|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.|
Insecure employment is creating an army of ‘disposable workers’ too scared to take sick leave and who are fired when they can no longer perform, according to the TUC. The union body was commenting after Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research found that “temporary and permanent employees have comparable rates for both injuries and ill health”, but also discovered “temporary employees have around half the average working days lost per employee of permanent employees.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the findings exposed an ‘absolute disgrace’, with the reason temporary workers are half as likely to take sick leave down to two damning realities. “Firstly, these are scared to take time off work even when they are ill or injured. Secondly, employers do not renew their temporary contracts, or even just fire them, when they take time off,” he said. “This more than anything sums up what the current deregulated workplace means, especially as many of these workers are low paid, on zero-hours contracts (Risks 652) or otherwise vulnerable.” The union health and safety specialist concluded: “It is an absolute disgrace that employers are able to injure workers and then just get rid of them. We really do need to tackle this new ‘disposable worker’ economy and get these workers in unions and covered by proper employment rights.” In 2013, the US safety regular OSHA announced an enforcement crackdown on the dangerous exploitation of temporary workers (Risks 603). A year earlier, the state of Massachusetts implemented a groundbreaking law intended to protect temporary workers from safety and other abuses (Risks 569).
The prime minister’s plans to renegotiate the nation’s relationship with the EU includes a major attack on workers’ rights, the TUC has warned. The union body’s concerns now appear to have been borne out in press reports suggesting the working time and temporary agency workers directives are both in David Cameron’s sights. Reports suggest a call for an opt-out on these and possibility other directives could be on the government agenda. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Yet again, Cameron is seeking to load the dice against British workers, this time attacking their rights derived from the EU. British workers won’t vote to stay in an EU for big business that is stripped of workers’ rights. Attacking paid holidays and equal rights for agency workers will serve only to fuel ill feeling against free movement, as employers find it easier to hire migrant workers on worse pay and conditions.” The UK government has been at the forefront of a protracted attack on health and safety rights in Europe. In November 2013, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson warned: “Unfortunately they are now exporting their anti-worker position into Europe and it is spreading like a bad outbreak of gastric flu” (Risks 634). He said this had led to progress on Europe’s health and safety strategy being stalled. Action on stress, occupational cancers (Risks 669) and strain injuries are among the measures that have been shelved (Risks 684).
Ÿ The Guardian,
Ÿ Daily Mail.
DuPont, a US multinational promoting its own workplace ‘behavioural safety’ programme worldwide, has received a series of citations for the serious, wilful and repeat violations that exposed its ‘failed safety programme’. The enforcement action in the US prompted UK union body TUC to issue a renewed warning about behavioural safety approaches. Chemical giant DuPont was cited for deadly safety failures and put into a Severe Violator Enforcement Program. DuPont claims its trademarked behavioural safety system Safety Training Observation Programme (STOP) will “prevent injuries by increasing safety awareness and helping people talk with each other about safety.” It also claims that 96 per cent of injuries are caused by unsafe acts and only 4 per cent by unsafe conditions. This is a claim long disputed by US unions, with one report from the steelworkers’ union USW a decade ago titled ‘Not walking the talk: DuPont's untold safety failures’. Following four deaths last year at a DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas (Risks 709), US government safety regulator OSHA cited the firm for three wilful, one repeat and four serious violations. OSHA head David Michaels, announcing that DuPont had been put in its close scrutiny severe violators programme, commented: “DuPont promotes itself as having a 'world-class safety' culture and even markets its safety expertise to other employers, but these four preventable workplace deaths and the very serious hazards we uncovered at this facility are evidence of a failed safety programme.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: “So much for a company that has the brass-neck to tell other companies how to develop a safety culture.” He added: “Of course in the UK, behavioural safety has less of a hold, but it is growing, especially as US companies expand into the British market. It has certainly been seen in action in the North Sea, where the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been forced to insist that some operators change their processes based on behavioural safety and instead adopt a proper risk assessment approach.” HSE estimates that 70 per cent of deaths and injuries are down to management failings. DuPont has a dedicated UK website selling its STOP behavioural safety and other training programmes.
Almost 1,500 member of the civil service union PCS are set to strike for two days over ‘increasingly oppressive working conditions’ in offices working on the government’s universal credit scheme. The union says the government's flagship social security scheme has been dogged by delays and allegations of money squandered on IT. It adds: “We have consistently raised complaints about a lack of resources, an oppressive management culture, inadequate training, hard to reach targets and staff shortages. But instead of addressing these concerns, the Department for Work and Pensions has imposed new harsher conditions, including a massive scaling back of flexible working.” The strike scheduled for Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 July will be at the two original service centres in Bolton and Glasgow, where more than half of all universal credit staff are employed. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka described the DWP's introduction of universal credit as “disastrous” and “a textbook example of how not to reform essential public services.” He added: “These harsher working conditions must be withdrawn. They simply heap more pressure on staff who have battled against poor IT, inadequate training and a lack of resources.”
Ÿ The Mirror.
Proposals to allow larger stores in England and Wales to open for more hours on Sundays have been condemned by unions who say the move will be bad for retail workers. Unveiling the plans in last week’s budget, Chancellor George Osborne said powers over trading hours will be devolved to major towns and cities. John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said: “Devolving powers to vary shop opening times to local authorities and elected mayors is deregulation by the back door.” He added: “Extended Sunday trading is not good for business, because it spreads the same customer spend over a longer period. It isn’t good for staff, who frequently tell us that Sunday is often the only day they get to spend quality time with their family. So we will be participating in the consultation and opposing the proposal.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Turning Sunday into another Saturday for major retailers would take precious family time away from shopworkers. There is no pressure for this from shoppers and it may push some smaller retailers out of business.” She added: “It’s a sign of desperation that the Chancellor is trying to strengthen growth through shopping instead of manufacturing.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
UK pilots are asking airlines to advise passengers to carry laptops, phones, tablets, e-books and cameras with lithium batteries in the aircraft cabin to cut the risk of fires in the luggage hold. Pilots’ union BALPA is warning that lithium batteries in everyday items are highly flammable and, when they short circuit, have a tendency to burst into high intensity fires, which are difficult to extinguish. The union is encouraging airlines and regulators to look at what steps they could take to ensure devices powered by lithium batteries are only carried in the aircraft cabin, where a build-up of gases or a fire can be tackled more easily than in the hold. Passengers should also be provided with advice on how to pack spare batteries safely in their hand baggage, it says. BALPA says lithium battery fires have caused at least three cargo aircraft crashes and the UN safety regulator has banned a specific type of lithium battery - lithium metal - from being carried as cargo on passenger aircraft. BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “Lithium batteries power the technology that enables passengers, pilots and cabin crew to travel light and stay connected but they carry an aircraft fire risk that we must all protect against. UK pilots are always vigilant to emerging risks because we want to stop accidents before they happen and make every single flight a safe one.” He added: “Small changes to current good safety practices will help keep us all safe while enabling passengers and pilots to carry the phones, laptops, tablets and e-books they depend upon for work and pleasure. We want to work with airlines and passengers to keep everyday lithium batteries on the aircraft but out of the luggage hold.”
Three UNISON members working in a care home have received compensation totalling £60,000 after being subjected to a violent attack by a service user. The union said the South London night workers, whose names have not been released, suffered both physical and psychological injuries as result of the March 2014 attack. They were forced to lock themselves in the staff toilets at the unnamed workplace to avoid further injury. There had been several previous incidents involving the same service user, the union said. Despite this the employer had not carried out an adequate risk assessment. Solicitors brought in by the union negotiated compensation settlements totalling £60,000 for the injured workers. UNISON head of health and safety Tracey Harding commented: “Although the branch were pleased that UNISON was able to support these members, this incident underlines the importance of robust risk assessment.”
A businessman has been jailed for eight months following the death of a teenager who became trapped in a factory lathe while on a government-funded apprenticeship. Cameron Minshull, 16, was dragged into the steel cutting machine after the oversized overalls he’d been issued became caught, causing “catastrophic and lethal” injuries to his head and face, Manchester Crown Court heard. The apprentice, who earned £3 an hour, was employed by Zaffar Hussain, 59, at Huntley Mount Engineering Limited. The Bury company admitted corporate manslaughter and was fined £150,000. The teenager, whose apprenticeship was funded by the government's Skills Training Agency, was placed at the firm by recruitment agency Lime People Training Solutions, which received a £4,500 government payment. The agency was fined £75,000 for putting Cameron in a dangerous work environment and ordered to pay £25,000 in court costs. The court heard there was no safety regime at the engineering company, with youngsters left untrained and unsupervised while safety guards had been removed from machinery. Cameron had only worked at the firm for a month before he died from a serious head injury on 8 January 2013. His mother, Joanne Hill, said: “He should never have died for doing the right thing, for going to work to earn a living and to be trained to become an engineer. Cameron's death is a tragedy for us. But it wasn't a tragic accident, it was due to terrible negligence and appalling lack of health and safety.” She added: “We want the government to make sure no other young person is ever at risk of being killed or hurt on a government-approved apprenticeship, training or work experience.” Passing sentence, Judge David Stockdale QC, said: “These young men - inadequately trained, inexperienced, unqualified and virtually unsupervised - were effectively left to their own devices in a workshop containing fast running, unguarded machinery.” The court heard it was the practice at Hussain's firm for young apprentices to clean the lathes, used to cut and make steel components, with emery paper while the machinery was still running. This should not have been possible but safety guards had been disabled, a practice that was “dangerous in the extreme.” Zaffar Hussain admitted criminal safety neglect and was jailed for eight months and banned from being a company director for 10 years. His son, Akbar Hussain, 35, a supervisor at the firm, also admitted breaking health and safety laws and was given a four-month jail sentence, suspended for a year, 200 hours of community service and a £3,000 fine. Each was ordered to pay £15,000 in court costs.
Ÿ ITV News.
Ÿ The Mirror.
Two men killed in an explosion at a warehouse have been named by police. Daniel Timbers, 29, and Barry Joy, 56, were killed in the blast at an industrial unit in Norwich, just after 9am on 13 July. Both were employees at digger bucket manufacturer Harford Attachments, where the incident happened. Detectives from the Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team are investigating the incident along with the Health and Safety Executive and the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Durham said detailed forensic and scientific enquiries were underway. He added: “We have spoken with a number of witnesses who were working on the site at the time who reported hearing an explosion. The incident happened within a confined unit and, given the conditions we are working in, it is likely to take some time for the forensic work to be completed.” Details have now emerged of how workmates tried in vain to save the men after the fire broke out in the paint spraying room of the unit. About 50 people were working at the Spar Road unit on the Vulcan Road Industrial Estate when it happened. Many were reported to have emerged blackened with smoke, saying they attempted to reach the two victims but the flames were too severe.
Ÿ The Mirror.
Ÿ ITV News.
David Cameron is considering options for making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to fund their own sick pay or unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed. The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not official government policy. “We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment,” Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph. He appeared to be suggesting a move to the kind of unemployment insurance scheme seen in the US or products known as “fortune accounts”, which are used in Singapore. Asked about the idea of workers saving up for their sickness and unemployment benefits, Cameron’s official spokesperson confirmed he was prepared to consider such a model. “I think the PM shares the work and pensions secretary’s view that we should be doing more to encourage people to take personal responsibility for how they manage their affairs,” she said. “This isn’t government policy, it’s an idea that’s out there. It’s an idea that should be looked at. That’s where it’s at, at the moment.” The move is part of several aimed at shifting the benefits bill from government, including industrial injuries payments. Last week’s budget noted: “The government will also consider where employers and insurers should play a greater role in providing support for those who suffer from industrial injuries in the workplace. The government will report at the Spending Review.” The TUC said it feared this type of system could lead to workers finding it harder to claim no-fault compensation.
A specialist tree contractor has been fined after a skip loading dumper overturned, severely injuring a worker. Basildon Magistrates’ Court heard how the Oak View Tree Specialists Limited employee was working at the rear of a house in Benfleet, Essex on 26 September 2014 when the incident occurred. The 19-year-old, whose name has not been released, had received only a few minutes training on the use of the dumper truck. He had no driving licence and was not wearing a safety belt when the vehicle overturned. He was airlifted to hospital where he was found to have broken his back. He spent months in hospital and his injuries are described by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as ‘life-changing’. It is not known if he will ever be able to walk again. Oak View Tree Specialists Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £3,000 with costs of £1,500. HSE inspector Keith Waller, said: “This was entirely an avoidable incident. The defendant failed to take reasonably practicable measures because they allowed their employee to operate a dangerous item of plant machinery with only the very minimum of training.” He added: “It is not acceptable to put drivers into vehicles that they have not previously operated, or without the necessary training by a qualified and competent instructor.”
A Merseyside food company has been sentenced after a worker sustained injuries to his hand while working on a sugar dispensing machine at a factory in Berkshire. The employee, who does not wish to be named, suffered a broken and lacerated finger during the incident at English Provender Company Ltd’s site in Thatcham, Berkshire. Reading Magistrates’ Court heard that on the day of the incident the worker was using one of the sugar dispensers but found the sugar was clumping in the chute, so he inserted his left hand into the chute to assist the flow. As he did this the sugar flowed around his arm and onto scales below. When the scales reached a pre-set target weight of 25kg, the valve shut on his hand fracturing and lacerating his first finger. He needing two pins inserted into the injured finger and despite several physiotherapy sessions he can no longer straighten the finger. He has since moved to another company. English Provender Company Limited, which produces chutneys, curds, condiments and salad dressings, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences. It was fined £30,000 with costs of £1,178. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Leon Donovan said: “English Provender Company should have carried out a proper assessment of the risks involved in the operation and maintenance of their sugar dispensing machine. This would have identified the issues that led to this unfortunate accident which could have been avoided if the company had fitted a simple inexpensive fixed guard to prevent access to a dangerous automatic sliding sluice valve.”
A window cleaning firm and its sole director have been fined for criminal health and safety breaches after a worker was spotted cleaning windows while standing precariously on the third floor gutter of a nursing home. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Brian Stubbs and Company Limited and director Brian Stubbs at Stafford Magistrates’ Court after a window cleaner was observed standing on guttering on the outside of a balcony parapet wall of St Joseph’s Nursing Home in Stafford on 21 August 2014. There was no suitable edge protection or other appropriate safety measures in place. Mr Stubbs was fined £660 and ordered to pay £867 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the management regulations. Brian Stubbs and Company Limited was fined £660 and ordered to pay £846 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE Inspector Katherine Blunt commented: “Work being carried out in this manner was entirely avoidable. This could very easily have been a fatality. They didn’t have to do the work this way. As advertised on the company’s website, a ‘reach and wash’ system could have been used, which allows the cleaning of windows up to 65 feet.”
The owner of a Derbyshire car body repair company has been fined for failing to comply with two legally-binding Health and Safety Executive (HSE) improvement notices. Christopher Hutton, trading as Auto Bodyworks and Wheel Clinic of Hasland, was prosecuted at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court. After an HSE inspection on 30 April 2014, the safety regulator requested the company provide information on its compliance with its legal duties. When this information was not provided, Christopher Hutton was served with an HSE improvement notice relating to health surveillance for workers exposed to isocyanates, chemicals that can cause asthma. A second notice required a thorough examination and test of the spray booth to ensure that it continues to adequately control the exposure of employees to substances hazardous to health. The court was told the Christopher Hutton had been given a number of opportunities to comply with the improvement notices but had failed to do so. He was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,600 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Edward Walker commented: “Exposure to isocyanate containing paints is the main cause of occupational asthma in the UK. There are well established standards to protect the health of employees which Christopher Hutton had failed to achieve.”
The European Commission’s drive to simplify legislation for businesses has come under fire from trade unions for blocking EU laws that could save thousands of lives per year. Laurent Vogel, a senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), said that more than 100,000 workers were dying from work-related cancers each year, and blamed the European Commission for inaction. Vogel is citing official data coming from the EU health and safety agency, EU-OSHA. And he said their fatalities toll is probably an underestimate. “100,000 deaths could be perfectly avoided. And the reality is above this figure, because it does not include the cases of cancers caused by endocrine disruptors,” said Vogel, speaking at a EurActiv Institute workshop this month. The Commission’s push for ‘Better Regulation’ is effectively blocking attempts to protect workers who suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals in their daily jobs, he added. “We have been discussing the revision of the carcinogens directive for the last ten years,” he said, claiming that Better Regulation “has completely paralysed the process” (Risks 699). He denouncing a “cynical show” where business lobby groups request the Commission to conduct endless impact assessment studies before any new legislation can be considered. “The recent scandal on the endocrine disruptors policy is a clear example of that,” Vogel said (Risks 640). “It gives you the real meaning of the nice words ‘better regulation’. They are used to paralyse any regulatory initiative when industrial lobbies just ask you to do so.” He said there has been “a dramatic increase” in breast, prostate and other cancers linked with workplace exposure to endocrine disruptors. Vogel stressed that binding limit values on exposure to some chemicals “are not sufficient” to protect workers from exposure to hazardous substances. “For instance, if we take the existing binding limit values, even if they are fully respected, they are still causing cancers," he said.
Australian mining companies have been linked to hundreds of deaths and injuries in Africa, with the casualties frequently going unreported at home. Some of the Australian Securities Exchange-listed companies include state governments as shareholders. One company recorded 38 worker deaths over an eleven-year period. Australia has more publicly-traded mining companies with interests in Africa – more than 150 at the end of 2014 in 33 countries – than resource rivals including Canada and China. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, in collaboration with 13 African reporters, uncovered locally-filed lawsuits, violent protests and community petitions criticising Australian companies. In all, reporters counted more than 380 employees, subcontractors and community members in 13 countries who died in accidents or incidents linked to the companies since the beginning of 2004, including some who were shot to death. More were horribly disfigured or injured while working at Australian mines or during community protests against them. Tracey Davies, an attorney with the Centre for Environmental Rights in Cape Town, South Africa, says she has seen a pattern of poor behaviour by Australian mining companies, a sentiment echoed by employees, villagers, tribal leaders, members of parliament and activists across Africa. “There is a very strong perception that when Australian mining companies come here, they take every advantage of regulatory and compliance monitoring weaknesses, and of the huge disparity in power between themselves and affected communities, and aim to get away with things they wouldn't even think of trying in Australia.”
Attacks on aid workers declined last year but were still the second highest on record, latest figures show. There were 190 major attacks against aid operations in 2014, down from 264 in 2013, the report from the Humanitarian Outcomes (HO) research group concluded. In total, 328 aid workers in 27 countries were affected, with kidnap the most common type of attack. Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan were the most dangerous countries. The data forms part of a new interactive project launched by human rights news agency IRIN and HO, mapping all attacks across the globe for the first time. HO’s Abby Stoddard said there was more to the figures than immediately meets the eye. “The good news that aid worker attacks were down in 2014 should be taken cautiously,” she said. “We found that much of the reduction can be attributed to aid agencies reducing their field presence in the most insecure areas, as a reaction to the surge in violence in 2013. In the few extremely insecure humanitarian contexts the risk to aid workers is still very high, and as a result it is reducing people's access to international aid.” Larissa Fast, author of the book ‘Aid in Danger’, said many positive steps had been taken in recent years to improve the security of the roughly 450,000 aid workers across the globe. But she also warned that aid agencies were also getting more risk averse, often leaning on local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deliver goods. Julia Brooks, author of a recent study on aid worker attacks, noted an increasing trend for aid organisations to shift to “remote management,” where the majority of staff are outside the conflict zone and have to rely on local NGOs for frontline delivery of services.
A US union representative who was fired after raising serious concerns about railway safety has been awarded $1.25 million by a federal jury after a six-day trial. The former union and safety official proved he was targeted and fired on a pretext in 2011 after reporting dozens of safety violations to federal authorities. The unanimous verdict includes $250,000 in rare punitive damages against Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad for its efforts to discredit Michael Elliott after he raised the safety concerns and then fired him - twice. Those efforts, according to testimony and court documents, included evidence that a supervisor set up a physical confrontation with Elliott in a BNSF parking lot, and then had him arrested and charged with assault. Elliott spent two days in jail but was subsequently acquitted. The railroad used the incident to justify his dismissal. Evidence also showed that BNSF officials in Washington colluded to provide inaccurate information to a mediator about whether Elliott had properly reported a 2007 felony conviction for drunken driving and vehicle assault. Elliott insisted he had, and internal emails he produced at trial indicated BNSF supervisors knowingly provided the mediator with inaccurate information, according to Sara Amies, one of Elliott’s Seattle attorneys. Elliott was a 16-year veteran locomotive engineer for BNSF and elected chair of the rail union BLET. As such, his focus was on worker safety, according to court documents. Elliott reported several complaints about overgrown vegetation blocking the signal system along BNSF-owned tracks, along with several potentially catastrophic signal malfunctions. The signal system is designed to keep trains from colliding on tracks that are owned by BNSF and shared by passenger and cargo trains. He only took his concerns to federal regulators after BNSF failed to respond to the reports. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) then conducted a six-week inspection in which it found more than 375 violations, one of which resulted in a fine.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox