|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 firstname.lastname@example.org.|
A new deregulation spree could be in prospect across Europe, following a report from the European Commission’s High Level Group on Administrative Burdens. The proposals published this week have been criticised by unions and the key industry group, with the TUC warning they pose a danger to both workers and consumers. The final report of the burdens group, chaired by arch conservative and former Bavarian chancellor Dr Edmund Stoiber, calls for a reduction in regulatory costs, ensuring that any new costs are balanced with reductions elsewhere. It says there must be a “think small first” principle exempting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from EU obligations as far as possible. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, the proposals are “pretty dangerous.” He notes: “The burden of health and safety failures falls firmly on the workers and so any assessment of the costs on benefits should look first of all on the benefit to those who are protected. That is not how Stoiber wants it to work. He wants impact assessments to measure the costs and benefits to business only. This is totally absurd and will make it virtually impossible to get any new regulation on health and safety.” He adds that wanting to exempt SMEs is “bizarre”, as they “employ 66 per cent of the workforce but are responsible for 82 per cent of injuries and 90 per cent of fatalities.” They European body representing SMEs (UEAPME) has also said it is opposed to the Stoiber proposals, calling the report “nonsense, a purely political declaration.” Four of Stoiber’s 15-strong administrative burdens group agreed, issuing a “dissenting opinion.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Deregulation led to the financial crisis and those who believe it is the ideological answer to every problem are guilty of dangerous magical thinking.” She added: “It’s no wonder that Stoiber failed to get the support of the whole group when his proposals will put workers and consumers at risk by scrapping employment rights, health and safety duties and environmental protection. Even the main trade association for Europe’s small firms has rejected the proposals as senseless.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Stress is the top concern in UK workplaces, findings of a TUC survey of union safety reps has found. The trailed results from the 11th biennial survey, to be published in full next month, reveal two-thirds of safety reps (67 per cent) say stress, and the effect it is having on their colleagues, is one of the main concerns they have to deal with at work. Hitting austerity-blighted public services particularly hard, TUC says top-down reorganisations and back-door privatisation are having a huge impact on staff morale and well-being in the NHS, schools, local government and the civil service. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We may sometimes joke about health and safety culture, but it’s no joke when you become the person lying awake at night from stress, made ill through long hours, a lack of control over your work or bullying in the office. Employers and managers need to do more to identify and reduce risks and to provide support to employees struggling to cope.” She added: “The higher stress risks reported for parts of the public sector are no surprise with so many services now understaffed as a result of the government’s huge public spending cuts. With so many people made redundant already, and another 600,000 jobs set to go before the end of the decade, public servants feel overworked and taken for granted. No wonder morale is at rock bottom.” Sixty-seven per cent of health and safety reps across all sectors cited stress as a top concern. In the public service sector the rate was 87 per cent for central government, 84 per cent for education, 78 per cent for health services and 77 per cent for local government.
Health service union UNISON is urging NHS staff in England to take their breaks and ambulance staff to not work unpaid overtime. Commenting as NHS and other staff embarked on industrial action in defence of decent services and work conditions, UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said “NHS staff go above and beyond what's expected of them every day and every week.” She said few staff are able to take meal and rest breaks “because of staffing shortages and increased workloads. These are the same staff that the government has slapped in the face with its derisory pay offer - not even a 1 per cent increase to all staff.” A recent UNISON survey showed that more than 45 per cent of staff “hardly ever had time for breaks during their shift”, with half worried about the effect of staffing shortages on patient safety. Staff work additional hours “because they care for their patients and cannot walk away,” said Christina McAnea. “The government is taking advantage of the goodwill and dedication of NHS staff who, last year, contributed around £1.5 billion in unpaid overtime to government finances.” More than half the staff surveyed said they could not afford to go on holiday and almost 70 per cent did not feel valued by their employer.
Punishing teachers for taking sick leave is not the answer to dealing with absence caused by work-related stress, teachers in Wales have said. The annual conference of NASUWT Cymru demanded that employers should look urgently at tackling the stress and anxiety which are among the main causes of teacher sickness absence, rather than creating a “culture of fear around the issue.” NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The constant change and excessive workload heaped on teachers in Wales has taken its toll on many teachers who are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety. We know of many who have been forced to take long periods of absence to deal with the issue. There is also a growing problem with ‘presenteeism’, where teachers who are genuinely experiencing work-related stress are too afraid to take leave.” The union leader warned: “Instead of examining and treating the causes of this serious issue, employers have focused on reviewing procedures which are aimed at tackling absence with an increasingly punitive approach. This fails to address the real issue and is leaving teachers in need of support and help dangerously vulnerable.”
Unions representing non-fiction TV workers in Canada and the UK have joined forces to challenge poor safety and working conditions in the sector. The Canadian Media Guild (CMG) and BECTU prepared a joint statement of principles aimed at improving the situation. It was presented to production and broadcast executives attending Realscreen, an industry conference that took place on 8-9 October in London. They warned workers on both sides at the Atlantic have reported concerns about unreasonable working hours, unpaid time and lack of safety in non-fiction/factual TV programme production. “Right now, this is an unsustainable sector of the production industry,” said Carmel Smyth, national president of the Canadian Media Guild. “People are burning out and getting hurt. They’re telling us they want a voice and standards so they can earn a living making programming for years to come. We’re eager to sit down with production companies and discuss how to make it better.” The principles presented by the two unions are modelled on a code of practice developed by BECTU in 2013. BECTU’s Sharon Elliott said: “Factual production is an increasingly important part of UK, and now global, broadcast content and yet working conditions remain sub-standard. Excessive working hours, inadequate rest time and poor health and safety management continue to top the list of workers’ concerns here in the UK.” The unions are calling on the industry to take measures including providing reasonable hours and time off and ensuring health and safety is “a top priority for each production.”
Construction union UCATT have welcomed a new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asbestos awareness campaign but has warned that workers have been denied effective advice for over four years due to government “penny-pinching”. The campaign will see asbestos safety packs distributed at TradePoint outlets and an app which can be downloaded onto phones and computers that informs workers when they are likely to come into contact with asbestos. HSE says it is a problem leading to the death of 20 tradespeople every week. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said the government’s bar on campaigns – the Hidden Killer campaign was on the blocks and ready to go when David Cameron came to power in 2010 – “means that for the last four and a half years, thousands of workers have been needlessly exposed to asbestos and their health put at risk.” UCATT said it was dealing with “an increasing number of cases where a lack of training or a lack of information means that workers are needlessly being exposed to asbestos.” HSE’s new campaign has its critics. They say a lack of awareness is not the problem for most building workers, it is an inability to act for fear of losing their job. The answer to this, they say, is a greater HSE emphasis on regulation, inspection and enforcement. And IATP, the organisation representing asbestos training providers, has warned that HSE’s app could encourage workers to undertake work with asbestos materials that should only be done by properly protected and trained licensed contractors. An unusually high number of comments critical of the app have been posted on HSE’s asbestos licensing web community forum.
A new judicial review launched by UNISON over the introduction of employment tribunal fees is set to be heard at the High Court on 21-22 October 2014. It follows the decision of the Court of Appeal last month to stay the appeal of the earlier High Court decision over tribunal fees, in light of new evidence showing a huge drop in tribunal claims (Risks 673). The Lord Chancellor agreed with UNISON that a new hearing should take place as soon as possible. Under the fees system, workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The High Court's decision to schedule the judicial review within a month of the union filing its claim shows just how important the issue of tribunal fees is. Over the past year we have seen tens of thousands of workers denied access to justice simply because they can no longer afford to bring an employment tribunal claim. If the government doesn't abolish these unfair fees it is effectively rolling out the welcome mat to unscrupulous employers, and we must do everything possible not to let that happen.”
Rail union RMT has warned of the dangers of a growing rolling stock crisis on Britain’s railways. It says latest industry admissions expose the threat to passenger safety of government plans to axe guards and station staff under new franchise agreements. The problem was highlighted this week by the loss of nine complete trains from the already chronically overcrowded Trans-Pennine Express (TPE) routes, with another firm winning the lease on the trains. Alistair Gordon, boss of Keolis which runs TPE, admitted to the Financial Times on 12 October that passengers simply cannot get on to trains and that he recently saw a passenger faint as a result of overcrowding. RMT says the capacity crisis on Trans-Pennine Express and the rest of the network is wholly down to the “fragmentation and profiteering of privatisation”, with rail firms competing to lease limited rolling stock. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is all very well the boss of Keolis telling the story of how he saw a passenger faint on an overcrowded TPE train but what if that passenger had had a heart attack and there were no guards or platform staff to help? Imagine trying to evacuate these overcrowded services with no trained staff on the scene? It defies belief that the new franchises will plunge us into that nightmare scenario.”
NHS staff are being placed at risk of deadly diseases by foot-dragging employers who are failing to introduce readily available safer ‘sharps’, including needles, syringes and lancets, UNISON has warned. Official figures obtained by the health service union reveal startling variations between NHS Trusts and regions in how they buy and use safety sharps. UNISON’s freedom of information request to the NHS Business Service Authority found that only 28 per cent of sharps devices purchased in 2014 were safety devices. This compared with 24 per cent in 2013. However while some community trusts reported that 83 per cent of devices they purchased were safety devices, in other areas the figure was as low as 16 per cent. Health and safety regulations require all healthcare employers to substitute unprotected sharps with ones incorporating safety mechanisms, when it is 'reasonably practical' to do so. The main risk from sharps injuries is when the device has been used and contaminated with bodily fluids. This can create a risk of infection through viruses carried in the blood such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, and bacteria such as tetanus. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that as many as 100,000 health workers are injured by sharps each year. UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “Health staff often work in frantic, high stress environments and it is crucial that the equipment they use provides them with adequate protection. One hundred thousand injuries each year is far too many, causing health workers to worry about possible long term ill-health if infected, and causing deep distress to workers who are injured. It would be much better if employers prevented this in the first place.” She added: “Purchasing safer needles and sharps devices would be more cost effective than committed health workers off sick injured by outmoded unsafe instruments.”
Campaigners against the construction industry blacklist have reacted with anger after the Metropolitan Police (MPS) refused to ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) whether the Blacklist Support Group has been the subject of surveillance by undercover police units including Special Branch. The statement from the MPS came in a 9 October 2014 written response to a Freedom of Information request by investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain. MPS responded that it was in the “public interest” for them to refuse to “confirm or deny in order to safeguard national security” the existence of files on the Blacklist Support Group, many of whose members were targeted for their safety role. This is despite a Select Committee investigation finding that and undercover police unit, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), attended and gave powerpoint presentations to meetings of the covert, industry-financed and controlled blacklisting group the Consulting Association. Responding to the MPS refusal to come clean, Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith said: “It is without doubt that the police and security services are spying on trade unionists fighting for justice on the issue of blacklisting.” He added: “The refusal to provide any information whatsoever smacks of an establishment cover-up. Blacklisting is no longer an industrial relations issue: it is a human rights conspiracy.” A highly critical report this week from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) revealed there are currently more than 1,200 undercover police officers operating in 39 units across England and Wales.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Passengers arriving at Heathrow airport from Ebola-affected countries are now being screened by health officials. The government said “a few passengers” had their temperatures checked and filled in a health questionnaire at Terminal 1 when the policy took effect on 14 October. Screening will be extended to Heathrow's other terminals by the end of this week, and Gatwick airport and Eurostar next week. The UK and the US have both introduced screening measures in response to the threat from Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa, including over 200 healthcare staff exposed while treating Ebola patients. High risk passengers at Heathrow are flagged up to border control and passed on to health workers from Public Health England who then carry out the actual screening. They have their temperatures taken, complete a risk questionnaire and have contact details recorded. Anyone with suspected Ebola will be taken to hospital. Passengers deemed to be at high risk due to contact with Ebola patients, but who are displaying no symptoms, will be contacted daily by Public Health England. Questions asked on the form include “did you come into contact with a person known/suspected to have Ebola” and “do you have a temperature?”. Critics say the tests could be an expensive waste of time, costing £9m over six months, as passengers from the high risk countries have faced similar checks prior to boarding flights. Recent cases illustrate the risk to healthcare workers is not confined to those working in West Africa, with workers in Spanish and US hospitals contracting the disease while treating Ebola patients.
The government’s Work and Health Service has been rebranded as ‘Fit for Work’ ahead of its launch later this year. It says the service will provide an occupational health assessment and health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs to help people return to or stay in work after an illness. Disability and welfare reform minister Lord Freud – criticised by Labour and the TUC this week after suggesting some disabled workers were “not worth the full [minimum] wage” - said: “Fit for Work will help employers and their staff to manage sickness absence and aid the return-to-work process and GPs will play a vital role in referring patients they think will benefit from it.” The choice of Health Management Limited, part of the US multinational MAXIMUS, to deliver Fit for Work in England and Wales has attracted some criticism. The union-backed workers’ health magazine Hazards revealed that MAXIMUS had been accused by injured workers groups in the US of mishandling similar contracts, with allegations it had blocked access to health care and rehabilitation. The TUC has said the new Fit for Work service is too limited, should be a part of the health service and should have a greater focus on learning lessons and prevention (Risks 665).
Doctors in Britain are “missing opportunities” to spot lung cancer at an early stage, meaning one in three people with the disease dies within 90 days of diagnosis, a study has found. Researchers looked at lung cancer cases in 20,142 people aged over 30 and found one in 10 had died within a month of diagnosis and one in seven (15 per cent) within three months. One in 20 had been diagnosed only after they had died, according to the study published in the journal Thorax. The study found that affected individuals were typically visiting their GP, but that the condition was being missed. The findings have major implications for occupational health. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates around 15 per cent of all lung cancer deaths are related to occupation, or around 5,000 deaths a year. Where cases are diagnosed late or after death, the link to work will be more likely to be overlooked. Recognising and controlling cancer risk factors at work can be one of the most effective routes to prevention. The researchers from the University of Nottingham said fewer people in the UK with lung cancer survive than in other countries. In Sweden, for example, 46 per cent of people with the disease between 2004 and 2007 survived a year, compared with 30 per cent in Britain.
Ÿ Emma L O’Dowd and others. What characteristics of primary care and patients are associated with early death in patients with lung cancer in the UK?, Thorax, Published Online First, 13 October 2014.
The UK government plans to allow fracking companies to put “any substance” under people’s homes and property and leave it there, under an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill debated by the House of Lords this week. The government said the change was part of a package of controversial measures “vital to kickstarting” shale gas exploration. Chemical exposures during fracking operations in the US have been linked to a number deaths (Risks 669).Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth said the amendment would allow companies to dispose of fracking fluid, often contaminated with toxic metals and radioactive elements. “The government appears to be trying to sneak through an amendment which would allow fracking firms to reinject their waste under people’s homes and businesses. Reinjection has caused countless problems in the US and you have to question how far this government will go to make fracking a reality.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
A whistleblower alerted inspectors to safety blunders at a renovation site in swanky Mayfair, leading to the criminal prosecution of a civil engineering contractor. Covent Garden-based Peter Lind and Co (Central Region) Limited, a company with a history of operating unsafe sites, was prosecuted after a subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection of the site identified serious work at height risks. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that concerns were first raised about safety standards at the site, where two five-storey regency houses were being extensively overhauled, by an anonymous complainant in December 2013. When a HSE inspector visited some eight weeks later he uncovered a catalogue of criminal safety failings including an absence of edge protection exposing workers to potential falls of between three and eight metres, unsafe ladders and tower scaffolds and material perched precariously on exposed edges. The failings mirrored those raised by the original complainant, meaning nothing had changed in the intervening period to protect workers. HSE immediately served a prohibition notice requiring urgent improvements. Magistrates heard that HSE inspectors had also identified concerns at three other sites managed by the company in 2012 and 2013, and that in each instance enforcement notices or written warnings had to be served. Peter Lind and Co (Central Region) Limited was fined £11,500 and ordered to pay £1,369 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
A road worker suffered burns when a road marking vehicle caught fire and exploded in Bristol, a court has heard. Neil Higgins from Leighton Buzzard was laying road markings with a team in Hartcliffe on 25 June 2013 when the explosion happened. He suffered minor burns. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Redland Road Marking Ltd at Bristol Magistrates Court. HSE’s investigation found pipework to the gas-heated cauldrons on top of the vehicle, which had not been fitted by a competent person, was not properly connected and the equipment had no flame failure devices. Mr Higgins’ employer, Redland Road Marking Ltd, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the work equipment regulations and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,123 in costs. HSE principal inspector Helena Tinton said: “This is not the first time there has been a fire of this nature on a road marking vehicle and the operators need to ensure that the equipment has been installed by a competent person and regularly maintained. It is a matter of good fortune that nobody died as a result of this incident.”
A quarter of workers in Europe report feeling stressed at work all or most of the time, and a similar proportion say that work affects their health negatively, a new report has revealed. ‘Psychosocial risks in Europe: Prevalence and strategies for prevention’ has been published jointly by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working and Living Conditions (Eurofound). They found fewer people report working long hours but say at the same time job insecurity has increased across Europe, and in some countries work intensity has risen in companies struggling in the economic crisis. Director of EU-OSHA, Dr Christa Sedlatschek, said “psychosocial risks, although more sensitive, can be tackled in the same systematic way as ‘traditional’ workplace risks.” Eurofound director Juan Menéndez-Valdés added: “Reducing psychosocial risks and protecting workers from these risks is critical for allowing longer working lives and preventing early labour market exits.” He added: “Research shows that the role of social dialogue and social partners is relevant to raise awareness and implement interventions.”
Hanna Majanen summed it up best: "It is the things you do automatically that are difficult. People will touch their face, rub their eyes and bite their fingernails. These are the things you forget.” As medical focal point for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Liberia, she says protecting health workers means not only following strict procedures on wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) and ensuring maximum standards of hygiene in every aspect of work, but ensuring psychological back-up for those treating Ebola patients, and limiting rotations. Health workers have always been among the fatalities in Ebola outbreaks, notably in Sudan and the then Zaire where the virus first came to light in 1976. But the West Africa epidemic highlighted their extreme vulnerability. According to WHO, in its Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Report for 8 October, some 401 health workers had contracted Ebola, with 232 confirmed or suspected deaths. Ebola cases in healthcare workers exposed treating patients in US and Spanish hospitals show the risk isn’t confined to West Africa. And groups of workers outside of healthcare settings may face risks without any of the protective infrastructure and equipment. Up to 200 cleaning workers at New York’s LaGuardia Airport took strike action last week, seeking more durable gloves, as well as goggles and face masks for certain jobs that involve exposure to urine and faeces. They claim they often encounter hypodermic needles, vomit and blood. According to Amity Paye, a spokesperson for the union SEIU: “At least once per week an employee is sprayed with lavatory sewage from a plane, a mishap workers dub a ‘baptism’.”
Ÿ Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Report, WHO, 8 October 2014.
Ÿ NYCOSH New York airports health and safety report, October 2014.
Canada’s major freight rail companies are fighting moves by the federal transportation regulator to curb “extreme fatigue” among railway engineers, a CBC News investigation has found. CN Rail, CP and the Railway Association of Canada went on the attack two weeks ago at a “tense and heated” meeting of industry, union and government representatives, according to a number of people present. The conflict was over research by Transport Canada that found high levels of exhaustion among workers driving freight trains, and proposals by the regulator to impose new limits on scheduling to help reduce their fatigue. “The body language from industry was, 'You're not going to push us around’,” said Rob Smith of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, recalling the meeting of the Fatigue Management Working Group, part of the federal government’s Advisory Council on Railway Safety. He said the industry was determined to discredit Transport Canada's research and thwart the regulator's proposals. CBC News obtained internal Transport Canada documents, including meeting minutes and the working group's draft report that details widespread fatigue among freight engineers and proposes mandatory restrictions on how workers are scheduled. The government report concludes that rail lags behind the airline and trucking industries in dealing with fatigue. “Industry knows there's a problem, but doesn't want to address it,” said the TCRC's Rob Smith. “They wanted to go back and open this up again and have their own researchers look into it, where they've had months and months to do this previously.” The reason, he says, is the “cost.” Clinton Marquardt, a fatigue specialist who has worked with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) on 91 accident investigations, most recently the Lac Megantic disaster (Risks 669), says company demands for profit and efficiency have for too long been prioritised at the expense of the welfare of rail workers. “I think Transport Canada has to step up and play a strong leadership role here and say, 'Enough is enough,'” Marquardt said, adding that it's time for rail companies to be forced to put their employees' need for sleep ahead of profits.
Japan’s government failed to prevent workers from being exposed to harmful asbestos and is responsible for the diseases that resulted, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled. The court handed down the decision in two suits filed by former asbestos mill workers in southern Osaka Prefecture and their bereaved families. The decision is expected to affect similar asbestos damages suits pending across the nation. The court held the state liable for ¥330 million (£1.93bn) in compensation relating to two suits filed by plaintiffs including 55 asbestos patients, some of whom have died. The plaintiffs had claimed that the government delayed implementing asbestos control measures, contributing to the former workers developing asbestos-related diseases. Outside the court, plaintiffs and their supporters erupted in joy when they heard the ruling. “This is a huge step forward,” one man said through a megaphone. “I’m sure this will give ammunition to future anti-asbestos movements like ours.”
Ÿ Japan Times.
COURSES FOR 2014
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