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Nearly a third of people have been bullied at work, according to new research from the TUC. The poll, carried out by YouGov for the TUC, reveals 29 per cent of workers report they have been bullied at work, with women (34 per cent) more likely to be victims of bullying than men (23 per cent). In nearly threequarters (72 per cent) of cases the bullying is carried out by a manager. The survey found more than one in three people (36 per cent) who report being bullied at work left their job because of it. Bullying had a major impact on firms and workers, the survey found, with nearly half saying it affected their performance at work, and the same proportion reporting it had a negative effect on their mental health. More than a quarter (28 per cent) said it has a detrimental effect on them physically, and around one in five (22 per cent) had to take time off work as a result of being bullied. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If bullies are allowed to dominate a workplace, wider office morale and productivity suffers too. Employers must have a zero-tolerance policy. Too many are simply ignoring bullying behaviour and failing to support staff.” She added: “Union reps play a crucial role in stopping bullying. We need strong unions in the workplace to combat unacceptable behaviour and protect workers. Anyone worried about bullying at work should join a union, to get their voice heard and their interests represented.” A study by the conciliation service Acas published this week found “workplace bullying is growing in Britain and many people are too afraid to speak up about it.”
Ÿ TUC news release and guides, Bullying at work - Guidance for safety representatives and Bullied at work? Don't suffer in silence. Acas news release and discussion paper, Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces, November 2015.
Driving examiners walked out on 19 and 20 November over planned legal changes they believe could undermine road safety. The action by PCS members came after the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) failed to give assurances over safe working hours. The union wants the agency to scrap plans to extend the working day and increase the number of driving tests examiners would be expected to carry out. The union said the move could breach legislation on conducting elements of the test in ‘good daylight’, as it would be impossible to conduct all tests in daylight hours during the winter. It wants the agency to conduct thorough research before making any changes, including into the physical and psychological effects of more tests and their likely impact on safety. PCS also says DVSA should fully review staffing given it has admitted it is 350 posts short. The union said its members have reported widespread intimidation by managers wanting to introduce new working patterns, including staff who have adjustments in place for caring responsibilities. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is about road safety and examiners are furious that the DVSA is pressing ahead without properly negotiating with us or fully understanding the likely consequences of its actions.”
UCATT has said it will “resolutely support” construction workers caught up in safety drama last week when a bridge’s lift failed high above the Firth of Forth. The small hoist is used to transport workers to and from the top of the central tower of the Queensferry Bridge, which is under construction on the Firth of Forth. Seven men were inside when the lift broke down at around 2pm on Thursday 12 November, approximately 350ft above the platform where they would normally get off. Their union, UCATT, said when the lift dropped and jolted to a stop, the men feared for their lives. It is understood two of the workers then climbed out of a hatch on top of the lift cage and clambered to safety down the steel running mast, using it as a ladder. The other five remained in the lift and were rescued two hours later. The two who left the lift cage were suspended. Harry Frew, Scottish regional secretary of UCATT, said the union was investigating the incident. “It was clearly extremely serious and our first response is to be relieved that no one appears to have suffered any serious physical injury. UCATT prioritises health and safety campaigns and the union is totally committed to ensuring that all construction workers on the site are protected and that safe systems of work are in place.” He added “we will resolutely support any of our members that have been affected by this incident.”
Shopworkers’ union leader John Hannett has welcomed advice from the National Police Chiefs' Council saying that shops must put adequate security in place to avoid a repeat of the scuffles seen during last year's Black Friday sales. The Usdaw general secretary said the union’s members “have real concerns” about the Black Friday sales event on 27 November. “The last two years have seen unprecedented scenes of mayhem in some stores, as bargain hunting turns into a frenzy. We have been talking to retailers on behalf of our members about organising their events to maximise safety and security for staff and customers alike.” Interim results of the union’s annual survey of shopworkers show a slight decline in the number of incidents, “but the overall figures are still shockingly high,” he said. “Over half of shopworkers were verbally abused in the last year, with more than 10 per cent on a weekly or daily basis, 3 in 10 were threatened with violence and over 2 per cent were assaulted. My message to shoppers is clear. Enjoy your shopping experience, keep your cool and respect shopworkers.”
The first two private prosecutions brought by Royal Mail following attacks on postal workers can be credited to the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) 'Bite-back’ campaign, the union has said. CWU said a dozen more private prosecutions by Royal Mail are pending “thanks to the CWU's campaign, which brought about new and tougher dog control laws and sentences, and an agreement whereby Royal Mail prosecutes wherever possible when the police and Crown Prosecution Service have failed to do so.” Dave Joyce, the union's national health and safety officer, said: “For Royal Mail to take on private prosecutions where the police and CPS fail to do so is another significant achievement.” In the latest case, a dog owner from Manchester pleaded guilty to owning a dog which was dangerously out of control. She was placed on a seven-week curfew order between 9pm and 6am and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £500, a surcharge of £60, a criminal courts charge of £180 and compensation of £750 to the postman whose arm “was ripped to bits” as he tried to deliver mail. A ban from keeping dogs for 18 months was also imposed. The dog, a mastiff cross, was put down. In the first case brought by Royal Mail, a dog owner from Leeds pleaded guilty earlier this year to owning a dog which was dangerously out of control, and was ordered to pay £300 compensation to the postman injured when he was attacked by an Alsatian. “The Leeds and Manchester judgments are 'landmark' cases which tested the resolve of Royal Mail as well as the revised law and legal system and so this is another big step for the union in protecting our members,” Dave Joyce said.
Stress and anxiety caused by work pressures should be officially recognised as an industrial injury, teaching union NASUWT has said. General secretary Chris Keates, speaking at the annual conference of NASUWT Cymru, said: “The constant change and excessive workload heaped onto teachers in Wales is clearly taking its toll with high levels of teachers reporting stress and anxiety. However, the situation is being compounded by the climate of fear that is being generated through appalling management practices where the fear of inspection or consortia challenge is being used to justify unacceptable and unrealistic demands being placed on teachers.” Rex Phillips, NASUWT national official for Wales, said: “Teachers should not be in fear of going to work, and their health and well-being should not be placed in jeopardy by managers who can only manage through a command and control approach and the abuse of process. Treating the breakdown in health that is suffered by those subjected to such practice as an industrial injury will assist in holding those that indulge in such practice to account.” National executive member Jane Setchfield, who proposed the stress motion passed by NASUWT’s Welsh conference, said: “Until stress, whatever its cause, is regarded as an industrial injury, teachers and school leaders will continue to be at unacceptable risk, and too many employers will continue to fail to take this issue seriously.”
Workers on the Caledonian Sleeper service are being balloted for industrial action after claiming private operator Serco has failed to address “potentially dangerous” defects in rolling stock. RMT said the service, which links Inverness and Fort William with London, has been suffering from defects such as broken toilets and fire alarms. This has led to delays and cancellations, the union said. The union added the service has been suffering from defects which are potentially dangerous to the staff on board and the public who are paying for a service that is “unreliable, increasingly uncomfortable and riddled with health, safety and welfare issues.” Rail union RMT general secretary Mick Cash said management had failed to address the issues brought up by reps over several months. The union leader told the Morning Star: “We will now proceed to ballot for industrial action before someone is injured.” The Scottish government handed Serco the contract to operate from March this year. Mick Cash said: “This is yet another example of Serco winning public sector contracts and failing to deliver for the taxpayer, passengers and staff.” Caledonian Sleeper managing director Peter Strachan said he was “disappointed” RMT is considering action.
When firms embroiled in deadly workplace disasters improve their safety performance it is primarily because of the heat they feel from unions and campaigners, a researcher has said. Juliane Reinecke, associate professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Warwick, said positive changes came about after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, in which over 1,100 workers died. These included the Accord for Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh, a groundbreaking agreement between about 190 brands, two global union federations and their affiliates, and four campaign groups. “But it wasn’t the disaster alone that brought the accord about,” she writes in the universities-backed blog, The Conversation. “A coalition of campaign groups and trade unions played a crucial role in seeing it come to pass. And their success offers some lessons in how groups can pressure other businesses to act more responsibly.” She said her research, which examined several major incidents, found “global unions used previously established relationships with some Western brands, such as H&M and Inditex, and the International Labour Organisation, which they could leverage.” Cooperation with campaign groups increased the union influence, and precipitated a move away from ‘social auditing’, a self-policing approach preferred by major brands. Professor Reinecke concludes: “The aftermath of Rana Plaza did create an environment in which companies, unions and workers could set aside differences and operate together through compromise. Ultimately, however, the real change came about thanks to the increasingly organised alliance of unions and campaign groups.”
Workers in Great Britain are not being protected from occupational diseases and deaths, and the official health and safety regulator shares the blame, according to an editorial this week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Occupational physician Anne Raynal, a former HSE chief medical inspector, said despite HSE’s estimate of around 500,000 new work-related illnesses every year, and over 13,000 deaths, probably fewer than 15 per cent of workers in Britain have access to adequate occupational health services. She predicted that “occupational medicine is unlikely to survive as a specialty because of a lack of enforcement of the employers' duty not to harm the health of their workers by the Health and Safety Executive.” Great Britain is the only major country in Europe that does not have a legal requirement for occupational health services, either by the state or employer, which would find these diseases early, she explained. Only 0.3 per cent of the estimated 500,000 new work-related illnesses are reported to the HSE. She added no prosecutions have been brought by the HSE against employers for not reporting occupational diseases or related deaths over the last five years, nor against employers for not providing statutory medical surveillance for workers exposed to asbestos – which is the biggest killer. “Occupational physicians have been actively discouraged from identifying cases of work related ill health, with evidence of their having careers threatened or ended,” wrote Raynal. She said there has been a shift in focus from using doctors' clinical skills to identify and prevent work-related ill health to helping employers avoid unfair disability discrimination or dismissal claims. The difficulties this creates is reflected in the doubling of referrals of occupational doctors to the General Medical Council for alleged unethical conduct in 2012, she wrote. HSE is not picking up the slack - its legally mandated medical division is a fraction of its former size, now with just two doctors covering the entire workforce in Great Britain.
Almost half of the refurbishment sites targeted during a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection blitz fell criminally short of the required safety standards. HSE targeted small refurbishment sites between 14 September and 9 October (Risks 720). Its construction inspectors visited 1,908 sites and inspected more than 2,381 contractors. In total 2,274 individual inspections were carried out, resulting in 692 enforcement notices and 983 notifications of contravention. HSE construction chief inspector Peter Baker said: “It is disappointing that some small refurbishment sites are still cutting corners and not properly protecting their workers.” As well as safety concerns, HSE found workers were frequently exposed to preventable occupational disease risks. “The mis-conception that health issues cannot be controlled is simply not true and ruining people’s lives. Harmful dust, whether silica or wood, is a serious issue and can be managed effectively with the right design, equipment and training,” the HSE construction chief said. “Health effects may not be immediate but the ultimate impact on workers and their families can be devastating. Each week 100 construction workers die from occupational disease.”
Studies show low paying, lower status jobs tend to come with much higher safety and health risks. So, it might come as a surprise to many that workplace health interventions are twice as likely to target those on the higher rungs of the workplace ladder, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson has said. Writing on the TUC’s workplace safety facebook page, he pointed to research published last year that examined workplace interventions worldwide aimed at benefiting the health of the workforce. It found 36 in total, grouping interventions into those aimed at weight loss, healthy eating, preventing or supporting those with stress, and musculoskeletal disorders. The study found over twice as many interventions were aimed at the higher skilled occupational groups such as managers, than at the lower skilled ones. In the case of stress, those in the higher grades were more than three times as likely to have an intervention aimed at helping them than the lower skilled groups. For MSDs, they were nearer 10 times as likely to have an intervention. The authors, from Düsseldorf University’s faculty of medicine, conclude “the challenge of reducing work-related health inequalities by targeting health-promoting activities at occupational groups with high needs remains largely unmet.” According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson: “There is no evidence that lower skilled workers are less likely to get stress or MSDs (quite the opposite), nor does the paper find any evidence that the interventions are more likely to benefit the more highly skilled. So manual workers, shopworkers, cleaners, etc., are basically far more likely to have their health needs ignored by their bosses.”
Ÿ TUC health and safety facebook page. D Montano, H Hoven, J Siegrist. A meta-analysis of health effects of randomized controlled worksite interventions: Does social stratification matter?, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, volume 40, number 3, pages 230-234, 2014.
Nearly 600 suicides in England could be associated with the government's "fit-for-work" tests, researchers have found. A team from Oxford and Liverpool universities looked at 2010-13 data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases. The researchers said that while a causal link could not be established, they had tried to adjust for other factors which may have influenced the results. They also noted that the observed increases in mental ill health followed - rather than preceded - the reassessment process. The research paper, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, examined 149 English council areas. It found that each additional 10,000 people subjected to a WCA was associated with an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of an additional 7,020 anti-depressants. Overall, that amounted to 590 extra suicides, 279,000 additional cases of mental health problems and an additional 725,000 anti-depressants across England as a whole. The researchers said: “Our study provides evidence that the policy in England of re-assessing the eligibility of benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health. There is a danger that these adverse effects outweigh any benefits that may or may not arise from moving people off disability benefits.” In August, the TUC called for an urgent inquiry into the tests after official figures revealed over 1,000 people a year were dying shortly after being told they were fit for work. Unions Unite and PCS called for the privatised testing system to be to be brought back under public control, and to be reformed so it prioritised providing support for sick and disabled people (Risks 717).
Ÿ B Barr, D Taylor-Robinson, D Stuckler, R Loopstra, A Reeves, M Whitehead. ‘First, do no harm’: are disability assessments associated with adverse trends in mental health? A longitudinal ecological study, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Online First, 16 November 2015. doi:10.1136/jech-2015-206209
A Wrexham firm has been fined after a worker was killed when a machine weighing around half a tonne fell on him. Chester Crown Court heard Christopher Williams, a maintenance supervisor at Morgan Technical Ceramics Limited, was using a pallet truck to move a power press that was stored in a shipping container in the yard behind the factory. The press toppled over, striking the 51-year-old, causing fatal injuries to his chest. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident, which occurred in December 2012, found that the lifting operation was unsafe and Mr Williams had not been adequately trained in undertaking the lifting of non-standard loads. Judge Rhys Rowlands rejected the claims from the company that Mr Williams had been sufficiently trained in loading and unloading heavy loads. He said: “Had he received training he would have followed such training.” The judge added: “He did not recognise that risk with tragic consequences. He lost his life as a result of the breach. There is no sentence I can pass that will reflect the loss of Mr Williams to his family and friends. Lessons were learned but the tragedy here is it was only after the accident.” Morgan Technical Ceramics Limited was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £23,300 in costs after pleading guilty to criminal health and safety offences. HSE inspector Katherine Walker said: “Thirty per cent of fatal accidents in manufacturing in Great Britain involve the fall of a heavy item. It is important that everyone involved in maintenance understands the risks and lifts are properly planned by a competent person.”
A scaffolding firm has been fined after a worker was seriously injured in a nine metre fall. Bristol Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of Bristol-based Tubular Access Scaffolds Limited, whose name has not been released, was dismantling a scaffold structure when he fell, causing life-changing head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 23 July 2013, found there was no evidence of preventive measures by the company. Tubular Access Scaffolds Limited was fined £26,250 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Health and Safety Executive principal inspector Helena Tinton said: “If the company had managed a safe system of work with properly trained and equipped scaffolders, then the employee would not have suffered such terrible injuries.”
Korean campaigners rallied last week at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul to call on the company to re-establish an arbitration process with occupational disease victims. Campaign group SHARPS and individuals who say they were harmed working in Samsung’s electronics factories held the 13 November ‘Sam Ba’ party outside the company HQ. Sam Ba, a homophone of the Brazilian dance style samba, is an abbreviation of the Korean for SHARP’s slogan “Change Samsung”. An estimated 75 activists wearing clean suits - typical work-wear in semiconductor labs - marched toward the Samsung headquarters, shouting “Samsung killed more than this many.” SHARPS puts the number of Samsung-related deaths at 103. It says several human rights and labour groups jointly sponsored the Sam Ba event. Days earlier, 27 medical, labour and academic organisations issued a joint statement calling on Samsung to end a compensation scheme introduced without their participation and re-establish the arbitration process involving SHARPS. The campaigners said the compensation scheme was intended by Samsung to head off legal action and pressure for improvements in the firm’s health and safety practices.
Trade unionists from Korea travelled to a UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva this week to protest at the growing number of fatalities at the world’s biggest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries Group (HHI). They say 16 workers died in 15 separate incidents in the period from March 2014 to October 2015 - almost one a month. Local activists joined the Korean trade unionists at a protest rally and ritual outside the UN building to commemorate the dead. All the workers who died were employed by subcontractors, which unions say reflects a ‘risk-outsourcing’ policy employed by HHI. They say the company refuses to take responsibility for the deaths of the contract workers even though the work was clearly under the control of HHI. HHI’s industrial accident insurance contributions have reduced by almost US$ 87 million over the past five years because those who perished were working at HHI’s subcontractors, and not directly for HHI. “HHI is abusing such a loophole to avoid legal responsibility, but it cannot avoid moral responsibility,” said Chang-min Ha, chair of the Hyundai Heavy Subcontractor Workers’ local trade union, which represents subcontracted workers working at HHI shipyards and its subsidiaries. “Only Hyundai can improve the working conditions in their own yards.” Korean courts have ruled that HHI has used unfair labour practices and must take responsibility for the working conditions of subcontracted workers, but unions say the Korean government has turned a blind eye and the abuse continues.
The global transport union federation ITF has demanded immediate action to protect trade unionists in Libya after the attempted murder of a prominent activist. Nermin Al-Sharif, leader of the ITF-affiliated Dockers’ and Seafarers’ Union of Libya, was driving a car near Benghazi that was followed by two other cars and shot at, crashing as a result. She is now out of hospital and recovering from her injuries. ITF has written to the prime minister of the interim government in Libya, Abdullah al-Thinni, calling for more to be done to protect trade unionists and other activists in the country. ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: “There’s been a series of attacks on brilliant and committed activists in Libya and the government cannot pretend this is not happening. This is part of a campaign to silence democratic debate by any means possible. The people of Libya and the union movement need people like Nermin Al-Sharif, and we wish her a speedy recovery.” The attack was the second attempt on Nermin Al-Sharif’s life and follows the murder of three other well-known female activists in Libya. Human rights lawyer Salwa Bugaighis, politician Fariha Al-Berkawi and human rights activist Initissar al-Hasaari have been assassinated in the last 16 months. Nermin Al-Sharif was among those who lodged the successful International Labour Organisation (ILO) complaint about the use of forced labour in Qatar.
Deregulatory labour market reforms in Spain in 2012 led to more job insecurity and higher staff turnover and a subsequent sharp rise in workplace injuries, unions have said. The number of workplace injuries registered in Spain during the first six months of 2015 grew by almost 7 per cent in comparison to 2014. As many as 218,019 “minor” accidents were reported, 13,577 more than during the same period last year. There were 239 work fatalities, 16 more than in 2014. Pedro J Linares, safety secretary with the CC.OO trade union confederation, said the reforms had “made dismissals cheaper, weakened trade union bargaining power and slackened investment in occupational health and safety. When people come and go from a company, there is no training. Turnover is very high, as is job insecurity.” He added: “The increased workload linked to the rate of unemployment and the change in the models of employment and labour relations are fuelling increased job insecurity and turnover. When 25 per cent of contracts last for less than seven days, there is little scope for occupational safety training.” ‘Precarious employment kills’, a report from the union USO, concludes “it is not by chance that the change in trend, increasing occupational accidents, came about in 2013, a year after the reform took effect”. With an election looming, unions are campaigning for the 2012 labour law changes to be repealed. They are opposing a proposed system of economic incentives to firms with low accident rates, arguing it could encourage them not to report injuries.
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