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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

UNION NEWS.
Older workers bear the brunt of night working growth.
Insecure workers exhausted and lack ‘time, control and trust’
Ex-footballers at greater risk of degenerative brain diseases
Sexual harassment common across the music industry.
Flybe was warned of drinking water problems months ago.
Academy chain’s plan to axe staff could risk school safety.
CWU safety reps support safe driving action.
OTHER NEWS.
Brexit negotiators removed 'adequate' from worker rights plan.
Rig evacuation raises cost-cutting fears
Pilots welcome new counter-drone strategy.
Urgent research call on air pollution and outdoor workers
DHL fined £2.6m after tyre centre death.
RESOURCES.
Winter safe work guide.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS.
Australia: Government union-busting bills criminalise safety protests
Europe: Spain warned by unions not to sacrifice workers’ health.
USA: ‘Captive’ regulator linked to Boeing crashes
 

UNION NEWS

Older workers bear the brunt of night working growth

Older workers are represented disproportionately in Britain’s growing army of night workers, a new TUC analysis has found. The TUC research shows that over 50s account for all the growth in night working since 2014. According to the analysis, there are now nearly one million (924,000) night workers aged over 50 in Britain – up from 751,000 five years ago. A significant number are aged over 60 (222,000) and 65 (69,000). Night working is now at the highest level since current records began, the TUC said. The analysis of official data shows that 3.25 million people - more than 1 in 9 workers - work in Britain’s night-time economy, 100,000 more than five years ago. The TUC is calling for greater protection for workers who regularly work through the night. It says as well as being bad for family life, the health risks of regular night work include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. It adds these risks are heightened for older workers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Night work can be really hard – disrupting family life and placing a strain on people’s health. The government is not doing enough to protect these workers.”
TUC news release and related release. The health and safety of older workers, TUC guide, 2014. More on older workers and health and safety. The Guardian.
 

Insecure workers exhausted and lack ‘time, control and trust’

A report published from the Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) has found that people in insecure work, such as zero- and short-hours contracts, are exhausted and concerned by a loss of control over their time. ‘Time, control, trust: Collectivising in precarious work’ is based on research conducted by the STUC and academics from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. Commenting on the findings, STUC called for action from employers and the UK and Scottish governments to address the problems arising from ‘precarious work’, and added unions should find ways to organise isolated workers. The research found that workers in precarious employment - such as temporary, zero- and short-hours contracts - were exhausted and had little time to spend with family or were struggling with multiple jobs to make ends meet. The report suggested that this has left workers facing a “double burden” of being both time-poor and financially poor, and that this is taking a toll on mental health. The research found “precarious workers” were often facing challenges around their employment rights, such as access to paid holiday, sick pay, maternity or paternity leave, meeting caring responsibilities and exercising control over their working time. The report said that, in gig economy, “time itself is being commodified”. For example, it found the “time-consuming battle to get the best shifts and rotas saps unpaid time from workers, contributes to stress, and leads to exhaustion”. STUC general secretary Grahame Smith commented: “Precarious work isn’t inevitable. Generations of trade union activism has allowed many people to live in comfort and security. The danger is that low wages, intensified work and zero-hour contracts are becoming normal practices in parts of our economy thanks to the pressure of welfare cuts and anti-union laws.” He added: “These corners of exploitation are a threat to everyone’s living standards. The fight against precarity is thus a fight for all workers in our economy.” According to Smith the “only positive solution to this problem” is in the form of the “unglamorous grassroots work of trade unions”.
Time, Control, Trust: Collectivising in Precarious Work, STUC and the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, October 2019. Better Than Zero website. Morning Star.
 

Ex-footballers at greater risk of degenerative brain diseases

A landmark study funded by the charitable arm of the UK footballers’ union PFA and the Football Association has confirmed former professional footballers are much more likely to die of degenerative brain diseases compared to the general population. The University of Glasgow led FIELD study compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population. Commenting on the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, lead author and consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart said former professional footballers had an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected. “This is the largest study to date looking in this detail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers,” he said. “This analysis revealed that risk ranged from a 5-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, through an approximately 4-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a 2-fold Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls.”  Commenting on the findings, PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: “The PFA co-funded FIELD, alongside the FA. It is now incumbent on football globally to come together to address this issue in a comprehensive and united manner. Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors.” He added: “Our members’ wellbeing is of paramount importance to us, and we are committed to representing their voice as this conversation opens up across football’s stakeholders.”
PFA news release. University of Glasgow news release and FIELD study webpages. BBC News Online. BMJ research news.
Daniel F Mackay and others. Neurodegenerative disease mortality among former professional soccer players, New England Journal of Medicine, 21 October 2019. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1908483  Related NEJM editorial.
 

Sexual harassment common across the music industry

Almost half (48 per cent) of musicians have experienced sexual harassment at work, research by the Musicians’ Union (MU) has found. The union said ‘alarmingly’ over four in five (85 per cent) victims did not report the harassment. It details how almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of musicians feel they are more at risk because they work on a freelance basis. Just one in five (19 per cent) say the contracts they work under include policies or procedures to deal with incidents of sexual harassment. With 90 per cent of its members working in a freelance capacity, the MU is calling on the government to extend the protections relating to discrimination and harassment in the Equality Act 2010 to freelancers, so that they are entitled to the same protections as the majority of individuals in the workplace. The union is encouraging the public to back this request by signing a petition seeking stronger legislation to protect freelancers from sexual harassment. MU deputy general secretary Naomi Pohl said: “We are aware of far too many cases of talented musicians, particularly young or emerging artists, leaving the industry altogether due to sexism, sexual harassment or abuse.” She added: “Survivors are often unable to speak out because the consequences for their career or personal life are devastating. In most cases we’re aware of, the survivor ends up leaving the workplace or the industry and there are very few consequences for the perpetrator.” The MU is calling on the public to sign up for free to its Supporter programme, to strengthen its movement to protect musicians in the workplace and to add weight to its demands on the government.
Musicians’ Union news release and end sexual harassment petition. Become of supporter of the MU – for free! The Independent.
 

Flybe was warned of drinking water problems months ago

Bosses at the airline Flybe had been alerted by Unite to the unhealthy quality of the water supplied its flight crews on several occasions before a contaminated batch led to disruption to flights on 23 October, the union said. Unite said the problem last week was a result of a batch of water that staff had been drinking for several days. The water was found to be ‘potentially contaminated with E.coli’ when several of the crew who drank it developed stomach upsets. After Flybe was made aware of the potential contamination, flight crew who had drank the water were grounded in case they became incapacitated during a flight, leading to the disrupted schedule. Unite said on several occasions in the last year its union reps had raised concerns about the water supplied to flight crews, as it was found to contain high levels of sodium, leading to several recent recalls of the water. Unite recommended changing to a different brand but this was rejected when the catering supplier demanded an additional two pence a bottle to change brands. The union said the supply of water is critical for staff on flights “as they are recommended to drink one 500ml bottle per sector, with crew often flying six sectors per day.” Crews at Flybe have now been supplied with water from a different brand. Unite said it will be working with Flybe to agree a long-term solution to ensure that the health of flight crews is not put at risk and disruption to flights is avoided in the future. Unite regional officer Peter Coulson said: “This was a serious health matter, which caused severe disruption and could have easily been avoided. Unite has repeatedly raised concerns about the quality of the water supplied to the crew and put forward a sensible alternative.” He added: “Flybe’s management must be ashamed that a refusal to spend just two pence extra on bottled water led to such a serious flight disruption this week. Unite will now be working with Flybe to ensure that this problem is resolved and that water supplied to all crew members is safe.”
Unite news release. BBC News Online.
 

Academy chain’s plan to axe staff could risk school safety

The safety of pupils and staff could be at risk if Ormiston Academies Trust – which runs primary and secondary schools across England – follows through with plans to cut caretaking and maintenance jobs, schools union UNISON has warned. The trust, which operates 38 schools across the country, has announced plans to axe or relocate vital support staff roles across its network. UNISON is concerned not enough thought has been given to the health, safety and welfare impact of cutting caretaking and maintenance roles. It is urging the trust to pause its plans until a full assessment and proper consultation can take place. Ormiston has set aside barely a month to decide the future of staff, which is not enough said UNISON. It said the threatened workers are responsible for conducting fire safety checks and ensuring fire alarms and escape routes are up to scratch. They also carry out regular building checks to make sure premises are safe and free of hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Staff are also on site to deal with maintenance emergencies, so they can limit the disruption to teaching and learning in the classroom. However from next April, Ormiston Academies Trust plans to replace on site caretaking and maintenance teams with a slimmed-down force working across multiple sites. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Time and time again we’ve seen large organisations impose cost-cutting measures that sound good in the boardroom, but in the real world lead to poorer services, low morale, unemployment and, in this case, safety risks.” He added: “Ormiston must halt its plans now and set aside a more realistic amount of time to consult with unions about a plan that affects the lives of hundreds of workers, and many more pupils and parents. That’s the very least it can do.”
UNISON news release.
 

CWU safety reps support safe driving action

A road safety campaign being held jointly by postal union CWU and Royal Mail is to kick off on 4 November. CWU said the intention of the initiative “is to raise awareness amongst our members who are drivers about the importance of road safety and the importance of ‘Taking The Time’ and not rushing when driving.” A briefing from CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce notes: “We genuinely want to make a difference. All drivers can make mistakes when driving but we can minimise risks, eliminate many potential errors and give us more chance to react in time if we are driving sensibly. Road conditions can be dangerous, especially in adverse weather but if we plan our journey, take our time and read the signs and signals well in advance, we can make that precious decision and not only keep ourselves safe but other road users too. We can all improve safety on the roads and our personal safety by being aware, prepared and responsible. Time is a gift and to get somewhere fast – we need to slow down – if we want to arrive safe and sound!”  He adds: “Our strong advice is – ‘Don’t rush – Take your time’ and make sure you continue to drive safely on your journey. Rushing makes you more likely to miss important parts of driving – like your blind-spot check – and puts both the driver and others at risk.” An action guide for the CWU’s area safety reps includes advice on carrying out site visits, undertaking safety inspections and raising the issue with drivers.
CWU briefing.
 

OTHER NEWS

Brexit negotiators removed 'adequate' from worker rights plan

An internal UK government memo on the consequences of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal renegotiation singles out as a “win” the removal of the word “adequate” from the UK-EU Political Declaration to describe mechanisms for enforcing common social, environmental, and labour standards after Brexit. The note written for the government's cross-Whitehall Economic Partnership Steering Group indicates the word “adequate” has been replaced by the word “appropriate.” The consequence of that change, the note says, is that it is now possible to argue it is “inappropriate for the future UK-EU relationship” that disputes about these commitments on employment, environment, tax, state aid and other standards should be subject to binding arbitration. It adds the way the declaration was drafted means there is “room for interpretation” on workers’ rights and environmental protection. The memo, first leaked to the Financial Times and marked “Official Sensitive”, contains a series of claimed negotiation wins from the Brexit deal renegotiation, weakening the scope and strength of Level Playing Field Commitments (LPF), a crucial element in a future UK-EU trade arrangement. “The previous Protocol applied wide-ranging LPF measures on a UK-wide bases as a response to UK access to the EU market through the single customs territory. UK negotiators successfully resisted the inclusion of all UK-wide LPF rules”, says the memo, with the last four words put in bold for emphasis. Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said reports employees’ rights would be slashed by the government after Brexit were “way exaggerated”.
Financial Times. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
 

Rig evacuation raises cost-cutting fears

Offshore union RMT has questioned whether cost-cutting played a part in the closure and evacuation of a North Sea oil platform following a subsea structural inspection. EnQuest said it evacuated the Thistle Platform, about 125 miles north-east of Shetland, in a precautionary move on the evening of 21 October. The company said 115 personnel were transferred to a nearby platform by helicopter. Commenting on the closure, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is an unprecedented event and the speed with which the installation was evacuated suggests there is a serious problem. RMT has had concerns for some time about the impact of cost-cutting and we would hope the HSE [safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive] will seek to establish whether a robust inspection regime existed and if not, why not?” He added: “The sudden decision to evacuate would indicate that any inspection regime which did exist failed to identify an issue until it became critical. We hope this event can be used as a learning exercise for the industry as there are a number of steel jacket installations of a comparable age to Thistle still operating in the North Sea.” The union leader concluded: “For the workers, their families and all affected by these events we need to know what is being done to remedy the problem and what the future holds for the workforce. We expect all workers to remain on full pay and for extensive consultations to commence on what has happened.”
RMT news release. BBC News Online.
 

Pilots welcome new counter-drone strategy

UK pilots’ union BALPA has welcomed the latest announcement from the government on its counter-drone strategy. Under the new system, police will be given more powers and resources to crack down on illegal drone use, in a bid to avoid a repeat of recent chaos the devices have caused at airports. As part of the plans a mobile “counter-drone” unit, equipped with technology to track down drones and interfere with their functioning, will be set up to respond to incidents across Britain. The move could also help tackle the use of drones to bring drugs, weapons, phones and other contraband into jails. BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “BALPA has campaigned for counter-drone measures to be introduced and we are pleased to see the government both taking drone safety seriously and promoting sustainable growth of the industry – keeping the public safe is imperative if drones are to reach their full potential.” The union leader added: “We understand the huge commercial and leisure benefits of drones but the threat of a collision with an aircraft is real and could be catastrophic to those on board and on the ground, and so this threat must be taken seriously. Even without a collision, the chaos that drones can cause when infiltrating airspace has been proven with what we saw at Gatwick and Heathrow last Christmas. We hope the introduction of new technology will deter those so minded to do something similar, and will help with the detection and arrest of those who go ahead with it.” The police powers will be set out in the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, while other pledges have been set out in a counter-drone strategy.
BALPA news release. Government news release and UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy. Morning Star.
 

Urgent research call on air pollution and outdoor workers

New research showing that hospital admittances related to cardiac arrests, strokes and severe asthma attacks go up when air pollution levels spike has prompted a new warning on the risks facing outdoor workers. Commenting on the data from King’s College London, Matthew Holder, the head of campaigns at the British Safety Council (BSC), said: “The latest research from King’s College London provides evidence that even relatively short-term exposure to air pollution at high levels causes immediate and serious health conditions. At the British Safety Council, a charity focused on occupational issues, we are very concerned about the health of outdoor workers who spend week after week in the ambient environment, breathing in toxic air. Outdoor workers face a potentially higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and acute asthma than many people who live and work in our cities.” He added: “Although Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said that King’s research provided the evidence of a ‘health emergency’, the government, the regulator and employers are complacent about this risk and are reluctant to take urgent and appropriate action.” BSC is calling for better measurement of pollution exposures on workers, “as well as comprehensive cohort studies into the health impacts of air pollution.” NHS England chief Simon Stevens said: “As these new figures show, air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency.”
BSC news release. KCL news release and initial report. The Independent. BBC News Online. Sky News. The Mirror. The Guardian.
 

DHL fined £2.6m after tyre centre death

Logistics company DHL has been fined £2.6 million for criminal health and safety breaches after an employee at its Coventry tyre distribution centre was killed in an avoidable accident. Robert Baynham was crushed when a stack of tyre stillages toppled and two of them fell through the roof of the office where he and three colleagues who were also injured were working. DHL Services Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to carry out a risk assessment and failing to ensure the safety of employees. At Warwick Crown Court, judge Jeremy Baker said the company was guilty of a “serious corporate failure.” The tragedy occurred at DHL’s tyre distribution centre on the Prologis business park in Coventry in the early hours of 2 February 2016. A ‘tall and heavy stack’ of eight cross-stocked stillages had been placed next to an office in which Mr Baynham, John Knight, Bernard Halpin and Jason Gordon were working. When the stack toppled, possibly after being knocked as a second stack was being put next to it, the top two stillages, each of which weighed 578 kilos, fell through the office roof. Fifty-year-old Mr Baynham suffered multiple injuries from which he died after being rushed to hospital. Mr Knight, aged 35, suffered three fractures to his skull, a bleed to his brain, eight fractured ribs, a fractured collarbone and sternum, and was in hospital for two weeks. The other two men suffered less serious injuries, and were discharged after treatment, but have suffered ongoing effects as a result of what happened. Fining DHL Services Ltd, Mr Justice Baker said: “DHL has sought to personalise the acceptance of fault on its behalf. However, although such contention may be correct in this case, this does not deflect from DHL’s corporate responsibility to make a risk assessment. Although there may have been an individualised failure to make a proper risk assessment, there was a corporate failure to do so.” He added: “The defendant bore a high degree of culpability for these offences. There was a serious corporate failure to ensure that suitable assessments had been made prior to this incident.” The judge pointed out that DHL, which he said had a £1.4 billion annual turnover, had previous criminal health and safety convictions in 2017 and 2018. Coventry City Council environmental health officers undertook an investigation into the incident after being contacted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Coventry City Council news release. Coventry Observer.
 

RESOURCES

Winter safe work guide

As the clocks change and days get colder and darker, trade union personal injury law firm Thompsons Solicitors has published a short online guide to ‘Staying safe at work in winter’. The guide notes: “It’s important to check your company’s handbook to see if your employer has an adverse weather policy in place for its employees. If your employer doesn’t have a policy in place, you should ask what are the regulations for working in adverse weather conditions. Some employers might take a flexible approach and ask you to work from home, swap shifts or work overtime to make up for lost time.” The guide adds: “If you are unsure whether it’s safe to travel to work in bad weather conditions, you should contact your boss to see if they expect you travel to work.” The guide covers the law on work temperatures and rights to refuse dangerous work. It also provides key safety tips on issues including suitable clothing, lone working and slips and falls risks. A brutal cold snap earlier this year led to ‘red weather’ warnings and widespread problems for workers. There were concerns about employers failing to behave sympathetically towards affected workers, including docking wages of some who were unable to make it to work as transport was inoperative or the journey was too hazardous (Risks 840 and Risks 841).

Staying safe at work in Winter guide, Thompsons Solicitors, 2019.
HSE temperature webpages. TUC guides: TUC guide to working in extreme temperatures and Health and safety in the aftermath of flooding.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: Government union-busting bills criminalise safety protests

The Australian government’s determination to proceed with the ‘extreme’ union-busting Ensuring Integrity and Worker Benefits bills would leave unions less able to keep workers safe or fight for better pay and conditions, the national union federation ACTU has warned. It said by ignoring evidence to a senate inquiry of the inevitable damaging consequences of the changes, the government demonstrated that these bills are not about good policy but a ‘blind attack on the union movement’ which will hurt millions of working people. Under Ensuring Integrity, ACTU said, unions taking even a ten-minute protest action to protect the safety of workers and the general public could face deregistration, with union leaders barred from holding positions. The union body noted an independent international review has found this legislation is comparable only to laws passed by fascist dictatorships. ACTU president Michele O’Neil commented: “This union-busting bill is an ideological attack on working people from a government obsessed with eroding their rights and bowing to the whims of big business. The senators involved in this inquiry heard from ordinary working people who know that the EI bill will result in unions being shut down and silenced, leaving workers exposed to increased exploitation, wage theft and dangerous workplaces.” She added: “To persist with these bills in the face of that evidence from ordinary Australians is a demonstration of the blind, ideological hatred for unions which drives this government.” Last month, ACTU warned the anti-union laws “were a danger to public health”, citing asbestos and silica related disease as examples where justice “would not have been won without a campaign of work stoppages, boycotts and protests” (Risks 919).
ACTU news release. Financial Review.
 

Europe: Spain warned by unions not to sacrifice workers’ health

Europe’s top trade union body has condemned Spanish government proposals to reduce the protection for workers against cancer-causing substances. The government plan is on the pretext of transposing the newly revised European Union (EU) directive on carcinogens or mutagens at work into national law. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is urging Spain’s caretaker government to abandon the plan to increase the exposure limits for the workplace carcinogens crystalline silica, acrylamide and bromoethylene. “Sacrificing workers’ health on the altar of competitiveness is unacceptable,” said ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson. “It is unthinkable to subsidise companies by allowing them to increase workers’ exposure to cancer-causing substances, and pass the healthcare and others costs to families and society. EU directives on occupational health and safety only define minimum standards. Member States should maintain or have higher levels of protection for workers, not reduce standards to the EU minimum.” For crystalline silica, the current Spanish occupational exposure limit value is 0.05 mg/m³, in line with the US. However, the draft decree to transpose the EU directive allows for twice as much exposure, with the proposed new level set a 0.1mg/m³. ETUC says the scientific literature shows that there is a significant mortality rate at this level, from silicosis, lung cancer and other health effects. Research has calculated the rate of potentially fatal silicosis is six times higher at the weaker 0.1mg/m³ standard (Risks 917). For acrylamide, which causes pancreatic cancer, the Spanish government intends to triple the maximum exposure level. For bromoethylene, which causes liver cancer, the government would allow the exposure threshold to be doubled.
ETUC news release.
UK silica campaign: Choked! The evidence for introducing a lifesaving new silica dust exposure limit, Hazards, Number 147, September 2019. 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.
 

USA: ‘Captive’ regulator linked to Boeing crashes

Boeing’s defective 737 Max jet design was able to get by regulators because the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was too reliant on the company to vouch for its safety, according to a multinational taskforce. John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents thousands of mechanics with American Airlines, said the international fact-finding report showed the consequences of the FAA becoming a captive of the industry it regulates. “The FAA can never rely on the aviation industry to ensure that the system is safe as possible, both in manufacturing and service delivery,” he wrote in a text message to the online publication Salon. “The industry instinctively puts profits ahead of safety and that’s the cold hard truth. The FAA must once again become the independent body which works for the American people. These incestuous relationships with air carriers and manufacturers must end.” TWU has waged a high profile campaign against the increasing pressure to cut costs by shifting US jet airliner maintenance and repair to foreign locations. The union also wants the FAA to push back on airline industry cost-cutting, which it asserts puts the public at risk (Risks 885). In a statement after the taskforce report was released, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said the “unprecedented US safety record was built on the willingness of aviation professionals to embrace hard lessons and to seek continuous improvement.” However, in separate comments he said Boeing’s failure to provide promptly to FAA staff emails from 2016 raising safety concerns about the 737 Max and whose existence was only admitted last month was “concerning.” The exchange of messages between the two lead technical pilots on the Boeing 737 Max programme reveal that the flight-control system, which two years later went haywire causing repeat nose dives leading to two airline disasters, was behaving aggressively and strangely in the pilots’ simulator sessions.
Salon. FAA updates on the Boeing 737 Max. Seattle Times. New York Times.
 

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