Issue date
19 Mar 2015
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 695 - 21 March 2015
 
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 protected]
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

EVENTS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

 

UNION NEWS

McStandards are no substitute for real rules

How do you think people would react if the government passed a law that said that our traffic laws would be decided by motoring organisations like the AA or RAC, or if the European Commission announced that all new regulations on food quality and hygiene would be determined by McDonalds? According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, something along the lines is already happening on workplace safety, with key decisions being gifted to manufacturers and suppliers. “It is called standardisation, the process of setting standards,” he notes, citing examples like machinery safety and protective clothing where these “British, European and international standards are increasingly used instead of regulation.” The union safety specialist explains: “There is talk, for instance, of a new standard on stress. We don’t need a new standard, we need proper legislation backed up with enforcement. Another problem is that these standards are developed by standards committees that are usually dominated by industry.” One current controversial example is the standard on occupational health and safety management being developed by the international body ISO. The 54 countries involved in fashioning the standard are each entitled to three delegates. Only three have included a workers’ representatives as part of their delegation. The final product is not free; you’ll hear a lot about these standards, but you’d have to dig deep to find out for yourself what they really say. And in a highly profitable global industry, the same standards bodies selling the standards also certify companies’ compliance with them. Calling for the standard making process to be overhauled and simplified, Hugh Robertson said: “We should also not be developing standards in areas that are the territory of regulators, for example HSE, or representative international bodies like ILO. That includes health and safety management systems, stress, or anything related to exposure levels.”

Ÿ  Stronger Unions blog.

Ÿ  Standard Deviation, Hazards online report, March 2015.

Clarkson probe a ‘test case’ for BBC bullying rules

The BBC’s handling of the Jeremy Clarkson fracas is a “serious test case” that will reveal if it has learned lessons about handling bullying and harassment claims, according to broadcasting union BECTU. The corporation is investigating allegations that the star of the successful Top Gear show, which makes millions of pounds for the BBC, threw a punch at a producer. Clarkson apparently reported himself to the corporation after the incident in a hotel in Yorkshire which was witnessed by several guests. The Clarkson investigation comes just weeks after the corporation approved its new bullying and harassment grievance policy and guide, agreed with unions (Risks 690). Luke Crawley, assistant general secretary of the broadcast workers’ union BECTU, told the Guardian newspaper the guide’s existence helped to allay fears that the BBC would be able to “wash its dirty linen in private”. He added: “The BBC can’t pretend it’s not happening. If it turns out that the allegations are true, then the BBC must take a very firm line. Otherwise it seems to be open season for star presenters taking a pop at staff. This is a pretty serious test case.” Crawley said broadcasting and entertainment unions had been pushing for the policy to protect freelancers working for the corporation. But it applied equally to potential abuses of the policy by freelancers, including stars such as Clarkson who are not BBC employees. “I’ve been around the BBC 25 years and don’t know of any cases when people have been found guilty of fighting and remain in employment – and that includes senior executives,” Crawley said.

Ÿ  BECTU bullying guidance.

Ÿ  The Guardian.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Asbestos in schools report finally emerges

A long-delayed report into the presence of asbestos in schools was finally published on 12 March, after “sustained pressure” from education unions. Hundreds of teachers and other education staff have died of asbestos related diseases since 2003, the Department for Education report found. Among the proposed responses outlined in the report, which stuck to the previous line that schools are a ‘low risk’ environment, was the development of more targeted guidance on asbestos management. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the report only emerged after “sustained pressure from the NUT and other education unions”, adding it “is a step in the right direction, but no more. Better training and guidance is of course welcome, as is the focus on transparency and accountability of duty holders.” But she said “the report comprehensively fails to set out a long-term strategy for phased removal of asbestos from our schools.” GMB national health and safety officer John McClean said “while the review acknowledges the massive problem it lacks strategy to deal with the asbestos in schools over the long term.” He added: “The next government should ensure that a proper, phased removal of all asbestos from schools is planned within a realistic timescale and on a proportionate basis decided by the asbestos damage and the potential for exposure in each school.” Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum chair Doug Jewell said the report was “only one step on a long journey.” He said: “The findings of this review need to be built on and most importantly we need long term strategic policies that will eradicate asbestos from our schools.” The publication of the review came days after the Asbestos in Schools campaign revealed its freedom of information requests had established up to 86 per cent of UK schools contain asbestos. The group estimated that between 200 and 300 people could die each year as a consequence of their asbestos exposure as a child at school in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ÿ  Department for Education asbestos review.

Ÿ  NUT news release.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Ÿ  IBAS news report.

Ÿ  Asbestos Forum news release.

Ÿ  Asbestos in Schools newsletter.

Ÿ  BOHS news release.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Covert police unit spied on union members

An undercover police unit that monitored political groups over a 40 year period gathered intelligence on members of at least five trade unions, a whistleblower has revealed. Former undercover police officer Peter Francis said he spent four years spying on political activists. A statement from Francis was delivered to a packed 12 March meeting in parliament that marked the launch of a new book about the blacklisting of thousands of workers by multinational construction firms. The book, ‘Blacklisted’, presents evidence of how police shared information about trade unionists with the blacklisters. Francis has revealed how he believes that he personally collected some of the intelligence that was stored on the blacklisting files held by industry-financed covert blacklister the Consulting Association. He said the trade unionists spied on were members of UNISON, FBU, CWU, NUT and the students’ union NUS. Francis promised to give evidence to the public inquiry into undercover policing announced earlier that day by home secretary Theresa May. The inquiry, which will be led by Lord Justice Pitchford, will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence. The union-backed Blacklist Support Group (BSG) demanded “that blacklisting is part of the inquiry,” adding “the full remit should only be decided after consultation with the victims of police spying. BSG also support the call for Peter Francis and other police whistleblowers to be exempted from the Official Secrets Act (OSA) when they give evidence in court or in any public inquiry. The OSA is being used by the police in order to cover up the scandal.” Unions CWU, GMB and UCATT all called for blacklisting of trade unionists, who were commonly targeted for their safety activities, to be included in the scope of the Pitchford inquiry.

Ÿ  Home Office news release.

Ÿ  CWU news release.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Ÿ  UCATT news release.

Ÿ  The Guardian, including full text of the statement from Peter Francis.

Ÿ  The Mirror.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Ÿ  Change.org petition calling on Theresa May to ensure the OSA is not used against inquiry whistleblowers.

Ÿ  Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists, New Internationalist, March 2015. ISBN 978-1-78026-257-4. eBook ISBN: 978-1-78026-258-1. £9.99. Book video trailer.

INEOS safety reps plummet, safety breaches soar

A dramatic drop in the number of union safety reps at the giant INEOS oil processing site in Grangemouth has coincided with a marked upturn in enforcement action for criminal safety breaches. The union Unite says the number of union health and safety representatives at Grangemouth had dropped from 64 to single figures. “There has been a sizeable exodus of experienced labour and expertise from the site over the last eighteen months,” said Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary. “Our concern is that ensuring the safe operation of the site was challenging enough even with the presence of a fully-trained and recognised trade union workplace safety team.” Investigative journalist Rob Edwards, writing for the Sunday Herald, found INEOS had breached health and safety regulations 34 times in the last four years and has been officially condemned as “poor” for pollution for three years in a row. While the company said it had one of the best safety records in the chemical industry, Edwards found INEOS has been served 11 legal enforcement notices by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for criminal safety breaches at Grangemouth between 2011 and 2014. This compares to just three notices, issued when criminal breaches are discovered, over the previous four years from 2007 to 2010. Information leaked to the Sunday Herald shows that nearly 400 safety incidents have been reported within INEOS at Grangemouth since the start of January 2015. There have been over 20 injuries to workers in that period. In February the company’s chemical director, Gordon Milne, sent staff a circular warning that 2015 had started with “a really poor safety performance” causing too many colleagues to be injured. Everyone needed to “get a grip” to make sure that more people weren’t hurt, he said.

Ÿ  Sunday Herald.

Ÿ  Rob Edwards’ website and leaked Gordon Milne email [word].

Action on work cancers is decades overdue

More protective laws, effective enforcement and unrelenting union action are needed to address Europe’s ‘immense’ occupational cancer problem, a top safety researcher has warned. Laurent Vogel from the Brussels-based trade union research body ETUI points to research showing that cancers induced by working conditions kill over 100,000 people in the European Union each year. Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he said: “Cancers account for 53 per cent of work-related deaths compared to just 2 per cent for work accidents. Every one of these deaths can be prevented.” The union safety expert added: “To do away with workplace cancers, there must be a stronger framework of laws, more checks by health and safety inspectors, and no let-up in union action to get human life valued more than company profits.” Instead, Europe’s safety policy development has ground to a halt, he said, despite the majority of EU Member States now wanting action to address the human toll and the related “rising costs to public health and social security budgets.” On 4 March 2014, German, Austrian, Belgian and Dutch labour ministers sent a joint letter to the European Commission calling for an urgent review of the Directive on exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at work and making specific proposals to strengthen the law. According to Vogel: “The current legislation, based on scientific evidence dating back 40 years, has manifestly failed to deliver effective prevention. Its exposure limit values cover less than 20 per cent of real-life situations of exposure to workplace carcinogens. It does not cover crystalline silica, diesel fumes or dozens of other agents that cause cancers in workers.” He concluded: “What the EU does about work cancers will be the main credibility test for its health and safety at work policies. The unions will not be standing idly by. Throughout the year, they will be organising action to demand appropriate legislation and to roll out workers’ initiatives in support of prevention that works.” Vogel added that the hazardous substances-themed Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April will provide a special focus for these activities.

Ÿ  TUC Stronger Unions blog and TUC 28 April 2015 webpages and events listing and ‘Stop the tears’ poster. This and a ‘Hell no!” ITUC/Hazards poster can be ordered from free of charge from Hazards Campaign, which can also provide purple ribbons for £30 per 100. Email or phone 0161 636 7557. ITUC/Hazards global 28 April webpages.

RMT demands summit into overcrowding and rail chaos

The rail union RMT has repeated it demand for a top level summit into overcrowding and the “continuing rail chaos”. The latest action call came on 16 March as broken down trains and electrical faults hit Thameslink and SWT services. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the incidents meant more misery for commuters, adding: “It is scandalous that private rail companies continue to rob our railways of hundreds of millions of pounds in profits and subsidies while passengers, paying the highest fares in Europe, are left stranded. These basket case rail franchises are laughing all the way to the bank but are still looking to screw every penny they can out of this racket though further attacks on jobs and services.” He added: “Last week RMT demanded a top level summit into the overcrowding and continuing chaos on our transport services. Those demands have been ignored. RMT will allow no cover up of the facts and this union will continue the fight for public ownership and an end to the cuts.” The union last week accused London Underground of ignoring its warning about “lethal overcrowding” at Clapham South station. The union concerns were raised at a specially convened safety meeting, days before a woman fell between the platform and the tracks at the south London Tube stop. The incident on the morning of 9 March left her requiring treatment for a broken arm and a black eye.

Ÿ  RMT news releases on the summit call and overcrowding. BBC News Online.

Work injury ends firefighter’s career

An ex-firefighter who suffered a career-ending injury while working at Ilkley Fire Station in West Yorkshire has secured substantial damages in a union-backed case. FBU member Michael Hollings, who had been in the service for eight years, was seriously injured during a training exercise in May 2011. He and two colleagues were taking part in a drill that involved working at height when the 13.5m ladder they were using cracked, causing them to fall to the ground. Michael was wearing an improvised chest harness which held him to the ladder. As it fell, the top of the ladder landed on a solid fence surrounding the training area, leaving Mr Hollings suspended six inches above the ground. While Mr Hollings’ colleagues suffered minor injuries, the force of the recoil as the ladder impacted on the fence left him with broken bones in his arm and legs, dislocated elbows and concussion. He was forced to medically retire from his role with the fire service and also from his other job as an HGV driver – a career he had enjoyed for over two decades. His injuries require twice-weekly physiotherapy and a spinal cord stimulator to help alleviate ongoing pain. He has now received a “substantial” six figure settlement in an FBU-backed compensation claim. Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “The FBU welcomes the successful outcome of this legal challenge and the compensation awarded to our member Michael Hollings.” But he added the union still has “serious concerns that the causes of the equipment failure still have not been identified and rectified.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

OTHER NEWS

Austerity measures create ‘unsustainable stress’

Cuts to local authority budgets are having a profound effect on the services people receive and are leaving the staff delivering them facing “unsustainable stress”, a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found. The charity’s research, examining the impact of government “austerity measures”, found the poorest communities and residents are being hardest hit and those least able to cope with service withdrawal are bearing the brunt. The report also noted “frontline staff within local authorities are working very hard to cushion service-users from the worst impacts of the cuts, principally by taking on expanded workloads.” It added: “The level of stress this entails does not appear sustainable in the longer term and in many areas staff report feeling overwhelmed by the scale and nature of the problems they are dealing with. At the same time as their organisations are shedding staff, they find needs increasing. At least some of these needs result from the cuts in welfare benefits which are creating a depth or intensity of problems which organisations have not faced before.” Commenting on the findings, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith said it “reveals the terrible impact of austerity policies on the vital services provided by local authorities in Scotland and across the UK. The STUC and public sector unions have been arguing for some time that the increased pressure on staff workloads and cuts in employment are not just bad news for our members, but those that they serve.” He added: “Increased levels of stress and illness are a natural result of the intensification of work and the pressures of holding together of services which are under unprecedented pressure. It is truly horrifying to contemplate that we are only half-way through the UK government’s proposed cuts agenda and we fully back the Joseph Rowntree call for the cuts to cease.”

Ÿ  JRF publication alert. The cost of the cuts: the impact on local government and poorer communities, JRF, March 2015, summary and full report.

Ÿ  STUC news release.

Six figure fine after waste worker’s death

A waste management company has been fined £200,000 for its criminal safety failings after a worker was killed when he was struck by a vehicle at a Watford waste transfer station. Patrick Murphy, a 58-year-old father-of-two who had worked as a groundsman at the site since 2004, was struck and run over by a JCB loading shovel as he was clearing litter the FCC Waste Services (UK) Ltd waste transfer station on 17 August 2012. He died at the scene. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the firm at St Albans Crown Court after an investigation found the company failed to organise and control the workplace to ensure that pedestrians and vehicles could circulate and operate safely. One of two loading shovels operated by FCC staff struck and killed Mr Murphy whilst he was litter-picking on the site’s apron. FCC Waste Services (UK) Ltd was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £65,000 after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Roxanne Barker said: “Mr Murphy lost his life in what was an entirely preventable tragedy caused by FCC Waste Services (UK) Ltd’s failure to fully recognise and control the hazards arising from activities in and around the tipping hall at its waste transfer station.” She added: “Pedestrians, whether they are employees or not, should be kept separate from these types of vehicles through physical barriers or safe systems of work that are clear and well supervised.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.

Worker crushed between two lorries

A Cheshire-based transport company has been fined £500,000 after a Hull employee suffered horrific injuries when she was crushed between two lorries. Warwick Crown Court heard that Jennifer Rose was lucky to be alive after the incident at Tip Trailer Services’ depot in Nuneaton on 9 April 2013. Mrs Rose, 38, broke 13 bones in her back, shoulders and ribs, and punctured a lung. The incident left her with severe head injuries, impaired vision and she required a tracheotomy. She suffered a cardiac arrest and was in intensive care for ten days. The mother of a young son needed to wear a body brace for four months and was confined to a wheelchair for some months, although has since regained some mobility. She still requires weekly physiotherapy. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mrs Rose was acting as a banksman, assisting a lorry driver to reverse park on a slope, at the time of the incident. The driver decoupled his trailer without engaging its parking brake, causing it to roll back and trap her between the two vehicles. The investigation found TIP Trailer Services regularly allowed vehicles to park on a slope without the provision of chocks or similar devices. The company had no monitoring system to check whether drivers were applying their handbrakes properly. TIP Europe Ltd, trading as Tip Trailer Services, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay a further £56,938 in costs. HSE inspector Elizabeth Hornsby said: “Mrs Rose suffered severe life-changing injuries. Her family was told she would not survive the night but due to her level of physical fitness and her sheer determination she has fought back and is now on the road to recovery.” She added: “It was common practice for drivers to park on a slope within the compound, which should never have been allowed as it was inevitable that sooner or later a driver would fail to put on their handbrake. This totally avoidable incident could and should have been prevented with nothing more than common sense.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Forfar firm fined after teen agency worker injured

A metal galvanising company has been sentenced after a teenage agency worker suffered serious leg injuries when a half-tonne A-frame slipped and fell onto him from a forklift truck. Robert Ramsey, 19, had been working at Forfar Galvanisers Ltd’s premises in Forfar for four months when the incident happened on 20 November 2013. Forfar Sheriff Court heard that Mr Ramsey had been helping colleagues move the large A-frame, which measured 3.82 metres by 1.6 metres and weighed almost half a tonne. The A-frame was lifted and moved outside, where it was raining, on the forks of a forklift truck. It was then turned and was being moved into the correct position with Mr Ramsey and another colleague on opposite sides of the A-frame to steady it. However, the A-frame was not secured to the forks and it began to slip. The forklift driver shouted repeated warnings, and although his colleague heeded them moving out of the way, Mr Ramsey took hold of the A-frame to steady it, but it continued to slip and fell onto him. He suffered serious injuries to his legs including bruised bones, trapped nerves, muscle and tissue damage as well as severe swelling and external bruising. He was off work for several months and could only walk short distances. He has now made a full recovery. Forfar Galvanisers Ltd was fined £7,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “Forfar Galvanisers Ltd’s failure to act to make sure its employees and agency workers were adequately protected during such movement operations, has led to serious injuries for Mr Ramsey, which could have been so easily prevented.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.

Young employee loses his toes

A Kent engineering firm has been fined after a 20-year-old worker had three toes chopped off on one foot and every toe broken on the other when a metal sheet landed on his feet. Anton Hunter, an engineer with G&P Machine Shop Ltd in Queensborough, was helping a colleague unload a delivery of fabricated steel sheets at a nearby site when a 700kg sheet became dislodged from a magnet and fell directly on his feet. His big toe and the next two on his right foot were sliced off and he suffered fractures to all the toes on his left foot. He has since had the second toe on the left foot amputated due to his big toe shifting following surgery. Mr Hunter, from Sheerness, has since returned to work in a reduced capacity but is still regaining his walking skills. The incident, on 17 February 2014, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted G&P Machine Shop at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court. The court heard that the two workers had unloaded two smaller metal sheets successfully but a third had become detached from the magnet and fallen. The two men believed the failure was due to the cloth around the magnet so they removed it and started unloading the larger 700kg sheets. One lift was achieved but the second failed mid-way and the sheet slipped from the magnet just as Mr Hunter jumped down from the back of the delivery vehicle and was helping to guide the sheet. HSE identified that the magnet, which had been on hire to G&P Machine Shop for a month, was not designed for the size and weight of either the smaller or the larger metal sheets. G&P Machine Shop Ltd was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,036 after admitting a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Worker crushed by falling conveyor

Three companies have been fined after a worker was crushed and seriously injured by a falling section of conveyor at a major energy plant construction site in Sleaford. The incident happened during construction of the Sleaford Renewable Energy plant on 14 February 2013 when the 4.5 tonne conveyor section overturned during installation. It trapped Michael Doyle, a 49-year-old employee of Derby-based Shaw Group UK Ltd, who suffered multiple injuries including four cracked vertebrae, broken ribs, a punctured lung and broken ankle. He has not returned to work since. Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard that Shaw Group UK Ltd had been subcontracted to install a boiler and associated equipment, including a conveyor system to carry large straw bales, by Burmeister and Wain Energy (BWE). BWE was one of two Danish companies, the other being Burmeister and Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC), that had formed a consortium to design and build the centre, which burns straw and wood to create electricity and also to provide heat for some local authority buildings. As Shaw Group UK Ltd employees lifted a fourth section of the conveyor, it swung towards two workers before violently swinging the other way and turning on its side, trapping Mr Doyle underneath. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation identified criminal safety failings by all three companies. Shaw Group UK Ltd was fined £17,350 and ordered to pay costs of £1,710 after pleading guilty to breaking three safety laws. Burmeister and Wain Scandinavian Contractor was fined £4,670 and ordered to pay costs of £1,710 after pleading guilty to a single criminal safety offence. And Burmeister and Wain Energy was fined £5,350 and ordered to pay costs of £1,710 after admitting a single criminal breach.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Loft company in court after scaffold collapse

A loft conversion company has been fined for its criminal safety failings after an employee was injured in a dramatic scaffold collapse outside a private property in North London. The structure buckled, tipped towards the home and bent in on itself – effectively creating a chute that sent the worker and an array of materials, including plaster boards, wood and lead rolls, crashing six metres to the ground below. Thomas Pastura, 24, broke two ribs in the fall at the property in Hornsey on 4 October 2013. His employer, Lofty Creations UK Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified clear failings with the design of the scaffold. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that the weight of the materials on the structure at the time of collapse was between 3 and 3.5 tonnes – the equivalent of a transit van. This was far greater than it could safely handle and caused the scaffold to give way. Magistrates were told that, as a company routinely engaged with work at height, Lofty Creations should have known the property required a scaffold built to an approved design by a specialist structural engineer. Lofty Creations UK Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay a further £1,019 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. HSE inspector Simon Hester said: “The collapse would not have occurred had the scaffold been designed by a competent specialist to carry loads of 3.5 tonnes with an overhanging cantilever to accommodate the bay window. That didn’t happen and Mr Pastura suffered a painful injury as a result – although he is perhaps fortunate not to have come off a lot worse.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

EVENTS

28 April: Put up a poster, put on an event

Unions are preparing for what is set to be the world’s biggest ever safety event. International Workers’ Memorial Day, held on 28 April each year, involves hundreds of thousands of workers worldwide. The TUC is ensuring the event has a high profile in the UK – a new ‘Stop the Tears’ poster is on its way to thousands of workplaces, spelling out the human costs of unsafe and unhealthy work. It is also a ready-made events advert, with a space for you to fill in your 28 April event/time/place to promote local activities. Unions are also rising to the challenge. Unite and Usdaw are the latest to publish online a welter of top quality resources for their reps to use. Unite picks up the global ‘hazardous substances’ theme, with new materials complementing its ‘Find it, Fix it’ safety reps action campaign.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Bangladesh: Outrage after another deadly building collapse

At least eight construction workers have died after a cement factory under construction partially collapsed in Bangladesh. Police say about 70 people were in the building in the port town of Mongla, 200km (125 miles) south-west of the capital Dhaka, when the roof gave way on 12 March. More than 60 people were rescued, many requiring hospital treatment. The construction company building the roof was a local agent of China National Building Material Company Ltd, which won the contract in an international competitive bidding process. Fiona Murie, director of health and safety for the global construction union federation BWI, said: “The authorities in Bangladesh must investigate all the circumstances to establish what factors led to this catastrophe, and ensure that this will not happen again. Workers must not be left vulnerable to exploitation, death, injury and disease, due to dangerous and illegal working conditions. They are the ones who pay the price for the incompetence, negligence or corruption of the authorities, the clients and the contractors who are putting profits before people.” Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the global union IndustriALL that was instrumental in negotiating an Accord on Building and Fire Safety after the Rana Plaza garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh in 2013, said: “The Accord made an immediate effect and decreased the risks in the garment industry of Bangladesh, even though there is still a long way to go before we can claim the Bangladesh garment industry is safe and sustainable. The new tragedy at Mongla proves that the Bangladesh government must start immediately building similar safety arrangements for all sectors of Bangladeshi economy. Workers have the right to return home after their shift alive and healthy, no matter whether employed in construction, garment, cement or any other sector.”

Ÿ  BWI news release.

Ÿ  IndustriALL news release.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Cambodia: Labour laws don’t protect garment workers

The Cambodian government is failing to protect the workers producing garments for  international brands from serious labour rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has found. Its researchers discovered the predominantly female workforce often experience forced overtime, pregnancy-based discrimination, and anti-union practices that neither the government nor major brands have adequately addressed. Its 140-page report, ‘Work faster or get out’, documents lax government enforcement of labour laws and brand actions that hinder monitoring and compliance. It is based on interviews with more than 340 people, including 270 workers from 73 factories in Phnom Penh and nearby provinces, union leaders, government representatives, labour rights advocates, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, and international apparel brand representatives. Of some 200 apparel brands that source from Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said it was in contact with Adidas, Armani, Gap, H&M, Joe Fresh, and Marks and Spencer. Many workers told Human Rights Watch that factory managers pressured them to meet production targets in ways that undermined their ability to take rest breaks, use the washroom, drink water, or eat lunch. In some cases, the pressure to meet production targets increased after minimum wages increased in 2013 and 2014. “The Cambodian government should take swift measures to reverse its terrible record of enforcing its labour laws and protect workers from abuse,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These global apparel brands are household names. They have a lot of leverage, and can and should do more to ensure their contracts with garment factories are not contributing to labour rights abuses.” Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, the global union for the garment sector, commented:  “The report is further evidence that so-called corporate social responsibility practices, which only serve to polish brands’ reputations, are failing to prevent abuse of workers.” He added: “New approaches are urgently needed and IndustriALL is working hard to make the global garment industry safe and sustainable. The HRW report shows we still have a long way to go.”

 Ÿ  HRW news release and report, Work Faster or Get Out’: Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry.

Ÿ  IndustriALL news report.

Global: Electronics industry challenged on toxic chemicals

Campaigners from over 200 groups worldwide have challenged the electronics industry to tackle the harm caused by its used of toxic chemicals. The call came on 16 March as the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) met in Brussels. EICC, an industry association that represents over 100 electronics companies, was discussing chemical management strategies. A ‘challenge’ to EICC from a coalition coordinated by the campaign groups Good Electronics Network and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) urges the industry to improve its performance on chemicals management during the production process.  They say electronics workers continue to suffer as a result of exposure to harmful chemicals. The challenge emphasises the importance of disclosure, substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives, protection of workers, freedom of association, participation of workers in workplace monitoring, environmental protection, and the need for compensation of workers, communities and the environment for harm done. “It’s astonishing that the most technically savvy companies in the world, whose names are on our electronics, say they still don’t know all of the materials used in their own products or in their supply chain production factories,” said ICRT’s Ted Smith. “What we need from this important industry is safe jobs and healthy families, where the next generation of children is at least as important as the next generation of chips.” Pauline Overeem, coordinator of the GoodElectronics Network, was critical of the industry’s auditing systems. “These corporate audits don’t uncover chemical exposures and other labour rights violations all the way down the supply chain,” she said. “There is a clear disconnect between audits findings and the grim reality in many factories. That’s why we are challenging the industry to clean up its act now.”

Ÿ  Good Electronics news release. EICC website.

USA: ‘Vast’ gains in oil safety strike proposals

A safety strike by refinery workers in the US could be close to settlement after a tentative agreement was struck between oil giant Shell and the union USW. The deal, which has been approved by union’s lead negotiators and National Oil Bargaining Policy (NOBP) Committee, has still to be ratified by the membership. “We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership,” said USW international president Leo W Gerard. “There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.” USW said safety issues were central to the negotiations, and the proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed. The union said it expected the other major oil employers targeted in the dispute will offer the same terms under a system called “pattern bargaining”. The strike action, which started on 1 February (Risks 690), is to continue will the tentative deal is under consideration.

Ÿ  USW news release.

Ÿ  AFL-CIO Now blog

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2015

Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

 

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