Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
UNISON has welcomed a decision by the Ormiston Academies Trust to drop plans to cut jobs across England, which it was feared could put the safety and support of pupils at primary and secondary schools at risk (Risks 921). The trust, which operates 38 schools across the country, had proposed cuts affecting up to 130 posts involving maintenance, caretaking and ICT (information and communications technology) roles. The rethink will provide relief for the staff who had feared for their jobs, said UNISON. The union has been campaigning for the Trust to drop the plans amid concerns that not enough consideration had been given to the impact on the health, safety and welfare of staff and children at the affected schools. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It’s welcome news that the Ormiston trust has listened to staff and unions. The proposal to cut back on caretakers and other staff would have had a terrible impact on the health and safety of pupils and staff.” He added: “We will continue to work with Ormiston to improve services without affecting children’s education by cutting jobs and resources. This decision sends a clear signal to those in government championing cuts and centralisation of support staff that the risks to pupils simply aren’t acceptable.”
UNISON news release.
Almost a third of secondary school technicians (32 per cent) think staff cuts are putting pupil safety at risk, according to a UNISON study. The findings are from a survey of 500 technicians – who support science, IT, design and technology teachers – and highlight the importance of these specialist roles, said the union. Their work involves preparing equipment and materials, as well as assisting in practical lessons. Since 2013, the number of technicians in secondary schools has been cut by a sixth (16.8 per cent), with a similar level of job losses (17 per cent) in primary schools. Just under a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents said technician colleagues had left in the past year without being replaced. The survey found the gap left by skilled technicians is being filled by a combination of teachers, teaching assistants and others include caretakers and sixth form students. The safety implications of untrained staff taking on technician duties raised concerns among just under a third (32 per cent) of respondents. More than one in six (17 per cent) were aware of pupils or staff being injured in lessons when non-technicians handled chemicals or specialist equipment. Just under half (47 per cent) said the number of injuries was increasing. Injuries ranged from the hospitalisation of a member of staff who incorrectly used the corrosive chemical hydrogen peroxide, to pupils’ blazers being set alight when a supply teacher sat them too close to an experiment. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Without highly skilled technicians, well-meaning but unskilled colleagues are being asked to step in, sometimes risking their own safety and that of pupils and colleagues. Despite the challenges of falling numbers and increasing workloads, technicians love their jobs. It’s this passion – coupled with a high degree of skill – that makes them a valuable part of the school team and this should be protected.”
UNISON news release.
Teachers at a Welsh primary school walked out this week over ‘unrealistic’ management demands and the school’s failure to address their health and safety concerns. NASUWT members at Holton Primary School in Barry took the first of six planned days of strike on 4 December, over “staff restructuring and the detrimental and inappropriate treatment of members which is impacting their health and welfare.” NASUWT acting general secretary Chris Keates commented: “Members have reported extremely high levels of work-related stress and anxiety as a result of unrealistic expectations and unreasonable deadlines being imposed on them. When they have attempted to discuss this with the employer their concerns have been dismissed.” She added: “The NASUWT has repeatedly attempted to work with the employer to find a resolution to the dispute, but the concerns of members remain unaddressed. We hope that the employer will recognise the need to take its duty of care to its employees seriously so that further strike action can be avoided.” The union’s Vale of Glamorgan executive member, Mark Morris, said: “The disclosure of health, safety and welfare concerns has been ignored. It is time that local authorities in Wales recognise their duties to all employees and implement and enforce the statutory duties required of them.” He added unless action is taken teachers will continue to be exploited “to the detriment of their health.”
NASUWT news release. ITV News.
Unite has bestowed its ‘Golden Toilet’ award on a Two Sisters poultry factory in Deeside, Wales, as workers at the site step up their campaign to make the ‘dismal’ toilet facilities fit for purpose. The union said hundreds of workers employed at what is one of the UK’s biggest food companies, supplying KFC and Sainsbury’s, are up in arms, claiming an atrocious standard of toilet facilities at the food factory in Deeside, where hygiene is critical. Workers claim managers have been timing loo breaks and on a number of instances staff claim they have been refused permission to use the toilet. Workers lodged a collective grievance with the company in September. But while management said it would act on the workers’ complaints by the end of October, Unite said almost no action has been taken. Unite regional officer Brian Troake said: “It’s shocking that we have a situation where workers handling food are having to fight for toilet facilities that are fit for purpose. The Deeside factory is Two Sisters’ biggest poultry site but workers are alarmingly claiming that at times there has been no hand soap or paper towels.” The Unite officer added: “There must be no more delay. Management must act and fix these dismal and worrying working conditions at its site in Deeside.” The site employs around 800 mainly migrant workers and is the largest poultry site in the Two Sisters group. The site slaughters, cuts and packs poultry, processing one million birds each week. A new blog post from NIOSH, the US government’s occupational health and safety research agency, warns a lack of workplace bathroom breaks is bad for both health and safety. “When people get too few bathroom breaks, they may be at risk for urinary tract infections and incontinence, as well as other bladder, bowel, and kidney problems. Limited bathroom access may make it difficult for people with certain chronic diseases to take medications that may result in the need to use the bathroom more often,” it notes. “Research shows that holding a full bladder makes people hurry through their work and pay less attention - meaning that workers distracted by a full bladder may be more likely to injure themselves or others.”
Unite news release. US NIOSH bathroom breaks blog. More on toilet breaks.
The union GMB has staged Black Friday and Cyber Monday protests across the UK to express its ‘anger’ at the ‘appalling’ treatment of Amazon workers. Demonstrations took place outside Amazon warehouses in Bolton, Manchester, Warrington, Rugeley, Coalville, Peterborough, Newport and Sheffield and in London on 29 November and 2 December. The union said larger numbers of Amazon workers in fulfilment centres are suffering serious injuries requiring hospital treatment, while pregnant women workers report being treated appallingly. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “The conditions our members work under at various Amazon sites across the UK are appalling. Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances.” He added: “Amazon has spent a fortune on fluffy adverts saying what a great place it is to work. Why not spend the money making their warehouses less dangerous places to work? Amazon workers want Jeff Bezos to know they are people – not robots. It’s about time Mr Bezos showed empathy with the very people that have helped build his vast empire and make sure it is not a Black Friday for Amazon workers.” Unions across Europe also held protests at Amazon facilities on 29 November.
GMB news release. TUC alert. BBC News Online. Common Dreams.
As the sales season started in earnest on Black Friday last week, retail union Usdaw called on the public to treat under-pressure shopworkers with respect. The union said it is backing Labour’s manifesto commitment to ensure ‘that public-facing workers are protected by toughening the law against abuse and violence’, a measure that has also been called for by retail employer organisations. Usdaw’s survey of shopworkers after the 2014 Black Friday sales revealed a two-thirds increase in incidents of verbal abuse, threats and violence against retail staff, leading to a joint campaign by the union and the industry which led to significant improvements. But Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Around 400 retail staff are violently attacked every day, with many more threatened and verbally abused. It is time to say enough is enough and only Labour is pledged to deliver much needed protections.” He urged shoppers: “Enjoy your bargain hunting, keep your cool and respect shopworkers.”
Usdaw news release.
UK journalists’ union NUJ has called for an end to the harassment of UK-based journalists by the Iranian authorities. NUJ members working for UK-based broadcasters Iran International and the BBC Persian Service have been subjected to new threats, the union said. Journalists’ family members living in Iran have also been threatened and harassed as a result of their family connection to reporters based in the UK. Family members in Iran have been told to pass on threatening messages to journalists working in London – to tell them they must resign from their jobs or face the risk of being forcefully removed from the UK and returned to Iran. Relatives in Iran have also been brought in for questioning by the authorities and had passports confiscated. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Once again NUJ members working in the UK are being hounded and harassed by the Iranian state. Once again, officials are using outrageous tactics to intimidate and threaten journalists across a range of media outlets in the UK and internationally, including the targeting of our members at Iran International and the BBC Persian Service.” She added: “This campaign of harassment has to stop. This cruel and inhumane tormenting of families has to cease. The Iranian government must recognise that this harassment of individuals and their families are clearly understood by the international community for what they are – an attack on journalism and on press freedom, one that the NUJ and everyone who cares about media freedom will not allow to be successful.”
NUJ news release. Labour has named and shamed what it describes as five of the UK’s worst employers who the party says have “exploited, ripped off and dehumanised” workers. The party pledged to take on these and other bad employers and guarantee every worker decent pay, security and dignity at work. Labour said its new work manifesto sets out how it will deliver “the biggest extension of workers’ rights the UK has ever seen.” It added that Britain’s worst offenders include: Amazon, where in the last year ambulances were called to an Amazon warehouse once every two days; Sports Direct, where employees have reported being promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours; and Asda, where employees were forced to sign new contracts meaning they were no longer paid for any breaks and be forced to work bank holidays and weekends or face the sack. The Labour work plan includes a ban on bogus self-employment and zero hours contracts, a right to paid breaks and a repeal of anti-union laws. There will also be “a Royal Commission to bring health (including mental health) and safety legislation up to date.” Labour says it will also create a Workers Protection Agency with powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions and civil proceedings on workers’ behalf. Employers will also be required to create and maintain workplaces free from harassment, including by third parties. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Conservatives are on the side of bad bosses who have exploited, ripped off and dehumanised workers. We’ll call time on insecure and unsafe work that leaves people without the rights and dignity they deserve. We’ll call time on discrimination in the workplace that leaves women vulnerable to harassment and unequal pay. And we’ll call time on the running down of workers’ rights to organise collectively to boost their pay and improve their working conditions.”
Labour Party news release and Workers’ Rights Manifesto. The Independent.
Civil service union Prospect has said it is ‘concerning’ that fewer than one in six MPs has taken up parliament’s bullying and harassment training. Their failure to take up the training is revealed in the first annual report of parliament’s new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. It noted just 15 per cent of MPs have undertaken the recommended training on bullying and harassment. Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “This level of self-scrutiny by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme is welcome and provides an important framework around which we can build a system that works and is trusted by all. One particular area of concern for Prospect is that up to the end of September 2019 only 15 per cent of MPs and 2 per cent of representatives in the Lords had completed the training on offer. If the representatives of both Houses want staff to have confidence in the system they must avail themselves of the training being offered.” Graham added: “Every MP returned on 12 December and every working peer should register and participate in the training offered, thus demonstrating to staff both that they understand the standards of behaviour expected, and are committed to changing the culture within the Palace of Westminster. Training should be mandatory.” Prospect said personal expenses should be withheld “if members of either house do not comply.”
Prospect news release.
Seafarers are exhibiting dangerous levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts linked to the job, union-backed research has found. The new study by Yale University has prompted a call for action to the shipping industry. Commissioned by the Cardiff-based ITF Seafarers' Trust charity, 'The Seafarer Mental Health Study' also found a link between depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and the greater likelihood of injury and illness on board. Dave Heindel, chair of the Seafarers' Trust, said: “The more we talk about mental health, the more we reduce the stigma associated with it. This report really helps us to understand the contributing factors and provides a basis for demanding some fundamental changes in the way the shipping industry operates.” Katie Higginbottom, head of the Seafarers' Trust, said: “The lives of seafarers are known to be tough. This study shows them to be generally healthy and resilient but subject to massive pressures that are, for the most part, manageable. This issue of violence on board is, however, very disturbing and warrants further investigation.” The study echoes the findings of a report by Cardiff University published last month (Risks 924), that found that seafarers on cargo ships were at risk of poor mental health due to long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home. The Yale study drew on a sample of 1,572 seafarers across the world, of different ranks, on different vessels, with different flags.
Nautilus news release. ITF Seafarers’ Trust and The Seafarer Mental Health Study. More on work-related suicide.
The call by unions, the TUC, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, and campaigns including the Joint Union Asbestos Campaign (JUAC), for an asbestos eradication law has been reinforced by a new report. All have demanded that a law is needed that requires all asbestos to be removed from public buildings by 2028, and that it is removed from all buildings by 2035. Now the think tank ResPublica has concluded that workers and members of the public are being put at risk by inadequate UK legislation. Its report noted that a child, adult or worker in the UK can be legally exposed to 10 times as much asbestos as they can in some European countries, such as France or Germany. There is an estimated 6m tonnes of asbestos still present in 1.5m buildings in the UK, predominantly in public buildings, such as schools, colleges, hospitals, universities, prisons and local authority buildings. This includes buildings in 94 per cent of NHS trusts and over 80 per cent of schools. The report calls for asbestos regulation in the UK to be brought up to the strictest European standards and for a registry of public buildings containing asbestos to be created. Unite national officer for local authorities Jim Kennedy said: “Unite fully supports the calls for a ‘phased removal’ of asbestos, the creation of a central register of public buildings containing asbestos and for asbestos legislation to be brought up to the strictest European levels. Until that happens that scourge of asbestos and the misery it causes will continue for generations to come.”
ResPublica news release and report, Don’t breathe in: Bridging the asbestos safety gap. A review of research, policy and practice, ResPublica, November 2019. Unite news release. LocalGov. The Guardian.
A biosciences company has been fined after safety inspectors discovered it was in possession of potentially lethal biological agents without a licence. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that in September 2017, concerns were raised in connection with Thermo Electron Ltd, trading as Fisher BioServices, regarding the nature of biological agents that had arrived at its site in Bishop Stortford, in a shipment from overseas. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that between April 2016 and February 2018, Thermo Electron Limited was in possession of a large quantity of infectious avian influenza and West Nile virus. Both of these biological agents are specified as requiring a licence under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 (SAPO). The firm admitted two breaches of the Animal Health Act 1981 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £80,000. HSE specialist inspector Dr David Johnson commented: “The use of high hazard animal pathogens is tightly regulated in the UK to ensure that exotic animal diseases such as Avian influenza are not introduced which could threaten the UK livestock economy. The licencing regime enables HSE to authorise possession of such agents and requires the implementation of strict conditions for those wanting to conduct work with specified animal pathogens.” The HSE specialist added “as soon as Thermo Electron Ltd became aware it didn’t have the appropriate licence, immediate steps could have been taken including safely destroying the material, returning it to the sender, or transferring it to an appropriately licenced site. There are lessons to be learnt here and we’d ask those involved in the biosciences sector to take note of this case.”
HSE news release.
A solar panel company director has been sentenced to 200 hours of community service after his brother’s fatal fall at work. Worcester Crown Court heard that on 9 December 2015, during installation of solar panels on the roof of a barn at Manor Farm, Orleton, Hereford, Stephen Webb fell approximately seven metres through a fragile roof ridge panel to the ground below, suffering fatal injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that no measures were in place to prevent falls from the roof or through the roof. The company, Light Power Grp Limited, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £80,000. Company director Michael John Webb pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the same regulations and was handed a 12-month community order to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £15,000. HSE inspector James Lucas commented: “There are no winners in this tragic case. Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in this country and the risks associated with working at height are well known.” He added: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young man, who had only that year become a father. This death could easily have been prevented if the company and director had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place.”
HSE news release and roofwork webpage.
A major trade union campaign for ‘safe rates’ of pay for professional drivers in Korea has been launched. The International Transport Workers Federation and the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union’s major online campaign is being run in combination with online union news service LabourStart. The union bodies say in South Korea, 1,000 people die annually in truck crashes because big corporations like Samsung and Hyundai force low pay rates on truck drivers. As a consequence, the drivers are forced to work long hours, overload their vehicles, and drive at dangerous speeds. Korean truck drivers work over twice the annual average hours for OECD countries, but as 'owner drivers' they are entirely unprotected by labour law. According to Labourstart: “After years of struggle, their union finally won historic Safe Rates legislation last year. But their victory is now uncertain, and they're engaged in a life-or-death struggle to defend the Safe Rates system in the face of clients who want to derail negotiations, and the Korean government's lack of will.” The union organisations are now calling for the public worldwide to “back their online campaign in support of safe rates in Korea and elsewhere.”
KPTU news release. Support the ‘Safe Rates’ campaign. Industrial manslaughter is now a criminal offence in the Australian state of Victoria under new laws passed by the state’s parliament. The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of a company or organisation. Employers found to have negligently caused a workplace death will face fines of up to Aus$16.5 million (£8.8m) and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail. Industrial manslaughter also applies to non-employee fatalities at workplaces. “We promised we’d make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence and that’s exactly what we’ve done - because there is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day,” Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said. “I can’t begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don’t want any families to suffer that type of trauma. We’re standing up for working people – and better protecting those touched by tragedy – because workers deserve a safe environment when they go to work each and every day.” The move accompanies a Aus$10 million expansion to WorkSafe Victoria’s investigation and enforcement capacity, with a specialist team established to lead workplace manslaughter investigations and prosecutions. The package also includes protocols between WorkSafe and Victoria Police that require families to be notified as soon as possible after a workplace death or a serious injury, including truck drivers killed on the road. The Victorian government had earlier indicated the scope of ‘industrial manslaughter’ covered by the law would be broad, and could include work-related suicides where a breach of statutory duties was evident (Risks 922).
Victorian government news release. Fully Loaded. The Austrian government’s plan to ban sales and use of the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate (Risks 886) from 1 January 2020 looks set to go ahead. Neither the European Commission nor EU member states have challenged formally the ban on all uses of glyphosate adopted by Austria's parliament in July this year, paving the way for it to come into effect next month. In Austria, the move is supported by a cross-party coalition in parliament, civil society, environmentalists, small farmer organisations and trade unions. Should be ban now go ahead, Austria would become the first EU country to ban the world's most widely used herbicide, best known as Monsanto's 'Roundup'. However, global farm and food union federation IUF, which has called for a total ban on glyphosate worldwide, has concerns the move could still be frustrated. “While glyphosate maker Bayer/Monsanto had immediately indicated its intention to seek to overturn the ban, and the European Commission questioned its compatibility with the rules of the single market, neither the Commission nor any of the Member States registered their formal opposition during the mandatory 'standstill period', which expired at the end of November,” IUF noted. “The caretaker government's agricultural ministry and the powerful farm lobby linked to the conservative Austrian People's Party, however, have suggested that there may still be procedural grounds for objecting to the law; opponents of the ban fear it could catalyse similar action in other EU countries.” IUF has been critical of the EU’s inaction on glyphosate risks. In February is said while the campaign to stop glyphosate reauthorisation in the European Union failed (Risks 881), “it succeeded brilliantly in exposing the agrochemical industry's grip on the regulatory agencies tasked with protecting public health and the environment.” A briefing from the union body concluded: “Now is the time to step up organising on the broadest possible basis at national, European and international level for an immediate ban on the most toxic agrochemicals, targeted reductions in pesticide use and comprehensive support for a transition to socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture” (Risks 886).
IUF news release.
Unions have joined safety organisations and regulators across Europe in signing up to an extension of the EU Roadmap on Carcinogens. Europe-wide trade union organisation ETUC said the objective of this voluntary action scheme is to raise awareness amongst workers and employers about the risks of exposure to carcinogens. The initiative was first launched in May 2016 under the Dutch EU Presidency, and has been extended each time the presidency switched to another nation. Per Hilmersson, the ETUC deputy general secretary responsible for health and safety at work who signed the new covenant at a conference held by the Finnish EU Presidency, said: “The EU Roadmap on Carcinogens shows the willingness of Member States, the European Commission, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, and the social partners to work together to prevent work-related cancers.” ETUC said the activities developed by the many partners of the Roadmap aim to provide employers with information on evaluation and risk management methods, to raise the awareness of companies regarding the risks of exposure to carcinogens, and to deepen the exchange of good practices which already exist in this field. It said with more than 100,000 deaths each year in the EU, occupational cancers are the greatest cause of deaths due to bad working conditions.
ETUC news release. EU Roadmap on Carcinogens Convenant and dedicated website.
A construction worker who became a witness in a US federal workplace safety investigation after he was injured during a deadly building collapse has been deported by the immigration authorities. The worker, Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, had to scramble to stay alive while metal and debris rained down and parts of the 18-storey Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans was pancaked around him and killed three of his colleagues on 12 October. Ramirez Palma had raised concerns about problems with the construction with supervisors multiple times, according to his lawyers. After the building crumbled around him, he gave an on-air account to a Spanish-language news outlet and became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the developers of the project and their construction firms, accusing them of using substandard materials and inadequate underpinnings to shore up the concrete floors. On 14 October, two days after the collapse, Ramirez Palma, an immigrant from Honduras who had lived in the US for 18 years and who was only refused leave to remain in the country the week before the collapse, was arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, which had been working on Ramirez Palma’s case, said in statement: “Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma’s deportation leaves every one of us less safe. The next time a building collapses, we will wonder if it could have been prevented if our federal agencies had prioritised answers and accountability for the survivors of the Hard Rock, we will wonder if the same bad actors are to blame, and we will wonder if potential whistleblowers kept silent because they saw what happened to Joel.”
New York Times. Washington Post. The Guardian.
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