|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.
There is still time to tell your member of the European Parliament (MEP) that a major trade deal should not be allowed to undermine workers’ rights and safety, the TUC has said. The union body warned last year that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the European Commission and US government aims to reduce “barriers” to trade, a goal that puts hard-won rights to safe and decent work in jeopardy (Risks 654). The European TUC has warned the agreement could have “enormous implications” for employment policy, social security, environmental protection, occupational health and safety protection and minority rights. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “The two main points of concern on health and safety are the reduction in standards and the possible provisions to allow companies to sue governments in secretive courts.” He explained: “TTIP could result in the harmonisation of many health and safety regulations, including chemicals, or introduce a system of mutual recognition which would have the effect of harmonising standards down to the lowest common denominator. Given that the EU has, on average, one third of the workplace fatality rate of the USA this could be devastating. In part our better safety rate is because of the stronger regulatory framework, and we need to protect, and extend that.” Proposals for an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system could allow corporations “to sue governments in cases where they feel they have not had ‘fair and equitable’ treatment, including health and safety standards,” he added. The TUC and other trade unions around Europe are backing amendments that would reject ISDS, strengthen workers’ rights, and stop TTIP being used to reduce standards. A report is to be considered at the plenary session of the European Parliament starting on 8 June, with a vote anticipated to take place on 10 June. According to Hugh Robertson: “That means that we need trade unionists to tell MEPs across Britain to vote for a report that puts the people of Europe before the interests of the multinationals.”
Murder charges filed over two years after the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse won’t remedy the deadly flaws in Bangladesh’s labour rights and safety system, the TUC has said. The TUC was speaking out after Bangladeshi police this week formally filed murder charges against 41 people for the Rana Plaza factory collapse over two years ago that killed 1,138 workers, most of them women. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive, some suffering from terrible injuries. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is important that those responsible for the terrible loss of life at Rana Plaza face justice. But thousands of factories in Bangladesh are still unsafe, putting more workers lives at risk.” She added: “Repressive labour laws in Bangladesh prevent workers from being able to call for safer conditions through trade unions. It’s shocking that the widespread violence trade unions face at the hands of factory managers continues to go unpunished. The Bangladesh government must allow full freedom of association and UK companies must use their buying power to demand trade union rights are respected, to ensure that the factories they use in Bangladesh are safe.” Among those charged with murder for the deaths in the Rana Plaza building collapse on 24 April 2013 are building owner Sohel Rana, his parents, owners of other nearby factories, and over a dozen government officials. A further person is charged with building code violations alone. A court hearing is due to take place on 28 June to decide on further proceedings. The major retail corporations that did business with the factory - including Walmart, The Children's Place, Benetton, Zara, and Mango - are not among those to face charges.
Ÿ Also see the International Trade Union Confederation’s March 2015 summary of the failures of the Bangladesh labour law to address violations of workers’ rights.
Rail union RMT has called on rail chiefs to “come clean” after speculation that unsuitable old Tube trains were to be “dumped” on railway services across Wales. The union said the 30-year-old trains has been withdrawn from service on London Underground, and were being refitted for diesel operation. It said any use of the refurbished Tube carriages would amount to a “cheapskate, rolling stock lash-up that raises both serious safety fears and a threat to the role of the guard.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is scandalous that ancient rolling stock, decommissioned from the London Underground, is being lashed up with diesel engines with a view to unleashing them on railways in Wales in a move that threatens both jobs and safety in one hit.” He added: “These units are not designed to be run on the open railway and do not fit the safety criteria that would be expected on rail routes as opposed to London Underground. They are also designed solely for Driver Only Operation – threatening the role of the safety-critical guards. RMT wants this ill-conceived and dangerous suggestion to be withdrawn immediately.”
Rail union RMT has criticised London mayor Boris Johnson for ignoring union warnings about the dangers of Tube staffing cuts. The union was speaking out after Transport for London (TfL) figures released on 27 May revealed reported sex offences on London Underground have risen by 34.7 per cent in a year. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT warned right from the off that cash led cuts to station staffing would turn London Underground into a criminals paradise and those who ignored those warnings, and in particular mayor Boris Johnson, should be hanging their heads in shame today, apologising to Londoners and reversing their lethal cuts programme.” He added: “RMT's dispute and campaign on this core issue of Tube job cuts is very much back up the agenda and runs in parallel with our fight over Tube pay and the ill-conceived night running plans which would no doubt escalate the surge in violence and abuse against staff and passengers alike.” TfL said the rise in reported sex crimes could be attributed to a ‘Project Guardian’ campaign that has “raised public awareness of unwanted sexual behaviour and encourages victims to report these historically underreported crimes.” Boris Johnson said he was “very pleased that Londoners have been given greater confidence to report sexual offences following the launch of Project Guardian.”
A waste water worker from Cornwall has been awarded £9,500 after a tanker reversed into him, causing injuries to his neck and lower back. The incident happened at a sewage pumping station in Fowey, Cornwall, where South West Water was working alongside drainage company, Clearflow. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, had been working for South West Water on a sewage pump while his colleagues were cleaning out a well next to the pump. A Clearflow employee reversed a tanker through the safety barrier, striking the man and throwing him forward onto the lid of the nearby well. The man would have fallen into the well, which was 12 metres deep, if he had not managed to grab hold of the chains around its side. There was no barrier between the man and the well, nor were there any cameras fitted to the tanker, so the driver was unable to see the rear view. The force of the tanker hitting him caused a jarring injury to his neck and lower back. As a result, he was off work for three months and spent a further 13 months on light duties. Investigations by lawyers brought in by the union to represent the Unite member and by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the incident had been caused by a failure to segregate workers and moving vehicles and by the inexperience of the driver who had put the vehicle into the wrong gear. The case was settled with split liability – two-thirds of the damages were paid by South West Water, one-third by Clearflow. Heathcliffe Pettifer, Unite regional officer, said “cameras have now been fitted to the rear of the tankers and bollards have been placed in front of the well to separate workers and vehicles - all preventative measures to stop an accident like this from happening again. It’s just a shame an incident of this nature had to happen before something was done to protect South West Water employees.”
A father-of-three injured in a head-on car collision on a busy Cornish road has secured compensation with the backing of his union Unite. Nick Brancher’s car was hit by an oncoming car which careered from the other side of the A38 in Glynn Valley. The driver of the other vehicle had swerved from the westbound carriage, hitting two other cars before colliding, at 50mph, head-on with Nick’s seven-seater vehicle. The 37-year-old maintenance team leader had dropped his nine-year-old daughter off just minutes before the crash, which left him with extensive bruising to his ribs, neck pain and a fracture to his right elbow. “The other driver had lost control and hit two other cars before we collided head-on, it all happened so fast. I‘m just very grateful my daughter wasn’t in the vehicle with me,” he said. “It took around two weeks for the soft tissue injuries to fully manifest themselves and fortunately my employer allowed me to work flexible hours and on light duties until I’d recovered enough to resume my normal role.” Nick, who had been a member of Unite for 14 years, said: “Even though my accident wasn’t work-related I was still able to claim for compensation, which is very reassuring and proved a big help to me and my family.” Rob Miguel, regional officer at Unite’s Plymouth office, said: “Our member sustained a series of injuries because a driver wasn’t concentrating. The level of injuries could have been far worse, but nevertheless the accident was still a serious one and went on to affect our member’s life for months after the crash.”
A London council fined for its criminal failings on asbestos safety should listen more closely to its safety reps, a union has urged. UNISON reps on Waltham Forest Borough Council were speaking out after the local authority was fined for exposing members of staff and visiting contractors to the potentially lethal dangers of asbestos, which it knew to be present in the Town Hall basement. The cancer-causing material was identified in a survey commissioned by the council in 2002, yet it failed to act on the findings and put effective controls in place. Westminster Magistrates heard the issue only became public by chance in mid-2012 when a local resident put in a request to the council to see some election expenses documentation. The authority denied the request, saying the paperwork was contaminated with asbestos. This led to a referral to the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Mythbuster Challenge Panel’, which in turn led to the council’s criminal negligence being uncovered. Waltham Forest Borough Council was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs. HSE inspector Chris Tilley said the council was “aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade.” Bill Palmer, health and safety officer with UNISON’s Waltham Forest Branch, said: “If this work had been carried out in 2002 the cost would have been substantially lower,” adding: “The unions here have been on at the council about asbestos management for as long as I can remember and if they had listened to the unions then all of this could have been avoided.” The union said it “advises all employees and contractors who have visited the Town Hall basement from 2002 to 2012 to report their potential exposure to asbestos to the local authority and to their trade union.”
Up to 30,000 police officers might have come into contact with asbestos at training facilities, the Metropolitan Police has said. The force confirmed it was examining a number of buildings used for firearms training between 1980 and 2007. It also said it was in the process of contacting “a large number of officers” who might have been affected. A 26 May statement said: “The Metropolitan Police Service has recently become aware that some buildings used by the organisation for firearms training between 1980 and 2007 may have contained asbestos.” It added: “The Met has notified the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); and the Specialist Firearms Command is conducting a thorough investigation to identify all buildings where firearms training took place, the type of training that was done and whether asbestos was present.” Ch Supt Mike Gallagher said “we are committed to providing a high duty of care to our officers - past and present. As such, we are offering a full support package which provides detailed information, advice, guidance, links and contacts.” He added: “Inquiries have identified a potential issue at some buildings used historically. Due to the time period in question and number of possible sites, we need to make contact with a large number of officers. This will include those who have left, retired, or transferred; so clearly this is a process which will take some time. Today we have advised those currently working within the organisation. I can reassure any former officers who may have concerns that we have made detailed inquiries to identify all those individuals potentially affected, and will making direct contact with them over the next couple of weeks.”
Ÿ The Mirror.
Women exposed to low levels of common organic solvents at work are 20 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, a new study suggests. The study looked at 1,205 women diagnosed with primary breast cancer between 2009 and 2011 and who were on the Western Australian Cancer Registry. They were matched to 1,789 controls from the electoral roll. Exposure to solvents was determined through telephone interviews. About a third of the women were occupationally exposed to solvents. “The risk of breast cancer was 20 per cent elevated for women exposed to aliphatic solvents or to aromatic hydrocarbons other than benzene. The risks were lower for those exposed to benzene and chlorinated solvents,” the paper, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, noted. The authors added the risks, which were not statistically significant, “tended to be higher for breast cancer diagnosed before menopause than post-menopause, for those exposed to benzene, aliphatic and other aromatic solvents and chlorinated solvents.” They say the study suggests that there may be an association between occupational exposure to aliphatic and aromatic solvents and the risk of breast cancer at the low levels of exposure experienced by women in their study. The authors note: “Our findings are consistent with previous reports of an elevated risk of breast cancer associated with occupations where exposure to solvents is likely.”
Ÿ DC Glass, J Heyworth, AK Thomson, S Peters C Saunders and L Fritschi. Occupational exposure to solvents and risk of breast cancer, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, published online ahead of print, 26 May 2015. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22478.
London construction company Darma Limited has been fined over £13,000 after an unannounced inspection from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found dangerous conditions on a basement excavation site. The inspection in Fulham was carried out during a clampdown on poor safety conditions on basement projects in November 2013. The inspection found workers were being exposed to extremely dangerous conditions on the site, being made to work in and around deep excavations of up to four metres in depth that were not properly supported. Westminster magistrates heard Darma Limited failed to implement any of minimum safety requirements for basement work, putting workers at risk of death. The company were fined £13,400 and ordered to pay £4,719 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. HSE inspector Dominic Long said: “Conditions on this site were appalling with deep unsupported excavations throughout the basement. This not only put the large number of operatives in the basement at risk of death but could also have led to the collapse of the building itself.” He added: “Darma Limited showed scant regard for the safety of the workers they were responsible for, it was extremely fortunate no-one was seriously injured or killed. HSE will take robust action against any company or individual putting lives at risk. This prosecution along with the level of fine demonstrates that companies willing to disregard the safety of workers should expect to face severe consequences.”
A UK multinational that specialises in destroying sensitive documents has been fined after an unsupervised new worker had his hand shredded in an inadequately guarded paper shredder. Shred-it Limited, which describes itself as an “information destruction partner” for business, appeared at High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court and was fined £18,000 with costs of £1,375 after admitting a criminal safety offence. The court heard that on 31 December 2013 Stuart Rolls, who had only worked for Shred-it Limited for two weeks, badly injured his right hand when it came into contact with a mobile paper shredding machine at the company’s site at Ridgeway Industrial Estate in Iver, Buckinghamshire. Although Mr Rolls had only worked at the company for a short while, he was alone in the shredder compartment. He tried to free a piece of paper by reaching into the shredder and his right hand came into contact with the shredder knives. Mr Rolls lost a finger, part of his thumb and the top of another finger.
A Swanley firm that makes paper products has been convicted of a safety crime after allowing workers to bypass interlocked guards on machinery, a practice that resulted in an employee trapping his hand. The Swan Mill Paper Company Ltd was aware that engineers would use interlock keys to override the guarding on machines for the purpose of diagnosing faults. An engineer injured his fingers when his hand became trapped after he defeated an interlocked door to get a better look at a wrapping fault. The incident, on 15 January 2013, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted the company for its criminal safety failings. Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court was told HSE found at least three members of the company’s maintenance team had interlock keys for bypassing and defeating interlocks on the machines, and so potentially exposing themselves to dangerous moving parts. After HSE’s investigation, Swan Mill Paper Company Ltd recalled all the keys. The firm was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £22,000 in costs after being convicted of a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Rob Hassell said: “If access is needed to machinery, for whatever reason, then measures should be taken to adapt the machine to ensure its safety either by further physical safeguards, such as additional guarding or operating at reduced speed; ensuring that employees stand back is not acceptable.” He added: “Latest HSE statistics show that about 15 per cent of reported major injuries involved contact with moving machinery and the risks are well-recognised within the industry.”
‘Safety of migrant workers: A TUC guide for union activists’ has been produced to assist union workplace representatives in their work with migrant workers and to help protect the health, safety and welfare of these workers. The online guide deals with issues including employment status, risk assessments, accident reporting, welfare and first aid, personnel protective equipment, information and training, enforcement and working with others. It features case studies and checklists and has a resources section.
Ÿ TUC publication alert, migrant workers health and safety webpages and full guide, Safety of migrant workers: A TUC guide for union activists, June 2015.
McDonald's fought a losing battle for years to keep 'McJobs' - generally defined as low-wage, insecure, dead-end work with no benefits - out of dictionaries. But global foodworkers’ union IUF and its North American affiliate SEIU says their new report, ‘McJobs: Low wages and low standards around the world’, should see “systematic rights abuses” added to the current definition. The report documents widespread employment abuses throughout the company's global operations, including wage theft, discrimination, unsafe workplaces and anti-union practices. It includes examples of McDonald’s safety abuses around the world, and the “growing allegations of safety abuses.”
Ÿ IUF publication alert, and full publication: McJobs: Low wages and low standards around the world, IUF/SEIU, 2015.
The Washington Post has flipped the focus from the financial corruption gripping football’s global governing body, instead highlighting concerns about the considerable and deadly human price paid as a result of FIFA’s failings. “In the end, it only took a $150 million scandal to make Americans care about soccer,” the paper notes. “FIFA, the notoriously corrupt and yet seemingly invincible governing body of world soccer, has finally landed itself an indictment that some would say is worthy of its reputation. The charges against a handful of senior FIFA officials include money laundering, racketeering, bribery and fraud. In short, the federal lawsuit alleges what millions of soccer fans have suspected all along: that FIFA officials have been using the organisation's massive influence to line their pocketbooks.” But the Washington Post adds “a closer look suggests that there is a lot of real-world suffering happening as a direct result of FIFA's decisions. For the most obvious example of this, look to Qatar… a report by the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated 1,200 deaths so far, with up to 4,000 additional worker deaths by 2022.” Commenting on the corruption charges laid by the US Justice Department against several FIFA officials, the paper notes “as the families of 1,200 dead workers can attest, in many ways the damage has already been done. If FIFA board members did indeed accept bribes from Qatar to let it host the 2022 cup, it would show how backroom corruption can have widespread and fatal consequences.”
Ÿ TUC Playfair Qatar campaign.
The government of Japan is seeking to use the law to eradicate deaths from overwork, or ‘karoshi’. A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel has prepared an outline bill to promote measures to prevent these deaths. The draft ‘Act to Accelerate Moves for the Prevention of Karoshi’ was published on 25 May and includes measures to reduce the percentage of people working 60 hours or more a week to 5 per cent or less by 2020. It also contains preventive measures such as conducting educational activities on karoshi and improved counselling systems. The ministry panel working on the new law is comprised of bereaved family members of karoshi victims, union and company representatives and academics. It had been considering an outline of the bill since December 2014. The panel says that 17 per cent of men in their 30s are working at least 60 hours a week, a workload experts say could put people at risk of karoshi. It also emphasised that 4.68 million people are in danger of becoming karoshi victims and 16 per cent of workers do not take any paid annual leave at all. According to the health ministry, 133 workers who died of brain and heart diseases in the 2013 fiscal year were recognised as victims of overwork under the labour accident insurance programme. Roughly 80 per cent of these had clocked more than 80 hours of overtime a month on average - deemed the threshold where the risk of death from overwork rises - before they died.
Measures to improve New Zealand’s woeful workplace safety record after a 2010 mine disaster that killed 29 are already being diluted, with small businesses set to be exempted from some provisions, unions have warned. The Pike River Mine disaster led to a government-commissioned safety taskforce, a Royal Commission and wide-ranging proposals to reform a failing system, including a greater role for workers (Risks 581). Unions are now concerned that the conservative National Party government is going to ditch from the Health and Safety Reform Bill a recommendation that there should be an empowered role for safety reps and safety committees in all workplaces. Helen Kelly, president of the national union federation CTU, said: “At the beginning of the review of health and safety (as a direct result of the tragedy at Pike River) the government promised that our laws would take ‘no steps backwards’. It seems the government is intent on breaking that promise by creating these exemptions.” She added: “We owe it to the workers who have been killed at work, the 29 men at Pike but also the other workers who are hurt or killed on the job to have a better law, a stronger law.” The union leader said: “A good health and safety system needs an effective regulator, workers able to influence health and safety in their workplace and businesses showing positive leadership. Both the Pike Rive Royal Commission and the Independent Taskforce emphasised the crucial importance of strengthening New Zealand’s weak worker participation. It is backed by international evidence. Workers electing their own health and safety representatives is of benefit to the workplace, regardless of the size of firm or the industry they work in. Everyone should be able to participate in their own health and safety at work.” Bill Newson, national secretary of the union EPMU, said: “Independent, genuine worker participation leads to better health and safety. Worker-elected health and safety representatives and worker-focused health and safety committees keep workplaces safe.” He added: “Our current health and safety systems aren’t good enough. They need to be fixed. For the prime minister to say it’s just too hard to keep workers safe and healthy is unacceptable.”
Workplace chemical exposures are the eighth leading cause of death in the US, but the country lacks any prevention strategy, an advocacy group has warned. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said these exposures are responsible for more than 40,000 premature deaths each year. The group, unveiling a new worker right-to-know chemicals website, said occupational exposures kill malignantly, from cancer, neurological breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic maladies. “More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” stated PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1,000 times higher than in the general environment. “In the US, environmental protection stops at the factory door,” he said. PEER warns that these occupational risks may be on the rise as thousands of new chemicals are introduced in US workplaces each year. Yet scrutiny by the US workplace safety regulator OSHA is in slow decline, PEER noted. At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA nearly 600 years to sample chemical exposures at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances. “Reversing this long lethal trend requires a national commitment to ‘green’ the American workplace,” said Ruch. “Above all, OSHA needs to rediscover its ‘H’ by taking affirmative steps to sharply reduce the slow poisoning of American workers.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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