|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TUC has raised serious concerns over government changes to the role of Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). Commenting on the government’s 12 January announcement of its intention to reform the powers, function and scope of the GLA, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The GLA has played a crucial role in clamping down on rogue employers and preventing abuses like the Morecambe Bay tragedy through its licensing of labour providers. We are concerned that government proposals to make licensing more flexible will lead to fewer workplace inspections, leaving workers more vulnerable to exploitation.” Among the changes will be a new role of Director of Labour Market Enforcement, data sharing between “labour market enforcement bodies and other bodies with intelligence”, and the replacement of the GLA with a “Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, with stronger powers to deal with labour exploitation across the economy.” But the changes also include a relaxation of the gangmaster/labour supplier vetting process. TUC’s Frances O’Grady said the changes, revealed in the government’s response to a consultation on tackling exploitation in the labour market, would benefit rogue employers. “A weaker ‘more flexible’ vetting process puts workers at risk of victimisation, not being paid the national minimum wage or holiday pay, and being housed in squalid conditions. It increases the chances of bad employers undercutting good ones. The government has chosen to ignore the views of many stakeholders. Only a fifth of stakeholders supported a move to a more flexible approach to licensing. It is also very troubling that ministers have yet to spell out how they will resource the expanded remit of the new Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.” The union head concluded: “If the GLA is to be given new powers and a broader remit, then it must be properly funded. The absence of detail on this is worrying.”
The government should not cut the levy on insurance companies introduced to meet the cost of otherwise uncompensated cases of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on a government announcement that the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Levy for 2015/16 will be reduced to £23.2m from £32m in 2014/2015. News of the reduction came in a 12 January written statement from safety minister Justin Tomlinson, who said the system was “in line with the commitment by the insurance industry to fund a scheme of last resort for sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma who have been unable to trace their employer or their employer’s insurer”, which had run at a surplus last year. Commenting on the funding cut, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We are very disappointed that the mesothelioma levy is being reduced. Asbestos is the UK’s biggest workplace killer. Around 5,000 people die each year from mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer – 13 people for every day of the year. The government should maintain the levy at last year’s level and use any surplus to extend the compensation scheme to all victims of asbestos or for research into treatment.” The government indicated in November 2015 it would not support an additional levy to finance research in asbestos disease treatments (Risks 730). Mesotheliomas account for far less than half all cancers caused by asbestos.
The British demand for a Europe-wide “target to cut the total burden on business” might not just be wrong, it might be unachievable, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said even with the stated support of vice-president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, the attempt by Britain has far from universal approval. He said even among those nations supporting some deregulation – 19 EU member states including the UK signed a letter to Timmermans calling for ‘burden reduction targets’ - some “have gone on record to say that they will oppose any attempt to remove any regulation in the field of employment rights or safety.” He said these include France, Greece, Sweden and Austria. “In the case of the Swedes, their concern about regulations is that they don’t want regulations at EU level that provide less protection than their domestic regulations – they’re worried about levelling down rather than levelling up.” The TUC safety specialist added: “It is particularly significant, and ironic, that a number of countries refused to sign the letter for the reason that setting targets for a reduction of regulation would diminish national parliaments ‘right to regulate’ and, as such, runs counter to one of Cameron’s other demands, which is for greater sovereignty. This included the Netherlands who hold the presidency of Europe at the moment.” It is not just is the strategy that is flawed, so is the argument. Robertson points to evidence that “the cost of European regulation is massively outweighed by the benefits” and that “most of what Cameron is saying about the scale of European regulation is a myth.” He added that “despite claiming to be a great deregulator, the last five years of government led to an increase in regulation in Britain.”
Union members at a Merseyside postal delivery office have returned to work after securing assurances about asbestos safety in the building. CWU members at the Kirkby office walked out after suspected asbestos was discovered while contractors were renovating the building. Mark Walsh, secretary of CWU’s Greater Merseyside branch, said: “Staff walked out because of the asbestos and how it has been communicated to them.” He added: “It should now be resolved, as we’ve had confirmation from experts that it’s a safe environment to work in and safeguards have been put in place. The inspections allayed members’ fears.” A Royal Mail spokesperson told the Liverpool Echo: “The material was identified as asbestos-related and was subsequently removed. Neither our staff or customers were exposed. We have liaised closely with our union and we have their full backing. Royal Mail’s foremost priority is its staff and customers’ safety.”
The government's privatised system of assessing sick and disabled social security claimants is still failing claimants and taxpayers, civil service union PCS has said. The union was commenting after a National Audit Office (NAO) report concluded the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its management of health and disability assessments for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payments (PIP). Even this did not tell the whole story of the failures of the privatised system, the union added. It said in only considering the value for money of contract management, not of the government's wider reforms and policies, the NAO ‘disappointingly’ missed an opportunity to properly scrutinise the merits of a system that claimants feel is unfairly targeting them. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This report, while disappointingly limited in its scope, casts grave doubts on the policy of privatising this very sensitive public service. Claimants need to feel they are being supported, not targeted, and we will continue to press for this work to be brought back in-house.” The NAO report found the cost of the scheme has doubled, costing the public purse £579 million a year. Expected savings had been slashed from £1.1 billion to £400m. US firm Maximus, which is operating the scheme on behalf of the DWP, has a backlog of 280,000 “work capability assessments.” These assessments have been linked to an elevated risk of suicide and depression (Risks 721). Commons public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier said: “Disabled people and taxpayers in general have been failed by the DWP’s inability to manage health and disability assessments.”
Rail union RMT has criticised as “pathetic” and “wholly inadequate” a fine handed out to a major rail construction company for a series of failures that led to the avoidable death of one of its workers. Carillion Construction Ltd was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £36,570.39 following a prosecution for the criminal breach of health and safety laws that led to the death of a Scott Dobson. On 4 December 2012, Scott, from Doncaster, was carrying out maintenance work near Saxilby, Lincolnshire, when he was struck by a passing train. The rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), investigated and found a series of failings in Carillion’s planning and management of the work. Only one of the two railway lines had been blocked while maintenance was being done, whereas both lines should have been closed to minimise the possibility of workers being struck by passing trains. Carillion Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences at Lincolnshire Magistrates’ Court. ORR head Ian Prosser said: “This accident was wholly avoidable, had Carillion Construction Ltd followed health and safety rules set out for the railways. Our sympathies are with Mr Dobson’s family.” But RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “A fine of £200,000 to a giant company like Carillion is peanuts and will be written off as petty cash. This is a pathetic and wholly inadequate penalty for a series of corporate errors that led to the wholly avoidable death of Scott Dobson.” He said: “This tragedy must serve as a wake-up call to Network Rail and our industry as a whole. The culture of contracting and casualisation on our railways means that corners are being cut and safety compromised. That cash-led gambling with rail workers’ lives has to stop and should be called to a halt right now before we have more avoidable deaths on our hands.”
Despite being a major player in global chemicals production, the UK is showing little interest in efforts to control the most dangerous substances, a new report suggests. A report from the European Environment Bureau (EEB), argues that unless the EU chemicals regulation REACH “is better enforced, it will never achieve its aim of removing harmful chemicals from the market”. ‘A Roadmap to Revitalise REACH’ notes “most Member States, including several with a strong chemicals industry, such as Italy or Ireland, are not contributing at all to the process, while others, like the UK and Spain, are only contributing marginally.” The report reveals the UK government has only proposed two Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), chemicals including carcinogens and reproductive toxins targeted for phase-out. It notes even Norway, not an EU Member State, has proposed more (6), while France (17) and Germany (44) top the table. Dr Michael Warhurst, executive director of CHEM Trust, a UK-based charity that promotes safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals, said: “We are very concerned about the performance of the UK government, who seem to have a deliberate strategy of not identifying the chemicals of very high concern. Do we really think it is OK to leave this job to other countries, when UK citizens and wildlife are just as exposed to these hazardous substances?” CHEM Trust is critical of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) approach to the identification and control of the “worst chemicals”. It points to an online HSE strategy document that states there must be “an overriding UK government policy need for the UK to take the initiative on a substance”. CHEM Trust says “this shows a worrying lack of commitment to human health and the environment.”
Ÿ CHEM Trust news report. EEB news release. A Roadmap to Revitalise REACH, EEB, December 2015. Health and Safety Executive online document on ‘Selecting substances to propose for authorisation, restriction, evaluation or harmonised classification and labelling’. ECHA SVHC webpages.
While employment tribunal fees have drastically reduced the number of cases and typical awards for claimants are generally four-figure sums, tribunal decisions still occasionally cost employers dear. A round up six-figure employment tribunal awards in 2015 compiled by human resources magazine Personnel Today shows that far more substantial settlements can occur – and discrimination against sick workers was behind almost half of these bigger payouts. In Turner v DHL Services Ltd and another, the claimant was awarded £257,127 over his employer’s lack of support when he went off sick as a result of work-related stress. In a second case, Marcelin v Hewlett Packard Ltd, a claimant who was disciplined for, among other things, his refusal to consent to the release of a medical report was awarded £239,913 for disability discrimination. In another case, O’Sullivan v London Underground Ltd, a deceased London Underground worker was awarded £223,869 for disability discrimination. In the event of a successful claimant’s death, the tribunal award goes to the claimant’s estate. In A v S, an employee with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) was able to show that the way in which a move to a new role and her subsequent absences were handled was discriminatory. Her compensation totalled £192,656. In Waddingham v NHS Business Services Authority, the employment tribunal held that an NHS trust committed disability discrimination against an employee having cancer treatment who was required to undergo a competitive interview process during a redeployment exercise. The employee was awarded £115,056.
Executives at the world’s biggest asbestos factory spied on journalists, safety and environmental campaigners who exposed the killer dust’s dangers. Secret industry documents seen by The Independent reveal that the executives at Rochdale-based asbestos giant Turner and Newall (T&N) monitored people they considered to be “subversive” and kept a dossier on their activities at the height of the debate about the mineral’s safety in the 1980s. Those identified in the report include the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) – the organisation that set up what became Hazards magazine – Alan Dalton, the now deceased former union national safety officer and author of ‘Asbestos Killer Dust’, journalists working on an award-winning asbestos documentary and Friends of the Earth. Also targeted was Nancy Tait, the founder of the world’s first asbestos victims’ advocacy group, an asbestos widow who died in 2009. The firm then used a media and political campaign to try to discredit its critics, the documents show. The T&N documentation was unearthed by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Jason Addy as part of 12 years of research into the firm’s toxic legacy. The trained lawyer told Hazards magazine: “My research findings give me great cause for concern. There must be an investigation into Turner and Newall's role in undermining the democratic process, especially in light of the ongoing Pitchford enquiry and blacklisting court case. Who guards the guards?”
An academy trust has been fined for its criminal failure to manage asbestos and ensure the safety of builders working at a Medway school. Representatives from the Williamson Trust pleaded guilty at Medway Magistrates Court, where it was heard asbestos had been uncovered during work in 2012 at the Hundred of Hoo Academy, one of the trust’s schools. Facing the same criminal charge was Mark Tucker, 51, director of MT & Sons Ltd, the firm contracted to carry out the work. The court heard how a “last minute change of plan” during work had led builders to remove some panels around a series of skylights in the English, humanities and media block during school holidays. It was only the next day they realised that the panels were asbestos, and closed the building. Magistrates said they found the trust’s culpability was greater than Mr Tucker’s. The trust had failed to complete a refurbishment and demolition survey, and had failed to ensure that the contractors had the asbestos information they needed to carry out the work safely. The Williamson was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,000. Mark Tucker was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,000.
A food company and its contractor have been fined after asbestos was disturbed during building work and only identified by chance when an asbestos removal contractor came to the site. Stafford Crown Court heard no asbestos survey had been carried out by Mizkan Euro Ltd or DH Welton & Co Ltd. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mizkan Euro Ltd was undertaking a project to remove tanks from a factory, which required the demolition of an external wall. It failed to provide an asbestos survey to enable its contractor, DH Welton, to quote and plan appropriately for the work to be undertaken. However, the investigation also found DH Welton could have commissioned a survey when they discovered that Mizkan only had access to a management survey for the building. When the wall was demolished asbestos insulation board at the top of the wall was unknowingly broken up. A skip of demolition debris was found to contain asbestos insulation board, which had been identified by an asbestos contractor who had been called to site. Mizkan Euro Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,589. DH Welton & Co Ltd pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £45,000 plus costs of £4,529.
A gas supplier whose workshop fire escape was padlocked shut, resulting in the death of an apprentice in a fire, has been given a suspended jail term. Poorly trained teen Jarrad Swan died after becoming trapped in Steve Adams' workshop when an oxygen bottle he was trying to fill exploded. The 18-year-old had his escape route blocked as a fire exit had been padlocked shut. When a co-worker tried to open it the key snapped in the lock. Steve Adams, the 43-year-old owner of the Adams Gas company in Margate, was given an eight-month prison term, suspended for two years. His firm was fined £150,000 and Adams was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £42,790. The tragedy happened on 24 June 2014 and originally led to Adams being charged with manslaughter. That charge was dropped and he instead pleaded guilty to four criminal health and safety offences. Detective Inspector Lee Whitehead from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: “It is a tragedy that this young man has lost his life in a situation that could have been easily avoided if basic health and safety had been considered.” He added: “This has been a joint investigation between the police, Health and Safety Executive and the fire service. Evidence presented to the Crown Prosecution Service led to these serious charges being brought against Steve Adams. I hope this verdict will go some way to help Jarrad's family come to terms with their loss.”
Two companies have been fined after a construction worker suffered life changing injuries when he received an electric shock from an overhead power line. Ashley Coe, an agency worker working on site for Pascon Limited, was part of a group of workers laying cables in a trench when the incident happened on the 13 March 2013. An excavator tracking underneath a 33kV overhead power line struck the power line. Mr Coe was helping to control a cable drum suspended from the arm of the excavator when the incident occurred. Exeter Crown Court heard British Solar Renewables Limited (BSR) was installing a solar farm at Knockworthy Farm, Great Torrington, Devon. However, despite the high risk work being undertaken, BSR failed to install goal posts and signage to warn of the presence of overhead power lines in the area. Subcontractor Pascon Limited, which was installing the cables in the trench, had failed to assess the risks of working under the overhead power lines, and subsequently had not appropriately planned, managed and monitored the work. As a result of the electric shock, Ashley Coe suffered a life changing brain injury and had to be resuscitated by attending paramedics. The court heard he suffers with short term memory loss, has some mobility issues and now no longer feels pain. His speech has been affected and he has lost much of his independence. He is unlikely to ever work again. Two other workers received shocks but escaped serious injury. Principal contractor British Solar Renewables Limited was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £72,466. Subcontractor Pascon Limited was fined £35,000 plus a £25,000 contribution to costs. HSE inspector James Lucas said Mr Coe “now suffers from life changing complications due the electric shock he received. He was extremely close to losing his life and this is down to the failure of both construction companies involved in the work.”
A cash-strapped mum and sister had to move out of their home after a family member was killed when his arm got caught on a conveyor belt and he was pulled into a cement mixer. Billy Ridge, 26, was clearing sand around the base of a conveyor belt at a cement bagging plant when his arm got drawn into a roller. He was pulled into the machine and only found when staff realised it had stopped working. Building materials giant Hanson Packed Products Ltd was fined £750,000 in December last year after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence (Risks 733). During the hearing, Southwark Crown Court heard that there should have been fixed guards surrounding the powered roller to prevent access to the dangerous moving parts. Sister Sylvia and 62-year-old mum Grace lived with Billy, but had to move out of the family home after his death as they could no longer afford the rent.
The TUC’s international department has produced ‘Working in the UK - a guide to your rights’, an employment rights online guide in 17 languages, to help inform people of their working rights in the UK. TUC says this resource, which includes a detailed health and safety section, is a good organising and recruitment tool for union organisers.
Firefighters and fire investigators in Ontario, Canada, no longer have to prove their lung cancer is work-related to claim workers’ compensation. From 1 January 2016 the condition has been added to a list of cancers presumed to be work-related for Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits. In 2014, the provincial government expanded the list beyond an initial eight cancers to include six more WSIB must presume to be an occupational disease. Breast cancer, multiple myeloma and testicular cancer were added in the spring of 2014, followed by prostate cancer in 2015. Skin cancer is to be added from 1 January 2017. The ‘presumptive’ legislation is retroactive to 1960, so it applies to claims by the families of firefighters who have died. “It was very emotional, and emotional for the family,” said Peter Kennedy, president of the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters Association, commenting on the old system that required firefighters prove their work caused their cancer. “What it does now in the future is give you some comfort that your family will be taken care of.” The union says it knows of 101 cases of lung cancer among firefighters province-wide, as well as 175 cases of prostate cancer and 68 cases of the other four forms of cancer.
Ÿ CBC News.
Seventeen ex-managers at the electronics firm, Olivetti, are on trial over allegations that asbestos exposure at a factory in the Piedmont town of Ivrea caused 14 deaths. The accused, who include Franco De Benedetti, the current chief of scooter manufacturer Piaggio, worked for the company between the late 1970s and 2000. De Benedetti was president of Olivetti between 1978 and 1996. The group face charges of manslaughter over 14 confirmed asbestos-related deaths that have all occurred since 2005. “Olivetti knew about the risks posed to workers for years, but did not respond until it was too late,” prosecuting magistrate Laura Longo told La Stampa. The prosecution team has amassed some 36,000 pages of evidence, which spans 50 years of the iconic brand's history and includes oral testimonies from employees working across a number of departments. The case against Olivetti dates back to 2005, when retired employee Lucia Delaurenti, who worked for the company between 1965 and 1980, died of malignant mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. This is not the only recent inquiry into asbestos-related deaths embroiling a giant of Italian industry. In July last year, eleven former managers at the tyre manufacturer, Pirelli, were convicted of manslaughter after 24 workers died from asbestos diseases (Risks 712). And Eternit directors accused of causing asbestos-related workplace and environmental cancers linked to its plants in Italy have featured in a long-running series of court cases and appeals (Risks 683). Former Eternit boss Stephan Schmidheiny had an 18 year prison sentence overturned on a legal technicality in 2014, with the court saying the charges were filed too late.
Ÿ The Local.
Electronics companies are starting to respond to pressure to reduce their use of chemicals that are known to be hazardous to human health, the environment or both. The industry’s slow steps away from damaging chemicals follows increasing recognition that electronics manufacture is causing cancer and other serious health effects in exposed production workers, all the way along the supply chain. And the harmful impact goes further, with much of the discarded electronic waste illegally exported for typically hazardous recycling or disposal. High profile campaigns have put these abuses in the public eye, and been a driver of improvements. “If you solve a problem at the upstream stage - if it’s designed in a proper way, if the hazardous components are replaced by less or non-hazardous ones - the problem downstream will be less,” said Tadesse Amera, a steering committee member of IPEN, a global network focused on safer use of chemicals. “We are not talking about waste. We are talking about the whole process.” Joel Tickner, director of the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, a project based at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said: “There’s been a lot of writing about toxicity in the electronics supply chain. I think what’s new is global collaboration, stronger focus on purchasing, collaboration among electronics companies really starting to dig into their supply chains.”
A greater emphasis on prevention of cancers would reap considerable benefits, the director of the UN’s cancer agency has said. Christopher Wild, who heads the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said figures vary, “but one can safely estimate that 40 to 50 per cent of cancers could be prevented if the accumulated knowledge about causes could be translated into effective primary prevention.” Writing a wide-ranging article in the journal Health Management, he said it was a “pivotal time for cancer prevention”, noting: “Prevention and early detection demonstrably work… Estimates of the costs of implementing cancer prevention strategies are difficult to make on a global scale, but are certainly a fraction of the costs of dealing with the consequences of the occurrence of these same cancers.” But he added: “Despite proof and promise, prevention remains too often neglected.” The IARC head is critical of the tendency to focus on “individual choices, whereas legislation and policy may be keys to success, offering a sustainable approach and one which contributes to reduced inequalities in society.” The majority of cancer causes identified in IARC monographs are industrial chemicals or other industry-related exposures. However, its own prevention guides are skewed towards lifestyle interventions, with none promoting a reduction in workplace or environmental exposures to carcinogens. A study published in Nature in December 2015 concluded workplace, environmental and other ‘extrinsic’ exposures are the cause of between 70 and 90 per cent of cancers (Risks 733).
Ÿ Christopher Wild. Precision in the fight against the global cancer problem, Health Management, volume 15, issue 4, 2015. IARC monographs and prevention guides. ITUC/Hazards work cancer hazards.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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