|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.
Action is needed to protect the health and welfare of Britain’s growing army of night workers, the TUC has said. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, a new report from the union body, shows that night working has grown since the recession, and there are now over three million employees who are regular night workers in the UK. The proportion of employees who are night workers has risen from 11.7 per cent of all employees in 2007, to 12.3 per cent in 2014. In 2014, 14.9 per cent of male employees were night workers, compared to 9.7 per cent of female employees. However, the report reveals the number of women working nights is growing at a much faster rate, and the top two sectors using night workers are female dominated – care workers and nursing. According to the TUC: “The negative health impacts of night work are already well-documented, such as heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression [Risks 685]. However, less attention has been given to the impacts on home life and relationships.” Major studies have also linked night shift work to breast and other cancers, highlighting the need for care over the use of night work and the design of shift work patterns [Risks 612]. TUC recommends night working is only introduced where necessary, there should be no compulsion to move to shift work and that night work and shift patterns should be negotiated between unions and employers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s not right for employers to require night working without adequate consultation and negotiation. With night work increasing, employers must play fair and play safe, or public safety will be put at risk and the families of night workers will suffer.”
· TUC news release and full report, A Hard Day’s Night, August 2015.
A fear that a US-EU trade deal could jeopardise workplace safety standards has been reinforced by new evidence of the US government’s risky approach, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said he has warned repeatedly about the threat to health and safety at work from the proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He said concrete evidence had now emerged to shore up these concerns, in the form of the findings of a European Commission consultation on risks posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), linked to breast cancer, reproductive problems and other disorders. The consultation’s findings, published late last month and based on 27,000 responses, showed the vast majority of respondents wanted strong regulation to protect people from endocrine disruptors and believed that the “precautionary principle” should be used. That means that you should be able to restrict the use of any chemicals that where there is good reason to suspect that there is a risk. This principle has been used by regulators over nanotechnology, and is also employed when licensing new drugs. However, the consultation submission from the US government took a different line, noting “creating technical regulations on the basis of hazard-based criteria are often more trade restrictive than necessary because risk-based mitigation measures exist, and do not fulfil a legitimate objective as they are not supported by scientific evidence.” Adopting a system based solely on the hazardous properties of substances “could have severe implications for EU imports of US agricultural goods,” it notes. According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson: “Basically what they are saying is ‘trade trumps safety’.” He says this line has major implications for TTIP, because “if the chemical companies get their way, the treaty will mean that the EU will not be able to restrict the importation or use of any suspected endocrine disruptors, or any other carcinogens, on the basis that there is a likely risk. They will only be able to do it once there is absolute evidence. By then of course the damage will be done.” He warns: “Trade agreements must not allow either other governments or multinational companies to prevent regulations aimed at protecting workers from being exposed to something where there is good reason to believe it may be hazardous.”
A new TUC analysis indicates that 1,669,000 employees are missing out on their minimum legal entitlement to paid holidays. The TUC review of unpublished figures from the 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that on average 6.4 per cent of employees across the UK are losing out on their holiday entitlements, a legal health and safety entitlement laid out in the EU Working Time Directive. In November 1998 the EU-wide law extended the right to paid leave to all workers for the first time. Up to six million workers in the UK, who had less leave than the minimum standard of four weeks, benefited from the new holiday allowance. Entitlement in the UK was increased in 2007 and 2009 following a campaign by the TUC that showed many workers were forced to use paid leave on bank holidays. The TUC is warning that it has become easier for bad employers to get away with denying workers their full holiday pay since employment tribunal fees were introduced. The TUC also argues that rather than putting the entire onus on the worker, HM Revenue and Customs should enforce holiday entitlements. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We are in danger of seeing a burnout Britain where workers feel pressured to give up their holidays and increase their hours. Workers who are worried about not getting their holiday entitlements should join a union, so that their voice is heard and their interests are properly represented.” She added: “We are worried that David Cameron’s EU renegotiation may take away our statutory holiday entitlements by opting-out of the Working Time Directive. These figures on the number of people missing out on their holiday rights clearly show that the rules need to be strengthened rather than weakened further.”
Over 1,200 construction workers involved in the nuclear decommissioning and renewal project at Sellafield in Cumbria have begun a work to rule and overtime ban in a campaign “to improve health and safety and productivity”. The Unite members began the action last week following what the union said was the “continued refusal by Sellafield Ltd and the group of subcontractor companies to facilitate a full-time union convenor on the site.” The construction workers, working for 15 subcontractors, are pressing for the creation of a full-time convenor on the site “to improve industrial relations and help address growing health and safety concerns as well as poor welfare facilities on the construction site,” Unite said. Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “Our members are sick and tired of being treated like second class citizens on one of Europe’s biggest construction projects. They want to be able to work in a safe environment, with constructive industrial relations and decent welfare facilities. Yet they are being met with continual resistance from subcontractors and Sellafield Ltd to implement health and safety arrangements which are commonplace elsewhere in the industry.” He added: “Sellafield is an important nuclear facility where health and safety and the welfare of workers should be paramount. Our experience shows that a full-time union convenor would help ensure a healthier, more productive and profitable workplace. We would urge Sellafield Ltd and the subcontractors to start treating their workers as partners and enter meaningful talks.” The companies involved in the dispute are: Mitie One, Cape, Jacob Sobart, Meldrum, Hertel, Focus, Balfour Beatty, Shepley’s, PPS, Amec, Doosan Babcock, Novia, Redhall’s, Hargreaves and Kaefer CD.
The taxi firm Uber is illegally evading its employment and safety responsibilities, the union GMB has said. The union has retained law firm Leigh Day to challenge Uber’s assertion that drivers are “partners” who are not entitled to rights at work normally afforded to workers. Unite believes Uber is in breach of a legal duty to provide its drivers with basic health and safety and employment rights. Uber operates a car hire platform that connects passengers to thousands of drivers through an app on the passenger’s smartphone. Passengers pay Uber for the journey, which then passes on a percentage of that payment to the driver. GMB says Uber should be bound by employment law covering wage rates, holidays and safety, something the company disputes. According to the union: “Uber should address serious health and safety issues. Currently Uber does not ensure its drivers take rest breaks or work a maximum number of hours per week. GMB contends that this provides a substantial risk to all road users given that, according to Uber’s CEO, there will be 42,000 Uber drivers in London in 2016.” Steve Garelick, branch secretary of GMB Professional Drivers Branch, said: “The need for a union to defend working drivers’ rights has become an imperative. Operators like Uber must understand that they have an ethical and social policy that matches society’s expectations of fair and honest treatment.”
An electrical technician has received £212,000 in compensation after falling from the access ladder of a crane, which caused a serious injury to his ankle and affected his ability to walk. Unite member Mark Nicholls, 54, now spends his leisure time resting the ankle so he is in a fit state to do his next shift. He was working at an unidentified manufacturing plant in Kent when he suffered the injury. He was climbing to the upper section of the crane with the machine’s remote control in his right hand when he lost grip and fell backwards, hitting the crane’s framework during the six foot fall. He was taken to Darenth Valley Hospital where scans confirmed that he had broken his ankle. He needs ongoing pain management treatment for the injury. Lawyers brought in by Unite to represent Mark found his employer failed to enforce a safe operating procedure for accessing the cranes. He was not told to wear a safety harness or a tool bag to store the crane’s remote control when climbing the 13 foot ladder. Mark said: “I’ve always been very active and enjoyed gardening and playing cricket but since the accident this has had to completely stop. The impact of having reduced mobility has had a huge effect on my life. I’ve found myself relying on my family more and more to help me, which is difficult for them and me.” He added: “While I’m glad to be back at work, I’m not able to place any weight on my foot so I’m not as quick or efficient as I once was. My days off are spent resting my ankle so that I’m well enough to go back into work for my next shift and I’m not able to do any hobbies or household jobs that I used to really enjoy. I can now only do very limited physical movements and if I’m busy then the simplest of things, like walking, can be extremely painful.” Tim Elliott, regional officer at Unite, said: “It is very sad that Mark’s life has been so badly affected after his accident at work. He should have never been allowed to climb a 13 foot ladder with the crane’s remote control in his hand, and there should have been a safe system of work in place to prevent Mark from doing this. Unfortunately it’s taken our member to suffer a life-changing accident before a safe operating procedure for accessing cranes was put in place by his employer.”
Last week’s government announcement of a temporary relaxation of the laws around driver hours in an effort to ease congestion caused by Operation Stack was not the right response, the union Unite said. Operation Stack is a longstanding traffic-management system in which lorries are parked - or stacked - on the M20 in Kent during disruption to Eurotunnel services from Folkestone or ferries from Dover. Unite raised its safety concerns after the Department of Transport announced the plan to temporarily suspend the rules around how long lorry drivers can work and for how long they can rest. Unite responded that these moves would increase the chance of road accidents and would not address the problems the industry and drivers encounter on a routine basis with the Channel ports, which is why it is appealing to the government and the industry to work with the union on longer-term, viable solutions. Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer for road transport, said: “Road haulage is already an extremely demanding and stressful job. Drivers need to have their wits about them at all times. Recent events have shone a media spotlight on the sort of pressures drivers encounter daily. They are under are immense pressure and not just on the road.” He added: “The only safeguard that they have against exhaustion is the working time regulations which demand that they take adequate rests before getting onto the road. Relaxing these rules is a dangerous move. There are very good reasons for these regulations, which are about driver and public safety.” Traffic on the routes to the Channel Tunnel and ferry ports in Kent has now eased after Operation Stack was stood down.
A rhino that seriously injured a senior keeper at Whipsnade Zoo had not shown any “uncharacteristic behaviour” beforehand, a report has concluded, however the zoo has refused to release the investigation report. The keeper, in his 50s, was found semi-conscious at the zoo on 19 November last year. Central Bedfordshire Council said the zoo's animal health and behavioural day logs had been “fully completed,” adding in a statement these “did not identify any issues to suggest abnormal or uncharacteristic behaviour of the rhino in the lead up to the date.” The council said the injured man had also signed training records regarding the risk assessments of the rhino house in February 2014. The keeper was found in the pool area of the rhino enclosure at the zoo near Dunstable. The colleague who discovered him closed the gates to the outside paddock to isolate the animal before attending to the injured man. The authority said it would not release its full report but officials said its officials had concluded last month no further action was needed and the zoo said it would continue to work on health and safety procedures.
Total UK Limited have been fined £1.4 million after a major fire led to the death of a worker at an oil refinery in North Lincolnshire. Robert Greenacre, 24, was working near a crude oil distillation unit just before the fire broke out at the Lindsey Oil Refinery (TLOR) in Immingham on 29th June 2010 (Risks 467). Hull Crown Court heard that Mr Greenacre, who was a contracted fitter, was working with a colleague beneath a distillation column containing hot crude oil. A release of crude oil ignited, engulfing Mr Greenacre who died beneath the column. A colleague was able to escape the scene suffering minor burns. The court also heard operators of major accident hazard establishments must have in place a functioning system of risk assessment for all tasks where hazardous substances could be released. Operators should always try to eliminate risk through hazard avoidance. Total UK Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) and were fined £1.4 million and ordered to pay costs of £34,084.05. Speaking following sentencing, Mr Greenacre’s family said: “Despite the outcome of this case, it doesn’t change how we have been affected. Rob was our world. We have been left with a shattered and empty future, we are heart broken and changed forever.” Sentencing the company, the judge said its safety failings “created an inevitable risk of death.” The death prompted unions to call for an independent safety probe into Total, which in July 2010 was also required to pay £6.2 million fines and costs for criminal safety offences related to the Buncefield oil depot explosion in 2005 (Risks 466).
The skipper of a shellfish fishing boat has been sentenced for serious criminal safety failings after the death of a diver in the River Forth estuary. Graeme Mackie, 31, was working as a scuba diver to collect shellfish from Ronald John MacNeil’s boat the Rob Roy when the incident happed on 11 June 2011. Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard Mr Mackie had entered the water for his first dive, around 600 metres south of Methil Harbour, but re-surfaced a minute later waving in obvious distress before disappearing again under the water. Ronald MacNeil jumped into the water and made several unsuccessful attempts to locate Mr Mackie. There was no back up diver. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Police Scotland, which found serious safety failings in the way the diving project was planned, managed and conducted. Mr Mackie, a former welder, had retrained as a commercial diver in 2009 but had not gained any commercial diver experience since that time. He had placed an advert online offering his services as a ‘trainee shellfish diver” which prompted Mr MacNeil to contact him. Ahead of the trip, Mr Mackie had seen his GP and was given the all clear to dive. HSE’s Mike Leaney said: “This dive resulted in tragic consequences which could have been avoided had Ronald MacNeil planned the activity properly and employed the correct size dive team made up of competent divers.” In March this year, shellfish boat skipper Guthrie Meville was jailed for nine months after his criminal safety failings led to the death of another diver in the Forth estuary (Risks 696).
A Glasgow scaffolding firm has been fined after a roof worker fell nearly six metres to his death. James Baillie, 53, suffered serious head injuries after he fell through a scaffold tower deck when carrying out roof work at a two storey domestic property in Thorntonhall, South Lanarkshire on 22 September 2011. He died from his injuries the next day. Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that the scaffold deck was in a bad state of repair due to brown rot decay and when Mr Baillie walked on it, it broke, causing him to fall nearly six metres to the ground. Extra Access Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £40,000. HSE inspector Graeme McMinn said: “The company failed to provide safe and suitable working equipment for their customer and his workers. There is no excuse for allowing the use at work of mobile access tower components that were in such a poor condition, the scaffolding industry is well aware of the risks involved in this type of work.” He added: “Mr Baillie’s tragic death could have been avoided if Extra Access Limited had ensured the scaffold tower deck was properly inspected and maintained or otherwise taken out of service.”
Pizza Express has been fined £200,000 after a fall from Soho restaurant window left a worker paralysed. Kamil Pisarek suffered serious spinal injuries in the fall in December 2011, when he was 28. He is now tetraplegic. Southwark Crown Court heard that he and three other employees were asked to carry a heavy cupboard up a back staircase. The 168kg cupboard got stuck on the first landing close to a low-level first-floor window, and in trying to free it Mr Pisarek fell backwards through the window onto the pavement below. Pizza Express (Restaurants) Ltd admitted a criminal health and safety offence, and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £58,453 costs. Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for public protection, said: "This was an awful incident, and this young man suffered life-changing injuries which were wholly avoidable. We hope the sentence sends out a strong message to any businesses that are ever tempted to cut corners.”
Japan’s government plans to introduce stress checks for its workers, as the number of staff on leave due to mental illness remains high. A report in the Japan Times says under the system, the National Personnel Authority plans to conduct a stress survey every year, based on provisions in the Industrial Safety and Health Act, which was revised last year. The paper says the law will oblige private companies with 50 or more employees to introduce stress checks, will come into effect from December this year. Employee stress checks will also be phased in at government agencies from December, sources talking to the Japan Times said. According to the personnel authority, the number of government workers taking a month or more off due to mental illness rose from 1,050 in fiscal year 1996 to 2,218 in fiscal 2001 and 3,376 in 2012. In 2013 it reached 3,450 workers. Japan recognises overwork-related suicide, karojisatsu, and sudden death, karoshi, as state compensated occupational diseases (Risks 705).
· Japan Times.
When the regulatory authorities in New Zealand failed to take action after a forestry worker was killed, unions took matters into their own hands. And now a union-initiated safety prosecution has resulted in the employer pleading guilty. On 3 August, M and A Cross Ltd made the plea at Rotorua District Court. Charles Finlay was killed at his forestry job in Tokoroa on 19 July 2013. National union federation CTU took a private prosecution after the government’s agent, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), refused. The union body said it had always known that the death of Charles Finlay was due to the poor health and safety practices of his employer. “Charles would not have died if his employer had taken the appropriate steps and ensured a safe workplace – it is of cold comfort that they now, two years on, take responsibility for that,” said CTU president Helen Kelly. “The CTU, with the support of Charles’s family, needed to take this ground breaking private prosecution. MBIE, the government agency whose responsibility it is to ensure employers are held accountable for healthy and safe workplaces, did not hold this employer accountable for Charles’s death.” She concluded: “If the CTU hadn’t sought justice then M and A Cross Ltd would never have taken responsibility for Charles’ avoidable death. Justice would never have been served.”
A stifling heatwave in New York and even higher temperatures on the airless subway system has resulted in Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers getting regular 10 minute heat breaks to recuperate. A lack of adequate facilities however is leaving many workers wilting, their union has warned. Antonio Roldan, a Transport Workers Union Local 100 official, complained that there are too few station facilities that have proper air conditioning, leaving some workers needing to dash onto air-conditioned trains for momentary relief when they pull in. “The only time they get cold air inside stations is when the doors open up,” Roldan said. Vanessa Jones, a station agent and TWU safety inspector, said the MTA has “been onboard” with trying to put in more air conditioners in worker rooms, but said there are still too many that are too hot. “When you have so many people working together, especially on teams, you really need places to cool down,” she added.
The disposal and recycling of electronic devices has increased exposure to lead and other toxics and created “an emerging health concern,” according to a top paediatrician. Nick Newman, who directs the Environmental Health and Lead Clinic at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says two children, ages 1 and 2, whose father worked at an e-scrap recycling company crushing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), were found to have seriously elevated blood lead levels. The levels of 18 micrograms per decilitre and 14 micrograms per decilitre compared to a reference level of 5 micrograms used to identify children for whom parents, doctors and public health officials should take action to reduce exposure to lead, he said. The father left his job soon after the elevated blood lead levels were detected; the levels subsequently decreased to 8.7 and 7.9 parts per decilitre over the next three months. “Paediatricians should ask about parents' occupations and hobbies,” said Dr Newman. “Not only is this a conversation starter with the family, but it also is an opportunity to perform primary prevention activities to avoid take-home exposures of lead, other metals, and toxicants that may be present at work.” He said if a paediatrician has a question about whether a parent's occupation could be risky, they can find answers through the national Paediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit network.
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).