|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.|
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has suspended planned staff secondments to Brunei after the UK union Prospect raised concerns about the ethical and safety implications following the kingdom’s decision to punish gay sex by stoning to death. The UK workplace safety regulator was seeking a team of three people to go to Brunei to help the country’s equivalent agency with regulatory work, but has now said all links with the country would be “paused” pending a review. Brunei’s planned laws, which have been roundly criticised by organisations including UK and global unions, are part of a wider move to a sharia penal code by the absolute ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. HSE was seeking a three-strong team of regulatory inspectors to undertake a short-term project to help the Safety, Health and Environment National Authority (SHENA) in Brunei. Prospect, the UK union representing HSE scientists, engineers and inspectors, said it welcomed the decision to pause the deployments. “We have very grave concerns about civil service staff being asked to work in a country with such a terrible record on equality and respect for the rights of others. It shouldn’t have taken outrage from staff and concerns from ourselves for this change to happen,” said Garry Graham, the union’s deputy general secretary. “Assisting Brunei and other regimes in improving health and safety enforcement may be a laudable objective but it cannot be seen in isolation from the broader legal rights and responsibilities of the state to protect its citizens, whatever their sexuality.” He added: “Our first priority remains the safety of our members and speaking up for their right to work without fear of discrimination.” An HSE spokesperson told the Guardian: “HSE is an inclusive organisation and strongly supports LGBT+ rights. Any commercial discussions will now be paused while we review the situation.”
The TUC has criticised the government’s trade union watchdog for blocking a union’s ‘sensible action’ to stand up for women members by stopping sexual harassment. The union body was commenting after the watchdog, the Certification Officer, forced the Musicians’ Union to restore the membership of a someone expelled from the union after a succession of sexual harassment complaints against him were made via the union’s ‘safe space’ online reporting system. The union was also ordered to include the reinstated member on a list of recommended suppliers. The Certification Officer’s decision was based on a union rule that normally required the investigation of complaints made within 28 days of the offence. The Musicians’ Union said it followed basic common sense by allowing complaints through the ‘safe space’ to be made and investigated beyond 28 days. And the Certification Officer agreed it was common sense – saying as much in her judgment. However, she went on to draw the conclusion that common sense should not apply. Instead she preferred an interpretation of the 28-day rule that precludes investigation of any complaint made more than 28 days later. According to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady: “There can be no excuse for this decision. It typifies the worst stereotypes of faceless bureaucracy. It is deeply upsetting for the women who were brave enough to come forward with their experiences of harassment. And it is deeply upsetting for Musicians’ Union reps who work so hard to support their members and keep them safe at work.” She added: “Why on earth would a government trade union watchdog block a union’s sensible action to stand up for women members and stop sexual harassment? We stand with #MeToo. It’s about time government did too.”
Ÿ TUC blog.
Prison officers’ union POA has said the return of a crisis-hit Birmingham prison to the public sector is a ‘major success’ for the union. HMP Birmingham is being brought back into government control permanently after G4S saw its contract terminated. The prison had plunged into crisis under private management, with HM Prison and Probation Service taking over in August 2018 (Risks 863). Prisons minister Rory Stewart confirmed G4S will pay the government a £9.9 million settlement to cover the additional cost to the Ministry of Justice of its ‘step-in action’. HMP Birmingham was privatised in 2011, with a 15-year contract being awarded to G4S. Welcoming the move to take it back into the public sector, POA national chair Mark Fairhurst said the announcement “heralds a success for the POA and its membership. We have campaigned tirelessly since it was wrongly privatised in 2011 to have it returned to the state.” He added: “We now urge the government to listen to the POA and abandon its mixed market dogma by ensuring all new builds remain in the public sector which ensures safety, order, control, rehabilitation and accountability. We look forward to welcoming our members at HMP Birmingham back into the public sector.” Prison officers staged a walk-out in late summer 2018 in protest at the conditions inside HMP Birmingham. A chief inspector's report found many staff were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties. There were 1,147 assaults, including fights, recorded at Birmingham in 2017. This was the highest figure for any prison in England and Wales that year, or on record under modern reporting standards. It represented a five-fold increase since 2012, the first full year it was run by G4S.
UNISON has hit out at a government proposal that could see education and NHS staff required to prevent and tackle serious violence. The public service union it says the move could place an additional burden on already ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘overworked’ staff. The proposal is included in a consultation launched this month by home secretary Sajid Javid. But UNISON is concerned by a suggestion there should be a “legal duty” on teachers, NHS staff and other workers in England and Wales to play a part in early interventions, and suggesting they might be held to account if they don’t act. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Health service staff are always committed to serve the best interests of patients and the community, but they are already overwhelmed by the pressures of an underfunded NHS. They should not face further burdens and obligations because the government is deflecting attention away from its failure to fund policing adequately.” Jon Richards, the union’s head of education, added: “School support staff work with pupils day in and day out. The new proposals could put staff at risk if the bond of trust is broken and young people think staff are spying on them. Lumping another duty on staff when their workload is already at breaking point is unrealistic.” UNISON has launched its own survey of all members in further education colleges in the UK, on the subject of offensive weapons in colleges. The survey asks for members’ experiences and thoughts about how the issues could be tackled.
Excessive workloads are taking their toll on the wellbeing of academic staff at Nottingham Trent University, with 94 per cent of academic staff reporting that their workload has a negative impact on their mental health. A report from the local UCU union branch also revealed that workloads are making staff ill and encroaching on life outside of work. Half of staff (51 per cent) said they found their workload unmanageable most of the time. Threequarters (75 per cent) said sickness absences had gone up in their team in recent years. UCU said the findings tally with the university's own recent staff survey where only 9 per cent of respondents said that they never felt stressed at work. The union is calling on the university to make tackling long hours a priority as it found that threequarters (74 per cent) of staff said they did at least six extra hours a week and three in 10 (29 per cent) did more than 11 hours of unpaid overtime. UCU warned that the long hours culture and increased workloads in universities have been under the spotlight recently following the suicide of Cardiff University academic Dr Malcolm Anderson. The 48-year-old killed himself at the university last year and referred to work pressures and long hours in a note he left (Risks 887). Nottingham Trent University UCU secretary Mark Weinstein said: “This damning survey lifts the lid on intolerable workloads at Nottingham Trent University and the damage it is doing to people's health. Staff complain that working weekends and evenings is now the norm with huge strain being put on their personal lives.” He added: “The extra work is leaving them exhausted and forcing people off sick. None of this is good for the staff, but it is also extremely damaging for students as their learning conditions are our working conditions.”
Rail union TSSA is seeking a meeting with Eurostar to discuss rail safety measures in the wake of Brexit unrest. The union says escalating Brexit tensions have seen the rail land bridge into Europe become a target of protests. TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, is calling for extra vigilance after a man was charged over a rooftop protest at St Pancras station in central London, which led to the cancellation of Eurostar services on 29 March, the day the UK was originally supposed to leave the EU. The union said British Transport Police is also investigating how circuit-tripping devices became attached to rail tracks in Yaxley, Cambridgeshire and Netherfield, Nottingham last month. According to TSSA, “the devices were aimed at fooling signal workers that a train was stationary on the track when there wasn’t one, causing havoc to the network and triggering delays.” Manuel Cortes said “we are very concerned at reports pro-Brexit supporters have accessed our rail infrastructure with the aim of causing delays and chaos. All station staff, especially at Eurostar and British Transport Police need to be extra vigilant and bring to justice those responsible for these acts, which are frankly an act of sabotage that could easily escalate to act of terrorism should the rail network become damaged or staff or passengers harmed.” The union leader added: “Getting onto our rail tracks is both extremely dangerous and an offence. I appeal to those involved in these acts to desist from doing this before someone suffers a serious injury or a fatality. There are many other legitimate ways to protest over Brexit or any other issue.”
Over 1,000 key London Underground maintenance and engineering staff have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. The backing for strike action or action short of a strike comes in a dispute over the ‘hacking back’ of train preparation and inspection schedules, a proposed move which the union warns would have a devastating impact on both service reliability and public safety. The staff work at Tube fleet maintenance depots across Greater London. RMT says the proposals will ‘decimate’ inspection frequencies. The union has demanded that no changes to fleet preparation schedules take effect without agreement between London Underground and RMT and that “all current activity in relation to the matter is halted until full consultation and negotiation has taken place, including full examination of all safety aspects in relation to this matter.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The result of this ballot shows just how angry Tube staff are at proposals London Underground are attempting to bulldoze through that would decimate the inspection and safety culture on the fleet. They should pull back immediately rather than crash on regardless of the consequences of their actions. The overwhelming ballot result will now be considered by the union’s executive. We remain available for genuine and serious talks.”
A union representing security staff has hit out at a ‘big brother’ company for forcing workers to download spying software to their personal mobile phones. GMB says Churchill Security has written to employees saying they are ‘expected’ to use the application which will ‘track locations’ and ‘update you of shift changes’. The letter adds ‘it is the employee’s responsibility to ensure they have a working mobile phone at all times…disciplinary action may be taken due to an employee failing to comply with mobile phone policies’. GMB national officer Roger Jenkins commented: “This is appalling behaviour from a company trying to play big brother to hard working security guards. Our members are performing a difficult, dangerous job with enormous responsibility.” He added: “What they don’t need is employers making their job even harder, expecting them to download spy software onto their personal phones and tracking their every move. GMB calls on Churchill to do the decent thing and stop trying to force this totalitarian technology on security staff.” A report in the Guardian newspaper last week noted dozens of UK business owners are using artificial intelligence to scrutinise staff behaviour minute-to-minute by harvesting data on who emails whom and when, who accesses and edits files and who meets whom and when. It said the actions of 130,000 people in the UK and abroad are being monitored in real-time by the Isaak system, which ranks staff members’ attributes. The system, developed by London firm Status Today, shows bosses how collaborative workers are and whether they are “influencers” or “change-makers”. The computer can also compare activity data with qualitative assessments of workers from personnel files or sales performance figures to give managers a detailed picture of how behaviour affects output. A TUC survey last year found that the majority of workers were opposed to electronic surveillance. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “this kind of high-tech snooping creates fear and distrust. And by undermining morale, it could do businesses more harm than good. Employers should only introduce surveillance technologies after negotiation and agreement with the workforce, including union representatives.”
Two West Midlands councils have become the latest to sign up to Unite’s construction charter. In doing so, Sandwell council and Birmingham city council have pledged to ensure conditions for workers on construction projects under the councils’ control meet the highest standards. Construction firms planning to work on council building projects will now need to adhere to the new construction charter. The charter commits councils to working with Unite in order to achieve the highest standards in respect of direct employment status, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of appropriate nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. Annmarie Kilcline, Unite regional secretary for the West Midlands, said: “Birmingham and Sandwell councils are doing the right thing by signing up to Unite’s construction charter. The right to speak out on issues and be paid a fair rate for the job is vital. The charter means there will be no blacklisting of workers. It also protects workers from bogus self-employment by ensuring construction workers are directly employed.” She added: “The charter also helps local workers to operate in a safe environment including giving them the rights to raise health and safety issues without fear.” In the West Midlands, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Dudley councils have also signed Unite’s construction charter.
A suspected carcinogen found in spray paints, sun creams and varnishes many not now be required to carry a cautionary health label in the European Union, after lobbying led by the industry and the UK government. In what campaigners say is an unprecedented and potentially illegal step, the European Commission has dropped a recommendation from its chemicals advisers for mandatory health warnings on all inhalable liquid forms of titanium dioxide (TiO2). The regulation was drafted under what EU officials describe as “very heavy” pressure from industry, supported by the UK and the Trump White House. Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, said: “The commission is being weak on the chemical industry and watering down the meaning of REACH [chemicals] legislation, in a pattern that is becoming increasingly concerning. If the risk assessor has given clear warnings, the Commission cannot ignore them. As a parliament, we will absolutely push to make sure this does not happen.” The European chemicals agency ECHA, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US agencies had all declared titanium dioxide a suspected carcinogen. But the move to include a specific warning sparked a £12m industry-led pressure campaign, and intense lobbying led by the UK, focused on the “socioeconomic consequences” of health regulation. The line echoed that taken by the industry body TDMA. One EU source, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “I am ashamed to say I don’t know why we are derogating them. We should not be having a problem with this. I think it is because we received a lot of pressure from industry, particularly on paints. It has been the worst I have seen.” The source added: “Without proper labelling, people may not wear masks when they are using spray paints, and they would be exposed.”
Sellafield Ltd has been fined for a criminal safety offence after an injury saw a worker exposed to eight times the annual limit of plutonium. The breaches occurred at the Cumbrian nuclear processing plant in February 2017. Carlisle Crown Court heard worker Jonathan Greggain had to have a section of skin removed from his hand and spent six months off work. The court was told an investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) found Mr Greggain was contaminated after a corroded probe he was cleaning punctured his hand through a protective glove. An area of Mr Greggain's skin, about the size of a 5p piece, was affected and had to be removed. Further tests showed he had sustained an internal dose of ionising radiation, a recognised occupational cancer risk. Nigel Lawrence QC told the court plutonium entering the bloodstream via a wound was “by far the most dangerous pathway to individuals” with deposits remaining in body tissues for the lifetime of the person affected. In his victim statement, Mr Greggain said he had been diagnosed with depression and the legal proceedings had made him “depressed, frustrated, angry and disappointed.” Judge James Adkin said Sellafield had not taken “all reasonably practicable steps” to ensure the safety of its employees. Speaking after the hearing, ONR superintending inspector Paul Smith, said: “This was a case where Sellafield Limited failed to properly assess the risk to workers arising from sharp objects when working in a glovebox. The accident could have been avoided had the corroded probe been routinely replaced – a change that was put in place by the company immediately after the event.” A spokesperson for Sellafield said: “We apologise for the adverse effects this has had on the welfare of our employee. This is a matter we take extremely seriously as reflected by our guilty plea. This was an isolated incident that did not cause wider risk to workers beyond this task, nor any broader safety concerns.” The company was fined £380,000 and told to pay costs of £96,573.
Nearly two-fifths of UK businesses (37 per cent) have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, with heavy workloads and poor management to blame, according to a new report. Personnel professionals’ organisation CIPD and Simplyhealth surveyed 1,078 human resources professionals and found heavy workloads were the top cause of stress-related absence, reported by 62 per cent of respondents. The second biggest contributing factor was ‘management style’, up from 32 per cent to 43 per cent in the last year. CIPD said the ‘worrying increase’ in management style as a key cause of workplace stress highlights the need for businesses to invest properly in management training, as well as wider wellbeing initiatives. More than four-fifths (83 per cent) of respondents said they had observed ‘presenteeism’ (going to work when ill) in their organisation and a quarter (25 per cent) said the problem has got worse since the previous year. Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) has observed 'leaveism', such as using holiday leave to keep up with work, in their organisation. CIPD said these ‘disturbing’ results undermine the fact that the survey records the lowest number of average sick days (5.9 per employee per year) in the 19-year history of the report. Only 50 per cent of managers had undergone training to support their staff to better manage stress, the survey found. Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be helping to alleviate stress among their staff, not contributing to it. But too many managers are being set up to fail because they haven’t received adequate training, despite them often being the first person employees will turn to when they have a problem.”
The High Court has ruled in favour of a group of Lithuanian men who were put to work in terrible conditions by a British company, catching chickens at farms all over the country. The chickens were supplied to leading brands for slaughter and subsequent sale in UK supermarkets. The court ruled that the workers who brought the case were subject to a gruelling and exploitative work regime by their employer, DJ Houghton Catching Services, and by its sole director, Darrell Houghton, and the company secretary, Jackie Judge. It found the workers were obliged to work shifts without respite, sleeping in the back of a mini bus between farms, and worked massively more hours than the entirely fictional number of hours recorded on their payslips. The court also found that wages were withheld as a form of punishment, that a Lithuanian “enforcer” was used to keep workers under control, and that workers who complained could be evicted into the street. Mary Westmacott, the solicitor from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the claimants, said: “This judgment is a salutary warning to company officers that they may be made personally liable for exploitation of their workers. I’m delighted that the individuals responsible for my clients’ appalling exploitation have finally been held to account in court. This case highlights how victims of modern slavery are hidden in plain sight in the UK. Everyone can help prevent this abuse by being vigilant and reporting it.” The affected men have outstanding civil claims against the company and Houghton and the Judge for alleged injuries suffered during the course of their work, and harassment claims in relation to the gruelling regime, threats of eviction and violence to which they were subjected. In an earlier High Court case, the company agreed to pay six Lithuanian workers £1m in compensation for loss of wages and poor working conditions (Risks 782).
In a high profile new campaign, the global trade union confederation ITUC is calling for killer chemicals to be shown the door. Sharan Burrow, the union body’s general secretary, says the chemical industry is set to grow four-fold by 2060 and warns hazardous exposures at work already claiming a million lives each year. Writing in Hazards magazine, she warns the global industry “can get away with this because it resorts to illegal or unethical practices to bury the evidence of health risks linked to its products.” The workplace chemical exposures crisis is behind ITUC’s decision to renew its campaign to protect workers. On International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2019 the union body has adopted the theme of ‘Taking control - removing dangerous substances from the workplace’, including an emphasis on a ‘Zero Cancer’ approach. ITUC is urging reps to seek to eliminate or minimise exposure to carcinogens in the workplace and says a first of its kind ITUC at-a-glance guide to work cancers and their causes will ensure unions can identify and challenge preventable and potentially deadly exposures. According to Burrow: “In human terms, the cost of hazardous workplace exposures is one worker death every 30 seconds.” She said prevention isn’t happening “because corporate chemistry has captured regulators, bribed obliging scientists and attacked its detractors. It is a fatal endeavour that must be stopped.”
Ÿ All out! Global union confederation ITUC wants to show killer chemicals the door, Hazards magazine, number 145, April 2019. Also in French and Spanish. ITUC/Hazards 28 April dedicated events and resources website.ITUC 28 April webpages in English, French and Spanish. 28 April ITUC ‘Chemical reaction’ poster in English, French and Spanish.
A man working on a project for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) took his own life in 2016 because he was overworked, Japanese authorities have ruled. Yukinobu Sato, aged 31 at the time, was working as a contractor on a satellite project for Jaxa and was under extreme stress, a compensation review by the Ibaraki Labour Bureau’s Tsuchiura Labour Standards Inspection Office concluded. According to his family's lawyer, Hiroshi Kawahito, who held a news conference at the labour ministry in Tokyo on 3 April, the labour authorities recognised that the young man was assigned “an unachievable quota” at work. Sato also had difficulties with his boss, and his workload was increased just before his death. Determining his death was work-related, the labour office cited the heavy physical and psychological stress Sato was put under, which led to an adjustment disorder, ultimately causing him to end his life. Kawahito pointed out that Sato worked a highly demanding shift for the control operation, requiring intense concentration. He worked 16-hour overnight shifts seven times a month. After he started to take on heavier responsibilities at work in September 2016, his overtime hours reached 70 or more per month. When Sato tried to claim the overtime, his boss gave him a warning, forcing him to work the extra hours without pay. The boss repeatedly ordered Sato to redo his work without giving concrete explanations. On the day Sato died, he was reprimanded by the boss for about 30 minutes. Mr Sato's employer, Software Consultant, said it would take measures to prevent future incidents, while Jaxa said it would assess the situation to see if it could improve any of its own policies. Japan has introduced a law to try to end the culture of long working hours. The legislation, which came into force this month, limits overtime work to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year in principle. Companies that violate the rules could face fines of up to 300,000 yen (£2,046). There were an estimated 200 deaths linked to overwork in Japan in 2017.
A new report has revealed wide-scale abuse of labour standards in the construction of the Istanbul New Airport, resulting in the death of at least 52 people. An investigation by the global union confederation ITUC found the Turkish government has ignored multiple warning signs, allowing the lead consortium in the construction project to systematically undermine labour standards. “The impunity with which construction moguls have been allowed to operate is shocking. It is in stark contrast to the heavy-handed treatment of workers,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. In September 2018, as many as 10,000 workers held a peaceful demonstration to protest the construction site’s unsafe working conditions. However, instead of engaging the workers and their representatives on how to improve conditions, management called in private security forces. These were joined by the gendarmerie to break up the peaceful protest and carry out mass arrests of workers, some of whom continue to face criminal charges. Workers and their unions have repeatedly highlighted unhealthy dormitories, unsafe working conditions, wage theft and non-payment of social security. The ITUC report found that Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA), the principal contractor for the construction of the airport, had acted in serious breach of international labour standards and international human rights law. “The government’s refusal to respect its obligations as a member of the International Labour Organisation has cost many lives, destroying the hopes and aspirations of dozens of families of the victims and of those who have simply demanded their right to safe and decent jobs. The Istanbul New Airport has become a shrine to corporate greed and to the capture of governments by powerful commercial interests,” said Burrow. The ITUC is calling on the contractors involved to reinstate all the dismissed workers. It adds that IGA must immediately engage in dialogue with the representatives of workers to conduct an independent audit to ensure safety, hygienic living conditions and that wages and entitlements are fully paid.
Female factory workers producing clothing and shoes in Vietnam – many probably for major US and European brands – face systemic sexual harassment and violence at work. Approaching half (43.1 per cent) of 763 women interviewed in factories in three Vietnamese provinces said they had suffered at least one form of violence and/or harassment in the previous year, according to a study by the Fair Wear Foundation and Care International. The abuse – which ranged from groping and slapping to rape and threats of contract termination – sheds a light on working conditions endured by women in some Vietnamese factories with as many as 20,000 employees, said Dr Jane Pillinger, a gender-based violence expert and author of the study. The research is the first to correlate violence and sexual harassment in garment factories with workplace factors endemic to the “fast fashion” industry. These include excessive overtime, low pay, long working hours and unrealistic production targets, imposed by often well-known brands, said Annabel Meurs, Vietnam country manager for the Fair Wear Foundation, a non-profit organisation financed by its 130 garment company members. “We were shocked by the detrimental effect it had,” said Meurs. “Violence and harassment affect productivity, competitiveness and company reputation, as well as women’s integrity, health and wellbeing. It sounds simple, but most garment brands are not aware that they have so much influence on factory floor conditions.” Although the names of the factories and the brands they supply were kept secret to encourage participation in the study, there is a “strong likelihood” that they include European and US brands, said Pillinger.
Ÿ The Observer.
There will be no Risks next week because of the Easter break but we will be back on the 27th. Thanks.
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors