|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.|
The construction union, UCATT, has revealed a big drop in construction inspections in part of Britain that have also seen an increase in construction deaths. A Freedom of Information request showed that, in 2013/14, the Health and Safety Executive undertook 1192 unannounced inspections in the North West compared to 1370 in 2012/13, a reduction of 13%. Yet, during the same period, there were five fatalities in the region, compared to two deaths the previous year. Andy Fisher, Regional Secretary of UCATT North West, said: “The fall in inspections is deeply alarming, far too many construction employers pay lip service to safety laws, and the threat of an inspection is often the best guarantee of a worker’s safety being protected. With construction starting to emerge from the depths of the recession it is essential that inspection activity increases to meet demand. We need to especially vigilant that new entrants into the industry are following safety laws. HSE inspections save lives and reduce serious injuries.” An even bigger reduction was reported in Scotland where the number of inspections of construction sites made by the HSE plummeted by 30%. In 2013/14 there were just 881 inspections in Scotland, compared to 1248 in 2012/13. Harry Frew, Regional Secretary for UCATT Scotland, said: “Construction inspections save lives. Without the expectation of inspections, construction employers are even more likely to ignore safety laws which put lives at risk and will lead to more injuries on construction sites.”
A poll conducted for the British Heart Foundation has shown that millions of workers feel their job is having a negative impact on their health. More than two-fifths of employees feel work pressures have damaged their health in the past five years by causing them to eat badly, put on weight, smoke and drink more, and exercise less, a survey has revealed. Lisa Young of the BHF’s Health at Work programme, said “This survey is a stark reminder of just what happens when we don’t take our health at work seriously enough. Small steps can make a big difference. This month, February, we’re working with organisations across the UK to encourage employees to take 10 minutes every day to make positive changes which could have a life-long benefit to their health.” TUC General Secretary Frances O’ Grady said “The BHF report is a shocking indictment of the modern world of work. Long hours, the insecurity of jobs on zero-hours contracts and the stress associated with them are all taking a toll on people’s health. The report’s findings show just how bad some workplaces have become. However, the answer is not just for employers to encourage their staff to change their lifestyle, it is for employers to improve working conditions, provide secure jobs and treat their workers like human beings rather than machines.”
Health unions have welcomed recommendations on whistleblowing made by Sir Robert Francis. He has said that every NHS trust in England should appoint a guardian to support whistleblowers after warning that staff too often faced "bullying and being isolated" when they tried to speak out. Sir Robert, who led the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal, also said a new national officer should be appointed to support the guardians. His Freedom to Speak Up Review took evidence from over 600 people about their experiences, while another 19,000 responded to an online survey. Sir Robert claimed that too many workers were put off speaking up because they "fear victimisation", while others do not raise concerns because they feel they will not be listened too. Sir Robert told the BBC: "I've heard some frankly shocking stories about staff whose health has suffered, and in rare cases who've felt suicidal as a result of their perception of them being ignored or worse." He said raising concerns should be "welcomed and celebrated". Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea described the findings of the Freedom to Speak Up review as “damning but sadly not surprising”. She warned that whistleblowing policies could only be effective if concerns were taken seriously and investigated. “Raising concerns should never cost workers their jobs or their health,” she said. “It is wrong that health workers are being persecuted, ostracised and left to suffer in silence after they’ve spoken out. Training health workers to report concerns and be confident in doing so is vital if we want our NHS to continue to deliver quality care. But changing the culture and moving towards a no-blame environment cannot be achieved by ticking a box.”
Falls in the price of oil have lead to oil and gas companies reducing pay and conditions and putting safety at risk, leading to two unions deciding to ballot their members on strike action. Unite and GMB union members of the Offshore Contractor Association (OCA) will vote on whether to take industrial action after talks with industry bosses in London broke down on Friday. John Kelly, GMB Scotland Regional Officer, said "There is a 'blatant opportunism' on the part of some of the oil companies and contractors in seeking to fundamentally attack the terms and conditions of our members employed in the offshore industry. There are also major concerns over the proposed changes to shift rotas and the health and safety implications that could follow from a major change. GMB believes that any changes to rotas could have a serious impact on the safety of those working offshore and we urge the companies to rethink the proposals". Unite industrial officer Tommy Campbell said: ““What we want is for the OCA to work with us to preserve jobs, skills and sustain offshore safety rather than impose these opportunistic, unsustainable and unworkable changes to livelihoods. The Chair of the HSE has also added a warning that the companies in the North Sea must not use the current fall in oil prices as an excuse to reduce safety. In a blog, Judith Hackitt states “Cutting costs where there seems to be least tangible day-to-day effect is obviously tempting but leaders and senior managers need to pass the stress test on knowing where health and safety, and particularly process safety and asset integrity, sits in this mix. Asset integrity must not suffer from short term expediency over where the axe falls. Leadership is critical to avoid wrong assumptions being made about the lifespan of assets, assumptions we know from previous experience can take years to reverse. Current news headlines may be disconcerting, but I want all industries dealing with process safety to avoid inadvertently writing tomorrow’s headlines today. Safety must not be compromised, even in tough times.
Ÿ HSE Blog
The TUC has backed workers at nine American refinery and chemical plants who walked off the job earlier this month, marking the first nationwide oil strike in 35 years. The strikes are not only about, benefits, and work conditions, but also safety. Lynne Hancock, a spokesperson for United Steelworkers, said "We're concerned about the excessive overtime. In a lot of locations the workers have mandatory overtime. And when people are working non-stop, they get tired and fatigued. And when you are fatigued, you have a tendency to make some mistakes." The rapid expansion of the oil industry has driven up deaths in other parts of the business beyond refining, like extraction. Between 2003-2010, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported 823 oil and gas extraction workers died on the job, or seven times worse than the rate for all U.S. industries combined. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has written to support a delegation of the striking workers from refineries owned by Shell, Marathon and Tesoro who were visiting Britain last week to publicise their campaign. She wrote “The TUC Executive Committee which met this morning pledged to support your fight to ensure that US refineries are safe for those who work in them and for the communities that surround them. The importance of safety in an industry that in just the past eight years has seen at least 349 reported fires, many of which have led to fatalities, explosions and catastrophic injuries, cannot be overstated. Shell, leading for the employers in negotiations, must offer serious proposals to address the USW’s concerns about safety, onerous overtime and unsafe staffing levels. I wish you and your members well in their campaign.”
The GMB union was said that changes to the way that victims of the cancer mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure, do not go far enough. As reported in Risks 690, new sufferers will receive extra payouts after the government revised its mesothelioma compensation rules. Under new rules for the government’s Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme compensation will rise to match 100 per cent of average civil claims, up from the current 80 per cent. However the GMB has said that it is greatly disappointment with the announcement. John McClean, GMB National Health & Safety Officer said, “GMB welcomes today’s announcement from Lord Freud on the decision to increase Mesothelioma victims’ compensation from an average of 80% to 100% as this is in line with GMB policy. However, GMB is greatly disappointment that those victims and their families who received 80% of the compensation since July 2014 will not be getting the missing 20%, and those victims who from February 2010, when the original consultation began, will receive nothing from this scheme. The government, while announcing how successful the scheme has been, continues to ignore suffering victims and their families in a purely unjust and arbitrary manner and GMB will continue to campaign on those who have been excluded or only partially compensated, from the scheme.”
Construction union UCATT have exposed a significant scandal where several of their members were exposed to the killer dust, asbestos. The members were employed by Sanctuary Maintenance Contractors Ltd a subsidiary of Sanctuary Housing. The workers were instructed to undertake work on an empty Sanctuary home in Bicester, Oxfordshire. The workers asked management whether asbestos was present in the property and were told that it was not, but as they removed the ceiling in the property they were exposed to asbestos. UCATT believes that Sanctuary's records indicated that there was asbestos present in the property's ceiling but the workers did not receive this information. Following the exposure the six workers were requested to make statements about what had occurred and became increasingly alarmed that the company sought to change and alter what they had said about the exposure to asbestos. The union has asked for a meeting with Sanctuary Maintenance Contractors Ltd to receive reassurances from management that such needless exposure will not re-occur but the company has refused to meet the union. Paul Lomax, Regional Organiser for UCATT's London and South East Region, said: "The company's performance has been lamentable. Workers have been needlessly exposed to asbestos. Rather than ensuring this never happens again the company are literally trying to sweep the entire matter under the carpet."
The TUC has welcomes proposed new guidelines on sentencing for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences. The Sentencing Council has published draft guidance for judges in England and Wales that could lead to considerable increases in punishments. Existing sentences are felt to be too low to act as a deterrent. Fine levels, the council says, should be large enough to have an economic impact that will bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment. The new guidelines are also intended to provide greater consistency in sentencing for offences that only occasionally come before judges and magistrates. The TUC has responded saying it supports the proposals and emphasising that any sentencing guidelines must recognise that health and safety offences are criminal acts that should be treated no differently to other crimes involving violence. The TUC response states “Any sentences should reflect not only the harm, but also the potential for harm, and should be sufficient to allow the victim or their dependants to have a sense of justice. Most importantly it must act as a deterrent both to the person convicted and to others. At the same time the TUC does not generally support penalties which threaten the livelihood of innocent workers should a business close because of a fine imposed on a company, and that may be taken into account, but should not be the sole criteria. The overarching principles developed in the consultation paper are generally sound and we welcome the fact that greater emphasis should be given to “propensity for harm”, rather than having to identify actual harm.” However the TUC did express concern some aspects of the proposals including the failure to deal with “Phoenix” companies, which are wound up prior to conviction or sentencing only to reappear under a different guise later. TUC Head of health and Safety Hugh Robertson added “One of the biggest omissions relates to the issue of disqualification of directors. Although the consultation says that courts must consider this, there is no guidance on when that should happen. This is a major omission. However, overall we believe that, with some changes, this document would provide suitable effective and clear guidance to the courts.” The consultation closed on 18th February.
A sacked Crossrail whistleblower got his job back 30 minutes after a demonstration took place calling for him to be reinstated after he was thrown off the massive Crossrail site in London’s Hanover Square two days after raising a possible health and safety breach. Managers rejected his complaint and had him escorted from the site. Fellow construction workers mounted a dawn blockade of project manager Costain-Skanska’s Bond Street offices to demand their colleague’s reinstatement and within minutes it was announced that he was to be reinstated. The electrician, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he was then told by subcontractor VGC that there had been a “sudden downturn” and the “work’s run out.” Yet four days earlier he was assured on his induction that there was “three years’ worth of work.” The man reported that he “felt like a criminal” as he was escorted from the site by a security guard and foreman. He had raised the alarm after seeing workers crossing a 15-metre gap bridged by two unguarded 16-inch Youngman boards, aluminium-framed planks laid loose over a steel frame a metre above the ground. The whistleblower said “I can’t believe anyone approved that. It’s archaic, like something from the 1970s. I could see someone falling off it. All it would take is to miss a step and the foot goes through the steel frame. They could fall and smash their head.” He added “I’m happy that I’ve been reinstated on full pay, but the wider picture is it’s part of the long battle against people who raise health and safety being moved on for it.” Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith, who helped organise the solidarity demonstration, said news of the worker’s reinstatement was an “absolute belter. We’re not prepared to see anyone dismissed for raising health and safety concerns.”
Ÿ Press report Morning Star
Five separate parties have been sentenced at Southwark Crown Court for a catalogue of unsafe work practices and poor welfare standards at a construction site in Upper Norwood in London. Four flats and four homes were being built at the site by Unicorn Services Limited, run by director Yi Long Chen and principal shareholder Mou Qiang Chen, on behalf of Chalice Homes Limited, run by sole director Steven Mooney. Inspectors from the HSE found a range of safety breaches in October 2012 after receiving complaints from a neighbouring school and a member of the public. The court heard that failings at the site included; A mini digger and dumper, both of which were poorly maintained, were left with the keys in the ignition free for anyone to use, despite the fact no-one at the site was trained or qualified to use them; There was no traffic management system, a failing exaggerated by the fact the site was next to a junior school; The site manager was unqualified; There was no hot water, no wash area or washing up facilities, and no heating; There were no safety records or method statements for any work activity. When the three men and the two companies appeared before the court, it was told that the Chens and Mr Mooney were well known to HSE after serious safety concerns had previously been noted at another construction site under their control. In September 2011 HSE served eight Prohibition Notices to stop dangerous work at a site in nearby Sylvan Hill. It resulted in Unicorn Services being prosecuted and Mr Mooney, then the director of another standalone company set up for the development in question, receiving a written warning. HSE told the court that despite this intervention, the poor safety and welfare standards at the site proved little had changed, and that it was indicative of a blasé attitude towards the wellbeing of workers. Despite this, and also despite originally pleading not guilty, Mou Qiang Chen was only fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs while Yi Long Chen, was fined even less - £1,000 after pleading to a single Section 37 breach. Their company, Unicorn Services Limited, was fined a total of £9,000 and Steven Mooney, was fined £11,000 with £5,000 costs. Chalice Homes, which is no longer trading, was fined a nominal £200. After sentencing HSE Inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers commented “Although nobody was harmed at the development site in question, the risks were clear – as evidenced by the fact that both the neighbouring school and a member of the public independently contacted HSE with their concerns. Given the long history of previous HSE enforcement and advice against the respective parties, the failure to protect workers, as well as others in the vicinity, was totally unacceptable. It is extremely disappointing that the defendants made the decision to plead not guilty, elect for a Crown Court trial and then cause numerous delays during the pre-trial procedures. The HSE case and weight of evidence was clear from the outset, and the attitude of only acknowledging any wrongdoing at the last possible moment, in this instance the first day of the trial, is telling.”
Ÿ HSE release HSE
A supplier of workplace equipment has claimed that the problem of counterfeit and inferior personal protective equipment (PPE) finding its way into UK workplaces is growing. However it welcomes proposed legislation from Europe that would make retailers and distributors responsible for ensuring products they sell meet the required safety standards. Lee Wright, marketing director at Slingsby, says, “Over the last couple of years, it’s been well-publicised that cheap, substandard, and even counterfeit PPE is finding its way into the UK. A lot of the examples we have seen are badly made and fail to offer any real protection, as well as being non-compliant with safety standards. Some products even come with falsified certifications. The fact that to the untrained eye, many of these products still look the part often makes it difficult to spot they are fake. This means it is important to buy PPE through reputable suppliers and to ensure it is certified to the appropriate British or European standards.” At the moment manufacturers are solely responsible for checking products comply with performance standards but a new draft European PPE directive would mean that companies selling PPE would have to keep records about their stock and ensure products meet required standards. Mr Wright stated that the new regulations “would help to eradicate counterfeit PPE by making retailers and distributors accountable for ensuring the quality of the products they sell.” The TUC has long warned about the dangers of counterfeit PPE and has produced guidance on how to stop it.
An inquest has decided that a worker was “accidentally killed” despite an employer having been handed four prohibition notices and one improvement notice for the circumstances that led to his death. Tomas Suchy, a food factory worker at Interfish in Plymouth was killed by “catastrophic” head injuries when a 'wall' of frozen fish pallets fell on top of him as he tried to rebuild a stack that had already toppled over once in a stock room with temperatures of -25c. Each of the pallets contained 52 boxes of fish. Former workers criticised the company’s health and safety record. One, a former forklift driver told the inquest that he had also been injured by falling pallets and had warned his manager but been told "Do the best you can" and to "carry on". An HSE inspector, Emma O'Hara, said that there was 'no robust monitoring' at the food processing firm. She reported “The boxes were stacked excessively high. Some of the stacks looked unstable and were leaning into one another. Some had not been placed directly on the one below and one stack was balanced on only two boxes of fish that weren't palletised. There were a number of damaged boxes and pallets. There was no safe system of work or instruction to staff. Safe checking relied on (experienced) staff working in the area.” After Mr Suchy's death, the food processing company was handed four prohibition notices and one improvement notice by the Health and Safety Executive.However the coroner returned a verdict of accidental death at the inquest.
A company has been fined £130,000 after a workman was killed by a piece of flying timber which struck him on the head while laying sewerage pipes in Swindon. Fredric March was working at the site in Swindon when a piece of timber being used as a cushion on the ends of the pipes being pushed in place by an excavator snapped. Swindon Crown Court heard that Cappagh Contractors Construction were the main contractors for the work and employed three workmen to lay iron sewerage pipes in a trench who used an excavator bucket to push the pipes in place. A piece of timber snapped while being pushed by the excavator and a broken piece hit March on the head. He sustained critical injuries and died six weeks later. The men had not been given any guidance or told of alternative ways to carry out their work, and had been allowed to come up with their own method, the court heard. Cappagh of Waterside Way, Wimbledon, pleaded guilty to safety breaches and were fined £130,000 and ordered to pay £70,000 in costs. HSE Inspector Sue Adsett, speaking after the hearing, said: “This tragic loss of life could have been avoided if Cappagh had taken proper measures before the work started and planned the task properly. “Pipe laying companies must have safe systems of work and ensure their workers don’t have to improvise safety measures. Employers have a duty to carry out thorough risk assessments and provide safe ways of working. Including the workforce in designing safe methods also makes it less likely that they will improvise when problems arise.”
The European Trade Union Institute has produced a guide on preventing exposure to electromagnetic fields. It is also designed as an aid to understanding the new EU Directive on occupational exposure to EMFs (2013/35 EU), which will enter into force in 2016. The Guide presents an overview of occupational exposure to electromagnetic field according to frequency: static fields, low, intermediate and radio frequencies. Last but not least, the guide presents recommendations as to how a precautionary approach can help to reduce high exposure.
Ÿ ETUI Guide ETUI
Pakistan unions have demanded justice for the 286 workers killed in September 2012 when the Ali Enterprise factory in Pakistan burnt down.
Leaders of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association along with some victims’ families told a press conference that, 29 months after the tragedy, no action had been taken against those identified as responsible. Instead they claimed that different political parties are busy blaming one another, but no political party has taken solid steps for solving the problems of the bereaved families and deterring repetition of such incidents in Pakistani factories and industries. The union pointed out that the factory was not registered under the Factory Act, and thus was working illegally. All its emergency exit gates were closed, the windows were covered with heavy iron grills, and the passageways were closed with goods. More than 90 percent of the factory workers were contract labourers who used to work 12 to 14 hours daily in the sweat shop under a third party contact system “Thakedari”. However, two and a half years after the disaster, 90 percent of Pakistani factories are not registered, only 5 percent of workers are registered with social security and only 2 percent of workers enjoy the right to join a trade union. Also criticised were the international audit companies that are meant to confirm compliance with national and international laws. The union has reported that audit firms are continuously issuing certificate to the factories that exploit their labours, compelling them to work in very dangerous conditions. They claimed “These audit certificates are proving “death warrants” and a “license to kill” for these workers. Italian company, RINA, is such a company that had issued such the certificate to the Baldia factory just two weeks before the sad incident. This company has already issued about 100 such certificates to other factories.”
US Nursing unions are saying that the best way to keep nurses from injuring their back is to have safe staffing levels. In the USA it is estimated by the American Nurses Association that 8 out of 10 nurses say they frequently work with joint or back pain, and the nursing profession has the highest rate of on-the-job injuries of any other in the country. However, trade unions across the country say the answer is legislation that mandates what they call safe staffing ratios - a set number of nurses for each patient that varies based on how sick the patients are. "Studies have also clearly demonstrated that when you have adequate staffing levels the numbers of injuries to nurses goes down," said Lisa Baum, Occupational Health and Safety Representative for the New York State Nurses Association. John James, of Patient Safety America agrees. He said "The nurses, in many ways, are the last line of defence against harm to patients.” James says when a nurse is stretched too thin, they’re less likely to catch errors and more likely to make a few of their own. Another patient advocate and retired nurse, Kathy Day says she wants to see hospitals increase the number of nurses they schedule to care for patients. Ms Day believes this will prevent overwork and injury to both the nurses and people in their care. At the end of a long shift nurses can have a harder time focusing. She said "Their mental sharpness is not going to be the same. They'll be fatigued both physically and mentally. It may increase the number of medication errors: wrong dose, wrong route, wrong patient. They make take short cuts because their exhausted," Some New York hospitals employ a Safe Patient Handling Task Force that deal with issues nurse training, staffing, and ratios and Ms Day says tasks forces like these can work if hospital administrators are using them to hear from nurses in the workplace. "I think when nurses speak everyone has to listen and it’s not just because I’m a nurse."
An investigation into the Indian car manufacturing industry has revealed a catalogue of safety breaches and injuries. It reports that accidents that crush limbs are taking place at an alarming rate. In one town alone, Haryana, twenty cases show up daily in a single hospital. Around 80,000 workers work here at more than 600 companies, with a majority producing components for cars and bikes. Most of the injuries are caused by power presses, which cut, shape or mould metal by ramming it with a heavy piston-like arm. The worker operating the machine places the metal piece on the work table, presses a pedal or lever which brings down the arm. Once the arm pulls back, they remove the reshaped piece from the table, before repeating the process. When the arm comes down before the worker’s hand is out of the way, it leads to amputations. According to the report, shop floor supervisors and company managers blame such accidents on the lack of alertness on part of the workers. But accounts of injured workers reveal that the accidents are taking place in such large numbers because companies are saving costs at the expense of worker safety. A large number of machines have no safety guards despite a legal requirement for them to be installed. “Our laws are good,” said Suresh Shrivastava, a former government employee, “but we are bad at enforcing them.”
Three bills aimed at strengthening workplace safety regulations and increasing fines for violations in the US state of Wyoming are to fall. The bills either were not considered for moving forward or missed the cutoff date for future consideration, and it is unlikely any of the bills will be brought up during the remainder of the state’s 2015 general session, which ends in March. Two of the bills would have increased penalties for violations of health and safety laws and a third would have overturned a law that bars the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Commission from introducing safety laws that are stronger than federal ones. Representative Mary Throne, who was the main sponsor said “I think it would send a message to those small number of companies who don’t have a commitment to safety, that we care. And if they don’t change their ways, they’re going to pay for it. There are elements of industry that actually support increasing the fines, they don’t come out and say that.” Wyoming has one of the highest workplace death rates in the US, with 12.2 deaths per 100,000 employees in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average rate for that year in the US was 3.4.
Ÿ Daily Kos.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/