|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 revelation that two flights in two days were forced to turn back to the UK last week following an outbreak of sickness among the cabin crew has added further weight to calls for a public inquiry into ‘aerotoxic syndrome’, the union Unite has said. The union said the abandoned flights, one to South Africa and one to the US, provided further evidence that leaks from aircraft engines are finding their way into the cabins causing the crew to feel sick but may also be further impairing the crew’s health. Unite is pursuing 60 cases on behalf of individuals who have symptoms it says are consistent with the syndrome, and is also acting on behalf of a deceased cabin crew member. Howard Beckett, Unite’s executive legal director, said: “The case for a full scale public inquiry into aerotoxic syndrome builds daily. This is the second such incident in recent days - the aviation industry simply cannot continue to ignore the clamour for action.” He said the union also wanted aircraft manufacturers to take immediate action. “The technology behind the circulation of air within aircraft has not moved on much at all since the 1950s, meaning that fume events are happening with regularity. Repeated exposure to these ‘events’ is what we believe leads to aerotoxic syndrome – so we say to the industry, sort this out because people are being put at risk.” The union, which is running a ‘Keep cabin crew safe’ campaign, points out that the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner removes the problem because instead of recirculating potentially contaminated bleed air, air is supplied directly from the atmosphere and not through the engines.
A spate of serious near misses involving drones highlight the need for urgent action to prevent a collision with other aircraft, pilots’ union BALPA has said. It was commenting after a UK Proximity Board examination of seven incidents involving drones classed four in the most serious category A, where a serious risk of collision existed. In one case a drone came very close to colliding with a Boeing 737 climbing out of Stansted. BALPA is calling for stricter rules and a registration system so drone operators can be easily traced and prosecuted for any irresponsible flying. It says pilots also want devices fitted that stop drones from being able to fly in areas where they could meet commercial traffic. BALPA flight safety specialist Steve Landells said: “Pilots can see that drones can be useful and fun to fly, but these near misses are becoming too regular an occurrence. We must act now to protect passengers and flight crew and make sure a catastrophic crash does not happen. The authorities must enforce current regulations and make sure new ones, such as compulsory insurance and registration, are brought in without delay.” He added: “As the growth of drones flying by hobbyists continues, education and training are increasingly becoming key. Anyone flying a drone must do so in a safe and sensible way. If you don’t follow the rules or show consideration to others when flying you should be aware of the severe penalties you could face.”
Construction union UCATT has said it is ‘highly concerned’ at a five-year delay in bringing criminal charges relating to the deaths of four workers on a development project. Adam Taylor (28), Peter Johnson (42) and brothers Thomas (26) and Daniel Hazelton (30), died on 21 January 2011, in what the union said was the worst fatal accident in the industry for many years (Risks 491). They were erecting a large steel structure in a pit 13 feet below ground at the Claxton Engineering Services yard in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, when the structure collapsed and crushed them. An immediate investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), but it has taken the safety watchdog five years to bring charges. Defendants Claxton Engineering Services, Encompass Project Management, David Groucott, director of Encompass Project Management, and Hazegood Construction appeared before Great Yarmouth magistrates’ court on 2 February, on criminal safety charges. Ron McKay, acting regional secretary of UCATT’s eastern region, said: “This was a terrible tragedy and the worst accident resulting in loss of life in construction for many years. The fact that it has taken over five years before this case has even got to court is far too long. Action needs to be taken so that HSE investigations are completed more quickly and to ensure that no other family has to endure such an excessive wait as the wheels of justice turn in the future.”
Retail union Usdaw has called for action to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers after the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reported a sharp rise in incidents during 2015. Trade body BRC found offences involving abuse or violence against shopworkers were up by 28 per cent. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. So this latest survey from the British Retail Consortium is very worrying. Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.” He added: “All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, and those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender often isn’t charged at all victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted. Retail crime remains too high and there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. It is time for the government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.” Interim results of Usdaw’s annual survey of shopworkers show that over half of shopworkers were verbally abused in the last year, three in 10 were threatened with violence and over 2 per cent were assaulted. Usdaw found 1 in 5 shopworkers did not report to their employer a violent attack by a customer.
Forty-three per cent of education staff have had to deal with physical violence from a pupil in the last year, according to a survey by the teaching union ATL. The union says of those who have experienced physical violence from a pupil: 77 per cent reported they had been pushed or shoved; 52 per cent had been kicked; 50 per cent had an object such as furniture thrown at them; and 37 per cent had been punched. Eighty-nine per cent of teachers said they had dealt with challenging or disruptive pupils in the last year. Support staff also have to deal with challenging or disruptive behaviour, with 90 per cent stating they had dealt with it in the last year, ATL found. Over a third (35 per cent) said poor pupil behaviour has led them to consider a change of profession and over a quarter (26 per cent) had considered a change of school. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “It is shocking that more than four-in-ten (43 per cent) education professionals have had to deal with physical violence from a pupil in the last year. No member of staff should be subjected to aggressive behaviour, in any form, while doing their job.” She added: “Many schools do excellent work day in, day out, to help pupils stay on track and to keep schools a safe place for pupils and staff. But schools need support from social and health services and parents to deal with the complex issues many pupils face due to chaotic home lives or mental health issues.”
Race hate crimes on Britain’s railway networks have risen by 37 per cent in the past five years, an average of more than five reported incidents of abuse or harassment a day. British Transport Police (BTP), covering London Underground and railway services in England, Scotland and Wales, recorded 1,993 racially motivated hate crimes in 2015, an average of 5.5 per day. Responding to the new figures, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These are truly shocking figures and match up with the reports that RMT members are feeding back to the union from the sharp end. They coincide with the drive to de-staff our trains and stations in the search for cuts and increased profits. Despite union warnings that those cuts would turn our transport services into a playground for thugs, criminals and racists we have been ignored and the consequences are now laid bare. The cuts to staffing on Britain's transport services have to stop.” The RMT leader added: “Guards jobs are threatened on Northern, Merseyrail, Southern, Great Western and across the rest of our rail services as private profits are placed before passenger and staff safety. Over 800 safety-critical station jobs face the axe on London Underground in just over a week’s time.” He said the figures “reveal the true consequences of those actions and RMT will ramp up the fightback industrially and politically in the weeks ahead.”
New official sentencing guidelines should lead to a dramatic increase in penalties on larger firms for serious workplace safety crimes. The guidelines published by the Sentencing Council came into force on 1 February 2016, and indicate that judges in England and Wales should impose fines reflecting the size of the convicted organisation. Major companies convicted of corporate manslaughter could now face fines of up to £20m under new sentencing guidelines (Risks 727). An analysis by Howard Fidderman, editor of Health and Safety Bulletin, suggests the majority of penalties following a fatality at work will increase as a consequence of the new guide, with larger firms seeing the biggest increases. Fidderman examined the 50 most recent cases where the judge accepted a criminal safety offence was a significant cause of a death at work and compared actual fines with the ‘starting point’ penalties under the new sentencing guide for judges. Out of the 50 cases, only eight were close to the starting points set out in the new guideline. Of the rest, 23 were more than one-third below, and 19 were higher. But a clear pattern emerged when Fidderman examined the size of the firms prosecuted. The analysis showed 16 of the 21 fines imposed on large companies were lower than the starting point, while 14 of the 17 fines imposed on small and micro companies were higher. A £200,000 fine on construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine following the death of 60-year-old subcontract worker Philip Evans (Risks 713), would under the new guidelines have a starting point of £600,000. An £80,000 fine on Gerber Juice Company following the death of 24-year-old Gavin Bedford (Risks 655), would under the new rules also have a starting point of £600,000. And a £300,000 fine on Thames Water Utilities Limited following the death of 59-year-old employee Raymond Holmes (Risks 684), would also now attract a fine no smaller than £600,000.
Ÿ Health and Safety Bulletin, number 445, January/February 2016.
A construction worker forced to work 70-hour weeks has won a constructive dismissal case. David Brown, who worked as a site manager for Ogilvie Construction, was awarded £14,000 at a tribunal against the firm. Brown said he had raised concerns with his employer on several different occasions, yet nothing was done to reduce his hours. Between June and October 2014, he reportedly worked no less than 53 hours a week and worked more than 70 hours during seven of those weeks. During this time, Brown raised concerns with management, asking for a site foreman to help with his workload. However, he received no response. Eventually, a site foreman was employed at the site, but Brown continued to work excessive hours. Brown was eventually demoted, but despite taking a pay cut his workload did not reduce. The constructive dismissal case was brought to an employment tribunal after Brown resigned in October 2014. He had worked for 28 years with the firm at the time he left. Employment judge Paul Cape said the time Brown spent at work was “excessive” and awarded him £14,031. In a written judgment, the judge stated: “I conclude that Ogilvie Construction imposed burdens of work on Mr Brown that required that he work excessive hours week in, week out, over an extended period despite his protestations and that so excessive were those burdens that they amounted to a fundamental breach of contract. Further that breach was aggravated by the failure to reply in writing to Mr Brown’s emails raising the issue, and by the respondent purporting to restore the claimant to the position and remuneration package of a general foreman whilst doing nothing to match the claimant’s workload to that which could reasonably be required of a general foreman.”
Despite increased business awareness of the importance of actively supporting health and well-being in the workplace, there remains a stubborn ‘implementation gap’ in UK workplaces, human resources body CIPD has said. Its new report, ‘Growing the health and well-being agenda: From first steps to full potential’, states that fewer than one in ten (8 per cent) of UK organisations currently have a standalone well-being strategy that supports the wider organisational strategy. It adds almost two-fifths of employees (38 per cent) are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week and 43 per cent say that long hours working, to a greater or less extent, is the norm for their organisation. Well-being is taken into account in business decisions only a little, or not at all, in the majority (57 per cent) of cases. CIPD president Sir Professor Cary Cooper said: “A workforce that is well works well, but we’re still seeing far too many people doing more work than they can cope with, working long or unsociable hours, suffering from technology overload and unable to switch off. Organisations need to take better care of their people and recognise how the demands of work can affect their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to perform well at work.” Commenting on the new report, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “We welcome anything that recognises the need to promote and protect the well-being of workers and the TUC has just published a guide to it. All the evidence is that the biggest changes can be made by ensuring that people are not made ill in the first place, and that includes by tackling stress in the workplace.”
Ÿ CIPD news release and report, Growing the health and well-being agenda: From first steps to full potential. Workplace well-being programmes: A guide for safety reps, TUC, December 2015. Hard to swallow, Hazards magazine, Number 132, December 2015.
Clydeport Operations Limited has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker suffered fatal crush injuries on a faulty crane at its Hunterston Coal Terminal site in Ayrshire. The company was aware of the problem with the crane, whose cab had repeatedly become stuck along the boom, but over an eight month period had failed to fix it. Kilmarnock Sheriff Court heard how 22-year-old Craig Logan, a maintenance engineer employed by Clydeport, was working on the North Unloader crane alongside an experienced crane operator. He became trapped between drive motors fitted on top of the cab of a crane and cross beams on the boom of the crane. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 15 February 2015 incident found that the fatality resulted from failures by Clydeport to properly risk assess operations to free the crane cab when it became stuck and to have a safe system of work in place for this. Clydeport Operations Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £300,000. HSE inspector Russell Berry said: “This tragic loss of a young life came about due to Clydeport Operations Limited’s continued failure to deal with a problem with the cab sticking on an unloader crane at the terminal jetty at Hunterston Coal Terminal. The company repeatedly put their maintenance engineers at risk when they had to retrieve the crane cab when it stuck out on the boom of the crane. The lack of risk assessment for retrieving the cab led to an ad hoc unsafe system of work being developed which continued for approximately 8 months up until the time of Mr Logan’s death.”
A Runcorn haulage firm has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after an employee was crushed to death by a runaway lorry. Tony Schulze had been trying to connect a cab to a lorry trailer when the incident happened at Freight First Ltd’s premises on the Astmoor Industrial Estate on 22 January 2011. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the 49-year-old did not normally drive articulated vehicles, had not received training on coupling lorries, and there was no written procedure for the work. Liverpool Crown Court heard that he had been working at the site at the weekend, and had been asked to line up the trailers in the company’s small yard so they could be used for deliveries and pick-ups on the Monday morning. When Mr Schulze released the brakes on the trailer, it began to roll forward on the sloping yard. He ran down the side of the trailer, in front on the cab and attempted to jump into the open door but the HGV struck another vehicle in the yard, crushing him between the door and cab frame. Mr Schulze’s colleagues tried to rescue him before the emergency services arrived, but he died at the scene. The court was told that an external health and safety adviser had highlighted the lack of a risk assessment in December 2010 – a month before Mr Schulze’s death – but no action was taken. Freight First Ltd was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £67,500 in prosecution costs after being found guilty of a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Adam McMahon said: “Mr Schulze tragically lost his life as a result of the failings of his employer, Freight First.”
A Shropshire company has been fined for criminal safety failings after the death of an employee. Mold Crown Court heard how Philip Ledward, 62, an employee of Arkenfield Stable Hire Limited (ASHL), was assisting one of the company’s lorry drivers when he was struck by a passing car and received fatal injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred in November 2011 at Boundary Garage in Bronington, found there was no safe system of work in place for controlling risks from workplace transport. Whitchurch-based Arkenfield Stable Hire Limited was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Judge Niclas Parry told the court he has been in the invidious position of having to impose what could be seen as a derisory penalty. He said the court could not ignore the reality that the company was of limited means. “I must have regard to their finances,” he said. The judge said that if the company had significant resources then the fine would have been £50,000. HSE inspector Damian Corbett said: “Workplace transport continues to be a major cause of fatal and serious injury. Estimates suggest that up to one-third of all road traffic accidents involve someone who is at work at the time.”
A Cheshire construction company has been prosecuted following a fatal accident in 2011 at a site in Wilmslow. Liverpool Crown Court heard that Edgemere Projects Ltd of Tarporley, Cheshire, was the main contractor at a construction site when on 7 January 2011, 23-year-old Andrew Dytiche sustained crush injuries when a pack of bricks fell on him. He died later that day, before his father could reach his hospital bedside. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the storage of materials was poorly organised and pallets used to store and move bricks around the site were also in poor condition. Edgemere Projects Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £97,500 with £300,000 costs. HSE principal inspector Neil Jamieson said: “This was a tragic accident which could have been prevented had the company ensured that materials on the site were stored and stacked safely”.
Global soaps-to-snacks manufacturer Unilever has joined IndustriALL and IUF, the international trade unions representing the company’s union workforce, in a joint commitment to prevent sexual harassment in its workplaces worldwide. The new agreement provides a clear, comprehensive definition of sexual harassment to ensure that Unilever management at every level and all employees, including employees provided by third party labour suppliers, are fully aware of what constitutes sexual harassment. The joint statement sets out procedures through which employees can feel confident to report any abuses and specifies concrete measure the company must follow in response. Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, commented: “Sexual harassment is a serious problem that affects working women at all workplaces all over the world. IndustriALL welcomes the opportunity to work together with Unilever, a major multinational corporation, and we hope to use this agreement to successfully stop these abuses against women in Unilever’s plants worldwide.” IUF general secretary Ron Oswald said the commitment was a “concrete, practical joint effort to ensure that sexual harassment is effectively combated and the rights of all who work for Unilever are adequately protected in this vital area”. He added: “We look forward to working together with Unilever and our members at the company to ensure that it is implemented, monitored and followed up.” Unilever CEO Paul Polman said: “We know that progress is best made through genuine dialogue and trusted and effective ways for workers to raise concerns or complaints. I warmly welcome the support from the IUF, IndustriALL and their members to help us build on our existing work.”
A union investigation has confirmed the migrant workers toiling to get Qatar ready for the 2022 World Cup are still facing overcrowded, squalid accommodation and deadly working conditions. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was part of delegation that made a secret, after-dark trip to a labour camp in Al Khor, north of the capital Doha, to see the conditions and speak to the workers. “Football is a beautiful game turned ugly by the heartbreaking ill-treatment of wave after wave of workers lured to Qatar on false promises, then trapped in a living hell,” Mr McCluskey told the Mirror. Mr McCluskey said he will form a united front with MPs and campaigners after witnessing widespread abuse of migrants on his unofficial visit. He also plans to build an alliance with the players’ union PFA and supporters’ clubs to demand guarantees from the five candidates to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA boss. “Wages agreed in advance aren’t paid and they’re packed into dirty, hot, crowded rooms, with the inadequate cooking and washing areas, a severe health risk because they’re so dirty,” said Mr McCluskey. “Every football fan, trade unionist and anybody who cares about decency must protest loudly because we can’t stand by and look the other way, letting these workers be tortured like this.” Labour frontbencher Ian Lavery, who was part of the delegation, said: “These people are being treated like animals and the appalling wages and conditions trap them in a nightmare.” The global union confederation ITUC estimates thousands more migrant workers could die in the run up to 2022 event unless conditions and workers’ rights are dramatically improved (Risks 733).
Ÿ TUC Stronger Unions blog. TUC Playfair Qatar campaign. The Mirror. ITUC multi-media investigation: Qatar Exposed and full report: Qatar: Profit and loss. Counting the cost of modern day slavery in Qatar: What price freedom?
A South Korean court has ruled that exposure to carcinogens at a Samsung semiconductor factory caused a worker’s ovarian cancer. The Seoul Administrative Court said it saw a “significant causal relationship” between the disease and even a low level of toxic chemicals because the worker Lee Eun-joo was exposed to carcinogens over a long period. Media reports note that Lee died in 2012 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade. She worked at a Samsung chip factory for six years from 1993, starting when she was 17-years-old. The court said the glues that Lee used to put a silicon wafer on a lead frame contained formaldehyde, a top rated group 1 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) carcinogen, and phenol, a known promotor of tumours, according to its material safety data sheets. The court also implicated night shifts (Risks 598) and the factory's ventilation system. It ordered the government compensation agency to compensate her family. The court also said the agency should be less stringent in deciding eligibility for compensation when the cause of the disease is not completely clear cut. In 2004, another solvent used in the semiconductor industry, ethylene glycol methyl ether (EGME), was linked to an increased ovarian and breast cancer risk in certain workers (Risks 153).
On 15 January, a German tourist with a working holiday visa was caught in a machine while employed on the slaughter line at the Talley’s/AFFCO meat plant in Rangiuru, New Zealand. He was knocked unconscious and suffered injuries to the head, face and teeth. Global foodworkers’ union federation IUF says he was working in one of the most dangerous areas in the plant with negligible training. Two years earlier, an experienced worker was impaled by a hook on the same machine and dragged along the line. It took 90 minutes to extricate the hook, which had entered the back of his head and emerged from under his eye. According to the New Zealand government's Accident Compensation Corporation, over the last three years nearly 5,000 Talley’s workers have been awarded over US$4.7 million in compensation for workplace injuries; 1,286 Talley's workers were injured on the job in 2014 alone. IUF says that while family-owned Talley’s was lobbying against much needed reforms to New Zealand's health and safety legislation, a worker whose arm was sliced open at the company's South Pacific Meats plant had to transport himself to hospital. His boss later told an employment tribunal “he was too busy to deal with the matter.” According to IUF: “Talley’s/AFFCO is a serial rights abuser. This employer with a horrific record of workplace accidents has fired union health and safety representatives for meeting with their members and locked out 200 workers at the company's Wairoa meat plant to force them to abandon collective bargaining and accept individual contracts.” The global food union wants people to put pressure on the company by signing on to an online protest letter.
Ÿ IUF alert. Sign the letter to Talley’s: Lockout, dismissals, intimidation - serial rights abuses by New Zealand meat company Talleys/AFFCO.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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