|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.|
The TUC is to take its campaign against the government’s Trade Union Bill to the House of Lords. Commenting after the Bill completed its third reading this week in the House of Commons, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has shown once again its determination to undermine the fundamental right to strike. Ministers simply want to make it harder for working people to get fair treatment at work.” Among many other concerns, the TUC says the proposals would seriously hamper the life-saving trade union safety role by restricting the time off some safety reps could take to perform their functions (Risks 726). And employers will be free to use inexperienced agency temp workers to break strikes, again with a big concomitant threat to safety (Risks 726). Describing the 10 November Commons vote as “disappointing”, the TUC leader affirmed “the campaign against the Bill is far from over. We will continue to oppose it as it goes through the House of Lords. As was shown in Parliament today, there is widespread concern about the threat this Bill poses to good industrial relations. It was welcome to see politicians from many parties recognise the damage it could do. This Bill is not fit for purpose and should have no place in a modern democracy.” Only the Conservatives and UKIP supported the Bill, which faced significant cross-party opposition. Four Conservative MPs - David Davis, Sarah Wollaston, Stephen McPartland and Jeremy LeFroy - proposed or signed amendments to the Bill.
Traffic wardens in Hackney, in east London, have secured the London living wage and a proper company sick pay policy after last ditch talks to avert strike action (Risks 724). The 30 Unite members at APCOA Parking, their private sector employer, had no company sick pay policy, with members only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). The company has now agreed to introduce a sick pay scheme allowing 15 days paid sick leave over a rolling year. The deal, following talks at the conciliation service Acas, also sees the London living wage introduced, backdated to November 2014, along with a 1.5 per cent pay increase. The Unite members had staged two days of strike action in August. Hailing the “fantastic victory”, Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “If it hadn’t have been for the two days of strike action this summer, then the company would have continued with its refusal to get around the negotiating table. It is only because our members took strike action that Unite was able to negotiate a better deal.”
Firefighters have condemned attacks on fire crews around Bonfire Night, Halloween and other events. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) also warned that a downward trend in attacks of this kind in recent years could be reversed if the neutrality of firefighters is undermined by a police takeover (Risks 726). The warning from the FBU came after a spate of incidents throughout the UK where firefighters were attacked while on duty. In Staffordshire, firefighters were forced to call for backup when they were surrounded by a group of youths. Manchester firefighters were pelted with bricks and fireworks while fire crews in Peterborough were attacked as they were extinguishing a bonfire. Other attacks were reported in Northumberland and Leeds. A number of similar incidents were reported in Scotland. In at least one incident fire hoses were slashed. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The attacks faced by firefighters over the past few days have been shocking and disgraceful. Our members work every day to protect the public. To be attacked by some of the people you’re there to serve is outrageous. Thankfully, these sorts of incidents are not common, but we do not want this becoming the norm. We fear that violent attacks on firefighters, which have reduced over the past 10 years – largely because of the increased presence of firefighters in their local communities – could make a resurgence.” The union leader warned: “If the fire and rescue service is seen as an extension of the police force we will likely see an erosion of the public trust that we rely on daily when we need to access people’s homes to tackle fires, to perform preventative work, such as fitting fire alarms, and community safety work. We provide a humanitarian service – not a law enforcement service. It is a mistake for anyone to think otherwise.”
Shopworkers are suffering in silence as more than one in five (22 per cent) fail to tell their bosses about attacks by customers, a union survey has revealed. Many feel reporting incidents would be a waste of time and consider dealing with violent and abusive members of the public ‘part of the job’. The survey by shopworkers’ union Usdaw reveals more than half were verbally abused last year with one in 10 saying it was happening on a daily or weekly basis. Three in 10 were threatened with violence and more than 2 per cent were physically assaulted, the survey found. The union’s Freedom From Fear snapshot survey of 2,536 shopworkers came as Usdaw launched its annual campaign urging customers to keep their cool in the run-up to Christmas. John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. So it is very concerning that one in five do not report something as serious as a violent attack to their employer.” He added: “My message to shopworkers is very clear - abuse is not a part of the job. We are talking to employers to ensure that reporting systems are easily accessible and will make a real difference to the protection.”
More than four out of every 10 teachers (41 per cent) in independent schools are only getting a 20 minute uninterrupted lunch break during their working day of six or more hours, according to a poll by teaching union ATL. Staff report having to regularly run clubs and extracurricular activities during meal times, leaving them with little time to eat and rest. Others say they are expected to start preparing for their next lessons. The poll found that 66 per cent of private school teachers did not receive any additional allowances or payments for extra work carried out. Many members said they are having to work long hours each day, with some putting in 14 hours in a day. The union said its members reported they have to 'work until the job is done', no matter how many hours that entails. Although having no set contracted hours is common practice in the majority of private schools, many felt working such long days was too much. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “It is disheartening that independent school staff have to work considerably long hours and are not even getting a reasonable break during the day in which to re-charge. Excessive workload is one of the most serious issues facing the education profession. It affects the quality of teaching and learning our members are able to deliver. It is driving experienced and valuable staff from the profession and is having a hugely detrimental impact on personal lives.” She added: "Private schools also need to recognise the worth of their staff and pay them fairly. If not, staff are left disheartened, with many leaving the profession – adding to the already large-scale problem of teacher shortages.”
An eight year delay in securing the conviction of a firm responsible for the death of an electrician cannot be justified, the construction union UCATT has said. The union was commenting after 777 Demolition and Haulage Co Limited was convicted of criminal safety breaches related to the August 2007 death of John Walker on a south London demolition site (Risks 727). A sister company, 777 Environmental Limited, employed Mr Walker and had pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences. UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “Spare a thought for the family of electrician John Walker who was not only taken from them by workplace negligence but who have then had to endure almost a decade of legal proceedings before blame was finally assigned. This was not a public enquiry into a war, a plane crash or a complicated corporate legal case. One man died on London’s Walworth Road and yet it took long eight years to assign cause and blame.” The union leader added: “Shame on this employer and shame on all of us for allowing families to be put through such hell. There is no justifiable reason why a case like this should not be resolved quickly. This is a tawdry saga that has wasted time and money, and only served to exacerbate the deep, deep pain and loss felt by a family. We say to the Health and Safety Executive and all the other bodies involved in these cases – this should not happen again.”
Site union GMB has welcomed a decision to cancel thousands of site safety qualifications after widespread fraud in the process was discovered. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced this week it was to recall 6,000 Health, Safety and Environment Tests (HS&E) cards. Construction workers across the UK can use a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card to prove their skills – and a pass in CITB’s health and safety tests is a required step in obtaining a skills card. But a BBC investigation last month revealed widespread, organised cheating, with numerous test centres were offering guaranteed CSCS passes for cash (Risks 726). In a statement after the CITB announcement, CSCS said it “accepts many of the 6,000 cardholders will not have taken part in fraudulent activity, however to retain the support and confidence of industry and avoid any doubt all the card holders contacted by CITB will be required to retake the test.” GMB national officer for construction, Phil Whitehurst, said: “Even though we should not have been in this position in the first place GMB fully supports the positive steps being taken by CITB and CSCS following the BBC exposé regarding the fraudulent issuing of CSCS cards.” He said: “While many of the 6,000 will be innocent parties the risk to health and safety on sites from those who have fraudulently obtained cards has to be eliminated,” adding employers “should not just take at face value a card being presented which has been the case previously by so many employers.”
This November is anti-bullying month – and the TUC wants to hear about your experiences of the problem. The union body is concerned workplace bullying is still a big issue for far too many workers across the UK and is carrying out new research to find out about the extent of the problem and its effects. It says bullying in the workplace can take many forms and the results can be devastating for the victim's physical and mental health. People have told the TUC about: Being shouted at or humiliated in front of their colleagues; having their work unfairly and repeatedly criticised; being constantly undermined; being separated from their teams; having decent work withheld from them; and having gossip spread about them behind their back. It wants bullied workers to share their stories “to help raise awareness of how damaging workplace bullying can be.” It adds: “Can we use your story in our materials and in the media?” If you’d like to help, TUC has produced a quick and easy online questionnaire.
High job demands, stress and job insecurity are among the main reasons why people go to work when they are ill, according to a new study by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Concordia University in Canada. The study investigated the reasons why employees go to work when sick, known as presenteeism. The results, published this week in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, indicate one of the most significant causes of presenteeism is the severity of organisational policies used to monitor or reduce staff absence, such as strict trigger points for disciplinary action, job insecurity, limited paid sick leave, or few absence days allowed without a medical certificate. Lead author Dr Mariella Miraglia, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said: “Working while ill can compound the effects of the initial illness and result in negative job attitudes and withdrawal from work. However, the possible negative consequences of being absent can prompt employees to show up ill or to return to work when not totally recovered. Organisations may want to carefully review attendance policies for features which could decrease absence at the cost of increased presenteeism.” The research analysed data from 61 previous studies involving more than 175,960 participants, including the European Working Conditions Survey which sampled employees from 34 countries. Job demands, such as workload, understaffing, overtime and time pressure, along with difficulty of finding cover and personal financial difficulties, were found to be key reasons why people might not take a day off.
Ÿ UEA news release. Mariella Miraglia and Gary Johns. 'Going to work ill: a meta-analysis of the correlates of presenteeism and a dual-path model', Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, published online first, 9 November 2015.
Construction union UCATT has warned that the absence of sick pay can endanger not only the lives of the sick staff who miss out but also the safety of their co-workers, as workers carry on working while ill to protect their income. The union was commenting on the findings of a new study by the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Norwich Business School that showed presenteesim - going to work when ill - is linked to errors and low performance in the workplace. It found working while ill can exacerbate the illness, affecting general wellbeing – and in a knock-on effect, increases further the levels of poor performance. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: “In a construction context, this research points to a significant failing in construction industry practice where some workers carry on working while ill in order not to lose out on wages. No one should work when they are ill – or feel they are forced to do so. Not only is it proven to be counterproductive, but within industries like construction, it could be life-threatening for both the individual and his or her colleagues.” He added: “The research shows that people who are happy at work, have supportive colleagues and good relationships with managers, feel they do not have to work when ill – and are thus both more satisfied with their jobs and healthier. It’s common sense. And we urge those in the construction industry to take heed.”
The father of three sisters who brought employment claims against an award-winning chef has said tribunal fees could put people off challenging workplace abuse. Dick Palmer's daughters, Bethany, Lucy and Esme, had claims including sexual harassment and unfair dismissal upheld against Ben Cox, co-owner of the Star Inn at Sancton near Beverley. But he said the case only went ahead after he agreed to pay a £250 fee just to start a claim. Mr Palmer said: “The costs just keep on going up and up and, when you sit down and think of it all, it would be enough to put most people off but my daughters were convinced something had to be done and we had to bring this case forward.” In October, a tribunal found Bethany, 24, and Lucy, 21, were unfairly dismissed and Lucy and Esme, 17, were sexually harassed by Mr Cox. The restaurant was also found to have breached working time regulations by denying Bethany and Lucy a rest break. Under the fees system introduced by the government in 2013, workers have to pay £160 or £250 to lodge a claim and a charge of either £230 or £950 if the case goes ahead, though exceptions apply. Safety victimisation claims fall in the higher charges category. UNISON has argued some workers are being “priced out of justice” and it is taking its battle to have the charges abolished to the Supreme Court. After sustained criticism spearheaded by unions, the government is currently reviewing the charges system.
The prime minister has said the government will review the way in which veterans dying as a result of exposure to asbestos during their military service are compensated. During prime minister’s questions last week, David Cameron was challenged by Labour MP Dave Anderson over a system that means former service personnel suffering from mesothelioma, a deadly lung cancer caused by asbestos, get much lower payouts (Risks 727). In response, the prime minister said: “I’m very grateful to the honourable gentleman for raising this issue, I understand that the defence secretary is looking at it.” The move came days after the Royal British Legion revealed the gulf in compensation given to civilians and veterans suffering cancer from asbestos exposure. Chris Simpkins, director general of veterans’ organisation, said: “We welcome the fact the prime minister has said that both he and the defence secretary will look into the current situation regarding compensating veterans suffering from cancer as a result of being exposed to asbestos while serving.” He added: “We look forward to the government coming forward with a solution soon.”
A Gloucestershire roofing company has pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety neglect after workers were exposed to highly toxic lead. Worcester Magistrates’ Court was told that during a routine Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection, the company was observed carrying out replacement lead work on a roof in Worcester. The company was found to have not assessed the risks of exposure to lead and it had not implemented suitable controls to prevent that exposure. The two workers had ‘significant’ levels of lead in their blood, according to HSE. McDonnell-Price (Roofing) Contractors Limited of Stroud Business Centre pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £893.95 in costs. Exposure to lead at work can cause headaches, tiredness, nausea and stomach pains. It can also cause long-term conditions, including cancer and brain and kidney damage. A study published in December 2014 linked occupational exposure to lead to a greatly increased risk of developing the degenerative condition Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ (Risks 685).
The owner of a Scottish fishing vessel where a man died after inhaling dangerous fumes has been fined for his criminal safety failings. James Thores, who was charged following the death in 2011 of 37-year-old Artis Sterkis, his ship’s engineer, was told to pay a £20,000 penalty. In October, Thores plead guilty at Elgin Sheriff Court to a criminal safety breach. Father-of-one Mr Sterkis had been sailing on the MFV Starlight Rays for two days before he was instructed by Thores to pump out water from a small section of boat near the fish hold. However, neither of the vessel’s two pump systems were operational on 25 August 2011 and a petrol-powered device intended only for emergency firefighting was used in their place. Mr Sterkis was found unconscious by a co-worker who himself suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. The boat was on standby in the BP-owned Devenick field about 169 miles off the coast of Aberdeen when the incident happened. The crew had been contracted by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation to carry out guard duties for the offshore industry. A rescue helicopter was dispatched and airlifted Mr Sterkis and another crewman to hospital but Mr Sterkis did not recover. Sentencing, Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov said if Thores had followed recommendations from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), then this tragedy would not have occurred. Because the death was investigated by MCA, which brought the prosecution, it is not included in the Health and Safety Executive’s fatality figures.
A director of waste management firm South Coast Skips Ltd has received a suspended jail sentence after one worker died and an agency worker was left seriously injured when they fell from the bucket of an excavator. Lindsay Campbell, a 66-year-old father of ten from Waterlooville in Hampshire, was killed when the bucket of the excavator he was working in tipped, causing him to fall nine metres to the ground. Mr Campbell’s colleague, who was in the bucket alongside him, also fell and suffered severe leg injuries in the incident on 25 July 2012 at the company’s site in Arundel. Chichester Crown Court heard that Lindsay Campbell had carried on working for Kevin Hoare, a director of South Coast Skips, despite recently retiring. On the day of the incident he was running an electric cable to power a waste screening machine known as a ‘trommel’. Mr Campbell decided to run the cable along a previously used route in the rafters of the shed and asked to be lifted in the bucket of an excavator. The excavator driver lifted both Mr Campbell and an agency worker and whilst positioning the cable the hydraulic pressure dropped causing the bucket to tip forward. Both men fell nine metres to the concrete floor. The court heard the bucket of an excavator is not designed to lift people yet nobody on site attempted to stop this activity taking place. South Coast Skips Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £65,000 plus £25,000 costs. Company director Kevin Hoare, 65, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was given a 12 month custodial sentence suspended for 18 months.
A Cambodian garment worker died and 21 others were hospitalised after they collapsed at a Chinese-owned factory last week, the latest spate of similar incidents to hit the country’s textile industry. A 21-year-old woman reported dizziness and difficulty breathing on the morning of 5 November at the Or Sambath Trading factory in eastern Prey Veng province before she collapsed and later died at hospital, local governor Duch Kunthea told the media. Twenty-one other workers at the factory collapsed later that evening or the following morning with similar symptoms. “Doctors, labour officials and authorities are investigating the cause of death of the worker,” he said. The factory, which employs more than 1,200 workers, mostly women, was ordered to close for four days for investigation, Duch Kunthea added. Safety concerns about Cambodia’s garment factories are rife, with incidents like this blamed on the impact of poor nutrition linked to low wages, substandard working conditions (Risks 695), bad ventilation or exposure to dangerous chemicals. Last month, Cambodia said it will raise the minimum monthly wage for garment workers to US$140 (S$197), an increase of nearly 10 per cent but still well short of union demands (Risks 681, Risks 704).
There is strong evidence that regulatory health and safety inspections that result in enforcement action are effective in reducing work-related injuries, a major study has concluded. The systematic review of the international scientific literature conducted by the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) confirmed the key finding of a 2007 IWH review. The earlier study, which covered the research from 1970 to 2003, found strong evidence that citations and penalties reduce the frequency or severity of injuries. The new review covered the evidence from 1990 to 2013. Unlike the earlier review, which considered only final outcomes such as injuries, illnesses and fatalities, this update also looked at intermediate outcomes such as compliance. Lead author of both studies, Dr Emile Tompa, said his team found strong evidence for the effectiveness of inspections with citations and penalties in reducing injuries. By contrast, there was moderate evidence that inspections without penalties have no effect in reducing injuries. “What this shows is employers do take steps to prevent work-related injuries for employees when there are direct consequences to them,” Tompa said. Dr David Michaels, who heads up the US government’s workplace safety regulator OSHA, said the research “confirms what we have been saying for a long time – that OSHA inspections and penalties are important and effective components of a comprehensive strategy to improve workplace safety and health. That's why we have made strong, fair and effective enforcement one of OSHA's primary objectives in this Administration.”
Workers warned management about cracks in a four-storey plastic bag factory in Lahore before it collapsed on 4 November, local unions have said. Press reports say at least 45 of the 150 workers known to have been in the building have been killed, with some of those rescued in a critical condition. Global union IndustriALL, citing its affiliates in Pakistan, reports that workers saw cracks in the building a few days before the collapse and informed management, but nothing was done. The factory in the eastern Pakistan city, run by polythene bag manufacturer Rajput Polyester, had reportedly suffered damage during an earthquake that hit the region on 26 October and was undergoing building work to add an additional storey, allegedly without planning permission. One witness, who visited the factory on 2 November, said he noticed that an exhaust pipe was damaged because the wall it was fixed to was sinking slowly into the ground. When workers put more pressure on factory managers about their concerns, they called the owner of the business. He was reportedly killed while inspecting the factory at the time of the collapse. This was the second factory collapse in Lahore in a little over two months. In September a garment factory’s roof collapsed, killing four workers. “These incidents are happening because there are no proper factory inspections being done in Pakistan,” said Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation in Lahore. “Factory owners are killing workers by saving money that should have been spent on making workplaces safe. There is no political will in government to implement factory inspections and other labour laws. There was no union in this big factory, which could have raised the workers’ voice and saved lives.” Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, said: “We demand a full transparent, independent, investigation into this tragedy. We urge the Pakistani government to take immediate action to prevent more workers being killed in perilous factories.”
A renowned chemical safety expert in the Philippines is being subjected to a protracted campaign of legal and professional harassment after warning that banana workers were being poisoned by pesticides, safety advocates have said. They said the latest attacks, by banana producer Lapanday Agricultural Development Corp (Ladeco), came after he advised against aerial spraying of pesticides. More than 100 groups belonging to IPEN, a global network working for chemical safety, and Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (Panap), have appealed to authorities in the country to dismiss what they described as malicious charges filed against Romeo F Quijano, a doctor, scientist and an internationally recognised health expert. Quijano, a member of the Steering Committee of Panap and president of PAN Philippines, is facing charges of “unprofessionalism” before the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). If found guilty, PRC can strip Dr Quijano of his medical licence. IPEN and Panap say the complaint against Dr Quijano stems from his 2000 report ‘Poisoned Lives,’ which documents pesticide poisoning in the banana plantations operated by Ladeco in the province of Davao del Sur. Two related libel cases brought by the company were dismissed by the courts. In response to the latest attack, Dr Quijano’s supporters have urged the PRC to “ensure that Quijano’s exemplary work for chemical safety and public health is duly honoured and protected against dubious complaints that seek to cast doubt on his professional integrity as a medical doctor, scientist and retired professor in Pharmacology and Toxicology at the College of Medicine of the University of Philippines in Manila.” In a statement, Panap executive director Sarojeni V Rengam said: “There is clearly a pattern of legal persecution to intimidate Dr Quijano. Remember that this PRC case is just the latest in a series of lawsuits that he has faced for his work on pesticide poisoning in banana plantations. Who else has the motive and capacity to launch such systematic and sustained offensive but the big businesses being directly hit by Dr Quijano’s research and advocacy.”
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