|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.
The TUC has called for urgent action on occupational exposure to breast cancer in women following new research by the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund. The report, “Working Women and Breast Cancer: The State of the Evidence,” is the product of more than two years of work overseen and is a review of most of the scientific studies that have been published in the past 25 years. It found a link between breast cancer and a number of workplace exposures including solvents, pesticides, ionizing radiation and other toxic materials. There also was an association with night shift work. The report concluded “Research is inadequate, but there is enough to raise alarm about women’s work, occupational exposures and breast cancer. At the same time, policies are insufficient to protect worker health.” This review, the first of its kind, also links more than 20 occupations with considerably increased risk of breast cancer compared to the risk for the general population. These include Nurses , with a 50% higher risk than for the general population, food and beverage production workers, up to 5 times more, hairdressers and cosmetologists, also up to 5 times more and manufacturing and machinery workers, where the risk is up to 3 times more. TUC head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson said “This is a damning report and shows that much more must be done to protect women from exposure to chemicals at work. Only last month we asked the HSE to produce now guidance on night work to help protect women from breast cancer, but this report shows that more needs to be done across the board to reduce the risk from work.” The report also recommended that women should be included in occupational studies and they have “historically been excluded…which means that health issues that predominantly affect women, including breast cancer, have been at best understudied and at worst ignored.”
Following the publication of a report (Risks714) on the effect that night working can have on the work-life balance of those who work regular nights, the TUC has issued a checklist of what unions should be seeking to negotiate when employers seek to introduce night working. In a blog on the “Stronger Unions” site, the TUC’s Hugh Robertson lists seven key points that may help reduce some of the impact of night working. He says that “As this report shows, (night working) can really mess with your relationships, with your social life and, of course, your health.” The top tip for union activists is to ensure that the union is consulted before new shift patterns are agreed. It also recommends avoiding split shifts or rapidly rotating shifts that are difficult to adapt to physically. He points out that regular rest and meal breaks are important on any shift but especially on night and early morning shifts. Good employers will make sure that night workers have access to proper, healthy food, and, at the very least, access to the same facilities as day workers. Given the increased threat of violence at night unions are asked to make sure that safe travel arrangements are in place for workers travelling to and from work late at night or early in the morning. Finally the blog makes it clear that all night workers should be given information about the possible health risks of night work and how they can be reduced. In addition, all night workers must have their health monitored through regular health assessments. Mr Robertson added “Given how much night working is increasing it is really important that people are protected and the effect on, not only there health, but also their lives, is reduced.”
The London Underground trade unions are to continue taking action over attempts by the employer, Transport for London, to impose night working without agreement on issues such as work-life balance. There have already been two one day strikes, and two more are planned for later in August. The dispute came after the management announced that all-night tube services would start operating in September of this year, despite not having discussed the issue with the unions. All the unions have stressed that the dispute is not about money but about the health and well-being of the many thousands of workers, at all levels, who would be forced to work nights. TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said the unions were still concerned about safety and staffing levels as well as work-life balance, with over 1,200 staff having to work more weekends under LU’s current plans. Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Our members have rejected the offer because they are forcing through new rosters without agreement and offer no firm commitments on work-life balance.” The dispute has been backed by the TUC. Its Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak said “The tube network is vital to the travelling public and the economy, but London Underground must not ride roughshod over the wellbeing of their employees. Any significant change to working hours should be the subject of proper negotiation and agreement. Anyone who was told by their boss that they would have to start working through the night would expect that to be agreed and not imposed. The TUC always encourages employers to positively engage with unions on fair and sensible arrangements for night working, so that we continue to enjoy the social benefits night workers give us without harm to them or the public.”
Following an announcement from the Government that they would be raiding employers who employ migrant workers without the proper papers on the grounds that “employers who are prepared to cheat employment rules are also likely to breach health and safety rules and pay insufficient tax”, the GMB union has claimed that the Government announcement is more about grabbing news headlines than tackling exploitation. Earlier this week immigration minister James Brokenshire warned that rogue employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants will be hit with the "full force" of the government machine, however Kamaljeet Jandu, GMB National Officer said “The tiny numbers of firms prosecuted shows the Government is not serious on this. The only effective approach on tackling exploitation in the labour market is – don’t blame the exploited; damn those who exploit. If the Government was serious about tackling exploitation they would adopt the recommendation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) enforcement authority should be extended to cover construction, domestic work, care, hospitality and other sectors like private hire. “This was echoed by the TUC. Hugh Robertson commented that, “while the Government is correct in saying that employers who are flaunting the law on employment law are also more likely to be paying less than the minimum wage and protecting the safety of the workforce, what the Government is proposing, by linking this to undocumented migrants will hit the workers more than the employers. We need more resources for inspection and enforcement generally”.
False self-employment and casualisation grew in the construction industry last year according to the construction union UCATT. The number of workers who received payments via the Construction Industry Scheme increased last year by 39,000, and this may rise after late returns are included. 924,000 workers were paid via CIS during 2013/14 rising to 963,000 in 2014/15. This rise is despite new rules aimed at preventing agencies and other “intermediaries” from employing workers on a self-employed basis. Brian Rye, National Secretary of UCATT, said: “These figures show the fragmented mess that the construction industry is in. The Government’s changes which were meant to reduce false self-employment clearly haven’t worked while at the same time hundreds of thousands of workers are being employed by agencies via umbrella companies. It is clear that the only way to resolve the problem is for fundamental change with workers either being classed as employees or being genuinely self-employed in business for themselves. Further tinkering of the rules will just make the situation worse.” In addition to saving employers money on national insurance contributions and robbing the economy of well over a billion pounds in tax revenue, employers have been criticised for using bogus self-employment to try to get round their responsibilities for health and safety, including doing risk assessment and providing free personal protective equipment. This is likely to increase following the confusion being caused by changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act to remove some self-employer people from its protection.
The British Medical Association (BMA) have issued a warning about the use of drugs to improve memory or other cognitive functions within the workplace. There are a number of medicines available and licensed to improve cognitive functioning in those suffering from specific medical disorders such as ADHD and narcolepsy. There is growing evidence that healthy individuals use these without a prescription for non-medical purposes. Although at the moment their use appears to be largely in students to aid their memory and concentration, with little evidence for use in working populations, the BMA are worried that this could change. They point out that there is little evidence that these drugs work for healthy adults who just want to improve their brain-functions, and they may do damage in the long run. The guidance from the BMA recommends that “healthy individuals who wish to protect or enhance their cognitive powers are advised to avoid pharmacological cognitive enhancers and instead focus on leading a healthy lifestyle. This includes being physically, mentally and socially active; eating a healthy, balanced diet; drinking alcohol only in moderation; and maintaining good sleeping habits.” There is evidence from other countries that some people use cognitive enhancing drugs when under pressure to perform or to counter the effects of drowsiness caused by long hours of shift work. The BMA specifically recommends that doctors be able to advise on designing shift work schedules to minimise circadian disruption, sleepiness and fatigue.
Two separate roofing companies were fined on the same day from failing to protect their workers. In the first, sole trader Leighton Johnson and his employee were completing a job on a fragile roof at a factory in Kings Lynn on 11 August 2014. The 26-year-old employee was kneeling on a scaffolding board on top of the roof when he fell forward and smashed through a roof light. He fell seven metres and landed on a pallet stacked with ceramic mugs below. He suffered injuries to his back and sternum and wore a full body brace for six weeks after the incident. When the HSE investigated, they found that there was no fall prevention or fall mitigation system in place and that the injured person was not harnessed or attached to anything, and was not wearing any safety equipment. There was a lack of any health and safety management or planning for the job and no adequate training or safety equipment had been provided. Mr Johnson was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £3,415 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to breaking the law. After the case, HSE inspector Paul Unwin, said: “This incident caused serious injuries that could have cost a young man his life or prevented him from being able to walk again. The risks of working on fragile roofs are well-known but so too are the ways to manage those risks. Sadly, HSE inspectors too often find blatant disregard of easily-accessible guidance, which frequently results in life-changing injuries. On the same day, West London Magistrates found Chris Ball & Son Roofing Ltd. of Greenwich, guilty of health and safety offences and they were fined £7,500 with £10,000 costs for breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005. After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kerry Williams said: “Quite simply, Chris Ball & Son had not provided any fencing or edge protection on the roof itself to safeguard its employees. Work at height risks are widely-known and recognised throughout the industry. Short duration roof work is not exempted from the regulations that are designed to protect workers. All risks should be properly managed to make sure workers are not placed at risk, whether the job lasts five minutes or five days.”
A survey of the HR heads or directors of over 250 businesses has revealed that less than half of businesses believe they have a duty of care to employee health. A report from Morgan Redwood shows that only 46% of firms regard staff health as an employer’s responsibility, even though 82.8% of companies believe that business performance and staff wellbeing are connected. Janice Haddon, Managing Director of Morgan Redwood said: “With the majority of businesses seeing a connection between wellbeing and performance, why do so few place importance on fostering wellbeing? Surely the correlation between the two would give businesses the impetus to put measures in place to improve employee health?” The report also found that helping staff to achieve a better work-life balance was low on the list of HR priorities, as it ranked joint tenth, with only 6% of those questioned seeing it as a key aspect of their HR strategy. Employee wellbeing featured even lower, with just 5.6% of businesses considering it to be a priority, putting it at twelfth on the list. The top priorities were ‘Attracting better talent to the business’ (39.2%), followed by ‘reducing staff churn’ (36.8%) and ‘reducing staff costs’ (34.8%). Although there is a legal requirement for employers to protect the health safety and welfare of their employees, the position on well-being is less clear despite the fact that it is often work that is responsible for such things as stress, obesity and heart conditions.
Paper company DS Smith Paper Ltd, has been fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £34,761.67 in costs following the death of a worker who became trapped in unguarded machinery at a Devon paper mill. John Stoddart, who was the company’s operations manager, was attempting to smooth out felt on a conveyor at the Higher Kings Mill in the town when he was pulled into the machinery causing fatal injuries on 24 September 2011. He climbed onto a work platform to check if the creases were caused by problems on a large, moving felt belt, used to squeeze water out of the pulp mixture. It is believed that he was dragged onto the felt belt which then ripped and he fell into the machinery below, causing fatal crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and safety Executive found the company had failed to place any guard around the belt and did not have a suitable risk assessment for work which needed to be carried out to find the cause of creases and for working on the gantry. HSE Inspector, Simon Jones, speaking after the hearing, said “DS Smith’s failure to guard a dangerous piece of moving machinery tragically cost Mr Stoddart his life and has left his family without a husband, father and brother. Potentially dangerous machinery should always be guarded and turned-off when workers need access to repair faults. A proper risk assessment would have highlighted these dangers and established safe practices for staff instead of putting their lives at risk.”
The government’s changes to the certification of sickness absence are failing according to a new report from the Institution of Occupational safety and health (IOSH). In 2013 a number of changes were introduced which included encouraging doctors to say that a person might be able to return to work if the employer made certain adaptations. They also tried to change the name of the sick note to the “fit note” despite the fact that, unlike the previous sick note the new note does not actually allow the GP to certify that the person is now fit. While the TUC supported the ability of GPs to recommend support for people who may be able to return to work on lighter duties, they did have concerns over the way that the changes were being introduced. The IOSH report, produced by Nottingham University shows that “at present, the fit note is not reaching its full potential. It is unlikely that this will happen without increased investment of time, money and commitment, and may require further legislation to overcome these obstacles. The issues raised need to be addressed urgently by those involved in commissioning, completing, receiving, managing, implementing, promoting and evaluating the fit note if we are to improve the management of sickness absence and aid return to work and work retention for those with health problems.” Since the changes were introduced, the Government has introduced a “Fit for Work Service” where GPs are encouraged to refer anyone off work for more than 28 days for an assessment by an occupational health provider. Usually this is simply done by phone. TUC head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, said “neither of these initiatives are actually doing what they intended to do because GPs do not have the time, knowledge or incentive to deal with work-related issues. Although we welcome anything that will support people getting back to work after an illness or injury, the top priority must be prevention, but in all cases of employees being off work, having access to a properly funded occupational health service, provided through the NHS, would make far more real difference than just tinkering with the current system.”
Two new enforcement notices have been served by the Health and Safety Executive on the owners of a mill where four people died in an explosion last month. The HSE said it had served the notices on Wood Treatment Ltd, who operate the Wood Flour Mill in Bosley in relation to "dust issues" in sheds containing equipment on the site of the mill. A prohibition notice has been served preventing work in one area, while an improvement notice has been served for a different area. Head of operations for the North West, Steve Smith, said: "HSE inspectors continue to work closely with emergency services in the ongoing investigation into the cause of this tragic incident. HSE specialists are on site to assist with the collection of evidence in order to try to establish exactly what happened." According to the HSE enforcement database, the Mill has already been the subject of one prohibition notice and five improvement notices in the two years before the fatal blast, and there is a history of improvement notices going back to 2008, some of them covering the same issues. The HSE action comes after the GMB union criticised the company for making workers redundant after the explosion. 20 workers have received redundancy notices and a further 6 have been kept on to clear out a warehouse next to the damaged mill, but it is not known how long they will be kept employed for. Cheshire East Council Leader Michael Jones said “As the Leader of the Council I’m asking why the company feels it can just walk away from these people and offer almost no support. How do they expect people who are traumatised to cope financially?” No decision has been taken on any criminal prosecutions that may arise out of the blast.
The Hearing Clinic is the first company handed a financial penalty by watchdogs after they were given new powers last year. It followed hundreds of complaints from members of the public, many of whom were registered with the Telephone Preference Service, who received speculative calls about claims for noise-induced hearing loss. The Hearing Clinic, which is based in Derby and operated under a string of different trading names, has also been made subject to restrictions and could even be closed if it breaks the rules again. It was seeking to cash in on the occupational deafness experienced by millions of workers who have been exposed to excessive noise during their working lives. In most cases these workers could have contacted their union and been offered free legal advice and support. The fine came as the Ministry of Justice announced that 105 claims firms had received warnings in the past year. Claims Management Regulation head Kevin Rousell said: "The new fines mean we have greater powers to crack down on claims management companies that make nuisance calls. Companies should be in no doubt that if they break the rules then we won't hesitate to fine them in addition to the tough action we already take." Justice Minister Lord Faulks said: "The Government has taken action to help people who are having their time wasted by the unscrupulous practices of some claims firms out to make themselves a profit at others' expense. The TUC has welcomed the new powers to fine and close claims companies and recommends anyone who receives an unsolicited call about a workplace injury or illness to make a complaint to the Claims Management Regulator and, if they think they may have a claim, to contact their union.
Ÿ Claims Management Regulator https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/claims-management-regulator
United Steelworkers (USW) and the International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC) have released an open letter asking DuPont to address recent serious safety concerns. The letter cites recent accidents pushing the company to provide safer working conditions for workers. The letter states "It's critical that the two companies work in good faith with their employees and the unions representing them." ICWUC president Frank Cyphers said: "It's clear that there are very serious safety problems at DuPont”. USW international president Leo Gerard said: "We have close relationships on safety and health with many employers. But in the past DuPont has rejected any involvement by union safety and health professionals. We have the right to represent our members on safety and health." The US-based company, Dupont often claim to have a great safety record. It bases its safety culture on “behavioural safety” which believes that the key to improving safety is to concentrate on changing what workers do rather than remove or control hazards. Unions have disputed Duponts claims for many years. In fact as early as 2005 the Steel Workers Union published a damning report Called “Not Walking the Talk: DuPont's Untold Safety Failures”. Last month it was reported that the US Department of Labor’s health and safety wing, OSHA, last week issued citations to DuPont for three willful, one repeat and four serious violations at their chemical manufacturing plant in La Porte.
According to the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Dr. David Michaels, "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 program." OSHA has also placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The program concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference towards creating a safe and healthy workplace by committing wilful or repeated violations, and/or failing to abate known hazards. It also mandates follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions are being forced to end its Health and Safety Representative Training programme in its current form this November. This programme has run for over 12 years with support from the Governments Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), and over 33,000 Health and Safety Reps have been upskilled by the CTU in this period. The training costs were met by ACC from the injury prevention levy and meant employers, while having to meet the costs of two days leave, were able to avail themselves of a free course for their union representatives. The CTU Secretary, Sam Huggard has condemned the move. He said “At a time when the Government's own Health and Safety Taskforce identified lack of worker participation as a core missing element leading to New Zealand’s poor health and safety record. The Government is not only removing the rights for workers to elect representatives in small businesses but is also cutting the funding for the approved course required for any representative before they can act in the role. It’s bizarre and shows the impact of the Government disregard for the important role workers play in health and safety.” He added “Last year the Health and Safety Representative Training was attacked by then Minister Judith Collins, and lobbyist Jordan Williams, despite it receiving positive evaluations and the Minister herself approving the programme.” The CTU is exploring ways to continue to offer the training programme to the many employers outside of ACC funded programme who have paid for staff to attend what they appreciate as a high quality programme.
The US trade union United Steelworkers have commended the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for moving forward with a proposed reduction on the permissible exposure limit on occupational exposure to beryllium. Beryllium, which is used in the construction industry, metalwork, electronics manufacturing, the nuclear energy sector and laboratories that work with nuclear materials, is known to cause cancer and other fatal diseases, such as chronic beryllium disease of the lungs, when inhaled. USW International President Leo W. Gerard said “We applaud the release of this proposed rule. When it goes into effect, it will save not only the lives of USW members, but all workers exposed to beryllium.” The USW represents thousands of workers who manufacture or use beryllium alloys and beryllium-containing products in a number of industries and have been calling for regulation of beryllium since the 1970’s and OSHA first proposed a standard in 1977 only for it to be derailed by political pressure. “Beryllium is a highly useful metal, but beryllium dust and fume can cause severe, debilitating and sometimes fatal lung disease,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Mike Wright. “This rule has been long in coming, but we can finally see the finish line.” Once the proposal is published in the Federal Registrar, there will be a 90-day comment period after which it is hoped that it will come into law.
76 unions, safety groups and public interest groups have signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling on him to veto proposed funding cuts to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Bills in both chambers of Congress contain funding cuts targeting OSHA and MSHA of between 3 and 5%. “These are devastating cuts that will make it harder to protect workers exposed to dangerous hazards on the job,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH. “Today, there is only enough capacity for the average workplace to see an inspector once a century thanks to low staffing and incessantly inadequate budgets. It’s unacceptable that Congress is trying to make the problem even worse.” One of the proposals included in the bill that has been introduced into the Senate would block the use of funds to promulgate or implement new regulations relating to occupational exposure to silica without additional studies, even though OSHA’s proposed rule is based on decades of extensive, peer-reviewed research on the hazards of silica exposure. OSHA estimates that the new standard will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once the full effects of the rule are realised. There is also a proposal to remove funding from OSHA’s safety training programme for workers in small businesses and vulnerable workers. Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division said “If the proposed budget cuts are enacted, we will undoubtedly lose the worker safety and health improvements we've made over the years, as well as the opportunity for new achievements.” In the US, around 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year, while over 3 million workers suffer serious occupational injuries, and 50,000 die of occupational illnesses attributable to workplace exposure to hazardous substances.
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