|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 firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Long hours, staff shortages and the mental demands of the job are placing an enormous burden on ambulance workers, with nine in ten (91 per cent) saying they are suffering with stress, according to new UNISON research. The survey of 2,977 ambulance workers found that three-quarters (74 per cent) are suffering with sleep problems, 72 per cent said they felt irritable as a result and experienced mood swings, and more than half (56 per cent) suffer with anxiety. More than a third (38 per cent) said they had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and a quarter (26 per cent) admitted they were close to doing so. Almost three in five (58 per cent) admitted they did not tell their employer the reason they were off sick was stress. Only six per cent said they would talk to a manager or a supervisor about it. As a result of pressures on the service and workers, a ‘huge’ four in five (82 per cent) admitted they had thought about leaving the job, the union said. UNISON is concerned that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care as more than half of the respondents said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress. UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “Working in emergency services is stressful but the pressure on ambulance staff is reaching dangerously high levels. It is unacceptable that the current system doesn’t allow for proper breaks between shifts. Workers have told us they often work 14-hour shifts without a decent break.” She added: “The pressure on workers is mounting and the apparent lack of support from their employers means they are suffering in silence. Year after year the levels of stress remain unacceptably high and yet neither employers nor the government have done anything to address this. It is no wonder areas such as London are now having to go to the other side of the world to recruit paramedics.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
An incident this month where a rusted through signal collapsed on the Norwich to Lowestoft line has once again revealed how warnings from RMT union reps over serious maintenance problems are being ignored by senior managers, the union has said. The semaphore signal which came down at Cantley in Norfolk on 5 April had rusted right through at its base – an issue on this section of line that had been raised with management by RMT. The union said it was told the signalling was to be replaced at some point in the future with a new centralised system, so repairs and replacements were not required. RMT said it was pure luck that the signal fell away from the track rather than across it, and that it was purely by chance that the threat of a derailment was avoided. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the incident was “a grim reminder that maintenance schedules have been allowed to slip and corners are being cut. It is pure chance that the signal didn’t fall across the track threatening life and limb. Safety on our railways should never be left to luck.” Saying the union would be raising the matter with senior Network Rail officials, he added: “Once again we have an example where RMT reps had clearly warned about the dangers of the scrapping of maintenance work to these signals and once again those warning have been ignored. That is outrageous and RMT will not tolerate a position where lives are being put at risk on our transport services because of a pig-headed and cash-led reluctance to listen and to act.”
Unions are urging the global corporations sponsoring the 2022 World Cup to make a stand against forced labour. The construction union UCATT said it is part of a global campaign applying pressure to end a system where migrant workers in Qatar are “forced to work in slave like conditions” to build the facilities for football’s most prestigious event. It added there is now an opportunity to apply further pressure, ahead of the 29 May congress in Zurich of football’s global governing body, FIFA. Construction trade unionists from all over the world have sent letters to national football associations and fan clubs in their home countries demanding they take a stand for workers’ rights. “However, now is the time to step up our efforts and target the corporate sponsors of FIFA,” said UCATT. “They pump millions of dollars into FIFA and without them the World Cup would not be possible. If we can get them to speak up, FIFA and the Qatari government will have to act.” According to the union many of the sponsors expressed concern over last year’s corruption allegations against FIFA, “but kept silent about the slave-like conditions for workers building the World Cup. We now want them to give FIFA an ultimatum and quit their sponsorship unless FIFA decides to do the right thing - which is to make sure that workers’ rights are respected before, during and after the World Cup.” The union wants people to sign an online petition urging corporations including Adidas, Coca Cola, Hyundai, Kia Motors, VISA and McDonalds “to reconsider their partnership with FIFA and join us in our demands to stop the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar.”
Media union NUJ has helped a photojournalist secure compensation after he seriously injured his ankle and finger when he tripped on a cracked pavement. The union member was working as a freelance photojournalist when he suffered a serious spiral fracture to his ring finger and tore ligaments in his ankle in the fall in Hackney, London. As a result of his fall, the 55-year-old, whose name has not been released, needed multiple surgeries. He was unable to work for seven weeks. He also needed a programme of rehabilitation to help rebuild the strength in his ankle, including physiotherapy and personal training. Lawyers brought in by NUJ showed that it was the responsibility of Transport for London (TfL) to maintain the pavement that caused the fall and that the company had failed to repair the hazardous pavement. The NUJ member said: “It’s part and parcel of my job to travel from one location to another throughout the day – my injuries completely stopped me from working for almost two months, which I found really distressing and actually brought me to a real low point.” Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, said: “Photojournalism is a profession that requires speed and the ability to travel. It’s frustrating to hear that our member’s inability to work was on account of TfL’s failure to maintain a pavement in a busy London suburb.” David Stothard, of Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to act in the case, said: “Unfortunately, our client’s finger is permanently disfigured and restricted – injuries that were completely avoidable if TfL had simply done its job.”
An Essex engineer has been awarded ‘significant’ compensation from construction giant Balfour Beatty, after he suffered a severe crush injury while working at a maintenance depot in Colchester. In April 2009, Andrew Tiffin was working on a tamper machine, which is used to calibrate and realign train track that has become uneven. The RMT member from Tiptree was fixing a fault in the machine and needed to carry out a routine calibration. Together with a colleague, he had set the machine into work mode and was lowering its measuring trolleys and wheels onto the train track. As he reached through the machine to loosen a trolley it shot towards him, trapping his left hand against the side of the machine. He sustained a severe crush injury to his left hand, which affected the underside of his hand and middle, ring and little fingers. He subsequently needed an operation to release scar tethering in his fingers and was off work for four months. He has been left with a permanent loss of sensation in the tips of his left index and ring fingers and has restricted movement in his left hand and fingers. The Balfour Beatty employee said: “I’m not able to stretch my hand out fully and as a result I’m not as quick or efficient as I once was, which is obviously frustrating.” Mick Cash, general secretary of RMT, said: “This accident could have been avoided so I’m pleased to see that in this case the employer has taken responsibility for the accident, paid up and also kept Andrew in employment.”
People moving in and out of temporary or insecure work are at a heightened risk of physical and mental health problems. New research has found an ‘accumulation’ of health effects linked to multiple spells of unemployment, adding to evidence showing a pronounced health impact of insecure work (Risks 573). The findings should cause alarm bells in the UK, where an increasing use of temporary labour and workers on zero hours contracts has been identified (Risks 660). The study by researchers from Umeå University in Sweden and the University of Adelaide in Australia tracked the experiences of more than 1,080 school-leavers who completed compulsory schooling in 1981 in a medium-sized town in northern Sweden. They were followed for 14 years with repeated questionnaires including questions about unemployment, health and health behaviour. The study found that accumulated shorter spells of unemployment were damaging in similar ways to the well-established health effects of long-term joblessness. The findings, presented at the Australian Psychological Society's college of health psychologists conference this month, showed people were more likely to fall into health problems including depression and negative behaviours such as increased alcohol consumption and smoking if they had experienced intermittent unemployment. Previous research has linked insecure work to higher injury and sickness rates and poorer health overall, including a greater chance of suffering heart disease and strokes. Other problems linked to insecure work include a greater risk of suicide, depression and mental health problems.
Ÿ The Age.
Construction union UCATT has welcomed pledges in Labour’s manifesto to crackdown on exploitation by gangmasters and to end blacklisting. The manifesto says: “Labour will introduce a new law to stop employers undercutting wages by exploiting workers. We will ban recruitment agencies from hiring only from overseas and we will crackdown on rogue agencies by extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority where there is evidence of abuse.” Bolstering comments in Labour’s separate workplace manifesto, it also condemns blacklisting, noting: “Outdated practices, like blacklisting have no place in the modern economy.” It adds: “Labour will tackle bogus self employment in construction and a set up a full inquiry that is transparent and public to examine the issue of blacklisting.” The Labour manifesto notes that “across Britain working people also know a simple truth: the economy is not working for them. For years now, our economy has not rewarded everyone who put in a good, honest day’s work. However hard people work, many don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Too many have been driven from secure, full-time work, into precarious, badly paid jobs – many working on zero-hours contracts.” It adds: “Our first task in government is to change our economy so that it works for all of Britain’s businesses and working people.” Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “These pledges demonstrate Labour is on the side of construction workers and that a Labour government will act to prevent exploitation and will deliver justice to workers who have been blacklisted.”
Construction union UCATT has condemned the Conservative Party’s proposals to slash workers’ rights and to further erode workplace safety. The union says the Tory manifesto plans would make it “virtually impossible to hold a lawful strike”, and would make it much easier for employers to break strikes, by abolishing the laws which prevent the hiring of agency workers to replace striking workers. UCATT said the manifesto also “strongly indicates” that the Conservatives are planning a fresh attack on workplace safety, as part of a manifesto promise to “cut a further £10 billion of red tape over the next parliament though our Red Tape Challenge and our One-In-Two Out role.” UCATT said that over the last five years, the Conservatives have used “gimmicks” including the Red Tape Challenge to attack safety laws. “This has led to the weakening of RIDDOR rules, the scrapping of the hard hat regulations and the tower crane regulations as well as rules which exclude most self-employed workers (but officially not those in construction) from the protection of the Health and Safety at Work Act,” it said. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “The Conservative attack on red tape is a thinly disguised attack on safety laws. Construction workers, who rely on safety legalisation to keep them safe, will be fearful that a political party is willing to risk their safety, for a few cheap headlines.”
The family of a former art teacher who died from cancer after years of pinning pupils' work to classroom walls lined with asbestos is taking legal action against the local council. Jennifer Barnett worked Archway School in Stroud, Gloucestershire, between 1980 and 1997, when she left teaching. The 60-year-old died last September, 14 months after she was diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. Her husband, Nigel, told an inquest in January that his wife had to cut sheets of asbestos while working on a farm in her 20s. “She then became an art teacher and from 1977 until 1995 worked at various schools, often hanging paintings on walls containing asbestos,” he added. The inquest recorded a verdict of death as a result of industrial disease. Mr Barnett and his family believe the asbestos in the school is to blame for Mrs Barnett's death and are now taking legal action against Gloucestershire County Council. In a statement released last week, Mr Barnett said that during her time as a teacher, his wife also did clay modelling with pupils and the cupboard where the clay was stored also contained asbestos. They said she remained positive during 'gruelling' chemotherapy treatments, but died the day after celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary, in September 2014. Helen Grady, an asbestos disease solicitor at Novum Law, the firm acting for the family, said: “It is alarming that we are seeing more and more cases involving teachers.” She added: “We hope anyone who may have attended Archway or worked there remembers Jen and can shed more light on how she got exposed.”
Ÿ Daily Mail.
A Leicestershire tool and plant hire company has been fined after a worker was injured by a defective dumper truck it provided to a farmer. Derby Magistrates’ Court heard that JB Tool Hire had hired out a dumper truck and excavator to a farmer based near Hartshorne, Derbyshire. On 28 August 2013 the farmer and a self-employed contractor were using the excavator to load the dumper, which was parked near the top of a slope. The contractor stood to one side while loading took place, but when it was about half full he noticed the truck starting to roll forward. The 50-year-old ran and tried to climb onto the vehicle to apply the footbrake. However, as he did so, the steering column struck the excavator shovel, trapping his right leg against the driver’s seat. He broke his leg, cut his shin and required a skin graft. He also suffered a blood clot and was unable to work for five months. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found JB Tool Hire had checked both vehicles before they went out on hire but failed to identify the dumper’s parking brake was faulty. A replacement brake cable rectified the problem. JB Tool Hire Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £14,000 with £8199.74 costs. HSE inspector Edward Walker said: “This was a serious incident where someone was badly hurt. The faults with the parking brake should have been identified before it was sent out to a customer. Had this been done and the brake cable replaced, the incident would have been prevented.”
A Staffordshire company has been fined after an employee broke his arm in a machine that was ‘tricked’ into operating while in an unsafe condition. Roger Small, 49, was attempting to repair the computer-controlled machine at Key Precision Ltd on 17 January 2014 when it started working and his arm was caught by the machine’s internal arms. He was off work for several months and now works for another firm. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the interlocked door had been defeated by use of a spare key which was kept on top of the machine. HSE said the “machine was therefore tricked into thinking it was safe to operate.” The investigation also revealed Key Precision Ltd had failed to properly assess the risks associated with the machine, had given inadequate safety training to employees and failed to have a robust system in place to monitor employees. Key Precision Ltd was fined £8,000 with £1,180.38 costs by Stafford Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “This incident was borne out of a series of failings from start to finish. The company was visited by HSE in 2010 for a routine inspection and was given advice on the safe use of its machines, advice which went unheeded.” He added: “Key Precision Ltd did not have safe systems of work or robust monitoring procedures to ensure employees were working safely. This allowed the unsafe practice to develop of using spare keys when operating machinery. As well as the one kept on top of the machine Mr Small was repairing, there were others dotted around all over the factory.”
A Southampton worker suffered serious injuries when his arm was dragged into an unguarded part of a conveyor belt at a chicken hatchery business in Romsey, a court has heard. Supervisor Andrew House was unable to work for several months after the incident at the Faccenda Foods hatchery on 17 March 2014. Southampton Magistrates’ Court heard the victim’s left hand was pulled into the ‘running nip’ of the conveyor belt while cleaning the area. He was unable to reach an emergency stop control and a colleague had to stop the conveyor running so Mr House could be released. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Faccenda Foods for criminal safety failings after identifying that the dangerous nip of the belt was totally unguarded. Following the incident, Mr House spent seven days in hospital, required two operations and needed several months off work. He now has limited use of his hand and although he has been able to return to work, still has physiotherapy to help increase his mobility. The court was told that Faccenda Foods had been prosecuted by HSE in 2001 as a result of an incident involving poorly-guarded machinery. The firm was fined £7,000 plus £2,909.25 in costs after admitting criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. HSE inspector Kate Clark said: “The fact is that it need not have happened at all. Faccenda Foods should have carried out a proper assessment of the risks involved in operating the machine. That would have identified the safeguards and controls and that were needed and the firm would have been able to put those measures in place.”
A Hertfordshire packaging company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker broke his arm in a poorly guarded mailing machine at a factory in Melbourn. Harry Bracewell, 20, required surgery to have metal plates and screws inserted into his arm as a result of the incident at Ampac Security Products Ltd on 12 February 2014. He now finds lifting difficult, continues to suffer flashbacks, and cannot sleep without medication. His employer was prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the incident could have been avoided with better guarding. Stevenage Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Bracewell was operating a mailing machine that processes rolls of plastic film into sealable plastic bags by cutting the film to size and applying glue on one edge. He attempted to clean a moving belt on the machine with a cloth and cleaning fluid, but his hand and arm was pulled between a roller and the belt. He sustained crush injuries and a compound fracture to his right arm. HSE inspectors found that while Ampac had identified the risk of entanglement from the moving belts to the underside of the machine, the area where his arm was caught had not been guarded to prevent access. Magistrates were told that Mr Bracewell had received training and instruction on how to operate a similar machine elsewhere in the factory. When using the other machine, although unsafe, it was considered normal practice to clean glue from the underside of the delivery belts while the machine was still running. However, this was not normal practice in the case for the machine that injured him – which could have been made clear had he received adequate instructions for this equipment. Ampac Security Products Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay a further £2,328 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
A Nottingham firm that makes garden and household tools has been prosecuted after a worker had to have his finger amputated as a result of injuries sustained when it was crushed in an unguarded machine. Nottingham Magistrates’ Court heard that 29-year-old shift manager Jamie Knighton was working at Fiskars UK Ltd’s Bulwell factory when the incident happened on 15 December 2011. He had stepped on to a block printing machine, which embosses foil using a weight pushing down on a ram. As he was adjusting the weight in an attempt to help maintenance colleagues to fix a fault, the controls of the machine were operated by a colleague, and the index finger of his left hand was crushed between the weight adjustment and the top of the ram. His injuries were so severe his finger had to be amputated to below the second knuckle. He was off work for a month. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a perspex guard on the machine was missing. The company had failed to ensure a safe system of work was in operation for the weight adjustments on the machine ram. In addition, there was no safe means of access and no safe method for the isolation of the machine. Fiskars UK Ltd was fined £3,000 with £2,288.10 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Judith McNulty-Green said: “This incident was entirely preventable yet several failures led to a man suffering a painful injury. To adjust the weight, workers were climbing on to the front ledge, a practice which should never have been allowed. Instead, Fiskars should have devised and implemented a safe system of work that ensured no-one had access to dangerous moving parts. In addition the workforce should have been provided with detailed training and instruction in how to carry out the task.”
A new briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) spells out why trade unions should act to protect workers from hazardous substances. ‘Toxic work: Stop deadly exposures today!’ is a key part of a trade union tool box intended to support trade union activities for the International Day of Commemoration of Dead and Injured Workers on 28 April (also known as International Workers’ Memorial Day and the Day of Mourning), which is focusing this year on the need for removing exposure to hazardous substances. The guide provides figures on the harm caused by these exposures, including the 600,000 plus occupational cancer fatalities every year.
, including guides, videos and an events map.
Use of asbestos is increasing in Asia and the continent could face an asbestos disease ‘tsunami’ as a result, researchers have warned. Writing in the journal Respirology, experts from Australia, Indonesia and the UK note: “Although some countries such as Japan, Korea and Singapore have curtailed the use of this mineral, there are numerous countries in Asia that continue to mine, import and use this fibre, particularly China, which is one of the largest consumers in the world.” The paper adds: “Numerous factors ranging from political and economic to the lack of understanding of asbestos and the management of asbestos-related lung disease are keys to this observed trend. Awareness of these factors combined with early intervention may prevent the predicted Asian ‘tsunami’ of asbestos diseases.” The paper spells out the measures necessary to achieve this. “Asbestos is widely used in Asia with little occupational protection and thus will produce many thousands of cases of asbestos related disease in the next decades. Reducing the risks of such diseases will require reduction in the use of asbestos, careful surveillance for asbestos related diseases and improved levels of training in the recognition and diagnosis of these disease, and cooperation among government and non-government groups in the prevention of these diseases.” A related editorial notes: “How can we solve this asbestos time bomb that Asia is facing? Should we continue with the mining and export of asbestos? Should we go for short-term profit and accept the occupational hazards?” It concludes: “Short-sightedness is not acceptable anymore. Asbestos is a major health threat; it has already ruined too many lives. Therefore, we must help the developing world by finding suitable alternatives for asbestos as soon as possible or we will face an immense loss of quality of life and working potential in these countries.”
Ÿ Su Lyn Leong, Rizka Zainudin, Laurie Kazan-Allen and Bruce W Robinson. Asbestos in Asia, Respirology, early view, published online ahead of print, 29 March 2015.
Ÿ Paul Baas and Sjaak Burgers. ASIA: Asbestos stop in Asia, Editorial, Respirology, early view, published online ahead of print, 31 March 2015.
Susie Costello is struggling to understand a silent epidemic that claimed her husband’s life last year. The family is one of thousands who rode the wave of a mining boom in the state of Queensland, Australia, moving almost a decade ago to tap into the skyrocketing job market and raise their young family in regional Australia. But nine happy years into their 10-year plan, tragedy struck. In November 2014, Kevin took his own life, leaving his devastated family searching for answers. “We had so many happy times here,” she told the Courier newspaper. “All I can think about is financial pressures and the uncertainty of work,” she said. “I just don’t know, because we used to sit out on the back veranda and say ‘isn’t life great?’” The statistics on suicide in the construction industry are alarming, with around 50 people taking their own lives each year in Queensland alone, with another 150 workers in the state permanently disabled following a suicide attempt. Suicide outstrips death by accidents in the construction sector six to one, something attributed to the industry’s long hours, high stress and transient lifestyle. Now, Ms Costello is doing everything she can to help break the cycle, taking the opportunity to talk to her husband’s former work mates about the emotional impact Kevin’s suicide had on her family and imploring them to focus on their mental wellbeing. The paper reports her husband’s former workplace has also stepped up, with the company enlisting the help of non-profit Mates in Construction to educate workers about their mental health. Mates in Construction CEO Jorgen Gullestrup said the human and economic costs of suicide throughout the industry were “enormous” and it was vital for people to speak out to turn the tide.
Ÿ The Courier.
In Liberia, no new cases of Ebola were reported in the first week in April and the overall death toll, while horrific at nearly 4,200, is far less than some health experts predicted last year - a result based in part on the coordinated efforts of the Liberian trade union movement. The US union-backed Solidarity Center reports that since September, Liberian union volunteers have provided Ebola awareness and preventive education to 75,843 workers and their families. In addition, volunteers have supplied 25,175 hand-washing buckets and soap to 48 workplaces and 63 communities in 13 counties, according to the Liberia Labour Congress. The Congress also provided food to family members of Ebola victims who were quarantined, and donated 500 gallons of fuel to national and community radio stations, enabling them to step up Ebola education and awareness broadcasts for residents in remote areas inaccessible to volunteers. “The fight against Ebola by the Liberian labour movement was crucial, as it was the first and only Ebola awareness programme that directly reached and impacted on the lives of workers and their families, including community members,” said Liberia Labour Congress secretary general David Sackoh. Last August, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed the Liberia Labour Congress as a member of the National Taskforce on Ebola, and shortly after, the Congress launched the Ebola Awareness Education and Preventive Measures at the Workplace and the Community Campaign.
In early 2014, North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry had some good news to share. Workplace deaths dropped significantly, with only 23 people having died in accidents on the job in the past year. That count, though, captured only a sliver of the tragedies that met workers on the job, a newspaper investigation has found. The News & Observer discovered the state Department of Labor left out more than 80 fathers, brothers, daughters and neighbours who died while trying to make a living. They were farmers, mechanics, janitors, roofers and painters killed or fatally injured by an unexpected hazard at work. The paper says dozens of North Carolina workers die each year with little or no notice from state officials. “No inspector asks questions, no one demands reform, no one pays a fine. Often, that is because of narrow state and federal laws that prohibit state investigation. Either way, if the department doesn’t inspect the accident scene, it doesn’t include it in the state’s annual count of on-the-job deaths, keeping the number artificially low.” Another factor keeps the department’s annual public tally low: Before 2006, the Department of Labor reported to the public all work-related deaths annually, regardless of whether it had authority to investigate, according to a review of releases and media reports during the tenure of Berry, a Republican. Since then, Berry’s department quietly moved to a system where it reported only those deaths in which inspectors had the power to levy fines. James Andrews, president of the North Carolina chapter of the national union federation AFL-CIO, remembers seeing workplace fatality numbers drop significantly several years ago. Andrews, who is also on the board of the state safety regulator NC OSHA, remembered being proud, thinking the decline was a reflection of the agency’s training and education efforts. “I thought we had something to celebrate,” he said. “This, though, seems to paint a false picture of where we are.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/