Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UNION NEWS

Don’t go over to the ‘dark side’ at the work Xmas party

Who doesn’t like a work Christmas party? Many of us it seems - what should be a festive celebration with colleagues can too often turn into an ordeal of innuendo, harassment and even assault, the union UNISON has said. When the union launched its Us Too campaign this year, inviting members to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment, many spoke of the harassment they had experienced at work Christmas parties. UNISON’s women’s officer, Josie Irwin, commented: “Work Christmas parties can have a dark side. What should be a celebration with colleagues can become an ordeal of sexual innuendo, inappropriate advances, groping and harassing behaviour that threatens your dignity.” She added: “Employers should ensure everyone knows the party is an extension of work and the same rules apply – sexual harassment is not acceptable and disciplinary action will be taken if it occurs. However, there is also a responsibility on would-be perpetrators – just don’t do it!” Workplace sexual harassment is a structural problem that needs structural solutions, the union said, adding: “That’s why UNISON is calling for an additional clause in the Equality Act to make it mandatory for employers to demonstrate that they are proactively taking steps to stop sexual harassment taking place.” The union has joined the ‘This Is Not Working’ alliance of unions, charities and women’s organisations who are lobbying the government and employers to focus their attention on preventing sexual harassment, not just waiting for incidents to happen and then responding. In a move described by the TUC as a ‘significant advance’, revised Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance now says the safety regulator may act where an employer fails to address workplace harassment risks (Risks 918). The HSE investigation policy change came three months after it was accused of having an ‘enforcement anomaly’ and a ‘prevention blindspot’ on workplace harassment (Risks 905).

UNISON news release. ‘This Is Not Working’ alliance. UNISON’s campaign against sexual harassment.
HSE ‘reporting a concern’ update and advice on How to report a work related stress concern.
 

Surrey firefighters xmas action for safety

Firefighters in Surrey have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action short of strike, to commence on 24 December and to run for six months. FBU said its members  had exhausted all other avenues in fighting dangerous cuts to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS). The action short of strike will include a ban on overtime, on which the union says SFRS has become dependent, as well as a refusal to stand in for understaffed senior roles and a refusal to use non-operational vehicles, including firefighters’ private vehicles for work purposes. Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary, said: “We’ve done everything else in our power to stop these dangerous cuts and have no choice but to resort to industrial action.” He added: “We’ve had huge support from the community so far in our campaign and we ask that Surrey residents stand with their firefighters through this difficult period. These cuts will make all of us less safe.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Surrey County Council have insisted that the cuts are not financially driven, so we’re calling on them to increase the staffing levels to crew all of Surrey’s fire engines 24/7, rather than cutting seven engines to meet the current staffing level.” The cuts, which include removing seven fire engines at night-time and cutting 70 firefighter posts, were approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting on 24 September. Over two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents to the official consultation opposed cuts to fire cover, with less than 1-in-5 (18 per cent) in favour. FBU said 2019 has seen the steepest rise in Surrey fire deaths in over a decade. Staffing shortages in the county have left fire engines unavailable to respond to emergency calls over the last year, resulting in slower response times as crews often have to travel from neighbouring counties.
FBU news release.

 

MoD faces flak as it admits widespread asbestos failings

The Ministry of Defence has admitted widespread failings in the management of asbestos across its estate. Unite said the admission confirms it could have handed a “death sentence” to thousands of employees exposed to the potent human carcinogen. The government undertook a review of asbestos in relation to defence after it was revealed in July 2018 that thousands of staff could have come into contact with the substance on Sea King helicopters over a period of nearly 40 years. In a letter to Unite, the defence minister Annabel Goldie said: “Regrettably, this work exposed failings beyond Sea King, and it is now clear that ACM (asbestos-containing materials) have not been properly identified and tracked across a range of equipment platforms.” Lady Goldie said the review had discovered asbestos at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and that two out of four hangars had been closed for a clean-up. Asbestos was also found at MoD Lyneham in Wiltshire, where three hangars had to be closed, and at the MoD vehicle and equipment storage site in Ashchurch, Gloucestershire. Jim Kennedy, Unite’s national officer for defence staff, to whom the minister’s letter was addressed, described it as an “extraordinary admission from the MoD”.  He said: “After months of denials it has finally admitted that their systems for monitoring and preventing exposure to asbestos are entirely inadequate. As a result, thousands of civilian staff and members of the military have potentially been exposed to asbestos, which could have potentially fatal consequences for them.” The Unite officer said the union would meet the MoD’s new senior team “to ensure the past and contemporary failures are remedied.” He said: “It is essential that the MoD no longer place its workers, contractors and visitors in life-threatening situations.”
The Guardian.
 

Private firm denies low paid hospital cleaners sick pay 

Low paid GMB members working for facility services company ISS at Chelsea and Westminster and Homerton hospitals have said ‘all they want for want for Christmas is to be back in-house’ at protests outside the hospitals on 16 and 17 December. The union said ISS staff at the London hospitals are not given paid sick pay for the first three days of illness, meaning staff are forced to work even when they are ill. At the 17 December protest, GMB members were joined by the mayor of Hackney, civil society leaders and supporters as they delivered a Christmas card signed by over 100 members of staff across the Trust, asking the CEO to intervene and bring their jobs back ‘in-house’. Lola McEvoy, GMB’s London organiser, said: “It’s simply wrong that these outsourcing giants are making a profit from taxpayers’ money, off the backs of hardworking hospital staff. These people are the backbone of any hospital and go above and beyond for patients. They deserve to be paid the same sick pay as those directly employed by the NHS.” She added: “This is yet another example of the privatisation of our National Health Service and we must fight for them to be back in-house so they receive the same terms and conditions as their directly employed colleagues.” Labour mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said: “From sick pay and payroll mistakes, to strict clock-in times and holiday pay issues – staff on the ISS contract at the Homerton deserve a fairer deal. I have heard some shocking stories from staff thanks to the hard work of the GMB union. Staff on the frontlines of our health service particularly deserve good terms and conditions if they are off sick, and yet facilities management staff get a 68 per cent pay cut for every week they are off sick.” The ISS contract with the hospitals is up for renewal next year.  The union is urging the public to sign its petition to bring the services back in-house.
GMB news release. Sign the GMB petition to bring cleaning services back in-house.
 

TUC’s Dying to Work Charter gets new authority

The North of Tyne Combined Authority has added its name to a charter aimed at helping provide employment protection for employees who become terminally ill at work. The charter is part of the TUC’s wider Dying to Work campaign which is seeking greater security for terminally ill workers where they cannot be dismissed as a result of their condition. “Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis,” commented TUC Northern regional secretary Beth Farhat. “I’m delighted that The North of Tyne Combined have shown real leadership in this area, working with unions to guarantee fair treatment for terminally-ill workers. We are close to a million workers being covered by the Dying to Work charter across the country, and we expect more employers to commit in the coming months.” The charter commits signatories to “provide our employees with the security of work, peace of mind and the right to choose the best course of action for themselves and their families which helps them through this challenging period with dignity and without undue financial loss.” It adds: “We support the TUC’s Dying to Work campaign so that all employees battling terminal illness have adequate employment protection and have their death in service benefits protected for the loved ones they leave behind.”
TUC news release and Dying to Work website and Charter signatories.

 

Posties set to strike over ‘callous’ sacking

Walkouts by postal workers furious at the “callous and heartless” sacking of a delivery worker just before the festive season have been scheduled for 23 and 24 December. Paul Hollow, a postie at Keynsham Delivery Office in Somerset, was fired by Royal Mail under its absence procedure, but his colleagues voted to take strike action as his absences were due to a series of personal tragedies. His union, CWU, said Paul has suffered a family bereavement, with another family member being diagnosed with cancer, and had experienced health problems of his own, all of which culminated in a period of depression, which led to him being off work. After returning to work, he was called into a meeting by his employer and sacked, with the dismissing manager claiming there were ‘no mitigating circumstances’ connected to his absences. Paul’s CWU branch secretary, Rob Wotherspoon, said that this situation was “one of the most callous cases I have ever seen. We believe there are major errors of process here, but more than that, managers have completely failed to apply basic standards of human decency.” Describing the sacking as “both heartless and brainless,” Rob continued: “Royal Mail touts its credentials around mental health but this case suggests that unfortunately this is just an exercise in public relations.” Paul said he was “in shock” at his sacking, adding he had hoped his employer would have been supportive in light of the extremely difficult personal and family issues he had gone through, “but they have completely let me down when I needed them.” CWU’s Rob Wotherspoon said that Paul and his striking colleagues “deserve the respect and support of anyone who values compassion in the workplace.”
CWU news release.

 

OTHER NEWS

Global experts tell HSE to address work-related suicides

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is coming under renewed pressure to take action to recognise, record and prevent work-related suicides. In response to an ‘HSE work-related suicide brief’, sent to Hazards magazine and saying there is a problem of “demonstrability,” making “building a case for intervention/investigation/enforcement extremely difficult,” a panel of experts from 16 universities and occupational and public health research agencies in seven countries has challenged the regulator to think again. In a ‘Statement to HSE on work-related suicide’, sent to the regulator’s chief executive Sarah Albon, the international panel calls on “the HSE to rectify a grievous blind-spot that excludes suicide from the list of work-related accidents that are subject to reporting and inspection requirements.” The statement cites examples of better practice on recognition and prevention in other countries and calls for an explicit reference to work-related suicide to be made in HSE’s stress management standards and related guidance. The global panel, which includes top UK researchers on suicide risks professors Sarah Waters of the University of Leeds, David Gunnell of Bristol University and Martin McKee of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, notes: “The HSE’s failure to record and investigate work-related suicides means that the UK falls lamentably short of best practice and that this poses risks to the health and safety of UK workers.” A related commentary in Hazards magazine urges the UK regulator to take heed of the expert submission. “HSE’s convoluted case against action on work-related suicide sits uneasily alongside the evidence presented by the global experts’ panel. It also appears to contradict the regulator’s stated line on work-related mental health.” The commentary points out that HSE accepts work-related stress, depression and anxiety are legitimate problems within its remit. It concludes: “For HSE to discount the most tragic outcomes of work-related stress, depression and despair is arbitrary and cruel. To dismiss a plea to remedy this ‘grievous blind-spot’ from some of the world’s leading experts on suicide causation is arrogant and irresponsible. But for HSE ‘work-related suicide’ isn’t a thing. And that’s final.”
Suicide note: Global experts say HSE must protect workers from work-related suicide risks, Hazards, number 148, December 2019. HSE work-related suicide brief. Statement to HSE on work-related suicide from the international panel of experts.
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard to tell the HSE to follow the advice from global experts and inspect for work-related suicide risks and to investigate and require the reporting of suicides suspected to be work-related. www.hazards.org/hsesuicide
 

Treat bad workplaces to cure burn out

Evidence is mounting that applying “personal, band-aid solutions” to the rapidly evolving phenomenon of work-related mental problems and burn out may be harming, not helping, an expert has warned. Jennifer Moss, a committee member of the UN’s Happiness Council, said those affected by burn out - a now World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised work-related condition (Risks 900) - need protection. She notes: “Passion-driven and caregiving roles such as doctors and nurses are some of the most susceptible to burn out, and the consequences can mean life or death; suicide rates among caregivers are dramatically higher than that of the general public - 40 per cent higher for men and 130 per cent higher for women.” Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she adds: “If those statistics aren’t scary enough, consider the fact that companies without systems to support the well-being of their employees have higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).” She concludes firms should address the flaws in their work organisation and management, not lay the problem at the door of the workers who are getting harmed. “Keep the yoga, the resilience training, and the mindfulness classes — they are all terrific tools for optimising mental health and managing stress. But, when it comes to employee burn out, remember — it’s on you leaders, not them,” she says. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics released in October 2019 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).
Harvard Business Review. BECTU/Prospect news release.
 

Hospital whistle-blower gets £127k for unfair sacking

A nurse who was unfairly dismissed after an unblemished 28-year career has been awarded more than £127,000 in compensation. Andrew Smith was sacked in 2015 by Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust after alleging staff were being bullied, not given proper breaks and not receiving a supplement to cover high living costs. An employment tribunal ruled he was dismissed because he was a whistle-blower. Mr Smith, who worked at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, said he was concerned lessons had not been learned from his case. “My main concerns are about patient and staff safety in Mid Essex Hospital NHS Trust and the fact that staff raising concerns are targeted by managers because they don't want the concerns to be raised in the public interest. My case has proved that,” he said. Whistle-blowers are protected by law and should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they reveal certain types of wrongdoing that are in the public interest. The trust argued Mr Smith had been seen as a nuisance and was guilty of gross misconduct after a breakdown in the relationship between employer and employee. But in his summary findings, employment judge Martin Warren said “they dismissed him because he was a whistle-blower.” The trust said it would "reflect upon the findings". 
BBC News Online. Personnel Today.
 

Curfew for coach firm boss after worker crushed

The boss of a Lancashire coach company has been given a suspended jail term and a curfew after a father-of-three was fatally crushed while working underneath a double decker bus. Chester Magistrates’ Court heard how on 14 June 2017, Wayne Lannon, a 46-year-old employee of Brian Finch, trading as FE Coaches, was carrying out repairs under a double decker bus in the car park of Chester Zoo. The bus had been supported by a hydraulic bottle jack and Wayne had placed some wooden blocks underneath the stationary bus. The bus rolled backwards off the bottle jack, trapping Wayne and resulting in fatal injuries. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company did not have a safe system of work in place for preventing the bus from moving. The bus parking brake had not been applied before Wayne went under the bus and the bus was not chocked to prevent it from rolling off the jack. Brian Finch also failed to provide training and instructions to Wayne in mechanical work or safe lifting of vehicles, and about the type of repairs that were suitable to be made outside of the workshop. Brian Finch pleaded guilty of a criminal safety breach and was sentenced to six months custody, suspended for 18 months, and subject to a curfew between the hours of 7pm and 8am for 30 months, with full costs of £9,381. In a family statement, Wayne’s sister Keeley Unsworth described how the loss of Wayne had left his family and friends with ‘shattered hearts’. “We are deeply saddened…his children will never feel or hear him again… we have no idea how we carry on, how we cope, how we live with the pain we are in,” she said. HSE inspector Lianne Farrington commented: “Had the company ensured that proper control measures were in place, Mr Lannon would not have lost his life.”
HSE news release and webpages on vehicle and bus repair.
 

Dancers badly injured in Coyote Ugly wet bar falls

Two dancers were badly injured after falling off a wet bar while working at Coyote Ugly Saloon in Cardiff city centre, a court has heard. Karina Sparks suffered deep cuts to her shoulder and chest after landing on a wine glass, while Brittany Askew fractured her spine and had to wear a back brace. Speaking at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court, district judge Shomon Khan said he had “not had the pleasure” of seeing the film, (Coyote Ugly is a Hollywood feature film), but noted the unique selling point of the venue was members of staff and customers dancing on the bar.  The court heard the incidents happened at Coyote Ugly Saloon in Cardiff in February, May and September 2017. South Wales Police reported the matter to the Cardiff council’s health and safety team on 4 October 2017.  Investigators reviewed the accident book and found another employee, Ms Askew, had suffered a fracture to her back after slipping on the bar while dancing. Prosecutors said bar staff and managers would often spray staff with soda syphons on the main bar “having little regard to the risk of slips and falls”. Bar owner Swansea Audio Limited admitted three criminal safety offences, including failing to report the injury sustained by Ms Askew. The company also admitted failing to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees, namely dancing on the bar counter and performing dance routines with water. District judge Khan imposed a £66,000 fine and ordered the company to pay £3,315 prosecution costs.
Cardiff City Council news release. Wales Online.

 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Bangladesh: Second deadly factory fire in days

At least 10 workers died and several others were injured in a fire at fan factory outside Dhaka after the compound was hit by a deadly blaze on 15 December 2019. The latest tragedy came only days after 17 people died in another factory fire. In the latest tragedy, rescuers found the bodies in the charred structure. It was not immediately clear how many people were on the premises when the fire took hold. On 11 December, a fire ripped through an illegal plastics factory, which was also located near Dhaka. The blaze, possibly started when flames from a gas stove reached highly flammable production materials, killed 17 people and injured 35. Police said they would press murder charges against the factory owners. UK-based Labour Behind the Label has put out an appeal for support for its campaign for better conditions and trade union rights for workers in Bangladesh. It noted: “Your support will allow us to respond and act where it is needed most. This year we have organised demonstrations and petitions, as well as engaged in dialogue with brands to demand that those sourcing from Bangladesh stand up for their workers and protect them from police violence and government repression.”
DW News.
Support Labour Behind the Label’s Bangladesh campaign.
 

India: Government inaction criticised after factory tragedy

A deadly factory fire in Delhi on 8 December exposes the vulnerability of India’s informal workforce as well as the government’s passive attitude towards workers’ safety, unions have said. At least 43 people died in the fire, 39 from asphyxiation (Risks 927). Most of the victims were young migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the poorest provincial states in India. The fire spread quickly due to the large amount of flammable materials used to make toys, jackets, school bags and paper. Victims could not escape from the four-storey building as materials blocked the exits. The illegal factory did not have the necessary permission from the fire safety department. The building did not have enough ventilation or a fire safety plan. At the time of the fire more than a hundred workers were sleeping inside the building, where they both worked and lived. Valter Sanches, general secretary of the global union IndustriALL, said: “We cannot accept that avoidable accidents keep happening, not only in Delhi but across the country. Our experiences through the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety reinforce the fact that the involvement of unions is indispensable to improve safety at the workplace. The Indian government and employers should work with unions to improve the occupational safety and health situation in the country.” Dr G Sanjeeva Reddy, president of India’s national union centre INTUC, said: “We strongly condemn the government’s negligence for allowing this illegal and dangerous activity, causing loss of precious lives. Occupational health and safety must be given due priority, with workers’ representatives involved in the decision-making process.” The owner of the building and managers have been arrested, and a case of causing death by negligence has been filed.
IndustriALL news release.
 

Global: Tech giants sued over child mining deaths

The world’s largest tech firms are being sued by Congolese families who say their children were killed or maimed while mining the cobalt used to power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by human rights firm International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 parents and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The lawsuit accuses the companies of aiding and abetting in the death and serious injury of children who they claim were working in cobalt mines in their supply chain. The families and injured children are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Cobalt is essential to power the rechargeable lithium batteries used in millions of products sold by Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla every year. The insatiable demand for cobalt, driven by the desire for cheap handheld technology, has tripled in the past five years and is expected to double again by the end of 2020. More than 60 per cent of cobalt originates in DRC, one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world. The families argue in the claim that their children were working illegally at mines owned by UK mining company Glencore. The court papers allege that cobalt from the Glencore-owned mines is sold to Umicore, a Brussels-based metal and mining trader, which then sells battery-grade cobalt to Apple, Google, Tesla, Microsoft and Dell.
IRA news release. The Guardian.
 

Korea: Truck drivers win safe rates of pay

Korean truck drivers are celebrating after securing a belated guarantee of safe rates of pay. The new measure is a major victory for the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) that has campaigned hard for a minimum wage system for the road freight market for 18 years, to make the industry fairer for workers and the roads safer for everyone (Risks 926). The new system was agreed on 12 December, when the Korean Road Safety Freight Rates Committee passed ‘safe rates’ for road freight transport workers, well after the original legal deadline of 31 October. It means that drivers of specialised vehicles carrying export-import containers and bulk cement will receive legally guaranteed rates of pay from 1 January 2020. Global transport unions’ federation ITF said under the current system outsourcing has created a ‘race to the bottom’ in the industry, with low wages forcing truck drivers to overload, speed and drive dangerous, long hours, day and night. Noel Coard, ITF inland transport section secretary, commented: “We commend the strength and tenacity of the KPTU to achieve safe rates in South Korea. The ITF and all the unions of our road section are calling for safe rates to be a global standard. It’s very simple: safe rates save lives!” KPTU-TruckSol is now demanding safe rates throughout the road freight industry, covering drivers of all vehicles and all kinds of freight. It also wants “safe rates for the entire transport industry; to tackle the scourge of precarious employment in the delivery and taxi industries.” ITF’s Noel Coard concluded: “If governments and multinational companies are serious about road safety, then they must join us in Sydney, Australia, 19-20 March 2020 where unions from across the globe will be joined by industry leaders to discuss how safe rates can be further implemented.”
ITF news release.

 

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2020

Find the latest courses at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy