|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.
The TUC is urging union reps to ensure violence at work is reported. It says telling management formally how violence directed at employees – including physical attacks and verbal abuse – “is critical in tackling the issue at source.” A new TUC online briefing adds: “Without a strong and well-used reporting system, employers cannot respond to incidents or identify potential hotspots and trends.” The union body says union health and safety reps should make sure they negotiate reporting systems that cover several important components, including an agreed definition of what constitutes workplace violence. A clear and concise reporting form should record the facts, including the incident details, time and location, a description of the assailant and of any injuries suffered and any supporting evidence like CCTV or witnesses. Measures should be taken to make sure the system is accessible to all workers, including those whose first language is not English. Workers should be allowed to fill out reporting forms “as soon as possible after the incident. This will ensure that the incident details are fresh in the mind, and allows for the report to be actioned as quickly as possible after the incident has occurred,” the TUC briefing notes. “The report form should also give details on how feedback will be provided to the affected worker, along with the timescale for action. It is important that staff see action being taken as this will encourage more staff to report similar incidents in the future.”
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Driving examiners have said they will continue their programme of industrial action in a bid to head off dangerous changes to their contracts. Their union, PCS, is in dispute over road safety fears as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) imposes changes to working conditions, including extending the working day and increasing the number of driving tests examiners would be expected to carry out. Following a 48-hour strike last month (Risks 729), union members have been taking non-strike industrial action. PCS wants the agency to conduct thorough research before making any changes, including investigating the physical and psychological effects of more tests and their likely impact on safety. It adds DVSA should fully review staffing after admitting it is 350 posts short. The union says last year it agreed arrangements with DVSA for new working conditions to be negotiated, but it says the agency is now trying to impose detrimental terms. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The issues of road safety at the heart of this dispute are very serious and examiners deserve more than this petty-minded response from the DVSA. It is shocking that the agency appears happy to press ahead without negotiating or fully understanding the likely consequences of its actions.”
The family of a mechanical fitter from Lincoln who died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma has received a six figure compensation payment, with the help of his former union, Unite. The victim, whose name has not been release, was exposed to asbestos while working at a power station in the early 1960s. His job meant he worked near to where workers were applying asbestos lagging around steam pipes. He was never told to wear a mask while the lagging was carried out only feet away. When he began to feel unwell in January 2014, he went to see his doctor. Later that month, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The cancer killed him in June 2014. His membership had lapsed but Unite agreed to support him because he had been a member when the asbestos exposure responsible for his cancer occurred. Annmarie Kilcline, Unite’s East Midlands regional secretary, said mesothelioma was a major workplace killer. “It’s important that our members and former members know where to turn when they contract the illness,” she said. The asbestos related condition kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK, and the numbers affected are increasing. It is likely asbestos related lung cancers kill considerably more.
Four out of every five school staff say their workload is still unmanageable, one year on from the government's Workload Challenge, according to a survey from the teaching union ATL. The union research found 81 per cent of teachers and 85 per cent of ‘senior leaders’ in state schools in England reported their workload was unmanageable. ATL said the situation is ‘slightly better, but still unsustainable’, for support staff with 54 per cent feeling their workload is unmanageable. Four in five (82 per cent) school staff reported they had considered leaving teaching as a result of their workload. ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “A year on from the government's Workload Challenge and it seems little has improved for school staff. ATL's survey shows eight in ten teachers and senior leaders still think their workload is unmanageable, and many others say their workload is only manageable if they work late every evening and at weekends.” Calling on the government to take effective action to reduce workload, she said: “Teachers, support staff and school managers expect they will have to work hard and a heavy workload and stress are nothing new. But the current situation is hugely damaging and unsustainable. The excessive workload is damaging teachers' health, making many want to leave the profession and means they are often exhausted in class.”
Rail unions are to work together to oppose driver only operation (DOO) on trains. A joint statement from Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, and Mick Cash, general secretary of RMT, says the unions “are completely opposed to driver only operation and its forms, including driver controlled operation (DCO) and driver door operation (DDO), throughout the network. We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO /DDO under any circumstances.” The statement says the presence of a guard or conductor on trains helps ensure drivers are not distracted. It adds that when things go wrong on driver only trains, the response is typically to blame the driver “rather than questioning the safety of DOO.” The statement concludes: “With record passengers numbers we now need more rail staff, not less. Services for passengers should be improved by investment in modern railway infrastructure and rolling stock - not by dismissing and deskilling guards and placing even more responsibility on the driver. We will campaign in unity to oppose any extension of DOO and DCO/DDO and to seek to explore ways of reversing it where it has been introduced. This will include making our views clear to the employers, government and other politicians.”
Shoppers are being urged to keep calm as the frantic sales season gets into full swing. The call from the shopworkers’ union Usdaw came ahead of the ‘Black Friday’ sales event on 27 November. It said last year this US import saw a two-thirds increase in incidents of verbal abuse, threats and violence against retail staff. Calling for consideration from shoppers, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “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, who have responded positively about organising their events to maximise safety and security for staff and customers alike. We also welcome the interest of the police who have urged retailers to organise these sales events carefully.” The union leader added: “Incidents of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers are already worryingly high, with our survey suggesting there are over 180,000 incidents every day. We know from talking to our members that the number of incidents increased on Black Friday last year, not just in frequency but also in severity, and the latest survey findings bear that out. My message to shoppers is clear. Enjoy your bargain hunting, keep your cool and respect shopworkers.” In 2008, a 34-year-old shopworker at a Walmart store in the New York suburbs was trampled to death on Black Friday, as shoppers surged into the store (Risks 385).
The failure of the Qatari authorities to address the deadly exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar has been condemned by the construction union UCATT. The union was commenting after Amnesty International found Qatar had done “almost nothing effective to end chronic labour exploitation” in the five years since it was controversially awarded the 2022 football World Cup tournament. UCATT acting general secretary, Brian Rye, said: “UCATT has been campaigning for years to end the kafala system whereby construction workers are effectively prisoners of their employers because they can’t change employer nor leave the country. It’s an utter disgrace that the World Cup was awarded to a nation that has so little regard for the rights of human beings. UCATT will continue to fight for the rights of our fellow construction workers in Qatar.” Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant rights researcher, Mustafa Qadri, said: “Too little has been done to address rampant migrant labour abuse. Qatar’s persistent labour reform delays are a recipe for human rights disaster. The reforms proposed by the government fail to tackle the central issues that leave so many workers at the mercy of employers, yet even these changes have been delayed.” He added: “Unless action is taken – and soon – then every football fan who visits Qatar in 2022 should ask themselves how they can be sure they are not benefiting from the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers.” He said football’s scandal-enmeshed global governing body FIFA “has played its part in this sorry performance. It knew there were labour rights issues in Qatar. It must work closely with the Qatari authorities and business partners to ensure the World Cup is not built on exploitation.” Unions have warned that under the current exploitative labour conditions, thousands of migrant workers could be killed on Qatar’s construction sites in the run up to the 2022 event (Risks 681).
Funding cuts have damaged the London Ambulance Service, hurt its staff and have left it in crisis, the union UNISON has said. Commenting after a Care Quality Commission report saw the service put into special measures, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a shocking indictment of the lack of funding that has gone to the ambulance service over the last five years. This is a particular problem in London where demand has soared in recent years.” He added: “Sadly the CQC action was entirely predictable. UNISON has been warning for over a year that the chronic problem of underfunding, lack of staff and the knock-on effect placed on those who remain would lead to a crisis in London ambulance. Poor workforce planning, lack of investment in staff and the stress of the job has led to a recruitment and retention crisis which the government has failed to address.” The CQC report recognised staff were ‘overwhelmingly dedicated, hardworking and compassionate’ but noted that ‘some reported a culture of harassment and bullying’. Dave Prentis commented: “Instead of addressing the reasons why so many staff are leaving, London ambulance has gone out to recruit staff from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Unless the government takes urgent action, staff will continue to work long shifts with no breaks to deal with the relentless nature of working in emergency services. This will mean more paramedics leaving London.”
A crane firm has been convicted of corporate manslaughter over the death of an operator at a wind farm in East Lancashire. Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd now faces the prospect of an unlimited fine after being held responsible for the death of Lindsay Easton at Scout Moor wind farm in Edenfield. The 49-year-old had even predicted that the poor maintenance record of the company was going to kill him before his 125-tonne crane careered down a zig-zag slope at the sprawling complex, Preston Crown Court heard. Mr Easton, who died of multiple injuries, had quit Baldwins once over their safety record. Following the tragedy, an investigation was launched by Lancashire Police, working alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It found several of the crane’s wheel brakes were inoperable, worn and contaminated. The engine retarding (braking) systems were also defective. As part of the investigation, brakes were inspected across the Baldwins fleet, with several other cranes found to have significant safety problems which required immediate work. The probe also found there was a lack of supervision and recording of maintenance work by senior management. Company chair Richard Baldwin and managing director Wayne Baldwin had pleaded not guilty to corporate manslaughter, and two criminal health and safety charges, on the firm’s behalf. After a month-long trial, the firm was convicted on all counts. Minutes before his death, Mr Easton, of Sowerby Bridge, had been on the phone to his partner Carol Robinson when he told her his crane’s brakes were not working properly. Andrew Thomas QC, prosecuting, said: “The crane went out of control. Mr Easton managed to get around the first bend, swerving from one side to the other as he approached. The crane then seemed to gain more speed. The next bend was even tighter and there was no way Mr Easton was going to get round it. The crane carried straight on at the bend and crashed into an earth bank at the end of the escape road.” Baldwins, a national firm with headquarters in Slough, Berkshire, will be sentenced on 22 December.
A scaffolder has been given 200 hours of community service after a roofer fell to his death through a gap in an unsafe scaffold. Walter Booth, trading as WB Roofing, fell from a roof while carrying out repairs to Micklegate Methodist Church in Pontefract on 10 January 2015. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the scaffolding edge protection provided by Wayne Morgan, trading as Barnsdale Scaffolding, failed to follow the profile of the roof edge, leaving a gap through which 63-year-old Mr Booth fell. Morgan pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £15,000 in costs by Wakefield Magistrates Court. HSE inspector Sarah Lee commented: “This was an entirely preventable death. In this case the scaffolding edge protection was not sufficient to prevent a person falling from the roof. The scaffold installation should have been erected correctly, follow the profile of the roof and have no large gaps.” She added: “The standards for scaffold are well known and have been in place for many years. It is vital that scaffolders ensure that scaffold is erected as per the standards and it is checked after it is erected, to ensure that everything is in place.”
A St Albans cinema director has been fined after he put workers and members of the public at risk of exposure to asbestos. James Hannaway, 68, the sole director of The Alpha Cinema (St Albans) Limited was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after he allowed refurbishment of the derelict multiscreen cinema to begin in 2010 without proper checks for asbestos. Stevenage Magistrates’ Court heard that in April 2012, James Hannaway went on to engage around 30 members of the public to remove the debris from the demolition work over the course of two days. An asbestos survey was eventually carried out in early October 2012, which identified the presence of asbestos in the building and recommended that no-one entered the affected areas. Despite this, the court was told Hannaway was seen taking people into the building to view the ongoing work. James Hannaway pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offfences and was fined £11,660 and ordered to pay £7,000 in costs. HSE inspector Paul Hoskins said: “This is another example of a company failing to carry out the required asbestos checks before refurbishment work starts. A survey is required to ensure asbestos is identified and removed to prevent inadvertent disturbance.” Asbestos had been previously identified in a survey of the building carried out before it was purchased.
A Salford construction firm has been fined after a 54-year-old employee suffered severe cement burns to his knees while laying concrete flooring. Sefton Magistrates’ Court heard that on the 26 November 2014, an employee of DLP Services (Northern) Limited, knelt in wet concrete to finish the concrete flooring being laid in a domestic bungalow. The resulting cement burns to both his knees resulted in 12 days hospitalisation and ongoing treatment. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the firm failed to adequately assess the risks or protect employees from skin coming into contact with the wet concrete. It did not provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) or welfare facilities on site, despite previous HSE warnings. The court heard the company had been served with HSE improvement notices for lack of welfare facilities in both June and September 2014. HSE inspector Anne Foster said: “The injuries the employee suffered were entirely foreseeable and avoidable had the company implemented suitable controls, such as the use of long-handled tools, or the provision of suitable chemical resistant PPE. It is also wholly unreasonable to expect workers to travel four miles to find welfare facilities.” DLP Services (Northern) Limited pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. The company was fined £14,000 with £1,590 costs.
A Nottinghamshire pet food company has been fined after a teenage worker was seriously injured when a forklift truck he shouldn’t have been allowed to drive overturned. The teen, whose name has not been released, had been employed for just two weeks as a factory operative at the Retford site of Alpha Feeds Limited, which has now changed its name to Grove Pet Foods Limited. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Mansfield Magistrates’ Court that on 30 July 2014 the young worker was operating a forklift truck. It began to overturn and as he attempted to jump clear, the truck fell onto him. He sustained serious lower limb injuries including compound fractures in both legs, vascular and nerve damage and a crushed left heel. The novice worker was 18 at the time of the incident. HSE’s investigation found that although he had been allowed to operate the lift truck under supervision, he had received no formal training in its safe use and was able to operate the vehicle as a set of keys had been left in it. HSE told the court the company’s system to control keys to access lift trucks was not effective, since operators regularly left keys in the lift truck, and operated them using those keys. HSE found it was common practice for seatbelts not to be worn. Grove Pet Foods Limited admitted a criminal safety offence and was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £1,332.
Four Australian coal miners have been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis or ‘black lung’ - a potentially fatal disease thought to have been eradicated in Australia more than 60 years ago. The mining union CFMEU said it fears the cases, all the state of Queensland, could be ‘just the tip of the iceberg’, with hundreds, possibly thousands of workers potentially at risk. The union said the regulatory system set up to monitor and detect a range of occupational diseases affecting coalmine workers has not been maintained and is compromised. CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said: “It’s appalling that companies and regulatory bodies have let health standards deteriorate, putting the lives of workers at serious risk.” He added: “This is a disease that takes hold gradually and we’re extremely concerned that recent diagnoses are just the tip of the iceberg. Of great concern is that Australian health and regulatory frameworks are no longer equipped to deal with the disease.” The union said a lack of local medical expertise had led to a backlog of 100,000 x-rays to be reviewed. Mr Smyth said specialists from the United States had to be used by the recently diagnosed men because local expertise simply didn’t exist anymore. “There is no way to judge the size of the problem affecting coalmine workers in Queensland, or for how long it has been an issue because the regulatory system has broken down and the medical specialists don’t exist in Australia to deal with it,” he said. “There is a real possibility that many more current and ex-mine workers are living and working in Queensland with the disease undiagnosed. Failure to detect black lung early means that miners will continue to work in the coalfields at a devastating cost to their health.” Recent reports have also pointed to a marked upturn in black lung cases in the US. An x-ray clinic at a top US university medical centre was shutdown last year after systematically denying diseased miners were victims of the debilitating and frequently fatal condition (Risks 658).
Almost one in four workers (23 per cent) believes their work presents a risk to their health, according to Europe-wide research. Dublin-based Eurofound, presenting findings of its 6th European Working Conditions Survey, said they give a “diverse picture of Europe at work over time across countries, occupations, gender and age groups.” The findings show the proportion of workers describing their work as risky has fallen steadily, down from 31 per cent in 2000. One in ten workers (10 per cent) reported they are not very well informed about workplace health and safety risks related to the performance of their jobs. Almost one in six workers (15 per cent) reported having been subject to ‘adverse social behaviour’ – such as acts of violence, harassment and unwanted sexual attention. Eurofound’s EU28 analysis is based on 35,765 interviews. The questionnaire covered employment status, physical and psychosocial risks, time and place of work, work organisation, skills use and development, social relations at work, as well as health and well-being. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) warned the finding that the numbers experiencing risky work were falling should be read cautiously, “because perceptions vary strongly according to the gender, country and age of the person surveyed. For example, men are much readier to acknowledge that their work has a negative influence on their health than women (27 per cent as against 19 per cent).”
Korean electronics firm SK Hynix has agreed to provide compensation to current and former semiconductor factory workers, and even those of its subcontractors, who may be suffering from a range of occupational diseases including cancer. The company said it would accept “immediately” the recommendation of an industrial and public health review committee that conducted a year-long inspection of Hynix semiconductor workplaces. The committee, headed by Ajou University preventive medicine professor Jang Jae-yeon, announced its findings at a press conference in Seoul on 25 November. Its report recommended that workers suffering a range of conditions should be compensated by the firm, even though it accepted establishing the causal relationship between the semiconductor working environment and suspected occupational diseases was “difficult to prove.” The committee was formed in the wake of a critical 2014 report by the Hankyoreh newspaper. In response, a team of seven outside independent experts was formed in October 2014 to conduct on-site inspections. National Health Insurance Service data showed male and female workers had respectively thyroid cancer rates 2.6 and 1.3 times the average for all workers, while women showed higher-than-average rates of miscarriage (1.3 times) and bladder cancer (1.1 times). Professor Jang said: “We would need to track and manage incidence rates for a period of ten to twenty years, and the problem there is that people couldn’t get compensation if we judged it strictly by causation.” He added: “That’s why we are proposing a comprehensive support and compensation system that provides the basic level needed for patients whose health has been impaired to treat their conditions and maintain everyday life.” The committee’s recommendations, agreed by the company, indicated all cases of cancer, miscarriage, and rare diseases suspected of even a slight association with work in the semiconductor industry should be included. “The committee’s determination was that if you contracted cancer while working somewhere, society should not just ignore that,” Jang said. SK Hynix responded by saying it would “implement support and compensation for all patients with suspected [occupational disease] conditions in according with our company’s social role.”
Many cases of a debilitating lung disease in construction workers that is commonly attributed to smoking could be caused by their jobs, a study had found. The union backed US Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) teamed up with researchers from Duke University to investigate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in construction workers. They say no-one disputes that smoking is the major cause of the condition. But CPWR says its study, whose findings were published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, “reminds us that smoking is far from the only cause, and we still have a lot of work to do if we are going to protect construction workers.” Investigators compared the work histories of 834 construction workers with COPD to 1,243 controls who did not have the condition. Workplace exposures to an unhealthy combination of vapours, gases, dusts and fumes (VGDF) accounted for nearly one in five COPD cases. Many workers with COPD had never smoked a day in their lives; one-third of the cases in this never-smoked group were attributable to workplace exposure. According to CPWR: “A simplistic view of COPD in the workforce might lead employers to begin and end with smoking cessation efforts, but the evidence says otherwise. In construction, at least, occupational exposures remain a major cause of COPD in their own right, and we need to protect workers by getting VGDF under control.” COPD is a recognised work-related condition in a number of other jobs with these sort of exposures, including mining, welding and steelwork.
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