Unions are calling on the government to reverse damaging cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and to reinstate preventive unannounced safety inspections for all workplaces. A resolution passed at the TUC's conference in Liverpool this week also called for the next government to review changes made to workplace safety law under the current administration. Alan Grey, president of the HSE inspectors' union Prospect, told the conference that the system of regulation and enforcement established 40 years ago with the Health and Safety at Work Act has been a great success. "Despite this, the coalition government has been relentless in its pursuit of health and safety deregulation. It claims health and safety is a 'burden on business' and has made it a symbol of everything that supposedly constrains entrepreneurism," said Grey. "We urgently need to reverse this trend and halt the perpetual attacks on HSE." PCS delegate Paula Brown, who represents the union's members in HSE, said the regulator's staffing has been cut by 38 per cent since 2002. She added that far from safety laws tying firms up in red tape, there were now 46 per cent fewer health and safety regulations in place than there were in 1974. "We've got to keep health and safety on the agenda in the run-up to the general election," she said. "Don't let politicians undo 40 years of great work." Usdaw president Jeff Broome said: "Inspection is not just about catching the bad guys, but also supporting the employers who are unsure of their responsibilities. It is vital that no business is exempt from an unannounced inspection by the regulator on any one of their premises."
Unions make work safer, fairer and better, a new TUC guide shows. 'The union advantage' demonstrates the benefits of unions not only to individual workers but to employers and society as well. It points to government research that established union health and safety reps save taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds each year by reducing lost time from occupational injuries and work-related illness. It adds union members have 3.8 days more paid leave on average than non-union members. And they also benefit in their pay packets; 55 per cent of unionised workplaces had pay rises in 2011, compared to just 35 per cent of non-unionised workplaces. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Workers in the UK who are members of trade unions are better paid, safer at work and get more paid holidays than workers who aren't in a union." She added: "Our new guide, 'The union advantage', sets out these benefits and how we achieve them through strong negotiation, and by working with employers and government for an economy with decent jobs and sustainable growth."
The cost of living crisis means workers are increasingly at risk of mental health problems, the union Usdaw has said. Paddy Lillis, the union's deputy general secretary, told the TUC's annual conference in Liverpool that trade union and workplace reps have a big role to play in supporting members coping with mental health issues. He said: "Our movement has long recognised that mental health is a trade union issue, but it is fast becoming a priority. Evidence shows that since the onset of austerity there's been a surge in the numbers of people diagnosed with depression and anxiety." He added: "Industry-wide cuts to budgets and staffing levels have left members feeling overstretched, overworked and undervalued. Unions have a key role to play tackling the stigma that surrounds mental health, not least because stigma stops members coming forward and talking to us at an early stage. This can lead to members getting caught up in disciplinary procedures and facing action that could and should have been avoided." Publishing her annual report this week, Dame Sally Davies, the government's chief medical officer, said 60 to 70 per cent of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, "so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy."
Global union organisations have condemned the trial of a British human rights defender Andy Hall, which opened in Thailand last week, as a clear example of victimisation and cover up. Andy Hall is facing criminal and civil cases of criminal defamation, which have been brought against him by Thailand's Natural Fruit Company following his research into the company (Risks 670). His contribution to a Finnwatch report exposed smuggling of migrant workers along with the use of child labour, forced overtime and violence against workers. Paddy Crumlin, president of the global transport unions' federation ITF said: "This trial is indefensible and should be halted immediately. Thailand should be acting against the appalling treatment of workers and for freedom of opinion, not victimising one of the people who rightly brought this awful state of affairs to wider attention." Philip Jennings, general secretary of the global union UNI, said: "We are extremely concerned for the well-being of Andy Hall, who has only acted to protect innocent people in the face of extreme exploitation." He added: "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." A group of major European food companies has already voiced concern at Hall's treatment. And the TUC, the international union confederation ITUC and organisations in over 20 countries are backing the campaign for justice for Andy Hall.
The selection of BAM Construction as the preferred bidder to build the V&A museum in Dundee has provoked a row over its role in a blacklisting scandal. The meeting of Dundee city council's policy and resources committee that awarded the job to BAM saw objections raised by unions and opposition councillors. The company admits it used the services of illegal blacklisting agency The Consulting Association. Members of Dundee's trades council handed out leaflets criticising the company before the meeting. The museum, the V&A's first permanent branch outside its London home, is the centrepiece of a £1bn redevelopment of Dundee's waterfront. In August, the Scottish government warned companies linked to the blacklisting scandal they "should be excluded from public procurement, unless they can demonstrate appropriate remedial action" (Risks 668). UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy commented: "Until blacklisters fairly compensate the workers whose lives they ruined they should be banned from public contracts. The Scottish government is introducing clear guidelines to penalise blacklisters and Dundee Council must respect those rules." Harry Donaldson, secretary of GMB Scotland, said: "Public money should not go to companies like BAM that have engaged in blacklisting till they have purged their guilt. The Scottish government has taken a strong lead in showing that companies who blacklist don't deserve the opportunity to bid for public contracts." He added that firms linked to blacklisting "have to own up, clean up and pay up. Until they do so they have to be excluded from work in Scotland."
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is "in contempt of court" for not enabling unions to contact blacklisted workers directly, the union GMB has charged. GMB started enforcement proceedings in the High Court on 5 September over ICO's failure to comply with a High Court ruling that it hand over to trades unions the addresses of workers blacklisted by construction companies (Risks 669). Law firm Leigh Day, acting for GMB, has now filed an application for contempt of court based on the ICO breaching the group litigation order made in July that they hand over the addresses by 25 August. The union says ICO admits it is in breach of the order. Leigh Day's Michael Newman said ICO's behaviour contrasted markedly with its willingness to hand over addresses to a contentious employer-run Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS). "The ICO had no difficulty with following a court order to give workers' names and addresses to the Compensation Scheme, but seem very reluctant to follow a very similar order in favour of the workers," he said. "The ICO have admitted they are in breach of the group litigation order, and we intend to take every step to enforce that order, including contempt of court." GMB general secretary Paul Kenny told the TUC Congress this week: "Yet again we see the ICO as state regulator appearing to bend over backwards to accommodate those guilty of blacklisting but this time also in contempt of a High Court. Instead of putting obstacles in the way of speedy justice and compensation for the victims of blacklisting, it should just give us the information the high court ordered it to and let us get on with the job of contacting those blacklisted."
A scheme designed to recoup the cost of regulating workplace health and safety from businesses that break the law has proven effective and should stay, an independent report has concluded. The report found that inspectors at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have implemented 'Fee for Intervention' (FFI) consistently and fairly since the system was introduced in October 2012, and found no evidence to suggest that enforcement policy decisions had been influenced in any way by its introduction. The independent panel that conducted the review was chaired by Alan Harding, professor of public policy at Liverpool University, with representatives of the union GMB, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Department for Work and Pensions. HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: "This review gives us confidence that FFI is working effectively and should be retained. We will continue to monitor the performance of Fee for Intervention to ensure it remains consistent and fair." The report concludes that FFI "has proven effective in achieving the overarching policy aim of shifting the cost of health and safety regulation from the public purse to those businesses who break health and safety laws." The TUC commented: "Generally the TUC opposes charging but, in the current economic climate, it would be a big mistake to drop FFI especially given the effect on HSE finances. Also - why should employers who break the law not pay the HSE to make sure that they get their house in order?" UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: "The message to employers must be stop breaking safety laws and putting workers at risk. If you break safety laws expect to be penalised for doing so."
A future Labour government will review the system of employment tribunal fees introduced by the current administration and is "open" to making blacklisting a criminal offence, the TUC's Liverpool conference has heard. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told unions the "unfair" and "unsustainable" tribunal fees system – which means workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities – locks people out of justice. "Affordability should not be a barrier to workplace justice," he said. Pressed by delegates, he was unclear whether the fees system would be scrapped entirely. The shadow minister also said Labour would consider making blacklisting a criminal offence. "I am open to whether criminal liability applies to this," he said, but added: "I don't want to prejudge the inquiry I have promised." He said if is elected next year Labour will hold a full inquiry into blacklisting and those hearings will be held "in public". UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy responded: "With every day that passes the construction companies that blacklisted workers and ruined their lives are seeing the net tighten around them. There will be no hiding place for blacklisters."
A government Bill the justice secretary says will allow would-be heroes and volunteers to act without fear of being sued is ill thought through, populist, and a waste of parliamentary time, legal experts have told MPs. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) gave evidence to the House of Commons' public bill committee last week on the effects of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (SARAH), which is currently working its way through parliament. APIL president John Spencer told MPs the Bill is unnecessary, as Good Samaritans have nothing to fear from the current law. "There is a need for education here. We should not be legislating to deal with a perception," he said. "The Bill aims to deal with a problem which doesn't exist and in turn could have unintended consequences. By trying to adjust a problem which is merely a perception, the government could create another problem." The Bill, which is the pet project of justice secretary Chris Grayling but which appears to have little genuine support from MPs, has been described by the TUC as "complete gobbledygook" (Risks 657) and by Labour's Sadiq Khan as "a turkey" (Risks 664).
A woman who was told she had less than a year to live after being diagnosed with a terminal asbestos-related cancer but who is now in remission has called for action to protect people from asbestos in schools. Sarah Bowman, 46, was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in August 2009, caused by exposure to asbestos dust while she was a pupil at a London school undergoing refurbishment in the early 1980s. She was told by doctors her condition was terminal and that she had less than a year to live. She underwent surgery on her abdominal wall to remove the tumour. She has since been told she is in remission, which is highly unusual with mesothelioma cases. Lawyers acting for Sarah established classrooms as William Gladstone High School in the London Borough of Brent contained asbestos materials that were disturbed by pupils and during refurbishment work. She has now secured a "substantial" compensation payment from the council. Her solicitor, Joanne Jefferies of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "Through no fault of her own, Sarah was exposed to this hazardous dust as a pupil at a school she attended and this is a stark reminder of the dangers of exposure to asbestos and the devastating affect it can have on people's lives." Following her surgery, mother-of-two Sarah was left with scarring and developed depression. She has been unable to work and she still continues to suffer from lethargy, low self-esteem and constant fear that the cancer will return. She said: "My life has been turned upside down since my diagnosis – although at the moment I am in remission, I am petrified that one day the cancer will return and I will have to relive this whole ordeal once more." She added: "I was devastated to find out that it was exposure to asbestos decades ago which caused my illness and I hope that more is done to ensure people are protected from the deadly substance in future."
The government and employers must do more to help workers with long-term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) stay in work, a new report has concluded. The authors of 'Self-management of chronic musculoskeletal disorders and employment', a report from the Fit for Work UK Coalition and The Work Foundation, note: "Our findings show that individuals' health conditions and quality of life will continue to be damaged by work, with some leaving the labour market prematurely. The will lead to an increase in productivity loss, sickness absence and, ultimately, the welfare bill." Sue Browning, deputy chief executive of the physios' union CSP, which is a member of the coalition, said: "Growing numbers of people are living with such a condition and it makes no sense to lose or under-use such a significant part of the workforce. Aside from economic arguments, we know the physical and mental health benefits of work so it is essential that people with chronic MSDs do not feel marginalised or excluded from that environment." She added: "Physiotherapists are experts at keeping people healthy in work, or facilitating a return after sickness absence, and it is very important that employers provide staff with fast access to occupational health services. The NHS should also make self-referral to physiotherapy available across the country to ensure early, effective treatment can be delivered to allow people to remain in work."
A 50 per cent increase in people aged 65 and over in the workforce by 2030 means employers should recognise the real value of their experience – but it is crucial older workers are not compelled to stay in work, a health and safety study has found. Researchers from Brunel University, whose work was funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), cited earlier studies showing people in their 60s had fewer accidents and injuries than younger colleagues, suggesting that education and experience might help them judge situations better. On the downside, Brunel's Dr Alexandra Farrow and Dr Frances Reynolds noted when accidents did happen, the health of older workers was more seriously affected. The study found that older workers thought they were subject to similar hazards at work as younger people, including email pressures, driving conditions and over-demanding clients. They largely coped with such pressures by using their experience or by changing roles or moving to part-time hours. Dr Farrow said: "We believe that choice is behind the positive results of this research but, as the pension age increases, people will have less choice over whether they want to continue working, or have the option of reducing their hours of work, and this might affect not only their safety in the workplace but also their well-being."
A US judge has ruled UK oil multinational BP was "grossly negligent" in the lead-up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, in which 11 workers died. New Orleans judge Carl Barbier also found BP subcontractors Transocean and Halliburton "negligent." The 2010 oil spill was the worst in US history, and, as of February, has cost BP $43bn (£26bn) in fines, legal settlements, and clean-up costs. Judge Barbier said BP should shoulder 67 per cent of the blame, with drilling rig owner Transocean responsible for 30 per cent and cement firm Halliburton responsible for 3 per cent. The ruling said the incident "was the result of gross negligence or wilful misconduct" by BP. The ruling, which the oil giant is appealing, could quadruple the civil penalties that BP must pay as a result of the disaster. Some estimates have put the amount at close to $18bn - significantly more than if BP had been found simply negligent. In 2012, BP agreed to accept criminal responsibility for the disaster. Shares in BP fell 6 per cent after the ruling was announced. The ruling came on 4 September, the day a Cape employee died in a fall on BP's Unity platform in North Sea, 97 miles off Aberdeen. "BP is deeply saddened to confirm that an offshore worker has died following an incident on the Unity platform," a spokesperson said. "BP is working with Police Scotland, the HSE, Cape and other relevant organisations to support those affected and ensure that the incident is fully investigated."
The owner of a Kent scaffolding business has been jailed for 15 months for criminal safety failings after a worker plunged 14 metres to his death at a site in London. The sentence, at Southwark Crown Court, will run concurrently with the unrelated life imprisonment imposed on Mark Anthony Hayes at the Old Bailey in July this year for the murder of his brother in a family feud. The latest conviction is the third that Mark Hayes, 53, trading as WSS Scaffolding, has received for offences arising from the fatality of scaffolder Grant Dunmall at Linden Gardens in Notting Hill on 2 July 2012. He was fined at two separate appearances at Westminster Magistrates' Court in January and March last year for offences relating to the non-disclosure of essential documents to support a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation. Southwark Crown Court was told that Hayes was responsible for a tower scaffold outside a domestic property. His employee, scaffolder Grant Dunmall, 25, was working on the structure when he fell, sustaining fatal injuries. The court heard that edge protection was missing from the scaffold, and that Grant Dunmall wasn't provided with any other means such as a fall arrest harness, to prevent or mitigate a fall. The scaffolding boss was convicted and sent to prison for 15 months for breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Last year, Hayes was fined £12,000 plus £5,601 costs after admitting breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. The breaches addressed Mr Hayes' failure to provide legally-required documents relating to his management of work at height after he had earlier ignored a 'Notice to produce' served by HSE.
A North London meat wholesaler has been fined for operating a fault-ridden forklift truck and trying to deceive safety inspectors by forging a positive examination report on the vehicle. MIB United Meat Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Westminster Magistrates' Court after admitting three criminal breaches of safety legislation. During a routine visit to the Enfield premises, an HSE inspector asked to see the vehicle examination records for the company's 2.5-tonne counterbalance forklift truck. A document was later emailed to the inspector but appeared to be – and was later proven to be – a fake. HSE found the forklift truck had never been examined, as required by safety rules for lifting equipment, since being purchased in August 2011. A specialist mechanical inspector from HSE, who examined the forklift in April 2013, found more than 40 faults, including some that could have endangered its operator. HSE served a prohibition notice on MIB United Meat Ltd to stop any use of the vehicle until it was safe to use. MIB was fined £18,000 plus £2,314 in full costs for criminal breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER). HSE inspector Tahir Mortuza said the safety failing were compounded by MIB's "blatant attempt to deceive HSE by forging documentation purporting to be an examination record. This is a serious offence and demonstrates that the company was willing to expose its employees to the risk of serious injury or even death."
Balfour Beatty Rail Projects Ltd has been fined £350,000 plus costs of £50,000 following a prosecution by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). Harrow Crown Court heard the company's criminal safety failings led to a rail worker suffering serious burns when he came into contact with 25,000 volt overhead lines near Cricklewood in 27 March 2011. Rail workers subcontracted by Balfour Beatty, as part of the Thameslink project, were installing high voltage cable next to the overhead lines. They were working at height on cherry-pickers, moving along the track and installing the cable alongside an existing overhead wire. One of the high voltage overhead lines which crossed the site had not been isolated. As a worker checked the distance between the newly installed cable and overhead wire, he made contact with the live wire and suffered 45 per cent burns which required extensive skin graft surgery. The court heard there was poor communication between Balfour Beatty's planning and construction teams, which meant the firm did not request that Network Rail switch off the electric current from all relevant sections of the overhead wire. Balfour Beatty had pleaded not guilty to charges brought in connection with the incident, but changed its plea to guilty after the fifth day of ORR's evidence. Ian Prosser, ORR's director of railway safety, said: "ORR's investigation revealed that Balfour Beatty's arrangements fell well short of the standard expected for a construction company operating in a high risk environment. A lack of planning, a failure to establish a safe system of work, poor communication and training all contributed to this incident, which could very easily have resulted in a fatality."
A 17-year-old labourer from south-west London had a narrow escape after surviving a four-metre fall through a hole in a loft with only cuts and bruises. His employer, More Than Lofts Ltd of Worcester Park, Sutton, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for the criminal safety failings that led to the incident. Westminster magistrates were told the young worker was part of a team converting the loft at a property in Hammersmith when the incident happened on 6 June 2013. He stepped on some fragile material that covered a void in the floor and fell four metres, landing on a staircase. The worker, who does not wish to be named, suffered no significant injuries. HSE's investigation found there were several uncovered or poorly-covered fragile surfaces in the loft space on site. It said More Than Lofts Ltd had failed to take suitable action to prevent falls, such as using platforms or robust covers for the holes in the loft floor. The court also heard that the company had been served with a prohibition notice by HSE in June 2010 halting all work underway on a loft conversion because of the immediate dangers to workers from the lack of safety measures. More Than Lofts Ltd was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £729 costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations. HSE inspector Gavin Pugh said: "This young man had an extremely lucky escape from what could have been a fatal or severe injury in a fall of that distance. He and his co-workers were put in unnecessary danger by the careless approach to safety demonstrated by More Than Lofts Ltd." He added: "The company had ample materials on site to cover over fragile surfaces during work on this loft conversion but failed to do so. It also clearly disregarded the lessons that should have been learned from the previous enforcement notice about working at height."
A Chinese factory that provides parts to Apple, Dell and other hi-tech firms has been accused of violating safety rules and workers' rights. A report by non-profit China Labor Watch and Green America says that labourers were exposed to toxic chemicals, given inadequate training, and made to pay for drinking water in their living quarters. The plant employs about 20,000 people. Apple said it had dispatched a team to China to investigate the report. The facility in Suqian is run by Catcher Technology, a Taiwanese firm that mass produces light metal casings for smartphones, tablets, laptops and MP3 players. Its website says it works for hi-tech firms including Apple, Motorola, LG, Samsung, Sony and Dell. The latest report, based on an undercover investigation, found that some conditions had deteriorated since a 2013 probe. Workers without the proper protective equipment suffer skin and eye irritation and are at risk of serious health problems, the investigation found. Some safety exits were locked, there was no safety training and there was "dense" dust in some workshops. There was also mandatory overtime of up to 100 hours a month, some unpaid. "The health and safety violations found in this factory two years in a row are startling," said Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America. "The lack of fire drill training and locked safety exits are inexcusable in a work environment that requires the handling of flammable materials. Additionally, the lack of safety training in this facility and improper handling of hazardous materials contributes to the risk of life-threatening emergencies."
The 6 September deaths of 10 construction workers when a lift failed at a development in Istanbul has been condemned as 'occupational murder' by a union confederation. The elevator carrying the workers plunged to the ground from the 32nd floor. The incident occurred at the construction site of a luxury high-rise residential building. Eight people, including an occupational safety specialist, were detained. They were released the following day after giving statements to a public prosecutor. On 7 September, a union organised demonstration calling for improved workplace safety was met by police with tear gas, plastic bullets and water cannon. "This is not an accident, this is not destiny, this is murder!" was the protest's main slogan. The tragedy was not the first at the construction site. In April, a 19-year-old man died at the same site when a primitive elevator carrying him fell from the 17th floor. A news release from the trade union confederation DISK described the deaths as "occupational murder." It added that "in first seven months of 2014, as many as 1,100 workers have been reported dead as a result of work-related accidents. More than 12,000 people died in work accidents since 2002, when the Justice and Development Party government rose to power."
The decision by a leading US tobacco growers' organisation to oppose hiring children under 16 to work on tobacco farms is an important step toward ending this hazardous employment practice, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The campaign group was commenting after the Council for Burley Tobacco, representing approximately 5,000 tobacco growers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio, approved a resolution stating "workers under 16-years-old should not be employed in tobacco production not only in the US but worldwide." HRW's associate children's rights director Jane Buchanan said: "The Council for Burley Tobacco has taken a principled stance to protect the youngest workers from hazards in tobacco farming." She added: "The council and its members should build on this important step and expand the policy to cover all children under 18, in keeping with international labour standards." Rod Kuegel, president of the Council for Burley Tobacco, told HRW in a 2 September email that the council would urge other tobacco grower groups internationally to follow its lead and prohibit hiring children. The action follows an HRW report published in May that documented hazardous child labour on tobacco farms in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia (Risks 665). Children between the ages of 7 to 17 interviewed by HRW said they were exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers while working 50 to 60 hours a week in extreme heat on tobacco farms in the United States. Most said they got sick while working, with headaches, vomiting, dizziness, skin rashes, and other class symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning, or 'Green Tobacco Sickness'.
HRW news release and May 2014 report, Tobacco's hidden children: Hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming.
COURSES FOR 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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