|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.
The TUC has reiterated its concerns over a new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) workplace health expert committee (WHEC), set up “to provide independent expert knowledge and advice on workplace health” (Risks 708). The union body said while the experts hand-picked by HSE were ‘first calibre’, the problem is that the new committee replaces a long-standing body called the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS) and its WATCH sub-committee. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson explained: “These also had ‘experts’ on them but in addition there were employer and worker representatives who know much more about what was happening in the workplace. As a result ACTS produced some excellent material and proposals.” He said not all these proposals were welcomed by HSE, which might have influenced the safety regulator’s thinking. “The result seems to be that the HSE have decided to try something different and they have wound up ACTS and WATCH.” The TUC safety specialist said an experts-only committee lacks the workplace level intelligence to inform their decisions, and its experts are “often reliant on the government, or bodies such as the HSE, for much of the funding for their work. Unions and employers on the other hand often identify issues years before the academics can show conclusively there is a health problem. Asbestos is a case in point but silica, wood dust and a wide range of other products have been identified as problem areas by unions long before academics had the evidence to ‘prove’ there was harm being caused.” He concluded: “We wish WHEC the best of luck and look forward to seeking what areas they will be covering. Hopefully they will find ways of enhancing their work by ensuring that the voice of workers is also listened to.” The first two issues ‘registered’ for WHEC’s consideration are diesel exhaust fumes (Risks 635) and silica (Risks 673), both common workplace exposures where HSE’s standards have been criticised as insufficiently protective and where unions were among the first to raise concerns.
Half-baked dress codes should not leave workers cooking as summer temperatures soar, the TUC has said. This week thermometers in some parts of the country topped the 30 degrees Celsius mark, prompting the union body to call on employers to temporarily relax workplace dress codes to help their staff work through the heatwave as comfortably as possible. While there is a legal limit below which workplace temperatures should not fall - 16 degrees Celsius - there is no upper limit. The TUC has for years been pushing for a change in safety regulations to introduce a new maximum temperature of 30 degrees Celsius – or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous work – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits a sweaty 24 degrees. According to the TUC, employers can help their staff by allowing them to leave their more formal office attire at home when the temperature spikes. It says the most simple way for staff to keep cool inside when it’s scorching outside is for them to be able to come to work in more casual clothing. TUC adds that workers who are unable to dress in cool summer clothing and who work where there is no air-conditioning, fans or cold drinking water will feel lethargic, and lack inspiration and creativity. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said this means leaving workers to wilt is bad for productivity, adding: “It’s no fun working in a baking office or factory and employers should do all they can to take the temperature down. Clearly vest tops and shorts are not suitable attire for all front line staff, but those not dealing with the public should be able to discard their tights, ties and suits.” She said when temperatures rise, employers should “relax the dress code rules temporarily and allow their staff to dress down. Making sure that everyone has access to fans, portable air conditioning units and cold drinking water should help reduce the heat in offices, factories, shops, hospitals, schools and other workplaces across the country.”
An RMT campaign to stop train companies dumping sewage on rail tracks has scored a major victory. A meeting between RMT reps and Scottish parliament transport minister Derek MacKay, ScotRail management and Transport Scotland officials ended in an agreement to bring forward the date for the elimination of the dumping of sewage by ScotRail trains. Although this programme of works to fit ‘controlled emission tanks’ to all the company’s trains does not meet RMT's target date of April 2016, it should see around 40 per cent of the fleet having these tanks fitted by this deadline with the rest fully fitted by December 2017. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The fact the programme for the elimination of the filthy, disgusting and dangerous practice of dumping sewage on our railways is further advanced in Scotland is 100 per cent down to the hard work and campaigning over several years by representatives, members and officials of RMT. Network Rail in Scotland are also in the process of arranging briefings to frontline maintenance staff and offering vaccinations to reduce the risk to staff from untreated human excrement which is another important development resulting from the RMT campaign.” The union leader added: “If real targets can be laid down for ending the scandal of sewage on our railways in Scotland then they can be achieved across the whole network. It's time for the train companies and the politicians to stop the excuses and get on with it.”
Ÿ STV News.
Ÿ Morning Star.
The Metropolitan Police it refusing to respond to questions about its use of undercover officers to infiltrate union meetings about safety and other issues. Construction union UCATT said the refusal to answer its Freedom of Information requests was “reprehensible” and “underlines the urgent need for a full public inquiry into blacklisting.” In March, the union revealed Mark Jenner, an undercover cop posing as a joiner, had monitored the activities of UCATT activists. This followed a series of reports about police collusion in the blacklisting of union members, frequently for their workplace safety activities (Risks 619). This included passing information to the illegal and now defunct construction-industry controlled covert blacklister The Consulting Association. UCATT, which had asked if Jenner was still a serving police officer, is particularly aggrieved that the Met is citing ‘health and safety’ and protection of ‘personal data’ among its reasons for not coming clean. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said the Met’s “continued refusal to answer questions about their role in the blacklisting of ordinary construction workers is reprehensible. Everyone who had their lives blighted by blacklisting deserves the complete truth. That will only be achieved through a full public inquiry into this disgusting practice. It is deeply cynical for the police to be using personal data as an excuse to withhold information, when they had no hesitation to distribute workers’ personal details to blacklisters and ruin their lives.” He added it was “imperative” the Pitchford inquiry commissioned by Home Secretary Teresa May to look at failures in undercover policing (Risks 704) “examines the police’s involvement in infiltrating unions and blacklisting workers but the scope of this inquiry will always be limited and this is why a full public inquiry must be conducted.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
The potentially deadly risk to postal workers posed by dog attacks has been highlighted in a week long campaign. This saw post workers’ union CWU and Royal Mail join forces for Dog Awareness Week, which concluded on 4 July 2015. The annual event aims to encourage responsible dog ownership. CWU says each day around eight postmen and women are attacked by dogs across the UK, with more attacks recording in the summer holidays. Dave Joyce, CWU national safety officer, said: “Carelessness by dog owners can cause postal workers serious problems if they don't think about controlling their animals when letters and parcels are being delivered. Over 15,000 postal workers have been attacked by dogs over the last five years for simply doing their jobs. Eight postmen and women are attacked every day, in fact - they are the largest group of dog attack victims in the UK.” He added: “It is so important for the safety of all postmen and women that dog owners ensure their animals are secure, particularly if opening the door to sign for a parcel or letter. Owners should put their dog in another room before opening the door. If it’s in the back garden, ensure it is contained and can't get round to the front of the house. Customers can fit a letterbox cage to protect their mail and postmen’s fingers or fit a secure outside mail box on the edge of their property to avoid any confrontations.” The union safety specialist concluded: “All these things help but owners should be aware that it’s now a criminal offence if their dog attacks the postman or woman on their private property.” He said 70 per cent of dog attacks on postal workers occur on the owner’s property.
The rail union RMT has said it is ‘on heightened alert’ across transport services ahead of the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London rail and bus system. General secretary Mick Cash said: “Once again the union will be raising with the employers the essential and safety-critical role that our members have to fulfil in terms of being the eyes and ears on our trains, the underground, buses and ferry services. They are also the pivotal factor in safe and efficient evacuation in the event of an alert being raised.” He added: “There is no substitute for trained, experienced and organised staff in adequate numbers whether that be guards on our trains, station staff on rail and Tube and the rest of the team who deliver the safety regime on our transport services. We now expect cuts to those staff numbers to be halted and reversed by London Underground and the train companies.” In a follow-up statement, RMT leader Mick Cash criticised the ‘dangerous complacency’ of the Tube’s top brass and London mayor Boris Johnson in pushing through staffing cuts. “RMT is reminding the travelling public that security goes hand in hand with having adequate numbers of safety-critical staff and it is frankly appalling that those same station and platform staff who were hailed as heroes on that horrific day are having their numbers slashed.” He continued: “It appears from their statements that London Underground’s senior managers, and the Mayor himself, make no connection at all between incident response times and staff numbers. That is a dangerously complacent position to adopt and flies in the face of the facts.” The bomb explosions on three Tube trains and a London bus on 7 July 2005 killed 52 people and injured hundreds more. At 11.30am on 7 July this year, Tube announcements will be halted and buses brought to a standstill during a minute’s silence to mark the 10th anniversary of the bombings.
A prison administrative worker has received a £125,000 payout after a slip at work left her with a broken leg and lasting mental health problems. The PCS member, identified only as Julie, was working in a Young Offenders Institution in Dorset when she slipped on spilt liquid in front of inmates when walking to her office. She fell heavily and fractured her leg and was rushed for immediate orthopaedic surgery. As a result of the injury, she was unable to walk and had to sleep downstairs in her home for seven months. After a second round of surgery to her leg, Julie is able to walk and move more freely. However, she has been left with a debilitating phobia of falling on wet surfaces, which has had a lasting impact on her life including her independence and ability to work. She said: “The experience of falling in a prison in front of inmates was humiliating and I felt really vulnerable. I am now afraid of leaving the house on wet days in case I fall again. I’ve had to leave my job because of my phobia of falling and am struggling to find a new job.” Phil Madelin, PCS legal officer, said: “Employers must ensure they have proper policies and, crucially, enough resources in place to avoid these kinds of accident, which in Julie's case had devastating consequences and means she is unlikely to work again.”
Chemical exposure standards “should be revisited” because low level exposures to a mix of substances which individually might be harmless can together present a cancer risk, a major study has concluded. The Halifax Project, a high-profile taskforce formed in 2013 by the international organisation Getting to Know Cancer, involved 174 scientists in 28 countries and investigated 85 chemicals that were not considered to be carcinogenic to humans. The paper notes: “Our current understanding of the biology of cancer suggests that the cumulative effects of (non-carcinogenic) chemicals acting on different pathways that are relevant to cancer, and on a variety of cancer-relevant systems, organs, tissues and cells could conspire to produce carcinogenic synergies that will be overlooked using current risk assessment methods. Cumulative risk assessment methods that are based on ‘common mechanisms of toxicity’ or common ‘modes of action’ may therefore be underestimating cancer-related risks.” It concludes “current regulations in many countries (that consider only the cumulative effects of exposures to individual carcinogens that act via a common sequence of key events and processes on a common target/tissue to produce cancer) should be revisited.” Lead researcher William Goodson III, from San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center, said his results show one-at-a-time testing is out of date and must be modernised. “Every day we are exposed to an environmental ‘chemical soup’, so we need testing that evaluates the effects of our ongoing exposure to these chemical mixtures,” he said.
Ÿ William H Goodson III and others.
Ÿ Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead, Carcinogenesis, volume 36, Supplement 1, pages S254-S296, 2015.
Ÿ The Guardian.
A newly merged breast cancer charity has been urged to acknowledge the environmental and occupational links to breast cancer and to back calls for prevention. An open letter signed by concerned organisations and scientists expresses the hope that the merger between Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the Breast Cancer Campaign will prompt “progressive changes to breast cancer prevention policies.” The signatories of the letter to Breast Cancer Now, the new organisation headed by Baroness Delyth Morgan and which describes itself as ‘the UK’s leading breast cancer research charity’, include From Pink to Prevention, Breast Cancer Consortium, Challenge Breast Cancer Scotland, the Hazards Campaign and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). The letter addressed to Baroness Morgan asks Breast Cancer Now to review its line on the incidence, risk and prevention of breast cancer, noting “we hope that future prevention policies will include the previously downgraded or overlooked roles of environmental and occupational risk factors in breast cancer”. The letter adds that the organisation should “use its public and political influence to shape a new vision for breast cancer policy”, recognising the environmental and occupational links to breast cancer and promoting action to prevent exposures. It expresses concern that the organisations forming the new charity have consistently opposed precautionary policies to limit these exposures, and have downplayed the risks of substances including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Sarah Woolley a shop steward and executive council member with the bakers’ union BFAWU urged trade unionists to back the campaign. Writing on the union’s website she said by “spreading the word and holding the government, manufacturers, companies and cancer research charities to account for their rather worrying lack of action and acknowledgement of EDCs, we can help stop breast cancer before it starts, rather than concentrating solely on treating it once we have it.”
The National Institute for Clinical Governance (NICE) has produced guidance on “workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees”. The guidelines, which unions and several employer groups had said at the outset were unnecessary as Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance was in place, were over two years in the making. The NICE document says reasons for poor workplace health are “widespread” and include long irregular hours, lack of control over work and discriminatory practices. To address this, NICE says its new guidance on workplace policy and management provides advice on how to develop the culture of an organisation to create a positive environment. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson says overall the guidelines lack the necessary detail to be useful. The section on ‘fairness and justice’ for example, says only that employers must “ensure any unfair treatment of employees is addressed as a matter of priority”; and “ensure line managers know how to direct employees to support if the employee feels that they are being treated unfairly”. The TUC head of safety notes: “The most helpful thing that the guidance does is to point people to the HSE stress management standards.” He also warns some of the content of the NICE guidance is troubling. “Although it encourages engagement with unions it also advises the use of ‘staff engagement forums’, which could undermine joint health and safety committees.”
A Glasgow construction firm has been sentenced for serious safety failings over five years after a worker was crushed to death when a 1.6 tonnes frame fell onto him. Daniel Hurley, 31, who was born in Ireland but was living in Glasgow, was employed as a groundworker by a company sub-contracted by principal contractor Morris & Spottiswood to work on a major development of flats and houses in Maryhill, Glasgow. Glasgow Sheriff Court heard that on 15 October 2009 Mr Hurley had been operating a ‘whacker’ machine to compact hardcore next to an area where the structural steelwork for a stair tower was being erected. But after the steel frame had been lowered into position and the lifting chains released, it began to tilt and fall towards Mr Hurley, pulling three anchor bolts clear out of the ground, while the fourth was snapped in half. One of the steel erectors shouted a warning and Mr Hurley began to run, but he was struck by the top beam of the frame across his shoulders and neck forcing him onto the ground and causing fatal crush injuries. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Police Scotland investigation found serious criminal failings in the way Morris & Spottiswood Ltd had managed the project. The court was told that the steel fabrication company sub-contracted to design the steelwork and a second company commissioned to erect it, were also both at fault but had since ceased trading. Morris & Spottiswood Ltd was fined £200,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Sheriff Norman Ritchie said he would support any complaint from Mr Hurley’s family after describing the time taken to prosecute as “entirely unacceptable.” Mr Hurley's partner, Carrie McArthur, 34, had written a letter to Sheriff Ritchie raising concerns about the length of time it took for the case to reach court. Speaking outside the court, she said: “We are devastated. I was just so frustrated with the delay.”
A Staffordshire animal rendering and food waste recycling company has been fined £660,000 after a worker suffered deadly burns when the industrial cooker he was repairing filled with steam. Self-employed contractor Mark Bullock, 50, was carrying out repairs inside the cooker at John Pointon & Sons Ltd when the incident happened on 5 November 2011. While he was inside, steam from elsewhere in the system fed into the area where he was working. He was badly scalded and died in hospital the following day from his injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mr Bullock was allowed to enter the cooker without the proper precautions being taken. The company had not properly considered the risks of entering the cooker, had failed to put in place a safe system of work, and did not competently manage the work as it was taking place. Stafford Crown Court heard that in 2004 another employee was killed at the same site when he entered a confined space without proper precautions being taken. John Pointon & Sons Ltd was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay £187,632 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “Steam and hot vapours getting into the cookers from other connected pieces of equipment is foreseeable, and precautions should have been taken to ensure all avenues which had the potential to allow steam to be fed back into the cooker had been suitably isolated. John Pointon and Sons Ltd failed to do this and it cost Mark Bullock his life.” Mr Bullock’s partner of 27 years, Christine Knowles said: “Mark’s friends put some money together and have had a tribute put up at the site – a tree and a stone with the inscription ‘How difficult can it be?’ He was a practical man and used to say that a lot. The company should have made sure that Mark was safe. Every company should do the same for their workers. Mark was a great man. He touched many people’s hearts and broke mine when he died.”
Injuries to workers in a dance studio and a theatre demonstrate how workplace risks can occur in what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) would dismiss as low risk workplaces and jobs. Hector Maclean, a 23-year-old fashion designer and model, fell into an empty lift shaft at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after leaning on a set of double doors at street level. The doors at RADA’s central London campus were secured with a lock and key, but opened inwards causing him to fall backwards into the lift shaft. He fell between five and six metres to the bottom of the lift shaft, breaking both legs. His injuries have prevented him from attending university and working as a fashion model. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that RADA had failed to carry out a basic risk assessment on the vacant lift shaft. In the resulting prosecution, RADA was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £1,266 in costs. Stafford Borough Council was fined for its criminal safety failings after an incident at a theatre in which a worker suffered a fractured bone in his back. Two Stafford Gatehouse Theatre employees were using a tallescope - a telescopic manually operated work platform - to undertake high level work to stage curtains and a projector. One of the workers, Mark Elkin, 33, was in 4.5 metres up in the caged working platform at the top of the tallescope as his colleague manoeuvred it around the stage to relocate it, when the apparatus overturned. Mr Elkin suffered a fracture to the right side of his sacrum (the bone at the base of the spine connected to the pelvis) and was unable to bear weight on his right leg for four weeks and couldn’t return to work for more than two months. HSE found a suitable risk assessment would have identified the manufacturer’s instructions on a warning label on the apparatus stating it should not be rolled with workers or materials on the platform. The council was fined £20,000 with full costs of £1,922.
Stress and strains are the most widespread risks encountered in Europe’s workplaces, according to an EU-wide survey. The research found the key factors motivating firms to abide by their occupational health and safety management duties where complying with laws, meeting expectations of workers and their representatives and avoiding fines. The Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2), which compiled responses from almost 50,000 workplaces in 36 countries, including all 28 EU member states, addressed questions “to the person in the organisation who knew most” about occupational health and safety. Respondents to the survey by the Bilbao-based agency EU-OSHA identified the major risk factors in their organisation and described how they manage them. They also reported on the reasons why they manage risks - and the main difficulties that deter them from assessing workplace risks at all. The most commonly reported risk factor identified was having to deal with difficult customers, patients, pupils and so on (58 per cent of establishments in the EU-28), which in part reflects the continued growth of the service sector. Factors leading to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as tiring or painful positions and repetitive hand or arm movements, were reported “very frequently” across all sectors. EU-OSHA’s director, Christa Sedlatschek, commented: “Psychosocial risks are perceived as more challenging than others. Almost one in five of the establishments that report having to deal with difficult customers or experiencing time pressure also indicate that they lack information or adequate tools to deal with the risk effectively.” Meeting legal obligations was the most frequently cited reason for managing occupational health and safety (85 per cent of establishments in the EU-28), with meeting the expectations of employees and their representatives (79 per cent) and avoiding fines from the labour inspectorate (78 per cent) also mentioned by a high proportion of respondents.
A chicken processing firm in the US enforced limb-crippling line speeds and didn’t like its workers leaving the line, even to go to the toilet. The Allen Harim Foods plant in Harbeson, Deleware, was cited by the Labor Department’s safety regulator OSHA “for exposing employees on the debone line to musculoskeletal disorder hazards. The agency determined that workers performed prolonged, repetitive and forceful tasks without controls in place to prevent injuries.” The citation also criticised the company on toilet breaks, noting: “Employees were not granted permission to use them and/or were not replaced at their lines, waiting up to 40 minutes to use lavatories.” Rey Hernandez of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, interviewed in the Pump Handle blog, said: “We are pleased to see OSHA taking a serious look at the results which repetitive motions on the poultry line can have on worker health.” He added: “It was particularly important for us to see them acknowledge that some workers in the poultry industry do not get adequate access to lavatories. We see this issue as indicative of the lack of respect and concern for the human dignity of workers, where production is valued over people.” OSHA cited Allen Harim Foods for nine violations. Proposed penalties total $38,000. “The combination of musculoskeletal disorder hazards, lack of proper medical treatment for musculoskeletal disorders and underreporting of injuries at this plant must be addressed by the company,” said Erin Patterson, director of OSHA's Wilmington office. “Workers should not have to work in pain, especially when these injuries are preventable.” OSHA’s inspection followed complaints filed by workers at the plant who are represented by the foodworkers’ union UFCW.
Global chemicals giant DuPont is contesting a five figure safety fine handed down after a chemical leak last year that killed four workers at its La Porte plant in Texas, USA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed $99,000 in penalties in May after documenting 11 violations in connection with the quadruple fatality in November 2014. DuPont, which had an estimated $35 billion in sales revenue last year, filed notice with OSHA in June stating it was contesting all of the OSHA citations “in their entirety.” Union leaders reacted angrily to the company’s denial of blame. “DuPont should drop their legal challenge and put their money where it needs to be - with these workers' families and ensuring safety in this plant,” Frank Cyphers, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Council, said in a statement. Brent Coon, an attorney who is suing DuPont on behalf of the family of one of the workers who died in the La Porte leak, said the company's decision to challenge the violations is “insulting.” He added: “It's a political issue. It's a public relations issue. And ultimately, it's a collateral damage issue.” OSHA's citations included one repeat violation, nine serious violations and one other than serious violation, records show. There is more at stake for DuPont than money. Matt Shudtz, executive director of the Center for Progressive Reform, said DuPont risks landing in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) because one of the citations issued in May was for a “repeat” violation. He said there can be “significant consequences” for ending up on the severe violator list, including increased monitoring and potential for company-wide settlement agreements. DuPont sells its own ‘STOP’ behavioural safety programme worldwide, dubbed by unions a ‘blame-the-worker’ system.
The power of industry to stall or stop lifesaving workplace rules in the US has been exposed in a Center for Public Integrity (CPI) investigation. CPI cites silica - which the federal safety regulator OSHA says threatens 2.2 million workers in the country - as a “striking example” of the government’s failure to properly regulate toxic substances in American workplaces. “The silica rule still isn’t finished. If it is enacted despite industry protests, it will be only the 37th health standard issued by the agency in its 44-year history,” CPI notes. It says this is an ignominious record given the human and economic costs of work-related disease in the United States. According to a widely cited University of California, Davis, study, an estimated 53,000 people died in the US in 2007 from on-the-job exposures - outnumbering those killed in suicides, motor vehicle accidents, falls or homicides. More than 400,000 others got sick as a result of their jobs. The price tag: an estimated $58 billion. Federal safety regulator OSHA puts the annual toll at more than 50,000 deaths and 190,000 illnesses. CPI’s 18-month investigation “found that the epidemic of occupational disease in America isn’t merely the product of neglect or misconduct by employers. It’s the predictable result of a bifurcated system of hazard regulation - one for the general public and another, far weaker, for workers. Risks of cancer and other illnesses considered acceptable at a workplace wouldn’t be tolerated outside of it.” OSHA doesn’t try to put a happy spin on its largely 44-year-old workplace chemical-exposure limits: The operative word, the agency says, is “antiquated” - simply complying “will not guarantee that workers will be safe.” In 2013 the agency launched a side-by-side comparison with other standards, some discretionary and some required only in California, to urge employers to voluntarily rely on more protective guidelines.
Ÿ Slow-motion tragedy for American workers, Center for Public Integrity report, 29 June 2015.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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