|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 has called for a properly thought out government strategy together with the funding necessary to address funding risks. The union body was speaking out in the wake of widespread flooding across Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need a consistent approach to spending on flood defences especially if flooding is to become more likely in the future, and the government must think again about cutting staff at the Environment Agency.” The TUC has updated its guidance for safety reps on preparing for and responding to flood hazards. The guide details the problems that can arise from disruptions to transport and when returning to flood-affected workplaces. It advises that no building that has been affected should be re-occupied until it has been properly inspected and a risk assessment undertaken. Issues covered in the guide include infection and vermin hazards, possible exposures to chemicals and fumes and electrical, fire and safety risks. The union CWU has also issued guidance for its members in the communications industry.
Better national coordination of fire and rescue and investment, instead of cuts, is required if emergency services are going to be respond properly to flooding, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union said the threat posed by the large scale floods witnessed in recent weeks is beyond the capacity of local services to cope. It added that the impact of ‘massive cuts’ to the funding of the country’s fire and rescue service is being felt by all firefighters, including those who are aiding flood rescue. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters and other public servants have been performing magnificently against these horrendous floods. A key part of this has been rescue and evacuation work and other assistance to communities directly hit. Rescues from floods require specialist training, resources and coordination. That is what has been provided from across the country over the past few days. The firefighters involved deserve the thanks of all our communities.” Calling for a serious debate about future coordination for flood response, the firefighters’ union leader added: “Firefighters have been raising concerns about major flooding for almost a decade. The fire and rescue service is generally a local authority service and the government endlessly tells us that any decisions need to be taken locally. But floods on this scale are clearly not a local matter… Improved co-ordination is needed and long term funding for fire and rescue service flood response resources.”
Thousands of pounds of compensation has been paid out to firefighters from across the UK who fell ill after taking part in training at the National Watersports Centre. The training was carried out at the centre, at Holme Pierrepont in Nottinghamshire, between 2009 and 2012 and led to 66 firefighters falling ill with sickness and diarrhoea. Each firefighter received between £1,000 and £10,000, with Nottinghamshire County Council paying out a total of £88,312.50 in compensation after settling 54 claims without accepting liability. Water at the centre flowed from the River Trent, which was found to contain harmful bacteria. Due to the physically demanding nature of the training, it led to almost all of those attending the courses ingesting the water and falling ill. The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) South West branch instructed Thompsons Solicitors to carry out investigations into cause of the sickness. Despite evidence establishing contaminated water was responsible for the ill-health, the centre was still advertised to fire brigades as a safe place to carry out the ‘Swift Water Rescue Training’. Tam McFarlane, executive council member for South West FBU, said: “Rather than accepting their mistakes, bosses have fought every claim in full, wasting vast sums of taxpayers' money on legal defence fees that should be spent protecting the public.” Kevin Digby, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Sixth-six FBU members have been laid low by this failure and there are many others who have been affected.” He added: “Listening to your staff, listening to experts, and basic health and safety isn't rocket science.”
A serial offender sentenced in December 2015 for its criminal safety failings had previously fired workers after blaming them for the incidents, their union GMB has said. Anglian Water Services Limited (AWSL) was fined £400,000 with costs of £41,711 after pleading guilty to criminal safety breaches. Two employees, aged 27 and 53, suffered serious injuries while carrying out maintenance repair work on two submerged pumps in the wet well at the Dunstable Water recycling Centre on 21 October 2013. Luton Crown Court heard a supervisor from AWSL had highlighted several concerns with the grid flooring to the wet well at the Dunstable site, following an inspection eight months earlier, on 26 February 2013. The necessary repairs, which could have prevented the accident, were not carried out. While the incident was being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) another AWSL worker was injured in a three metre fall. It formed part of a pattern of unsafe behaviour by AWSL, leading to four previous HSE prosecutions. GMB regional officer Michael Ainsley said it was “particularly galling” that the company had known for several months about the risks “but little or no action was taken. The company response to this accident was to use our members as scapegoats and they were dismissed for alleged health and safety infringements. Despite being confronted by the evidence of their own audits and emails they refused to listen and the dismissals were upheld at appeal.” He added: “GMB cases for unfair dismissal were settled before going to tribunal and are subject to gagging orders while industrial injury cases are pending.”
Unite is urging its union reps to reject to unsafe jobs. A new guide, part of Unite’s ‘Looking for trouble’ health and safety campaign, urges reps to ‘say no’ to taking risks, dangerous work, cutting corners and to putting production before safety. Meanwhile there should be a big ‘yes’ to acting on health and safety complaints and queries, working together on risk assessments and safe systems, reporting near misses and joint incident investigation. The ‘Say no to unsafe jobs, say yes to make it safe’ guide advises that to bring about improvements in health and safety performance requires everyone to work together towards a set of common goals. This takes a genuine management and workforce partnership based on trust, respect, co-operation and joint problem solving, it says. According to Unite: “No matter what the size and scope of the organisation, working together does not have to be complicated. Unite safety reps should use their rights and functions to represent their members and protect workers’ health and safety. Their most important union health and safety role is to represent workers’ views to management, and ensure that no members are expected to do dangerous jobs.”
Ÿ Unite Say No to unsafe jobs, say Yes to make it safe guide.
A Unite member who suffered a workplace fall that caused physical and psychological injuries has been awarded more than £100,000 in compensation. The 56-year-old man from Rotherham, whose name has not been released, was sent by his employer to fix a roller shutter door at a client’s premises when the ladder he was using slipped and fell from under him. He fell more than five metres onto concrete, suffering breaks to his elbow, wrist and ribs as well as a spinal injury. The injuries were so serious that he needed operations to his ribs, back and spine as well as a course of physiotherapy for his wrist injury. He also suffered a mild head injury, which caused post-concussion syndrome, requiring ongoing therapy. The psychological impact of the fall has included memory loss, personality changes and depression. He has not been well enough to return to work and there is no certainty that he will fully recover or be able to work again. In a union-backed claim, the employer accepted liability and agreed a £102,000 payout. Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “This really is a tragic case and one that could have been so easily avoided if our member’s employer had trained staff on safe working at height. An employee had to suffer life-changing injuries before they trained the remaining staff, which is simply too little too late.” She added: “The financial pressure of not being able to work, and coming to terms with how his life has changed because of his injuries has been extremely traumatic. We ensured that his employer has been held to account for the very real consequences of this shocking breach of health and safety.”
‘Leading industry figures and other key influencers’ are being urged by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to join a ‘conversation’ on the future strategy for Great Britain’s health and safety system. Pre-empting these responses, the safety regulator has published six themes that the five-year strategy will cover: Promoting broader ownership of workplace health and safety; highlighting and tackling the burden of work-related ill-health; supporting small firms; enabling productivity through proportionate risk management; anticipating and tackling the challenges of new technology and ways of working; and sharing the benefits or Great Britain’s approach. HSE chair Judith Hackitt, made a Dame in the new year’s honours, said: “We’re starting a conversation with a wide range of influencers – including employers, workers, local and central government, unions, other regulators and key representative groups – because it’s important that this is a strategy for all, shaped by all.” Safety minister Justin Tomlinson said: “In government, we are determined to build a more productive Britain, one that rewards hard work and helps all to benefit from the opportunities of economic growth. It is essential that health and safety is part of that, supporting British employers in their ambition and supporting workers who want to get on.” He added: “Taking sensible steps to keep workers safe and well is something that the best-run businesses do. It’s good for people, it’s good for productivity and it’s good for growth.” HSE said more details of how people can join the ‘conversation’ – HSE’s previous strategy documents have been informed by more closely regulated official consultations – will be released on its strategy webpage. Plans include events across Great Britain, digital discussion groups and an already operational campaign hashtag: #HelpGBWorkWell
Two new reports have confirmed an upward trend in work-related ill-health under the Conservatives. A Hazards magazine analysis of official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures has revealed that since the Conservatives defeated Labour in 2010/11, self-reported work-related illness has increased by 7 per cent, up from 1.16m cases to 1.24m in 2014/15. A report in the latest issue of the magazine notes that for stress and musculoskeletal disorders, which make up 80 per cent of the work-related total, long-term and new cases are both up. The musculoskeletal disorders figure in 2010/11 was 515,000. By 2014/15, it was 553,000 – up 7.3 per cent. For stress, anxiety and depression, cases were up from 402,000 to 440,000, an increase of 9.4 per cent. It is an effect confirmed for England in the latest preliminary Marmot indicators from the Department of Health-supported Institute for Health Equity. These note: “The positive downward trend for work-related illness seen between 2009/10 and 2011/12 for England reversed in 2013/14, when 4,000 people per 100,000 (4 per cent of workers) employed reported a work-related illness, up from 3,640 in 2011/12.” Announcing the findings, IHE director Professor Sir Michael Marmot noted: “We know poor conditions at work, such as long or insufficient hours, low pay, low control over tasks and insecure contracts can lead to increased risks of poor physical and mental ill health… our findings suggest that there is more that local employers and government can do to encourage, incentivise and enforce good quality work to support good health. Poor quality jobs will cost the health service more in the long run.” Hazards magazine, criticising a decline in official inspections and enforcement action, noted: “The economic downturn put many of us under the cosh at work, with job pressure up and job security down. We needed a regulator to defend us. We didn’t get one.” In the same issue of Hazards, the TUC warned that the focus from employers was frequently “not on keeping workers safe, but instead trying to encourage them to look after their own health by encouraging them to eat well and exercise.”
Ÿ Doctor? No: HSE defends its impotence in the losing battle against work’s diseases, Hazards, number 133, December 2015. IHE news release and preliminary Marmot indicators.
Workplace, environmental and other 'extrinsic' exposures cause of up to 90 per cent of cancers, researchers have concluded. The study was prompted by a heavily criticised paper which last year claimed ‘bad luck’ was behind most cancers (Risks 687). The new research led by Yusuf Hannun, director of Stony Brook University Cancer Center in the US, “found quantitative evidence proving that extrinsic risk factors, such as environmental exposures and behaviours weigh heavily on the development of a vast majority (approximately 70 to 90 per cent) of cancers.” The finding, reported in the 16 December 2015 online issue of Nature concluded cancers are overwhelmingly the result of external risk factors and not bad luck. The authors used four separate research techniques, employing both data- and model-driven quantitative analyses to reach their conclusion. These analyses discovered “collectively and individually that most cancers are attributed largely to external risk factors, with only 10-to-30 per cent attributed to random mutations, or intrinsic factors.” Dr Hannun concluded that their overall approach “provides a new framework to quantify the lifetime cancer risks from both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which will have important consequences for strategising cancer prevention, research and public health.”
Ÿ Stony Brook University news release. Scientific American. BBC News Online.Song Wo, Scott Powers, Wei Zhu and Yusuf A Hannun. Substantial contribution of extrinsic risk factors to cancer development, Nature, published online 16 December 2015.
The explosion on a BP rig off the US coast in 2010 led to a ‘near death experience’ for the company, its chief executive has said. Bob Dudley was commenting on the Deepwater Horizon blast that killed 11 workers, caused one of the worst environmental disasters in the US and saw BP pay fines and compensation and sell off more than £30bn ($45bn) in assets. Mr Dudley told ex-BP boss Lord Browne - a guest editor on the 2 January edition of BBC Radio 4's Today programme – Deepwater Horizon was a “tragic accident”. He said it had shaken the company "to its core" and led to a complete change in its organisational structure. “Sometimes it takes a near death experience to radically change a company. It was a forced focussing down of what we do, it was this is what we need to do to survive.” However, the final report of the President Obama-convened National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling found that far from Deepwater Horizon being a tragic accident, “BP’s safety lapses have been chronic”, adding that “despite the improvement in injury and spill rates during that decade, BP has caused a number of disastrous or potentially disastrous workplace incidents” (Risks 488). BP had earlier been criticised for its cost-cutting strategy, linked directly to the BP Texas City refinery blast in 2005 that killed 15 workers (Risks 470). However, because this more deadly incident on Lord Browne’s watch didn’t have critical financial implications for the company, BP’s profitability and success was largely unaffected.
Companies that are involved in ‘blacklisting’ will be excluded from bidding for public contracts in Scotland, under new regulations being laid in the Scottish Parliament in December 2015. From 18 April 2016, it will be a legal requirement for public bodies to exclude businesses found to have breached the Blacklists Regulations 2010, or which have admitted to doing so. The exclusion will remain in force until the business has taken appropriate remedial measures, or a period of three years has elapsed since the blacklisting occurred, which is the maximum timescale allowed under EU law. Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, said: “We have always been clear that blacklisting in any form is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated, particularly given the serious impact it can have on the lives of those affected. It is important that companies who are awarded public contracts maintain high standards of business and professional conduct, and that is why we are introducing this legislation to crack down on the practice.” He added: “Where we have control and the power to make changes, we have taken decisive action to strengthen the law, and this means that Scotland has taken greater steps to eradicate ‘blacklisting’ from public contracts than the rest of the UK. These changes will ensure that any company found to be involved in the practice will be excluded from bidding for public contracts.”
Military veterans with mesothelioma can now receive lump sum payments of £140,000, after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revised compensation rules. The move came after the Royal British Legion said British veterans who developed the terminal cancer caused by asbestos exposure during their military service were being unfairly treated, as they were only eligible for incremental war pension payments after being diagnosed with the rapidly lethal cancer. This prompted prime minister David Cameron to promise to review the situation (Risks 728). MoD said the changes to the scheme give it similar features to the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme for civilians (Risks 690). Veterans newly diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of their military service prior to 6 April 2005 will now have the option of receiving a one-off payment of £140,000 under the War Pensions Scheme. Claimants who prefer the current arrangements can opt to receive weekly or monthly payments. Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, Mark Lancaster, said: “I have decided that a policy change is required to introduce enhanced arrangements for mesothelioma sufferers. These veterans protected the nation with honour, courage and commitment, and we have listened to their concerns to ensure they are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.” The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme was introduced after a high profile campaign by asbestos victims’ advocacy groups.
A student has died of Weil's disease after helping at an animal charity, Public Health England has confirmed. Following the death, a court order was granted which restricts public access to Northamptonshire Animals in Need of Nurturing and Adoption at Irthlingborough. The infection is caught from contact with urine from infected animals. A Public Health England investigation was launched in December 2015 into how the Moulton College student contracted the disease. No details have been released about the identity of the student who contracted the disease or when the fatality occurred.
Weil's disease is a bacterial infection also known as Leptospirosis. It is a prescribed industrial disease and cases must be reported. Dr Samia Latif, consultant in public health at the agency, said the infected animals are “mainly rodents, cattle and pigs”, whose urine is carried in water or soil. She added the bacteria can enter the body through “abrasions or cuts in the skin and through the lining of the nose, mouth and eyes”. East Northamptonshire Council and Northamptonshire County Council are assisting Public Health England with its investigation. Early symptoms of Leptospirosis are described as flu-like, with vomiting, high temperature, headache and muscle pains. The infection can be treated with antibiotics and “most people make a full recovery”, according to Dr Latif. Groups at risk of Weil’s disease include utility, sewerage, farm and other workers, typically handling animals or working on water courses.
Baldwins Crane Hire has been fined £700,000 after the death of its operator Lindsay Easton at the Scout Moor wind farm in East Lancashire four years ago. Following a trial in November 2015, the company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter, failing to ensure the safety of its employees and failing to ensure the safety of other persons (Risks 731). Mr Easton, from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, was driving a 130-tonne mobile crane on a road from Scout Moor quarry in Edenfield, near Ramsbottom, when the brake system failed. The vehicle, travelling on a steep access road, lost control and crashed into an earth bank. The front of the vehicle was crushed, with Mr Easton dying from multiple injuries. Following the incident an investigation was launched by Lancashire Police, working alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It was found that several of the wheel brakes were inoperable, worn or contaminated. The engine retarding (braking) systems were also found to be non-functional, disabled or damaged providing only limited braking force. Welcoming the sentence, Det Sgt John McNamara said Lancashire Police “hope it serves as a reminder to all companies to properly manage and maintain equipment, vehicles and to keep the safety of their employees at the forefront of their responsibilities. The brakes on the crane driven by Mr Easton that day were in a shockingly bad state and this was a disaster waiting to happen. Had this happened on a road with more vehicles this incident could have been even more serious than it already was.” He added: “The safety of employees is of utmost importance in the workplace and Baldwins Crane Hire clearly neglected its responsibilities and sadly Mr Easton paid the price. Mr Easton’s death was wholly avoidable.” HSE inspector Kevin Jones said: “This was a complex investigation involving a high level of collaboration between HSE and Lancashire Police especially in relation to the forensic examination of the crane’s braking systems. This joint working with Lancashire Police contributed to bringing this case to a successful conclusion.” He added: “I also wish to pay tribute to the heroic actions of Mr Easton which helped prevent an even greater potential tragedy by his attempt to stop the crane on the run-off lane rather than continuing down the access road and onto the public highway.”
A series of workplace deaths resulted in December 2015 court appearances for criminally negligent employers. Cemex UK Operations Limited was fined £700,000 plus £90,783.78 costs and Cape Industrial Services Limited £600,000 plus £90,783.78 costs after John Altoft, 29, was killed when he fell to his death after being struck by falling debris inside an industrial tower. Manufacturing company Hanson Packed Products Ltd was fined £750,000 plus costs of £29,511 after 26-year-old worker William Ridge was fatally crushed when his arm was caught in a powered roller. Wooburn Landscapes Limited was fined £50,000 with £9,680 costs after landscape gardener Russell Meech, 27, was killed when he fell under the wheels of a telehandler. The company’s directors Andrew Schofield and Mark Schofield were each given a four and a half months prison sentence, suspended for eighteen months and 250 hours of unpaid community service. Siemens Public Limited Company was fined £107,000 and RWE Innogy UK Limited (RWE) £45,000 after 27-year-old Colin Sinclair was killed when he came into contact with the unguarded rotating shaft of a gearbox within a turbine at Causeymire windfarm. Globalreward Limited was fined £10,000 with £30,750 costs after employee Andrew Poole, 56, was killed as a result of crushing injuries to his head when the ride-on road roller he had been operating drove over him after the driver’s seat sheared off. The company’s director Paul Thomas Andrews was sentenced to two months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 200 hours community service.
Global transport unions’ federation ITF has welcomed an historic ruling in Australia requiring firms to pay minimum safe rates to truck drivers. Australia’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal ruled on 18 December 2015 that drivers should be paid for waiting at depots, loading and unloading and for the time it takes to clean, inspect and service their trucks and trailers. ITF says over 300 people die each year in truck-related crashes in Australia. It believes low cost contracts from wealthy retailers and manufacturers put pressure on drivers to cut corners by not maintaining their vehicles and to skip rest periods, speed and drive for longer than is allowed to meet unrealistic deadlines. ITF road transport workers’ section chair and Australian Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) national secretary Tony Sheldon said the ruling is a victory in the fight to end carnage on Australia’s roads. He added that it showed what can be achieved by fighting through a trade union for safer jobs. In October 2015, employers, governments and employee groups at the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) backed a plan based on the Australian safe rates model to tackle the root causes of the high global death toll in trucking (Risks 725).
The European Court of Justice has ruled that the European Commission has not been quick enough in identifying and banning potentially harmful ‘endocrine disrupting’ chemicals, linked to cancer, reproductive and other adverse health effects. The December 2015 ruling came in a case brought by Sweden on behalf of the Nordic states. The court said its finding that a European institution had “unlawfully refrained from laying down rules” was “comparatively rare”. The Swedish government welcomed the ruling and called for work to begin on “identifying and phasing out endocrine disrupting substances”. In its judgment, the court said that EU legislation adopted in May 2012 envisioned steps being taken to set criteria for testing for suspected endocrine disruptors. In May 2014 Sweden brought the case against the Commission, saying its efforts had come to a “complete standstill” and that illnesses caused by the chemicals could be costing hundreds of millions of euros every year. Environmental group ClientEarth said that the chemicals involved affect human reproductive function in both men and women, increased the incidence of breast cancer and cause abnormal growth patterns in children. Vito Buonsante, legal adviser for ClientEarth on toxic chemicals, said: “This is an unprecedented decision by the European Courts. They ruled that the Commission is illegally delaying a crucial decision to protect EU citizens and the environment.” He said the Commission’s process “is biased and there is no clear idea of when it will end. It must stop immediately. The Commission needs to start protecting the public, not the chemicals industry.” The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union dictates that the Commission must now take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment.
A report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates that a $15 billion (£10.2bn) profit will be made by companies working in Qatar on infrastructure for the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup, using up to 1.8 million migrant workers as modern day slaves. The report is critical of Qatar for failing to deliver changes to labour rights or compliance, and warns implicated construction companies, hotels, retail chains and UK and US universities of the cost of doing business in a slave state. “Every CEO operating in Qatar is aware that their profits are driven by appallingly low wage levels – wages that are often based on a system of racial discrimination – and that these profits risk safety, resulting in indefensible workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. Using new data uncovered in Qatar’s own government statistics, the ITUC estimates 7,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup. “By analysing Qatar’s own statistics and health reports over the past three years, previous reports of 4,000 workers dying by 2022 are a woeful underestimate. The real fatality rate is over 1,000 per year, meaning that 7,000 workers will die by 2022. Qatar hospital emergency departments are receiving 2,800 patients per day – 20 per cent more from 2013 to 2014,” said the ITUC head.
The Obama administration is moving forward with long-delayed rules intended to protect workers from potentially deadly exposures to silica dust. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed on 21 December 2015 that it had sent the rules to the White House for final approval, a step that comes after years of delays. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have to complete a review of the silica rules no later than late March. Unions called for a speedy review. “The AFL-CIO is pleased that this life-saving rule has made it to the last step in the rulemaking process. In the nearly 20 years since the fight began to win a new silica standard to protect workers, thousands have become disabled or died from exposure to silica dust. But now the finish line is finally in sight,” said Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the national union federation. “OSHA and the Department of Labor have completed the task of developing and preparing the final rule. Now OMB needs to conduct its review within the 90-day period provided by Presidential Executive Order. We call on President Obama and others in the administration to make sure that the review is completed quickly. The final silica standard must be issued without delay so working people can at long last be protected from this deadly dust.” The silica rule is intended to better protect workers from exposure to silica dust, which causes serious health problems, including cancer, silicosis and other potentially deadly conditions. The rule proposed in August 2013 aimed to cut the silica exposure limit in half to a new 0.05 mg/m³ workplace exposure standard. Mike Wright, health and safety director with the US United Steelworkers (USW) union, said: “There’s no question the new standard would save lives. The longer it takes to get into place, the more people are exposed.” The current US exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m³ is the same as the limit in place in the UK. Campaigners and unions in the UK have pressed the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to follow the US lead (Risks 673).
Ÿ In These Times. Politico. Silica, part 2: A line in the sand, Hazards, number 127, 2014. Silica, part 1: Dust to dust: Deadly silica standard is killing UK workers, Hazards, number 126, 2014.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is:
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox