|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 TUC has welcomed the announcement of a government review into the impact of employment tribunal fees, but warned that it must not be a “political stitch-up”. New figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that the number of single employment tribunal claims brought by individuals between January and March 2015 was 25 per cent lower than over same period in 2014. The figures also show that single claims are 69 per cent lower than they were between January and March 2013 – shortly before employment fees were introduced. Under the fees system, workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities (Risks 676). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Tribunal fees have been a gift for Britain’s worse bosses allowing many to flout the law. Charging people up to £1,200 to pursue a claim has priced thousands out of justice and ruined lives.” She added: “This review is a welcome, if long overdue, announcement. However, it must not shy away from telling hard truths. It has to be transparent and prepared to recommend abolishing the current system. If all it does is come up with half-measures then it is likely to be viewed by many as a political stitch-up. Tribunal fees need to be scrapped urgently.” Marion Scovell of the union Prospect said: “The fall off in claims has been scandalous. This government has not only made it easier and cheaper to sack workers through their onslaught on workers’ rights over the last five years, but have also removed the opportunity for many workers to pursue valid claims.” The employment tribunal fees system has been the subject of legal challenges from UNISON. Two cases were rejected by the High Court, however an appeal was granted (Risks 697) and is due to be heard in the Court of Appeal this month.
Rail firm First Great Western (FGW) could face industrial action if it fails to address job and safety concerns, the rail union RMT has warned. A ballot of the union’s members for strike action and action short of a strike was called after the introduction of new Hitachi Inter-City trains. Ballot papers were distributed on 12 June, with voting due to close at the end of the month. The union confirmed in late May that it had entered into dispute with FGW over the introduction of Super Express Trains on their franchise. Among other staffing related issues, the union wants assurances that the firm will retain buffet cars on services, keep a safety competent guard on every train and retain safety critical station despatch staff. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has made every effort to secure a series of very basic assurances from FGW over jobs, services and safety as a result of the introduction of the new Hitachi fleet and they have simply ignored thus. We therefore have no option but to ballot all staff for action to force the company to take this issue seriously.” He added: “It is frankly ludicrous that East Coast, who are introducing the same trains, have given us the assurances we are seeking but FGW have ignored us and are crashing ahead with the ripping out of buffet cars and the threat to safety-critical station and train staff purely to maximise the profits from new trains bought for them by the British taxpayer.”
Workers at BBC Scotland are considering industrial action in a dispute over the handling of grievance and bullying allegations against one of its most senior executives. The Guardian newspaper reports that union leaders met BBC management last week after camerawoman Zoe MacDonald made a complaint of bullying against BBC Scotland’s head of news and current affairs, John Boothman. Boothman was taped in February by MacDonald as he made a series of highly personal and critical remarks about her in a private conversation with a personnel manager. Boothman, who is now leaving the BBC, had gone into a broadcasting gallery at the corporation’s Edinburgh studios for an apparently private conversation without realising the microphones were live. MacDonald was in the next-door broadcasting gallery and overheard the discussion, which included criticism of other BBC staff, and recorded it on her mobile phone. She took the incident to a grievance hearing which found against Boothman in early May, and has since been on long-term leave for stress. Boothman this week gave MacDonald a “fulsome” apology, BBC sources disclosed. The union said this was the most serious in a long series of conflicts between Boothman and news and current affairs staff. An internal BBC Scotland staff survey showed that only 19 per cent of news and current affairs staff believed bullying complaints against their managers would have a “positive outcome”, 20 per cent felt bullying would be fairly dealt with and 16 per cent had confidence in Boothman’s decision-making. Paul Holleran, the NUJ’s Scottish organiser, told the Guardian that balloting union members for industrial action such as a work to rule was on the agenda if the BBC was unable to reassure staff that significant action was being taken, including moving Boothman from his current post.
Ÿ The Guardian.
A company’s decision to uphold the sacking of a UNISON representative after he raised serious safety concerns at work has ‘sorely disappointed’ the union. UNISON health and safety rep Robert O’Donnell was dismissed in May from his job at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC). The decision to uphold the dismissal for “gross misconduct” was confirmed last week. “O’Donnell and UNISON are quite clear that this dismissal is motivated by his commitment to building the union’s workplace profile and raising health and safety issues with management,” the Morning Star reported. UNISON, which does not have a recognition agreement with the firm, said SECC did not abide by the ACAS code of practice when handling O’Donnell’s case. The safety rep said he noticed a marked change in how management treated him when he joined UNISON and became active in his workplace just over two years ago. He was elected a health and safety rep and began to raise serious health and safety concerns with management. “There was one particularly serious health and safety issue I remember clearly — a gas leak when the notorious blacklisting firm Lend Lease were building the Hydro arena,” he said. “The gas leak evacuation procedure was utterly shambolic. I and other colleagues were not alerted by anything warning us of the danger and the evacuation of SECC staff and contractors was one of confusion. It was down to pure luck that nobody was injured that day.” These health and safety concerns lead to UNISON formally requesting a health and safety committee at SECC. According to the Morning Star, SECC management initially agreed to this, but then insisted that there was no interest among employees in setting up a committee. A UNISON spokesperson said: “We are sorely disappointed that the SECC upheld their decision to dismiss Robert. Even though we presented them with a number of grounds why we felt their decision had not followed ACAS independent code of practice. We are consulting with Robert to decide on the best way forward.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
Grimsby Labour MP Melanie Onn has lent her support to a Grimsby train conductor sacked following an incident with an antisocial young person who was behaving dangerously on the side of his train. The MP said there was a “sense of injustice” over the dismissal. She joined RMT members picketing Cleethorpes Railway Station over the sacking of Glenn Watson, 36. The RMT member was dismissed following an incident where a youth attempted to “surf” a First Transpennine train he was working on at Grimsby railway station. The father of three young children was spat at during the incident. The youth clung on to a carriage door frame and stood on a small step board on the train. After the conductor shouted and gesticulated to the youth to move away, the departure procedure was restarted. However, the youth made a second attempt to surf and Mr Watson said he believed it to be safer to allow the youth to jump clear, rather than hit the emergency-stop button – an action which he believed would have thrown the youth off balance. Watson was fired after First Transpennine said he had breached safety procedures. RMT described the decision to sack the conductor outright as “unprecedented”. And MP Melanie Onn said: “I have had conversations with the chief executive of First Transpennine and I have heard not only from the RMT and the conductor but also lots of people from the community who have been in touch with me asking me to look into it and if possible, support Glenn.” She added: “I have taken into consideration what I know of the facts and I have reached the conclusion that the decision that First have taken is unnecessarily harsh.”
Firms guilty of deadly safety breaches too often escape with “just a slap on the wrist”, a union conference has heard. Hazards Campaign chair Hilda Palmer told the annual conference of the bakers’ union BFAWU in Southport that even firms guilty of deliberate acts of negligence that lead to deaths or serious injuries often receive small fines, adding that the Conservatives had made clear workplace safety was not a priority. She cited the example of Zaffar Engineering UK apprentice Cameron Minshull, who died just four weeks into his factory placement. The guards on the machine that killed him had been “deliberately disabled,” she said. A few days before Cameron’s death in January 2013, prime minister David Cameron had travelled across the country telling businesses that safety protection of young workers was “very, very bad news” (Risks 589). Hilda Palmer told the BFAWU conference: “Poor regulation of health and safety is a really dreadful thing and a race to the bottom. It needs to be stopped. Work doesn’t have to be like this. Work shouldn’t have to kill anybody. It is only like this because bosses want to screw employees for every penny.” BFAWU executive council member Willie Colqhoun said that unscrupulous managers often abandoned health and safety meetings “at the drop of a hat.” He called on delegates to get health and safety committees running properly, making sure management complied with 1977 regulations set out in the HSE’s “brown book”. He added: “A poor health and safety committee is pretty worthless,” noting had only come across three companies that fully complied in 20 years.
A 14-year-old boy has been charged with attempted murder after a teacher was stabbed at a Bradford school. Vincent Uzomah, 50, was attacked at Dixons Kings Academy on 11 June. The supply teacher, who it is reported had only been working at the school for four weeks, was stabbed in the stomach with a knife but is stable in hospital, police said. Responding to the “shocking and distressing event”, Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said: “It is important to remember that occurrences of violence such as this are extremely rare, but clearly, at the appropriate time, all of the circumstances of how this incident unfolded will need to be examined. However, the priority for now for the school is to support pupils and staff who have been caught up in this incident.” Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Thousands of dedicated teachers are working in schools and colleges with our children and young people every day, and they should never have to face verbal or physical violence. Thankfully today's events are extremely rare and schools are usually safe places for children and adults. When we learn more about the circumstances, it may be that there are lessons to be learned, but for now, the teacher and his family, the pupils, staff and their families need our support.” Leeds teacher Ann Maguire, 61, died after being stabbed by a 15-year-old pupil on 28 April last year (Risks 652).
A recycling company has been sentenced for serious criminal breaches after a worker was killed in an incident involving a six-tonne dumper truck. Ben Sewell, 30, was found lying on his back on a bank, a few metres behind the overturned dumper, on a sloping dirt track at Dittisham Recycling Centre in South Devon on 21 September 2012. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the firm after an investigation discovered that Mr Sewell, who was single, had not been properly trained by his employer to use the vehicle. The company had also failed to properly enforce the wearing of seat belts fitted to the dumpers used by Ben and other staff. Plymouth Crown Court heard that HSE’s investigation uncovered a catalogue of dangers at the Dittisham Recycling site and served a eight prohibition notices on the company preventing its use of various plant and machinery until adequate safety measures were taken. On the day of the fatal incident, a worker at the bottom of the site noticed smoke rising from a section of the dirt track and could just see the overturned dumper. He rushed to the scene and found Ben lying on his back at the side of the track some ten metres from the dumper truck. Paramedics later confirmed he had been fatally injured. Judge Dingemans ordered Dittisham Recycling Centre Ltd to pay a fine of £50,000 plus £25,000 towards prosecution costs, all payable over the next 5 years. The company had pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach at an earlier hearing. HSE inspector David Cory said: “Ben’s death was entirely preventable. The lack of competent training, poor monitoring and inadequate supervision of staff added up to a fatal combination.”
A builder has been jailed for six months after exposing workers to asbestos while working at a commercial unit on a Welsh industrial estate. Brian Roberts and three men working with him were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres while working in the unit on the Mochdre Business Park in Colwyn Bay around 11 September 2012. Llandudno Magistrates’ Court heard how Roberts was contracted to remove asbestos from the building prior to sale. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was alerted to the unlicensed work by a contractor who was licensed to remove asbestos. HSE’s investigation found that Roberts removed a significant quantity of asbestos insulating board (AIB) from the premises despite not holding a licence to work with such material. Brian Roberts pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was given a custodial sentence of 26 weeks. HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said: “By undertaking the uncontrolled removal of asbestos, work for which he was not licensed, Brian Roberts exposed himself and his co-workers to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres. The outcome of this exposure cannot easily be assessed but there remains the possibility of ill health in the future.” He added: “The workers could also have posed a health risk to others, including, for example, their families and loved ones, by taking home contaminated clothing. Those involved now have to live with the fear of becoming ill with this life-threatening lung disease.”
Total Lindsey Oil Refinery, one of Britain’s largest, has been fined after a worker suffered serious burns when he stepped into molten sulphur. Grimsby Magistrates heard that tanker driver Jack Vickers, 51, from Immingham, had just finished loading the dangerous substance into the vehicle and was attempting to detach the special loading lance from a loading arm when his foot went into the open lid and into the tanker. He managed to pull himself out but the 140 degree Celsius molten sulphur, but suffered serious burns to his right leg. Mr Vickers, a father of twin girls, was unable to work for three months and needed extensive skin grafts. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the refinery following the incident on 18 October 2013. HSE told the court that Total had no effective safe system of work in place in relation to the attaching and detaching of the loading lance. The risks of working on top of the tanker had not been adequately identified or assessed. HSE served an improvement notice on the company to make sure safety systems for loading were improved. Total then installed a new articulated loading arm on the unit loading area, meaning a loading lance no longer needs to be attached or detached during loading operations. Total Lindsey Oil Refinery was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £2,641 in costs after admitting a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Jayne Towey said: “Mr Vickers sustained extremely painful injuries, which still affect him now. Yet this incident could have been avoided if Total had identified the dangers associated with attaching and detaching the loading lance and then taken action to reduce those risks.” She added: “Loading molten sulphur is a common task within the refining industry. Total had two other loading units on site with a different system whereby a loading lance does not have to be attached to the loading arm.”
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been fined for failing to control legionella. The Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court after a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Sussex Police identified a history of failing to manage the deadly waterborne bug. It followed the death of cancer patient Joan Rayment, 78, at the Royal Sussex on 9 November 2011 – eight days after she tested positive for the legionella bacteria antigen. An inquest into Mrs Rayment’s death found that she died of natural causes and that by the time of her death, the legionella pneumonia appeared to have been successfully treated. However the inquest found that the infection may have hastened her death. The court heard that although the Trust was monitoring legionella and water temperatures across its various sites at the time of Mrs Rayment’s death, between October 2010 and November 2011 a total of 114 positive legionella tests and a further 651 records of water temperatures outside the required parameters were not adequately acted upon. Chloride Dioxide units were fitted at five sites to control the bacteria, but HSE inspectors found they routinely failed to emit the required dosage to work effectively. The intervention of HSE and Sussex Police in the aftermath of Mrs Rayment’s death resulted in a new management system to effectively control legionella. Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was fined £50,000 with costs of £38,705.60 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
A pet food manufacturer has been sentenced after exposing its employees to chlorine gas during cleaning of equipment at its plant in Nottinghamshire. Nottingham Magistrates’ Court heard employees of Sarval Limited were also exposed to hydrogen sulphide fumes at the same premises whilst clearing a blockage from another piece of equipment. The Health and Safety Executive told the court an employee of the firm, which produces animal feed ingredients from by-products, was overcome by hydrogen sulphide fumes produced by decomposing feathers as he cleared a blockage from a hydrolyser on 12 February 2012. Then, on 15 May 2015 another incident saw a release of chlorine gas from a scrubber during a routine cleaning operation when hydrochloric acid was added to a sump containing sodium hypochlorite. In both cases, the employees involved in the cleaning operation had not received the necessary training and instruction. Both incidents occurred at the company’s plant in Stoke Bardolph, Nottinghamshire. Sarval Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £40,000 with £19,550 costs. HSE inspector Samantha Farrar said: “Sarval Limited failed to give adequate consideration to the risk of exposure to toxic gases produced by its work activity. Training, instruction and emergency arrangements were all inadequate. As a result, employees were put at significant risk and it was only by good fortune that there was no loss of life.”
The global union IndustriALL has stepped up its campaign to improve safety standards in shipbreaking, the world's most dangerous job. It says the workers in this industry suffer precarious working conditions, lack training, and face serious hazards. IndustriALL says the industry “has a responsibility to provide, and workers have a right to expect, safe, healthy, clean and sustainable jobs.” In a posting on a new shipbreaking campaign webpage, IndustriALL “demands that all member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships now!”
The International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture, a grouping that includes UN agencies and the global food and farming union IUF, has launched a website to bring together information and news on the elimination of child labour in the sector. The website was launched on 12 June, to mark the World Day Against Child Labour. A new International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, ‘Paving the way to decent work for young people’, was also launched for World Day. It addresses the twin challenges of eliminating child labour and ensuring decent work for young people. The report confirms that many children and young people are working in hazardous conditions in agriculture.
Ÿ Paving the way to decent work for young people, ILO, June 2015.
Ÿ IUF alert.
The government of Manitoba in Canada is amending its Workers Compensation Act to recognise post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an occupational disease. “This legislation would be unique in Canada and would truly support workers who experience a traumatic event or events in the workplace that lead to PTSD,” said provincial premier Greg Selinger. “Under this new law, the Workers Compensation Board would presume their condition was caused by the job, making it much easier to access supports, treatment and compensation.” Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE), commented: “We represent a broad cross section of workers in different occupations and as such we have learned that psychological injuries can happen to absolutely anyone regardless of what they do for a living.” She added: “I believe we were the first organisation to bring this idea forward on behalf of our members and I’m very glad, at the end of the day, to be able to stand here with all the partners and recognise all workers, regardless of what uniform they wear or what job they do.” The amendments extend coverage and benefits to all workers eligible under WCB who are diagnosed with PTSD by a medical professional. This would ensure timely access to compensation and support services, with the long-term goal of reducing the stigma attached to mental illness. Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MfL), said: “PTSD is a real threat to working people. Any improvements in their access to support is welcome news.”
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been told urgent reforms promised after a devastating mine disaster are being quickly discounted. Addressing the ILO this month, Jeff Sissons, general counsel of New Zealand’s national union federation CTU, gave a “damning” account of events since the November 2010 Pike River Mine explosion when 29 men were killed. He said that while a Health and Safety Reform Bill introduced in the wake of reports from a safety Taskforce and a Royal Commission “was not perfect, we were hopeful that this signalled the start of a new era. Unfortunately, following intensive lobbying, it appears that the government plans to amend the Bill to significantly reduce workers’ rights to negotiate a health and safety system. System design becomes the responsibility of the business alone.” Criticising the changes to the Bill, he told the ILO meeting: “Workers and unions will have less involvement in the set-up of worker participation systems. Health and safety representatives will have their remit restricted to employer-determined groups of workers.” There are plans to exclude small businesses from its scope, he added. Commenting after the ILO presentation, CTU president Helen Kelly said: “It is distressing that we are having to tell the world that New Zealand is not doing all it can to keep our workers safe. New Zealand is now falling behind international standards on health and safety because the National government is indulging the desire of some of our most dangerous employers to exclude workers from proper employee participation in health and safety.”
Family members of two farm workers who died from suspected heat-related illnesses and a union have settled lawsuits against California on the condition that the state does more to ensure labourers are safe when temperatures rise. The lawsuits, filed in 2009 and 2012, accused the state of repeatedly failing to protect farm workers being denied basic access to water and shade while working in extreme heat in California fields. The state estimates that 14 farm workers died from heat-related illnesses in California between 2005 and 2013, although the United Farm Workers (UFW) union says the figure is closer to 30. Under terms of the settlement, the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has agreed to improve enforcement of newly improved safety regulations. The agency has agreed to step up inspections of outdoor work sites during heat waves, take more meaningful action against repeat violators and to allow the United Farm Workers to play a watchdog role in the process, according to the settlement. Union president Arturo Rodriguez said he was confident the settlement will improve worker safety. “We believe there will be more inspections and that action will take place more quickly, especially against repeat and wilful violators,” he said. In 2005, California adopted the nation's first rules requiring shade and water for the state's farm workers in the wake of 10 heat-related deaths — four of them farm workers — in a two-month period. Two months ago, the state beefed up those regulations, requiring employers to provide shade when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. Workers also must get 10-minute breaks every two hours when temperatures hit 95 degrees.
Ÿ Times Union.
A New Jersey man has been sentenced to three years in prison for using inmates from a halfway house to illegally remove asbestos from a former South Jersey hospital, causing the release of toxic dust and debris. Frank Rizzo, 57, who ran South Street Fillit Recycling, last year admitted using day labourers, including inmates from Clinton House in Trenton, to remove asbestos from the former Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital without a permit. State authorities said Rizzo and Michael Kouvaras, 62, directed their unlicensed workers to remove the asbestos, bury bags of it and dump other bags on a boiler room floor to make it appear as if vandals had removed the asbestos while stealing metal. The workers did not wear protective equipment, except for paper masks that are not authorised as safe for asbestos removal, and they removed their masks because they made it difficult to breathe, authorities said. Rizzo pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and Kouvaras pleaded guilty to violating the Asbestos Control and Licensing Act. Kouvaras was sentenced last year to about a year in county jail as a condition of probation. Both men were indicted in 2012. The investigation began in early 2011 after a tip-off that inmates were being used for illegally asbestos removal at the site.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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