|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 protected]|
The insurance industry wants to make it more difficult to claim compensation for occupational deafness, the TUC has warned. The union body says despite a dramatic fall in the number of compensation settlements – down from 183,342 in 2002 to 103,401 – insurers have complained that noise induced hearing loss claims increased threefold in the last four years, from 9,334 to 27,490. But the TUC says this represents statistical sleight of hand, not a genuine trend. It says while insurers are required to register with the Compensation Recovery Unit claims where the level of work-related deafness is over 50dBA – the threshold of severe disability that qualifies a sufferer for Industrial Injuries Benefit – it seems a number of insurers have started registering all hearing loss settlements. According to the TUC, insurers are claiming the apparent increase is the result of an advertising push to attract new claims, and want the government to change the rules to make claiming more difficult. Writing in the Stronger Unions blog, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson notes: “The insurance industry wants to try to cut costs by stopping victims being able to recover all their costs. They have suggested introducing fixed costs at a much lower rate than at present. However, if that were to happen they would continue to put every obstacle they can in the way of claimants meaning than many of those made deaf through their work will simply not be able to afford to take a case.” The TUC specialist says this would deny compensation to workers suffering a health problem that can also cause serious personal and social difficulties. “Perhaps insurers could spend their time better by using their resources trying to ensure that those they insure are fulfilling their legal duties,” Robertson notes. “The bottom line is that anyone whose hearing has been damaged through work should be able to get the compensation they are entitled to and receive proper legal support at no cost to themselves.”
A union has called for those responsible for a construction safety skills card scam to face the courts, after it was announced thousands of the cards had been revoked as a result of widespread fraud at five test centres (Risks 728). The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) confirmed this week they have revoked 4,615 cards. The action followed the discovery of fraudulent activity at centres where candidates were taking tests accredited by both CITB and the British Safety Council (BSC). CSCS wrote to all affected card holders in November to tell them they needed to retake their Health, Safety and Environment (HS&E) Test. The union GMB said those who issued the fraudulent cards should be arrested and charged with serious criminal offences and jailed. GMB national officer Phil Whitehurst said: “So far there is not a word from the CITB of any prosecutions against the five test centre operators. This was a criminal operation which potentially has put construction workers’ lives in danger on UK construction sites and not one legal case has been disclosed. It is for the employers to regain any trust in the training and qualification providers as well as the card certification schemes carrying the CSCS logo.” He added: “CITB has to get out of damage limitation mode and start getting their act together to clean up the entire operation.” Commenting on the action so far by CSCS/CITB, UCATT acting general secretary, Brian Rye, said: “This is good, decisive action. The CSCS card represents an industry standard and consequently must be protected. UCATT supports the action of the CSCS and the CITB in acting quickly to restore the image of the CSCS card.” Graham Wren, chief executive of CSCS, said: “We are urging employers to check the validity of all cards by either electronically reading the CSCS SmartCard or by using ‘Card Checker’ via the CITB website. It is important employers are able to trust the training and qualification providers.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is being urged to review urgently its work methods and record keeping, following new evidence on migrant worker deaths. An investigation by construction union UCATT has discovered that of the seven construction workers deaths in London in 2014/15, five of the victims were migrant workers. UCATT says the findings were not immediately apparent, as HSE fatality statistics do not record the nationality of workers. Jerry Swain, UCATT’s regional secretary for London and the South East, said: “Each of these deaths was an individual tragedy. It is essential that issues such as different safety standards and methods of working in countries, language issues and whether the deceased were new to the construction industry are properly considered in order to prevent future fatalities. This is simply not going to happen if the HSE continues to fail to address and record the nationality of workers who suffer a fatal accident.” UCATT called for changes to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) tick-box health and safety test. It said workers should not start on a site until they have completed a minimum of a one day safety course. “Anyone can be taught to pass a tick box exam. That does not mean that they will not endanger themselves or their colleagues when they are working in construction,” Jerry Swain said. “A proper safety course with a thorough assessment of a worker’s understanding of safety must be the minimum requirement before they go on site.”
A High Court judge has ordered 30 construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty, to disclose all emails and correspondence linked to the blacklisting of union reps and safety activists. The ruling came at the end of a two-day hearing last week where it emerged that documents had been destroyed linking the firms with the illegal covert blacklister, the industry-controlled and financed Consulting Association. Firms and four individuals will now have to carry out costly searches of back-up computer records of emails to disclose any relevant information by 12 February. The court also ruled that contractors must pay costs for the hearing, estimated at up to £100,000. The union-backed High Court hearing is part of ongoing legal action on behalf of 168 blacklisted workers. In October last year major construction firms admitted their involvement in the illegal blacklist (Risks 724). Howard Beckett, director of legal services with the union Unite, commented: “Despite admitting their guilt, it is shameful the lengths that some of the construction firms involved in blacklisting have gone to cover up their involvement.” He added that the “stain of blacklisting” would not be fully removed “until there is a full public inquiry and the livelihoods of the blacklisted is restored by the firms involved giving them a permanent job.” Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group, whose members are also party to the court case, said: “All of the platitudes and half apologies, all their crocodile tears and claims of rogue managers from the companies over the past six or seven years are clearly nonsense. Documents have been destroyed and directors of multinational companies are hiding stuff on their laptops.” The former UCATT safety rep and blacklisted worker added: “It calls into question all of the promises made to Parliament and the High Court. I am not a lawyer but I would have thought that destroying evidence that would almost certainly have been used in a court case might be considered perverting the course of justice.”
The prison officers’ union POA has told the prison service it is seeking a Judicial Review on the continuing risks posed by smoking in prisons. A phased move to smoke-free prisons was announced by the government in September last year (Risks 722). POA says contact with Treasury solicitors since then has led the union to doubt “that a smoking ban will ever be implemented to protect the health and safety of both staff and prisoners from the damaging effects of second hand smoke. Indeed the effects of new psychoactive substances which have been rife in our prisons and continue to harm the health of prisoners and staff alike. The POA will now pursue the application to the High Court within the legislative timeframe.” A statement from the union noted: “The POA do not accept that prisons should ever have been exempted from the smoking regulations that came into effect in 2007 as the arrangements did not protect workers from second hand smoke in prisons. The union has been proved correct in that assertion and now we want a clear timetable that will ban smoking totally in every prison establishment.” The statement claimed both the prison service and the justice secretary “do not care that prison staff and the prisoners in our care have been and continue to be exposed to significant and ongoing health risks. The POA cannot permit this to continue unchallenged.”
Firefighters fear lives could be put in danger over a controversial scheme to train police community support officers (PCSO) to do their jobs. A pilot scheme has been launched to train PCSOs to do the jobs of retained firemen - part-timers who respond to 999 calls.
The Mirror reports the trial will see eight PCSOs, who provide support for police officers in the community, trained to be on-call fire officers in Herefordshire and Shropshire. But firefighters’ union FBU said cost-cutting is behind the move and could lead to conflicts of duties if the PCSOs were dealing with a policing incident at the same time as a fire. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the Mirror: “This is yet another damaging blow to local fire services and to services nationally if this scheme gets replicated around the country. Retained firefighters have to be able to respond immediately to fires or other fire service emergencies. That clearly means that those involved will not be available for any police work at that time. This will mean delays for people making 999 calls either to the police or the fire and rescue service - or both.” The union leader added: “This move shows a total lack of respect for the professionalism of firefighters, and a lack of respect for the work of community police officers.” The FBU said the move could jeopardise the “neutrality” of firefighters if PCSOs are seen in fire and rescue appliances in police uniform.
Ÿ The Mirror.
The death of a teacher from an asbestos cancer shows that school staff and pupils are still at risk of deadly asbestos diseases, unions have warned. The alert came after Lincolnshire coroner Paul Kelly recorded that Elizabeth Belt, who taught in schools in the county from 1968 to 1995, died as a result of an industrial disease, the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. She had provided written testimony before her death detailing the presence of asbestos in display boards in the classrooms where she worked. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “The death of yet another teacher reinforces the reason why the issue of asbestos in our schools needs to be effectively dealt with.” She added: “The problem has been brought to the attention of successive governments for decades yet still there is no long-term strategy for the complete removal of asbestos from schools. It is a gross dereliction of duty to children and school staff that this silent killer remains in schools.” NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Data from the Health and Safety Executive and the union’s own casework demonstrates that in too many schools statutory and good practice provisions relating to the management of asbestos are being flouted. This government fails to take seriously health and safety concerns, has cut funding to the Health and Safety Executive, has failed to secure the compliance of employers with health and safety provisions and has consequently increased the risks to employees.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
The UK government has agreed to sign up to an international convention on shipbreaking safety after an approach from the union Unite. The move came after Ian Waddell, Unite’s national officer covering the sector, made the request in a letter to prime minister David Cameron in December 2015. Confirmation of the government’s willingness to ratify the Hong Kong Convention on shipbreaking came in a letter from transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin. The minister’s response noted: “Once the provisions of the EU Regulation have been fully implemented, our focus will shift to ratification of the Hong Kong International Convention as we will then have all the necessary domestic legislation in place.” The decision has been welcomed by IndustriALL, the global federation of manufacturing unions, which has been running a campaign to get the 2009 Convention ratified by enough countries it would come into force. Kan Matsuzaki, director of shipbuilding and shipbreaking at IndustriALL, said: “We welcome the British government’s willingness to support the Hong Kong Convention and we expect the government to accelerate its ratification process. The Convention cannot come into force until it has been ratified by at least 15 countries representing 40 per cent of gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping. The UK could play important role in the process as one of the major ship-owner states in the world.”
The UK government has joined the vanguard of the fight against modern slavery, the TUC has said. Commenting after the UK became the third country after Niger and Norway to ratify a landmark International Labour Organisation (ILO) agreement to outlaw forced labour and modern slavery, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We welcome the Home Office’s move to ratify the ILO Forced Labour Protocol. It is a clear message that the UK has joined the fight to end forced labour, people trafficking and other forms of modern day slavery.” She added: “They are abhorrent practices that demean and enslave 21 million people around the world and we must make it clear that they have no place in the workplaces of the 21st century. Unions and employers have worked hard to come up with a modernised approach to drive forced labour out of the global supply chains that stock our high street shops and supermarkets.” The UK government action came after pressure from TUC and employers’ organisation CBI. Welcoming the move, ILO director-general Guy Ryder said: “The United Kingdom’s ratification is a clear sign that global momentum is building” in the campaign against forced labour. ILO says its research has shown that profits from the forced labour industry are highest in developed economies and the European Union. The UK ratification came two days after a West Yorkshire businessman was convicted of employing large numbers of Hungarian men as a “slave workforce” at the now defunct Kozee Sleep bed factory in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury. Mohammed Rafiq, 60, was found guilty of conspiracy to commission a breach of UK immigration law. He will be sentenced on 12 February. His conviction followed that of Hungarian nationals Ferenc Illes and Janos Orsos, who were jailed last year after being found guilty of supplying Kozee Sleep with slave labour. Ethical audits by high street retailers including Next Plc, the John Lewis Partnership and Dunelm Mill had failed to spot the exploitative employment practices.
Civil engineering giant Balfour Beatty has been fined £1 million after the death of a father-of-four repairing a barrier on the A2. Larry Newman, 37, was killed when he was struck by the arm of a crane being used in the work in October 2012. Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering, which had a £3 billion turnover in 2014, admitted two criminal breaches of health and safety laws. The firm was told by Judge Adele Williams: “There was a significant risk to employees and non-employees and it was one which was foreseeable. The company's failure caused the death of Mr Newman.” Balfour Beatty had the contract to repair the barrier and it was their responsibility to ensure the safety of workers. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed there had been no ‘method statement’ and no safe method of work, which had contributed to the tragedy. The judge said: “The harm caused here was the loss of a life and it was obvious to the company that the failure was easily avoidable and could have been remedied.” After the sentencing, Balfour Beatty said in a statement: “Balfour Beatty has offered its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Larry Newman who was killed in this tragic incident. The safety of the public and our workforce is always our primary concern. Balfour Beatty has since taken appropriate corrective action to take the lessons learnt from this tragic incident and share them and improvements across our business.”
Ÿ Kent Online.
One of the UK’s largest gas distributors has been fined £1 million after a worker became trapped in a ruptured gas main in Scunthorpe. On 24 June 2014, National Grid Gas (plc) was supervising repairs to the gas main when sub-contract worker Ryan Spencer was trapped between two gas pipes after one of them burst, breaking his femur. He was part of a team trying to repair a reported leak when the pressure behind the escaping gas increased and ruptured the pipeline. Footage of the incident showed how the fire service had zero visibility as they worked for an hour to rescue the trapped engineer, as the escaping gas was creating a cloud of dust and debris around the excavation. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the “fact the worker was wearing breathing apparatus undoubtedly saved his life.” Sheffield Crown Court was told of a number of criminal failings by National Grid Gas (Plc) including not complying with its own gas escape procedures, not carrying out sufficient risk assessments, not communicating effectively with the contractors carrying out the work and not managing the handover of key personnel. It was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £26,296. HSE inspector Ian Redshaw said: “This incident could easily have become a fatality. National Grid Gas (plc) failed to follow its own processes and carry out sufficient risk assessments to protect workers and the sub-contractors fixing the leak. This whole incident should act as a stark warning to all those involved in hazardous work – you can have all the written policies in place but it you do not follow them, if you do not carry out the risk assessments for the task, people could die.” Steve Fraser of Humberside Fire and Rescue Service said: “The visibility was virtually zero due to air being dense with gas and dust, and the man had been working 10 feet below ground. The crews put themselves in a position which showed courage and bravery of the highest order. They were dealing with gas of an unknown quantity with potential for another explosion. They used pneumatic bags to prise the pipes apart and release his legs, all done in demanding circumstances.”
An Essex maritime terminal worker was serious injured when his arm became wrapped around a powered capstan, while mooring an ocean-going vessel. Basildon Crown Court imposed a fine of £1.8 million on port operator C.RO Ports London Limited, after the company plead guilty to criminal safety offences that contributed to the incident. The prosecution followed an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which found that, on 6 June 2014, the injured worker was one of a 3-person team securing a vessel’s heavy mooring ropes to land. The fingers of his left hand became caught between the rotating drum of a powered capstan and a heaving line. This caused his left arm to be dragged in and wrapped tightly about the rotating drum which was a few centimetres in diameter. The worker suffered multiple fractures and nerve and ligament damage. The HSE investigation found that the port firm failed to suitably identify and control risk associated with the use of powered capstans. HSE found arrangements for instruction, training and supervision of workers using this equipment were inadequate, as were those for audit and monitoring of safety. The C.RO Ports failed to suitably heed warnings raised by its workers prior to the incident. HSE later served an improvement notice (IN) requiring the company to identify relevant hazards and control risks. C.RO Ports London Limited was fined £1.8 million, and ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £14,328, after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Glyn Davies said: “Employers should seek to cooperate with workers to improve standards of health and safety, encouraging all to report ‘near-misses’ or potentially dangerous situations. Clearly it is most important that employers investigate such concerns, and act promptly to implement appropriate safety precautions.” Under HSE’s inspection strategy, almost all ports operations are exempted from routine preventive inspections.
A pet food company has been fined £80,000 over the death of a Lithuanian worker almost six years ago. Renatas Timofejevas, 36, was operating a loading vehicle at Alba Proteins at The Racks, near Dumfries, when he was found crushed under the boom arm. A court heard that if window glass on the JCB had been replaced he could not have leaned out and become trapped. The company admitted a criminal health and safety offence over the February 2010 incident. Dumfries Sheriff Court was told there were no eyewitnesses to the incident. It is believed he was killed after trying to reach out of a window in which the glass had been missing for up to eight months. The court heard that if the window been replaced at a cost of just over £300, the worker would not have been able to lean out and be caught. Sheriff Brian Mohan said the window was only one of a number of defects affecting the vehicle. The company admitted a criminal failure to provide plant that was safe and without risk to health in that the JCB had numerous defects. It also admitted a failure to have a system in place ensuring that the vehicle was adequately inspected and maintained and a failure to ensure that it was only used by trained and authorised persons.
Retail chain Wilko has been handed a £200,000 fine after an employee was killed in a crash between two forklift trucks at one of the firm’s distribution centres. George Hancock, 52, died in December 2011 after sustaining injuries in the incident. He was crushed by the truck’s roll cage as it tipped over. An investigation by Bassetlaw District Council found the ‘most immediate causes’ of the fatality were ‘certain driving practices’ and that the company did not ensure drivers wore seat belts. The company pleaded guilty at Nottingham Crown Court to criminal health and safety breaches. The judge said the forklift trucks operated in a dangerous environment and there was no proper monitoring of movements. Wilko was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £199,943. Julie Leigh, Bassetlaw’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “We wish to express again our sincere condolences to the family of Mr Hancock. A death at work is always a most tragic event and the impact on the family of the deceased, their colleagues and their friends cannot be under estimated.” A Wilko spokesperson said: “The responsibility for the health and safety of our team members through safe working practices rests with Wilko. Our thoughts, and those of his colleagues, are with his family.”
A farming company has been ordered to pay £125,000 for a criminal safety breach that led to the death of a young worker. Konrad Miskiewicz, 24, from Poland was electrocuted by an overhead power cable when working on a potato harvester near Falmouth, Cornwall in July 2011. Truro Crown Court heard three other workers on the harvester were also in significant danger. Pengelly Farms Ltd previously pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of Mr Miskiewicz. Judge Simon Carr ordered the company to pay a £75,000 fine and £50,000 in costs. The judge said a reliance on written health and safety advice was “particularly vulnerable” when dealing with migrant workers. The court heard the conveyor belt above the harvester hit the overhead cables at Higher Kergilliack Farm. Mr Miskiewicz was “probably thrown” from the harvester and was subsequently pronounced dead at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. The court heard Pengelly Farms had a turnover of £3.6m in 2014/15. Simon Morgan, for the defence, said company directors Simon and Philip Rogers wanted to express “bitter regret and remorse” and had put several measures in place to avoid any future incidents. Georgina Speake, an inspector for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said: “The danger posed by overhead powerlines is substantial. If an incident occurs, electricity is potentially lethal. It is a danger which must be identified and adequately considered and the risk acceptably reduced. In this case one man died and one was injured. More people could, very easily have died as a result of this incident. The other pickers and the harvester driver were put at considerable risk.”
New guidance to combat bullying and harassment at sea has been developed by the industry body the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the global union the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The ITF/ICS guidance sets out what shipping companies, seafarers and seafarers’ organisations can do to help prevent bullying and harassment from becoming a serious problem. As well as providing advice on company policies on reporting, complaints and grievance procedures, the guidance addresses the responsibilities of seafarers and their employers to use these procedures appropriately and for being aware of any harassment or bullying that might occur within the maritime workplace. This includes any instances of cyber-bullying.
A Canadian union leader has called for a national registry of the location of asbestos materials. The call from Philip Venoit, president of Vancouver Island Building and Construction Trades Council, came after latest figures from Statistics Canada revealed new cases of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma had doubled across the country, from 276 cases in 1992 to 560 cases in 2012. Venoit has written to the Prime Minister’s Office and to several provincial premiers and mayors across the country. He has had no response from the PMO or from premiers, but says several mayors have expressed support. He called on federal, provincial and municipal governments to develop a national registry of all public buildings and vessels, such as navy ships, “and to make that registry online and available to all restoration and construction workers.” He added the registry should identify the types of asbestos products in the buildings – such as floor tiles, ceiling tiles, insulation, drywall and pipe cladding – and provide instructions on how best to remove that material. “The baby boomer generation is well versed in asbestos,” he states in his letter, but warned: “We are on the eve of mass retirement with a new generation of workers who know very little of the harmful effects asbestos exposure can cause.” He urged the government to develop a national apprenticeship programme to ensure young workers know how to safely work with asbestos, and said the federal government should ban imports of asbestos.
Unions are to work throughout the Dutch Presidency of the European Union to develop a preventive approach to occupational cancer. During this presidency, which runs from January to June, the Dutch government has expressed a desire to update the EU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, a longstanding union objective. A new report from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the union objective is to “eliminate occupational cancer.” Promoting a six-point preventive charter, it urges unions to run a political and awareness campaign. This should include approaching embassies and consulates of the Netherlands to present the union campaign objectives, it notes. The ETUC report notes: “At workplaces trade unions are demanding that dangerous substances and processes are eliminated or substituted with less dangerous ones. Likewise we are seeking to improve work organisation in order to avoid or minimise exposures to night and shift work. To reinforce this work we are calling for improvements to the legislative framework at EU level and we are seizing the opportunity created by the initiative of the Dutch Presidency.”
Two of five workers who developed bladder cancer while working at a chemical factory manufacturing dyes and pigments are demanding that the Japanese government recognise their illness as job-related. Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, the pair called on their employer - Tokyo-based Mitsuboshi Chemical - to make urgent improvements in conditions at the plant in Fukui Prefecture. Employees Kenji Takayama and Yasuhiro Tanaka, both 56, have each worked at the plant for nearly 20 years. They say poor working conditions, including a lack of ventilation that routinely makes workers sick, could have caused the cancer. The five who contracted bladder cancer were involved in mixing or drying aromatic amines, including the potent bladder carcinogen o-toluidine. One of the cancer sufferers has retired, but the four others remain with the company. The health ministry is now looking into the possible association between the workers’ cancer and the factory environment, while Mitsuboshi Chemical has not commented on a possible link. Hiroyuki Isobe, executive chair of the Kansai chapter of the Kagaku Ippan Rodo Kumiai Rengo, the union that represents the workers, said the union had just visited the Tokyo head office of Mitsuboshi Chemical. The company avoided comment on whether their contact with the chemicals was responsible for the cancers, Isobe said. The case parallels that at a US Goodyear plant in Niagara Falls, where over 60 workers exposed to o-toluidine are reported to have developed bladder cancer (Risks 370).
Workers set to lose their jobs at a General Electric plant in the US fear serious diseases linked to their exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) could hit them later in life. The union representing the workers at the GE Fort Edward plant is citing concerns over exposure to toxic PCBs – used in manufacture of capacitors at the plant - in pressing the company to pay for health testing after workers lose their jobs. But the company, which is closing the plant, is refusing the request. A high-ranking GE executive also told the union there is “no credible evidence” that PCBs cause cancer or other serious illness, a stance that puts the company at odds with federal and international health agencies that for years have labelled the chemical as a likely human carcinogen. Gene Elk, an official with the electrical union UE, said that workers are concerned potential exposure to PCBs could put them at risk of illness later in life. The union wants access to company-collected health records of workers at both Fort Edward and a second Hudson Falls plant. National health and safety regulator OSHA this month cited GE for safety violations at the Fort Edward plant and issued $53,000 in fines. One fine was because federal inspectors found “employees' working surfaces were not kept clean from PCB contamination” during a 5 August 2015 inspection, according to the citation. GE has until 8 February to either accept or contest the fines.
Ÿ Times Union.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/