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

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UNION NEWS

‘Landmark’ win on prison union safety rights

The prison officers’ union POA has secured a groundbreaking safety agreement with the Prison Service. The union says the ‘landmark’ deal for the first time commits prison managers to a legally binding procedure for addressing urgent health and safety concerns. It also ensures that the POA can advise its members of their health and safety rights without being accused of unlawfully inducing industrial action. “This is the result of a successful settlement of a claim arising out of health and safety concerns raised by POA members at HMP Lindholme in October 2018,” the union said. After two prison officers were “seriously assaulted”, POA members concerned about working in an unsafe prison instigated “a controlled regime.” The POA branch committee, supported by an NEC member, tried to raise concerns with local prison management, but were instead accused by management of unlawfully inducing industrial action. The Prison Service brought a claim against the POA for an injunction and damages, with the union counterclaiming over unsafe conditions and inadequate staffing. The union said in instances where their members’ safety was in jeopardy “the POA must be entitled to advise members of their health and safety rights and to seek to represent their concerns to management in order to try to get them resolved.” POA said it “achieved its main objective in the litigation.” It added the Prison Service has agreed to a ‘protocol’ to be used when members have urgent health and safety concerns. “This ensures that, when members come to us with such concerns, POA representatives can advise members of their health and safety rights and duties and the Prison Service will not treat that as unlawfully inducing industrial action,” the union said. Describing the agreement as a ‘major victory” for the union, POA national chair Mark Fairhurst stated: “There is no doubt that our proactive approach defending our members’ safety with a reluctant employer is reaping benefits for POA members.” POA general secretary Steve Gillan added: “This protocol now gives clarity and I welcome it but more importantly it was our members’ actions at Lindholme that guaranteed this success in this landmark protocol. The Committee and branch members were paramount in this success for the whole POA”.
 POA news release.
 

Tory schools repair plan would take centuries

Under Conservative funding proposals for schools and education it would take 361 years to restore and repair school buildings, research by the teaching union NEU has found. The report, released ahead of the general election, criticised Conservative plans to lop another £600 million off spending on school buildings in 2020, on top of £500m already axed this year. NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “Government austerity has deprived thousands of children of the opportunity to learn in decent, modern, fit-for-purpose buildings, instead condemning them to be educated in crumbling, and in many cases, unsafe premises. We cannot allow this situation to continue. Immediate investment is required to bring all schools up to a decent standard.” An estimated one in six schools in England are in need of “urgent” repairs, the Guardian reported last week. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis also criticised the Conservative record on education. ““Slashed staffing numbers, rising class sizes and dilapidated buildings are the legacy of a public-school elite with little interest in providing quality education for every child and young person,” he said.
NEU news release. UNISON news release. Morning Star. The Guardian.
 

RMT road map to end SWR guards dispute

As the industrial action by train guards on South Western Railway continued this week, rail union RMT laid out a road map to a settlement. The plan “shows just how achievable a settlement is if the company agrees to add a few seconds to the despatch time in the interests of safety and accessibility”, the union said. Central to the union’s demands are for there “to be an active safety critical guard on every passenger train in service” and for the guards to retain “their safety critical competencies including an active role in the safe dispatch of trains.” The union said having the extra safety protection of a guard despatching trains only adds 3-4 seconds to the time the train is stopped. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said “we are literally three seconds away from a deal that would achieve both our objectives and the company’s and I would appeal to SWR to get out of their bunker and back into ACAS with the union to bolt down a settlement.” He added: “A negotiated solution to this dispute which would cost the company nothing and meet RMT’s objectives of protecting safety and accessibility is within grasp. I would urge SWR to seize this opportunity.”
RMT news release.
 

Union concern over Wales rail shake-up

Rail union TSSA has raised concerns about Network Rail plans to change the monitoring and management of its many ageing railway structures across Wales - including bridges, tunnels and coastal defences. The union said it believes the plans will ‘seriously jeopardise the safety of the travelling public and rail staff’ by fragmenting inspection systems – while also impacting on the reliability of rail services in Wales. The union has written to the First Minister of Wales, and to Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road regarding plans by Network Rail (NR) Wales to break up contracts concerned with managing structures to ensure the safe running of Wales’ railways. In the rest of Britain, these Civil Engineering Framework Agreement (CEFA) contracts have been extended for two years to 31 March 2021. However, in Wales they are going back out to tender – with changes to the current arrangements due to take effect in March 2020. TSSA said it understands that the existing contract has been broken up into eight ‘lots’, with contractors only allowed to cover a maximum of three. It says examiners currently inspect all relevant structures on most planned visits to a particular location. The union believes that fragmenting this inspection regime is likely to result in much higher costs as examiners walk past bridges to inspect tunnels or walk past retaining walls to inspect coastal defences. “Either that, or inspections will be much more infrequent,” it said. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “As was shown recently in Italy where a motorway bridge literally fell down whilst traffic was using it, the consequences of failing to properly monitor and manage railway structures have the potential to be catastrophic. The safety of passengers and rail staff must be put first.”
TSSA news release.
 

Safe NHS staffing call after ‘frightening’ poll findings

A snapshot survey of health workers has revealed ‘a spreading mosaic of concern’ over patient safety and safe staffing levels across a cash-strapped NHS. The 2 December 2019 poll by Unite of nearly 2,000 health service members has shone light on an NHS “on its financial knees after a decade of austerity-plus cuts”, the union said. Almost all respondents (95 per cent) said that the government is not doing enough to train the staff the NHS needs, and 72 per cent of nurses and 65 per cent of all respondents raised concerns about safe staffing in their working area/department over the last 12 months. About same proportion (70 per cent) reported experiencing frequent staff shortages in their workplaces in the last 12 months and had “very seriously or fairly seriously” considered leaving their current position in the last 12 months (67 per cent). Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) frequently or always worked more than their contractual hours. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said the “frightening” findings identified “a spreading mosaic of concern. This snapshot survey proves that the safe staff legislation, as passed in Wales and Scotland for the NHS, is urgently needed in England and Northern Ireland to ensure that we keep patients safe and that a new impetus is given to retain and recruit skilled professionals in the NHS.” Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said Conservative cuts had left “staff morale at an all-time low, and burgeoning vacancy rates for NHS staff, particularly in nursing.”
Unite news release.
 

Sheffield’s stressed mental health workers to strike

Mental health nurses, social workers and occupational therapists – who belong to UNISON and work for Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield City Council – have voted for strike action over the impact of spending cuts on their jobs and patient care, their union UNISON has said.  Following overwhelming support – 83 per cent voted to strike – the 200 workers plan to take action early next year. A reorganisation, designed by Trust managers to reduce costs, has resulted in some specialist treatment teams being axed, leaving staff struggling to meet patient needs. UNISON said “disillusioned employees are already leaving the service, which only adds to the problem of unmanageable workloads, stress and anxiety for colleagues still in post.” UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser Charlie Carruth said: “Patients and the city’s communities are being let down by an underfunded service, while frontline staff are in danger of burning out as they try to deliver more with substantially less.”
UNISON news release.
 

Union helps young musicians to deal with work stresses

The mental health of young musicians finding their way in the industry is a union priority, the Musicians’ Union (MU) has said. Among initiatives to support its young members, the union has now published the ‘Young freelancer’s guide to mental health and the music industry’. It says this looks at common challenges facing freelance musicians, strategies for meeting them, and how to access support. MU says “life as a musician can be exciting, satisfying and rewarding. The flexibility can give you a real sense of agency and freedom. But it can also be demanding, unpredictable, isolating and stressful. And if you feel those things then we can tell you, with total certainty, that you are not alone.” The union says it guide, which covers issues including burnout, anxiety and depression, “is designed to provide helpful insight and clear, practical advice to use as you navigate the music industry.” The guide has been written by mental health expert Tamsin McLarty and Ben Jones for the Musicians’ Union. It was “created by and in consultation with the MU’s Young Members’ Network,” the union said. Figures released in October 2019 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed work-related stress, anxiety and depression are now at a record high in what the TUC described as Great Britain’s ‘stress tsunami’ (Risks 922).
Musicians Unions news release and guide, The Young Freelancer’s Guide to Mental Health and the Music Industry.
TUC resources: TUC guide to responding to harmful work-related stress; Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards, TUC and HSE guidance for health and safety representatives; TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace; TUC mental health awareness training; TUC health, safety and wellbeing guide.
 

OTHER NEWS

Charity alert after ambulance worker suicides

A support group has called on ambulance staff to speak up about the job’s stresses after the November 2019 suicide of a 24-year-old ambulance worker. The Ambulance Staff Charity (ASC) said Luke Wright was one of three members of the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) to die in suspected suicides in 11 days last month. Ambulance dispatcher Mr Wright, 24, and paramedics Christopher Gill and Richard Grimes were found dead between 11 November and 21 November. ASC said since May it has taken 35 calls from EEAS workers seeking support. Following the three deaths, EEAS said it would “always offer support” to staff in need. The ACS was set up in 2015 to support paramedics and ambulance technicians and back-room staff. Chief operating officer Karl Demian said it had supported 1,000 people in the three years to October 2018, rising sharply to 1,200 in the following 12 months. He said the increase could be because of greater awareness but acknowledged paramedics’ jobs, while always “fraught”, were becoming “more complex.” He added: “The nature of the incidents that they have to deal with has changed, but I think it's fair to say that the pressures on them are much greater than they were.” Speaking in November after the news of Luke Wright’s death, Sam Older, a regional organiser with the union UNISON, said: "While we don't want to speculate on the causes of these deaths, we recognise how important it is for staff to receive the mental health support they need at work, particularly in such a stressful and potentially traumatic job in the ambulance service.” He added: “UNISON is pushing the trust to do more to look after the health and well-being of its staff, as a result of which employees now have access to a dedicated helpline with dedicated trauma therapists, and we will do everything we can to look after our members.” In October, a letter from an anonymous whistleblower reported in the local and national media warned EEAS was a “toxic workplace” where workers faced "psychological abuse”.
BBC News Online and related story.  The Mirror. Eastern Daily Press. CambridgeLive. More on work-related suicide.
 

Liverpool FC concern over Qatar migrant worker deaths

Liverpool Football Club has supported calls by human rights groups for thorough investigations into the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, before the club flies to the Gulf country next week to play in Fifa’s Club World Cup. The Liverpool chief executive, Peter Moore, has also sought assurances from the Qatar “supreme committee”, which is organising the tournament and the 2022 World Cup, about the progress of investigations into the deaths of two men who had been working on the construction of football stadiums. Moore set out Liverpool’s position in a letter to Nicholas McGeehan and James Lynch, directors of the Fair/Square human rights organisation, who asked him in November to make a public statement of concern about workers’ rights and deaths in Qatar. They highlighted the risks of the intense heat and humidity for people employed on the vast construction projects in the Gulf, citing medical research published in July into the deaths of Nepalese workers in Qatar, which concluded that “the increased cardiovascular mortality during hot periods most likely is due to severe heat stress”.  Moore, in his reply to McGeehan and Lynch, wrote: “Like any responsible organisation, we support your assertion that any and all unexplained deaths should be investigated thoroughly and that bereaved families should receive the justice they deserve.” He added “we also believe that employees should be treated with fairness and respect, which is why we adhere to our own anti-slavery policy and why we are committed to paying the real living wage, among various measures of this kind. These are the standards that we set for ourselves and by which we would hope to be judged given they fall within our own remits and responsibilities.”
The Guardian.
 

Fine after three workers swept away down a sewer

A major water and wastewater company has been fined following an incident in which three workers were swept away along a sewer and narrowly avoided drowning in sewage. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that, on 29 August 2017, three workers were carrying out preparatory work in a sewer for the Thames Tideway Tunnel at East Greenwich, which is controlled by Thames Water Utilities Limited (TWUL). A 150-year-old cast iron penstock sewer gate failed, engulfing the workers and carrying them along the sewer. The three workers suffered only minor physical injuries but have suffered significant mental health problems. One worker has been treated for the long-term traumatic stress because of the incident, which has prevented him from continuing work in his specialised career. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Thames Water Utilities Limited (TWUL) had planned individual work activities but failed to properly coordinate these, as the permission and authorisation system was fragmented. The company had no effective means of collating, comparing and adapting to the impact of multiple work activities. Due to an unrelated planned power outage, sewage pumps vital to the control of sewage levels for the work being undertaken at East Greenwich were not available, which resulted in the failure. Thames Water Utilities Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and was fined £300,000 and instructed to pay costs of £16,419. HSE inspector James Goldfinch said: “This serious incident endangered the lives of three workers and caused lasting adverse mental health effects; the workers narrowly avoided death by drowning in sewage.” He added: “It should serve as a warning and a reminder to all those that work in confined spaces that work in these challenging environments must be properly planned, coordinated and managed.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe: Groups call for chemicals policy to be strengthened

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have come together to call on the European Commission “to build a Europe that protects people and ecosystems against chemical pollution.” In a joint letter sent to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the three civil society organisations urge the EU to adopt a 2030 chemicals strategy “to set Europe on the road to a non-toxic economy and a healthy future.” Per Hilmersson, ETUC deputy general secretary in charge of health and safety at work, commented: “Chemicals can bring benefits to our society, but many also contribute to the rise in severe health problems including occupational cancers. To stop cancer at work the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive must be revised further and include more binding occupational exposure limit values for carcinogens.” EEB said leaks of the Commission ‘Green Deal’ plans suggest president von der Leyen may fail to follow through on her public commitment to a “zero pollution” goal. The Green Deal was expected to reiterate the commitment made by all three official EU institutions to a ‘Non-toxic Environment Strategy’, which EEB says is already overdue, but the leaked plans have placed this in doubt. EEB says instead “the leaked plans reflect stated chemical industry preferences.” ETUC, BEUC and EEB are the three largest civil society organisations representing the voice of workers, consumers and the environment at EU level.
ETUC news release and joint letter. EEB news release.
 

Global: Women's work safety must get more attention

Trade unions are key to making workplaces safer and healthier for all workers but often women's occupational health and safety (OHS) is not given enough attention, a union workshop has concluded. The workshop in Akuse, Ghana, co-organised by the global food and farming union federation IUF, brought together IUF union affiliates, OHS and women's committees and management of three banana plantations. A representative of the Ministry of Labour also attended as Ghana is in the process of introducing its first comprehensive OHS bill, providing what IUF described as “an ideal opportunity to push for legislation with a gender sensitive approach to health and safety.” IUF said adopting a ‘gendered approach’ to OHS was stressed at the workshop as “a good way to point out the employers’ responsibility to make the workplace safe for every worker and to oppose the behaviour-based safety approach in OHS.” It said women workers in the packhouse of banana firm Golden Exotics Limited reported skin irritation and related health issues due to oversized gloves that allowed water contaminated with chemicals to run down their arms. They also reported back problems due to sinks in the packhouse being at the wrong height for women workers. “The workshop contributed to building a more women worker-friendly environment by focusing on gendered health and safety at work and the gender data gap,” commented IUF regional women's coordinator, Adwoa Sakyi.
IUF news release.
 

India: Factory fire tragedy exposes ‘pervasive’ violations

The deaths in Delhi of “at least 43” workers in an 8 December fire in a “manifestly unsafe factory” highlights the urgent need for enforcement of fire and building safety regulations and credible safety monitoring in India, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has said. While initial compensation measures have already been announced, more is needed to ensure adequate fair and full compensation to the affected workers and their families, the campaign said. The fire broke out early on Sunday morning in the four-storey building in a narrow, hard to access residential area of the city. The premises housed manufacturing units producing a range of products, including garments. Large numbers of the factory’s workers, many migrants and some of them minors, were sleeping at the factory when the fire started. One of the two staircases in the building was reportedly blocked by stored products, windows were barred, and the one accessible exit was locked. According to officials, the factory, which reports say was manufacturing luggage, lacked any safety licences. Many sources alleged the factory was operating illegally. According to the CCC, the deadly circumstances “raise the question as to why it is even possible that workers are trapped in a factory fire on a weekend night, while the factory was not operating. If workers were sleeping at the factory because they could not afford housing or transportation costs, then this tragedy sheds a light on the poverty wages pervasive throughout the industrial sector, especially among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and minors.” The Delhi government has ordered a magistrate level inquiry and filed charges against the building’s owner. “This tragedy should be the incentive to bring an end to impunity for gambling with workers’ lives, by operating illegal, unsafe, and abusive workplaces,” CCC said. The congested, narrow streets hampered rescue efforts, with emergency workers having to carry the injured through the streets.
CCC news release. Democracy Now. BBC News Online. The Telegraph. NDTV. News24.
 

Japan: Advertising giant Dentsu breaks overtime pledge

Advertising giant Dentsu Inc has admitted it has received a warning from labour enforcement authorities over illegal overtime practices. Two years after being convicted over working practices involving long hours, which had led to the suicide of an employee, the global firm was found to have violated labour laws by again failing to curb overtime work. Dentsu said it has swiftly addressed concerns raised by labour inspectors. “We’ll continue our reforms of our working environment,” its public relations division said. Since 2010, Dentsu has received repeated instructions from labour authorities to address excessive working hours. In October 2017, a court ordered the ad agency to pay ¥500,000 (£3,500) in fines after labour authorities concluded Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old new employee of the company, killed herself in 2015 due to excessive overtime work (Risks 772). Dentsu has a labour-management agreement that limits monthly overtime work to 45 hours per person. The limit can be extended to 75 hours if employees apply in advance. In the most recent violation, authorities found several breaches of the rules. In one case, a sales employee worked 156 hours of overtime in a month. Takahashi’s suicide sparked a nationwide debate over oppressive working conditions in Japan, prompting the government and business circles to commit to measures to improve the working environment. The suicide also prompted the resignation of Tadashi Ishii, the Dentsu’s then president and chief executive (Risks 782). Dentsu announced a reform plan in July 2017, pledging to cut overall working hours per person by 20 per cent this year from 2014 levels.
Japan Times.
 

USA: Union construction jobs ‘safer than non-union’

A new employers’ study has shown non-union construction sites in the US have several times more fatalities than unionised sites. In a blog post, construction union IBEW noted: “It may not be news to those in the business, but new numbers back up what IBEW and other union construction members already know: there’s safety in a union.” IBEW added: “New York’s Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA), which represents more than 1,300 contractors in New York City, recently released new statistics using data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It found that union construction workers in the Big Apple are five times less likely to suffer a fatal accident compared to their non-union counterparts.” IBEW international president Lonnie R Stephenson commented: “IBEW members and employers have safety baked into every aspect of the job; it’s par for the course for us. It’s always great to see our experiences backed up with solid data.” BTEA chief executive Lou Coletti said the study “shows that year in and year out, union construction firms are the safest in New York City. That’s because when you have a skilled and experienced union workforce, the quality of work is better and safety is not just prioritised – it’s part of the culture. These statistics make that clear.” According to the statistics, there were 18 fatalities in 2018, with only four on BTEA sites. The union contractors also received 33 per cent fewer violations per project than their non-union counterparts, and 25 per cent fewer stop work orders.
Ucomm blog. BTEA summary statistics.
 

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