|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 email@example.com.|
Stress tops the workplace concerns of union health and safety reps, the TUC’s 11th biennial TUC survey has found. The survey findings, published last week, reveal the top-five cited hazards are stress, bullying and harassment, overwork, back strains and slips, and trips and falls on the level. Over two-thirds of safety reps (67 per cent) taking part in the survey said that stress, and the effect it is having on their colleagues, is one of the main concerns they have to deal with at work. One in six of the workplace reps who completed the survey say their employers are failing to conduct risk assessments, which is a breach of health and safety law. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s shocking that so many employers are breaking the law and putting their staff at risk of illness and accidents by their sheer negligence. Not only does this put people in danger while doing their jobs, the consequences also carry a high cost for British businesses and public services because it results in lower productivity and more staff spending time off sick.” She added: “Stress remains the top concern for health and safety workplace reps. It’s a particular problem in parts of the public sector like the NHS and local government that have been hit by cuts and top-down reorganisations. Sickness and absence from stress is one of the false economies of public sector austerity.”
Ÿ TUC news release and full report, Focus on health and safety: Trade union trends survey, October 2014.
Cuts to jobs and increasing workloads are leading to more stress and ill-health in the civil service, according to new surveys for PCS. Two surveys carried out for the union by employment analysts and academics have revealed high levels of stress, longer working hours, and fewer opportunities to achieve a work-life balance. The results come after the latest official statistics showed 87,000 civil servants had lost their jobs since 2010 as ministers boast of shrinking the civil service to the smallest since the second world war. PCS says the surveys show conditions for civil servants have worsened since the union's first stress survey was carried out in 2006, with stress now “considerably higher.” ‘Change’ was identified as the most significant contributory factor. More than half (52 per cent) of those surveyed reported working beyond contracted hours and almost threequarters stated their workload had increased. The main reasons given were reduced staffing levels (74 per cent), new working practices (58 per cent) and increased personal targets (42 per cent). More than one fifth (23 per cent) experienced work-related stress up to 50 per cent of the time, with almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents saying they had suffered from ill-health as a result of stress at work. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “While ministers cheer the fact they're cutting the civil service to the bone, their unnecessary cuts are clearly having a detrimental effect on people's health and their ability to do their work. The government has no claim to be a model employer when it is causing such high levels of stress, ill-health and overwork.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
Violence against public service workers in Scotland increased again last year and has nearly doubled over the past eight years, latest figures show. Dave Watson presented the findings of UNISON Scotland's annual survey of violent incidents to the union’s health and safety conference in Stirling last week. The UNISON Scottish organiser revealed there had been 37,052 incidents reported to public service employers last year – up 3,363 and almost double the 20,000 reported when the first survey was first conducted in 2006. Dave Watson said: “It is entirely unacceptable for staff who serve the public to be assaulted for simply doing their job. These statistics record reported incidents and are therefore only the tip of the iceberg of misery faced by workers across Scotland’s public services.” He added: “The biggest increase in violent incidents is happening in those services that have suffered staffing cuts. Workers are stretched too thinly, dealing with service users who are coping with cuts in the services they rely on. This is a toxic cocktail that is putting hard pressed workers at greater risk of violent assault.” Scott Donohoe, chair of UNISON Scotland’s health and safety committee, said: “To seriously tackle violence against staff we need proper monitoring, backed up by effective workplace measures to minimise the risks. We also need better legal protection for workers in the civil and criminal courts.”
A healthcare assistant, who was attacked by a patient with a known history of aggression, has been awarded an undisclosed sum in compensation. When answering the ward doorbell, the UNISON member was grabbed and thrown two metres across the room by the patient, who suffers from schizophrenia. The healthcare assistant landed heavily on the floor, fracturing her left wrist and finger. She was forced to take five months off work to recover from her injuries, during which time she relied on help from friends and family as she was unable to drive. She also spent four weeks in plaster and had a course of physiotherapy lasting 13 weeks. The patient who attacked her had a history of violence and aggression. He should not have been on the ward as the staff at the hospital had not been given sufficient training on how to deal with a patient who posed such a danger. On the day of the incident the patient had refused to take his medication. UNISON's head of health Christina McAnea said: “Nobody should experience violence at work, but unfortunately it does happen, and the risk of exposure for people working in certain areas of the health service is becoming more common. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that staff are protected, or at the very least have adequate training, to deal with what can sometimes be very dangerous working environments.”
Retail union Usdaw has expressed disappointment at the government refusal to stiffen sentences for those who assault workers selling alcohol, following a 20 October debate in the House of Lords. General secretary John Hannett said: “I am very concerned but not surprised that yet again the government has blocked necessary protection for workers on the frontline of enforcing licensing laws.” He added: “It simply is not good enough for the government to rely on Sentencing Council guidelines to tackle this problem. The public are not aware of these guidelines, so they offer no deterrent to attackers. Often the judiciary do not get the opportunity to use the guidelines because the police or Crown Prosecution Service have decided against cases going to court. However, we are not convinced that the judiciary are applying these guidelines even when cases do come before them.” The union leader concluded: “We need a simple stand-alone offence that provides stiffer penalties for those who assault workers selling alcohol – an offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS and judiciary. Despite this setback our campaign to protect shopworkers from violence threats and abuse continues, with support from across the alcohol sales industry.”
Unions have expressed their dismay after ministers rejected calls for an independent public inquiry into helicopter safety prompted by a series of offshore ditching incidents and deaths. The Transport Select Committee demanded a full and independent public inquiry earlier this year “to investigate commercial pressures on helicopter safety in the North Sea operating environment.” Pilots' union BALPA had highlighted this as a problem. But in its response to the select committee, the Department for Transport states: “Neither the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), industry nor government has seen any evidence to suggest safety is being compromised as a result of commercial pressure.” BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said the union was “extremely disappointed.” He added: “There is clearly a difference of opinion between pilots operating in the North Sea and the oil and gas industry as to whether commercial pressure in the awarding of contracts has a bearing on safety. We will continue to press for a full public inquiry.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the offshore union RMT, said he was “appalled” at the government refusal to hold a “full independent and public inquiry into helicopter safety.” He said: “The failure to agree to a public inquiry leads to the obvious question, ‘just what have you got to hide?’ This response from the government to the Transport Committee represents a complete failure to get to grips with the safety issue in the offshore industry and will send out a wholly negative signal. RMT will continue to fight for a public inquiry and will continue to support the families of those who have lost loved ones in our industry. The fight for the safety of offshore workers goes on.” Transport select committee chair Louise Ellman said: “I am deeply disappointed that ministers have rejected our recommendation they should hold an independent inquiry to investigate offshore helicopter safety.”
Ÿ The Herald.
A Premier Foods employee injured in a fall while cleaning a bread oven has received a £4,600 compensation payout. BFAWU member Paul Strange was asked to clean a large bread oven at Premier Foods’ Avonmouth bakery. However, there was not a ladder or other safe means of access down onto the oven floor. Instead, Paul had to climb over the oven wall and use a crankshaft fitted to the wall for support. He slipped from the crankshaft and fell heavily onto the floor. He suffered ligament damage to his shoulder and a soft tissue injury to his left wrist, the injuries leading to two months off work. Ronnie Draper, general secretary at BFAWU, said: “There can be no complacency when it comes to an individual working at height, and it is vital that employers provide the correct equipment to ensure the safety of their staff.” He added: “It’s irresponsible of Premier Foods to let a member of their staff carry out this task knowing that there was not the right facilities in place. As a result of their negligence, our member suffered a personal injury that impacted upon his work and personal life.”
The prime minister must ensure that the government of Qatar is committed to ending slavery and abuse of migrant workers, the TUC has said. In a letter to David Cameron ahead of his scheduled meeting with the Emir of Qatar, the union body notes: “Conditions for foreign workers in Qatar, including those building the infrastructure needed for the 2022 World Cup, continue to be of grave concern. Figures confirmed by Qatar show that 964 workers from India and Nepal alone died between 2012 and 2013, a rate of 40 every month.” The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Silence from David Cameron will be taken as support for what is effectively slavery in Qatar. Britain must be part of the international campaign to ensure that Qatar improves living and working conditions for migrant workers. The World Cup should a symbol of global friendship, not smeared with the blood of those who build its stadiums.”
Peers have voted in favour of government plans to exempt most self-employed workers from safety law. The government’s Deregulation Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 21 October, with the vote going 253 to 175 in favour of keeping Clause 1 on the self-employed exemption. Unions and safety professionals had opposed the move, which will mean the self-employed are no longer subject to the Health and Safety at Work Act unless they are undertaking one of a short list of ‘prescribed activities’. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said it was opposed to the clause and has raised its concern that the exemption could lead to confusion, lower standards and increase the risk of injury and illness at work. IOSH head of policy Richard Jones said: “IOSH is very disappointed that the Lords do not seem to have understood the serious problems that this misguided and unnecessary exemption would cause and have not voted for its removal. We will need to redouble our efforts in making the case for its removal as the Bill continues its journey through parliament.” The TUC said: “The debate showed that the Lords who voted for the clause simply ignored the evidence that the clause would cause confusion and was not what had been proposed by Professor Lofstedt in his report a couple of years ago.” The proposals, which have already been approved by the Commons at an early stage of the Bill’s progress, will go back to Commons and will then pass to the Health and Safety Executive, which will draft the regulations.
Ÿ House of Lords debate, 21 October 2014.
A landmark Supreme Court judgment will ensure a fair settlement for the bereaved families of asbestos disease victims, a specialist personal injury law firm has said. The case involved delivery driver Percy McDonald whose life was cut short by the cancer mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos dust decades ago when he regularly visited Battersea Power Station to pick up waste products. Percy and his family had previously been denied compensation because he was not employed by the occupier of the site and because their primary work was not in the asbestos industry. Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who represented Percy’s family after he died aged 83 a week before the Supreme Court hearing in February this year, said that last week’s ruling in the family’s favour clarifies the law and gives greater protection to current and future victims of industrial diseases and accidents. The judgment - with Lord Kerr, Lady Hale and Lord Clarke outvoting Lord Reed and Lord Neuberger - gives guidance on several key points of law. Irwin Mitchell said the ruling establishes that under the Factories Act the occupier of the premises is responsible for the welfare of the people on site, not just those it employs directly. Secondly it also states that the Asbestos Industry Regulations apply to all factories using asbestos - not just those involved in the asbestos industry. Solicitor Alida Coates, the partner at Irwin Mitchell who represented the family, said: “This judgment will give all people who work on factory sites additional protection in their working environment. At a time when the current government seem set on eroding the protection offered to people at work, it is refreshing to note that the judges in the Supreme Court take the protection of workers seriously.”
Ÿ The Mirror.
Rail accident investigators have warned that potentially disastrous safety problems have not been addressed by the industry years after being discovered. The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) details the failings in its annual report, published this week. RAIB chief inspector Carolyn Griffiths warned that dozens of recommendations had gone unheeded - with 25 still not addressed after three years. The 2008 derailment of two massive diesel locomotives at a Somerset junction was among the cases where action had yet to be taken. Investigators found staff fatigue had played a part in the incident, but six years later Network Rail still allows working weeks of up to 72 hours. The chief inspector said there were “a number of recommendations where we have particular concerns over the adequacy of the actions taken by the industry, and consequently the risks we noted during our investigations may still not be adequately addressed.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said: “It is wholly unacceptable that key safety recommendations are taking so long to be implemented despite the explicit instructions of the main body that investigates accidents on Britain’s railways.” He added: “RMT has repeatedly warned that budget constraints, fragmentation and casualisation remain the major threats to rail safety and that those risks will be heightened as the network struggles to cope with surging demand. There must be no further slippage on the implementation of key safety recommendations.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A horticultural company has been fined after a worker died and three others were seriously injured in an explosion while emptying a pressurised tank used to heat greenhouses. Cantelo Nurseries Ltd employee Peter James, 67, died of head injuries six days after the incident. Two of his workmates had been asked to open the tank in preparation for upgrading work at a nursery at Bradon Farm, Isle Abbots, near Taunton on 11 May 2010. The court heard they were asked to unbolt a hatch cover from a pressure vessel while there was still pressure in the system. This caused a devastating release of pressure that sent the hatch cover flying across the room followed by a large jet of water that swept everyone off their feet. In addition to Mr James’s fatal injuries, the three other men standing nearby suffered severe injuries. Arek Kuchczynski, 29, was unconscious for two weeks following the incident and remained in hospital for many months after suffering injuries to his head and skull, and damage to his forearm, requiring three operations and a skin graft. Roger Mees, a 43-year-old horticultural manager, suffered serious trauma to his head including a broken jaw, heavy bruising to his face, damage to his teeth, a cut across the nose, black eyes and a two-inch cut to his lip. Horticultural technician Radoslau Dimitov, aged 25, also suffered a fractured arm. Taunton Crown Court was told the hatch should not have been removed until all the pressure had been safely released from the system. Cantelo Nurseries Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £59,812 in costs. HSE inspector Christine Haberfield said: “All that was needed was a little thought beforehand to ensure that the work was properly planned, carried out by competent people and supervised. Had this been done, this tragedy could have been avoided.”
An Oldham manufacturer has been ordered to pay £125,000 in fines and costs after an employee was killed when he was struck by a three-tonne piece of steel being lifted by an overhead crane. Michael Wickstead, 63, was working for Refinery Supplies Ltd in Chadderton when two overhead cranes collided. The impact sent a steel container toppling, striking Mr Wickstead and causing fatal crush injuries. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation into the incident, on 11 July 2011, found a safe system of work had not been in place at the factory. Manchester Crown Court heard that Mr Wickstead had been involved in manufacturing a large steel container, used to hold molten lead or zinc, which had been resting on a stand with chains hanging down to it from an overhead crane. A colleague was using another crane on the same overhead rail to move another container when the cranes collided, knocking the one Mr Wickstead was working on off its stand. The cranes were not fitted with anti-collision devices or other safeguards. Refinery Supplies Ltd was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Helen Jones said: “Refinery Supplies knew there was a risk of cranes colliding at the factory and, in fact, this had happened on several previous occasions without the same catastrophic result. However, the firm failed to take any action to make sure workers weren’t put at risk of being injured.”
A North Lanarkshire employer has been fined for criminal safety failings that led to a worker being killed after he was thrown from a forklift truck and crushed. David Westwater, 22, had only been working for Basil Pinkney, in his small scaffold refurbishment business in Coatbridge, for two weeks before the incident happened on 28 August 2012. Airdrie Sheriff Court heard that Mr Westwater was driving an unladen forklift truck down a sloping access way to the front gate to see his girlfriend when she arrived to pick him up at the end of his shift. He made a sharp left hand turn, causing the vehicle to tip over. Mr Westwater, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown to the ground and the vehicle’s protective cage fell onto his head trapping him beneath it. Alerted by the screams of his girlfriend, a colleague rushed to use another forklift truck to raise the vehicle to free Mr Westwater. He had suffered multiple head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. Mr Westwater had not received any formal training on driving forklift trucks. He had been given about 20 minutes’ in-house training but this fell far short of the standard required by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Basil ‘Bill’ Pinkney, 69, was fined £24,500 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
A Bedfordshire veterinary firm has been fined after workers were potentially exposed over a four year period to animal chemotherapy drugs that can cause cancer and birth defects. Employees of Davies Veterinary Specialists Limited, including vets, nurses and support staff, could have been exposed to the drugs as they prepared medicines to treat animals with cancer at the firm’s premises in Higham Gobion, Bedfordshire. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it emerged the fume cabinet used for animal chemotherapy drug preparation was not used correctly. Luton Crown Court heard that a dangerous occurrence was reported to HSE in September 2011 after one of the vets believed that the fume cabinet was unsuitable. Staff had not been given any safety training in the safe use of the fume cupboard, and there was inadequate personal protective equipment and no monitoring systems. This meant that over a period of over four years, from July 2007 until September 2011, staff working at the practice could have been exposed to the potentially harmful drugs. Davies Veterinary Specialists Limited, of Shefford Business Centre pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £50,378 in costs.
A scrap metal firm has been fined for criminal health and safety failings after workers suffered from lead poisoning and the firm failed to act on repeated warnings. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said one 48-year-old man from Darwen, who has asked not to be named, was admitted to hospital after blood tests revealed he had seven times the ‘normal’ amount of lead in his body, putting him at risk of health problems including nerve, brain and kidney damage, and infertility. Frank Barnes (Darwen) Ltd was prosecuted by HSE after an investigation found employees had been regularly exposed to lead fumes and dust for a number of months. Preston Crown Court heard the firm had been contracted by a lead battery manufacturer to dismantle metal structures and machinery in 2009. The owners of the battery firm provided an induction on working with lead, and regularly monitored each employee for exposure. On 24 November 2009, the 48-year-old employee was found to have high levels of lead in his blood and was suspended from working with lead at the battery factory, as is required by law. Frank Barnes was told the employee should not work with lead materials, but this advice was ignored. The warning was repeated in January 2010 when another blood test revealed the lead levels in his blood were still high but, again, this was ignored. HSE was alerted in early February by the GP of another employee whose blood also had high levels of lead. HSE says one of its medical inspectors made it clear to the firm that any workers with high blood readings should be taken off that type of work until their levels had reduced. Despite this, again no action was taken and employees continued to be exposed to lead, leading to the 48-year-old employee being admitted to hospital later that month. In March 2010 HSE found a further two workers who should have been suspended were still working with lead and had not been given suitable protective equipment. Frank Barnes (Darwen) Ltd was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £29,639.65 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, tiredness, nausea and stomach pains. Exposure can also lead to more serious conditions, including cancer and brain and kidney damage.
Leaders of the United Steelworkers (USW) in Canada say its campaign to stop workplace killing through better enforcement of existing laws has gained momentum now that it has been raised with federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers. The union has been pressing for jurisdictions across Canada to make use of 2003 amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada dealing with workplace deaths. “Since it became clear that the amendments holding corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for workplace death and injury were not being enforced, the campaign to save lives became one of convincing provincial and territorial attorneys-general to get the job done,” said USW Canada national director Ken Neumann. “That means they must direct police and Crown attorneys in their jurisdictions to investigate and prosecute workplace death and injury as they would any potential crime scene.” He added: “After more than a decade, and thousands of workplace deaths, only a handful of Criminal Code charges have been laid. And not a single boss has spent time in jail for their crimes. For families, fines are not enough, and justice has not been served.” USW Western Canada director Steve Hunt said “we will continue to expose the injustice and cruelty that has prevented thousands of Canadian families from moving forward with their lives after a workplace death. The tears will not stop, but neither will our determination to see justice done and seen to be done.”
Workers are facing appalling labour conditions that amount to forced labour in the export-oriented Southern Indian textile industry, a study has found. The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) discovered women and girls who work in the spinning mills of Tamil Nadu, some as young as 15, are forced to work long hours for low wages. They live in very basic company-run hostels and are hardly ever allowed to leave the company compound. The spinning mills investigated have Western companies including C&A, Mothercare, HanesBrands, Sainsbury's and Primark and customers, as well as firms in Bangladesh. ‘Flawed Fabrics’, a new report from SOMO and ICN, presents the findings of research at five spinning mills in Tamil Nadu. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 150 workers, combined with an analysis of corporate information and export data regarding the companies involved. The teenage girls and young women told researchers how they had been lured from their home villages with promises of decent jobs and good pay. Instead they found themselves working in appalling conditions that the report says amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour. SOMO researcher Martje Theuws said: “Business efforts are failing to address labour rights violations effectively. Corporate auditing is not geared towards detecting forced labour and other major labour rights infringements. Moreover, there is a near complete lack of supply chain transparency. Local trade unions and labour groups are consistently ignored.” SOMO and ICN are calling on “all corporate actors along the global garment supply chain – from spinning mills to fashion brands – to be more transparent about their supplier base. They have to be more ambitious in detecting and addressing human rights violations by allowing trade unions and civil society organisations to play their specific roles.”
Ÿ ICN news release. Flawed fabrics - The abuse of girls and women workers in the South Indian textile industry, SOMO & ICN, October 2014.
To protect the USA’s health care workers and the public from exposure to the Ebola virus, President Barack Obama should use his executive authority to put in place mandatory protections and other workplace standards for hospitals and other health care facilities, national union federation AFL-CIO has said. In letters to the president and congressional leaders, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said: “Existing protocols, standards and guidelines, and adherence to them, are deficient. The failures in the response have put dozens of additional health care workers at risk, and potentially exposed many other workers and members of the public... Immediate action is needed.” AFL-CIO says the standards should include the “highest level of protective equipment,” including use of air purifying respirators and full body suits with hands on training on the proper way to put on and take off the protective gear. Trumka also called for protection from retaliation for workers who report health and safety issues or who contract the Ebola virus or are restricted or placed under quarantine. Unions National Nurse United (NNU) and AFT, which also represents nurses and other health care professionals, have called for strong mandatory protections for health care workers. Both unions have been providing assistance to nurses unions and health care workers organisations in West Africa, including working with international organisations to provide health care workers with education, training and other support.
Ÿ Mother Jones.
COURSES FOR 2014
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