|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.
One very important right is missing from the health and safety law poster required in every workplace in the country. TUC’s Hugh Robertson says that crucial right is “the right to stop work.” Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, the union body’s head of safety points out the 1996 Employment Rights Act says workers are protected from any form of victimisation by their employer if they “propose to leave or actually leave their workplace or any dangerous part of it, or refuse to return, in the event of what they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent danger.” The law also protects workers for “proposing to take action to protect against a perceived serious or imminent danger.” According to Robertson, this European Union-originated measure is “a pretty important right.” But while a version of the poster required in Northern Ireland spells out the right to stop work, the British Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) version does not. “Is the HSE worried that people might actually start using the right given the dreadful conditions that exist in many workplaces?” questions Robertson. He adds that while workers “can be dismissed with a little fuss… this right is one that is not really a right at all, as individual workers will always be afraid to use it. Instead we need a collective right so that trade union representatives can stop work if there is a serious and imminent danger. Only collective action can protect workers from victimisation as there is no way most individuals would dare to stop work on their own, even in the most dangerous conditions.” The TUC safety specialist criticised the government’s Trade Union Bill, which this week completed its second reading in the House of Commons, and which would put make action over safety “even more difficult and leave workers even more vulnerable.” He noted: “Strike action on health and safety is rare, but it is effective. The vast majority of strikes on safety are resolved very quickly, and in the past couple of years there have been a number of cases, including ones in rail, energy production and construction, where the threat of action over a safety issue was enough to change an employer’s mind.”
A vicious attack on the rights of workers is set to create “state-sponsored victimisation” of trade unionists, the construction union UCATT has said. The union said the planned changes had been deliberately formulated to “smash the effectiveness of trade unions across many areas of their work and expose ordinary workers to possible blacklisting.” UCATT national secretary Brian Rye said: “This Bill will effectively enforce the restrictions of a police state on the British worker. It’s an unprecedented level of attack on workers, something not applied to the likes of bankers who devastated our economy.” He added: “This Tory government is doing its darndest to crush trade unions and deprive workers of their rights. We must fight this Bill with everything we have. It’s not too strong to say this Bill is the greatest threat to workers, trade unions and workers’ rights for a generation. In a democracy, we let this Bill pass at our peril.” Earlier this month TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned: “Anything that prevents us acting on behalf of those that need us will undermine health and safety in the workplace. That must not be allowed to happen” (Risks 718). Speaking after the Trade Union Bill was voted through its second reading in the House of Commons this week, she said “the campaign against this bill is far from over.” Earlier this month, human rights groups warned that the Trade Union Bill is “a major attack on civil liberties in the UK” (Risks 719). And in August the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – an independent body appointed by the government which verifies the costs and savings of proposed changes to businesses and civil society – slammed the government’s related impact assessments as “red – not fit for purpose”.
We’re here to stay! Unions challenge wrong-headed government attack that could cost lives, Frances O’Grady, Hazards online report, 4 September 2015
Breakneck work rates required at the Barnsley distribution depot of the online retailer ASOS are so hard to achieve that employees are sometimes forced to urinate in nearby water stations rather than make the trip to the loo, their union has said. GMB said pressure to maintain ‘pick rates’ meant some staff did not have the time to make the 15 minute return walk to the toilets. GMB’s Deanne Ferguson said: “Some ASOS workers are suffering sickening indignity which must stop. ASOS must explain to its employees why they are treating them with such contempt and denying them basic common decency.” The union organiser said workers are “genuinely scared” so it “has had to organise underground in ASOS.” She added: “Profit should not come at the price of workers’ right to take a toilet break; neither should it be at the price of poor health and safety. ASOS has seen profits double from £15.7 million to £30.3 million as published in their last accounts, yet employees are forced to work in draconian conditions on a daily basis.” Ferguson said the union’s request for a meeting had been flatly refused by the company. “All ASOS workers should join the GMB and together they will put an end to the appalling treatment and these disgraceful working practices,” she said.
The NHS is facing an exodus of senior hospital doctors as new figures show that more than 80 per cent may retire early because work-related stress is causing them sleepless nights, marital breakups and illness such as ulcers, anxiety and even strokes. A union survey of NHS consultants has found that huge numbers are becoming burned out and having their lives damaged as a result of the escalating pressures at the service’s frontline, including rising demand, long hours and the need to meet targets. In a survey of 817 experienced hospital doctors by the TUC-affiliated Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), 81 per cent said they had thought about retiring earlier than planned as a direct result of work pressures. Almost threequarters (71 per cent) believed work-related stress had taken a toll on their own health and contributed to them getting illnesses such as clinical depression, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and fatigue. Burnout, low morale and increasing stress meant many would quit before reaching their retirement age, leaving hospitals overstretched and putting the care of patients at risk, HCSA warned. “The number of consultants that are considering retiring early is staggeringly high and a big worry for the NHS. The NHS could be left without enough consultants and the remaining consultants would then be spread too thinly,” said Eddie Saville, the HCSA’s general secretary. “If experienced consultants are bringing forward their retirement age because they are burned out, the loss of that amount of skill and expertise will have an impact on recruitment and retention of existing staff, and inescapably an impact on patient care,” added Saville.
A Scottish union has launched a new toolkit to help university lecturers combat work-related stress. The University Lecturers’ Association (ULA), part of the union EIS, is distributing the kit to members and university human resources departments. The union says the kit was produced in response to “some worrying issues” identified in its health and wellbeing survey. This found that 93 per cent of EIS-ULA members reported experiencing some level of work-related stress and 33 per cent of lecturers stated that they felt stressed all the time. The union says lecturers are increasingly working during evenings, weekends and holiday periods. The toolkit sets out employers’ responsibilities in protecting their employees from workplace stress along with advice on how members can identify potential hazards which may be causing stress and highlights strategies which can be implemented to address problems. EIS-ULA president, Dr Vaughan Ellis, said: “This toolkit is a valuable resource which will allow university lecturers to be more aware of potential hazards and how best to manage their workload to ensure they have a healthy work-life balance.” He added: “Reducing workplace stress will not only improve members’ health and wellbeing, but will also help foster a sound environment for learning and teaching, which is in the best interests of staff and students alike.”
New arrangements for investigating and prosecuting Dangerous Dogs Act offences have been welcomed by the postal and telecoms union CWU. The new approach, agreed by the union and Royal Mail with police chiefs, follows CWU's high profile ‘Bite-Back’ campaign. The union says this led to the introduction in May 2014 of far tougher dangerous dogs control laws and harsher sentences. The Investigation and Prosecution Service Level Agreement Protocol was signed by Dave Joyce, CWU's national health and safety officer, along with Royal Mail's safety director Shaun Davis and Gareth Pritchard, the deputy chief constable of North Wales and police lead on the issue. The new arrangements are to be piloted by five police forces - the Metropolitan, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire forces. After a six-month trial, the arrangements will be reviewed and are scheduled to be rolled out across the UK at the end of next February. Dave Joyce, who led the CWU 'Bite-Back' campaign, said: “Following last year's new legislation, this new protocol is a big step forward and great achievement. This is something I've campaigned for and which paves the way for consistent enforcement of the dangerous dogs laws across the UK, which has been lacking and has created a gulf between the country's 50 police forces in the way they prioritise, resource, investigate and prosecute cases. This new protocol will iron that out, and, hopefully, will see effective enforcement and justice for victims no matter where a dog attack happens.”
Unions should be told how an east London council is dealing with the asbestos found in half its schools, GMB has said. The union called for “a more proactive approach” from Barking and Dagenham council after a freedom of information request from a local paper discovered 31 of 61 schools in the borough contained asbestos. John McClean, GMB’s national health and safety officer, said: “While we welcome the fact that the council is doing the legal minimum in checking the state of the asbestos in schools on a regular basis we do have concerns on the quality of these checks as we have no knowledge of the details on how these checks are undertaken. Now that this information is finally out in the open and parents, teachers, staff and governors know exactly which schools contain asbestos we would also be interested in the council’s long term plans on how to deal with this deadly problem.” The union safety specialist added: “Blanket claims that the asbestos is being managed properly often fail to address the nature of the environment in schools where the presence and activity of children do not make a typical workplace and exposure to asbestos fibres can occur inadvertently. GMB would like to open up a dialogue with the council on both their short- and long-term approach to managing asbestos, including examining options for the phased removal of a material that is known to deteriorate over time and will need to be removed at some time in the near future. In addition GMB will encourage its members in those schools where asbestos is present to sign up to their asbestos register in the event of a future claim for asbestos exposure.”
The TUC has welcomed a ruling by the European Court of Justice on working time and a worker’s travel between their home and a client. The ruling affects workers with no ‘fixed or habitual’ place of work. It requires a worker’s travel time between home and their first and last customer appointments in a working day to be considered in relation to the 48 hour maximum working week introduced under the Working Time Directive. The ruling does not affect people’s daily commute to their normal place of work. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many bosses are already fair-minded about travel time for journeys to customers. But this sensible ruling will prevent unscrupulous employers opening up a loophole to force some staff to work upwards of 60 hours a week.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This case rightly demonstrates that mobile workers must be paid for all their working time. This judgment is bound to have a significant impact in the UK, particularly on home care workers.” Veronica Nilsson of the Europe-wide union federation ETUC said: “The European Court of Justice have dealt a blow against the exploitation of workers. This is good news for many home care workers, repair and maintenance staff and other mobile workers.” The case was brought by a Spanish trade union on behalf of workers at Tyco, a fire and security equipment company. UK business lobby groups expressed dismay at the ruling.
Hundreds of people in the UK are dying prematurely each day because of social inequalities, a top academic has warned. Sir Michael Marmot, who has undertaken extensive research on the marked impact of socioeconomic factors in UK workplaces, warned that research revealed a stark “social gradient” emerging in Britain. The poor not only die on average seven years sooner than the rich, but they can expect to face becoming disabled 17 years earlier. Professor Marmot also questioned the government’s plans to raise the pension age past 66 and link it to life expectancy. It is a concern shared by unions, who say many working class people will not live to enjoy so much of their pension (Risks 637). “It is the inequalities in the conditions [in which] we are born, grow, live, work and age, and it’s damaging the health of us all,” said Marmot. “It is costing us 550 lives a day in the UK alone.” In his new book, The Health Gap, he argues that those who blame lifestyles miss the point – it is inequality that is the dominant and fast growing factor in determining our health status. Since 1980, the share of total income received by the top one per cent in Britain has almost doubled, to about 13 per cent in 2011, reversing a three-decades-long trend towards greater equality. Marmot had found a similar effect in workplace studies. He set up the Whitehall II study, which examined the impact of socioeconomic factors and stress on the health of UK civil servants (Risks 559). This found that the risks of stress-related sickness went up as your employment grade went down, linked to workload, working hours, a lack of control, job insecurity and other factors. International research published in 2013 concluded a union presence has a strong positive effect on the health of the workforce and the economy, including delivering improvements in life expectancy (Risks 617).
A national interiors fit-out company, previously prosecuted for criminal breaches of safety law, has called on firms to take protective action before the safety regulator calls. Newman Scott, whose clients include high-end retail brands, is backing the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) annual construction refurbishment initiative, which started this week. John Graham, the company’s new joint managing director, said: “I would urge everyone in the construction industry to take action now in protecting the health and safety of your workers. Don’t let a prosecution or worse the death or injury of a colleague be the catalyst for change.” HSE says construction has 5 per cent of Britain’s workforce but accounts for 31 per cent of all fatalities, with 42 deaths in 2014/15 and 76,000 cases of reported ill-health. HSE inspectors will be visiting refurbishment sites across the country, between 14 September and 9 October. Newman Scott was visited by HSE during the 2013 inspection initiative and the poor practice found resulted in the company and one of its directors being prosecuted. John Graham said: “We were mortified at the thought of being prosecuted because we had a good safety record and thought we were pretty good at health and safety. A sub-contractor was using a poorly erected mobile scaffold, on an escalator between the ground and first floor, and although no-one was hurt there was a very real and high risk of injury, or worse, to the operatives.” He added: “We had a choice, we could consider ourselves lucky there were no injuries or we could hold a full and frank internal investigation, understand what had gone wrong and make sure our sites were safe for our workers.” Jo Anderson, HSE’s lead for the construction initiative, said: “We are grateful to Newman Scott for sharing their experience and for how they have responded to the prosecution. We hope everyone can learn from their lessons and realise it is vital when carrying out construction work that the right management systems are in place so risks to workers’ health are controlled just as effectively as safety.”
The family of a man killed while working for Jaguar Land Rover have said the £30,000 fine on the firm is a “disgrace”. Liverpool Crown Court heard Graham Begley, 49, from Halewood, was found trapped between two 24 tonne dies on 26 September 2011 at the firm’s factory in Halewood. The court was told it is thought the deceased was moving the machinery with a crane when its chain/hook snagged on a die, causing it to move towards him and crush him. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Jaguar Land Rover had failed to undertake a suitable risk assessment of the work. It was accepted in court that this was not the cause of Mr Begley’s death. Jaguar Land Rover Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £30,000 plus £20,000 costs. After the hearing, Mr Begley’s family took to social media to vent their fury. His wife, Paula, posted a message which read: “I can’t believe the way JLR have treated me and my family through all these four years.” Son James Charlesworth said: “The way this has been handled by a multi-million pound company is an absolute joke. JLR have showed no remorse towards my family they have been a disgrace for four years since my dad’s death. Thirty thousand pounds... so his life is worth a single Range Rover for 22 years’ service? Disgusting.”
A Widnes polythene manufacturer has been fined for serious criminal safety breaches after a night shift employee was badly injured when he became trapped in a machine. British Polythene Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at BPI Widnes Films on 21 January 2014. Chester Crown Court heard the worker’s upper body was trapped for over a minute before being freed by colleagues, during which time he received injuries to his kidney, spleen and lungs. He was taken to hospital, where he spent three days in intensive care. He has lost the function of one kidney. The night shift worker was operating ‘multi-winders’ that convert ‘logs’ of stretch film polythene into smaller hand-sized reels. The logs are held in position for unwinding by two pneumatic arms, known as pivot or lift arms. During a short delay before the arms were activated, the worker walked down the machine checking there was no damage to the film. He noticed a piece of debris which could cause damage to the roll, but as he attempted to remove it he was trapped by the pivot arm. The company had previously identified a risk relating to pivot arms on similar winding machinery and had implemented control measures. HSE told the court that had the same approach been applied to this machine, and had the company taken appropriate precautions and measures to ensure safety when using the equipment, the employee’s life-changing injuries could have been prevented. British Polythene Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £10,033.
A Cheltenham firm that left workers at risk of potentially deadly diseases and injuries over a period of a decade despite repeat warnings from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has finally found itself facing justice. Welsted Joinery Ltd was fined for failing to use a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system to extracting asthma- and cancer-linked wood dust and for failing to have lifting equipment on its rider-operated trucks thoroughly examined. Chelmsford Magistrates Court was told previous enforcement notices had been issued covering these and other issues over a ten year period, after criminal safety breaches had been identified on a succession of previous HSE inspection visits to the company. Welsted Joinery pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and one criminal breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. It was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,240.50. HSE inspector Saffron Turnell said: “This case sends out a clear message that HSE will prosecute when inspectors find serious health and safety failings particularly when previous enforcement and advice has been provided.”
At least 18 workers have been killed after the truck they were travelling in overturned in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Police reported that a further 17 people were injured in the 14 September crash near Gundepalli village. The truck carrying cement and other construction materials was taking the workers to a construction site southeast of the capital, Hyderabad. Truck crashes are common in India and often caused by poorly maintained vehicles, overloading and bad driving. Preliminary investigations suggested that the driver appeared to have fallen asleep while driving, police officer Ravi Prakash told the AFP news agency. India has the highest annual road death toll in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across India, according to police.
Four workers died and sixteen were injured when the roof of a garment factory collapsed on 5 September in Lahore, Pakistan. The factory was operating in a poorly constructed building and producing garments for Primark, Topman, Burton, New Look and River Island. Jeans Company Private Limited was registered in 2010 and was producing jeans, shirts and caps. Around 1,150 workers were employed in the factory but because it was a Friday, most of them had left their workstation to attend Friday prayers. Only 40 workers were present when the roof of the factory caved, otherwise there would have been many more casualties. Jyrki Raina of the global union federation IndustriALL said: “Garment factories are still dangerous in Pakistan and in Bangladesh garment companies are making much too slow progress in improving factory safety. There is still too much complacency among global brands: How many more dead bodies do we need before brands take responsibility to ensure safe working conditions for all the workers who contribute to their multibillion dollar profits?” The 11 September third anniversary of the Ali Enterprises factory fire, Pakistan’s worst garment industry tragedy, prompted renewed calls on German retailer KiK to pay compensation to the relatives of the 254 workers killed and to the 55 others serious injured making KiK clothes.
Child labour, exposure to highly toxic chemicals and diseases related to extreme poverty and dismal, insanitary housing have been discovered at tea plantations in India despite the tea producers boasting certification by the corporate responsibility auditor the Rainforest Alliance. A BBC investigation found the firms supplying some of Britain's biggest tea brands, including PG Tips, Tetleys and Twinings, were Rainforest certified despite major violations of national law and Rainforest's own standard. Living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low, that tea workers and their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses, the BBC found. There was also a disregard for health and safety, with workers spraying chemicals without protection, and on some estates, child labour being used. A local activist told the BBC he believed the Rainforest Alliance was “more about selling tea than about empowering workers.” The BBC investigation confirmed concerns raised earlier by the global food and farming union IUF. IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commented: “Earlier cases showed us that Rainforest certification means nothing when it comes to ensuring workers’ rights and freedom of association. Now we have further examples of failure on housing, pesticides and child labour, failure that can easily mislead consumers and may constitute false advertising of products.” The union head concluded: “Companies have to stop hiding behind certification and Rainforest Alliance has to be asked if it really has a role to play in guaranteeing social conditions. Maybe Rainforest Alliance certification works for forest protection but for protection of workers and their working conditions we have another clear example of its failure. Consumers need to hear this truth.” In a statement, Rainforest Alliance said it takes the allegations seriously, adding: “An investigation into the allegations is currently underway.”
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