|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.
The election of a Conservative government that signalled before the vote it intends further attacks on health and safety should spur unions to ‘support and develop’ union safety reps, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said “we can only anticipate with dread what lies ahead from the new Conservative majority government and a European Commission eager to please them.” But, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he said “health and safety protection is not something that is given to us by politicians. It is not parliament that makes workplaces safer. The biggest factor is strong trade unions working with employers at local level.” Whether it was an asbestos ban or action on needlesticks, unions were the essential ingredient in securing improvements. He said working people, facing continuing austerity measures and the erosion of rights “need us more than ever,” adding the first priority has to be to support and develop the union 100,000 plus health and safety representatives already in workplaces and to encourage new ones to come forward. “At the same time we have to use health and safety as a recruiting tool in the workplace. That means being seen, and being heard, on issues that matter to those we work with: Supporting members with stress-related illnesses and getting employers to manage stress; using issues such as well-being to argue for better and fairer treatment at work; and of course campaigning for the removal of those chemicals and substances that are making people ill and even killing them.” He indicated the TUC has an action plan, and “will be running campaigns on the issues that matter on the workplace. For instance, this summer we will be launching a campaign aimed at eradicating asbestos from all workplaces and public places in the country. But making progress on health and safety, and defeating any further attacks, is not going to be achieved just by any national campaigns, but by trade union activists in offices, factories, schools, shops, building sites etc., doing what only they can do – working to keep their members safe and healthy.” Post-election, Iain Duncan Smith remains as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the new minister with responsibility for health and safety is Justin Tomlinson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People.
The recovering price of oil should bring an immediate end to the oil and gas industry’s ‘opportunistic’ campaign of job cuts and attacks on working conditions, offshore union Unite has said. The union call came in the wake of its consultative ballot which showed over 93 per cent support for industrial action among Unite members employed by firms in the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA). The union said over 10,000 offshore jobs have been shed since prices slumped to $50 USD a barrel at the turn of the year. But with the oil price recovering, Unite said it was time for the industry to step-back and negotiate with its workers over the future of the North Sea. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “The recovering oil price should put an immediate stop to the decimation of crucial jobs and the imposition of regressive working practices across the North Sea. Our members have been very clear that the industry’s actions will not only compromise the sustainability of jobs and skills for the next generation of oil recovery, it could also have catastrophic consequences for offshore safety too.” He added: “This race to the bottom must stop and we will know in the coming weeks when the OCA talks reconvene if the industry is serious about ending its campaign of aggression.”
New public procurement rules in Scotland must tackle issues including blacklisting, zero hours contracts and climate change, according to a broad-based coalition. International development charities, environmental groups, voluntary organisations and trade unions are demanding that Scotland’s annual procurement spend of around £10 billion should promote key sustainable and ethical policy objectives. Scotland’s union confederation STUC, together with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, NIDOS, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, have published ’Ten Asks’, their updated priorities for forthcoming procurement regulations and guidance. Spokesperson Alistair Dutton said: “The public does not want irresponsible companies to be awarded public contracts. We need to ensure that public money is used to build a strong, healthy and just society, that protects the environment and recognises the positive effects procurement can have for people living beyond our borders.” The groups’ position has been spelled out in response to a Scottish government consultation on changes to public procurement rules that will see new rules to implement changes from new European directives and the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said: “It is essential that the Scottish government now advances its Fair Work agenda by removing bad employers from the procurement process. No blacklisting, tax avoiding or low wage employer should get near a public contract.” The ‘Ten Asks’ also include action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improved protections for workers, such as ending zero hours contracts, ethical and fair trading policies throughout the procurement supply chain and raising standards in health and social care.
A key blacklisting court case returned to the High Court this week, with 500 blacklisted workers taking on over 40 of the UK’s largest construction companies. The group litigation brings together cases backed by unions and the Blacklist Support Group. More than 3,200 people had files detailing their political activity or their trade union involvement and instances where they had raised health and safety concerns. Information in the files was provided by the companies themselves as well as police. Whilst most of those blacklisted were construction workers, with some having dossiers running to nearly 50 pages, over 200 environmental activists – known as the ‘greenlist’ – also had files. However, when the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the Consulting Association in 2009 they only seized an index list of greenlist files and the files themselves were destroyed. This meant there is no evidence of what was in the files or which ones had been used to deny work to any individual, and so greenlisters’ lawyers advised against continuing their legal case. Instead, many are now backing the campaign by unions and the Blacklist Support Group through the courts. Welcoming a statement from greenlist activists in support of blacklisted workers, Dave Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, commented: “The Blacklist Support Group is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with social justice activists and pledge our continued support for those campaigning for a full public inquiry into the anti-democratic conspiracy carried out by multinational corporations and the security services.”
Boris Johnson’s plan to recruit a student army to help run the new night Tube service could leave these young part-timers and the public at risk, rail union TSSA has warned. The London mayor and newly elected Tory MP was strongly criticised by the union over his plans to recruit up to 200 students to cope with the big crowds using the Tube on Friday and Saturday nights. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said “we are worried about how these students will cope under pressure, particularly when it comes to dealing with drunks trying to get home after a night out in the West End.” London Underground has made it clear to the union that students are their prime recruitment target. The company’s general manager Peter Tollington told the union: “There are many students out there who will want to take up these roles as there are no jobs at the moment.” Manuel Cortes warned: “We don't think the night Tube service is the best environment for Boris to run what amounts to a youth training programme. This is a critical safety service and there should be no place for his usual gimmicks and stunts.”
A delivery driver who suffered head and shoulder injuries after falling from a work vehicle ended up losing his job as a result. The 66-year-old Unite member suffered a head injury and damaged his left shoulder when he fell backwards from a seven-tonne van at a delivery depot. The driver, who had been working for the same company for over ten years, lost his footing when attempting to step off the van. When he tried to stop himself from falling he discovered that, unlike other vans he had driven in the company fleet, this vehicle didn’t have any support handles fitted and he fell backwards onto a concrete surface. He needed hospital treatment, including surgery to his shoulder. Despite subsequent physiotherapy, he is unlikely to make a full recovery. The extent of his injuries meant he was forced to leave his job. Unite regional officer Janet Henney said: “If the company had taken the proper steps to install safety handles in their fleet of vehicles then our client would not have sustained the long term injuries that he has.” She added: “By law employers must take steps to protect their staff. In this case, the firm initially denied that safety handles were needed in the vehicles but our legal experts proved that this was not true – the handles help delivery drivers to safely and securely enter and disembark their work vehicles to help avoid injury.” A Unite-backed compensation claim secured a £75,000 payout for the former driver.
A man who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to wood dust at work has been awarded legal protection for the rest of his life. The 63-year-old, whose name has not been released, was diagnosed with nasal cancer in August 2010 after being exposed to wood dust while working at a Stora Enso Newton Kyme Limited paper and wood mill from 1973 until 2002. During his employment he undertook a number of roles including driving forklift trucks, cutting card and wood, drying cardboard, as the foreman in the joiners’ shop and as the finishing room manager. Employees were not provided with masks and the extraction systems would only remove a small amount of dust from the atmosphere. After developing the cancer, he initially responded well to treatment and was told that he was in in remission in April 2011. However, the cancer returned in February 2014. Following further treatment he was given the all-clear for a second time in February 2015. Ian Bailey, the solicitor from law firm Irwin Mitchell who acted for the man in a compensation case, secured funds to assist with his recovery and rehabilitation from the cancer. The settlement also ensures that if the cancer does return a third time, he will be allowed to pursue a further claim. Ian Bailey said: “Hopefully, even though this is a rare form of cancer, this case will continue to remind employers of the need to provide workers with the protective equipment they require and it’s important that work in all environments is properly risk assessed.”
The worldwide market for safer chemicals has a growth rate massively superior to conventional chemicals, brings fewer risks and leads to substantially more jobs, a new report has concluded. The report, commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and the Lowell University-based Green Chemistry and Commerce Council found the market for safer chemicals is estimated to have 24 times the growth of the conventional chemicals market worldwide, from 2011 to 2020. The report also noted: “Job growth in safer goods and services is well ahead of conventional chemical industry,” adding: “Potential financial costs of conventional chemistry, including regulatory fines, loss of access to markets, and social costs of accidents and incidents are driving the market for safer alternatives.” ASBC chief executive David Levine commented: “This report demonstrates what many in the industry have believed: that safer chemicals are the future, not just for safety and health, but for business itself.” He added: “The data in this report are important for the industry, but also policymakers. When we can look at the aggregate economics on the upside of market and job growth, investment in innovation opportunities along with the downside cost of hazardous chemical compliance, lawsuits and remediation, we should all be guided by the evidence to move towards safer chemicals production and use.”
A steel foundry has been sentenced after a South Yorkshire worker was killed when he was struck in the face by a shard from an abrasive disc that exploded from a hand-held grinding machine. Stuart Stead, 49, was using the grinder while working on a casting at HI Quality Steel Castings Ltd in Sheffield, on 7 March 2012. As he used the high-frequency machine, the disc fitted to it exploded, catapulting fragments across his workbay. A shard went straight through Mr Stead’s visor and hit him in the mouth. Mr Stead, a married father of three grown-up children, received fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the abrasive disc was nine inches in diameter although the grinder had a maximum permissible tool diameter of only two inches unless guarded. It was also attached to the grinder using a non-proprietary tool. In addition the disk was rated for 6650 rpm but the grinder was running at 12,000 rpm. The grinder had no guard so as it exploded, the pieces were forcibly expelled across the bay, one ending up some ten metres away. HSE said the excessive speed of the grinder coupled with the added load caused by the non-standard attachment had put stresses on the disc way beyond its capacity, resulting in its catastrophic failure. Appearing at Sheffield Crown Court, HI Quality Steel Castings, which had pleaded guilty to a serious criminal safety offence at an earlier hearing, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £24,000 in costs. The court heard that in the week before the fatality, a lump came off a disc Mr Stead was using and shot down the workshop hitting another worker under the eye. There were also other near misses. HSE inspector Jill Thompson said: “The near-misses should have been a big warning flag to HI Quality Steel Castings that there was a serious risk that a worker could be severely injured or killed.”
A fresh produce manufacturer with a multimillion pound turnover and that supplies food giants including McDonalds and Pret a Manger has been fined for its role in the electrocution of a worker. Chichester Crown Court was told that Bradley Watts, a 21-year-old sub-contractor, was lagging pipes in the loft space of Natures Ways Foods premises in Chichester, on 2 June 2011. He came into contact with a 240V live electrical cable and was electrocuted. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the ambulance crew. The live cable was part of an old system that had been removed by Natures Way Foods in 2008, but was not identified in any way, and its existence and ‘live’ nature was unknown to the firm. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that the company had plenty of opportunities to deal with redundant cables but it was always assumed they were not live. HSE said had the old cabling been removed in a systematic and controlled manner, or subsequent checks of the loft space identified the examples of poor practice, the death of Bradley Watts could have been avoided. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £170,000 plus costs of £35,403.
Edinburgh pharmaceutical firm Macfarlan Smith Limited failed to protect an employee from hazardous substances, which led to him developing a serious allergic reaction and losing his job. The manufacturer of opiates and other controlled drugs, and which is part of the giant Johnson Matthey group, appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and was fined £27,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. The court heard that between 6 April 2004 and 28 January 2010, the company failed to review and ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employee, Michael Halpin. Mr Haplin continued to work with 14-Hydroxycodeinone and other hazardous substances including Oxycodone after he had been diagnosed with allergic contact dermatitis. Mr Haplin continued to work with both substances which resulted in him suffering skin sensation. After being employed by Macfarlan Smith Limited for approximately 17 years, Macfarlan Smith Ltd considered it impossible to redeploy Mr Halpin to suitable alternative duties due to his sensitisation, and his employment was terminated on 31 December 2010 on grounds of capability. Other parts of the Johnson Matthey empire have experience of workplace allergies, with platinium salt exposures at the firm found to have caused widespread sensitisation and occupational asthma.
A world-famous food producer has been fined £6,000 after admitting to criminal health and safety failings which left an employee without full use of his hand. Kayode Ogundele had been employed by Baxters Food Group at its Fochabers plant between October 2012 and February 2014 when he was injured in an “entirely avoidable” incident, Elgin Sheriff Court heard. Mr Ogundele was working in the packing section of Baxters’ Fray Bentos line on 19 March 2013 after receiving “basic” instructions on his tasks. Crown prosecutor Shona Nicholson said Mr Ogundele was injured when his hand was swallowed into the trap point between the moving conveyor belt and the stationary roller, known as the “nip”. He was unable to remove his hand or stop the conveyor belt because he couldn’t reach the emergency stop button, the court heard. A passing forklift driver answered Mr Ogundele’s cries for help and stopped the machine before removing the roller with a spanner in order to free the trapped hand. Mr Ogundele was off work for a month following the incident, which left him with injuries to three fingers. The court heard he suffered depression due to being unable to perform everyday tasks without help from his wife. He remains unable to lay his hand down flat on surfaces and cannot hold items in his left hand for any period of time. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it was reported by Baxters. HSE inspector Penny Falconer said the injury was an “entirely avoidable”. She said: “The dangers of nip points are well-known in the industry. Baxter should have carried out a full assessment of the risks to workers of the new production line.” Defence counsel Mark Donaldson said Baxters accepted there “was a degree of complacency” regarding health and safety after changes at management level.
It’s time to book your place at the National Hazards Conference, the once a year chance to meet safety reps, exchange ideas and get inspired. The conference organised by the Hazards Campaign will have top headline speakers and workshops that will give you the knowledge and tools to make workplaces safer and healthier. Topics covered include safety reps and organising, finding out what is harming members, making the most of the enforcement system, and dealing with risks. The event is union-supported and this year has the theme ‘Safety reps: Reclaiming the health and safety agenda’.
Workplace disasters, from Piper Alpha to Pike River to Rana Plaza, remind us periodically that health and safety tragedies have common causes wherever you live and work. But a new book recognises that they also have common remedies, based around the informed and empowered role of workers. ‘Workers’ guide to health and safety’, published by the non-profit group Hesperian, describes the problems encountered in workplaces worldwide, and the techniques that can be used to sort them out. It has received rave views. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) described it as “an incredibly practical, respectful resource workers will use to improve the quality of their jobs and their lives. Full of accurate technical information and motivational stories, the book proves that health and safety at work is achievable by organising.” And ILO director general Guy Ryder said: “Hesperian’s new publication is an excellent resource in helping workers achieve safe and dignified jobs. The Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety is full of innovative and sustainable ways for workers, employers, and consumers to make that right a reality.”
Mineworkers have confronted Rio Tinto over casualisation of coal mining jobs and its dangerous impact on mine safety. Speaking ahead of the global mining giant’s AGM in Perth, Australia, Andrew Vickers of the Australian mining and energy union CFMEU said that insecure work arrangements were a troubling feature of Rio Tinto’s mining operations worldwide and were an increasing problem in Australia. “A growing proportion of jobs in coal mines are now filled by labour hire contractors rather than permanent positions – well over a third of jobs in many mines. This is a bad outcome for workers, who have little job security and don’t enjoy the same pay and conditions as permanent employees. But it’s also a disaster for mine safety.” He explained: “Contract workers know they could lose their job in an instant if they raise a concern about safety that might impact production and this fear is leading directly to accidents.” He said in some Australian mines lost time injuries in contract workers were running at almost twice the overall rate. He added: “Mining companies like Rio Tinto might like the control they have over a casualised workforce – but it’s a dangerous trend. We urge Rio Tinto to prioritise permanent, secure jobs in all its operations.”
Up to 90 per cent of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly US $19 billion, is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UN body says each year, the electronic industry - one of the world’s largest and fastest growing – generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste from goods such as computers and smart phones. Forecasts say that figure may reach 50 million tonnes already by 2017. A ‘staggering’ 60-90 per cent of this waste is illegally traded or dumped, according to UNEP’s ‘Waste crimes, waste risks: Gaps and challenges in the waste sector’. UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “We are witnessing an unprecedented amount of electronic waste rolling out over the world. Not only does it account for a large portion of the world's non-recycled waste mountain, but it also poses a growing threat to human health and the environment, due to the hazardous elements it contains.” UNEP says the global waste market – from collection to recycling – is estimated to be worth US $410 billion a year, generating jobs and incomes. But it says as with any large economic sector, it creates opportunities for illegal activities at various stages of the waste chain. Concentrated on making profit, operators are prone to ignore waste regulations and expose workers to toxic chemicals, UNEP notes. It adds discarded electronics are recycled in conditions that are hazardous to health, and typically lead to subsequent dumping of the majority of the waste. UNEP concludes that promoting safe recycling is vital to a better waste management.
A Californian law requiring higher nurse-to-patient ratios is not just good for patient care, it dramatically reduces the injury risk to the nurses themselves. California is the only US state with a law governing minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. Paul Leigh, from the medical school at the University of California Davis, led a team that investigated the impact of this law on nurse safety. “We found that indeed the law did improve safety for nurses,” he indicated. Referring to findings published this month in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, he said: “We found that the law was associated with 55.57 fewer occupational injuries and illnesses per 10,000 registered nurses (RNs) per year, a value 32 per cent lower than the expected rate without the law based on injury and illness rates before the law was enacted. The corresponding estimated reduction in injury and illness rates for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) was 38 per cent.” He added: “While the data don’t tell us why the rates went down, the improved staffing ratios could lower rates of injuries and illnesses to nurses in a number of ways. For example, back and shoulder injuries could be prevented, if more nurses were available to help with repositioning patients in bed. Likewise, fewer needlestick injuries may occur if nurses conducted blood draws and other procedures in a less time-pressured manner.”
A growing body of medical research is linking the chemicals found in nail and beauty products to serious health problems affecting salon workers, a recognition that has led New York governor Andrew Cuomo to order new health and safety regulations. The action came after news reports revealed that while clients may be in and out of a nail salon within an hour, manicurists handle the hazardous chemicals and breathe their fumes for hours on end, day after day. The New York Times reports that the high prevalence of respiratory and skin ailments among nail salon workers is widely acknowledged. More uncertain, however, is the risk for other serious conditions. Some of the chemicals in nail products are known to cause cancer; others have been linked to abnormal fetal development, miscarriages and other harm to reproductive health. A number of studies have also found that cosmetologists - a group that includes manicurists, as well as hairdressers and makeup artists — have elevated rates of death from Hodgkin’s disease, of low birth-weight babies and of multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. While the industry disputes claims that salon products are harmful, others are convinced of the risks. “We know that a lot of the chemicals are very dangerous,” said David Michaels, who heads the national safety regulator OSHA. “We don’t need to see the effect in nail salon workers to know that they are dangerous to the workers.” The three chemicals in US nail products that are associated with the most serious health issues are the plasticiser dibutyl phthalate (DBP), the solvent toluene and the hardening agent formaldehyde. They are known as the “toxic trio” among worker advocates. The New York Times reports that DBP is banned already from cosmetics in Europe Union, with the human carcinogen and asthmagen formaldehyde set to follow next year. This week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he was creating a task force to investigate nail salons and crack down on worker abuse following the reports of widespread exploitation and health problems. Among other measures, the task force is instructed to introduce new “strictly enforced” health and safety regulations.
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