|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.|
The government has attempted to quietly bury its own appraisal of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) “approach to negotiating and implementing European legislation” after it concluded it did not lead to problems for British business. Instead the review by a senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official found the approach did fit well with the government’s “growth agenda”. The TUC said there was no announcement in parliament, with the report instead published online without notice on a Friday afternoon. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “It simply appeared on the DWP website after the government sat on it for six months, despite having received Freedom of Information requests for it from Hazards magazine several months ago.” He added that the government “set up this review because they wanted to be able to use the report to attack both the EU and health and safety in general,” but then attempted to bury it when the facts didn’t fit. According to TUC, the report found “there is absolutely no grounds for Britain refusing to implement any of the proposed EU regulations on health and safety… In summary, the government, once again set up an inquiry to try to get ammunition that they could use against two of its big bogeymen, health and safety and Europe. They failed miserably so, once they were forced to publish it, they slipped it out on a Friday without even a press announcement.”
Ÿ TUC Stronger Unions blog. Appraisal of HSE’s approach to negotiating and implementing European legislation, Kim Archer, DWP, published online 31 October 2014.
New official statistics on workplace illness and injury levels paint a worrying picture, the TUC has warned. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that the number of people being injured or made ill through work is now rising, reversing a long-term downward trend. New cases of work-related illnesses, and the number of self-reported injuries, have both risen to well above the level in 2010/11. At the same time enforcement action has fallen. While the number of immediate fatalities, reported earlier in the year, remain low, there has not been a similar fall in the number of deaths through diseases such as work-related cancers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The rise in illness and injury should be a wake-up call demanding stronger regulation and enforcement for rogue bosses who put their staff at risk.” She added: “The Health and Safety Executive does an excellent job with its resources, but the government’s decision to reduce the number of inspections is allowing more rogue bosses to get away with it. It’s both a human tragedy and a false economy to continue with two million people living with an illness caused by work, and 600,000 new workplace injuries a year.” HSE says an estimated 28.2 million working days were lost due to work related ill health or injury in 2013/14. The figures show that around 13,000 people a year die through work-related ill-health – 100 times the annual work fatalities toll. The number of new cases of self-reported work-related ill-health has now increased to 535,000 per year. Almost half a million people suffered workplace-related stress, depression or anxiety last year; around half were new cases. HSE put the cost of work-related injury and ill-health caused by “current” workplace conditions at £14.2bn, although it has been criticised for leaving the considerably higher costs of work-related road traffic accidents and occupational cancers – many caused by relatively recent and continuing exposures - out of its headline figure.
A sharp rise in work-related ill-health should spur a 'renewed focus' on employee health, physios’ union CSP has said. CSP director of practice Natalie Beswetherick said employers need to recognise measures that cut sickness absence are good for individuals, employers and the economy. She added that it was an “ongoing concern to see healthcare professionals continue to feature so prominently in the absence statistics – the NHS must do more to keep its staff well so they can treat others. Our own research showed how many NHS workplaces still need to introduce health and wellbeing policies for staff. Work provides a living and a purpose and we must do more to stop so many people from suffering what is often entirely avoidable ill-health.”
The UK government must reverse it attacks on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and provide sufficient resources for the enforcement agency to do its work without political interference, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has said. Speaking after the release of the latest HSE work-related ill-health figures, STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “It is clear from these statistics that the 40 per cent funding cuts imposed by the coalition government on HSE along with their unwarranted ideological attacks on workplace health and safety by the government and certain sections of the media are having an impact in Scotland.” He also expressed concern that “enforcement and prosecution in Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom. While the number of offences prosecuted across Britain has remained relatively stable over the last five years, in Scotland there has been a significant fall from 108 in 2008/09 to 27 in the year to April this year. We believe this is due to lack of proactive inspections, a policy forced on the HSE by a government who refuse to acknowledge the need of the HSE to be autonomous, a position that undermines the role of the HSE as an independent regulator.” The union leader called for the issue to be debated by the Scottish parliament.
Britons find their jobs more stressful, precarious and demanding than ever before, according to an extensive poll of experiences of the workplace conducted for the TUC. Two-thirds of employed people say that the amount of work they are expected to do has grown over the past few years, and more than a third are expected to do unpaid overtime, YouGov found. The findings, reported by the Independent on Sunday, suggest only a third of us report looking forward to going to work; the rest are either ambivalent or dread it. The findings reflect those of this year’s TUC survey of union safety reps, which identified stress as the top workplace hazard (Risks 678). TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “What job we do is a big part of our identity. Yet this poll reveals that many of us work in unfair workplaces that don't get the best out of their staff. Employers and politicians talk up the flexible labour market, but for too many it means being treated as only slightly more important than what is in the stationery cupboard.” The poll found just under a quarter – the equivalent of more than six million workers nationwide – worry that they might lose their job in the next year, and a third are worried that their job may offer worse conditions, such as fewer hours or less pay, in that time.
The company selected by the government to run its new Fit for Work national occupational health service will also undertake all fit for work benefit assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). US multinational Maximus takes over from Atos in March next year as the agency undertaking the controversial Work Capability Assessments (WCA) for DWP. Civil service union PCS said changing the provider did not address the real problems with the system. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These work assessments are fundamentally flawed. Replacing Atos with another private contractor does not address the real issues. The tests are failing disabled people as they were designed to do, in an effort to take benefits away.” He added: “Doctors, MPs, disabled people and our members all believe the tests should be scrapped so, instead of replacing Atos with another profit-hungry provider, the government has missed the opportunity to bring the work in-house and look at the assessment afresh.” Health Management Limited, a UK division of Maximus, is scheduled to start delivering the Fit for Work occupational health service later this year. Maximus has been criticised by injured workers’ groups in the US who allege it had blocked access to health care and rehabilitation while undertaking a similar function for public agencies there (Risks 676). Maximus is already a provider for the government’s Work Programme. Some critics have expressed concern at the range of employment related benefits, job scheme and occupational health roles outsourced to Maximus.
Tomatoes growing on the track at a railway station near Norfolk highlight the failure of train companies to fit waste tanks to on-board toilets, a union has reiterated. Rail union RMT said the Southend to London line had become known for discharged human excrement, creating a hazard for employees working on the track. Last month tomatoes were photographed growing outside an Essex station (Risks 576). In the latest incident, plants bearing fruit have also been found growing next to used toilet paper on rail tracks at Diss in Norfolk. RMT said workers carrying out maintenance on the tracks were at risk of being sprayed with human waste as trains went past. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “If it was bankers getting sprayed with excrement when they went to work, rather than track workers, this practice would end overnight. The profiteering train companies should fund the cost of fitting tanks to end this scandal, rather than offering up excuses and solutions that are decades away.”
A construction group has come under fire from a union after offering pre-employment “employee screening” to site firms. Construction union UCATT called for the postponement of the scheme to ensure that it cannot be used to blacklist construction workers. In a press release welcoming a partnership with “strategic outsourcing company” Mitie, the National Federation of Builders (NFB) said it offered members “basic and advance disclosure and barring checks.” The release says that the scheme will “ensure an employee and their history really is who and what they claim to be.” Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “On face value this scheme has the potential to lead to the blacklisting of construction workers. The scheme should be postponed until workers are fully reassured that blacklisting will not and cannot occur.” The union has written to the chief executive of the NFB seeking an urgent meeting, asking for the scheme not to be introduced in the interim. NFB chief executive Richard Beresford said the system was intended “to look for evidence of criminality. It’s nothing to do with barring at all and certainly nothing to do with blacklisting.” The NFB is a member of the Construction Industry Joint Council, whose rules preclude “any form of blacklisting of any worker.”
Working an irregular shift pattern may be causing long-term damage to people’s memory and mental abilities, new research has shown. The study suggested a decade of shifts aged the brain by more than six years. Researchers from the universities of Toulouse and Swansea found a link between working shifts and a decline in brain function – especially among those whose shifts rotated between morning, afternoon and night. In the study of 3,232 employed and retired workers living in France, scientists found that those who worked rotating shifts performed significantly worse in memory and cognitive speed tests than people who had worked regular hours. The level of mental decline seen in people who worked irregular shifts for 10 years was equivalent to six and a half years’ worth of natural, age-related cognitive decline, said researchers. The study evaluated participants in 1996, 2001 and 2006. One in five of them had worked shift patterns rotating between mornings, afternoons and nights. Those who were currently or had previously worked shifts had lower scores on memory and processing speed tests than those who worked ordinary office hours. The research team found that stopping shift work was linked with an improvement in cognitive function – suggesting that any ill effects are reversible – but said that it took five years out of shift work for this effect to be seen. Writing in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the authors, led by Dr Jean-Claude Marquié of the University of Toulouse, concluded: “The cognitive impairment observed in the present study may have important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society as a whole given the increasing number of jobs in high-hazard situations that are performed at night… The current findings highlight the importance of maintaining a medical surveillance of shift workers, especially of those who have remained in shift work for 10 years or more.”
Ÿ Jean-Claude Marquié and others. Chronic effects of shift work on cognition: findings from the VISAT longitudinal study, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published First Online 3 November 2014. doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101993 [abstract].
A new guide on stress for NHS workers, produced by the NHS Staff Council, has linked the “unprecedented levels of change” the NHS has undergone in recent years to cases of stress and bullying. Health service union UNISON said the report also drew attention to the risks of redundancy, down-banding and privatisation of NHS services as stress factors. “The findings come as a new UNISON stress guide also highlights the link between job insecurity and bullying to increased stress levels. “Both these publications confirm what our members have been telling us in recent years,” said UNISON national secretary for health Christine McAnea. “The cuts and privatisation of services have put intolerable pressure on our members. All this comes at a time when the government is attacking the pay, terms and conditions of our members and ignoring the recommendations of the independent pay review body.” She added: “No wonder our members have had enough.”
Safety officers’ organisation IOSH has taken up the occupational cancer cause. The move, which comes eight years after the TUC and global union organisations launched their ‘Zero work cancers’ drive, was announced at a House of Commons event this week. IOSH said its ‘No time to lose’ campaign launch “kick-started an unprecedented drive, led by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), to cut the number of deaths from work-related cancer and raise awareness about the risks.” IOSH CEO Jan Chmiel told the event that “with a staggering two-thirds of a million annual global deaths to work-related cancer, the time has now come and the world must act. The call is a positive one. We can and must do more to tackle occupational disease and to manage health in the same way we manage safety – as part of an overall ‘culture of care’.” A statement from safety minister Mark Harper – who did not attend the event – was read out at the meeting. “As Minister of State with responsibility for health and safety, I'm well aware of the importance of a sensible approach to health and safety regulation,” the statement said, adding “the government approach to occupational cancer is to ensure compliance with current health and safety law by working with partners to prevent worker exposure to harmful materials so that lives and livelihoods are protected.” IOSH is calling on companies to sign up to an occupational cancer pledge.
Former market trader Alan Tattersall died from asbestos related lung cancer, an inquest heard. Burnley Coroners Court heard the former Burnley FC, Preston North End and Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper later worked as a plumber and came into contact with asbestos during his work. He died on 13 July, aged 79. A statement from his wife Jean Tattersall told the inquest how he worked as a plumber in Rawtenstall before later working for Rossendale Council for 15 years. The statement noted: “Like everyone in that era Alan never wore protective clothing as the dangers of asbestos were not known. His work overalls were often full of dust that needed shaking before washing. He worked in environments where asbestos was around and would have been therefore exposed to dusts and fibres.” Assistant coroner Mark Williams ruled that the fatal cancer was an industrial disease. Another cancer, mesothelioma, leads to over 2,500 recorded asbestos-related deaths each year. The number of lung cancers linked to asbestos are thought from studies to equal or significantly exceed this toll, however fewer than 200 cases a year of Britain’s number 1 cancer killer are formally linked to asbestos exposures or compensated.
A Kilmarnock skip firm has been fined for criminal safety failings after a casual worker was crushed to death when a heavy gate came off its hinges and fell onto him. Malcolm Macdonald Kennedy, 69, a retired fitter, had been working for Alistair Thomas Corrie, who trades as A Corrie Skip Hire, for around eight years when the incident happened on 12 December 2011. Kilmarnock Sheriff Court heard that Mr Kennedy was often the first to arrive at the firm’s premises and used his own set of keys to open up the gates. A CCTV recording showed Mr Kennedy arriving at 7am and making his way towards the gates of the yard. Cameras did not cover the area where the incident happened, but it appears that when Mr Kennedy opened a set of double gates at the side of the compound, one of the 180kg gates came off its hinges and fell on top of him. Mr Kennedy was found an hour later by another employee after he saw that one of the gates was lying on the ground and went to investigate. Despite attempts by paramedics to resuscitate Mr Kennedy, he was later pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed the original gates and gateposts had been installed in 2003, but at some point later extra hinges were welded onto the posts and then packed with metal washers. This had rendered the gate defective and much more likely to come off its hinges. Alistair Thomas Corrie, 57, was fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
A builder has been fined after two of his workers were photographed on a house roof in Burnley with no safety measures in place. Mohammed Yasin, who trades as Southfield Property Maintenance, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at a semi-detached house on 10 April 2014. Burnley Magistrates’ Court heard a passing HSE inspector spotted the men installing a dormer window for a loft conversion at the property. Mr Yasin, 39, was inside the house and his two workers were close to the chimney on the outside, without any scaffolding or other safety measures to prevent them from being injured in a fall. Mohammed Yasin was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £400 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE inspector Jacqueline Western said: “It’s astonishing that Mr Yasin was prepared to carry out a construction project that involved major roof work, without putting safety measures in place to protect the people he employed.” She added: “While he worked safely inside the house, the lives of two men were being put at risk as they clambered about on the roof. The work simply shouldn’t have been allowed to go ahead without the use of scaffolding or other safety equipment.”
A County Durham firm has been sentenced after a worker suffered serious burns to his face, hand and arm when he was struck by a jet of hot molten plastic. John Calcutt was helping clear solidified plastic from a large plastic injection moulding machine at Ebac Ltd, in Newton Aycliffe, when the incident happened on 9 September 2013. The 47-year-old was struck across the left side of his face and his left hand and arm by the hot liquid plastic as it was ejected from the machine causing serious burns. He was airlifted to hospital and kept in for three days. He is still receiving treatment and physiotherapy but has returned to work at Ebac Ltd. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Ebac Ltd at Darlington Magistrates’ Court after an investigation into the incident. Mr Calcutt, who was working with two colleagues to clear the blockage, had not received any relevant training. None of the workers were wearing any form of eye or face protection. Ebac Ltd was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £770.10 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Victoria Wise said: “The potential for ejection of hot molten plastic is highlighted in the industry’s own guidance and this was a foreseeable risk that should have been part of the risk assessment process for clearing blockages.” The plastics industry and most of the rest of the manufacturing sector are largely excluded from unannounced HSE safety inspections.
A draft international standard on health and safety at work strongly criticised by unions has failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority vote at a key committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committee. The draft will now have to be reviewed and voted on again. The European Trade Union Institute’s safety unit, HESA, described the vote as “a battle won by the unions against provisions that would leave workers worse off.” Unions, spearheaded by the global union body ITUC, had pressured the national standards bodies voting on the draft to oppose its progress. Flaws – which had been challenged earlier by both unions and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - included no real provision for workers’ participation and the promotion of a blame-the-worker behavioural safety approach. HESA notes: “The standard was initially expected to be adopted before the end of 2016.The unions have no plans to let up the pressure because this simply delays, not defeats, the standard.” TUC described it as a bid to “privatise health and safety standards” (Risks 677). Unions warn that these standards “are private instruments with no legally binding authority”, but can undermine existing national and international laws and standards.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conducted a formal review of personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines for healthcare workers and has updating its guidelines as a result. Edward Kelley, WHO director for service delivery and safety, said: “Paramount to the guidelines’ effectiveness is the inclusion of mandatory training on the putting on, taking off and decontaminating of PPE, followed by mentoring for all users before engaging in any clinical care.” He added: “These guidelines hold an important role in clarifying effective personal protective equipment options that protect the safety of healthcare workers and patients from Ebola virus disease transmission.” An expert panel convened by WHO agreed that it was most important to have PPE that protects the mucosae – mouth, nose and eyes – from contaminated droplets and fluids. WHO said that given that hands are known to transmit pathogens to other parts of the body, as well as to other individuals, hand hygiene and gloves are essential, both to protect the health worker and to prevent transmission to others. Face cover, protective foot wear, gowns or coveralls, and head cover were also considered essential to prevent transmission to healthcare workers. “Although PPE is the most visible control used to prevent transmission, it is effective only if applied together with other controls including facilities for barrier nursing and work organisation, water and sanitation, hand hygiene, and waste management,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general of health systems and innovation. Unions representing health care workers have complained that PPE provided is frequently inadequate, old or unsuitable, and frontline workers are dangerously overstretched.
A global union is calling on metals multinational Rio Tinto to speak publicly about what it will do to end the series of deaths at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia. The mine is now facing industrial action over safety concerns. IndustriALL’s Indonesian affiliate CEMWU said a one-month strike at the mine from 6 November was its response to mine management not being held responsible for the fatalities. Five miners died at the copper and gold mine in September. This brings the number of workers killed at the mine over the last two years to 38. Rio Tinto has invested over a billion dollars in the Grasberg mine and serves on its operating, technical and sustainable development committees. The mine is majority-owned by Freeport. “Rio Tinto made no public statement following two recent fatal incidents at Grasberg. This is unacceptable for a company that says safety of its workers is core to everything it does,” said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan. IndustriALL says it has raised workplace safety concerns with Rio Tinto on a number of occasions since a tunnel collapse killed 28 workers at Grasberg in May 2013. “Rio Tinto has claimed to us in private that Freeport, not Rio Tinto, manages Grasberg, but that they are now helping Freeport to improve safety performance. However, given Rio Tinto’s huge stake in the mine it’s simply not credible to deny any responsibility for the deaths,” said Özkan. Speaking ahead of the industrial action, he said: “With bodies piling up and a strike imminent, Rio Tinto needs to stop hiding behind Freeport and take a more active and public role in making Grasberg a safe place to work.”
Seafarers’ lives are being put at risk by the substandard ships in use on the Black Sea – that’s the key message of a new film produced by Turkish seafarers’ union the Marine Employees Solidarity Association (DAD-DER). The film, which is available in English, Turkish and Russian, highlights the experiences of seafarers in the region. A 2012 report uncovered poor standards of living and working conditions, low wages and unseaworthy vessels. A subsequent 2014 report found these issues to be unresolved. Captain Ural Cagirici from DAD-DER said: “We want to promote this film and its core message to transport workers worldwide, but also to a wider audience beyond the trade union movement. The fact that seafarers are risking their lives to make a living isn’t just a trade union issue, it’s a human rights issue too. At the moment seafarers in this region aren’t getting the protection they need and that’s something we want to change.” ITF, the global transport unions’ federation, is working with unions in the region to try and improve the situation for seafarers. Its Black Sea Project is focused on three main areas; education, primarily through action weeks; ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention by Black Sea states; and organising the region’s seafarers.
COURSES FOR 2014
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