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






Dover congestion plans ignore lorry drivers’ welfare

The government’s latest plan for introducing a new system for dealing with potential Brexit-related disruption at Dover once again ignores the health and welfare of lorry drivers, the professional drivers’ union Unite has said. The union, which represents over 50,000 lorry drivers, has been seeking answers for over a year to drivers’ concerns about the lack of welfare provisions if there is major disruption on the roads towards Dover, either as a result of the introduction of customs checks or industrial action. Unite said its Freedom of Information request to the Department for Transport eventually gained the admission: “In the event of severe traffic disruption, the Kent Resilience Forum will make an operational decision on whether to deploy portable toilets on the M20 Junctions 8-9 coastbound and on both sides of the M26.” Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “There is no provision for even the most basic welfare provision in the government’s scheme. The delivery of a few portaloos as an afterthought is simply not good enough.” The union officer added: “If a problem arises on the roads to Dover not only is there no welfare provision but drivers have no idea how long disruption will last, making it almost impossible to abide by driving regulations. Unite is also concerned that previous plans to have a specific lorry park at Manston, which could have provided drivers with a safer facility and proper welfare provisions, has apparently been dropped.” He concluded: “The government has once again failed to consult with drivers before introducing these measures. The health, welfare and safety of drivers who will be most affected by future disruptions have been ignored or forgotten.”
Unite news release. DfT news release. BBC News Online.


Government urged to tackle rowdy airline passengers

Ministers need to step in and tighten up the laws over how much passengers can drink at UK airports and on aircraft, Unite has said. The union, which represents 25,000 cabin crew employed by all carriers from British Airways to Ryanair, said the present system was ‘a regulatory mess’. It was commenting after passenger Chloe Haines was jailed for two years for trying to open a door on a Jet2 flight from Stansted bound for Turkey in June. Unite national officer for civil air transport, Oliver Richardson, said: “This was a serious incident that endangered passengers and crew. Unfortunately, our members are reporting a disturbing increase in such incidents on flights, many of them linked to alcohol consumption. The aviation industry has a voluntary code of conduct for dealing with disruptive passengers, but it has proved to be weak and ineffective. We need much stronger preventive measures backed up by legislation.” He added: “We are calling on ministers to introduce legislation that requires the industry to advise passengers what is expected of them in terms of behaviour, and that, in instances of cases of disruptive conduct, this is backed up by a range of sanctions from fines to imprisonment.” He said: “We don’t want to be killjoys and stop sensible drinking for those going on or returning from holiday, but the safety of airlines’ pilots and cabin crew, and passengers must be paramount.”
Unite news release. BBC News Online.


Union warns 999 IT failures are endangering lives

IT issues in North West and East Coast emergency fire control rooms are creating dangerous delays in emergency response times, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned. The union said it has issued five ‘safety critical notices’ to affected fire control centres demanding the problems are urgently addressed, in a week control rooms were struggling to handle a huge influx of storm-related calls. Problems identified by the union include a failure to communicate ‘risk-critical information’ to under-pressure control staff, “such as whether the occupier is a hoarder, whether there has been a firearms risk, whether there is a risk of violence to crews.” Lynda Rowan-O’Neil of the FBU’s control staff national committee, said: “We’ve repeatedly warned that these IT failings are dangerous, but have been ignored. Our control rooms are desperately understaffed and conditions have become completely untenable. The control room mergers involved massive cuts to staff numbers, which have seriously undermined our ability to handle the overwhelming volume of storm-related calls.” She added: “It’s no secret that, in an emergency, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death. These failings could genuinely endanger lives.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “It’s an utter disgrace that emergency fire control bosses have ignored the concerns of their own staff for so long. The FBU is fully behind our members taking on these safety-critical issues and will be applying pressure nationally and regionally.”
FBU news release.

RMT calls strike action on Bakerloo line

Tube union RMT has confirmed its members are set to take two days of strike action on the Bakerloo line next week in a dispute over the impact on train drivers of ‘unworkable’ timetable changes it says place them under intolerable levels of stress. A ballot for action covering driver members produced a 95 per cent vote in favour of action. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Drivers voted overwhelmingly for action in this dispute, which is all about the management imposing timetable changes on the Bakerloo line without any serious recognition of the stress impact on the operators expected to implement them. We hoped we were making headway in talks with LU [London Underground] but our reps have now taken the view that the progress has been too little and too slow.” He added: “The bottom line is that you cannot place intolerable stress and pressure on Tube drivers that impacts on their safety-critical role and that is what this dispute is all about.”
RMT news release.

UNISON guides members on sex harassment prevention

Public sector union UNISON has said a tick box approach to sexual harassment prevention doesn’t work, because employers need to ‘walk the walk’. Launching new bargaining guidance for fighting sexual harassment at work, national women’s officer Josie Irwin told delegates at the union’s women’s conference: “Sexual harassment is against the law, but the law doesn’t stop it happening. Sexual harassment can take place at any level in any relationship, it can be third party; it can take place off premises and at events.” She added: “It’s an employer’s responsibility to stop it from happening.” TUC policy officer Sian Elliott told the UNISON delegates: “Current legislation places the burden on the victim who has been harassed to prevent their own sexual harassment. If four in five women aren’t reporting, then employers have very little to do.” Under current law there is no legal duty on employers to take proactive action to prevent harassment happening in their workplaces. Instead, the onus is on the victim to report it to their employer after it has happened. UNISON is a part of the TUC’s ‘This is Not Working’ alliance, comprised of over 20 unions and charities. The alliance calls for employers to be proactive in tackling sexual harassment, with trainings and policies that cut to the root of the problem: abuse of power in the workplace. The union confederation says if there was a mandatory duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, it would transform cultures of abuse in workplaces. UNISON’s Josie Irwin commented: “Getting a policy in place is just the first step. We can’t let employers off the hook because they’ve ticked a policy box. We need to make sure they’re walking the walk. Employers need to make sure they’re educated.”
UNISON news release and bargaining guidance for fighting sexual harassment at work.
TUC #ThisIsNotWorking campaign.


Prime minister needs to act on shop violence

The prime minister’s concerned words on violence against shopworkers need to translate into action, the union Usdaw has said. The union was commenting after Nottingham North Labour MP Alex Norris raised the issue at this week’s prime minister’s questions. Addressing the House of Commons, Boris Johnson responded: “I am glad that he has raised this matter. We should not tolerate crimes of violence against shopworkers or indeed anybody else.” Paddy Lillis, the general secretary of Usdaw, commented: “We are grateful to Alex Norris for raising violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers directly with the prime minister in the House of Commons. We note the PM’s response, but we remain concerned by the lack of progress. The government needs go much further much faster to address this ongoing, growing and pressing problem.” He added: “Our message is clear; abuse is not a part of the job. We 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, by criminals. We need decisive government action to tackle this growing problem. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Prime minister’s questions, 12 February 2020. Usdaw news release.


Rising abuse of black NHS staff of ‘deep concern’

An increase in the bullying, harassment and abuse experienced black staff employed in NHS England is “disgraceful” and of “deep concern”, the public sector union UNISON has said. The union was commenting on latest Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) figures which revealed a deterioration across four of nine indicators. These four indicators — which relate to the “cultural” experience of staff — have worsened since data was first recorded in 2016. Three of the four have also seen a deterioration for white respondents — but for all of them, the gap between the experiences of white and black and minority ethnic (BME) staff has widened over both the past 12 months and since 2016. The share of BME staff reporting bullying, harassment or abuse from patients, relatives or the public rose from 29.1 per cent in 2016 to 29.8 per cent in 2019. The gap between BME and white respondents grew from 1 percentage point to 2. Commenting on the new WRES report released on 14 February, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “It’s disgraceful that bullying, harassment and abuse are on the rise for black staff. And that it’s increasing from colleagues, as well as patients, is of deep concern. Many staff feel nothing will be done by their employer and all too often they’ve no support from colleagues. Racist abuse damages the confidence, health and well-being of black staff, forcing many to leave their jobs.” She added: “Improvements in recruitment, disciplinary processes and access to training are slowing. The gaps for black staff are still too wide and nothing makes up for the grinding daily toll of abuse. All staff must be encouraged to call out every incident and work with employers to establish measures to combat bigotry in all its forms. This is the aim of UNISON’s race for equality campaign.”
NHS England news release, publication notice and WRES 2019 report, February 2020. UNISON news release and Race for equality campaign. Health Service Journal. Nursing Times. The BMJ.

‘Disturbing’ mental health picture in film and TV jobs

Dignity at work must be at the heart of measures to address the mental health crisis in the film and TV industries, the union Bectu has said. The union was responding to a ‘disturbing’ report from The Film and TV Charity revealing the extent of the mental health problems blighting the sector. It found almost nine in ten (87 per cent) respondents had experienced mental health problems, compared to two-thirds (65 per cent) of the UK population. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of sector workers said they had experienced depression. Workers in the sector were twice as likely to experience anxiety compared to the national average. The study, conducted for the charity by the Lancaster University-based Work Foundation, found 55 per cent had considered suicide compared to the national average of 20 per cent and 10 per cent had attempted suicide. The study found one in 8 in the industry are working in excess of 60 hours per week, compared with one in 50 in other industries. It noted this is exacerbated by a lack of control over working hours, which more than half of respondents (57 per cent) felt had a negative impact on their well-being. The study also described poor outcomes of reporting mental health problems – only 28 per cent said that discussing their mental health had improved the situation, over half (54 per cent) said it had made no difference and 5 per cent said it had made it worse. “Unfortunately, none of this comes as a surprise to Bectu,” the creative sector union said. “We are very aware of the causes of poor mental health in the industry. Insecure employment, long hours culture, lack of protection and support are issues that many workers across the creative industries have to tolerate.” The union concluded: “The answers to these problems lie in changing cultural attitudes and practices. Put simply: everyone should expect to be treated with dignity at work. It is only by employers adopting higher standards that we will be able to bring about the change that is so desperately needed.”
The Film and TV Charity news release and Whole Picture Programme. The Work Foundation news release and full report. Bectu blog and Dignity at Work campaign.
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.

Car retailer’s neglect led to occupational asthma

A car retailer operating across the South East of England has been fined after a car bodywork sprayer developed occupational asthma. West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court heard that, between October 2011 and March 2018, an employee of Harwoods Limited at Audi Southampton had been spraying paints containing isocyanates without adequate control measures in place. Isocyanate exposure can lead to the development of occupational asthma, which can have serious life-changing effects. Once sensitised, affected workers can have an asthmatic reaction to even minute quantities of the substance. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to ensure adequate control measures were in place to minimise exposure to paints containing isocyanates, exposing the employee to the risk of asthma. Harwoods Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the chemical safety regulations COSHH and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,657.55.  HSE inspector Nicola Pinckney commented: “This serious health condition could so easily have been avoided by simply implementing correct control measures and appropriate working practices.” She added: “Appropriate controls could include use of a spray booth to carry out the paint spraying, use of a suitable air-fed respirator, checks to ensure equipment was adequately maintained and training provided to ensure the employee knew the risks and how to control them.”
HSE news release and work-related asthma webpages.

Engineering firm fined for lube dermatitis risks

An engineering company has been fined for failing to control the risk of its employees developing dermatitis as a result of exposure to metalworking fluid. West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court heard that, between October 2017 and January 2019, employees of Lymington Precision Engineers Co Limited were exposed to metalworking fluid while working on conventional machines such as lathes and milling machines on the company site in Limington, New Forest. Metalworking fluid is used on the machines to lubricate and cool work pieces but exposure can lead to the development of occupational dermatitis, asthma and other health conditions that can have serious, life-changing health effects. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to ensure adequate measures were in place for the control of exposure to metalworking fluids, exposing their employees to the risk of contracting dermatitis. Lymington Precision Engineers Co Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the chemical safety regulations COSHH and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £4,447.46 costs. HSE inspector Nicola Pinckney commented: “This case could so easily have been avoided by simply implementing correct control measures and appropriate working practices. Appropriate controls could include provision and use of well-fitting overalls, use of gloves in contact with contaminated work pieces, avoidance of the use of airlines for cleaning activities, and the provision of an effective skin care regime.”
HSE news release and work-related dermatitis webpages.

Fishing firm fined £50,000 over crewman’s death

A marine fishing company has been fined £50,000 for criminal safety offences that led to a crewman’s death nearly five years ago. Annang Neurtey was lost at sea after he was struck by a wire on board the 20-metre trawler Aquarius. The boat had left Aberdeen harbour just before 1am on 17 August 2015 to return to fishing grounds. The wire behind the boat became snagged on the seabed and a rope intended to stop the wire snapped, hitting the 47-year-old and propelling him overboard. Police Scotland and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency investigated the incident involving Buckie-based MB Aquarius Ltd. The company was found to have failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks involved in the task of marking the trawl wire. It had also failed to plan and supervise the task to ensure there was a safe system in place. The firm pleaded guilty to the offences and was fined £50,000. Alistair Duncan, head of the Crown Office (COPFS) health and safety investigation unit, said: “The company’s failures led to the death of Annang Neurtey. His family and friends must live with the consequences of those failings.” He added: “This sad incident should serve as a reminder to vessel operators and the fishing industry that they should ensure that they are familiar with and adhere to the regulations and that failure to do so can have tragic consequences.” Annang Neurtey’s death is not included in the official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) workplace fatality totals, as deaths at sea are excluded from its annual list.
COPFS news release. Aberdeen Evening Express. Press and Journal.


Occupational cancer webinar, 12:00-1:00pm, 28 February

The European Cancer League (ECL), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) are to run a special webinar on occupational health and the European Code Against Cancer on 28 February, from 12:00-1:00pm UK time. The groups say cancer is the number one work-related cause of death in the European Union, responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year. Over half (53 per cent) of all work-related deaths are caused by occupational cancer, the groups note. They add that ensuring adequate prevention strategies and protection measures for workers requires an EU-wide response, yet there are large differences in the level of protection of workers across Europe. Presenters are Tony Musu of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), who will give an introduction to occupational cancers and the role of civil society in reducing work-related exposure risks, and William Tailler from the European Commission, who will provide an overview of the legislative and regulatory actions the Commission is taking to prevent exposure.
Occupational cancer webinar, 12:00-1:00pm UK time, 28 February. Register now


Australia: Truck drivers in Aldi crash deaths protests

Hundreds of truck drivers took part in Australia-wide protests on 12 February demanding supermarket chain Aldi pay safe rates throughout its supply chain. The union TWU said its action came in response to a dramatic increase in deaths in truck crashes. It wants Aldi to raise its transport contract rates and standards to reduce the pressure on drivers and operators to cut corners in safety. TWU says cost pressures are forcing delays to maintenance on trucks and are pushing drivers to speed, drive long hours and skip rest breaks. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the union claim sets out how safety standards can be improved in the Aldi supply chain. “We have got to make trucking safer and fairer and the way to do this is by raising standards. Too many people including truck drivers are dying because of pressure in the transport supply chain to cut corners. Profits at big retailers like Aldi are being put ahead of safety. This claim sets out how this behaviour can be addressed and how safety can be made the number one priority.” He added: “These drivers are fed up with their mates dying on the roads, they are tired of hearing about truck crashes happening because of faulty brakes, bald tyres or drivers pushed to speed and drive long hours. Big retailers like Aldi can help change our industry and that is why we are submitting our demand in a claim today.” A major agreement between the TWU and retail chain Coles has been signed which involves statements of principles to ensure safe and fair conditions for workers in the Coles supply chain and the on-demand economy. A separate charter has been signed with Woolworths.
TWU news release. Fully Loaded.

Canada: Union calls for crackdown on corporate safety crimes

Major corporations and their directors must be held accountable for deadly workplace crimes, a Canadian union has said. The United Steelworkers union (USW) was commenting after criminal charges were filed against the former CEO of a Brazil-based multinational mining company one year after the Minas Gerais dam collapse that killed more than 250 people (Risks 923). “Workers need to know that disasters like this are going to be answered with the strongest punitive measures possible,” said USW national director Ken Neumann. “The death of 250 villagers and workers in one incident is catastrophic. But no worker should be at risk when they go to work, and no community should be put in harm’s way by corporate negligence.” Neumann added: “Workers across Canada have been killed at a rate of about 1,000 a year, and companies have mostly evaded criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay fines. Killing workers should never be part of the cost of doing business.” USW is calling on provincial attorneys general and labour ministers in every jurisdiction to properly enforce the 2004 amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code, which were meant to hold corporate executives criminally accountable for workplace deaths and injury. The amendments, known collectively as the Westray Law, were unanimously endorsed by the federal parliament more than 10 years after the 1992 Westray Coal mine explosion in Nova Scotia, which killed 26 workers. “Police and Crown attorneys must be educated, trained and directed to apply the Westray amendments,” Neumann said. “And there must be greater co-ordination and protocols among regulators, police and Crowns so that health and safety regulators are trained to reach out to police when there is a possibility that Westray amendment charges are warranted.” On 14 February the union joined the family of Olivier Bruneau in condemning the decision by Ottawa police to close the investigation into the construction worker’s death and to rule out criminal charges. The 24-year-old carpenter was crushed by a massive block of ice.

USW news release and related news release. Canadian Lawyer Magazine. CBC News.

India: Fire deaths in denim factory that had no way out

Workers in an Indian denim factory struggled to claw their way up a ladder to a door, their only exit, as a fire blazed through fabric and machinery. Seven people died in the 8 February blaze. The factory where the fire occurred, Nandan Denim, has ties to major international retailers, according to its website. Nandan says it supplies jeans, denim and other garments to more than 20 global brands including companies such as Target, Ann Taylor, Mango and Wrangler, and its sister company supplies Walmart and H&M. Some of the multinational companies listed on the website said they were not in fact customers, and many issued statements that strongly condemned dangerous work sites. Nandan Denim is one of the largest denim suppliers in the world. The fire broke out Saturday in its two-storey factory on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Rajesh Bhatt, a senior fire official at the scene, said the factory had just one door that could only be reached by climbing a steep ladder. The workers, Bhatt said, were resting after long shifts when the fire started. “There were hardly any means of escape from the blaze,” he said. Police investigators said the factory had violated multiple regulations and the owner, a manager and a fire safety officer have been arrested. Local safety and health authorities asked the company to close the factory until further notice. Its licences have been suspended, and Nandan Denim has agreed to pay the families of those killed a reported $14,000 (£10,735) each.
AP News. Washington Post. New York Times. InStyle. Nandan Denim.

Switzerland: Nespresso workers won’t swallow more stress

Swiss union Unia has warned multinational Nestlé it will not tolerate changes that have left employees in the country’s Nespresso factories facing unbearable stress and fatigue. Members of the union demonstrated outside the company’s Lausanne base on 11 February to “denounce intolerable working conditions at the company's three Nespresso production sites in Switzerland.” Despite union opposition, Nespresso has established a '4x8' production regime which has meant reduced staffing on extended clusters of long shifts. Once a month, workers are required to work up to 58 hours a week, plus two weekends at 12-hour shifts, with no more than two continuous days off. The union reports a ‘huge majority’ of workers report stress, fatigue and severe disruption to their lives outside work. It says Nestlé has rejected Unia's demand for a more humane reorganisation of the staffing and production schedules and management recognition of union delegates at the sites. Unia has collective agreements at other Nestlé manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, but the union says Nespresso refuses recognition and negotiation and has created a non-union committee where it claims the problems are being addressed. Unia says it will not tolerate unacceptable working conditions at one of Nestlé’s flagship brands.
IUF news release.


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