Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
UNION NEWS Workers in the UK transport sector are being routinely denied access to toilets, creating health issues and in some cases forcing workers to leave their jobs, Unite has warned. The union’s research findings, released on the 19 November World Toilet Day, are based on a survey of nearly 5,000 bus drivers. Unite found that 83 per cent of drivers are “not supplied with a list of toilet facilities or a map should the need arise on routes.” The lack of accessible toilet facilities on a bus route is a particularly important issue for bus drivers as shifts regularly require 5 and half hour stints without a break from driving. Forcing drivers to wait that long before using a toilet can cause serious health issues and can also result in them becoming distracted and losing concentration while driving, the union said. Its separate survey of over 4,000 lorry drivers also identified a major issue with a lack of access to toilets. The survey found nine in every 10 drivers (89 per cent), who regularly have to sleep in a lay-by, reported “rarely or never” having access to toilet or washroom facilities when doing so. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Transport workers the length and breadth of the UK are being denied toilet dignity on a daily basis.” She added: “The lack of access to toilets is simply intolerable and can and does result in our members developing severe health problems and in some cases being forced to quit their jobs due to medical conditions. This is an issue for all transport workers, but a lack of access to toilets for women when they have their period or are going through the menopause, or facilities where they risk abuse or sexual harassment, are more barriers faced by women working in this sector where they are already underrepresented. Employers have a clear legal duty to provide adequate toilets for their workers and Unite will be ensuring that those duties are met.” Global transport union federation ITF said toilet access was a human right but added “over 673 million people worldwide are forced to practice open defecation. This can be challenging for transport workers, leaving them facing horrendous conditions or even putting themselves at risk when facilities are not available.”
UK transport workers denied toilet dignity
New GMB charter to prevent attacks on ambulance staff
Union protects assaulted bus driver from the sack
Bolton blaze exposes ‘complete failure’ of UK fire safety
Loneliness is bad for mental health in seafarers
Action call on major civil service stress headache
Scotland’s social work services at ‘breaking point’
SWR should lose franchise over driver only mess
Cardiologists call for a ban on 'dangerous' vaping
Retailers and shopworkers demand end to shop violence
Safety groups issue workplace health election challenge
Property firm fined after five get white finger
Contractor fined after worker horribly burned in cable strike
Cambodia: Casino workers demand protection from daily abuse
Canada: Inquiry into asbestos tailings projects ‘too late’
Global: New coalition stresses safety is a ‘human right’
USA: Tesla factory ‘plagued’ by worker injuries
Unite news release and toilet dignity campaign. ITF news release. Workplace toilet breaks health and safety news. RMTU New Zealand news release.
ILO news release. WHO news release. Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers: An Initial Assessment, International Labour Organisation (ILO), World Bank, World Health Organisation and WaterAid, November 2019. World Toilet Day.
One year on from the Protect the Protectors bill becoming law, the union GMB has launched a charter to step up action against those who attack ambulance workers. The Charter asks employers to take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to those who assault emergency workers, and take immediate steps that will help minimise the chance of physical and sexual assault on emergency workers. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 introduced a new offence of common assault against an emergency worker and requires courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. Initially sexual assaults were not covered by the Bill, until a GMB investigation revealed reported sexual assaults on ambulance workers and other sexually abusive incidents increased by 211 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. The research also revealed that on average there are more than eight recorded attacks (8.2) on ambulance workers every single day. GMB organiser Rachel Harrison said: “We’re calling on employers to do their bit to protect the protectors. Whilst huge steps were taken last year to protect ambulance staff, we think that more has to be done to ensure their safety when serving the public. It’s not right that any person faces violence and sexual assault in the workplace, let alone emergency workers.” She concluded: “By implementing the charter, employers can help minimise the threats to our brave emergency workers and reassure them that they are taking the necessary steps to minimise the risks of violent, common and sexual assault at the workplace.”
GMB news release.
Bournemouth transport firm Yellow Buses has dropped all charges against a Unite rep and bus driver who the union says was victimised by the firm after being assaulted by a passenger. Shop steward Martin Conder, 52, who had 13 years unblemished service, was assaulted by a passenger on 7 October. Another passenger came to Martin’s aid and the instigator was removed from the bus and left on the street. There were no complaints from passengers and the union rep followed procedure and reported the incident to management at Yellow Buses. “Astonishingly, management then tried to sack Martin,” Unite stated. “They failed, but the senior union representative was given a final written warning. Mr Conder sought advice from the police. He was told he had done the right thing but management pressed ahead with a disciplinary.” However at a 15 November hearing, management dropped all charges and cleared Martin of any wrongdoing. As a result, Unite called off its ballot for industrial action in support of the union rep. Unite regional officer Janet Wall said: “This whole debacle could have easily been avoided because Martin had done nothing wrong. His name has been cleared and the industrial action ballot has been called off.” She added: “Unite will always robustly defend our union representatives against mistreatment by bosses.”
Unite news release. Morning Star.
A devastating fire at a student accommodation block in Bolton exposes the need for a complete overhaul of UK fire safety and reveals the dangerous consequences of cuts to fire and rescue services, firefighters’ union FBU has said. The 15 November blaze quickly gutted the top floor of the cladded building and caused substantial damage through the following two storeys of the student flat complex known as The Cube – leaving 220 students homeless. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This terrible fire highlights the complete failure of the UK’s fire safety system. It’s deeply troubling to see fire spread rapidly up a building’s exterior again - a shocking indictment of the government’s shameful inaction after Grenfell. This is not how any building should react to a fire in the 21st century, let alone a building in which people live.” The union leader added: “We need to end the deregulation agenda and the disastrous cuts to our fire and rescue service. It's time for a complete overhaul of UK fire safety before it’s too late.” Les Skarratts, FBU North West executive council member, said Greater Manchester has lost more than 600 firefighters since 2010 alone and said “alarmingly” there are plans to cut another six fire engines, including one in Bolton. “We need to stop the senseless cuts to our fire and rescue service before we see another awful incident like this,” he said. Eva Crossan Jory, a vice-president with the students’ union NUS, said: “NUS has been calling for a number of improvements in fire safety measures in student accommodation, and while this building doesn't appear to have used the same cladding as Grenfell, we also don't know what role it might have played in this fire. It shouldn't take another fire to put the issue of building safety back on the agenda. Student safety must always be the first priority for accommodation providers and the government.”
FBU news release. The Independent. BBC News Online. Morning Star. Construction Enquirer.
Cargo shipping companies should provide greater support to seafarers to help prevent anxiety and depression, the seafarers’ union Nautilus has said. It was commenting after Cardiff University researchers found that long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home, put seafarers at risk of poor mental health. Employers should provide self-help guidance, contracts that balance work and leave time, introduce anti-bullying and harassment policies, train officers to create a positive onboard atmosphere and set up confidential counselling services, the authors concluded. The Seafarers' Mental Health and Wellbeing report, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), involved more than 1,500 seafarer questionnaire responses, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with a small group of seafarers, employers, maritime charities and other stakeholders. Lack of internet access, long periods away from friends and family, poor accommodation and food were among the leading causes of concern for those working at sea – confirming similar findings by Nautilus in its member surveys. Professor Helen Sampson, director of the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) and who led the study, said there is evidence that recent-onset psychological disorders are increasing among serving seafarers, yet 55 per cent of employers said they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health for a decade. “It is all too easy for seafarers working out on the deep ocean to be invisible to those ashore,” she said. “Their remoteness allows for abuse to go undetected. Sometimes seafarers are subjected to bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues on board. However, many employers also mistreat seafarers by failing to provide decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental wellbeing.”
Cardiff University news release. Nautilus news release. Full report: Seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing, IOSH, 2019.
Unions in the civil service want a new framework on health, safety and wellbeing that addresses the causes of work-related stress. PCS revealed the union plan after latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics identified a record high 602,000 workers in Great Britain are now suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with workload cited as the most common cause (Risks 922). PCS says the problem is more prevalent in public administration and defence jobs. The union said 60,000 jobs have gone in the civil service since 2010. The 2018 civil service people survey found at least 35 per cent of respondents say they have recently or are suffering from work-related stress, it added. “PCS are discussing with other civil service trade unions about agreeing a framework for national discussions on health, safety and wellbeing in the civil service, related areas and outsourced areas,” it said. “Dealing with stress and mental health will be a key aspect of this work. We will put forward our proposals, hopefully in unity with the other civil service unions, to the Cabinet Office.” PCS is collating cases histories on union action to address stress, workplace surveys and examples of best practice. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the union Prospect, also said action was needed to protect stressed out civil servants. “No other industry has experienced anything like this annual jump, and it is impossible to escape the conclusion that it is because of the sheer level of pressure being heaped on civil servants as a result of Brexit,” he said. “Pay is still lagging behind the private sector, departmental cuts continue to bite, and senior politicians never seem to miss an opportunity to attack civil servants – it’s no wonder they are feeling the strain. The government urgently needs to address this problem or it will soon discover that even our fantastic civil service has a breaking point.”
PCS news release. The Guardian.
Resource cuts have left Scotland’s social work teams exhausted, abused and unable to cope with demand, a study by the union UNISON has found. The union’s report, ‘Save from harm’, is based on freedom of information requests to local authorities and a Scotland-wide survey of UNISON members working in social work teams. It found a dedicated workforce working hard to support the public but who are under enormous pressure. The report also revealed that violence at work is a major issue among staff, with two-thirds having experienced physical or verbal abuse at work. Only one third of those who had experienced abuse knew of a risk assessment following that abuse. The study found over threequarters (76 per cent) of respondents stated their teams did not have enough staff and 82 per cent stated their workload had got heavier in the last few years. Nearly nine out of 10 (89 per cent) reported working late and skipping breaks to keep on top of their workload. Almost a third of respondents rated their stress as 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. Joe Lynch, UNISON regional organiser, said: “This is a damning report which shows our social work services have reached breaking point. Our dedicated staff are going above and beyond to support the public but they are under enormous pressure with heavier workloads and too few staff.” He added: “They feel exhausted, undervalued and suffer violence regularly. Social work teams are severely under-funded and we are facing a social work crisis. The dedicated people working in our social work teams deserve better and so do the people who rely upon them.”
UNISON Scotland news release and full report.
Rail union RMT has called for South Western Railway (SWR) to be stripped of Britain's biggest franchise out of Waterloo after the introduction of a new fleet was delayed again due to software problems related to driver-controlled door operation. The trains are already a year behind schedule, with SWR now saying it hopes they will be released by next summer. RMT has warned that SWR’s plan to dispense with train guards, who control doors and undertake other supervisory roles, jeopardises ‘safety-critical’ functions. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The SWR franchise is a national disgrace and the outfit responsible for it should be kicked out for repeated failures and the public sector brought in with a key objective of putting safety and accessibility first.” He added: “This latest fiasco over the introduction of driver controlled fleet reinforces everything that RMT has been fighting for in the dispute over the safety critical role of the guard as we prepare for a further month of industrial action.”
RMT news release. ITV News.
E-cigarettes are “so dangerous and addictive” that countries should consider banning them, cardiologists have warned. The call came after new research suggested vaping could damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs. It follows British teenager Ewan Fisher warning others to not to vape after he developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), and almost died from serious respiratory failure. Professor Thomas Münzel, of the Department of Cardiology of the University Medical Centre in Mainz, Germany, said e-cigarettes are so dangerous, as well as addictive, that more countries should consider banning them. He and his colleagues also argued there is a “paucity of evidence” to support claims that e-cigarettes are a “healthy” alternative to smoking or that they help people quit. The new study, published in the European Heart Journal, looked at the effect of e-cigarette vapour on blood flow and stiffness in the brachial artery in the upper arm in 20 smokers before they vaped an e-cigarette, and then 15 minutes afterwards. The results suggested that just one vaping episode increased heart rates and caused the arteries to stiffen, and that the inner lining of the arteries, the endothelium, stopped working properly in smokers. Prof Munzel said: “Our data may indicate that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, and their perceived 'safety' is not warranted. In addition, we still have no experience about the health side effects of e-cigarettes arising from long-term use.” A limitation of the study was that no healthy non-smokers were included. However, the researchers point out that a strength is that they received no funding from the e-cigarette industry. “Recent studies indicate that e-cigarette industry funding is more likely to lead to results that indicate that e-cigarettes are harmless,” the paper noted. The TUC has advised that vaping should be subject to the same restrictions at work as smoking (Risks 912).
European Society of Cardiology news release. Marin Kuntic and others. Short-term e-cigarette vapour exposure causes vascular oxidative stress and dysfunction: evidence for a close connection to brain damage and a key role of the phagocytic NADPH oxidase (NOX-2), European Heart Journal, ehz772, published online 13 November 2019. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz772.
Nisha Nair, and others. Life-threatening hypersensitivity pneumonitis secondary to e-cigarettes, Archives of Disease in Childhood, Published Online First: 11 November 2019. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2019-317889.
TUC’s updated Ensuring smoke-free workplaces guide, including an e-cigarettes section.
A retail employers’ group and a union have teamed up to call for better government support in their fight against violence directed at shopworkers. Usdaw’s latest survey shows that violence has increased by over 25 per cent in the last year, despite British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures showing record spending of over £1 billion by retailers on crime prevention. Both organisations are calling for specific policing resources to be targeted at retail crime. The Usdaw survey showed that less than half (42 per cent) of shopworkers have ever even seen a patrolling police officer inside their shops. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “This disturbing increase in violence against shopworkers, alongside continued high levels of threats and abuse, demands urgent action from the next government. Our members working in retail feel exposed and ‘on the frontline’, and we are extremely concerned that limited police resources mean that so many shopworker never see a police patrol.” He added: “When the retail employers and the shopworkers’ trade union come together with one voice for greater legal protection for shopworkers, we hope the politicians are listening.” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said “everyone deserves to go to work free from fear,” adding: “Politics is meant to be about helping people. We hope that every politician elected this December will support our call for stiffer penalties for those who abuse, or assault shop staff. Violence against shopworkers remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face and the next government must take action to stamp it out.”
BRC news release. Usdaw news release.
Whoever wins the next election, workers’ rights and protections must be maintained, the British Safety Council (BSC) has said. The organisation’s chief executive, Mike Robinson, has written to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to make policy commitments on occupational health, safety and wellbeing ahead of the general election. He said: “We want to see a cross-party consensus on health and safety standards, and I am hopeful that all the main parties will want to reassure voters that they are committed to maintaining high standards of workers’ rights and protections.” He added: “Over the coming years we will be campaigning on the occupational health risks of air pollution, the growing incidence of presenteeism in the workplace and tackling mental health at work. Underpinning that, of course, is a regulatory regime that is up-to-date and well-resourced.” The BSC leader said the general election “will decide the shape of domestic policy for perhaps the next five years. We want to see the next government building on the UK’s reputation as a leader in health and safety by creating a regulatory framework that ensures no-one is injured or made ill through their work.” A joint statement from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) and the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) calls “for political parties in their manifestos to recognise the need for investment in occupational health.”
BSC news release. FOM/SOM statement.
A property management and development organisation has been fined after five employees developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Aylesbury Crown Court heard that between 2009 and 2014 five employees of Places for People Homes Limited used power tools to carry out ground maintenance tasks at sites in Milton Keynes, Rotherham and Hull. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to assess or manage the risks associated with vibrating tools, which include carpal tunnel syndrome and HAVS, also known as vibration white finger. The condition causes blanching of the fingers, pain and tingling and can become disabling. The property firm also failed to provide suitable training or health surveillance for its maintenance workers and failed to maintain and replace tools, a failing that increased vibration levels. Places for People Homes Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,995.06. HSE inspector Andrew McGill said: “Companies must manage the risks associated with vibrating tools. Hand arm vibration can be a significant health risk wherever powered hand tools are used for significant lengths of time.” He added: “HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks. Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.
A groundworks contractor has been fined after an operative struck an underground electricity cable resulting in horrific burns over half of his body. Folkestone Magistrates’ Court heard that, on 15 October 2018, G&R Groundworks (South East) Ltd operatives were using an electric ground breaker to dig fence post holes for a car park perimeter fence at a Cummins Power Generation site in Ramsgate, Kent. While operating the electric breaker, one of the operatives struck an 11kv electricity cable, causing a large flash and engulfing him in flames. The operative sustained serious burns to his face, chest, abdomen, groin, both arms and legs, amounting to approximately 50 per cent total body surface area burns. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that G&R Groundworks (South East) Ltd failed to source and refer to the underground services plans prior to breaking the ground to determine the location of any cables within the planned working area. They also failed to provide their operatives with cable identification equipment to locate any cables within the area. G&R Groundworks (South East) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £32,400 and ordered to pay costs of £2,657.18. HSE inspector Ross Carter said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. If a suitable safe system of work was followed prior to the incident, the life-changing injuries sustained by the operative would have been prevented.”
HSE news release.
The 4,400 workers at the luxury Naga World Hotel Casino in Phnom Penh face a starkly different experience to the casino’s pampered guests – a litany of daily violence, threats, abuse and humiliation. Global union IUF said workers in the casino’s hotel, recreation and gaming areas have been physically assaulted, had hot drinks thrown in their faces, and have been sexually harassed. It complains there are no consequences for guests and customers who behave violently or abusively. In June this year, the ILO adopted Convention 190 on combatting violence and harassment in the world of work, which affirms that workers have the right to be protected from violence and harassment by 'third parties', including clients, customers and service providers. But IUF says the situation at Naga World “is typical of the violence that workers in the hospitality sector routinely face while doing their jobs.” On 30 October, the union representing the casino workers formally called on management to convene a meeting to discuss creating internal guidelines on abusive behaviour and sexual harassment, with sanctions on perpetrators that include being banned from the premises, as well as guidelines for managers, security and staff to follow after violent incidents. Naga World Management has so far failed to respond to the union’s approach. Union members are now wearing pink masks travelling to and from Naga World Hotel Casino to highlight their demand for negotiated measures to protect them from violence and abuse.
IUF news release.
The mandate of an independent investigation into controversial new projects to extract valuable minerals from asbestos mining residues offers too little, too late, asbestos campaigners have said. The Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) investigation into the province’s asbestos legacy starts on 25 November, eight months after at least one of the projects it will be examining was granted a certificate of authorisation by Quebec’s environment department. The government has already invested tens of millions of dollars of public money in Alliance Magnesium, a company that plans to turn asbestos residues from the defunct Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos into valuable magnesium ingots and silica (Risks 872). And half a dozen other companies hoping to commercialise the mountains of tailings left over from Quebec’s asbestos mining days are in varying stages of development. “The Quebec government is to be commended for initiating this public inquiry,” said long-time anti-asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff, of RightOn Canada. “Its timing is wrong, however. This inquiry should have been held before major projects to commercialise the asbestos mining wastes were approved, not after.” Gilles Mercier, president of the Association of Asbestos Victims of Quebec, said his group was disappointed with the way environment minister Benoit Charette worded the mandate letter. The letter puts the emphasis on the residue projects, without clearly requesting that BAPE examine the broader problems asbestos poses. “We would have liked the government to announce a real reflection on the whole issue of asbestos in Quebec — where are we with asbestos in schools, hospitals, private homes? — because people are not sufficiently informed.” Use of the deadly fibre was aggressively promoted by the Quebec government for decades until the last asbestos mine closed in 2012. The federal government banned the use and sale of asbestos last year, but the legislation contained an exemption allowing the extraction of valuable materials from asbestos residues.
RightOn Canada news release. Montreal Gazette.
A new global workplace safety coalition has been launched and is “committed to accelerating the improvement of working conditions through closer cooperation.” Initial founding partners of the Global Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health, include the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), the European Commission, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), and a number of governments. ILO will chair a safety coalition, whose steering group also includes representatives of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE). The partners in the coalition, which was launched in Helsinki on 12 November, say the intention is to introduce practical solutions to improve working conditions around the world. “As work changes, it is clear that occupational safety and health must also change. I believe that the importance of occupational safety and health will increase as technology develops and work takes new forms – occupational safety and health will become increasingly important. We need new forms of cross-border cooperation,” Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, the Finnish minister of social affairs and health, told said at the launch event. “Safe and healthy work is a basic human right.”
Finnish government news release. Video of the Global Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health launch.
Workers at a Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ in Nevada have been struggling with workplace safety issues, a local housing shortage, and a lack of bathrooms at work, according to a new report. Analysis of 911 calls and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection records by USA Today indicated injuries at Gigafactory near Reno are routine - “at least three a month” - but not all injuries are reported as required by law. A former employee named Lane Dillon, now a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, lost part of his index finger working at the Gigafactory in 2017, he said. But that amputation was not reflected in OSHA’s records because Tesla did not report it, he told USA Today. Tesla employees at the Nevada factory reportedly called 911 more than once a day on average in 2018. During a chemical spill at the plant, Tesla managers were not helpful to emergency response teams, and evacuation procedures were haphazard, the report says. Tesla previously under-reported injuries at its Fremont, California, car assembly plant, according to a report last year (Risks 846). The company has paid $26,900 for workplace safety violations at the Gigafactory since 2017, according to the report, often negotiating a lower fine after reporting an injury or safety issue. In a statement, Tesla told USA Today: “Tesla, our suppliers, and our contractors make up over 10,000 people on-site — the size of a small city. To report that both personal and work-related medical emergencies over the course of four years make Tesla an outlier is unfair and misleading.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced this month that the company plans to build its fourth Gigafactory in Berlin, Germany.
CNBC News. Forbes. Business Insider.
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