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The European Commission has been urged by the TUC, a global union and an industry body to withdraw an ‘insulting’ ‘better regulation’ information sheet that includes a serious safety gaffe. The newly published factsheet promotes an EC work plan that contains no positive action on workplace safety and drops commitments to act on workplace musculoskeletal disorders and cancers (Risks 727). On page three it includes an illustration showing a hairdresser standing up and cutting a client’s hair, with a large stiletto shoe to the forefront. The graphic, next to a caption saying “the EU must not be big on small things”, has a large red cross above it, indicating it was an issue the EC decided was not deserving of action. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said this appears to refer to a 2012 story that appeared in the UK tabloid press, claiming that the EC planned to ban hairdressers from wearing high heels. This was then seized on by the Tory safety minister to attack safety regulation (Risks 552). The whole story was “utter nonsense,” Robertson said. “There was an agreement made between the employers and unions who represent hairdressers at European level on how to deal with the appalling health record. It said, amongst other things, that because of the considerable trip hazard that existed in salons due to the risk of spillages and hair on the floor, workers should ‘wear suitable clothes for their activities or workwear clothing and, in particular, shoes with non-slip soles.’ The agreement also dealt with preventing skin disorders, musculoskeletal diseases and the needs of pregnant workers.” He added: “After it was produced and agreed, the employers and unions asked the European Commission to turn it into a directive so that it could be applied throughout Europe and the Commission refused.” According to the TUC safety specialist, the EC has now gone further, “mocking the agreement and the workers affected as being a ‘small thing’.” He said studies have shown hairdressers are at a greatly increased risk of work-related skin disease, asthma and musculoskeletal disorders. “It is grossly insulting for the Commission to use its resources to not only peddle a myth (that an agreement was about high heels), but also imply that the health of this group is not important and worthy of the Commission’s time.” UNI, the union confederation representing hairdressers at a European level and its industry equivalent, Coiffure EU, have written to the European Commission to “request the official retraction of the graphic on hairdressers in the publication.”
Unite has welcomed the ‘unreserved apology’ from the Metropolitan Police to the seven women duped into relationships with undercover police officers specially assigned to infiltrate politically active groups or causes. The union said that the time has now come for those responsible for the Special Demonstration Squad to acknowledge its role in destroying the lives of dozens of blacklisted men and women working in construction and associate industries. The union was speaking out after the Met announced a settlement deal with the women. Martin Hewitt, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, said: “Thanks in large part to the courage and tenacity of these women in bringing these matters to light it has become apparent that some officers, acting undercover whilst seeking to infiltrate protest groups, entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong.” Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “At long last, we are arriving at the truth regarding the disturbing scale of these covert activities and an acceptance that there was an organised and appalling misuse of police officers to spy on UK citizens. We have long been concerned that this misuse of the police extended to the workplace where ‘rogue’ employers developed a blacklist of construction workers and others who were union members.” She added: “We are also fully aware of, at least, one police official who posed as a construction worker and union activist in order to be a surveillance source for employers and the state… It is, therefore, vital that the Metropolitan Police fully acknowledges its connivance in the ‘blacklisting’ operation in order that we can both clean up current day problems and then move swiftly to full justice and compensation for those men and women who were denied a livelihood simply because they were members of a union or active in a cause.” She said: “These workers have spent a working lifetime fighting for that justice. Further delay in delivering it to them is yet another scandal in the making.”
Ÿ Unite news release. Metropolitan Police news release. Morning Star.
Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett is urging the Scottish government to do more to protect shopworkers from violence. The union general secretary, who has written to Paul Wheelhouse MSP, minister for community safety and legal affairs, said: “The Scottish government no longer records assaults of shopworkers or other public-facing workers, which concerns me because we believe that incidents of violence at work are increasing at a time when overall violent crime is falling. So I have called on the Scottish government to commit to once again record incidents of violence at work when they review the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.” He added: “That survey evidence is a crucial part of the case to extend existing protections for emergency service workers, doctors and nurses to all public facing workers.” He concluded: “We can see no justification for not protecting shopworkers, who perform an important role in our communities and have a legal responsibility to enforce the law on age-related sales. Our survey of shopworkers shows that every minute of every day another shopworker is assaulted, threatened or abused. This must not continue and we call on the political parties in Holyrood to come together and act to improve the safety of all public-facing workers.”
Ÿ Usdaw news release.
Pilots are an untapped resource of expertise and experience in the fight against terror and the other major threats to the safety of passengers, planes and crew, their union BALPA has said. In a speech this week to the Airport Operators Association conference, union general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “Pilots have a key role to play in helping understand, evaluate and challenge the assessment of security risks. With millions of hours flying experience and first hand and up to date knowledge of the world's airports, pilots have a unique vantage that should be harnessed to keep passengers and crew safe.” He added bad management practices and not terrorism could be the cause of the next disaster. “Pilots believe it is crucial to tackle other serious risks alongside current security threats. Evidence tells us the next major accident is just as likely to be caused by an inexperienced crew, flying on a temporary contract and suffering fatigue after a disrupted day. We need to ensure that’s not the case through tight regulation and tough enforcement of those rules.” The union leader concluded: “All pilots take their responsibility for the safety of their passengers extremely seriously and want to be engaged in discussions to keep aviation safe. Their experience and expertise could and should be used to help create long term solutions aimed at keeping passengers and crews safe.”
Ÿ BALPA news release.
Steelworkers from across the UK took part in a minute's silence at a union rally on 21 November to remember the two Celsa workers who died earlier in the week in an explosion at a Cardiff plant. Hundreds of steelworkers from Wales travelled to Sheffield for a rally for the Save our Steel campaign event organised by steel trade unions. A number of Celsa workers had been due to take part but they pulled out after the 18 November blast. Peter O'Brien, 51, of Cardiff, and Mark Sim, 41, of Caldicot, died. Four other workers were hospitalised. The company is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and police to determine the cause of the blast in the basement of the rod and bar mill at the site. A spokesperson for the steelworkers' union, Community, said the minute's silence was held during the rally in Sheffield. “Every steelworker in the UK will have been moved and affected by the shocking tragedy at Celsa,” he said. “It's a reminder of the risks that they can face on a daily basis and the need for everybody in the industry, particularly employers, to prioritise safety.” The rally was called over fears of a crisis in the UK's steel industry after the collapse in steel prices led to plant closures and thousands of job losses. The Cardiff blast came a week after international steel giant Tata was £180,000 plus £82,979.26 in costs for criminal safety failings that led to an employee narrowly escaping death when he was showered in molten metal in a massive explosion at its Rotherham plant in March 2012.
Ÿ BBC News Online. Wales Online. Construction Enquirer. HSE news release.
An award-winning headteacher hanged herself shortly after Ofsted downgraded her school, an inquest has been told. Carol Woodward, the long-serving head of Woodford primary school near Plymouth, suffered a swift decline in her mental health that coincided with an inspection by Ofsted as well as disruptive building work to expand the school. Police who investigated the death told the inquest in Plymouth that the Ofsted inspection in July was “completed in a fair manner but the timing, without assigning culpability, was wrong”. DC Peter Riley, the investigating officer, said: “The chaotic environment this caused, coupled with the pressures of the academic year and the timing of Ofsted’s inspection, triggered an immense amount of pressure on Carol.” Ian Arrow, the Plymouth senior coroner, ruled that the cause of death was suicide by hanging. “There is nothing suspicious about Carol’s tragic death,” Arrow said in summing up. “She just felt she was under so much pressure.” After the Ofsted inspection, the headteacher contacted her doctor several times to discuss stress and other health problems, the inquest was told. In late July, the 58-year-old told her GP that the school had failed the Ofsted inspection and that she felt she had let everyone down. She later complained of being unable to sleep. She killed herself on 29 July. An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Like so many others, we offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Woodward’s family, friends, colleagues and pupils at this very difficult time.” In 2008, an investigation by Hazards magazine linked Ofsted inspections to a number of teacher suicides (Risks 345). In 2012, headteacher Helen Mann killed herself because she feared a forthcoming Ofsted inspection would see her school lose its ‘outstanding’ rating (Risks 603). Six years ago, teaching union NUT warned that teachers in England and Wales had an almost 40 per cent greater rate of suicide than the general population (Risks 402).
Tougher ‘fit for work’ tests introduced to assess eligibility for disability benefit have caused relapses in patients with serious mental health conditions, according to a consultant with the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr Jed Boardman, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, said the work capability assessment (WCA) discriminates against those with mental health issues and called for an overhaul of the process. Boardman, who treats patients with serious and long-term mental health problems, told the Guardian: “People with severe long-term problems get very distressed about being assessed, probably because mistakes are made, because the process isn’t perfect, because they don’t feel they are being listened to in their interviews. You do see people relapsing as a consequence of getting distressed.” His comments come on the heels of a study that linked the WCA tests with hundreds of suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions (Risks 729).
Ÿ The Guardian.
The government has refused to back a call to make insurers pay for potentially life-saving research into a treatment for the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. The rebuff came during the 20 November second reading in the House of Lords of Lord Alton’s Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill. Lord Alton said: “As well as better understanding the causes of mesothelioma, we must do much more to find cures. Apart from preventing great suffering and illness, a breakthrough would remove the need for compensation schemes. It is surely therefore in everyone’s interest to do that.” He added that without a cure, the disease would claim a further 60,000 lives in Britain over the next three decades. But health minister Lord Prior of Brampton said the government was “not predisposed” to the idea of a levy. Under last year’s Mesothelioma Act, insurance firms are required to fund a compensation scheme for victims. Lord Alton’s Bill would amend the legislation to introduce a supplementary payment to fund medical research. The Bill received an unopposed second reading but has little chance of becoming law without government backing.
Ÿ Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill, House of Lords debate, Hansard, 20 November 2015. Morning Star.
Blue Diamond Engineering Limited has been fined after asbestos was found in its County Durham factory but the firm failed to document or manage the risks to employees or visitors to the site. Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard how the company was notified of the presence of asbestos materials discovered during a survey in 2006. Work subsequently undertaken at the premises had the potential to disturb the hazardous asbestos materials, but until the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) intervened, the company had not documented or implemented an asbestos management plan to control the risk of exposure. Blue Diamond Engineering Limited was fined a £11,000 with costs of £1,610 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. HSE inspector Michael Kingston said: “Asbestos kills around 5,000 workers each year, this is more than the number killed on UK roads. Asbestos can be present within any premises built or refurbished before the year 2000.” He added: “This prosecution should serve as a warning to companies to properly manage the risks of asbestos exposure. Whenever asbestos containing materials are found to be present, companies have a legal duty to document and implement an asbestos management plan which includes measures to adequately control the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.”
Ÿ HSE news release and asbestos webpages.
New guidance to encourage better management of occupational health risks has been prepared by the Health and Safety Executive’s construction committee (CONIAC). HSE said it is now “urging the industry to put an end to the hundreds of construction workers that die of occupational diseases every month.” It pointed out that more than 200 health-related enforcement notices were issued during its most recent construction inspection blitz, showing the industry was not dealing with potentially deadly health risks. The new guide, ‘Occupational health risk management in construction’, has been prepared by CONIAC’s health risks working group. HSE says it gives practical advice on what ‘health risk’ means for the construction industry, and the role of occupational health service provision in preventing or controlling risks. CONIAC chair, HSE specialist inspector Ian Strudley, said: “The misunderstanding of occupational health within the construction sector means that whilst the industry focus on managing the more familiar safety issues, serious health risks get ignored. We cannot let this continue. When figures show that construction workers are at least 100 times more likely to die from a disease caused or made worse by their work as they are from a fatal accident, the industry must take action.”
Ÿ HSE news release and guide on the HSE and IOSH websites.
The owner of a stone masonry company has been fined after exposing his workforce to serious and potentially deadly workplace hazards. Despite receiving previous advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on the control of health risks posed by silica and vibration, Thomas Bushby failed to act, the regulator said. He did not provide adequate control of silica, exposure to which can cause silicosis and lung cancer, HSE found. Some operators doing dusty work were not provided with masks, others were provided with masks which were not suitable due to their facial hair. And stone dust was swept up rather than vacuumed, Consett magistrates’ court heard. Employees also carried out tasks using vibrating tools including air hammers. But no assessment was made of the risk from this and lower vibration tools were not identified which would have greatly reduced exposure to vibration. The tools in use had very high vibration levels meaning employees were probably exposed above the maximum legally-allowable limit. Two employees of Thomas Bushby - trading as JLD Stone – had been diagnosed with debilitating hand-arm vibration syndrome, in 2009 and 2014. Despite the health risks, HSE found that no health surveillance was carried out between 2008 and 2014. Thomas Bushby was fined £2,500 plus £1,921.29 costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. HSE inspector Fiona McGarry said: “Serious irreversible ill health or even death can result from exposure to silica and hand arm vibration syndrome is a permanent disabling condition. Employers need to take action to ensure they are providing adequate control to protect the health of employees.”
Ÿ HSE news release and stone masonry webpages. Construction Enquirer.
A builder has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, after a worker was killed in a fall. Michael Turner, 49, appeared at Inner London Crown Court after pleading guilty to gross negligent manslaughter after Robert Bird, one of his employees and friend of 15 years, fell 30 feet through a roof and died. A the time of the incident, the 57-year-old was carrying out work as an employee of MT Construction, owned by Turner, on a barn roof in Kennett, near Newmarket, on 20 May 2014. A joint investigation was launched by Cambridgeshire police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Turner was arrested on 2 June 2014 on suspicion of gross negligent manslaughter. He answered ‘no comment’ to all questions put before him in interview. A number of witnesses were also questioned as part of the investigation and officers were told how Turner had a ‘near miss’ just days before Bird’s death on the same roof. Turner had stepped on a panel, heard a crack before moving away and seeing the roof panel cave in. An HSE report concluded: “A competent roofing contractor would not be carrying out the work adopting the system of work adopted by MT Construction, and a competent roofing supervisor would not have put his workforce in such a vulnerable position.” Detective Chief Inspector Jon McAdam, from Cambridgeshire Constabulary, said: “This truly tragic event just goes to show how important it is to have appropriate health and safety measures in place. Turner has already paid the ultimate price of losing one of his employees, and friends; that will be with him forever.” Linda Christian-Booth, who led the HSE team, said: “Adequate precautions were not taken in this case, such as netting and edge protection, which has led to the dreadful tragedy of Mr Bird falling 30 feet to his death.” On sentencing, the judge accepted Turner’s remorse and suspended his sentence for two years after stating he felt an immediate prison sentence was not appropriate in this case. Turner must also complete 240 hours of unpaid work as part of his sentence.
Ÿ Cambridgeshire Constabulary news release. Construction Enquirer. Cambridge News.
A north east port has been fined £400,000 following the death of an agency worker who fell eight metres onto the steel deck of ship’s hold. Robert Harrison, 59, from Middlesbrough, was one of six men who were loading 12m long steel pipes into the hold of a vessel at PD Teesport Ltd at Hartlepool Dock when the incident happened on 9 September 2012. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted PD Teesport Ltd for serious criminal safety failings. Teesside Crown Court heard how Mr Harrison and his colleagues were standing on top of the stack of pipes. The stack increased in height as more pipes were loaded in to the hold using a dockside crane to lift and lower them into position in the ship’s hold. Mr Harrison fell from the exposed edge of the stack of pipes, landing on the steel deck of the hold eight metres below. He later died in hospital as a result of his injuries. PD Teesport Limited was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £107,684.40 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Cain Mitchell said: “Robert Harrison, a father of three, lost his life needlessly because of the failure by PD Teesport Ltd to put effective safety measures in place. This was a tragedy that could have very easily been prevented.” In almost all instances, docks are no longer subject to preventive HSE inspections – a move strongly criticised by the docks union Unite (Risks 530).
Ÿ HSE news release and work at height webpages. More on safety on the docks.
A company that specialises in metal and alloy products has been fined after a worker was killed when he was struck by a load on a moving crane. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of ATI Speciality Materials Limited in the city was assisting in the moving of a crucible from a re-melt furnace. The crucible had been lifted using an overhead crane and moved approximately ten yards to where Nigel Hall, 47, loosened the bolts around the crucible. The crane operator waited for his acknowledgment to proceed and lifted the crucible a couple of feet higher before pressing the southbound button. The crane operator saw Mr Hall in the path of the crucible and shouted a warning while stopping the movement of the crane. The crane stopped but the load swung forward hitting Mr Hall on the right side of the head. He was taken to Northern General hospital where he was pronounced dead. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 17 August 2011, found that the company had not reviewed risk assessments and safe systems of work for nine years. Many employees who operated cranes had received no refresher training for between six and ten years and the training programme for new starters was inadequate. ATI Speciality Materials Limited was fined £160,000 with costs of £72,321 after pleading guilty to criminal health and safety offences.
Ÿ HSE news release and machinery safety webpages.
A commercial vehicle company has been fined after one of its workers was killed when a lorry travelling at less than 5km/h crushed him. Warwick Crown Court heard criminal safety failings by Imperial Commercials Limited led to the death of employee Craig Stewart Dunn in January 2014. Mr Dunn, a 44-year-old a father of three, was hit by a heavy goods vehicle whose driver could not see what was immediately - up to six metres - in front of him, as the front grill of the HGV he was driving was raised. This was not the first time this practice had been adopted at this site. The court was told that occasionally employees of Imperial Commercials Limited would drive vehicles around the Wellesbourne site in this unsafe manner. The driver thought he had hit a stationary vehicle. On reversing, he realised he had crushed Mr Dunn, who had been working outside the Imperial Commercials Limited workshop. The company was fined £166,000 and ordered to pay £46,500 in costs after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to criminal safety offences. Health and Safety Executive inspector Mark Austin said: “The tragic, needless loss of Mr Dunn’s life could have been prevented had Imperial Commercials Ltd properly considered the risks from the movement of heavy goods vehicles at this site, and provided effective segregation of pedestrians from moving vehicles.” He added: “Even though the vehicle that crushed him was travelling at less than 5km/h, the size and weight of the vehicle left him no chance of survival. Companies that work with vehicles of all sizes need to ensure that all pedestrians are able to circulate and work safely at their premises, at all times.”
Ÿ HSE news release and safe manoeuvring webpages.
A national suicide prevention group has revealed construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than in workplace accidents. The industry-run MATES in Construction organisation also said suicide and suicidal behaviour cost the industry more than Aus$1.5 billion (£0.72bn) a year. It is calling for prevention programmes to be rolled out on every construction site in Australia. MATES in Construction chief executive Jorgen Gullestrup said the problem presented both a huge social and financial burden to the industry. “The cost to the Australian community is over $1.5 billion per year, because of course it's not only the people who die by suicide and the trauma for the people left behind but it's also the people who attempt suicide who end up with a permanent disability as a result of it,” he said. “We need to have peer support programmes in place where construction workers are aware of what it looks like when a mate is dropping a bit and can ask the question, ‘Are you OK?’.” He said a programme running in Queensland had been effective. “Preliminary research we have done in Queensland has shown that over the first five years of the programme, suicide rates dropped by 7.8 per cent,” he said.
Ÿ MATES in Construction. ABC News.
Three years after the deadly Tazreen fire in Bangladesh, many high street brands that sourced garments from the factory have yet to contribute to a compensation fund, the global union federation IndustriALL has said. On 24 November 2012, an estimated 120 garment workers burnt to death and 300 more were badly injured in the fire. Exits were locked, with many workers sustaining serious injuries as a result of jumping for their lives from the upper floors of the factory building. Walmart, Tazreen’s biggest customer and the world’s largest retailer, is still refusing to pay compensation to victims’ families and the injured. One year ago, IndustriALL, together with the Clean Clothes Campaign, C&A and the C&A Foundation, signed an agreement, brokered by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to set up the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust to provide compensation to victims. The Trust will make payments to cover loss of income and medical treatment. Brands and retailers with revenues over US$1 billion are being asked to pay a minimum of US$100,000 into the Fund. But only C&A, Li & Fung -which sourced garments for Sean John’s Enyce brand - and German discount retailer KiK have contributed so far. Other brands that sourced from Tazreen and have not paid are US brands Disney, Sears, Dickies and Delta Apparel; Edinburgh Woollen Mill (UK); Karl Rieker (Germany); Piazza Italia (Italy); and Teddy Smith (France).
Ÿ IndustriALL news release. Tazreen Claims Administration Trust.
Businesses in Japan will be obliged from December to offer their employees an annual test to check their level of mental stress amid an increase in workers suffering from mental disorders, the health ministry has said. Under the Industrial Health and Safety Law’s revision last year (Risks 714), the test, in the form of a questionnaire, will target more than 20 million employees at around 16,000 businesses nationwide, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The purpose of the testing is to let workers know their own stress level and keep depression at bay, rather than fishing out those with mental disorders, said Takashi Amagasa, a psychiatrist and workplace stress expert at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Hospital. He said workplace stress is increasing, and is encouraging workers to take the test. The Japan Times reports that workers, who will not be obliged to undergo testing, will be informed of test results directly by the doctors or nurses involved in the assessment. Those found to be highly stressed can see a doctor if they wish, while their employers, based on the doctor’s advice, will have to lessen their burden with such measures as cutting work hours and changing the workplace. The law will prohibit employers from treating employees negatively for not taking the test or for refusing to see a doctor, or firing or unreasonably transferring employees due to results of their interviews with the doctor. Doctors and nurses will be prohibited from telling employers the test result without the respondent’s consent. Staff in the testing programme can be disciplined for any breach of confidentiality.
Ÿ Japan Today.
A landslide at a jade mine has killed at least 90 people in northern Myanmar, according to preliminary reports. The victims were buried when a vast heap of waste material, discarded by the mining companies, collapsed in Kachin state, Burmese media reported. Many of the dead were scavengers living on or near the waste dumps, who search through the debris in the hope of finding fragments of jade to sell. The landslide in Hpakant happened in the early hours of Sunday 22 November. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that many of the dead were asleep in huts when the landslide happened. “We are seeing only dead bodies and no one knows how many people live there,” local official Nilar Myint told the AFP news agency. Rescue efforts were hampered by bad weather. In a report in October, advocacy group Global Witness said that the value of jade produced in 2014 alone was $31bn (£20.4bn) - the equivalent of nearly half the country's GDP - yet hardly any of the money is reaching ordinary people or state coffers. Local people in mining areas accuse the mining industry of a series of abuses, including poor on-site health and safety and frequent land confiscations. The report, published weeks before the tragedy, said “conditions in mines can be fatally dangerous” and highlightws the landslides risk. Among a swathe of far-reaching recommendations, the report called on jade mining and trading companies to “immediately review existing mining operations and halt activities which breach national or international laws and standards on environmental, social, human rights and worker rights,” and to: “Establish and implement policies and procedures to minimise and mitigate environmental, social and human rights impacts of jade mining operations, in line with international standards.” A June 2015 video report from Radio Free Asia warned that mechanisation and more intense mining had greatly increased the risks of landslides, highlighting several recent incidents.
Ÿ BBC News Online. Jade: A Global Witness investigation into Myanmar’s ‘Big State Secret, Global Witness, October 2015. Radio Free Asia 9 June video on landslide risks in jade mines.
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