Dangerously muddled Health and Safety Executive (HSE) proposals to exempt most self-employed workers from safety law have been condemned by the TUC. In a consultation document published this week, the HSE for the first time revealed the short inclusive list of self-employed jobs that will remain subject to safety law. Announcing the proposals, HSE’s Sarah Wadham said “we want to provide clear health and safety guidance to all self-employed workers in an accessible way.” According to TUC head of safety, Hugh Robertson, what HSE has in fact cooked up is a “recipe for confusion.” He said he would “take my hat off” to anyone who could make sense of HSE’s prescribed list. For example, HSE does not list the carcinogen exposures would result in a worker self-employed work remaining under the coverage of the law, referring interested parties only to the COSHH chemicals regulations. But in the UK diesel exhaust, recognised as a cause of cancer, is not treated as a carcinogen by HSE. Elsewhere it is unclear what happens when bits of someone’s job quality for inclusion but other bits don’t. Would gardeners be covered, for example, if they occasionally trimmed trees (covered) or just bushes and flowers (not covered). And HSE says a baker would be covered “if a risk assessment… has shown to be a potential cause of occupational asthma”. According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson: “Does this mean that a self-employed baker who is working with flour (a potent cause of asthma) is exempt if they have not bothered to do a risk assessment? Is a self-employed cook exempt when cooking steak but not when using flour to bake bread?” He added: “The whole thing is a mess from beginning to end… unless we stop this Bill becoming law it will also mean more business for doctors - and undertakers.”
Ÿ CD273 – Consultation on proposals to exempt self-employed persons from section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, except those undertaking activities on a prescribed list. The consultation will run for eight weeks, closing on 31 August.
Unions have condemned a “cynical” industry-controlled compensation scheme for blacklisted construction workers launched last week ahead of this week’s continuation of a High Court compensation case. In October last year, eight major companies implicated in the blacklisting scandal - Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci plc - announced plans for the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS). But unions warned blacklisted workers not to blow their chance of fair recompense by agreeing to a payout from a scheme they say is far too restrictive, too mean – payouts could be as low as £4,000 - and not devised in consultation with unions and the Blacklist Support Group (Risks 657). Construction union UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “This is a deeply cynical attempt by the blacklisting companies to try to prevent workers, who have had their lives ruined, getting justice.” He said the scheme launch was an industry “gimmick” ahead of this week’s round of the High Court legal action. GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “These construction companies lied and spied and this is the paltry price they place on 15 years of blacklisting. Their cut-price compensation offer is not an act of contrition, it is a PR stunt. Legally-represented workers are likely to get a much better settlement through the courts.” GMB said the eight firms behind the TCWCS had a combined turnover of over £34 billion and pre-tax profits of £1.04bn. “They can afford properly to own up, clean up and pay up,” Justin Bowden said. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said that if the blacklisters truly wanted to compensate blacklisted workers, they should give them their jobs back. The latest round of the High Court case began on 10 July in London.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Asbestos disease campaigners, politicians and unions spoke out on 4 July to mark Action Mesothelioma Day, calling for urgent action to combat the deadly asbestos cancer. Deaths from mesothelioma, which is incurable and now kills in excess of 2,500 people a year, are still to peak in the UK, meaning tens of thousands more will die unless new treatments are found. Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group spokesperson Graham Dring said: “It is vital that the government commits research funding to give some hope to sufferers, most of whom contracted this disease simply by going to work.” UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “It is essential that today on Mesothelioma Day and in the future far more pressure is applied to politicians to ensure that training is improved for workers and that far greater funding is provided for treating and curing this terrible disease.” CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said: “Today we should pay tribute to the tragic victims of asbestos-related diseases and raise awareness about how widespread this problem is.” Former Liberal MP Lord Alton, now a crossbench peer who has raised the issue in the Lords, called for mesothelioma to be made a national research priority, backed by funds from an insurance industry levy. He said: “Just small sums from the insurance industry would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, saving tens of thousands of lives. There are an estimated 150 insurance firms: a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.” He said a levy was a practical solution as parliament had already agreed levies for other purposes on the gambling, road transport, fossil fuel and pig industries. “There is no reason in principle why an employers’ liability insurance levy should not be supported,” he said. Kate Green, the shadow minister for disabled people, said “a Labour government will make it our priority to secure the sustainable funding we need.”
Unions are asking their members to sign an e-petition calling on the government to provide funding for research into treatments and cures for asbestos-related diseases. Urging members to put their names to the online petition to the Department of Health, construction union UCATT said workers in the industry “are the group most at risk of being exposed to asbestos and developing mesothelioma, the incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs,” adding new figures show deaths from the condition have “increased by 11 per cent in a year and annual fatality rates are expected to rise further in the future.” Dave Joyce, CWU health and safety national officer, also called on union members to sign on, adding: “Mesothelioma and asbestosis mostly affects people who worked within roles that involved the use of asbestos. However, it has also been known to affect individuals who spent many years employed within an asbestos-contaminated environment. It's important for workers to ask if they are unsure or suspicious if something may be asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor.” The e-petition reads: “The United Kingdom has the dubious honour of being number 1 in the world for the level of deaths occurring annually from asbestos-related diseases. Around 2,500 people will die this year alone in the UK from mesothelioma. Unlike many other cancer diseases, mesothelioma and the other asbestos diseases, have received negligible amounts of public money for research purposes. This petition calls on the government to: Provide dedicated long-term funding for research into the causes, treatment, and potential cure of those diseases related to exposure from asbestos.”
Firefighters in England and Wales are set to strike on eight consecutive days this month, saying that the government’s “vicious” proposals on firefighters’ pensions are unacceptable, unworkable and unrealistic. The strikes, due to start on 14 July, are the union FBU’s response to government moves that they say would see firefighters paying more, working longer and receiving less. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The government must realise that firefighters cannot accept proposals that would have such devastating consequences for their futures, their families’ futures - and the future of the fire and rescue service itself.” FBU points out that a recent academic report on firefighter fitness by the University of Bath undermined the government’s proposals. The study found that higher fitness levels are required for firefighting than those suggested by the government in its defence of a shift from a pension age of 55 to 60. FBU says many firefighters would not meet the fitness requirements to continue working until 60, and would lose both their jobs and a large part of their pension as a result.
MPs from all political parties have backed Dog Awareness Week, attending last week’s special drop-in session in Westminster to mark the CWU and Royal Mail joint initiative. Royal Mail figures show there has been an eight per cent increase in the number of dog attacks on postal workers since last year. And a survey of MPs and Assembly Members, published by Royal Mail, revealed over half of the parliamentarians responding had been involved in an incident with a dog. Dave Joyce, CWU’s national health and safety officer, said: “Politicians are often the victims of dog attacks as well and the number of MPs who have come along to the event today is testament to that.” He added: “The law around dog attacks has now been strengthened and the dog owners should be aware that now they will face much harsher penalties if their pet attacks someone on their private property. It's extremely worrying that the number of attacks on postal workers has gone up in the last year and promoting responsible dog ownership is key to seeing a reduction.”
UNISON is calling on its members to campaign against government spending cuts it says are putting both stressed-out workers and communities at risk. The public sector union say October's stress-themed European Health and Safety Week will provide a vital opportunity to promote good health and safety practice. According to UNISON, job cuts are leaving those who remain faced with rising workloads, while cuts to pay and the fear of redundancy combine to hit morale and leave workers stressed. “That's a toxic cocktail that can make work unhealthy, while a workforce that is stressed and distracted by financial worries is also unlikely to provide the very best service”, it adds. The union points out that the theme of this year's European Health and Safety Week, which takes from 20-26 October, is “healthy workplaces manage stress.” It notes that “if an employer fails to properly assess for stress, and then implement measures to prevent and control it, workers are put at risk and a workplace can become unhealthy.” UNISON says the health and safety week provides an “ideal opportunity” for safety reps to raise stress at work with management and their members, and to “campaign for properly-funded, publicly-provided local services, thus challenging the cuts that harm health and safety and the services themselves.” It adds the union should “recruit and organise against the spending and pay cuts, and the attack on jobs and health and safety.”
Firefighters’ union FBU has said it is “disgusted” that the families of two dead firefighters will be forced to wait another three months for the resolution of a long-running compensation battle. The union was speaking out after the ongoing Court of Appeal hearing relating to the deaths of union members Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker at a fireworks factory in 2006 was delayed. The union was expecting a settlement to be agreed by the end of the month but families were now being made to wait until 27 October. The delay means families will have waited more than a year after a High Court judge ruled in their favour that the deaths of the firefighters at Marlie Farm near Lewes in 2006 were “preventable” (Risks 626). The delay came after insurers Zurich, acting on behalf of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, renewed an appeal application on duty of care grounds. Jim Parrott, regional executive council member of the FBU, said: “We’re disgusted with it. We thought we were finally going to get the settlement at the end of this month. It’s galling that the service can have a plaque to Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker and pay their condolences every year and yet here we are still waiting for them to pay out compensation to their dependants and the injured parties.” Mr Parrott added that the fire service’s grounds for appeal over whether they owe a duty of care to firefighters when they are responding to emergencies could have serious repercussions across the country.
Ÿ The Argus.
A London Underground (LUL) power workers’ strike over worsening conditions is now set to continue until 22 July. Unite, which represents most of the 40 power technicians, this week called for LUL management to return to talks at the conciliation service, Acas, amid mounting union safety concerns for passengers. The technicians, who have been on strike since 1 July, provide power for the 270 station underground network. Unite wrote last week to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) challenging LUL management’s claim that its contingency plans are robust enough to maintain a safe power supply for the strike’s duration. Unite regional officer Hugh Roberts said: “Our members are monitoring the safety issues very carefully. For example, last Saturday [5 July] on the Metropolitan line, inexperienced and poorly trained staff switched off the wrong item of plant that could have caused the loss of electrical supplies to stations and signals at the top end of the Metropolitan line. These safety concerns will mount as the strike goes into a third week and this, in itself, should be enough incentive for the management to start negotiating in a constructive fashion.” He added: “The issues behind this dispute are broken promises, unfair treatment over differentials and worsening conditions. The management’s Scrooge-like penny pinching attitude is not being driven by common sense, but by the agenda of budget cuts in the Treasury’s funding.”
The number of workplace fatalities in Britain last year fell to the lowest annual rate on record, but deaths overall increased markedly as asbestos cancer deaths soared. Provisional data released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveals that 133 workers were fatally injured between April 2013 and March 2014, compared with 150 in the previous year. The overall rate of fatal injury dropped to 0.44 per 100,000 workers, compared to 0.51 in 2012/13. But while fatalities fell by 17, latest HSE figures for the asbestos cancer mesothelioma showed an increase of 244 deaths between 2011 and 2012, the most recent year for which figures for the asbestos cancer are available. The figures confirmed that 2,535 people died from mesothelioma in 2012, up from 2,291 in 2011. Deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer are generally thought to match or in all probability significantly exceed the mesothelioma figure, which is yet to peak. Safety minister Mike Penning, who did not refer to the upward asbestos deaths trend, said: “Any death at work is a death too many. But these statistics show that workplaces are getting safer. The Health and Safety Executive do an excellent job in making sure each and every one of us can go out to do an honest day’s work in the knowledge that our safety is being taken seriously.” Workplace fatalities in agriculture and waste and recycling fell, but increased in construction. Deaths in Scotland were down on the previous year, from 23 to 20, but higher than in either 2010/11 or 2011/12.
Construction union UCATT is warning that the latest fatality figures, showing an increase in construction deaths, could mark the beginning of a steady rise in fatalities. Despite the overall number of workplace fatalities in 2013/14 reaching an all-time low, the number of construction deaths increased to 42. UCATT says this is an 8 per cent increase on the previous year, when 39 construction workers suffered fatal injuries. UCATT said it has warned continually that rising construction activity accompanied by inexperienced companies and workers entering the industry, together with the government’s attacks on the Health and Safety Executive and safety laws, is making the industry more dangerous. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The rise in fatalities should send a chill through the industry and it corresponds with a very modest upturn in construction. All the previous evidence shows that as the industry gets busier deaths and accidents increase. These dangers are being exacerbated by the massive cuts that the government have made to the HSE’s budget and their continued attack on safety laws and regulations.” He added: “Rather than cutting safety laws the government should be taking action to ensure that proper measures are introduced to punish employers who are prepared to risk the lives of their workers.”
MPs have called for a public inquiry into whether commercial pressure from oil and gas companies and “a creeping complacency” is damaging offshore helicopter safety. The Transport select committee also heard there was a worrying culture of “macho bullying” in the industry, targeting workers who expressed safety concerns. The MPs added that they want a full examination into the role of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The recommendations are contained in a report that follows the 2013 crash of a Super Puma helicopter near Sumburgh Airport in Shetland. Four passengers were killed when the helicopter ditched into the North Sea. The incident was the fourth of its kind in five years. Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “Despite work by the CAA, serious questions remain unanswered about offshore helicopter safety in the competitive commercial environment of the North Sea. We fear a creeping complacency may be affecting safety standards.” The report also warned of “troubling evidence about a macho bullying culture in the oil and gas industry.” Just weeks before the fatal crash off Shetland, rig workers were told by company officials to put on “big boy pants” or quit the industry if they could not deal with the risk, the committee report noted. MPs concluded that an inquiry was needed to establish if commercial pressure from oil and gas companies was affecting the safety of offshore helicopter operations. They said more must be done to “facilitate a culture of approachability and openness at all levels.” Mick Cash, acting general secretary of the offshore union RMT, said: “There are now no excuses for the government, helicopter operators or oil and gas companies. They must take clear and immediate steps to reduce the threat to offshore workers' safety from helicopter transport, reduce accident rates, improve survivability and listen to offshore workers' concerns about the safety of the helicopters they rely on.”
Ÿ The Herald.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Maritime safety campaigners have voiced outrage after a Conservative minister admitted as many as two out of three coastguard shifts are dangerously under-staffed. Labour MP Katy Clark demanded action from ministers after extracting the figures from transport under-secretary Stephen Hammond under parliamentary questions. “We are now in the summer months, which are the busiest time for coastguard services as more people take to the water,” she said. “The government need to take action and fast.” Coastguard SOS campaign co-ordinator Dennis O’Connor criticised the closure of coastguard stations in Scotland, the Morning Star reported. “We shouldn’t have a situation, approaching two years on, where the west coast of Scotland is being left at risk,” he said.
Ÿ Morning Star.
A worker was left with life-changing injuries after crashing at the bottom of a zipwire ride at around 35 miles per hour. The ride's breaking system had not been reset with catastrophic consequences for Brett Anthony when it failed to kick in. The 20-year-old sustained serious spinal and kidney injuries and was left paralysed from the waist down. Last week a judge imposed fines and costs totalling nearly half a million pounds on the two companies who had been responsible for the zipwire attraction known as 'The Swoop'. Following the incident in September 2011, it was shut down. But in passing sentence on Flowhouse (Bedford) Ltd and Bodyflight Ltd at Luton crown court, Judge Phillip Bartle spelt out the true cost to Brett and how his life has been changed forever. The judge said: “He is now paralysed from the waist down with associated loss of bladder, bowel and sexual function. He was treated for full renal failure but has now received a kidney transplant.” Brett was working as an instructor at Bodyflight in Milton Earnest near Bedford. As a result of the incident, Bedford Borough Council carried out an investigation which led to proceedings against Flowhouse and Bodyflight. An earlier zipwire incident, where a visitor has suffered a minor injury, had led to an official from the council visiting the attraction and telling the owners that a proper risk assessment should be carried out - something that wasn't done. Judge Bartle said: “I am satisfied that the defendants were reckless and not merely careless.” He fined each company £200,000 and ordered each to pay costs of £32,878.
A Suffolk horse bedding manufacturer and its managing director have been fined after a young employee’s arm was crushed as he removed compacted dust from a baling machine. Christopher Barker, who was 17 at the time of the incident, was working on the machine with the side guard removed to clear dust and wood shavings from a press plate that had blocked, preventing the machine from operating properly. But the machine activated, crushing his arm between the plate and the hatch opening. The teen suffered damage to the muscle, tendons and nerves in his left arm which required two surgical procedures and a blood transfusion. Muscle and skin had to be removed from his arm due to the extent of the injury, with skin grafts subsequently undertaken. He suffers from nightmares and flashbacks as a result of the incident. Thetford-based Equestrobed was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the incident, on 5 March 2013, could have been prevented had the firm followed the correct procedure for isolating power to the machine and adopted a safe system of work for clearing the blockage. Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court heard the baler machine had suffered a similar fault on a previous occasion which had been rectified by Mr Barker and another colleague in a similar way. The firm was fined £18,000 plus £6,929 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Managing director Timothy David Howard was also fined £1,800 for a criminal breach.
A council and a tree surgeon have been sentenced for criminal safety failings after a worker was injured when a tree he had been felling landed on a railway line and was hit by a train. Peter Wood, 52, was carrying out tree work for Mark Anthony Connelly at Boat House Crossing near Ryton, next to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line, on 11 January 2012. Newcastle Crown Court heard that Mr Connelly, trading as Practical Conservation Management, was contracted by Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council to remove two poplar trees as they were in danger of falling onto the track. During the felling, one of the trees twisted and fell onto the railway line uprooting another tree on its way. Mr Connelly and Mr Wood tried to cut the tree away from the track, but failed to hear an oncoming Newcastle to Carlisle train. The train was able to brake but couldn’t avoid hitting the tree, injuring Mr Wood. He sustained a fractured right ankle, a cut to the back of the head and bruising on his left arm, left thigh and right forearm. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Gateshead Council failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that Mr Connelly was competent to carry out work on large trees, such as checking if he had the relevant qualifications. Had it done so, it would have found out Mr Connelly was not properly qualified. HSE also found Mr Connelly failed to put safety measures in place that would have prevented the tree from falling in the direction of the line. Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council was fined £40,000 plus £5,854 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Mark Anthony Connelly, 42, was sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £5,854 in costs after also pleading guilty.
A new system of mandatory drug and alcohol tests in the construction industry in an Australian state will not make worker safer but could foment industrial discord, a safety expert has warned. A media release from the government of the state of Victoria announcing the introduction of tests noted: “New requirements for tighter screening of drug and alcohol use at construction workplaces across Victoria will commence from 1 July, helping to ensure a safer and more secure environment for workers.” But safety expert Kevin Jones, writing in his Safety at Work blog, cites several studies that concluded that drug and alcohol is not a big concern in Australian workplaces and neither do they support singling out the construction industry. Jones notes: “If the current Victorian government was genuinely concerned about worker safety and the productivity losses that come from poor OHS [occupational health and safety] management, it would develop a multi- and trans-disciplinary strategy to address the causes of unnecessary business costs that result from worker injuries and ill-health.” He adds: “Imposing a drug and alcohol testing requirement on Victorian construction companies is a recipe for increased industrial tension rather than a valid attempt to improve occupational health and safety. Drug and alcohol testing could be a substantial business cost and increase ‘red tape’ as well as being a spark for industrial disputation.” He concludes: “The government should provide the evidence that shows an improvement in worker safety through drug and alcohol testing otherwise the announcement could be interpreted as purely political and could expose the government to accusations that it is exploiting OHS for political purposes just as it accuses the union movement doing so for industrial reasons.”
Busworkers in Santiago took strike action last week in protest at oppressive working conditions including 12 hour shifts, hijacks and an absence of breaks. The Transantiago employees were joined by students in 3 July protests in the Chilean capital. The action came a month after union leader Antonio Cuadra burned himself alive in protest at his treatment by the firm. Workers say a lack of policing has led to buses being commandeered in under-policed parts of the city and burned out. A few years ago a bus driver was killed in a hijack. Andrés Rosende, a protester who knew Cuadra, said: “Working days last 12 hours, which is very long. The security is a problem as well.” Student Danila Saavedra, 18, said she joined the protest because she felt enraged by Cuadra’s story and the abuse that the workers have to face. “I’m here to support the bus drivers,” she said. “How can it be possible that a person kills himself to get bad working conditions some attention? The bus drivers work twelve hours a day and don’t have the possibility to go to the bathroom.”
Representatives of trade unions from key Amazon markets worldwide met in Berlin last week to consider the online retailer’s reported mistreatment of its workforce and its anti-union stance. The unions – all members of the global unions ITF and UNI – say Amazon treats its staff like robots, forcing them to work under enormous stress for long hours in poor conditions. Workers at distribution centres are required to wear digital arm-mounted terminals that monitor their every move, and there are no agreed protocols on breaks and speed of work. And, according to the unions, there is a culture of bullying in the retail giant. UNI head of commerce, Alke Boessiger, said: “The union movement does not accept the Amazon model for the new economy, where workers are treated as robots, precarious work is the norm, and public funds are misused, while profits are siphoned out of the host country to avoid taxes.” Amazon’s safety performance is already under official scrutiny after two deaths in the US. The US government’s safety watchdog OSHA is investigating the fatalities at warehouses run by the firm (Risks 659). Amazon boss Jeff Bezos was recently voted the worst CEO on the planet in a poll by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
A court in Istanbul has ruled that a Turkish company that employed an unregistered worker from Türkmenistan, but disowned him after he died in a work-related incident, must pay record compensation to his family. Akmuhammed Avganov, 32, died on 11 July 2009 in a trench collapse on a Yücel Konut house building site. Avganov, who was not carrying any documents, could not be identified immediately, and subcontractor Çağlar Yapı denied responsibility for him. Avganov’s family managed to halt his burial in a shared grave at the last moment and eventually sued both Yücel Konut and Çağlar Yapı. Last month, Istanbul’s Labour Court ruled in favour of the family. The court found Yücel Konut 90 per cent liable and Çağlar Yapı 10 per cent liable for the fatality, and ruled that they must together pay 170,000 Turkish lira (£46,500) in compensation to Avganov’s wife and three children. Earlier this year, a court ruled the incident was work-related, paving the way for Turkey’s Social Security Institution (SGK) to pay 750 liras (£200) to Avganov’s wife every month until she remarries or dies. In a related criminal prosecution, two officials of the subcontractor responsible at the construction site were given suspended jail terms. Hurriyet Daily News reports that the case sets a precedent on the legal rights of foreign workers in Turkey, and establishes that any labourer in Turkey is considered insured by the SGK if he or she dies in a work-related accident.
COURSES FOR 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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