Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS Tube union RMT is stepping up its ‘Stop Violence Against Tube Staff’ campaign as ‘shocking’ new figures revealed assaults on staff have risen by almost a quarter over the past three years. Assaults on Transport for London (TfL) employees shot up from 505 in 2016 to 628 in 2019. Knife-related violence against workers almost doubled, from 19 incidents in 2016 to 35 in 2019. Commenting on the TfL statistics, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Violence on the Tube network is out of control and I am sick and tired of hearing warm words from the politicians and bosses running the system while my members are risking their lives every time they book on for work. The situation is that serious and RMT is demanding real action right now.” He explained: “That means an end to lone working, a reversal of the damaging staff cuts and a culture that supports and protects Tube staff rather than the toxic atmosphere that has been allowed to fester for too long. RMT has made it clear that we will take whatever action is required, including industrial action, to protect our members’ safety, their status and their working conditions.”
RMT news release. Morning Star. Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has called for government action after official figures revealed a 14 per cent increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting in England and Wales over the last decade. Theft from shops is a main trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, the union leader warned. Last year Usdaw and retail employers responded to a Home Office ‘call for evidence’ with a joint action call on shop violence. The government is yet to respond. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, commenting on the new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, said: “Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, with theft from shops often triggering violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. These statistics are extremely worrying for our members and we believe that police recorded incidents under-estimate the scale of the problem because of significant under-reporting of incidents. Usdaw has consistently demonstrated the full extent of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Last year we and the retail employers responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and with one voice we pushed for action to tackle this growing problem. We are deeply concerned that the government is yet to respond to our shared concerns and call for action.” He added: “Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. Usdaw and many retailers continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals… Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Usdaw news release. Police recorded crimes in England and Wales: year ending September 2019, ONS, 23 January 2020. Creative industries trade union Bectu, (part of Prospect), is to investigate the abusive treatment commonly reported by fashion assistants. Following approaches from workers in the industry the union has now launched a survey of members. The union says it is keen to research the scale of the issue, which could reveal the industry’s failure to move on and shake off its ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ reputation for poor treatment of junior staff. The anonymous survey is open to anyone who works as a fashion assistant in the UK, which Bectu says is an industry ‘under-represented in the trade union movement’ – and asks questions around working conditions, bullying and harassment and low pay. Lead organiser Jane Perry said: “We know that people entering the fashion industry as fashion assistants are having a very difficult time due to ingrained toxic cultures portrayed in The Devil Wears Prada.” She added: “We have had a number of enquiries from workers seeking to join the union and join together to take on these exploitative practices that are typically hidden behind promises of paid work in a glamorous creative industry. It is not acceptable to think that abusive treatment of fashion assistants is an acceptable industry norm, and we encourage all fashion assistants to share their concerns, join the union and stick together to challenge this.”
BECTU news release. A campaign by Scottish teaching union EIS that secured a 10 per cent increase in teacher salaries last year also discovered severe workload was a major concern, making it a top priority issue for the union. The union’s most recent survey found 88 per cent of members felt that their stress levels had either stayed the same or had increased over the previous year and 82 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with their workload levels. Over threequarters (76 per cent) of respondents reported that they felt stressed "frequently" or "all of the time" within their jobs. Announcing a new survey, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The last national EIS survey, conducted as part of our Value Education, Value Teachers campaign, laid bare the true scale of the workload burden that is being placed on Scotland's teachers. Following the success of the pay element of our campaign, the EIS has now refocused its campaigning work on tackling excessive teacher workload. Over the past year, we have been building our campaign and encouraging our members to engage with the Scottish government's empowering schools agenda as a means to take control of teacher workload.” He continued: “Scotland’s teachers work some of the longest hours in the world, with a far larger teaching commitment than teachers in most other countries. Scotland also has large class sizes, with a profound impact on both teacher workload and the learning environment of pupils. The EIS is committed to campaigning to address these issues, with the aim of cutting both maximum class size and teachers’ maximum class contact hours to 20. These campaign aims will become a major focus as we move towards negotiations on teachers’ next pay settlement, which is due in April next year.”
EIS news release. Rail union TSSA has blasted ScotRail’s human resources (HR) director after he subjected a union officer to a tirade of abuse and then banned her from the company's headquarters. The abuse occurred when TSSA organiser Claire Johnston was carrying out a pre-arranged recruitment visit in ScotRail’s head office. TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “Our union is recognised for bargaining in ScotRail headquarters and our organiser was within her rights to carry out recruitment there. But when she stayed a few minutes longer than agreed, the HR director hauled her into his office and began shouting at her so loudly that people outside the room could hear, before banning her from the building.” He added: “If the HR director wanted Claire to leave then he should have had a quiet word with her. Instead he tried to bully and humiliate a woman, carrying out her professional duties, by shouting and balling at her, in front of witnesses. Our union has never stood for sexism and bullying from ScotRail and we will not do so now. I have already complained to ScotRail’s boss Alex Hynes about his director’s behaviour. We expect nothing less than a full and sincere apology for his behaviour. As for this attempt to exclude our union from his offices it is nothing short of union-busting. If he thinks he can deprive his staff of their lawful right to join a union, he has another thing coming.” Cortes concluded: “We have previously raised with the transport minister and Nicola Sturgeon the need to tackle bullying and sexism within our rail industry. Time for them to act to ensure measures are in place to make this type of behaviour a thing of the past.”
TSSA news release. Parking wardens in the London borough of Hackney as set to strike for a week in February in a dispute over pay and their personal safety. Unite said its civil enforcement officer (CEO) members, employed by Apcoa Parking (UK) Ltd which runs the contract on behalf of Hackney council, will strike on from 10 February until Sunday 16 February. The members voted by 81 per cent for strike action. A key issue is a claim for an increase to £15 an hour for the year starting April 2020 – the parking wardens are currently paid the London living wage, currently £10.75 per hour. But Unite is also concerned about the safety of its members, who have been attacked by irate motorists when doing their job. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We have had cases where our members are going out on the same rounds where they have previously been assaulted. As a consequence of this and to make this demanding job more attractive, we are calling for pay and conditions to be harmonised with those workers employed by Hackney council when it comes to annual leave, sick pay and unsocial hours payments. We want our members taken back in-house by the council.” He added: “Free parking beckons for Hackney residents during the strike days with the adverse impact that this will have on the council’s finances as revenues from parking tickets dry up. However, there is still time for the management of Apcoa Parking to come back to the negotiating table to hammer out a fair settlement for these dedicated workers out in all weathers who also face the ever-present danger of being physically attacked for just doing their job.”
Unite news release. A recently-appointed Grenfell Tower fire Inquiry panel member has resigned after she was linked to the charitable arm of Arconic, the firm that supplied the block's deadly cladding (Risks 931). Benita Mehra said she recognised and respected the ‘depth of feeling’ among some about her appointment. Downing Street said it had accepted her resignation but maintained there was no conflict of interest. It was announced shortly before Christmas that the engineer would replace academic Prof Nabeel Hamdi as an expert panellist for the second phase of the Inquiry. Last week Grenfell United, the survivor’s and bereaved group that first discovered Mehra’s link to Arconic, had insisted her position represented a conflict of interest and called for her to stand down. The group said her appointment by prime minister Boris Johnson was “a slap in the face”. Unite, a core participant in the Inquiry, had prior to her stepping down sent a lawyers’ letter to Mehra urging her to resign. Immediately ahead of her decision to withdraw from the Inquiry, Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett had said: “If she will not voluntarily stand down, then Unite, on behalf of the people we are representing, who survived the fire, or who lost loved ones in the tragedy, will examine all measures to ensure that Benita Mehra is forced to withdraw. If Benita Mehra is allowed to continue as an adviser any findings or recommendations made by the Inquiry will forever be tainted.” The opening day of phase two of the Inquiry heard Arconic was aware its panels were being used on Grenfell Tower and that they were unsuitable.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry 23 December 2019 update on Benita Mehra’s appointment and 25 January 2020 update on Benita Mehra’s resignation. Unite news release. BBC News Online. None of the companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower have accepted responsibility for the deadly fire, an Inquiry has heard. Firms expressed “no trace” of accountability despite previous findings that the work did not comply with building regulations, counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC said. His remarks were at the start of the Inquiry's second phase, which will look at issues like the block's cladding. The 2017 London fire claimed 72 lives. The QC said that, with the “sole exception” of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, all organisations had denied responsibility in “carefully crafted statements,” adding: “Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude that everyone involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower did what they were supposed to do and nobody made any serious or causative mistakes. In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else's fault.” Families and friends of victims were present in the hearing room, where Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the second phase. Grenfell United - a group representing survivors and bereaved families - called for the Inquiry to change how it deals with families, saying concerns had been raised “many times” about the “indifference” shown towards the bereaved and survivors. “We need to know that the Inquiry team will change how it deals with families, remove any blockages that staff may be creating and bring this process back to putting families at the centre,” the group said. The opening day of phase two of the public Inquiry heard Arconic, the firm that supplied the cladding on the outside of the west London tower block, knew in 2011 it was “not suitable for use on building facades” and performed worse in fire tests than declared on safety certificates.
The Guardian and related story. BBC News Online. Construction Enquirer.
Grenfell United. Grenfell Tower Inquiry. A pioneer of women's football has become the first female player to publicly blame her dementia on years of heading the ball. Sue Lopez, 74, was the first British woman to play semi-professionally abroad and represented England 22 times during a career spanning three decades. She told the BBC she wanted young footballers to stop heading the ball amid research suggesting women are concussed more easily. Lopez, who spent the majority of her playing career at Southampton and spent a season at Roma, told the BBC she felt “sick” when she was given her diagnosis in 2018. She said heading the ball resulted in her suffering several concussions during her time competing at the top level between 1966 and 1985. “I think my dementia has been caused by the heading of a football,” added Lopez, who was made an MBE in 2000 for services to women's football. “I'm always hoping people are being more careful now, not letting young kids head the ball.” Lopez's plea came after a study in 2019, co-funded by the footballers’ union PFA, found former professionals were three-and-a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population (Risks 921). Campaign group Pink Concussions claimed the problem may be even more significant for female players. Founder Katherine Price Snedaker said women experienced concussion differently to men and their recovery tended to take longer. “Women concuss at a higher rate,” she said. “Women have more concussive symptoms, a more complex pattern of those symptoms and seem to feel more pain.”
BBC News Online. The Telegraph. Daily Mail. Pink Concussions. Online content moderators are being asked to sign forms stating they understand the job could cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in a bid by social media giants to avoid personal injury liability. The Financial Times and The Verge reported moderators for Facebook and YouTube, hired by the contractor Accenture, were sent the documents. Moderators monitor objectionable materials and often view hundreds of disturbing images in a day's work. In a statement Accenture said only new joiners were being asked to sign the forms, whereas existing employees were being sent the form as an update. Accenture is a consultancy hired by firms including Google, Facebook and Twitter, providing outside monitors for social media sites to remove any inappropriate content. The job often requires watching and listening to disturbing posts that can be violent or sexual in nature. Both The Verge and Financial Times report that moderators were sent documents that required to them to acknowledge the mental health risks of the role. “I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing. It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” the statement read. The notices were sent to Accenture employees in the United States and Europe. The reports come as Facebook faces lawsuits from former content moderators over a range of mental health issues in California and Ireland. Google - YouTube's parent company - said it did not review the documents but required its partners to offer mental health support. Mental health experts warn understanding the psychological strains of this job does not mitigate its risks.
The Verge and related article. Financial Times. BBC News Online. Technext.
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. Hazards stress and mental health webpages and work-related suicide webpages. A woman who worked in the accounts department at a Fiat UK showroom has received asbestos cancer compensation after a court heard she was exposed to asbestos in the garage workshop over a period of 18 months. Rosalba Bhaloo, aged 70, worked in the offices at the showroom in Brentford, Middlesex, between 1972 and 1974. She frequently walked through and spent time in the workshop, which repaired and serviced Fiat vehicles, which included repairs and servicing of brakes and clutches, both containing asbestos. The mechanics used compressed air lines to blow out the dust from the brake drums, including asbestos dust, which Rosalba inhaled. After Rosalba contracted the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, her case for compensation was taken on by Harminder Bains, a partner at Leigh Day solicitors, who commenced proceedings in the High Court. However, Fiat fought the case and argued that Rosalba did not have mesothelioma because she had survived longer than most mesothelioma patients. Rosalba and her son Virgil were due to give evidence at the subsequent trial. However, just before the trial was due to begin, an order was made to settle out of court and for Fiat to pay Rosalba a ‘substantial’ lump sum in compensation together with provision to pay her future medical treatment costs. Harminder Bains said: “This case is an example of a company who fought tooth and nail before they were finally forced to accept their responsibility to pay compensation to an employee who has been affected by working practices which put her at risk in the workplace some 40 years ago.”
Leigh Day Solicitors news release. Unite has called on the government to extend bereavement leave to those who have lost a close relative or suffered a miscarriage, to ensure the welfare and safety of those affected. The call came after the government announced that grieving parents will be entitled to two weeks statutory leave. The new legislation, which is known as Jack’s Law and which will come into force in April, means parents who have lost a child will be entitled to two weeks statutory paid leave from work. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Jack’s Law is a welcome first step in providing leave for people who have suffered a bereavement. Legislation must now be extended to include leave for those who have lost a close family member or are dealing with the grief of miscarriage.” She added: “Where the union has negotiated bereavement and miscarriage leave policies, there are protections. In other workplaces, people can feel isolated and be pressured into working or even risk their job by taking the time they need.” She said the government’s plans did not go far enough. “It is not enough to rely on the kindness of employers to ensure that people are given the time to process their loss. Bereaved workers are being forced to return to work before they have had even the semblance of a chance to recover, especially in industries where exploitative or insecure working practices are rife. Not only is this inhumane but for those working with heavy machinery or in hazardous environments it is a safety issue too.”
Department for Business news release. Unite news release. CBI news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online. Seafarers have been advised to familiarise themselves with new global guidance on the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has created a containment lockdown in central China and prevented some ships from calling at the major trade hub Wuhan. Global transport workers’ union federation ITF has issued advice on the coronavirus, a never-before-seen virus that is reported to have mutated and is now transmissible from human to human. The virus, which originated in China in late 2019, causes pneumonia-like symptoms and can be life-threatening. There are no international travel restrictions currently in place, although the Chinese authorities have taken steps locally to limit the spread of the virus. The Wall Street Journal reported that vessels are being held back by China from entering Wuhan, in Hubei Province. The city is a major trade hub in the region and is located on the Yangtze River. The ITF alert “advises that those in China should avoid unprotected contact with live animals, ensure all animal products (including meat and eggs) are thoroughly cooked, practise good hygiene, and avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms.” Danny McGowan, international organiser with the UK seafarers’ union Nautilus, commented: “We will continue to monitor ITF and WHO reports. Seafarers are urged to familiarise themselves with onboard and company guidance for such situations. Those companies who may not yet have procedures in place are urged to seek advice on how their employees and passengers can be protected.” Nautilus and the ITF have said they will publish any further information that is relevant to maritime professionals and other transport workers as the situation develops. The virus had sickened approximately 2,700 people and killed 80 as of 26 January, most of them in Wuhan and the surrounding Chinese province of Hubei.
Nautilus news release. Department of Health statement. WHO news release. Wall St Journal. BBC News Online. DBMP LLC, an affiliate of US building materials maker CertainTeed LLC and part of the global Saint Gobain building products empire, has filed for bankruptcy in North Carolina, citing the ‘burden’ of tens of thousands of unresolved asbestos-related claims tied to products manufactured prior to 1993. CertainTeed Corp underwent a restructuring in October 2019 to establish two entities, DBMP and CertainTeed LLC. DBMP was created solely to handle asbestos claims that were burdening the company while CertainTeed LLC continues to operate and isn’t involved in DBMP’s Chapter 11 proceedings. Section 11 bankruptcy has been used by a number of US asbestos companies to reduce asbestos liabilities, often denying cancer victims the payouts they would otherwise receive. However, the industry argues the claims are a ‘burden’. “This chapter 11 case was caused by the unceasing and unwarranted filing of thousands upon thousands of asbestos-related claims,” chief restructuring officer Robert Panaro said in court papers. “The burden of managing, defending and resolving these claims is substantial, and this litigation and its associated burdens are expected to continue for decades more.” The goal of DBMP’s bankruptcy is to establish a trust that will pay litigant’s claims, while allowing CertainTeed LLC to continue operating, according to court papers. A March 2004 report from the US Environmental Working Group “shattered the bankruptcy myth,” revealing companies tell the world they have been driven bankrupt by asbestos suits but tell their shareholders their bottom lines have not suffered. In 2019, a French court ordered Saint Gobain to pay 130 employees at its specialised glass manufacturing and processing factory in Thourotte, compensation of 20,000 euros (£17,800) each for “psychological harm” resulting from their exposure to asbestos (Risks 902).
Business Wire. Bloomberg. Asbestos: Think Again. 'Business as Usual' Bankruptcies, EWG, 4 March 2004. Though the climate crisis is creating conditions where workers in the US are facing hotter temperatures on a more frequent basis, there are no federal safety protections for workers in extreme temperatures, and only three states, California, Washington and Minnesota, have heat stress workplace protection standards. According to projections conducted by the not-for-profit organisation Climate Central, the number of dangerous heat days for 133 US cities, will increase from 20 a year on average in 2000 to 58 in 2050. A dangerous heat day is defined as one in which the heat index, accounting for heat and humidity, exceeds 104F (40 Celsius). “Climate change means it’s only getting hotter, and workers are at exposure for all kinds of excessive heat,” Judy Chu, a Democratic congresswoman from California, told the Guardian. Earlier this year, she introduced the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019, which would direct the government safety regulator OSHA to issue and enforce standards to protect workers from heat-related risks on the job. Chu said: “It all started when I was in the California state assembly. The United Farm Workers came to me about the situation with Asuncion Valdivia. He was a farmworker picking grapes for 10 hours straight when he collapsed in 105F temperatures. Instead of having any kind of proper treatment for him, a supervisor told his son to take him home. They didn’t even call an ambulance. On the way home, the son saw his father foam at the mouth, fall over and die. So the son had to watch his father die of a preventable heat stroke.” In 2015, the state of California settled two heat-related lawsuits brought by the United Farm Workers union. “We’ve had issues where workers are not classified as dying because of their job when we know that is the case,” said Rebecca Reindel, senior safety and health specialist at the national union federation AFL-CIO. “With heat you’re running into a lot of vulnerable workers, immigrant workers, where employers will pass it off, say something else happened, and no-one is following up and that person’s family don’t know their rights to get it classified as a workplace fatality.”
The US government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported a 40 per cent increase in working age suicides over the last two decades. Its analysis shows 38,000 persons of working age died by suicide in 2017. After analysing suicide data by occupation and industry, it emerged blue collar workers are the highest risk of death by suicide, mirroring findings in the UK (Risks 793). Suicide rates were highest for men working in quarrying, oil and gas extraction, construction and other services, such as automotive repair, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. Rates were elevated in transportation and warehousing for both men and women. They were also significantly higher for six occupational groups: Construction and extraction (men and women); installation, maintenance and repair (men); arts, design, entertainment, sports and media (men); transportation and material moving (men and women). Elevated suicide rates were also seen for women working in protective services and healthcare support, again echoing UK figures showing care and home care workers were at greater risk (Risks 793). Study data was taken from the 2016 US National Violent Death Reporting System, in which 32 states participated. These statistics were gathered from a variety of reports on violent death, such as coroner reports, law enforcement reports and death reports.
Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 69, number 3, pages 57-62, 24 January 2020. Local 12 News.
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