|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 government’s Trade Union Bill will damage more than productivity and civil liberties, it could put our lives at risk at work, the TUC has warned. The union body said the Bill includes measures that could dramatically curtail the time available to union safety reps to perform their functions and get trained. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “In the case of health and safety representatives of course, there is a legal duty on the employer to give them as much paid time off as they need to undertake their activities... That is laid down in regulation. It is absolute. The regulations do not say that the employer can decide to restrict this time. If a representative needs it, they need it, and it will vary from week to week.” But the TUC safety expert warned: “The Trade Union Bill does two things. Firstly it says that any public sector employer who has at least one union health and safety representative, will have to record and publish all the time taken and any facilities provided. This is bureaucratic, pointless and will just mean that both employers and union representatives will have to spend a lot of time on paperwork. However, even more dangerous, is the proposal to allow ministers to restrict the rights to time off given to union health and safety representatives by amending the Health and Safety at Work Act. All they have to do is introduce new regulations. This is a really vindictive proposal, and of course an underhand one - sneaking in the right to make changes by Statutory Instrument into a much wider Bill.” He added: “At no time have the government given any justification for this proposal. As our report ‘The Union Effect’ shows, union health and safety representatives save hundreds of lives and prevent tens of thousands of injuries and illnesses. Workplaces with union representatives and a joint safety committee have half the serious injury rate of those without. Any reasonable employer welcomes the presence of health and safety representatives, including most in the public sector. That is why this move makes absolutely no sense from a regulatory point of view. It will not save money or remove bureaucracy, nor will it improve safety. It is simply an ideologically-led knee-jerk reaction.”
Ÿ The union effect, TUC.
If the government was really concerned about the harm to the economy caused by lost working days, it would be addressing the scourge of work-related ill-health not the by comparison tiny impact of strikes, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has said. Following the publication of the Trade Union Bill, STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “This Bill starts from the false premise that unions are bad and their activities need to be curtailed. This is contrary to the approach we are taking in Scotland where unions, employers and government are working together through the Fair Work Convention, to promote the very positive role unions play at the workplace, and across the economy and society in tackling low pay, job insecurity, inequality, underemployment and skills shortages to improve productivity and economic success and to reduce poverty.” He added: “The Bill also starts from the false premise that we have a strike problem. We do not. Last year there were only 151 strikes. Less than 2 per cent of workers participated in a strike. The days lost due to strikes were less than 3 per cent of the 28.2 million days lost due to work related accidents and ill-health. If the Tories really cared about dealing with workplace issues they wouldn’t be diluting health and safety laws as they are and attacking the role of workplace union reps who play a vital role in ensuring that workers are not killed or injured at work.” The STUC leader concluded: “We know this Bill has nothing to do with democracy or participation. It is about shifting the balance in industrial relations even more in favour of employers and will result in more insecurity at work, higher levels of inequality, and more workplace deaths and injuries. It will not be good for workers and it will not be good for employers or the economy.” This week the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned against reducing employment rights in the name of economic development. ILO noted: “Employment regulation can provide protection to workers without harming job creation.” Business researchers in the UK have warned that the government attacks on union facilities time could in fact reduce productivity. Research at London’s Cass Business School and Warwick Business School suggested the plans could be “detrimental to the government’s aspirations” to improve productivity, the Morning Star reported.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Construction union UCATT is calling on Lord Justice Pitchford to clarify whether his public inquiry into undercover policing (Risks 704) will cover the established police role in blacklisting. The union call came after Home Secretary Theresa May said that the inquiry would “examine the motivation for, and the scope of, undercover police operations in practice and their effect upon individuals in particular and the public in general.” She also stated the scope of the inquiry will cover “the extent and effect undercover police operations have targeted political and social justice campaigners.” UCATT said however it was concerned that there was no explicit reference to the role played by undercover police officers in the blacklisting of construction workers. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: “Blacklisted workers deserve clarity; is the Pitchford Inquiry going to investigate the police’s role in blacklisting or not.” He added: “Every time UCATT has sought information about how the police infiltrated UCATT and their role in blacklisting, the police have blocked our requests. This type of inquiry is the only way to force the truth into the open. Victims of blacklisting deserve the truth and it is essential that Pitchford provides that opportunity.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
There has been a dramatic rise in attacks on prison staff, with the prison officers’ union POA saying this is the result of ‘savage’ government cuts to the service. The union was speaking out after the annual report of chief prisons inspector, Nick Hardwick, revealed assaults on staff had risen sharply, with 3,637 assaults on prison staff in 2014, an increase of 28 per cent on 2010. There had also been a substantial increase in prison violence in England and Wales, the report noted. According to data from the National Offenders Management Service (NOMS) there were more than 15,000 assaults in men’s prisons in England and Wales last year – the highest annual figure in the last decade. Nick Hardwick’s report bore out the union concerns, noting staff shortages, overcrowding and wider policy changes have had ‘a significant impact on prison safety’. Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the POA, said: “Cuts have consequences and the consequences of those cuts are affecting prisons and staff across the service. There has been a massive rise in all types of incidents which can quite clearly be linked to the savage cuts set against a record prison population of more than 86,000 offenders that the service has had to endure.” Richard Cartwright of law firm Thompsons, which acts for POA in prison staff injury cases, said: “In the last twelve months we have helped two prison officers who have been violently attacked at work. The effects are both physical and psychological, and can often lead to experienced officers being forced to prematurely end their careers.” He added: “The report confirms everything that we have been seeing and, with the POA, saying - prison officers are increasingly vulnerable at work. If the government fails to accept these independent findings and act on them prison officers will continue to suffer serious injury at work which could have been avoided.”
The jailing of an employer this month for the criminal negligence that led to the death of 16-year-old engineering apprentice Cameron Minshull (Risks 711) highlights the need for greater protection of young people at work, the TUC has said. Matthew Creagh, of TUC’s Unionlearn research and strategy team, indicated the employer, the training provider who placed Cameron with the firm and the government had all failed the teenager. Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he noted: “This cost cutting and exploitative approach, adopted by both employer and provider, resulted in the tragic and needless death of a young man who was hoping to pursue a career in engineering. It has devastated his family.” He said it was “not an isolated case”, adding: “However, neither the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nor the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) keeps records of how many apprentices are injured at work.” Official figures obtained by Hilda Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), the campaign group that supported Cameron’s family throughout the case, indicate that over the last decade, an average of five under-19s have been killed every year and 5,000 injured. TUC’s Matthew Creagh said the government’s plans for 3 million more apprenticeship starts over the next five years could “prioritise quantity over quality”, adding: “This surge in apprenticeship starts will take place at a time when health and safety standards have been significantly scaled back over the last five years… The last government also removed the requirement for employers to show they had a proper health and safety policy in place before apprentices were placed.” The TUC is calling for wide-ranging action, including “a comprehensive health and safety risk assessment” of employers and providers before any SFA cash is handed over. It also wants health and safety incidents affecting apprentices to be reported to the SFA and made publicly available. The reports would then allow SFA and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate incidents “and promptly remove funding and cease to work with a particular employer/provider where necessary.”
The owners of a wood mill where four people are feared dead from a blast had been warned twice of a risk of an explosion at the site. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served improvement notices on Wood Treatment Limited in March and July 2013 after finding it had not reduced the risk of fire or explosion from liquid petroleum gas stored at the plant in Bosley, Cheshire. The first notice told the company “you have failed to ensure that the risk from fire or explosion involving LPG stored in your two bulk tanks at the side of the Station Shed North at your premises at Tunstall Road is either eliminated or reduced.” The company later complied with the notice, but within four months another HSE notice highlighted the same problem. A series of explosions ripped apart the wood flour mill just after 9am on 17 July, as an inferno reduced the four-storey building to rubble. The four workers feared dead are William Barks, 51, Dorothy Bailey, 62, Jason Shingler, 38, and Derek Moore, 62. A further worker was seriously injured and was one of a number requiring hospital treatment. On 21 July, Cheshire police announced that a second body had been recovered. An estimated 50 workers are thought to have lost their jobs as a result of the blast. The site was also struck by two fires, in 2010 and 2012. Wood Treatment, which makes wood flour for use in laminate and linoleum flooring, is part of The Boden Group of Companies. A joint investigation is under way between police, fire and the Health and Safety Executive to establish the cause of the incident. The tragedy came four days after two workers died in a blast that destroyed a Norwich manufacturing firm (Risks 711).
Ÿ The Mirror.
Ÿ The Guardian.
The government’s flagship ‘fit note’ scheme for getting people back to work has failed to deliver five years on from implementation, manufacturers’ organisation EEF has said. The industry lobby group was commenting on the findings of an EEF survey of 345 companies conducted in conjunction with Jelf Employee Benefits. According to EEF, 43 per cent of companies say the ‘fit note’ is not helping employees return to work, up from 35 per cent in 2010. This compares with 22 per cent saying that it has resulted in earlier returns to work, down from 24 per cent in 2010. According to EEF, “only around 5,000 GPs have been trained in health and work out of 40,584, while only a small sum has been spent on GP training compared to the £170 million the government is investing in the new ‘Fit for Work’ service over five years.” EEF is now urging the government to set a fixed date by which all GPs and medical professionals will be trained in the use of the fit note. EEF head of health and safety, Terry Woolmer, said: “We have supported the ‘fit note’ since day one and wanted it to succeed. However, the evidence is now clear - five years on that it’s not delivering on helping people back to work earlier. In fact, the evidence suggests that the quality of advice being given by GPs to help people back to work is deteriorating.” He added: “It can still be made to work but government now needs to put its shoulder to the wheel with greater resources. The first step must be to ensure that all GPs and hospital doctors are trained in health and work issues so they feel confident in giving proper advice. Without this as a basis there is little prospect of the ‘fit note’ ever delivering genuine improvement in return to work performance and absence reduction.”
A lawyer representing former pilots who believe they have suffered serious harm through prolonged exposure to toxins circulating inside aircraft has said the industry must start to take the issue seriously. Harminder Bains of law firm Leigh Day was highlighting the risks of ‘Aerotoxic Syndrome’ after a preliminary inquest heard Unite member Matthew Bass, 35, who had a 15-year career as an air steward with EasyJet and British Airways, may have died from exposure to toxic cabin air (Risks 699). Postponing the inquest for six months, Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford said: “I need independent evidence to rule out a more straightforward cause of death before bringing into question toxic air syndrome.” The lawyer for British Airways, David Platt, had told the inquest there is “no evidence that Aerotoxic Syndrome even exists,” adding: “No health agencies and no governments are accepting this exists. It must be seen as a highly controversial assumption to make.” Harminder Bains commented: “We are becoming increasingly concerned by not only the number of people affected by this syndrome, but also by the unwillingness by the industry to perform sufficient research into the potential effects of these toxins within aircraft. We would urge the industry to explore not only the dangers of flight, but also the dangers from within the cabin.”
A report by the UK Task Force on Shale Gas has called for greater safety and transparency measures to be implemented before widespread fracking occurs across the country. The task force, which is led by former Environment Agency head Lord Smith and which is funded by the shale gas industry, has called for 'full disclosure' of all chemicals to be used by the industry, as well as independent monitoring of the fracking process. Much public concern has focused on environmental risks, however fracking in the US has been linked to high exposures to potentially deadly silica in fracking workers, and a number of deaths have been attributed by regulators to occupational exposure to chemicals during fracking operations (Risks 663). Other studies have identified elevated exposures to cancer-causing chemicals in the vicinity of fracking sites (Risks 680). Lord Smith said: “We believe it should be independently monitored and inspected. The status quo has no requirement of independent monitoring, it is effectively left up to the companies themselves to report. For public confidence, it is important that it is independent.” The task force said it believed that the risk level associated with the public health hazards from fracking are “acceptable provided that the well is properly drilled, protected, monitored and regulated.” Andy Rowell, writing on the Oil Change International website, which promotes the ‘transition towards clean energy’, noted: “So arguing that fracking is fine as long as it is well regulated, is like saying that the Titantic is safe as long as the deck chairs are all in nice regulated rows. No wonder the industry was pleased with the report.”
Ÿ Assessing the impact of shale gas on the local environment and health, UK Task Force on Shale Gas, July 2015.
A Yorkshire roofing firm and its director have been prosecuted after a worker fell to his death though a fragile rooflight. Barry Tyson, a 52-year-old self-employed bricklayer, suffered fatal head injuries as a result of the fall when he was working to refurbish the flat roof of Aspin Park School in Knaresborough. Watershed (Roofing) Ltd, a framework contractor for North Yorkshire County Council, and one of its directors, Steven John Derham from Bradford, had engaged Mr Tyson to carry out brickwork on the roof, as part of a scheme to add insulation and re-felt it. Mr Tyson had been kneeling on the roof when the incident happened on 16 August 2011. When he stood up he fell backwards through a rooflight and into the boys’ toilet two metres below. He was taken to hospital by air ambulance but died later from his injuries. Bradford Crown Court heard that a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Watershed had prepared a construction phase plan which stated that before work was carried out, the plastic domes of all rooflights needed to be removed and the apertures boarded over to prevent falls, but when roofers accessed the roof it was found that the domes could not be easily removed. Watershed’s director Stephen Derham visited the site on the first day to check it had been set up correctly, and the difficulties with removing the rooflights were discussed with the workforce. It was decided that works could progress without any covering of the rooflights. Watershed (Roofing) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £80,000 plus £39,381.32 costs. Steven John Derham, 47, pleaded guilty in his role as director to a criminal breach and was fined £7,000. HSE inspector Martin Hutton said: “This case should also act as a reminder to company directors and senior managers of their responsibilities to workers, and that HSE will prosecute those who fail in their duty of care. Mr Tyson was a loving father, grandfather and husband and will be sadly missed by his family.”
A Kent businessman has been sentenced to a home curfew and a suspended jail term after a worker lost his right forearm when it got caught and mangled in an unguarded tyre-shredding machine. Mark Anton Arabaje, sole director of now-dissolved company Cartwright Projects Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it found he had removed a protective guard from the dangerous machine only a couple of weeks earlier. Canterbury Crown Court heard that father-of-four Nathan Johnson, 25, was working at the firm’s premise in Ashford on 27 November 2013 when the incident happened. He had been putting tyres by hand into the shredder when the machine failed to grip one properly on its metal teeth. Mr Johnson grabbed the remaining half and fed it in. At that point, his right jacket sleeve got entangled on the metal teeth and his fingers and then forearm were dragged into the running shredder. As Mr Johnson screamed for help, Mark Arabaje came and managed to switch the machine off and free him. Nathan lost the forearm up to his elbow and needed extensive hospital treatment, including skin grafts from his left leg to replace the remains of his arm and a bolt in his elbow to ensure it remained intact. He has not been able to work since. The court was told Mr Johnson’s injuries could have been even worse if he had been working on his own that day, which regularly happened in the company, as there were no emergency stop switches within his reach. HSE’s investigation identified that Mark Arabaje had removed the metal bucket guard of the shredding machine earlier the same month, allowing easy access to the metal teeth. HSE told the court it would have also prosecuted the company had it still existed. Mark Arabaje pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a criminal safety breach. He was sentenced to a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. He must observe a home curfew between the hours of 8pm and 6am and wear an electronic tag. The judge imposed a £5,000 compensation order that Arabaje must pay Mr Johnson.
A logistics firm has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a worker suffered life-changing injuries in a fall from a roof – and then had his wages stopped when he started a compensation claim. Andrew Bannister, who had worked for PK & IF Cobley Limited for 15 years, was worried about being sent up onto a fragile roof to repair cracks in it, but he was still instructed to do the work. Leicester Crown Court heard Mr Bannister was sent to repair the roof at Misterton Farm, Great Poultney, Leicestershire, without any means to prevent a fall from the roof edge or through the roof. On 31 August 2012, Mr Bannister, who was 48 at the time, fell approximately 10 metres through the roof, landed on a concrete floor and suffered life-changing injuries, including a broken neck, back and three broken ribs. The court was told that when Mr Bannister instructed solicitors to make a claim four months after the incident, his bosses effectively dismissed him by stopping his wages – leaving him unable to pay rent for the company-owned accommodation where he was living. PK & IF Cobley Limited was found guilty of a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and fined £75,000 plus £29,351.88 in costs. Sentencing, Judge Simon Hammond said: “It was a totally inadequate system to deal with what was a very dangerous job. It's a miracle he wasn't killed. Although he's now physically fit enough to work there's likely to be a legacy of psychological damage.” The judge added: “There are very sound reasons for health and safety, to protect staff from accidents and it's not good enough to say a bloke is experienced and knows what to do; it's abdication of an employer's responsibility. The gravity of the offence is the company failed to ensure work at height was properly planned or appropriately supervised.”
A brick manufacturer has been fined after one of its employees was seriously injured by a newly installed unguarded machine. The incident, on 27 February 2014, occurred at Northcot Brick Limited’s site in Blockley, Gloucester. Stroud Magistrates’ Court heard that a 45-year-old worker sustained serious injuries to his right leg, with the partial loss of two toes, after either stepping onto or falling onto a recently-installed machine that breaks up clay. A risk assessment had identified that the machinery required guarding or barriers, but these were not in place. Northcot Brick Limited was fined £18,500, plus costs of £7,500, after pleading guilty to a criminal health and safety offence. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ann Linden said: “This incident would not have happened if simple precautions such as putting up a barrier or guard had been in place. Safeguards cannot be relaxed because a machine is being commissioned or tested.”
Coal miners in Queensland, Australia, wore safety stickers on their work gear on a 16 July Day of Action - despite the stickers being banned by many employers. Stephen Smyth, district president of the mining union CFMEU, said the union was ramping up its safety campaign following the deaths of three mineworkers this year in the state. He said safety standards were dropping in the industry. But he said mining giant BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) responded in a letter by demanding “posters and stickers should not be placed on BMA property” which includes workers’ hard hats. “We’re very disappointed that bosses at BMA, Vale, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Glencore, Stanwell and CS Energy have refused to support the campaign and have banned workers from wearing stickers promoting safety in the workplace,” the union leader said. “Some workers have been threatened with disciplinary action over stickers on their hard hats which have messages in support of worker safety, such as ‘I will stand up, speak out, come home’.” The BMA letter said campaign messages could only be placed on “noticeboards provided for the use of employees”, however Mr Smyth said these billboards had been removed. “This is a very serious issue but it’s laughable that their suggestion is to place safety information on noticeboards which don’t exist.” He added: “We have had a spate of fatalities in Queensland coal mines in the past year. The Stand Up, Speak Out, Come Home campaign is run to encourage mineworkers to make safety their top priority… Employees that put safety first should be rewarded, not threatened with being sent home.”
A Milan court has convicted 11 former Pirelli managers of culpable homicide over the deaths of some 20 workers from asbestos related cancers. The workers were employed at the company’s Milan plants in the 1970s and 1980s. The court gave the managers, which included two ex-CEOs, jail terms of up to seven years and eight months. All eleven were Pirelli board members between 1979 and 1989 when, prosecutors said, workers were exposed to asbestos. Lawyers for Pirelli have said they will appeal against the convictions. They said they were confident in how managers responded “on the basis of scientific evidence available to date.” Several relatives of victims who were in the court cheered on hearing the verdicts and two victims’ associations admitted as ‘civil plaintiffs’ in the trial displayed banners. “We showed that when you are united, you can win,” they said. “This time the bosses have been convicted.” Most families have already settled compensation claims out of court, although the court awarded more than €500,000 (£351,000) in damages to one family and other injured parties.
Ÿ ABC News.
Mining unions in Myanmar have resolved to set up health and safety committees at every mining operation in the country. The move followed a safety workshop on 10 to 12 July in the city of Monywa, Sagaing. Thirty trade unionists took part in the country’s first ever workshop on occupational health and safety (OHS) in mining, a collaborative initiative between the global mining union federation IndustriALL, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) and IndustriALL affiliate, the Mining Workers Federation of Myanmar (MWFM). The trade unionists also agreed to undertake capacity building and training to ensure effective functioning of the occupational health and safety committees, which will play a key role in communicating health and safety advice at the mine sites. “Myanmar is undergoing economic and political reform. Occupational health and safety is an important issue. We need to create a safe environment to work in,” said Maung Maung, president of CTUM. Regular health check-ups, provision of personal protective equipment for all mine workers and other preventive measures were among other union proposals.
Thai authorities should drop charges against a prominent migrant worker rights activist, union and human rights organisations have said. Human Rights Watch said the charges violate the free expression rights of the activist, British researcher Andy Hall, and undermine his efforts to challenge labour rights and safety abuses by companies in Thailand. He faces charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act brought by the Natural Fruit Company and government prosecutors, and could face several years in jail if convicted (Risks 671). “This prosecution is all about gagging Andy Hall to deter serious reporting about alleged abuses against migrant workers, and about intimidating others who might look closely at Thailand’s corporate supply chains,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The government should recognise that freedom to investigate corporate abuses is critical to ensuring compliance and accountability under Thai law and international human rights standards.” Head of the TUC international department Owen Tudor, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, noted “the TUC, Australian Council of Trade Unions and several global union bodies joined with development NGOs and human rights’ organisations to demand Thailand end harassment of researchers and human rights defenders,” adding: “The TUC will be following Andy’s case closely, and taking the campaign up with MPs and MEPs, and through the Ethical Trading Initiative’s members sourcing fruit from Thailand.” He noted that while no ETI members buy from Natural Fruit Company, they could still influence employers in the same sector.
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
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).