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The menopause is an overlooked workplace health and safety issue, teaching union NUT has said. ‘Working through the menopause’ the union’s new guide, is built on responses from over 3,000 NUT women members about their experiences of working through the menopause in school. The report notes it is “important to recognise that the menopause is an occupational health issue for women teachers, as well as being an equality issue.” NUT says its guide suggests “practical ways in which the school environmental can be improved for women who are going through the menopause.” A 2011 TUC guide noted menopausal women can experience hot flushes, headaches, tiredness, sweating, anxiety attacks and an increase in stress levels (Risks 497). It added high workplace temperatures, poor ventilation, poor or non-existent rest or toilet facilities, or a lack of access to cold drinking water at work can make all of these symptoms worse. Most respondents to the NUT survey had not told their line manager they were menopausal. And only just over 10 per cent had ever requested any adjustment to their working arrangements to help them cope. The union noted most requests cost little or nothing, for example being allowed to open a window, asking for a small fan, or fitting a valve on radiators to control heating. One in eight respondents (12.6 per cent) believed they or a colleague had suffered detrimental treatment related to the menopause. This was most commonly being threatened with or subject to capability proceedings. A workplace checklist featuring ways in which all schools and colleges should be addressing issues around the menopause is included in the new union guidance. NUT notes: “This is not just a women’s issue – it is an issue about which a collective response to finding solutions in all workplaces is needed.” It adds the issue could be raised at union meetings or put on the agenda of health and safety committees.
Rail staff have been threatened, had hot coffee thrown over them and been spat at by passengers at London Bridge railway station, the rail union RMT has said. The assaults and abuse occurred during continuing disruption caused by major engineering works. RMT revealed signalling staff raised concerns about the operational plans now affecting London Bridge well before they works started, but were ignored. The union has now written to three train operators, Southern, Southeastern and Thameslink, along with Network Rail, demanding urgent action. The letter from RMT general secretary Mick Cash notes the whole process was “flawed”, adding: “No consultation took place at the planning stage and the dialogue with my members and representatives over the introduction of the plan was inadequate and served no useful purpose as the signalling staff concerns raised by union members in advance were completely ignored. This whole affair and its catalogue of failures has placed my station staff in the firing line of verbal abuse and physical assaults from customers. I must advise you that it is totally unacceptable that my members have hot coffee thrown over them or are spat upon by irate out of control passengers.” Commenting on the issue, the union general secretary said: “Our members at London Bridge are furious that they are taking the full force of the anger of passengers while those responsible are tucked up snug and warm in their offices. It is disgusting that staff charged with crowd control are being threatened, spat on and assaulted with hot coffee. We want measures put in place immediately to protect our members from this threatening and abusive behaviour.”
A year on from the disappearance of flight MH370, which is thought to have crashed into the Indian Ocean causing the deaths of 239 passengers and crew, British pilots are calling for more technical aircraft data to be transmitted to a ‘virtual black box’. They say this would mean when a flight gets into problems, the site and possible cause of a crash can be identified more quickly. As the search for MH370 continues, pilots’ union BALPA says aircraft should be modified to send a burst of vital technical data from the cockpit as soon as an aircraft behaves outside normal flight patterns. This information would be saved virtually and used after serious safety incidents to locate the aircraft and provide an early indication of what has taken place. BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “Being able to locate a crashed aircraft, understand what has gone wrong and stop it happening again is vital to making every flight safe. With the right safeguards against misuse in place, pilots want more cockpit information to be transmitted when a flight gets into trouble and stored in a ‘virtual black box’. This would help to minimise the unacceptable anguish suffered by the families of the passengers and crew while they wait for information.” Commenting on trials of new tracking devices on planes flying in and out of Australia, he added: “Pilots also welcome the trialling of improved tracking technology and practices and want to work with airlines and regulators to establish minimum international tracking standards so that aircraft can be quickly found, wherever they are in the world.”
Construction union UCATT says companies involved in blacklisting can and should be barred from public procurement projects. Over six years after the Consulting Association was exposed for blacklisting construction workers, the union says none of the companies that were ruining workers lives through blacklisting have “owned up, cleaned up and paid up.” UCATT is now advising its members how to lobby public sector bodies such as local authorities and NHS Trusts to persuade them to adopt policies that will prevent companies involved in blacklisting from tendering for contracts. It is also telling members how they can lobby and influence public authorities to cancel contracts that have been previously awarded to companies involved in blacklisting. Both the Scottish and Welsh administrations have introduced measures to help prevent blacklisters winning contracts, and over 100 local authorities have introduced policies or passed motions banning blacklisters. However companies involved in blacklisting have continued to win contracts, says UCATT. Steve Murphy, the union’s general secretary, said: “The companies that ruined workers lives are still being awarded major contracts, while their victims have not received a penny in compensation. It is essential that we use every use tool possible to put pressure on the blacklisters. By ensuring that blacklisters are barred from bidding for public procurement contracts, the companies will suffer financially and will realise they have no choice but to compensate their victims and fully apologise for their actions.”
Campaigners against construction industry blacklisting of trade unionists raising safety and other concerns on site have demonstrated outside the offices of a key firm involved in the practice. The latest leg of GMB’s ‘crocodile tears’ tour arrived on 10 March at the Plymouth offices of construction giant Kier, whose former boss Danny O’Sullivan was involved in blacklisting and was identified over 100 times in a secret blacklister’s database. Blacklisting came to light when in 2009 when the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) seized a Consulting Association database of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. Danny O’Sullivan was the main contact between Kier and the illegal blacklister. He went on to become chair of the Consulting Association from 2000 to 2001. The initials D.O’S – for Danny O’Sullivan - appear 103 times in the blacklist files. GMB said the protest was the second date in the second leg of its national protest tour “to shame 63 construction industry managers named as blacklisters who have yet to come clean and apologise for their actions.” The second leg of the tour visits Bristol, Plymouth, Epsom, Cambridge, Derby and Bridgend.
Scotland’s over-stretched mental health staff are suffering from stress as they feel unable to deliver the service their patients deserve, a UNISON survey has found. The union said 84 per cent of respondents reported their workload had increased, and 76 per cent said cuts had affected the quality of patient care. The findings, which cover the last three years, are revealed in the report See Us, which looked at the experience of workers across mental health services in the NHS, local government and the community and voluntary sector. Staff said that cuts in mental health services often go under the radar, as posts aren’t refilled or are downgraded. UNISON Scotland head of bargaining Dave Watson said the report “should serve as a warning.” He added: “Staff are stressed because they don't feel that they are giving patients the service that they deserve or doing the work they are capable of. There has been fantastic work by the See Me campaign in recent years to raise the visibility and status of those with mental health issues. Today the staff are saying See Us - and if we do that, and take their concerns on board, we'll have better, more effective services for everyone.”
Unions are preparing fast for International Workers Memorial Day, the annual 28 April commemoration and campaign which has become the biggest event on the global health and safety calendar. Public sector UNISON has just published its 2015 campaign materials. These point out that workplaces with union safety reps are twice as safe – and that when health and safety is not taken seriously, the consequences can be catastrophic. The union notes this year's theme is removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace and it says it will be revising its guidance on the topic for use by UNISON safety reps. UNISON adds: “Find out what is happening locally in your region: speak to your local TUC, Hazards campaign group or UNISON region and join or support any event. If there isn't one, organise a workplace event, perhaps jointly with your employer. Use the day to reinvigorate the campaign for better health and safety, or to discuss a workplace health and safety concern with members, non-members, and the employer. Many UNISON branches have successfully organised and recruited around local health and safety concerns.”
UNISON news alert, International Workers' Memorial Day poster and leaflet. TUC 28 April 2015 webpages and events listing. ITUC/Hazards global 28 April webpages. Purple ribbons can be purchased from the Hazards Campaign, price £30 per 100; it can also supply free posters. Email or phone 0161 636 7557.
The government has published new guidance for workers, employers and GPs on the Fit For Work assessment service. Announcing the new guides, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) indicated the date for the already behind schedule roll-out has slipped further for England and Wales, with the government now advising the assessment service will not be fully available until autumn 2015, rather than in spring as previously indicated. It said Scotland was still set to meet the spring 2015 deadline. A TUC guide for union reps launched in January urged union safety reps to be prepared for the Fit for Work changes (Risks 686). It noted: “The referral service could have significant implications for employees and trade union representatives who will need to be aware of what the new service entails and the issues that are likely to arise so they can advise members who are referred to the service.” The TUC is concerned workers may be pressured to return to work too early, and that employers are not required to act on recommended improvements to the job. The union guide advises: “Union representatives should make themselves available to give advice if a member has concerns over the service. They may even occasionally be asked to sit in on any face-to-face assessments if there is a particularly difficult problem. This may be resisted by Fit for Work but the member can refuse to attend without a representative.”
Fit For Work referrals- a TUC guide for union representatives, TUC, January 2015.
An amended government plan to deregulate areas of health and safety remains “unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise”, safety professionals’ body IOSH has warned. IOSH was commenting after the House of Lords last week passed a reworked government amendment to the Deregulation Bill, dealing with self-employment. An earlier version had sought to exempt all self-employed workers from health and safety law unless they appeared on short list of prescribed jobs. After intense lobbying by unions, the government modified the proposal at the 11th hour, replacing the near blanket exclusion with an alternative catch-all risky jobs clause. While welcoming the concession, the TUC also warned that the new clause was still a “mess” and a recipe for “confusion and uncertainty” (Risks 693), sentiments now echoed by IOSH. Richard Jones, head of policy at IOSH, said: “We are relieved the government has recognised that relying solely on its ‘prescribed list’ approach is dangerous and unworkable and has now put on record its intention to ensure that all those who may pose a risk to others are not exempted. However, we remain strongly of the view that it would be far easier and clearer to leave the law as it currently stands and has stood for 40 years without a problem. We firmly believe this exemption proposal is unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise.” The TUC has said it will seek to get “the next government to reverse this proposal in its entirety by amending the Health and Safety at Work back to its previous, simple, wording.”
Prison guards and inmates should be protected from passive smoking risks in communal prison areas, a High Court ruling indicates. The ruling was made after an inmate brought a case complaining about the health impact of secondhand smoke. The government had argued that as Crown premises, state prisons were exempt from smoke-free legislation. However, Mr Justice Singh ruled that communal areas in prisons are subject to the laws, which should be enforced. Exemptions to the Health Act 2006 mean that smoking can still be allowed in cells with the door shut where the smoker is 18 or over. However, the prison officers’ union POA has long argued its members should be afforded the same legal protection from passive smoking as other workers (Risks 624). It has made a call for smoke-free prisons a key theme of its Workers’ Memorial Day activities this year, saying its members should not be at risk from “the silent killer”. The new legal ruling came after Paul Black, an inmate at HMP Wymott, argued that he was frequently exposed to secondhand smoke on landings, in laundry rooms and healthcare waiting rooms. Mr Justice Singh said it was clear that parliament had intended the act to “apply to all public places and workplaces which fell within its scope, including those for which the Crown is responsible.” Mr Black’s solicitor, Sean Humber of the law firm Leigh Day, said the judgment confirms that prisons “are not above the law.”
Common industrial chemicals that disrupt human hormones and damage health could be costing Europe more than £110 billion a year, according to new research. The international team behind the research presented their findings on 5 March at the annual meeting of the Endocrinology Society in Brussels. They said their estimates on the high economic impact of chemicals in products including pesticides, plastics and flame retardants were “conservative.” The global team of experts concluded that infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral and learning disorders were among the conditions than can be attributed in part to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The authors of the study argued that limiting exposure would have significant benefits. Their mathematical models suggested that across the 27 members of the EU, the most likely cost was €157bn (£113.6bn) a year in health care costs and lost earnings potential, but could be much higher. That equates to 1.2 per cent of Europe's GDP, but could go as high as 2 per cent. Study co-author Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health added: “Our findings show that limiting exposure to the most common and hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals is likely to yield significant economic benefits.” He said the approach could “inform decision-making”, adding: “We are hoping to bring the latest endocrine science to the attention of policymakers as they weigh how to regulate these toxic chemicals.” The findings were published online on 5 March in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. EDCs have been implicated in the higher breast cancer rates found in workers in a range of industries including agriculture, plastics, food packaging, metal manufacture and the bar and gambling industries (Risks 583).
Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, published online 5 March 2015.
Britain’s frontline medics, police and firefighters are struggling with mental health problems but are too scared to ask for help, according to a Mind survey. The mental health charity found that almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) emergency services personnel polled admitted to stress, low mood and poor mental health. The online survey of over 3,500 staff also showed that more than half had experienced severe mental health problems but, believing their employers didn’t consider their symptoms justified sick leave, just 43 per cent had taken time off. Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Not only are many of our blue light personnel struggling with their mental health, but they’re less likely to seek support or have time off sick than the general workforce.” Mind is urging emergency services organisations to consider signing its Blue Light Time to Change pledge – a commitment to develop meaningful action plans to support the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers. Commenting on the report, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU, said emergency service staff face “unique stresses and challenges”. He added: “Firefighters and other emergency service workers will welcome the publication of this report which draws attention to serious safety, health and welfare issues facing those on the frontline of our emergency services.” He said the problem had been “worsened as a result of a huge reduction in staffing levels across all emergency services. Recent years have seen the introduction of increasingly unsociable shift patterns while front line staff try to deliver the service with fewer and fewer staff. All these have added to the stresses which already face those trying to deliver emergency services to our communities.”
A Northamptonshire roofing firm has been sentenced for serious criminal safety failings, which emerged when a worker died after falling through a rooflight. Mark Cooper, 46, died three days after the incident at a commercial unit in Corby on 11 June 2011. Northampton Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Cooper was working for JBS Roofing Ltd and had been instructed by the company to investigate a roof leak. While he was replacing a rooflight, Mr Cooper fell six metres through the fragile surface on to a concrete floor below. He suffered a fractured skull and died in hospital on 14 June 2011. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found control measures such as edge protection, coverings or fall protection over fragile rooflights, and safe access and egress from the roof, were all missing. JBS Roofing Ltd had also failed to properly plan the roof refurbishment project and had not coordinated with the customer. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,987. HSE inspector Samuel Russell said: “It is not acceptable to use lesser standards in work methods or safety equipment in any situation, but especially when the work requires more permanent solutions for the longevity of the work. The company was experienced in the roofing industry and had undertaken more complex and difficult projects before. Its actions placed roofing workers at great risk.”
A director of a building firm was partially buried when the high sides of an excavation he was working on collapsed on him, a court has heard. Paul Connolly, director of Bushey-based PNT Contractors Ltd, had to be rescued by workers digging him out by hand after the excavation collapse at a site in Essex in July 2014. He was taken to hospital, suffering a broken leg and ankle. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Mr Connolly and the company. Southend Magistrates’ Court heard PNT Contractors Ltd was carrying out extensive ground work at the site in Crays Hills, Billericay, when the incident took place. Paul Connolly had used an excavator to dig into the side of a slope, leaving unsupported excavation sides of up to 2.5 metres in height. Mr Connolly and another employee were working in the sheer-faced excavation when it collapsed. The second worker managed to jump to safety but Mr Connolly was partially buried and trapped by the falling earth and had to be dug out by hand by his two employees. HSE served a prohibition notice the following day stopping any work until the excavation was made safe. PNT Contractors Ltd was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,176 after admitting a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations. Paul Martin Connolly was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,176 for a similar breach by virtue of being a director of the company. HSE inspector Adam Hills said: “Paul Connolly not only endangered himself, but was reckless with the lives of his employees.” He added: “A few simple and inexpensive precautions could have easily prevented this from occurring. To prevent a collapse you should shore, step, or batter back the sides. Do not assume ground will stand up unsupported.”
Risks to women at work are under-estimated, under-researched and women continue to suffer as a result. This was a conclusion of a conference on women’s health and work, organised by the European trade union research body ETUI from 4 to 6 March in Brussels. The international conference found a “serious obstacle on the road to such equality is the invisibility of the specific risks to which working women are exposed and that stem frequently from work organisation methods. The deeply entrenched nature of sexual segregation on the labour market and of sexist stereotypes serves to reinforce the status quo.” Delegates heard University of Manchester sociologist Colette Fagan present findings from the latest European Working Conditions Survey, which showed in 2010, 69 per cent of managerial posts were filled by men, while 67 per cent of service and sales workers are women. Women’s paid work hours were lower than men’s, but add in unpaid labour at home and “no category of male worker… works a comparable number of hours.” Fagan said women were affected just as much as men by long hours spent working standing up or in painful or tiring positions, or undertaking repetitive movements. These risk factors contribute largely to the development of musculoskeletal problems among women, causing them to complain more than men of pain in the shoulders, neck and upper limbs. Women also more frequently report ‘poor general health’ and ‘mental health at risk’. Canadian academic Katherine Lippel said her research showed how discrimination was reflected in the occupational disease recognition and compensation system. She cited the example of a woman who developed bladder cancer after working in the aluminium industry. Her cancer was attributed to her partner’s smoking. Files on male colleagues suffering the same condition made no mention of their partners smoking habits.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand has accused port companies of being more interested in avoiding liability than in fixing the root causes of injuries and deaths. The union was commenting after port incidents on 3 and 4 March left three workers injured, including one man with serious back injuries. National secretary of the Maritime Union Joe Fleetwood said it was not uncommon for port workers to do 16, 18 or even 20-hour shifts. Long, irregular hours, contracting out, casualisation and increasing pressure to work faster were all contributing to what he called a “crisis” in port safety. He said a national inquiry was needed to identify the problems and lay down strict rules and regulations that could be enforced. “You've got certain ports that are trying to contract out of their social conscience and responsibility to the employees that work on the waterfront,” he said. Official figures show eight deaths and at least 230 non-fatal incidents on ships and onshore between 2011 and 2014. But the union leader claimed many accidents go unreported behind "the cone of silence" within port companies. Health and safety lawyer Hazel Armstrong said to dig out the root causes, an inquiry needed to be independent and comprehensive, with buy-in from all the main players, including unions and regulators. She said the government needed to take a more active role, particularly the minister for workplace relations and safety, Michael Woodhouse. A Health and Safety Reform bill, which will make every workplace responsible for the health and safety of all its workers, is expected to come into force in the second half of the year.
More than 30 people are thought to be dead after a 4 March methane gas explosion at a notoriously dangerous coal mine in eastern Ukraine. Officials have so far refused to confirm a final fatality figure, however it is thought it could significantly exceed the initial estimate. The Zasyadko mine in rebel-held Donetsk has been the site of several recent major tragedies, including Ukraine's worst mining disaster in 2007 that left 106 miners dead (Risks 333). Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union federation ITUC, called for political and safety action. She said: “Ukraine’s mine safety record is appalling, and the fact that this latest tragedy happened inside a conflict zone has hampered rescue efforts, according to local trade unions. The conflict in eastern Ukraine makes it all the more difficult, even impossible, to bring about the changes needed to ensure safety standards for miners and indeed workers in other sectors.” She added: “The only acceptable path forward is through negotiations between all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine – a conflict which has already cost the lives of thousands of people and is causing a humanitarian crisis for the people of the region.” Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, the global union covering the mining sector, said: “Our most sincere condolences go to the families of the perished and injured workers. We expect that a proper investigation will be carried out and due conclusions will be taken out of this heartbreaking tragedy. However, based on the previous bad record and terrible death tol, at this particular mine, health and safety must be given paramount importance.” He added: “The employer and the authorities must take it as their own personal responsibility and provide safe and healthy conditions of work. No miner should be sent to die at the workplace!”
Injuries at work force workers into poverty and keep them there, a new report from the US health and safety regulator OSHA has warned. It says at least three million workers are seriously injured every year in the United States. Launching a new report, ‘Adding inequality to injury’, OSHA head David Michaels said many workers will lose more than 15 per cent in wages over ten years because of their injury while bearing nearly 50 per cent of its cost. “These injuries and illnesses contribute to the pressing issue of income inequality: they force working families out of the middle class and into poverty, and keep the families of lower-wage workers from ever getting out,” he said in an OSHA blog posting. “The costs of workplace injuries are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported components of the social safety net.” He added that the state-based workers’ compensation insurance programmes have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the payouts to which they are entitled and which help cover lost earnings and medical bills. “Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20 per cent) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses. This cost-shift has forced injured workers, their families and taxpayers to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions.” The OSHA head added: “When employers are excused from this burden, worker safety and health often becomes less of a priority. This is especially important because preventing these injuries and illnesses in the first place would be the number one way to alleviate this type of suffering before it even begins. We here at OSHA will continue to work towards that goal, but it is important that as we continue the national conversation on income inequality we do not forget the workplace injuries and illnesses can lead directly to it.”
Courses for 2015
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