|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 protected]|
As the country this month remembered those who have died in conflicts, the TUC has said those who suffered and died as a result of hazardous exposures while serving in the forces should not be forgotten. Many contracted diseases they contracted while serving in the military, including the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “Around 2,500 people develop mesothelioma every year in the UK and a large number are ex-military. Many are ex-navy as most ships were literally covered in asbestos until the 1980s. It was used as a coating, insulator and flooring. Navy personnel were frequently exposed to high levels of asbestos dust in boiler and engine rooms, but even in their sleeping quarters and mess halls.” Academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have predicted that over 2,500 naval veterans will die from mesothelioma between now and 2047. TUC’s Hugh Robertson said many will be denied compensation as the Mesothelioma Act, which provides compensation to sufferers who can’t trace their former employer or their insurer, exempts the armed forces. He added that ex-service personnel who were exposed before 1987 - which is most of them - will not be able to make any claim, because the “Crown immunity” from prosecution covers all cases up to that date. Instead, they are given a War Disablement Pension during their lifetime – but mesothelioma victims typically survive only months after diagnosis, so this is unlikely to amount to a great deal. If they live for a year, the maximum they can receive is around £31,000. This compares with an average civil payment for mesothelioma of over £150,000.
Performance management, a worker assessment system that pits workers against each other and is linked to a massive intensification of work (Risks 624), is also a very bad idea for business, the union Prospect has said. Studies have shown the approach to cause high levels of workplace stress, burnout (Risks 664) and ill-health (Risks 661). But Prospect says while a long list of blue chip companies have abandoned the “rank and yank” system, the UK civil service is persisting with an approach that is bad for staff and bad for performance (Risks 639). Prospect national safety officer Sarah Page says it is now a year since software giant Microsoft announced to its staff its decision to abandon the performance management system that had been blamed for 10 years of lost creativity, instead creating “a culture of cannibalism”. Big names that have also dropped performance management include Ford, General Electric and Caterpillar, she says. The Prospect safety specialist adds that in the wake of financial scandals, “when many like Prospect are promoting Good Work – employee voice, a culture based on trust and fairness etc – it is alarming to witness the apparent corrosion of civil service performance management.” She warns: “The predictable escalating conflict and levels of employee ill-health with their inevitable impact on service delivery will expose this false economy.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Journalists working for the newspaper giant Johnston Press (JP) are suffering dangerously high levels of stress, journalists’ union NUJ has found. A health and safety survey across JP’s titles revealed 82 per cent were subject to unrealistic time pressure, with 44 per cent saying this was cases often or always. The survey found 80 per cent reported being pressured into working long hours. It also revealed eight in 10 journalists did not support performance-related pay, believing it to be divisive and unfair. The NUJ has called for a moratorium on further cuts at JP, whose titles include the Yorkshire Post and the Scotsman, until these matters have been addressed. The union says the company’s reorganisation and modernisation plans mean it should invest in staff and equipment, not make cuts. A summary of the results was presented to JP’s management, which has agreed to work with the union to address the problems revealed. NUJ national organiser Laura Davison, commenting on the “stark findings” of the survey, said: “There should be a moratorium on any further job cuts, and vacancies should be filled as a priority. We want to work with the company on addressing these critical issues and this needs to be started speedily and be based on meaningful consultation with the workforce.”
More than 30 members of staff at a Kent prison stopped work this week for health and safety reasons, the Prison Officers Association (POA) has said. The POA said 35 of its members at Maidstone Prison took the action in support of a female colleague, who needed surgery after being “badly assaulted” by an inmate. The union, which said the officer was on half pay following her injury, ended the action after the issue was resolved in talks with management. The government this week announced tougher penalties for inmates committing acts of violence in prison. The Ministry of Justice said guidelines will be set out aimed at securing more convictions for violent offences in prisons and young offenders institutions in England and Wales. Priority will be given to prosecuting those who assault staff. Government figures show that assaults on staff rose by 12 per cent in the year up to June 2014 - from 3,065 incidents to 3,427. Prisons minister Andrew Selous said that the measures, expected to come into force by April 2015, “will ensure that those that attack staff are prosecuted and fully brought to justice.” Attorney General Jeremy Wright said: “This protocol will make it clear that prosecution should usually follow when prisoners assault hard-working prison staff. Prison officers deserve the greatest clarity and the best protection we can give them.” POA has blamed staff cuts for increasing violence and says 90 wardens a month are leaving their jobs because they fear for their safety.
Many retail staff assaulted at work are suffering in silence, union research has found. Interim results of Usdaw’s latest survey show that 16 per cent of assaulted shopworkers did not report the attack to their employer. Speaking during last week’s Respect for Shopworkers Week, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job, with over 300 retail staff assaulted every day [Risks 680]. So it is very concerning that one in six do not report a violent attack to their employer.” He added: “Anecdotally we are told that sometimes staff don’t feel it would make any difference if they do report incidents or that it’s just a part of being in a frontline job, dealing with the public and the problems that sometimes throws up. My message to shopworkers is very clear, abuse is not a part of the job.” The union leader said Usdaw was talking to employers “to ensure that reporting systems are easily accessible and will make a real difference to the protection of staff. However, it is really important that shopworkers do tell their manager when they are victims of violence, threats or abuse. If they report it we can help to sort it.”
Large firms convicted of corporate manslaughter would face fines of up to £20m under tougher sentencing proposals. Punishments for companies found guilty of health and safety, as well as food safety and hygiene offences should also be significantly increased, according to the Sentencing Council. The recommendations are contained in draft guidance for judges in England and Wales that is being put out for consultation. The council says fine levels should be large enough to have an economic impact that will bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment. There have been only four convictions for corporate manslaughter in England and Wales since the legislation was introduced in 2007. The new guidelines suggest that judges should impose fines in relation to the size of the convicted organisation. For large firms, this could mean fines of up to £20m for corporate manslaughter and up to £10m for criminal health and safety offences resulting in a fatality. Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 there is no upper limit on fines. The £20m fine level is proposed for firms who have an annual turnover of more than £50m. Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences, and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that play by the rules and do their best to keep people safe.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
The latest Health and Safety Executive construction inspection programme has exposed the “appalling” conditions on many sites, the union UCATT has said. HSE’s month long blitz found that 40 per cent of sites visited were failing to properly protect workers. Danger levels were so bad on 20 per cent of sites – 360 out of 1,748 visited between 22 September and 17 October - that enforcement notices were issued. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “These findings are simply appalling. Time after time employers are putting workers in danger. The HSE inspections only touch a tiny fraction of construction sites and most construction workers never see an HSE inspector unless a major accident has occurred.” He added: “The HSE are uncovering basic and straightforward safety breaches. It is imperative that far greater emphasis is applied to uncovering dangerous construction practices and prosecuting the guilty. Construction employers will never improve safety unless they fear being caught.” The focus of the HSE initiative was on health risks. Over a third (35 per cent) of the notices served were for issues such as management of asbestos (10 per cent), failure to control exposure to harmful dusts (12 per cent), noise and vibration, and inadequate welfare provision. Work at height breaches topped the list of offences, resulting in 42 per cent of all enforcement notices served.
Unions have condemned a report of a FIFA investigation into the selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup that concluded there were only minor concerns that “were not serious enough to warrant re-opening the process”. Human rights groups and unions campaigning to hold Qatar to account for the mistreatment of the migrant workforce in the country said these concerns had been ignored by FIFA. Global union confederation ITUC has indicated 4,000 workers could die building the infrastructure for the event to be hosted by Qatar in 2022. TUC’s Stephen Russell, writing in the Stronger Unions blog, noted that the emphasis on corruption was a diversion. “On the other hand, we have full, corroborated proof that hundreds of migrant workers return home in body bags, despite the best efforts of the Qatari regime to prevent the plight of migrant workers being revealed,” he said, calling for a reform of the country’s labour laws. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said the FIFA report “is a disgrace and sickens me that FIFA has spent their entire time navel gazing and looking at their own bidding process, when the real issue is the terrible way in which migrant construction workers are being exploited in Qatar.” A new report from Amnesty International concludes Qatar’s authorities “are lagging severely behind on efforts to address the rampant abuse of migrant workers’ rights.”
Ÿ Amnesty International news release and report,
Ÿ The Guardian.
A Cardiff building firm has been fined for criminal safety failings after a labourer broke his right thighbone in a fall from a roof during development work. Malcolm Milne, 59, fell approximately 8ft from a single storey roof to the ground when a beam he was standing on gave way at Beach Cliff, Penarth, on 30 January 2013. He spent several days in hospital, was reliant on crutches for five months and has been unable to return to construction work since. Cardiff Magistrates’ Court heard that his employer, RHP Merchants and Construction Ltd (RHP), was the principal contractor for a mixed development project to create commercial units, flats and town houses. Mr Milne and a colleague were working on a disused lodge building that was being demolished to make way for the new buildings, and were removing roof tiles at the time of the fall. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation established there had been no risk assessment and that neither Mr Milne or his co-worker had any training for the demolition work, and that Mr Milne was also untrained for working at height. The project manager was on holiday at the time of the incident, as was a senior site engineer. RHP Merchants and Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £9,414 in costs.
A Grimsby construction company has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a worker suffered serious leg injuries while installing piles for a new school science block. Groundworker Jamie North, 49, sustained multiple leg fractures during the work at Caistor Grammar School, Lincolnshire, on 5 March 2013. He required two operations and had a steel frame and screws fixed on his leg. He also developed a blood clot which required further treatment after a 21-day stay in hospital. He was off work for a year and is still undergoing treatment on his ankle. He can no longer work in the construction industry. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that Topcon Construction Ltd failed to ensure that work equipment used for cropping piles was used only in suitable conditions, and failed to dismantle a reinforced concrete pile in a safe manner. The excess part of the piles, which extended out of the ground, were supposed to be cropped using the hydraulic pile cropper, but the one used was not powerful enough for the job. As a result of the unsuitable alternative method employed, one of the excess piles twisted and fell onto Mr North’s leg. The firm was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,980 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. Topcon Construction Ltd was also ordered to pay Mr North compensation of £10,000 for his injuries.
A construction firm has been fined after it ignored repeated warnings about safety at a building site in Manchester. Waterloo Construction (Manchester) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it continued to stack bricks on scaffolding without measures in place to stop them falling and injuring people below. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that an HSE inspector had identified the issue on a visit to the building site for ten new terraced houses in Cheetham Hill on 14 November 2013. She noticed that the bricks were being stored on the scaffolding platform above the height of the toe board, which meant there was a risk of them falling if they became dislodged. The inspector served the company with a prohibition notice requiring the bricks to be stored at ground level or for brick guards to be used. She returned to the site on three occasions up until April 2014 but on each occasion bricks were still being stacked on scaffolding platforms, with no measures in place to prevent them from falling. Waterloo Construction (Manchester) Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,445 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal failure to comply with a prohibition notice. HSE inspector Laura Moran said: “We gave Waterloo Construction several opportunities to improve safety, returning to the site on three separate occasions after my initial visit, but bricks continued to be stacked unsafely on scaffolding.”
A builder who ignored formal warnings about unsafe work at height has been fined. Gerard Hurst, who trades as Ashton Roofing and Building Construction, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the building work was spotted by a passing inspector on 20 May 2014. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that four men were working on the first day of a project to replace the dormer roofs on a semi-detached house. One of the workers was seen by the inspector passing building materials to a second worker on a scaffolding tower. The scaffolding did not have any edge protection, such as boards or safety rails, and there was no protection around the flat roof they were working on. This meant there was a risk of workers falling to the ground below. Gerard Hurst was served with a prohibition notice requiring the work to stop until improvements had been made. The court was told that the 46-year-old had previously received a prohibition notice in September 2010 over a similar issue on another job, but had repeated the error on this project and put lives at risk as a result. He was fined £1,280 and ordered to pay £1,865 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE inspector Laura Moran said “when I entered his details on our database, I discovered he had received a similar enforcement notice from HSE nearly four years earlier. We do all we can to support business owners to look after the safety of their workers but if they continue to ignore our advice then we’re left with no choice but to take legal action.”
Two companies have been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker suffered serious injuries to his left hand when it was caught in a stone cutting machine. Swindon Magistrates Court heard that Richard Hale, 52, was cleaning the machine at Windsmere Stone & Granite Ltd in Melksham, Wiltshire, when the incident happened on 12 March 2013. The glove on his left hand was caught and dragged by the corner of a moving blade motor carriage into the narrow gap between that and a support frame. His hand was trapped for around an hour until emergency services were able to release him. The skin, muscles and tendons were stripped from the back of his left hand and he was admitted to hospital to undergo surgery. This was only partially successful and Mr Hale still suffers stiffness in his hand, restricted finger movement and a bent middle finger, although he has returned to work. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Windsmere Stone & Granite Ltd, who employed Mr Hale, had bought the stone cutting machine in 2012 from Waters Group Ltd, of Cornwall. It was not fitted with adequate safeguards to prevent employees putting their hands into the traps between dangerous moving and fixed parts underneath the machine. Windsmere Stone & Granite Ltd was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £3,337 costs. Waters Group Ltd fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £5,020 costs.
A septuagenarian tree surgeon has been fined after he fell nearly four metres, still clutching a running chainsaw, and landed on a colleague as they were pruning a garden tree in Little Oakely, near Harwich. The 71-year-old employer, Gilbert Bradfield, escaped the fall with minor injuries but his friend and 72-year-old co-worker, who does not wish to be named, sustained a severe laceration to the head, a dislocated shoulder, a punctured lung and other internal injuries. The man was in hospital for four days, but upon discharge he collapsed at home, dislocating both shoulders, and spent nearly eight weeks in intensive care with a severe chest infection. Due to nerve damage in his shoulders, he now has very little use of both arms and requires constant care. Colchester Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Bradfield climbed four to five metres to cut through the trunk and remove the top third of the tree using a heavy rear-handled chainsaw. But as the top of the tree was cut, it swung around and knocked Mr Bradfield off the ladder. He fell, with his chainsaw, and landed on his employee who was footing the ladder. Gilbert Bradfield was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £889 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
African nations hit by the largest ever Ebola outbreak need international help urgently to combat the epidemic, a top union leader has said. A solidarity appeal from ITUC-Africa general secretary Kwasi Adu-Amankwah explains the desperate challenge facing affected countries. “Many of us are concerned that our brothers, sisters and governments in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are battling the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) that is sweeping ferociously and wreaking havoc across these countries and has caused an unprecedented public health crisis in Africa. As of 24 October 2014, a total of 12,008 suspected cases and 5,078 deaths had been reported,” he writes. The appeal from the ITUC-Africa head adds: “Health workers who are the first line of defence against the EVD have been the most affected and continue to be in danger of contracting the virus in the course of discharging their professional duties. So far, over 200 health workers have died and many are infected. We salute their sense of duty, bravery and sacrifice.” But the union leader’s appeal warns there are “deep cracks” in the African public health system, with the standard of health care actually deteriorating in many African countries. “The very high Ebola fatality rates in West Africa have been attributed in part to the lack of adequate intensive care facilities and personnel to administer healthcare,” it warns. The appeal says ITUC-Africa is joining with the governments of Ebola-affected countries “to ask that the world wakes up, listen and contribute actions to help stop this pandemic that is cutting lives short and torpedoing the dreams of many in the affected communities… We are therefore appealing to you, your organisation and community to join us in our effort to mobilise material and financial donations to assist our brothers and sisters in these affected communities.”
Ÿ ITUC-Africa appeal. Donations can be sent to CSI-Afrique, Centre Fopadesc , Agoe, Lome, BP: 4401- Togo. Bank Account: 7080161408998902 with Ecobank. Swift code: ECOCTGTG. When sending please indicate “Ebola Crisis Fund”.
Tens of thousands of registered nurses staged strikes, rallies and marches across the US on 12 November to demand tougher Ebola safety precautions in the nation’s hospitals. National Nurses United (NNU) executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said: “Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it's the flu, whether it's Ebola, whether it's cancer, are now being asked to put themselves in harm's way unprotected, unguarded.” NNU is demanding optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and other caregivers who interact with Ebola patients. The union says this means full-body hazmat suits that meet strict standards for blood penetration, viral penetration and that leave no skin exposed or unprotected, along with powered air purifying respirators. The union is also calling for rigorous training for nurses and other health professionals and a federal mandate that hospitals meet the PPE and training standards. The action marked Global Ebola Awareness Day. Nurses and healthcare worker unions also participated in protests and events in Australia - where nurses pressed a heightened response on Ebola and other global health concerns at this week’s meeting of G20 leaders – and in Canada, Ireland, the Philippines and Spain.
Unions have responded with anger and dismay to a decision by the Cambodian government to set a minimum wage of US$128 a month for the garment sector. The 12 November announcement comes less than two months after eight major fashion retailers said they were prepared to pay more for clothes made in the country (Risks 673). The statement from the retailers followed a global day of action by unions in support of garment workers’ demands for a higher wage, in a campaign that gathered momentum after repeated reports of workers collapsing at work as a result of poor working conditions and malnutrition. Since January, when the Cambodian government sent troops onto the streets to quell protests over poverty wages of just US$100, local and global trade unions, international brands and governments made clear that the garment industry cannot be sustainable where workers’ wages are set below or on the margins of poverty. Global union bodies said the government’s decision, while slightly higher than its labour advisory committee’s recommendation of US$123, represents yet another squandered opportunity. “A living wage is not only necessary for workers to live with dignity but it is also essential for the sustainability of the garment industry. That is why leading international apparel brands have indicated their support for a fair living wage,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of global union federation for the sector, IndustriALL. “We intend to hold the brands to their word and will continue working with them on a mechanism that will extend higher wages to workers in their supplier factories.”
Workers in beauty salons are at risk of breathing, skin and brain problems, cancer, miscarriage and other disorders caused by chemical exposures, a new US report has warned. Advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth, which works to eliminate toxic chemicals from workplaces, said low paid jobs in beauty salons come with high risks. It notes: “Hair sprays, permanent waves, acrylic nail application, and numerous other salon products contain ingredients associated with asthma, dermatitis, neurological symptoms and even cancer. Salon workers absorb these chemicals through their skin and breathe them in as fumes build up in the air of the salon over the course of the workday.” Its new report, ‘Beauty and its beast’, lists more than a dozen toxic chemicals to which salon workers are exposed regularly, some of which can be avoided by using safer alternatives. These include the reproductive toxin dibutyl phthalate, which is found in nail polish, the nerve and liver poison toluene, and formaldehyde, which is found in nail hardener and keratin hair straighteners, and which is linked to cancer, asthma and dermatitis. The report says 60 per cent of salon workers experience adverse skin conditions, such as dermatitis, on their hands, with the problems beginning as early as cosmetology school. It adds that safety regulation and oversight in the sector is lacking. It calls for stronger regulation of cosmetics as well as the creation of local safety initiatives that promote those nail salons that choose safer products.
Ÿ Women’s Voices for the Earth, November 2014.
Unions and campaigners have welcomed the indictment on criminal safety charges of the former head of a US mining firm with an “unmatched” record of fatalities and safety violations. Donald L Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Company, is charged by the Justice Department with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The four year investigation into Blankenship followed the April 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine which killed 29 workers. The miners died in a massive coal dust explosion which could have been averted by following fundamental safety precautions. Page 1 of the 40-page indictment notes that Blankenship habitually broke mine safety regulations “in order to produce more coal, avoid the cost of following safety laws, and make more money.” A statement from Cecil E Roberts, president of the mineworkers’ union UMWA, noted that the “announcement that a federal grand jury has returned indictments against Don Blankenship means that the families of the 52 people who were killed on company property while he was CEO of Massey Energy are one step closer to a measure of justice.” It continued: “The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched. No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time. No other company compared with Massey’s record of health and safety violations during that time.” University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor said: “US Attorney Booth Goodwin has set an example for every prosecutor in the country by indicting Don Blankenship, the venal, punitive, flamboyant, and reckless former CEO of Massey Energy. For years, Blankenship demanded updates on coal production every two hours and, the indictment reveals, browbeat senior managers to cut cost and violate crucial safety.” She added: “The families of the 29 men who died can take some solace that this courageous prosecution, by a prosecutor from coal country, takes the strongest possible stand to protect miners from the most reprehensible kind of greed.”
COURSES FOR 2014