|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.|
World leaders at this week’s G7 Summit took a “huge step” on workplace safety, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after a G7 leaders’ declaration on 8 June included a commitment to establish a workplace health and safety ‘Vision Zero Fund’ in cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The declaration, agreed by world leaders including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, said this would “add value to existing ILO projects with its aim of preventing and reducing workplace-related deaths and serious injuries by strengthening public frameworks and establishing sustainable business practices.” The declaration adds: “Access to the Fund will be conditional: the Fund will support those recipients that commit themselves to prevention measures and the implementation of labour, social, environmental and safety standards. We agree to follow up on the matter and look forward to the Fund reaching out to the G20.” Commenting on the declaration, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said while the emphasis must be on improving health and safety in developing countries, “it could also have an impact across the world if it is used to promote and develop ILO Conventions on occupational health and safety, especially as so many countries have not even signed up to a lot of them. There are around 40 of them and the UK has refused to ratify a whole raft of them, including ones on occupational health services and cancers.” He added it was “a huge step forward that the G7 leaders have acknowledged responsibility to promote decent working conditions, in developing countries. Unions now have to ensure that we are working positively with the ILO to make use of it, and of course, here in Britain we need to ask the UK government why they are willing to promote decent working conditions when they are at the G7, but are doing nothing about it here. Ratifying all the ILO Conventions would be a start.”
The TUC has welcomed the announcement this week that the Rana Plaza Donors’ Trust Fund has finally met its compensation target of $30 million. This means that full compensation can be paid to the victims of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, which killed almost 1,200 workers and left hundreds more with serious injuries. But the union body says it has taken over two years for compensation to be raised which has meant that many workers have gone without vital medical treatment or living essentials. It says the commitment this week by G7 leaders to establish a ‘Vision Zero’ insurance fund to provide compensation for workers harmed in future industrial accidents is welcome, but adds to be effective such a fund will need to involve binding commitments on companies, as well as active support from governments. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The calls that trade unions and campaigners around the world have been making for compensation to be paid to victims of Rana Plaza since 2013 have finally been heard. But two years is too long for any worker to wait for medical attention and too long for a family to wait for food, clothing and other essentials.” She added: “Never has it been clearer that voluntary processes do not work. Governments must make sure there are binding commitments on multinational companies to compensate workers harmed in their global supply chains.”
Trade unions in Scotland are backing a new Scottish Hazards Centre and say it must be given the funds to enable it to undertake lifesaving work from its scheduled August 2015 launch date. STUC and trade unions say the much needed resource will provide advice, training and support services to Scottish workers and their families, to ensure health and safety issues are tackled before they cause debilitating illness or loss of life and limb. STUC added that the very least families expect is that their loved ones “can exercise the basic human right to return to them alive and well after their work has finished for the day.” Louise Taggart from the charity Scottish Hazards is spearheading the campaign for the new union-backed centre. The employment lawyer lost her brother, Michael Adamson, who was electrocuted at work as a consequence of his employer’s criminal negligence. “My brother was killed in an incident which could and should have been prevented. His employer had written processes and procedures in place, but it was not practicing what those preached,” she said. “I want the Scottish Hazards Centre to be a place where workers and others - concerned about an employer’s health and safety practices - can turn for the help and support they need to get the employer to take its responsibilities seriously.” STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “The STUC has supported the Hazards movement plans for a Scottish Hazard Centre for many years. The support that both can provide for workers disenfranchised from trade union membership is invaluable, helping to address the acknowledged health and safety deficit in non-unionised and anti-trade union workplaces.” The initiative has cross-party support in the Scottish parliament. Scottish Hazards is seeking to secure funding of £100,000 per year.
Seventeen former and serving cabin crew are planning legal action against British airlines saying they have been poisoned by contaminated cabin air. The cases are backed by the union Unite, which represents 20,000 flight staff. The union, which is calling for a public inquiry into contaminated cabin air, has recently opened a dedicated legal unit to record and process claims from its membership. Its lawyers are now working on 17 “definite” individual personal injury claims against British airlines in the civil courts, although these are still at an early stage. Safety reports obtained by the BBC suggest the problem could be widespread. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reports show that between April 2014 and May 2015 there were 251 separate incidents of fumes or smoke at one British airline. The BBC says an illness was reported in 104 of the 251 cases, and on at least 28 of the flights oxygen was administered. In April, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey called for a public inquiry into the health effects of ‘fume events’ on airliners amid warnings that there is insufficient monitoring and research into aerotoxic syndrome (Risks 699). He said it was Unite’s “intention to make certain that aerotoxic syndrome doesn’t become a silent killer,” saying that “literally all of our cabin crew members will have experienced a fume event at some time. It occurs not regularly, but it occurs sufficiently often for people to be concerned about.”
Blacklisted workers have rejected a “derisory” compensation offer from construction firms trying to head off embarrassing and potentially costly action in the courts. After a preliminary court hearing last month, leading up to the scheduled two-month trial set for May 2016, solicitors acting for major construction firms offered a group of 11 workers blacklisted for their union and site safety activities settlements ranging from £10,000 to £60,000, adding up to £415,000 in total. However law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for the union GMB, said that litigants could receive substantially higher sums through the courts. It believes that construction workers could be given sums based on how many entries are included in their blacklist file. The workers also expect compensation for loss of earnings and substantial interest accrued since their files were started. GMB legal officer Maria Ludkin said the pre-emptive offers were derisory. “The industry is definitely worried about going to trial,” she told the Morning Star. “The total value of our claim is £30m and we are fighting for every penny.” Leigh Day has valued the 11 cases at £2.8m — part of £30m being demanded in almost 100 cases the GMB is bringing to court. A compensation scheme set up unilaterally by eight major construction firms trying to head off court cases has seen a low take-up, according to the GMB.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Ÿ The Guardian.
The union GMB has warned Europe’s lawmakers not to sacrifice safety regulations as part of on-going trade treaty negotiations with the US. It says the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty under discussion between the US and EU “could open the door to a range of chemicals linked to infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioural and learning disorders to be used across the EU.” The union says these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) illustrate the harm could be caused if existing EU chemical regulations were undermined by the treaty. John McClean, GMB national health and safety officer, said: “We elect MEPs to protect us not to open up the EU market to chemicals that are banned here. EDCs are chemicals, which in certain doses, can interfere with the hormone system in animals, including humans.” He added: “On regulatory standards and co-operation GMB sees the threat to regulatory standards as one of the major concerns of this TTIP agreement that presents risks not just to our members, but people across the EU.” He said the US has made clear it won’t adopt Europe’s more protective REACH approach to chemical standards, and is concerned that European negotiators and politicians have weakened their stance against a downward harmonisation of chemicals rules.
Ÿ Morning Star.
The decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to suspend its work developing guidance on safe staffing levels in health care has been greeted with “deep concern” by UNISON. The union was speaking out after NHS England instructed NICE not to proceed with planned new activity in its well-regarded safe staffing programme. UNISON head of nursing Gail Adams said: “It’s surely no coincidence that since NICE came up with recommendations concerning the numbers of nursing staff needed in acute clinical settings, there are now more nurses – both agency and NHS – working in A&E departments. With NICE’s work well underway on the safe staffing levels needed in maternity, mental health and community services – areas of the NHS that are chronically understaffed – there was clearly a fear that the forthcoming guidance would mean the need for yet more agency nurses. Increasing the numbers of nurses on wards might cost more money, but it also means improved patient care and safety.” She added: “To move towards an NHS that is safely staffed to meet the growing demands being placed on it, we need to take a serious look at workforce planning and design.” A study published last month found that a Californian law requiring higher nurse-to-patient ratios was not just good for patient care, it dramatically reduced the injury risk to the nurses themselves (Risks 702).
Britain’s first NHS hospital financed and built by private capital is a “major” fire safety risk, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. An independent report commissioned by the NHS trust that manages the hospital found that fire proofing materials installed by the private company did not meet the required protection standard to allow for save evacuation and prevent a fire from spreading across the building. The FBU said it is extremely concerned about “major flaws” discovered in the fire proofing materials used in the construction of the UK’s first private finance initiative (PFI) built hospital. Opened in 2000, Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle was the first hospital to be built in partnership with the private sector. Graeme Higgins, secretary of the FBU in Cumbria, said: “It has to be asked why it has taken so long to identify the flaws in fire proofing materials used in the hospital’s construction. The work to rectify this issue is expected to take up to 18 months.” He added he was concerned a loss of firefighting capacity in the city could further heighten the risks. “Cumberland Infirmary is one of Carlisle’s biggest fire risks and prior to fire service funding cuts would have received a pre-determined attendance of two fire appliances and a specialist aerial ladder platform vehicle to any emergency calls from the hospital. However since 2014 the specialist aerial ladder platform is no longer staffed and Carlisle now has 50 per cent fewer firefighters on duty than in 2004.”
The son of a former clay dryer is appealing to his late father’s former colleagues in St Austell, Cornwall for information on the working conditions he endured. An inquest into the death of Walter Patton, 83, found that he died in February 2013 of bronchial pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer related to his employment. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mr Patton worked for English Clays Lovering Pochin & Company, which was later known as ECC International Limited, at its Methrose and Blackpool Dryers sites as a clay dryer. His son Brian, 62, recalls his father coming home from work covered in white dust from the clay he handled on a daily basis. He believes his father was never provided with protective equipment that would have prevented him inhaling the dust present in the atmosphere. He said: “Dad was always a very private man and he didn’t tell me about his illness until a few weeks before his death. Unfortunately, this means we didn’t have time to discuss how he was exposed to dust during his time as a clay dryer.” Assisted by the personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell, he is appealing for anyone who worked with Walter at the Methrose and Blackpool Dryers sites to come forward with information on dust exposures and what measures, if any, were taken to protect workers. Walter’s brothers-in-law Wilf, Dennis and Ken Blight, worked in the same role for the company in the 1950s and 60s, and also died as a result of a dust-related illness. Lawyer Alex Shorey said: “The inquest into Walter’s death indicated his job played a significant part in the conditions he developed later in life… We hope anyone who remembers Walter will come forward with information on the roles he carried out at the firm, how he was exposed to the clay dust and what steps were taken to reduce the likelihood of workers inhaling the dust at the Methrose and Blackpool Dryers sites.”
Ÿ Irwin Mitchell Solicitors news release. Anyone with information on the working conditions at English Clays Lovering Pochin & Company or ECC International Limited/Imerys Minerals Limited should contact Alex Shorey on 0121 214 5493 or email Alex.Shorey@IrwinMitchell.com
Office workers should spend a minimum of two hours on their feet at work – building up to an ideal four hours – in order to avoid the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle, according to a study co-commissioned by Public Health England. Research has long linked excessive time spent sitting to increased risk of sickness or premature death but the authors of the new advice say it is the first time British workers have been provided with quantifiable targets for getting out of their seats. The study authors, who include experts from the UK, US and Australia, call for the use of sit-stand desks, standing-based work and regular walkabouts. They also urge further research into whether facilities such as toilets should be moved further away from staff, some emails could be replaced by hand-delivered messages and employees could have alarms on computers or personal motion assessment devices prompting them to move. The researchers reviewed studies and concluded those who sit most are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and have a 13 per cent and 17 per cent increased risk of cancer incidence and mortality respectively. Office workers spend 65 per cent to 75 per cent of their working hours sitting, half of which is in prolonged periods of sustained sitting, according to the study, published this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Dr Ann Hoskins, of Public Health England, welcomed the study but said “more research needs to be carried out before daily targets for work place activity are recommended”. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “It is true that sitting down to long can be bad for your health, but so is prolonged standing. The ideal solution is to give workers control over how much they need to sit or stand . However this research is interesting. Unfortunately, the recommendations will be met with scepticism in many workplaces, where workers are already on a work overload treadmill, chained to their desks and compelled to work at unsuitable, decrepit workstations. They frequently have their toilet breaks rationed or are told to take them off the clock.” He added: “Workers do need better workstations and more care taken of their welfare, but less work and more breaks and respect would come ahead of new desk on most of their wish lists.”
Ÿ John Buckley and others. Consensus statement: The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company, British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online 1 June 2015. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618
Work is negatively affecting the health and wellbeing of workers, causing unnecessary suffering and also leading to a substantial loss of productivity, a survey has found. The study of 2,000 full- and part-time UK workers, published in The ‘Health in the Workplace Report’ by gift card firm One4all Rewards, highlights the importance of employers making a conscious effort to look after the welfare of their workers. Its survey found in the past year, 11 per cent of employees said that they had become ill as a direct result of their work. Twice that number (22 per cent) said that they regularly suffer from high levels of stress due to work pressures. And 17 per cent admitted that they often had problems sleeping as a result of their jobs. As a result, a significant proportion (23 per cent) confessed that they were underperforming in their work. Declan Byrne, managing director of One4all Rewards, said: “This report indicates the importance employers should be placing on ‘Workplace Wellness’ – not only out of a sense of corporate responsibility, but also as a way to boost productivity and give them a competitive edge when recruiting and retaining the best staff.”
A Maidstone company specialising in supplying agricultural machinery and motor vehicles has been fined after a teenager on paid work experience nearly lost the tips of his fingers in unguarded machinery. The injured young person, who was employed by Haynes Brothers Ltd, had been told to work alongside an experienced engineer to carry out a pre-delivery inspection of a new combine header unit at a company site in Great Chart, Ashford, Kent, when the incident happened on 16 July 2013. Canterbury Magistrates heard that Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors found that he had been asked to disconnect the drive shaft at the rear of the combine unit so the engineer could rotate the auger to check the clearance. Having disconnected the shaft, the young man moved to the front of the machine so that he could see what the engineer was doing and leant over in order to get a better view. The engineer was not aware that the young man had moved and rotated the auger unaware that the 16-year-old was balancing himself by placing his hand on the cutter bar. The top of his left hand index finger and right hand middle finger were badly cut as a result. The finger tips were not completely severed and could be reattached, however he suffers from ongoing difficulties with gripping and numbness. Haynes Brothers Limited was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay £4,698 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Kevin Golding said: “The young trainee was not given adequate information, instruction and training to carry out his work safely and sadly his lack of awareness of the dangers led to him being injured. It is important that employers consider that younger employees may lack experience and awareness of hazards in the workplace compared to other employees and make changes to the workplace and tasks as appropriate.”
Ÿ Kent Online.
A timber mouldings manufacturer in Rochdale has been fined after a young apprentice lost two fingers off his right hand while working on machinery. The 16-year-old was an apprentice with Dresser Mouldings (Rochdale) Limited and was working alongside an experienced colleague on a moulding machine when the incident happened on 23 July 2014. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that the teenager had been working with the colleague on the machine at the company’s Station Yard Sawmill, when a piece of wood jammed and would not feed through properly. The machine was opened to try to rectify the problem. The teenage apprentice was looking inside and trying to help adjust the machine when his gloved right hand caught on the rotating central blade. His right hand was severely injured, and he lost the entire middle finger and part of the thumb. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that company had failed to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery. Dresser Mouldings (Rochdale) Ltd was fined £18,000 with costs of £844.50 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Emily Osborne, said: “This incident could have been easily prevented if the company had suitable measures in place to ensure workers did not come into contact with the rotating blade on the machine. In this case the machine should have been switched off.” She added: “There was no safe system of work in place for the task as well as a lack of instructions and training to ensure workers knew how to carry out the task safely. Instead, the firm’s failures led to a young worker suffering a severe injury, losing a finger and part of his thumb.”
A Rotherham recycling firm has been sentenced after a 25-year-old worker had his arm broken in three places when it was drawn into unguarded machinery. Ryan Jackson also suffered a cracked shoulder blade and had a radial nerve shredded to the bone in the incident at the metal recycling company CF Booth Ltd on 4 December 2013. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified a guard by the tail drum where Mr Jackson was operating had been removed and there was no emergency stop button. HSE found guarding on the whole conveyor was insufficient. Rotherham Magistrates heard that Mr Jackson, who was relatively inexperienced, had been on his own at the time and was attempting to remove a blockage from the conveyor. He had believed the machine would need an electrician to restart it as it had cut out due to the blockage. However, once he had cleared the debris, the machine started running and his arm was drawn in and badly injured. HSE told the court that the tail drum of the conveyor had previously had a mesh guard but this had been removed at some point before the incident. There was an emergency stop cord down one side of the conveyor but nothing immediately to hand by the tail drum. CF Booth Ltd had no management system to check that guards were in place and that emergency stops and pull cords were working. The company had also received written advice from HSE in May 2013 relating to the guarding of end drums on other conveyors on site. The court heard that Mr Jackson, whose daughter was born just three weeks after the incident, had needed a nerve removed from his calf to try to repair the arm damage, leading to a loss of sensation in his leg. He is still on medication and has not been able to return to work. CF Booth Ltd was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,595 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
A company operating several private schools has been fined and a cleaning contractor given a suspended jail term after a man sustained permanent spinal injuries while felling a tree on school grounds in High Wycombe. Calogero Mule, 59, was using a chainsaw to fell a mature sycamore tree at Bassetsbury Manor on 22 April 2013. He was helping his son Paolo Mule, of P&X Complete Cleaning Services, to clear the site to make way for building work, contracted by Alpha Schools Limited. Aylesbury Crown Court heard a large partially cut branch swung down and hit the ladder the Calogero was standing on, throwing him to the ground where he landed on his back, sustaining permanent spinal injuries. He is now unable to walk and will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found private school firm Alpha Schools Limited failed to engage competent contractors to undertake the arboriculture work. The investigation also found that Paolo Mule failed to undertake a risk assessment for the work. There was no safe system of work in place, with no ropes being used and the ladder was not secured. The work was not adequately segregated and there were members of the public nearby. Alpha Schools Limited, which had a revenue of £38.7m in the six months to the end of February 2015, was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. It also agreed to pay an ex-gratia payment of £50,000 to the injured worker. Paolo Mule, 33, trading as P&X Complete Cleaning Services, was given an 18 month prison sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to pay £2,000 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HSE principal inspector Karl Howes said: “Arboriculture work remains high risk, particularly work at height in trees. Such work must only be undertaken by competent and trained contractors. All businesses have a duty to ensure they engage in competent contractors when carrying out tree work.”
Ciett, the global lobbying body for temporary labour agencies, has been accused of ‘false advertising’ after claiming the International Labour Organisation (ILO) supports the expansion of agency work. Global union federation IUF, which represents unions in the food and farming sectors, dismissed Ciett’s assertion that the growth in business for temporary employment agencies advances the ILO's “decent work” agenda. According to IUF: “It’s a clever sales pitch, but it works only to the extent that the buyer ignores what the ILO is actually saying.” The union body said Ciett's “latest attempt to wrap itself in the mantle of the ILO” came at the ILO’s annual World Employment Conference held in Rome in late May. A Ciett news release referring to the ILO event said: “Experts underline the importance of agile and adaptable labour markets in stimulating economic growth and job creation. In practice, this means removing old-fashioned rigidity and unjustified restrictions concerning legitimate flexible forms of labour.” In the run-up to the Rome conference, Ciett also welcomed the publication of the ILO's recent World Employment and Social Outlook for “documenting the changing nature of work” and, implicitly, lending support to Ciett. But according to IUF, the ILO report in reality “links this transformation to the rising incidence of poverty, insecurity, exclusion and inequality. Nowhere does it endorse an expansion of agency work.” The global union federation said ILO now needs to give more attention to the “social hazard” posed by temporary work. “It should be addressed through the hierarchy of hazards approach used to reduce other workplace hazards. The first choice is eliminating, then replacing the hazard, followed by strict controls to contain potential toxicity,” IUF said. Temporary work has been linked to higher rates of work-related injuries and ill-health (Risks 675).
The scandal engulfing FIFA should not just lead to reform of the famously corrupt football governing body (Risks 705), but should also deliver better warning conditions for those building the facilities for football’s greatest showcase, the global union ITUC has said. It said the announcement that FIFA president Sepp Blatter will step down gives hope to Qatar's migrant workforce that FIFA may finally come onto their side, but exposes Qatar to the possible loss of the 2022 World Cup if it fails to reform its labour laws in the coming months. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “With Sepp Blatter stepping down, there's a chance for FIFA to undo the damage it has done by telling Qatar to bring its labour laws up to global standards as a condition to host the World Cup. Qatar needs to wake up to the reality that the world will not accept a World Cup built on modern slavery.” She said FIFA’s sponsors (Risks 704) and construction contractors also have now to ensure the necessary improvements take place. “The construction giants have to go beyond CSR-speak and ensure their huge workforces in Qatar, most of them in hidden employment, get the same basic rights as workers in countries that do respect workers’ rights. The sponsors too are tainted by the stink of modern slavery in Qatar, and must not let up pressure over the twin evils of corruption and worker exploitation,” said Burrow. Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI, the global union for construction workers, said: “The biggest crime of FIFA is not the corruption. It is ignoring all the thousands of workers who get trapped in modern-day slavery or work to death while building for the World Cup. This could easily have been avoided if FIFA had only put clear demands on host nations to respect workers’ rights and ensure decent working conditions.” He added: “No one should have to die in the name of football.”
Over threequarters (76 per cent) of electronic waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments including breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing and choking due to improper safeguards at dismantling workshops, an industry study has found. Research by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) found many of the affected workers are children and become incapable of working by the time they reach 40 years of age. According to the trade body: “For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganised sector as only a handful of organised e-waste recycling facilities are available. Over 95 per cent of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out the dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment, which are detrimental not only to their health but also to the environment.” Assocham says “of the total e-waste generated in India, approximately 1.5 per cent is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling. Another 8.0 per cent of the e-waste generated is rendered useless and goes to landfills. The remaining 90.5 percent of the e-waste is being handled by the informal sector.” It says despite stringent laws regulating the e-waste trade “destitute children still face hazards picking apart old computers, TV etc. The chamber has also strongly advocated the need to bring out effective legislation to prevent entry of child labour into its collection, segregation and distribution.”
Ÿ The Hindu.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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