|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]|
The UK government’s way of deciding policy priorities places too much emphasis on economic factors at the expense of the well-being of the people, the World Happiness Report has indicated. The report published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an initiative under the United Nations, aims to determine the happiness of people in each of 158 countries. The UK comes in at 21, squeezed between the United Arab Emirates and Oman. A chapter dealing with what countries can do to improve happiness and well-being is particularly critical of the UK government’s decision-making system which is based on economic benefit, not the benefit to the people. The chapter, which is co-authored by Gus McDonnell, a former Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, “makes some really useful recommendations,” notes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. Commenting on the report’s critique of the current UK system, Robertson says: “Benefit to business always trumps the benefit to workers. We saw this in the recent evaluation by the EU of health and safety directives, where the emphasis was on the economic benefits.” Robertson adds: “The World Happiness Report recommends that this should change and instead policies should be analysed based on happiness as a measurement of benefit… the idea of cost-benefit analysis being based both on the benefit to people, rather than the economy, and where the focus was on the actual improvement in people’s ‘well-being’ that will come about instead of the material benefit to individuals, would be a brave and radical one. It would put people’s well-being and happiness at the top of the government’s priorities.”
Agricultural union Unite and over a dozen members of parliament are calling for answers after a government cover-up of widespread poisoning of farmworkers by sheep dip was revealed. The Guardian reported last week that at least 500 farmers across the UK were left with debilitating health problems after using organophosphate-based (OP) chemicals to protect their sheep against parasites, under a compulsory dipping programme that ran until 1992. The newspaper said the then-government was privately warning of the dangers of exposure to even low doses of the chemical and criticising the safety measures offered by manufacturers, yet publicly criticising farmers who refused to use the chemical. Responding to the revelations, Unite member Charlie Clutterbuck told Hazards magazine: “At the time this report was published Unite was a member of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) supported tripartite committee, Chemicals in Agriculture (ChemAg). Union members on ChemAg repeatedly raised concerns about organophosphates and sheep dip. It beggars belief that this report was not brought to ChemAg so that urgent and early action could be taken to protect farmworkers’ health.” Unite national officer for the sector, Julia Long, said: “Unite is asking why a report about the use of sheep dip which clearly had implications for the protection of farmworkers’ health was suppressed in the early 1990s at a time when concerns were being raised about the possible ill-health effects of using sheep dip. Unite will be pressing the government on this issue at the earliest opportunity.” Gene Matthews, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “The fact that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was aware as far back as 1991 of the health risks associated with organophosphate use is shocking, particularly given that such knowledge has been denied for decades.” Former environment minister Michael Meacher and more than a dozen MPs from across the political spectrum this week called for an inquiry and parliamentary debate into whether farmers were misled over the issue. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal” and demanded full disclosure of what was known, by whom and when. He has been backed by MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party, as well as a number of peers.
A Unite member who was blacklisted by his employer Interserve Industrial Services because of his union activities while working at a Runcorn power station has won his employment tribunal (ET) case for unfair dismissal. Unite hailed the ruling as ‘a great victory which draws a line in the sand’ for construction industry bosses who victimise union representatives. John Kelly, a rigger/erector who worked for three years at the energy-from-waste power station being built at Runcorn, was awarded a total of £3,253.11 by the Liverpool tribunal, made up of £2,003.11 for unfair dismissal and £1,250 damages for injured feelings. The tribunal decided that as the work at Runcorn was coming to an end in July 2014, John Kelly was not offered work at the Capenhurst site, also in Cheshire, because he was a workplace representative and a member of Unite. The judgment said that Trevor Collins, the manager responsible for recruitment, “did not want the claimant (an employee representative for Unite and activist) working on the Capenhurst project under his management, he was motivated by the claimant’s membership of Unite and his known activities in that capacity.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite will not tolerate abuse by employers of our elected representatives. This successful employment tribunal decision shows Unite will not suffer in silence while employers try to stifle our voice on construction sites.” She added: “This is a great victory which draws a line in the sand for construction industry employers who are tempted to victimise and blacklist our members for carrying out legitimate trade union activities.” John Kelly said: “I feel very pleased that I took this company on with the help of Unite, as this shows that bad employers can be stood up to and be defeated. The main reason was to show other lads and shop stewards we are getting blacklisted and we should stand up for our rights.”
Postal workers have been urged to make official requests for any information held about them if they suspect their names were kept on a blacklist of thousands of workers. Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, told a packed fringe meeting at the annual conference of the communications union CWU that postal workers should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office if they suspect their names were on the blacklist. Initially it was thought the 3,000 plus names on the blacklist held by The Consulting Association was largely restricted to construction workers, but it has recently emerged that other workers, including firefighters, teachers and postal staff, were also targeted. “People were being blacklisted just for being elected to union health and safety positions,” Dave Smith said. “We knew people were being unfairly dismissed for trade union activities... There are almost certainly people in this hall who are on this list.” CWU's Tony Kearns told the meeting: “What we're hearing about the infiltration and extent of blacklisting - on the one hand we say we always suspected it. But the way they're using anti-terror police and laws against trade unionists - the politicisation of the police - troubles me. This leads to the criminalisation of being a trade unionist. But being a member of a trade union is a human right.” He said the CWU was committed to doing everything it can to help any members who have been victims of blacklisting and confirmed the union would be writing to the recent inquiry set up by Theresa May to register an interest on behalf of CWU members.
Firefighters’ union FBU has warned that more firefighters could be seriously injured or killed at work if lessons are not learned from past fatalities. The union said a report by Stirling University, published earlier this year, found that in the last decade the number of firefighter deaths at fires in the UK had doubled from the previous decade. Between 1993/94–2003/04 there were six firefighter deaths at fires but that figure jumped to 14 between 2004/05–2013/14. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighting is a profession which deals with dangerous situations but there is no excuse for employers not to do everything possible to safeguard their staff.” He added: “No worker should ever expect to lose their lives whilst on the job. Regrettably our investigations have found that similar errors lie behind a number of firefighter deaths at fires and other emergency incidents. This suggests that lessons are not being learned or applied by employers. This must be addressed.”
Labour shadow ministers Stephen Timms and Kate Green have said a future Labour government will take action to improve enforcement of safety standards, support union safety reps and will “prioritise occupational health and the prevention of occupational illnesses.” In an article published on 28 April - Workers’ Memorial Day – they note the policies of an outgoing government “mainly interested in tabloid headlines” had led to a reversal of the long-term downward trend in occupational injuries and diseases. In the Labourlist posting, they write: “A Labour government will need to repair the damage, set out on a new course and get back on track… As a key priority, Labour will ensure that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is able to select, on the basis of its own assessment of risks, the workplaces it will inspect. No workplace should be entirely outside the scope of inspection.” The article adds: “We support the vital role of trade union representatives in maintaining healthy and safe workplaces. We recognise the importance of training for representatives, to equip them to carry out their statutory duties.” Among other commitments they indicate a Labour government “will commission a proactive research programme to provide evidence for policy, including on occupational carcinogens. We will prioritise occupational health and the prevention of occupational illnesses, and establish a strategy for removing over time asbestos from the built environment.” A 28 April tweet from Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. On Workers' Memorial Day my message is Labour will act to make workplaces safer.”
The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum is seeking support for a new ‘Charter for Justice.’ The forum says more people will die from asbestos diseases this year than will die on the roads, and the asbestos toll is rising. It’s Charter sets out “easily affordable reforms” that would make a real difference to asbestos victims. “This country owes a debt of justice to asbestos victims and their families. We all have a duty to make sure victims receive the help they need,” the forum notes. “We all have an interest in making sure that asbestos is removed from the buildings we live and work in so that no one suffers in the future. This Charter sets out how we could achieve these aims. We hope everyone can support it. In particular we would like our politicians and policy makers to support it. Please pledge your support for the Charter for Justice today, and make sure that any politician you vote for supports it too.” The charter calls for a fair compensation and welfare benefits system, best practice nationwide on medical treatment for asbestos diseases, properly resourced medical research, a public information campaign and a plan for the ‘eradication’ of asbestos from schools. The forum is asking individuals to email a message of support, sign and return a copy of the charter, and encourage others to sign up.
The food system must be ‘transformed’ to keep deadly pesticides out of the workplace and the food chain, the global farm and food union federation IUF has said. The union body was speaking out in the wake of a March 2015 report in the journal Lancet Oncology, which revealed the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) new classification of glyphosate - the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and the world's most widely-used herbicide - as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” IARC, a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), cites evidence in Canada, Sweden and the USA linking workers’ occupational exposure to glyphosate to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to IUF: “With this report, the WHO explicitly recognises the importance of independent research on the impact of pesticides on human health and the food chain - a field long dominated by pesticide manufacturers. And it gives advocates of food rights and a safer, saner food system an important opportunity to push for action.” Monsanto, which sold US$5bn worth of glyphosate last year, immediately attacked the credibility of the report. According to IUF: “Will the WHO withstand the pressure of the pesticide lobby? Much depends on the public response, which also means defeating moves to lower regulatory standards through agreements like the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).” The global union concludes: “The sudden spotlight on glyphosate, and growing awareness of the threat to food safety contained in TTIP and similar trade and investment agreements, can help catalyse a broader movement to fundamentally transform the food system. Unions should be at the head of the movement.”
Ÿ IUF report.
The next government should review how it is using local organisations to encourage improvements in workforce health and wellbeing, a new report from The Work Foundation has recommended. ‘Healthy, Working Economies’, published by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, recommends that a more standardised set of measures be included in the Joint-Strategic Needs Assessments that local Health and Wellbeing Boards are required to undertake, including measures of employment outcomes for individuals with health conditions. The report also recommends that employer leadership is needed on Health and Wellbeing Boards “in order to achieve the step-change needed in improving the health of the working age population and to drive economic growth and productivity locally.” The foundation’s Health at Work Policy Unit argues that despite pockets of good practice where areas are prioritising the health and wellbeing of the working age population, central government is failing to give local organisations clear roles and responsibilities around improving workforce health and wellbeing. Professor Stephen Bevan, director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation, said: “We’ve found there are examples of best practice where those with health conditions are being helped to stay in work and create healthier workplaces. However, government must now empower local actors to significantly improve workforce health and wellbeing at a local level.”
Company director Mark Hammond has been fined £12,500 after a 21-year-old worker was electrocuted whilst carrying out work in a basement on a Westminster construction site. This prosecution arose out of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident at Great Peter Street, London on 6 July 2011. The victim, who was not named in the news release, is identified in HSE’s 2011 fatalities listings as Jon Valbuena.
Hammond, of Church Gresley, Swandicote, Derbyshire, the director of Hamtech (UK) Electrical Services Limited, pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to a criminal health and safety breach. The defence was ordered to pay the prosecution costs of almost £50,000.
An animal feed multinational has been fined following the death of a lorry driver who was buried under a mound of soya meal. Malcolm Harrison was working at the Cargill terminal at Seaforth Dock in Liverpool on 6 September 2012 when a stockpile of soya meal collapsed on him. The 64-year-old from Keighley, who had worked for haulage firm Reid Atkinson for 24 years, died of his injuries in hospital. Liverpool Crown Court heard that other workers managed to free Mr Harrison and he was resuscitated at the scene, but he died shortly afterwards in hospital. Following a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, the food giant was charged with a criminal safety offence. Cargill plc was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,095.10. The firm, which made a £28m profit in 2014, admitted failing to ensure the safety of non-employees. The court heard that updated training which had been rolled out across the company’s European and African centres had not taken place at Seaforth. The revised guidance recognised that non-employees needed to be made aware of the risks of engulfment, and that hauliers should stay in their lorries.
A construction client from Birmingham landed in court after a member of the public complained about safety standards on his site. Mark Hewitt was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,255.30 in costs at Sandwell Magistrates Court after being convicted of a criminal failure to properly plan or manage construction work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspected the site after an individual raised concerns over work taking place next to a public pavement. During the HSE inspection it was clear there was a risk of materials falling from the first floor level onto the pavement and the street, and there were no fall prevention measures in place to protect workers on the site. HSE inspector Chris Gregory said: “As the client for the work, Mr Hewitt should have ensured the appropriate measures were in place in order to plan, manage and monitor the project. He was informed of his duties by his advisers, but failed to act. Mr Hewitt had a duty to ensure that the safety of those working on site and those members of the public, passing by, were not put at risk, he failed on both counts.”
A worker suffered fractures to his back, hip and leg after he was knocked over by a four-tonne piling hammer when it broke free while being lifted into position, a court has heard. Eric Wilson, 62, was controlling the piling hammer, suspended from an excavator, during work to renew a sewage outfall across the beach in Hartlepool when the incident happened on 16 September 2012. He was standing in seawater, around one metre deep, using the hammer to drive timber piles into the beach. But as the hammer was moved from one pile to the next, the sling supporting it broke and the hammer fell, knocking him down into the water. He suffered fractures to his vertebra, pelvis and left thigh as well as muscle damage to his back, shoulder and knee and was in hospital for 11 days. He has been unable to return to work and although he can walk unaided he still suffers persistent pain and has had to move to a bungalow to avoid stairs. Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court was told that an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Wilson’s employer, specialist civil engineering contractor Southbay Civil Engineering Ltd, had failed to properly plan, supervise and carry out the lifting operation in a safe manner. The investigation also found that principal contractor for the project, Costain Ltd, had failed to properly manage and monitor this phase of the work. Costain Ltd was fined £19,000 plus £14,895.25 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. Southbay Civil Engineering Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £19,000 with £8,652.45 costs.
Lockheed Martin UK Ampthill Limited has been fined £10,000 and ordered to pay more than £7,300 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of Work at Height Regulations. Appearing at Luton Magistrates’ Court, the manufacturing company pleaded guilty in relation to its role in an incident in January 2012, when a contractor fell through the roof at its site in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. After the fall through a skylight the worker required emergency life-saving treatment. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), although the safety watchdog’s news release provided no substantive details of the nature of the criminal safety offence or the injury victim. The website of the aerospace and armaments giant Lockheed Martin UK notes: “The UK is Lockheed Martin’s largest international market. Headquartered in Central London, Lockheed Martin UK had $1.3 billion in direct sales last year.”
International Workers’ Memorial Day this year broke all records, with more activities in more places. At one point on 28 April, tweets with the hashtag #iwmd15 were ‘trending’ on Twitter UK, getting as high as an eye-catching third on the listing. And the frenzy of activity wasn’t restricted to the UK - action reports from around 60 countries have already been submitted. You can see for yourself what went on in the UK and worldwide in what is far and away the world’s biggest single safety event at the ITUC/Hazards dedicated 28 April website.
Two years after the deaths of more than 1,100 workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the compensation fund for their families and for the thousands injured is still US$6 million short of the $30 million target. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said: “Two years after this industrial homicide, the victims of Rana Plaza are still waiting for full compensation. This is a collective responsibility, but we specifically call upon brands like Benetton, Mango, Walmart and Carrefour to contribute more.” UNI’s Philip Jennings added: “It’s outrageous that families who lost their mothers and breadwinners have still not been fully compensated because a group of multinationals cannot find it in their hearts or deep pockets to pay the US$6 million missing from the compensation fund. All brands need to join forces to end the funding crisis by closing the funding gap and stepping up the remedial work on factories.” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union umbrella group ITUC, said: “The Rana Plaza tragedy shows how destructive the global supply chain model of today is for working people. It is a failed model that has to be replaced by a new way of doing business globally – one that doesn’t corrupt and that upholds the rights and livelihoods of those who produce and deliver the goods and services that are the lifeblood of the global economy.” The legally binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, negotiated with the brands by the global unions IndustriALL, UNI and their campaign partners now has more than 200 brands signed up and has to date completed nearly 1,500 factory inspections, identifying many thousands of safety issues to be remedied.
Campaigners are pressing for the highly toxic pesticide paraquat to be added to a list of restricted products. Global agriculture unions’ federation IUF has produced with Pesticides Action Network (PAN) and the Swiss-based NGO, Berne Declaration, a report on the use of paraquat in India. IUF notes: “While this highly toxic pesticide is banned in Europe, it continues to be widely used on many crops and in many parts of the world. The report confirms that paraquat is used under high-risk conditions and that users don't have the information or the means to protect themselves from exposure. As a result, users suffer from headaches, vomiting, breathing difficulty, muscle pain and abdominal discomfort. Chronic exposure can lead to lung, brain or skin damage”. The Indian government has previously blocked attempts to get paraquat listed under the UN’s Rotterdam Convention which allows governments much more control over importation of pesticides. “The IUF will lobby with PAN and the Berne Declaration to get paraquat listed when the Rotterdam Convention list is updated in May,” IUF said. The report, ‘Conditions of paraquat use in India’, will also be distributed in Basel at an event to highlight the actions of the Swiss-based chemical company, Syngenta which continues to manufacture and promote paraquat.
Last week, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4,585 people in the country were killed at work in 2013. Experts say, however, that the death toll from occupational disease in America may be 10 or more times higher. Workers in developing nations almost certainly have it worse. For this reason, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the organisation representing 176 million workers belonging to 328 national union affiliates, decided that this year’s theme for the 28 April International Workers’ Memorial Day would be ‘removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.’ “Chemicals we would have imagined by now would be globally banned keep popping up,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow told reporters from the US Center for Public Integrity. “We see emerging fears around some of the new technological issues such as nanotechnology... it’s extraordinary, really. There’s a lot of fear amongst workers.” Anabella Rosemberg, ITUC’s policy adviser on occupational health, safety and environment and the author of a new guide to help workers ‘stop deadly exposures’, added: “The reality is, workers have very little capacity today to track exposures in their careers. When workers change sectors or companies very often, we don’t have health systems that allow them to know what substances they’ve been exposed to.” The burden is on the worker to prove harm, Rosemberg said. “This needs to change.”
Ÿ CPI report.
Workers in the Philippines have stepped up pressure on a seafood giant known for its deadly record and abusive employment practices. The Citra Mina Workers Union and their national union centre SENTRO commemorated Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April this year with the families of fishing vessel workers declared lost at sea. Over the past two years, at least 17 workers on vessels fishing for the Citra Mina Group are known to be missing or dead and the union says it is investigating other cases. Forty-three fishermen spent nearly six months in prison after being abandoned by Citra Mina when their vessel was seized by the Indonesian government. They were rescued by the union in February. The successful rescue of the abandoned workers, who risked indefinite detention, was undertaken within the framework of the 'Catcher to Counter' initiative run by global unions IUF and ITF to defend rights and raise standards for all workers throughout the seafood industry. Witnesses at 18 March hearings in the Philippines Congress on rights violations by the Citra Mina Group described slave-like conditions on fishing boats and deaths on the high seas, together with systematic and ongoing violations of trade union rights. On 23 April, the IUF, ITF and Belgian unions CSC Alimentation et Services, FGTB Horval, and CSC Transcom turned up the pressure on the Citra Mina Group at the Brussels Seafood Expo - the world's largest seafood trade fair -by demonstrating outside the venue. Citra Mina's Philfresh Corporation was one of the companies exhibiting and seeking contracts with buyers.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/