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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 670 - 5 September 2014

Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at





TUC courses for safety reps


New route for reps to report to HSE

A new system for safety reps to report problems at work after formal processes have failed has been launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The TUC says the new HSE 'Concerns and advice form for safety representatives', which can be submitted by post or online, comes into use when other formal processes have been exhausted. "Where the safety representative believes there has been a breach in the law which the employer fails to resolve, the health and safety representative should raise the issue with a senior representative or union official," TUC says. "However, if a serious problem remains, and after discussion with their union, a health and safety representative may consider contacting the HSE." TUC adds that the form can be used where a safety rep spots problems outside their place of work, noting: "Where that workplace is likely to be unionised the safety representative should seek to notify the appropriate union, but if there is a risk of significant harm, the safety representative should contact the HSE. Safety representatives can also contact the HSE if they have concerns over any sector or industry-wide issues which they believe the HSE should be aware of, but again safety representatives should contact a senior representative or union official first." The TUC says: "In all cases where there is a serious risk to life or limb which cannot be prevented by notifying your employer, safety representatives should contact their union and the HSE immediately." The union body adds that where safety reps are in a workplace enforced by a local authority or another regulator such as the ORR, MCA or CAA, reps should contact the appropriate authority or regulator.

TUC briefing. HSE health and safety representatives webpage and Concerns and Advice form for safety representatives.

WHO and TUC call for action on e-ciggies

Unions should negotiate the same controls on electronic cigarettes as on smoking at work, the TUC has said. The union body repeated its call after the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a ban on the use of 'e-cigarettes' indoors – a move rejected immediately by the UK government - as well as a range of other restrictions on their sale and marketing. The TUC says the sale of these products is unregulated and there is very little evidence as to their safety. It adds the ingredients and quality of electronic cigarettes can vary considerably. BBC's Inside Out reported this week that one out of four liquid refills tested in a laboratory contained diacetyl, the chemical responsible for the potentially deadly condition 'popcorn lung', or bronchiolitis obliterans. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, writing this week in the union body's Stronger Unions blog, noted: "The TUC strongly recommends that unions should negotiate that electronic cigarettes are subject to the same general restrictions in the workplace as tobacco. They should not be used in any indoor place. This is not just because the risk to others is unknown, but also because it can be confusing if people are seen to be 'smoking' what can look like a cigarette. This undermines the smoking ban." He said unions should welcome properly negotiated smoking cessation efforts by employers. "A pragmatic approach like this should hopefully satisfy those who do not want their colleagues 'vaping' next to them, and also hopefully support those who want to use e-cigarettes to help them kick tobacco," he said.

TUC Stronger Unions blog. WHO report. BBC News Online and diacetyl story.

Worker involvement is needed in asbestos firms

A lack of worker involvement in the asbestos removal industry is compromising both the safety of workers and the survival prospects of firms, the union GMB has warned. GMB, which represents workers in the thermal insulation industry, is calling on all licensed asbestos removal companies to join with the union to tackle concerns being raised about health, safety and welfare of workers in the industry. GMB sits with industry bodies on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) co-ordinated Asbestos Liaison Group (ALG), which deals with licensing of asbestos removal companies. Dave Hulse, GMB national officer, said: "Part of the ALG's conditions on granting a licence to a company covers worker involvement in the process of removing and disposing asbestos safely." But he added: "GMB has had extensive discussions with asbestos removal workers from all parts of the UK. From these discussions it has become apparent that there is a lack of meaningful worker involvement in all areas of health, safety or welfare provision." He said workers also expressed concern about "the poor quality of the training" and "being excluded from involvement in the planning stages on site with regards to heat stress and working hours inside enclosures." Hulse concluded: "With workers in a union we can work employers them to ensure they comply with obligations under the ALG's licence at application or renewal. In these challenging times for the industry the only way forward for companies is to be the best organised and efficient in the market place. Failure to develop a professional way of working may well result in companies going out of business."

GMB news release. Asbestos Liaison Group.

Construction workers at risk of skin cancer

Construction union UCATT is warning that construction workers are at particular risk of developing skin cancer. The union alert came after new figures published by Public Health England (PHE) revealed the number of hospital admissions for skin cancer have increased by 41 per cent in just five years. The figures show that in 2007, 87,665 people were admitted to hospital suffering from skin cancer and by 2011 that figure had risen to 123,808. PHE found a particular large increase of men in their 60's suffering from skin cancer. UCATT says construction workers are at risk due to their regular exposure to the sun at work. It says workers should take straightforward measures to protect themselves against sun damage. These include always keeping a top on and always using sun cream, even if the sun does not appear to be strong. UCATT also advises construction workers to check their skin regularly for unusual spots or moles that change size, shape or colour or that start bleeding. If a construction worker does spot anything of concern they should seek prompt medical advice, the union says. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: "Construction workers are exposed to the sun on a daily basis. It is vital that workers and employers put in place simple measures to ensure that they do not suffer skin damage which could cause skin cancer later in life."

UCATT news release and work in the sun guide. BBC News Online.


Prospect's new manifesto for 'good work'

Civil service union Prospect is calling on politicians to take notice of its new stress-busting 'Manifesto for Good Work' in the run-up to the general election. The union has been consulting members on what they think makes work 'good'. Sue Ferns, Prospect director of communications and research, said: "The UK has one of the worst records among OECD countries for using skills at work effectively. The quality of working life continues to deteriorate, both in the public and private sectors, with rising levels of stress and mental ill-health." She added: "People want to do work that is enjoyable, stretching and fulfilling, and they want their families and communities to have these opportunities, too." Writing in the TUC's Touchstone blog, she noted: "Frankly, all parties have more to do. That's why Prospect has drawn up its own manifesto of ideas. This spells out what good work is, and what politicians need to do." She added: "The government as an employer should lead by example in relation to its own directly employed staff. Public procurement policies must be used to improve practices along the supply chain, including investment in high quality training and skills and a decent working environment."

Prospect news release and Good Work campaign resources and manifesto. TUC Touchstone blog.

Aerospace worker gets serious skin disease

An aerospace worker developed a painful skin condition because he wasn't given adequate protection from contact with coolant oil contaminants. The Unite member, who has secured a £10,000 compensation payout in a union-backed claim, was working on the production of aerospace fixing when he developed dermatitis, a skin disease that can cause intense and painful itching. It made the skin on his hands, wrists and forearms itchy and flaky and the condition continues to flare up in reaction to certain chemicals - even washing the dishes at home can lead to a serious reaction. His doctor prescribed steroid cream and emollients, which the unnamed Unite member still sometimes has to use to treat flare ups. The 66-year-old's employer wouldn't provide him with the correct gloves, so he had to bring his own gloves into work to protect his hands and arms. The factory worker said: "I spent years working for the company, and they wouldn't even take basic steps to protect me from developing a serious skin disease." Unite regional officer John Walsh said: "If this company had simply provided adequate gloves the risk to our member and his colleagues would have been eliminated. Supplying good protective equipment is a basic employer duty and it is staggering that the company was so irresponsible."

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Labour backs unions over Qatar's Education City

Union calls for a UK university to act on labour abuses at its Qatar campus have received support from Labour's shadow international development minister. MP Alison McGovern is, like the TUC, UK lecturers' union UCU and global union body ITUC (Risks 669), urging University College London (UCL) is to do more to help workers on its campus in Qatar's 'Education City.' In a letter to Dame Nicola Brewer, the university's vice-provost international, McGovern says she is concerned about labour standards and the possible use of forced labour at the Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, where UCL has a campus. "As you will be aware, there is significant public concern regarding the labour system employed for much of Qatar's very large migrant workforce, the so-called 'kafala' system, which sees workers tied to an employer, their passports confiscated until completion of the contract, unacceptable conditions of accommodation and lax health and safety standards, combined with poverty levels of pay," the letter notes. Calling for a meeting with UCL's vice-provost international, the MP adds: "Much of the international concern has centred on the infrastructure construction in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, but it is clear that the use of kafala extends into every part of Qatar's economy." UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "We are pleased that Alison McGovern is drawing attention to the plight of workers on UCL's Qatari campus." TUC general secretary, Frances O'Grady, said: "UCL can't just wash its hands because the workers aren't directly employed by them. Ethical employment means ensuring decent work at every step in the global supply chain, and the university should respond swiftly and positively to the concerns expressed by so many."

UCU news release.

Tube drivers continue their push for respect

A refusal by London Underground management to discuss safety cuts and heavy handed treatment of train drivers on two Tube lines mean more industrial action is inevitable, the union ASLEF has said. It follows 22 August "rock solid strike action" on the Central and Waterloo & City lines (Risks 669). Finn Brennan, ASLEF's district organiser, said: "The issues at the heart of this dispute – treatment of staff, failing to stick to agreements made, and cuts in safety training – aren't going to go away. London Underground says this is an unnecessary strike, but they don't seem prepared to deal with the problems we have raised or even to get around the table." ASLEF said if there is no resolution to the dispute, the union's executive committee has advised London Underground that members on the Central and Waterloo & City lines will again withdraw their labour on Wednesday 17 September.

ASLEF news release.


Disqualified director jailed after crushing death

A disqualified company director has been jailed for criminal breaches of safety regulations that led to a worker being crushed to death. Paul O'Boyle, 56, was jailed for 26 months at Winchester Crown Court, after admitting a string of offences including breach of health and safety regulations, acting as a company director while disqualified, and fraud during his time as a director of Aztech AB Ltd. The case followed the death of Ian Middlemiss when a two-tonne sandbox fell onto him while working at the firm. The 40-year-old died in September 2010 at Aztech Art Foundry, when the sandbox came away from lifting chains of the crane he was using. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also found workers were being exposed to potentially harmful levels of lead without realising it. The Recorder of Salisbury Honour Judge Andrew Barnett said O'Boyle showed a "complete disregard" for health and safety. O'Boyle previously admitted four breaches of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1996, a breach of the Fraud Act 2006, and a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was sentenced along with accomplice Russell Lee, 67. Lee's 12 month prison sentence was suspended for two years, after he admitted aiding and abetting Mr O'Boyle in his disqualification and a criminal safety offence. O'Boyle's firm, the now insolvent Aztech BA Ltd, was also fined £100,000. The prosecution was brought by the HSE, the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, and the Insolvency Service after the offences came to light following an investigation. Sentencing O'Boyle, the judge said: "The common feature of your criminality was an absolute disregard to your company directorship. So it was that tragedy befell the company when a dreadful industrial accident occurred which robbed one of your employees of his life." Sixteen months of the 26 month prison sentence handed down was for the safety offence. O'Boyle was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum 15 years. At the time of Mr Middlemiss' death the foundry was the subject of three improvement notices served by HSE following earlier visits in September 2009 and June 2010. A number of important safety improvements were required, but few had been satisfactorily implemented. HSE said the fatality incident could have been avoided had the necessary changes in the relevant enforcement notices taken place.

HSE news release. Daily Echo.

Fractured skull leads to suspended jail term

West Midlands scaffolder Christopher Alan Harvey has received a four month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, after a construction worker suffered a fractured skull when a poorly secured pulley wheel fell seven metres and struck his head. Birmingham Magistrates' Court heard Mark Jones, 27, was installing lead flashing on a school roof using lifting equipment installed by Christopher Harvey, trading as Cannock Wood Scaffolding, when the incident happened on 8 August 2013. Mr Jones, who was working for a sub-contractor on the site, was operating a 'gin wheel', or metal pulley wheel, which is used to hoist and lower materials with ropes. The wheel had been attached to the scaffold by Christopher Harvey. As Mr Jones was loading materials from the ground ready for lifting to the roof, the wheel, weighing 4kg, fell seven metres from the scaffold and struck him on the head fracturing his skull. He has since made a full recovery. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Christopher Harvey had failed to properly secure the gin wheel to the scaffold – no scaffold fittings were used to prevent the gin wheel from falling off the end of the scaffold tube, and the supporting structure was inadequately braced. He pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations and received a four month prison sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to pay Mark Jones compensation of £2,500, plus £527.56 in costs.

HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

British labour activist Andy Hall in Thailand trial

A British activist who campaigns for better working conditions for migrant workers is on trial in Thailand charged with criminal defamation. The alleged offence is one of a series of charges relating to a report into labour abuses which Andy Hall helped write two years ago. Hall, who has received support from the TUC, international unions and major companies in the fruit processing industry (Risks 667), was charged after a complaint by Thailand's Natural Fruit Company. The European retail and labour organisations backing Hall have called on the company to withdraw its complaint and instead investigate the allegations. The activist faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty. Philip Jennings, general secretary of the global union UNI, said: "We are extremely concerned for the wellbeing of Andy Hall, who has only acted to protect innocent people in the face of extreme exploitation. We call on the Thai fruit industry to enter into a process of dialogue and engagement on this matter rather than victimising Andy. As the world's largest pineapple producer, all eyes are on Thailand to prove its products are responsibly sourced." United Nordic, an alliance of food companies from northern Europe, has written to the Thai Food Processors Association saying: "We are greatly worried and concerned about this negative development."

UNI news release. BBC News Online. The Independent. Time Magazine. Andy Hall's webpage. Sign the petition calling for all charges against Andy Hall to be dropped.

Two technicians dead in fireworks blast

Two people who died in a fireworks explosion in Cumbria were technicians preparing for a wedding party display, the fire brigade said. The bodies of the man and woman were found in a shed where the stored fireworks went up in flames on Saturday 30 August. A display was to be staged at a house in Ecclerigg near Windermere following a wedding earlier in the week. Witnesses heard a loud bang at 3.15pm, followed by smaller explosions. The fire brigade said the man was a self-employed experienced fireworks technician and the woman was his assistant. They had joined around 70 guests who had gathered to mark the wedding of local insurance boss John Simpson and his partner, Nicole Rothwell, who were said to have married earlier in the week. It is understood that the two victims may not be identified for several days because of the severity of their burns. A spokesperson for Cumbria Constabulary said: "Police are continuing in their investigation into a fire at Ecclerigg where two people died," adding: "Two bodies, believed to be a male and a female, were found." An update added: "Police are working closely with the fire service, HSE, and Trading Standards to investigate the circumstances that led to the fire."

Cumbria Constabulary news release. Daily Mail. The Guardian. BBC News Online. The Independent.

Building firm fined after joiner falls through ceiling

A Manchester construction firm has appeared in court over its criminal safety failings after a joiner was badly injured when he fell through a ceiling. Patrick Moran, 48, had been working on a loft conversion in Chorlton when the incident happened on 21 May 2013. Quaintbrook Properties Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found he had been asked to help install partition walls without any floorboards in place. The job sheet instructed the two joiners to use boards on the site as temporary flooring but when they arrived they could only find three pieces of wet plywood outside, which were unusable. Instead, they had to use some old loft boards to create temporary walkways and to keep moving them to reach different areas of the loft. As the joiners were installing the wooden frame for a partition wall, one of them slipped and his leg went between the floor joists and through the plasterboard ceiling up to his hip. He managed to pull himself up onto the joints but suffered severe internal bruising and continues to suffer from pins and needles to his left hand, caused by possible nerve damage. Quaintbrook Properties Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,518 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.

HSE new release and construction webpages.

Hove firm prosecuted after flouting asbestos laws

A Hove-based firm has been fined after it flouted asbestos regulations and removed some of the dangerous material just three weeks after being refused a licence to carry out such work. Asbestos Damage Limitations Ltd, trading as ADL, was prosecuted at Brighton Magistrates' Court for criminal safety breaches following the work undertaken between 22 and 25 October 2013. The case was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after investigating a complaint that an unlicensed contractor was carrying out asbestos removal work. The court was told that ADL had possessed a licence to remove asbestos – a known carcinogen – but that this had expired in September 2013. The firm had applied for a renewal of the licence and had been for a renewal interview with HSE on 1 October. However this had resulted in an outright refusal based on its inadequate performance. Asbestos Damage Limitations Ltd was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

HSE news release.

Workers at risk from vibration, dust and noise

A Hampshire manufacturer has appeared in court after allowing the health of its employees to be put at risk. Brooks Crownhill Patternmakers Ltd, a precision engineering company based in Andover, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Basingstoke Magistrates' Court on five criminal health and safety charges. The offences came to light after an inspection by HSE revealed that risks to health from exposure to vibration, noise and dust had not been adequately managed or controlled. The firm, which produces metal castings, had no effective management systems to control exposure to the health risks. As a result, workers experienced a range of symptoms which required further investigation and monitoring. Brooks Crownhill Patternmakers Ltd was fined £7,000 plus £1,379 in costs after admitting breaches of safety management, vibration and hazardous substances regulations. HSE inspector Michael Baxter said: "Brooks Crownhill Patternmakers did not respond to changing workloads and processes, and failed to act on advice provided by its occupational health provider or by contractors servicing equipment. The company has since reviewed and made significant changes to its risk management and occupational health monitoring."

HSE news release and HAVS webpage.


German: Ban on out-of-office contact investigated

German employment minister Andrea Nahles is considering new "anti-stress" legislation that would ban companies from contacting employees out of hours. Concerns over rising levels of workplace stress prompted the minister to commission a report investigating the viability of legislation that would restrict the use of emails to contact staff outside of work. She told journalists: "There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness. We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria." It is already illegal in Germany for employers to contact staff during holidays. Several major companies such as Volkswagen and BMW have also implemented their own restrictions on contacting employees out of hours. Last year the German Labour Ministry banned managers from contacting staff outside of work. Recently, car manufacturer Daimler installed software on its systems which automatically deletes emails sent to staff out of hours. A study released recently by the union DGB showed that increasing numbers of German workers are retiring early through stress. The findings of the workplace stress report will be delivered next year. Earlier this year, unions and employers in France's technology and consultancy sectors agreed a legally binding agreement that workers would no longer have to answer work emails or phone calls outside work hours (Risks 651).

Daily Mail. The Guardian.


Global: New ILO push for health and safety compliance

Calling for "a culture of intolerance towards risks at work," International Labour Organisation (ILO) director-general Guy Ryder has said safety and health will be an integral part of all the ILO's work. He told delegates to the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Frankfurt (Risks 669): "Ebola and the tragedies it is causing are in the daily headlines – which is right. But work-related deaths are not. So, the task ahead is to establish a permanent culture of consciousness." He made clear the failure to ensure a safe and healthy workplace constitutes an unacceptable form of work: "This puts safety and health alongside forced labour, child labour, freedom of association and discrimination, which were recognised in the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work." Ryder added that safety and health will be an integral part of all of the ILO's work, including a spotlight on invisible and vulnerable categories of workers in the informal economy, rural economy and migrant workers. He pointed out that investing in occupational safety and health is also good business, noting: "Every dollar that is invested pays in." The ILO director-general also underlined the critical need for good data. "We live in the Information Age where policy-makers have access to data on most issues," he said. "But in relation to occupational safety and health we lack data to design and implement evidence-based policies and programmes. That's a failure – also of political will."

ILO news release and video of Guy Ryder's speech.

Global: Union body steps up precarious work campaign

The global union IndustriALL is calling on its affiliates worldwide to mobilise their members to 'STOP Precarious Work.' It says regular, permanent and direct employment remains under constant attack from multinationals and other forces that are promoting precarious work, linked to higher rates of occupational injury and ill-health. Calling on its affiliated unions worldwide to highlight the campaign on the 7 October World Day for Decent Work, IndustriALL said: "We strongly encourage affiliates to take action and denounce precarious employment and the insecurity, which is becoming everyday life for more and more workers around the world." It says some plans are already in place. In Canada, UNIFOR is to run a national Good Job Summit from 3-5 October as part of its 'Join the Revolution for Good Jobs' campaign. The summit will form part of a national dialogue between workers, students, government, employers and communities, aimed at finding new approaches to jobs and the economy. The Rio Tinto Global Union Network will hold a global day of action against precarious work as part of its employment rights campaign at the mining giant. And IndustriALL affiliates in Cambodia will target Export Process Zones (EPZs) where workers' rights are largely undermined. Workers in a bus and on motorcycles, holding IndustriALL flags, will do rounds in the EPZs as part of a "caravan for decent work."

IndustriALL news release and report, Negotiating security: Trade union bargaining strategies against precarious work. IndustriALL STOP Precarious Work campaign. More on health and safety and insecure work. World Day for Decent Work.

Global: Ebola outbreak kills over 120 health workers

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken an "unprecedented" toll on health care workers, infecting more than 240 and killing more than 120, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. "In many cases, medical staff are at risk because no protective equipment is available – not even gloves and face masks," the agency reported in a 26 August update on the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Last week WHO said it pulled workers from one of its own posts at Kailahun in Sierra Leone after a worker became infected. It said it will reopen the post after it reassesses safety there. WHO's Daniel Kertesz said workers "are exhausted from many weeks of heroic work, helping patients infected with Ebola. When you add a stressor like this, the risk of accidents increases." On 30 August it was reported health workers had gone on strike at the state-run Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone. "The workers decided to stop working because we have not been paid our allowances and we lack some tools," said Ishmael Mehemoh, chief supervisor at the clinic in the city of Kenema. Clothing to protect health workers from being infected is inadequate and there is only one broken stretcher which is used  to carry both patients and corpses, Mehemoh added. More than 20 health workers have already died from Ebola at the Kenema health clinic after catching the highly contagious virus from the patients they are fighting to save.             

WHO news release. USA Today. Digital Journal. The Mirror. ABC News.
Ebola Virus Disease: Occupational Safety and Health - joint WHO/ILO briefing note for workers and employers, 26 August 2014.

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