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



HS2 accident spate ‘a result of union busting’

Unite has blamed a spate of serious accidents on the HS2 tunnelling and track laying project on a refusal to allow the union to speak to workers and a resulting absence of safety reps. The accidents have occurred on the section of the project in London being built by the joint venture company Costain/Skanska/Strabag. Unlike other sections of the project, the joint venture company has refused to allow Unite to speak freely to workers during their breaks in its welfare facilities. Unite said the latest accident occurred this week when a worker suffered arm injuries after clay fell from height. The incident resulted in a safety shutdown on the project. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Workers operating on the Costain/Skanska/Strabag joint venture, will be rightly worried and concerned for their safety. The fact no worker has been killed is simply a matter of luck. This project is crying out for union safety reps who play a unique role in protecting workers and preventing accidents.” He added: “The fact that the site does not have safety reps is a direct result of the union busting tactics of Costain/Skanska/Strabag. If HS2 and the joint venture company are serious about improving safety they need to immediately end union busting and allow Unite to organise workers and elect safety reps.” Unite said fully trained union safety reps pay a crucial role in improving safety. Critically, workers concerned about safety know that they can speak to them about their concerns without fear of reprisal, the union said.
Unite news release.

Unite vows to tackle NG Bailey union busting

Unite has vowed to stamp out attempts by major construction contractor NG Bailey to ‘union bust’ on the Mensa project at the Aldermaston Weapons establishment in Berkshire. The union says problems began on the project late on Friday 17 September, when five workers, including four members of Unite - one a health and safety representative - were informed that they had to leave the site immediately. No reason was given for their removal. The company’s action resulted in a walkout on 20 September in support of the targeted workers. Following the intervention of Unite, the five affected workers were transferred to other projects. NG Bailey, however, has refused to provide the reasons for the removal of the workers and has blamed the principal contractor Costain and the client AWE for that decision, Unite said. A union list of demands includes “an apology from the project team to the five affected workers, a proper investigation and re-instatement onto the project.” Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said: “Unite is committed to stamping out this clear attempt at union busting on the AWE project. Enormous credit must be given to the workforce for standing up for their fellow workers, which has forced the employer to ensure that the affected workers were given alternative employment.” He added: “It is simply unjust that workers have been removed from the project without warning or a reason given, this must not be allowed to ever re-occur. If NG Bailey do not agree to Unite’s demands then there is set to be further discontent on the project and a collapse in morale, which will affect productivity.”
Unite news release.

FBU wins landmark Covid discrimination ruling

Firefighters’ union FBU has won a ‘landmark’ discrimination case against a fire and rescue service. The union argued successfully that forcing staff with disabilities to use annual leave or time off in lieu (TOIL) when shielding because of Covid amounted to discrimination. The case is thought to be the first where an employer has discriminated as a result of employees following government Covid health guidance. The union is considering appealing a parallel case on sex discrimination, where it was ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove the argument. The union said that despite the successful discrimination ruling from the Employment Tribunal, there has been no sanction on the employer – the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – and no instruction that they should reinstate the annual leave. Denise Christie, the FBU’s regional secretary in Scotland, said the case was “another example of a trade union fighting and winning for its members.” But she added “we cannot ignore the fact that despite this judgment the tribunal has seen fit to impose no sanction at all on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Nor has the Tribunal seen fit to order the fire and rescue service to reinstate the annual leave wrongly removed from our members. This is clearly unjust and we will challenge it with every legal tool at our disposal.”
FBU news release.

More strikes loom over Serco bullying

GMB has warned a 24-hour stoppage by refuse workers in Sandwell is set to take place on 6 October over unresolved safety, bullying and pay issues. Following an initial strike at the end of August, the union suspended a further three strike dates scheduled for September after bins contractor Serco requested fresh talks. However, the union says Serco management have walked away from agreed dispute resolution meetings and are now refusing to engage with the union’s workplace representatives. GMB organiser Justine Jones said: “Serco have shown they are not serious about ending the dispute and resolving outstanding issues on safety, well-being and wages of our key workers in Sandwell Council. To walk away from a process they agreed to is an act of tremendous bad faith, and it sends an awful message to workers about how poorly valued they are by Serco.” She added: “Again, we have asked Sandwell Council to intervene and deal with the behaviour of their statutory service operator, this is happening on their watch, and the public should know this. Our members are angry and tired, they have suffered this for years, and it’s made worse by the fact they are the lowest paid refuse service in the region. But after everything these workers have done for all of us over the last eighteen months, they aren’t going to be strung along by Serco’s bullying bosses in their fight to make work better.”
GMB news release.

Scottish ‘fair work’ includes right to disconnect

A decision by the Scottish government’s Fair Work Convention to back the ‘Right to disconnect’ in a major boost for Prospect’s campaign on the issue, the union said. A 23 September blog from the co-chairs of the Convention argues: “Boundaries between work and home life have become increasingly blurred for many, making it difficult for people to switch off.” As a result they say they “encourage employers to work with unions and their workforce to develop protections against ‘always on’ working, delivering solutions through the fair work principles of effective voice and respect.” Prospect says this is one of the first explicit endorsements of the idea of the right to disconnect from a government body in the UK, adding it follows a positive meeting between Prospect and Scotland’s cabinet secretary for finance, Kate Forbes, raising hopes that the Scottish government may be willing to take a lead on this issue within the UK. Prospect’s national secretary for Scotland Richard Hardy said: “Prospect have been leading the campaign for a new Right to Disconnect across the UK and we welcome this important intervention from the chairs of the Fair Work Convention.” He added: “There is a fantastic opportunity for Scotland to join the Republic of Ireland, France, and other countries that have taken action on the Right to Disconnect, and set the pace on workers’ rights in the UK. We urge the Scottish government to seize this moment to act, working with unions to introduce a Right to Disconnect in the public sector and sending a clear signal to the private sector that this is an issue that they should be actively working on.”
 The Fair Work Convention blog. Prospect news release.

Temp visas only prop up a broken system

UK government plans to relax immigration rules for lorry drivers and poultry processors are ‘propping up a broken and exploitative system’, Unite has warned. The union said depriving other countries of their workers will allow the low pay and unpleasant and stressful working conditions that are the root cause of the driver and chicken factory shortages to continue. Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, said: “By plundering workers from other nations, the government is propping up a broken and exploitative system. Kicking these issues into the long grass instead of taking decisive steps now will only create worse disruption down the line.” Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, said: “The poverty pay and insecure contracts on offer in poultry processing do not compensate for the physically draining and unpleasant work. That needs to change. What must not happen is the reestablishment of an employment system that relies on exploited migrant labour and pits workers against each other.” To protect workers and prevent a race to the bottom on working standards, Unite called on the government to ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent foreign staff from being exploited in both industries.
Unite news release. Government news releases on temporary poultry worker and HGV driver visas.

Respect petrol crisis forecourt staff says Usdaw

Retail trade union leader Paddy Lillis has urged the public to respect staff in petrol stations that have been besieged by frustrated and sometime angry motorists. The Usdaw general secretary added that the government “must take responsibility” for the crisis that has seen long queues for the pumps and petrol station closures. Lillis said: “It is deeply disturbing to see panic buying back and it reminds us of the dark days of the first lockdown. During that period retail staff suffered a doubling of abuse from customers and we do not want to see that repeated. Abuse should never be just a part of the job and there is no excuse for customers to take their frustrations out on staff.” He added: “The empty shelves and empty petrol pumps that we’ve seen this week are entirely the fault of the government and their complete failure to get a grip on supply issues. Yet who takes the brunt of people’s frustrations? It’s not Boris Johnson. It’s over-stretched, underpaid, exhausted workers who are doing their best in extremely difficult circumstances. The government must take responsibility for this crisis.”
 Usdaw news release. BBC News Online.

RMT action warning on ‘dangerous’ driverless trains

Tube union RMT has warned of a campaign of action as it emerged that the government has placed adverts for a consultancy contract to explore the introduction of driverless trains on London Underground. General secretary Mick Lynch described the idea as “dangerous nonsense.” He said: “The news that the government is pressing ahead with wasting money on a consultancy project on driverless trains on London Underground when there are massive challenges facing the transport network shows their twisted set of priorities.” The RMT leader added: “This is all part of the government driven cuts assault on transport in London and RMT is pledged to fight it with every tool at our disposal including the use of industrial action. Driverless trains are a Tory fantasy that should be consigned to the science fiction shelf. They are dangerous nonsense and just another dead cat lobbed on the table to distract from what’s going on in the real world.” In 2012 the union warned that London Underground would have to “rip up the safety rule book” in order to test driverless trains (Risks 575).
RMT news release.

Concerns over ‘unreliable’ SMART motorways tech

A combination of staff under ‘intolerable strain’ and ‘unreliable’ SMART motorways technology will lead to avoidable accidents, civil service union Prospect has warned. The union was commenting after a Daily Mail reporter who spent six weeks under cover at a control room said they “discovered alarming problems with the deadly roads where the hard shoulder is converted to a live lane. More than one in ten safety cameras were either broken, misted up or facing the wrong way.” The paper said that technology in National Highways Control rooms, the centres which monitor SMART motorways and other roads so that they can maintain safety, is unreliable and regularly cuts out. Prospect said members working in the centres have confirmed that issues exist and may compromise safety, as well as putting extra pressure on staff. General secretary Mike Clancy said: “The problems uncovered in National Highways control rooms are hugely worrying. Prospect has been warning National Highways about the potential impact of unreliable technology for some time but nothing has been done about it.” He added: “Prospect members are having intolerable strain put on them resulting in high levels of resignations which puts even more pressure on those who remain. These are underpaid, safety critical roles that rely on the technology. If the technology doesn’t work then accidents which could have been avoided will occur. As a matter of urgency the government should halt the roll out of new SMART motorways until the technology is fixed. It must also properly fund both control room staff and traffic officers to improve recruitment and retention. Motorists’ lives may depend on it.”
Prospect news release. Daily Mail.

Labour backs firefighters on building safety

The Labour Party has backed action to address the post-Grenfell tragedy building safety crisis, calling for “sustained investment” in public services that could help resolve the crisis and prevent it continuing in new buildings. The FBU motion passed at the party’s conference calls for “more sustained investment in local authority building control, in fire service fire safety teams, fire inspectors and in other public agencies required to ensure building safety”, and opposes “privatisation, deregulation and contracting out” of these services. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “People up and down the country are stuck in homes, schools and offices which are death traps. To say that is unacceptable is a huge understatement, and we are glad that the Labour Party has come together and backed action that will help resolve this situation.” He added: “More than four years after the fire, the courage and strength of the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell as they fight for justice and safer buildings is clear to all of us. We at the FBU stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their fight.”
FBU news release.

Action call on mental health at work

The mental health problems afflicting many low-paid key workers have been highlighted by retail union Usdaw. A motion from the union to the annual Labour conference in Brighton called on a future Labour government to improve equality law and its enforcement, focussing on reasonable adjustments. The motion, which was passed by the Labour Party’s conference, also called for “a statutory mental health at work plan, including core standards on training, awareness raising and decent work.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis told the conference: “One in four people experience a mental health problem each year. Mental health problems can affect anyone, but where we work and the jobs we do have a huge impact on our wellbeing.” He added: “Poor work is not just contributing to stress, anxiety and depression – it’s actually causing it. Growing numbers of workers are struggling under the financial stress caused by poverty pay, a lack of control over working hours and income, unrealistic performance targets and the fear of being penalised if they raise concerns.” He concluded: “A Labour government must call employers to account for poor working practices and a Labour government must guarantee stronger collective bargaining rights for unions to negotiate for better pay, and equality at work.”
Usdaw news release. Labourlist.

Fitter compensated for biomass-related asthma

A worker whose career at Drax power station was cut short by an industrial disease, has secured ‘significant’ damages in a Unite backed claim. Neil Lindridge, from Selby, began working for Drax Power Station in 1984 at the age of 20. He started as an electrician’s mate and worked his way up to become a mechanical fitter. After 35 years at Drax he described himself as a “lifer” and considered himself “well thought of” by his bosses. All that changed when Mr Lindridge, 57, became unwell after being exposed to the burning of biomass at the plant for several years. He said: “In 2013, I started having difficulties breathing and would wake up in the night in a panic. I also had to have surgery to remove polyps from my nose, caused by chronic inflammation. That was all bearable but in 2015, I had my first full-blown asthma attack and I dread to think what would have happened if my daughter’s boyfriend wasn’t there with his own asthma inhaler.” He was sent for tests at Northern General Hospital where he was diagnosed with occupational asthma. He said he was treated badly by Drax after becoming sick, and was not allowed to leave a workshop except for toilet breaks. He was fired on health grounds three years after developing symptoms. Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by Unite to act in the compensation case, said it understands Drax is to be prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive later this year on related criminal charges. Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “The way that Mr Lindridge was treated with disdain by his employer, despite 35 years of dedicated service, shows why it is incredibly important that working people have the support of trade unions. We are proud that, as a member of Unite the union, Mr Lindridge gets to keep 100 per cent of his compensation.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release.


Engineering firm fined after work asthma 

Lantern Engineering Ltd has been prosecuted for a criminal health and safety offence after workers were exposed to metal working fluid (MWF), one developing occupational asthma as a result. The fluid, used to cool or lubricate metal, can cause irritation of the skin and dermatitis, occupational asthma, bronchitis and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard that a February 2016 visit to the Doncaster firm by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) resulted in enforcement action, requiring the company to provide health surveillance and to manage MWF. In September 2016 an employee was diagnosed with occupational asthma. Further enforcement action was taken in December 2016, with an improvement notice issued requiring the introduction of a system for managing MWF. HSE found machines had local exhaust ventilation fitted but seals were poor and the sumps to some machines were in visibly poor condition. Lantern Engineering Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £7,500 in costs.
HSE news release and metalworking hazards webpage.

Spiders shut second school on safety grounds

Around 1,500 pupils have had to be taught online after a school closed on safety grounds due to a suspected infestation of false widow spiders. The Duston School in Northampton informed parents on the closure on the evening of 28 September. It came of the heels of the 17 September temporary closure of another school in the town, the Malcolm Arnold Academy, for the same reason. The false widow spider, which is Britain’s most venomous, is said to have a bite on a par with a wasp’s sting. Duston's head Sam Strickland confirmed both the primary and secondary parts of the state school would close, while the extent of the outbreak was assessed and the school was cleaned. “I cannot apologise enough for the inconvenience that this may cause you, especially in terms of organising childcare arrangements,” he said. “However, the health and safety of the school community must come first and foremost. Work will be set for all of our pupils to complete at home via Microsoft Teams."
BBC News Online.

NHS Highland pays out millions to bullied staff

NHS Highland says it expects to pay £3.4m in settlements to current and former staff who have complained of bullying. A Scottish government-commissioned review suggested hundreds of health workers may have experienced inappropriate behaviour. So far 150 cases have been settled since the start of a “healing process”, costing the health board more than £2m. The cost was detailed in a report to a meeting of NHS Highland's board on 28 September. The independent review panel which assessed the 150 complaints said two cases involved settlements of between £60,000 and £95,000, while 61 involved payments of between £5,000 and £15,000. A group of Highlands GPs first complained of a culture of bullying at NHS Highland in September 2018. An independent review by lawyer John Sturrock QC the following year found there were potentially hundreds of people who had experienced bullying at the health board. The review was contacted by 340 people from most departments, services and occupations at NHS Highland. More than 280 took part in face-to-face meetings or made written submissions. Two-thirds (66 per cent) reported bullying experiences. The review also said that “many described a culture of fear and of protecting the organisation when issues are raised.” In a report to its board, officials said the final settlement total was expected to run to £3.4m.
BBC News Online.


Global: Make health and safety a fundamental right

New estimates suggesting the total work-related toll each year could be close to a ‘staggering’ 3 million deaths (Risks 1015) reinforce the need for occupational health and safety to be recognised as a fundamental right at work, IndustriALL has said. The global union said that in November this year the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Governing Body will decide on whether to include on the agenda of its 2022 International Labour Conference the elevation of occupational health and safety to an ILO fundamental right. IndustriALL and other global unions are insisting that this needs to be done by amending the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as this would be the easiest and fastest way to include occupational health and safety in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work. IndustriALL said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ILO partial work deaths estimate of nearly 2 million each year – which does not include work deaths related to psychosocial factors, infections and even classic occupational diseases like silicosis - creeps ‘closer to 3 million’ when gaps in the analysis are filled. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “All the killings of workers are preventable – enough is enough. This carnage must come to an end. We reiterate our strong demand to the ILO to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right, along with freedom of association, collective bargaining and others.”
IndustriALL news release. ITUC news release.
WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000-2016: Global Monitoring Report, WHO/ILO, September 2021.

USA: New rules plan for work heat dangers

The Biden administration is to introduce the USA’s first ever labour standard aimed at protecting workers from extreme heat, as part of a growing recognition of the dangers posed by warming temperatures caused by climate change. The federal safety regulator, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will draft its first rule governing heat exposure designed to protect those who work outdoors in agricultural, construction and delivery services as well as workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens. “Over the past few weeks, I have travelled across the country to see first hand the devastating human and economic toll of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change,” President Biden said in a statement. “Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air-conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities. My administration will not leave Americans to face this threat alone.” The administration said it would form an interagency Heat Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of the challenges and best ways to protect workers from heat injuries. OSHA will prioritise heat-related interventions and work inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees (27 degrees Celsius), the administration said. OSHA is already working to complete before next summer a programme that will target industries at higher risk of heat injuries, and to focus more resources on inspections.
Statement by President Biden and Factsheet: Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat , 20 September 2021. OSHA news release and heat illness prevention campaign. National COSH news release. New York Times.

USA: Air rage epidemic hitting flight attendants

At a congressional subcommittee hearing about the escalation of air rage in the United States, flight attendants painted a stark picture of how unfriendly the skies have become during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Frontline aviation workers have to deal with everything from vulgar language, including racial epithets, to punching, kicking, biting, shoving and spitting from passengers,” Rick Larsen, chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation, said in his opening remarks at the hearing. Unruly passenger behaviour is not a new phenomenon, but it has spiked over the past year. From 2015 to 2020, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) had initiated a total of 786 investigations into unruly passenger behaviour. “However, through the first nine months of 2021, FAA has initiated 789 investigations,” said Larsen. That’s only a fraction of the 4,385 unruly passenger complaints filed by airlines since the beginning of the calendar year, including 3,199 mask-related complaints. According to a recent survey by the flight attendants’ union AFA, over 85 per cent of members had dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of 2021. “These numbers are staggering and if they continue at this rate may result in more incidents in 2021 than the entire history of commercial aviation,” testified Sara Nelson, the union’s international president. “Seventeen per cent, or nearly one in five flight attendants, reported experiencing a physical incident,” she said, but only 60 per cent of those said law enforcement was requested to meet their flight. “By failing to follow the law and seek justice for the victims of assaults like these,” said Nelson, “a message is being clearly communicated that the safety of airport workers is not a priority.”
Forbes magazine. Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports, congressional sub-committee on aviation hearing.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
Price £22 RRP £52
Also now available as an eBook
This is the Sixth edition of the TUC's best-selling guide to health and safety at work.
Used by reps, officers, employers, professionals in the field and even enforcement officers. This incredibly popular book is now even more informative at over 400 pages, an invaluable resource, which incorporates common hazards and cause of ill health at work, and how to assess and prevent them.
The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
Order your copy
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