rescue service.” Fire chemistry and toxicity expert Prof Anna Stec has called on the government to protect firefighters by providing them with the best preventive medical care, education and support, while investing in guidance and research to ensure best practice was followed. “In my opinion, there is a direct link between firefighters' occupation and cancer,” she said. “Firefighters are twice as likely to die when compared to the general population - and they're dying from not one type of cancer, but they've got multiple types. Yet in the UK absolutely nothing is done to address, generally, fire toxicity or firefighters' health.” Prof Stec and her team at the University of Central Lancashire said firefighters’ risk of developing cancer was increased by dangerously high levels of chemicals remaining on their protective gear following exposure to smoke. According to Prof Stec's research, firefighters’ leading cause of exposure to carcinogens is not inhalation but absorption via the skin. That absorption automatically increased in hot environments that led to sweating and dehydration, meaning the firefighters became “a sponge for all the fire toxins.” While not compensated in the UK, many cancers in firefighters qualify for state compensation in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Presumptive cancer lists in North America – cancers presumed work-related unless proved otherwise – provide for compensation for brain, bladder, ureter, kidney, colorectal, oesophageal, breast, testicular, prostate, lung and skin cancers, as well as leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma ( Risks 846 ).
FBU news release . UCLAN research report. BBC News Online . Northern Echo . Yorkshire Post .
IAFF list of presumptive legislation on cancer in firefighters across North American jurisdictions. TUC occupational cancer guide .
Cancers and their work causes: An ITUC/Hazards at-a-glance guide to cancer hazards .
Ride hailing firm Uber has had ‘more chances than a game of monopoly’, the union GMB has said, warning a failure to regulate its activities is leaving drivers and the public at risk. The union was commenting after Transport for London (TfL) announced on 24 September that the company had been awarded a temporary licence extension. “Uber London Limited has been granted a two-month private hire operator licence to allow for scrutiny of additional information that we are requesting ahead of consideration of any potential further licensing application,” TfL said. Uber’s current licence to operate in London was due to expire the following day. It is the second time in two years that TfL has rejected Uber’s application for a full operating licence. GMB regional officer Steve Garelick commented: “Uber has had more chances than a game of Monopoly. A two-month licence extension is no good for anyone – it leaves uncertainty for drivers and passengers, meanwhile Uber still operates an unsafe model on the streets of London.” He added: “Transport for London has simple kicked the can down the road and show no regard for driver or public safety.” TfL said the two-month licence included “new conditions to ensure passenger safety.” The TfL announcement, however, made no mention of any requirement to improve the working conditions of Uber drivers. In December 2018, GMB secured a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled tens of thousands of drivers working for cab firm were employees entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay and other employment rights ( Risks 880 ). About 45,000 drivers work for Uber in London.
GMB news release . TfL news release . The Guardian . BBC News Online.
A major disturbance at a Worcester prison has highlighted the risks facing prison officers, including a lack of protective equipment and a denial of the right to refuse dangerous work. Prison officers’ union POA said the siege at the Category A Long Lartin prison, which ran for several hours into the night on 24 September and saw staff attacked with pool balls, “has once again raised significant concerns about safety, order and control in our prisons. What is particularly concerning about this disturbance is that HMP Long Lartin is a High Security Prison housing some of the most dangerous prisoners in custody.” The union said it “was only through the professionalism of prison officers that this incident was resolved”. One prison officer received head injuries and there were no injuries to prisoners. POA said the incident was one of a series exposing a prison service in crisis. It said prison officers are required ‘on a daily basis’ to deal with concerted acts of indiscipline, violence, hostage taking, self-harm and deaths in custody. “Prison officers must deal with incidents such as these without the proper PPE [personal protective equipment]. Additionally, they must work, knowing that if they use health and safety legislation to protect themselves, they will be driven into court for contempt,” noted a union statement. POA national chair Mark Fairhurst commented: “These latest acts of concerted indiscipline vindicate the actions of POA members who protect their health and safety at work.” He said POA member face the most hostile and violent workplace in Western Europe, adding it was “abhorrent” that their employer wishes “to take this union to court for contempt for protecting our members’ health and safety. If the employer listened to the POA instead of attempting to injunct us our prisons could become places of rehabilitation instead of the war zones they currently are.” POA general secretary Steve Gillan said prison service employers “now need to take stock of these recurring incidents and sit down with the POA and draw up an action plan that actually means something. They also need to equip our members with the resources they need and deserve to do the job.”
POA news release . The Guardian . BBC News Online .
Violence, threats and abuse are growing issues for retail staff, the shopworkers’ union Usdaw has warned. Addressing a September fringe meeting at the Labour conference co-organised by the Co-op Group and the Co-operative Party, the union’s general secretary Paddy Lillis said “Co-op and Usdaw has organised public facing campaigns highlighting the issues workers face. We have brought together key stakeholders, educating politicians, police forces and the Home Office on the impact of violence against shopworkers. And we have jointly reviewed Co-op’s internal employment policies, making sure that Co-op employees feel supported and cared for in their place of work.” He said as a result of this joint commitment to the union’s Freedom From Fear campaign “we have delivered a wide range of initiatives to tackle threats and abuse against retail staff.” But he warned “the impact on the workforce, both the physical and emotional, is being wilfully ignored by government and as a result, the problem of violence against retail staff is getting worse. For this reason, we were delighted to see the Co-op launch their own Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign last year.” He said the campaign “is the first entirely employer-led campaign to highlight the issue of violence against retail staff and a campaign which both Usdaw and the Co-op are completely committed to… From Usdaw’s research, from the Co-op’s work and from recent research from the Association of Convenience Stores, it is clear that shopworkers are not getting the protection they need. For this reason, Usdaw is committed to campaigning with the Co-op to deliver an Assaults on Retail Workers Bill.” The union leader concluded: “Usdaw is clear that abuse is not part of the job for any workers.”
Usdaw news release . Co-op Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign .
Members of the Tube union RMT working on the District Line took industrial action last week in response to an upturn in violence. Tube workers on a key section of the line had already voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in protest at growing levels of violence and anti-social behaviour at work. The union said that it will have ‘no hesitation in escalating the dispute’ if London Underground fails to instigate ‘a programme of urgent action to stem the surge in violent abuse and assaults.’ The union is demanding an end to lone working, a reversal of recent staff cuts, support for staff affected by violence and abuse in the workplace and better security arrangements including secure and accessible places of safety for all workers. RMT is also calling for better policing and the prosecution of those responsible for violence and abuse. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is clear that violent crime on the Tube has escalated to unprecedented levels as staffing levels are hacked back to the bare bones in the dash for budget-driven cuts.” He added: “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 occur on the Tube.”
RMT news release .
Tube union RMT has confirmed a programme of industrial action to back up a demand for urgent action to address excessive Tube track noise. Drivers voted by more than 95 per cent in favour of industrial action in a ballot covering the Jubilee, Central, Northern and Victoria Lines. The action is scheduled to commence on 10 October. The concerns are centred on parts of the track where a ‘Pandrol Vanguard’ rail fixing system is in use. The union said: “RMT has been campaigning on the issue for some time and although some improvements have been made the progress has been slow and has only been achieved through relentless pressure from RMT safety reps.” But RMT says London Underground has refused to introduce temporary speed restrictions at these track locations “to help alleviate excessive track noise and anxiety for our drivers and travelling public alike.” The company has also “failed to provide an acceptable timescale for the removal of this track,” RMT added. General secretary Mick Cash said: “It is appalling that RMT driver members have had to resort to a programme of industrial action in order to force London Underground to take the issue of excessive track noise seriously. It should never have come to this and the blame lies solely with the employer and their failure to protect the workforce.” He added: “We welcome the fact that union pressure has secured some progress but it has been too slow and our executive will be monitoring the situation and considering whatever further action may be required to ensure that the health of our members exposed to this barrage of noise night and day is given top priority.”
RMT news releases .
Members of the firefighters’ union FBU in Surrey are in dispute with their employer, and are pressing for an end to unsafe practices in their fire and rescue service. The union warns “there are simply not enough firefighters and emergency fire control staff to provide safe frontline crewing in Surrey.” It says current proposals to cut a further seven fire engines at night will inflict ‘huge’ damage on Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to provide fire crews quickly to protect lives and property. The union says a culture of bullying and intimidation from management has prospered in an attempt to cover up the ‘dangerous impact’ of the cuts. Firefighters have been disciplined for telling politicians about risks to the community from cuts, FBU says, and employment rights have been denied, with workplace grievances ignored and downgraded. The union notes: “The withdrawal of vital emergency equipment and working conditions are impeding firefighters’ ability to respond to emergencies and endangering their lives. Breathing apparatus guidelines, which allow firefighters to penetrate deeply into fires, are currently set to be removed, which exacerbates an already untenable position whereby crews are often turning up to fires with inadequate resources.” Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary, said: “Conditions in Surrey fire and rescue service simply aren’t safe for members of the public, or firefighters for that matter. Firefighters work tirelessly to keep people safe, but they have had enough. Our members have told us that they won’t stand by and put up with dangerous staffing arrangements for any longer.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters in Surrey have the full support of their union. We will not stand by and let them be mistreated.”
FBU news release.
A Unite member who had his pay docked after refusing to do a job on safety grounds has won a victimisation payout with the help of his union. The worker, whose name has not been released, was employed as an advanced scaffolder working offshore. The foreman was instructed by the maintenance team to put up a cantilever scaffold because a crane had broken down, then instructed to alter the platform to allow for a steel container to be suspended above it from the crane. The Unite member refused as he believed it wasn’t safe to do so. He explained to his manager that if the crane failed, the scaffold would not take the weight of the container crashing down. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) agreed the job was too dangerous. At the end of the week, the manager advised the Unite member that he would be sanctioned and that he would not receive his overtime payments, but did not give a reason why. Another manager suggested that it was due to the foreman’s refusal to carry out the previous instructions. The worker’s union-backed grievance was rejected by the company. After the company refused to discuss the issue further, the union lodged a tribunal claim. The employer then agreed to settle the claim for full reimbursement of the docked overtime payment and an additional award for injury to feelings. Ben Diaz, the employment lawyer with Thompsons Solicitors brought in by Unite to act on their member’s behalf, said: “This is a case which highlights that the very presence and vigilance of the union in the workplace is always a useful means of holding employers to account. In particular, to ensure that unscrupulous employers should not penalise workers for raising valid health and safety complaints.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release .
A new campaign is calling on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to abandon its refusal to address Britain’s work-related suicide crisis. ‘Death wish’, a new report in the union-backed Hazards magazine, “challenges the Health and Safety Executive’s flat refusal to investigate, record or prevent workplace suicides or to take action against the bad bosses pushing us to the brink.” The campaign urges people concerned about the deteriorating working conditions fuelling work-related desperation and mental health problems ( Risks 905 ) to send an online postcard to the new HSE chief executive, Sarah Albon. The e-postcard notes the new HSE leader is now “in a position to rectify a grievous HSE enforcement and justice blindspot. Suicides are one of the biggest single contributors to the annual work-related fatalities toll. However, they are absent from HSE’s statistics and from its inspection and prevention regimes.” It concludes: “If HSE wants to be a relevant regulator, it can no longer ignore the single most deadly desperate consequence, of terror, trauma and tyranny at work. We urge you to remove immediately the current HSE suicide reporting and inspection exemptions.” Last month, Unite called for “solutions that tackle the cause, not just the symptoms, of the mental health epidemic now rife in construction,” warning that work-related suicides were one tragic outcome of this epidemic ( Risks 911 ). The Communications union CWU this year called for work-related suicide to “be recognised in legislation” and to “place the burden of proof on the employer to demonstrate that the suicide was not work-related” ( Risks 910 ).
Death wish: Workers on the edge , Hazards, number 147, 2019.
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard to tell the HSE to inspect for work-related suicide risks and to investigate and require the reporting of suicides suspected to be work-related. www.hazards.org/hsesuicide
The chief executive of insurance giant Lloyd’s of London has described as “truly terrible” the findings of a survey that showed that nearly 500 people working in its insurance market have either suffered or observed sexual harassment in the past 12 months. The survey, conducted by the Banking Standards Board on behalf of Lloyd’s after news reports of bullying and harassment, found that “the experience of women is much less positive than it is for men.” More than 6,000 people responded to the survey, which was sent out to the 45,000 people who work at Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s said 8 per cent of respondents to the survey – about 480 people – had either encountered sexual harassment themselves or witnessed it happening to others in the past year. John Neal, the Lloyd’s of London chief executive, said: “That’s pretty stark and totally unacceptable. The survey is validating in a pretty ugly way the issues that were raised six months ago.” He said he was “both upset and disappointed” at the findings. Neal vowed to stamp out the problems within three to five years and said he would “be very disappointed if we didn’t make significant progress in the next 12 months”. He said: “I am determined that we create a working environment at Lloyd’s where everyone feels safe, valued and respected.” In response to the report, Lloyd’s announced measures including a “gender balance plan” setting clear, measurable targets and new “standards of business conduct”.
The Guardian . BBC News Online. ITV News .
A worker has been killed at Tata's Port Talbot steelworks. Tata Steel Europe said the company's thoughts were with the family of contractor Justin Day, and a full investigation had been launched. The 44-year-old worked for Caerphilly-based Mii Engineering. An air ambulance was sent to the scene following the incident on the afternoon of 25 September. A South Wales Police spokesperson said the force was liaising with the Health and Safety Executive. A hazardous area response team was also sent to the scene along with an emergency ambulance. The steelworkers' union Community called it “absolutely tragic news” and said its thoughts were with Justin Day’s family. The union’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss added: “We will be pressing Tata Steel to carry out a full investigation and ensuring that all lessons are learnt and procedures and processes are reviewed and necessary changes are implemented to ensure all workers at the Port Talbot plant are safe at work.” In April, two workers were injured at the plant following an incident after several fires broke out when molten metal came into contact with cold water on a railway track ( Risks 895 ). In a November 2001 explosion at the plant, three employees - Andrew Hutin, Stephen Galsworthy and Len Radford - died and a further 12 employees and contractors suffered serious injuries. The plant was operated by previous owner Corus at the time.
Wales Online . BBC News Online. The Guardian .
A dock company has been sentenced for criminal safety offences after an agency worker was struck by a load falling from two forklift trucks (FLTs) at the Port of Liverpool. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that on 28 May 2015, three agency workers performing work for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company were loading bundles of rebar [steel rods] onto HGV trailers for onward transfer. The injured employee was acting as banksman guiding the operation whilst his two colleagues were operating their forklifts as part of a tandem lift manoeuvre. During the loading procedure a single bundle of rebar weighing 1,924 kg, suspended on the forks of the two trucks, was struck by the reversing HGV’s headboard causing it to fall onto the agency worker who was stood on the far side by the HGV’s cab. He sustained multiple fractures, lacerations, scarring and abrasion, and required ligament reconstruction to his left knee and four operations, culminating in the amputation of two toes on his left foot. Over four years after the incident, he remains unable to return to work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found no suitable risk assessment relating to the hazards arising from loading bundles of rebar onto reversing flatbed trailers had been carried out. The tandem forklift lifting operation was also not properly planned, supervised or carried out in a safe manner. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,593.55. HSE inspector Rohan Lye commented: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to ensure they provide safe methods of working and a safe working environment. If suitable controls had been in place the serious physical injuries sustained by this worker could easily have been prevented.”
HSE news release .
EU government delegates on the European Commission’s REACH committee have agreed to increase the minimum compliance check target for chemicals registration dossiers from 5 per cent to 20 per cent, the first concrete legislative step following reports of widespread flouting of EU rules by high volume users of industrial chemicals. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) came under pressure last year after German regulators found the majority of dossiers submitted by chemicals firms do not comply with the REACH regulation covering the majority of substances used in the EU, due to absent safety data or failures to update regularly. In the wake of the revelations, the head of the Helsinki-based agency was called before the European Parliament's environment committee, while chemicals firms were forced onto the defensive after campaigners estimated that over 650 had failed to meet EU standards on safety data provision. The decision to increase the rate of compliance checks is the first step in an action plan agreed between ECHA and the European Commission. Further measures include a simplification of decision-making procedures and an assessment, by the end of 2020, of the effectiveness of enforcement measures. The new minimum target means ECHA must aim to check 20 per cent of dossiers relating to high-volume chemicals – where over 100 tonnes are imported or used in the EU annually – by 2023. For chemicals used in volumes from 1 to 100 tonnes, the deadline is 2027. The Commission noted the “utmost importance” of effective enforcement of the EU rules. “This is the responsibility of member states and is coordinated at EU level through the Forum for Enforcement,” the EU executive said.
ENDS Europe (subscription service).
Major workplace hazards like shiftwork and multiple exposures to chemicals are concentrated almost entirely in lower grade workers, with managers rarely exposed to the risks. The official SUMER 2017 survey, whose findings were released in September 2019, revealed shiftwork affects almost eight times more private sector unskilled staff (22 per cent) than managerial staff (2.8 per cent). The changes of being exposed to three or more chemicals was almost 20 times higher in private sector unskilled staff (32.7 per cent) compared to their managers (1.7 per cent). More than 1.8 million employees – nearly 1-in-10 workers – is still exposed to at least one carcinogenic product. This percentage dropped between 2003 and 2010, from 13.8 per cent to 9.4 per cent. Since then, however, it has plateaued or increased slightly, with a major increase seen in the construction sector. Work intensity remains high, with two-thirds (66 per cent) of employees stating that they are called on to work very fast, 35 per cent stating that they have excessive workloads and 30 per cent saying they do not have sufficient time to do their work properly. Around half of private sector employers are covered by a health and safety committee. Where these committees exist, the proportion of employees with a risk assessment compiled or updated within the past 12 months is over four times higher at 66 per cent, compared to 16 per cent in workplaces without a safety committee. The Sumer survey findings are based on 26,500 questionnaire responses, 98 per cent of which were accompanied by a self-assessment questionnaire. The respondents were representative of France’s 25 million employees.
ETUI News . DARES report No 41 (in French)
A New Zealand court has fined the captain and chief officer of the merchant ship Emilie Bulker for lying to port state control after one of their crew nearly died in the ship’s hold. A dock worker working on board the ship in the Port of Tauranga discovered the 40-year-old unconscious in the hold on 6 September and notified the regulator Maritime NZ. The hold where he had been working was poorly ventilated and contained palm kernels, known to deplete oxygen in the air. Fire and Emergency NZ rescued the Filipino crewman and rushed him to Tauranga Hospital where he was placed in an induced coma. During a subsequent investigation, the captain and chief officer of the Isle of Man bulk carrier claimed the hold had been assessed for gas and was safe to work in. “None of that was true,” Maritime NZ said in a statement. “Oxygen depletion and gas build up in ships’ holds is an international known risk and a major concern. International law requires operators to have a Safety Management System for a ship which sets out safety procedures to ensure that entry into enclosed spaces, like cargo holds, is properly evaluated for risk and that those risks are effectively managed.” The ship’s Captain Walter Damian and Chief Officer Ian Dalingding pleaded guilty to the charges of giving false evidence at the Wellington District Court on 19 September. They were fined NZD13,500 (£6,800) and NZD4,050 (£2,050) respectively. Captain Damian also pleaded guilty to permitting dangerous activity. The injured seafarer was released from hospital on 10 September and awarded a NZD10,000 reparation payment for emotional harm. The ship was detained, but later released. Maritime NZ’s Michael-Paul Abbott said: “Maritime NZ takes all steps to ensure the safety of maritime operations in New Zealand, including aboard foreign ships in our waters, in accordance with international law.” He added: “As well as taking the prosecution, we have shared information about the incident and this ship with other Asia-Pacific countries’ maritime authorities, and reported it to the Isle of Man registry. This is part of an international system for monitoring ships that are involved in incidents – we help each other keep shipping safe.”
Maritime NZ news release . Safety at Sea .
Even severe and sometimes fatal cases of silica dust related diseases are being missed by the authorities, a US study has concluded. Researchers examined reports of severe silicosis in engineered stone fabrication workers over the last two years in four US states - California, Colorado, Texas and Washington. Respirable crystalline silica exposure causes silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. Clusters of cases have been reported internationally among stone countertop fabrication workers, but only one US case in this industry had been reported previously. However, the US researchers discovered 18 cases of silicosis, including two fatalities, among stone fabrication workers in the four states. Several patients also had autoimmune disease and latent tuberculosis infection. The authors note these figures are likely to be a substantial underestimate. “Given mounting evidence of silicosis risk among stone fabrication workers, the government of Queensland, Australia, initiated screening in 2018 for all at-risk employees. Ninety-eight cases of silicosis have been identified among 799 workers (12 per cent) examined. These findings suggest that there might be many more US cases that have yet to be identified.” They add: “Silicosis is preventable; the cases reported here highlight the urgent need to identify stone fabrication workers at risk and prevent further excess exposure to silica dust.” Noting the US exposure standard for silica dust was tightened to 0.05mg/m3 in 2016, they conclude: “Effective disease surveillance and regulatory enforcement are crucial to address the emerging silicosis threat in the stone fabrication industry.” Last week the UK union Unite gave its backing to a campaign calling for the UK silica exposure limit to be halved, to match the US limit ( Risks 916 ).
Rose C, Heinzerling A, Patel K and others. Severe Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers — California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington, 2017–2019 . Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 68, number 38, pages 813–818, 27 September 2019.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica exposure limit no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³. www.hazards.org/HSEstopkillingus
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