|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]|
Last week a Bristol company hit the headlines for its plan to implement a ‘period policy’, including the option for women to take time off. In a move that was generally well-received, Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, said it was an attempt to synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles. However the TUC has sounded a note of caution. “While it feels counter-intuitive to argue against more paid leave, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that menstrual leave policies aren’t a good thing and there are better ways of ensuring that women get time off when they need it,” commented TUC women’s equality officer Scarlet Harris. She said a leave policy “based on our troublesome wombs could have the unintended consequence of further entrenching the existing discriminatory attitudes that too many employers have towards women in the workplace.” She added: “If employers can get their sickness policies and workplace cultures right, there should be no need for specific periods of leave.” The TUC women’s equality officer proposed a different solution. “Instead of menstrual leave policies, how about employers and government stop perpetuating the myth that workers on sick leave are workshy skivers? By all means, let’s challenge the taboos that surround menstruation and women’s bodies in general but we also need to challenge the workplace cultures that prevent women from taking the time off they need.”
There has been a dramatic decline in the number of inspections the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) undertakes on construction sites, the union UCATT has revealed. The union said its Freedom of Information request had discovered the total number of HSE construction site inspections had fallen from 10,577 in 2012/13 to 9,656 in 2014/15, a reduction of 8.7 per cent. It said the decline in inspections came at a time when the construction industry was recovering from recession and activity was increasing. The biggest reduction was in Scotland which saw a drop of 55.7 per cent in site inspections. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: “This fall in inspection activity is deeply troubling. The prospect of an unexpected knock on the door by a construction inspector is what keeps many employers on their toes. If employers believe that their safety procedures are not going to be checked this will lead to slackness and corners being cut. Workers could pay with their lives.” The union said construction was the most dangerous industry in the UK in 2014/15, with 35 construction workers suffering fatal injuries. UCATT leader Brian Rye added: “The HSE needs to explain what is behind the reduction in inspectors is this due to budget cuts or specific policies to reduce inspection activity? Construction workers deserve to be told the truth.” Professor Andrew Watterson, who heads the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, said: “HSE has just launched a new and exceptionally weak GB strategy on health and safety based on a London bubble. Construction workers may well be amazed that HSE is so complacent about inspections and enforcement and seems to rely more and more on some alternative bland and neutered stakeholder approach. HSE increasingly looks and sounds like a toothless tiger – a lot of noise and increasingly little action.”
International Workers’ Memorial Day is the ‘perfect chance’ to reinvigorate union health and safety work – and possibly your union branch with it, the public sector union UNISON has said. Encouraging its safety reps to get active around the 28 April event, the union cites the example of its Pembrokeshire County branch, which used UNISON safety campaign materials to up the profile of the issue and in the process recruited 16 more health and safety reps, a new branch health and safety officer and saw safety reps planning more inspections and local health and safety training. “So why not use health and safety to organise and recruit around at your branch? With this year’s focus for International Workers’ Memorial Day being Strong Laws, Strong Enforcement and Strong Unions, the timing couldn’t be better!” It adds: “If there isn’t one, organise a workplace event – perhaps jointly with your employer. Use the day to reinvigorate the campaign for better health and safety or to discuss a workplace health and safety concern with members, non-members and the employer. Many UNISON branches have successfully organised and recruited around local health and safety concerns.”
Ÿ UNISON news report. TUC 2016 Workers’ Memorial Day activities listing. Add your 28 April event to the TUC . For tweeters, use the #iwmd16 ITUC/Hazards global events listing. For Workers’ Memorial Day resources including ribbons and car stickers, contact the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre by email or phone 0161 636 7557
A foundry worker has received a £1.6 million settlement after his left leg was crushed by a falling metal component, resulting in an amputation above the knee. The 58-year-old Unite member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I hope my case will reinforce the importance of health and safety reps in the workplace and will reduce the chances of a similar accident happening to others in the future.” Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “In 2015, Unite legal services obtained over £9.9 million in personal injury compensation for our members across the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside region. One hundred per cent of this impressive figure was paid in full to our members in every case, without deduction, and demonstrates the value of union membership and the importance of having access to the highest standard of specialist legal assistance.” She added: “The £1.6 million award to our member is one of the biggest we have achieved in the North East. While the headline figure appears large, it has to take into account the scale of the disability, the loss of possible future earnings, the need for special housing accommodation, the requirement for ongoing care and the provision of prosthetics for the rest of his life.”
A move by NHS England to improve the health of its 1.3 million staff by offering more support has received a qualified welcome from unions. They were responding after Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said from April hospitals and other providers of NHS care will for the first time be able to earn a share of a national incentive fund worth £600m improve the support they offer to frontline health staff to stay healthy. As well as well-being initiatives, the package includes better access to physiotherapy for musculoskeletal disorders and mental health support to address stress. UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “This initiative has the potential to make a real difference to committed hospital employees, but it won’t help them at all if staff don’t have time to use these new services.” She added: “Health workers are constantly under pressure. Encouraging active lifestyles and providing access to healthy food at work will help them, and result in better care for patients. It’s about time that staff who are struggling were able to get early support if they have physical or mental health issues. If helped early, they should be able to remain in work helping patients, rather than becoming patients themselves.” Prof Karen Middleton, chief executive of the physios’ union CSP, said the NHS England announcement was a “welcome acknowledgment that staff are under enormous pressure and need greater support against a backdrop of deepening financial trouble and rising workloads.”
Twenty workers at the Faslane nuclear submarine base were exposed to radiation in breach of safety rules, according to an investigation by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). A series of radiation blunders on Trident submarines docked at the Clyde naval port has been revealed in heavily redacted MoD documents obtained by the Nuclear Information Service, a campaign group opposed to nuclear weapons. Safety procedures were flouted by MoD and contractor Babcock at the Scottish site, the documents show. Breaches included a failure to give visitors radiation badges, a contaminated sponge being taken from a submarine, and another worker being irradiated. The revelations, which MoD took two years to release, have prompted concern from experts and politicians, who are demanding a major overhaul of safety at Faslane. Prospect, the trade union representing Faslane engineers, promised to support workers worried about radiation poisoning. The union’s negotiations officer, Richard Hardy, said: “Any incident which involves exposure to radiation is of concern and we will work with Babcock as the employer of our members to ensure that any lessons learned are taken forward as a matter of urgency and also to ensure that staffing and knowledge levels within this critical facility are maintained at the appropriate level.” Faslane is regulated by an internal MoD watchdog, the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator. It is not licensed by the government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, which oversees civil nuclear sites. The MoD said safety at the base was paramount and none of the events described in the reports caused harm to the health of any member of staff or to any member of the public.
The Health and Safety Executive’s developing approach to occupational hygiene – the measurement of exposures to chemicals, dust and other exposures at work – has come in for scathing criticism. Hans Kromhout, based at Utrecht University’s Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, said he was ‘amazed’ to hear an HSE presentation on ‘hygiene without numbers’. Writing in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene, he indicated the approach fell in line with the UK government’s attack on ‘red tape.’ He added: “The old mantras of ‘measurements are expensive’, ‘measurements delay control measures’, ‘with statistics you can prove anything’, and of course ‘if you provide enough guidance on best practices everything will be well-controlled’ made up the gist of the message.” He said: “Such numberless interventions may be appealing to policymakers, who face the hefty task of creating meaningful and economically feasible guidelines for workplace health. However, treating workers’ exposure to chemical, biological, or physical agents as a static entity that can be satisfactory controlled by guidance sheets is factually wrong and ignores the intrinsic variability of occupational exposure.” The paper concludes: “Preventing occupational hygiene to follow the path of demise like its sister discipline occupational medicine in the UK [Risks 729] should be our first priority. Cutting red tape - resulting in fewer carefully inspected and controlled European workplaces - may ‘solve’ the issue of the burden of collecting numbers in the short term, but this is likely to produce thousands of preventable cases of occupational disease and untimely disability. ‘Hygiene Without Numbers’ comes with a price and we all know who will have to pick up the bill.” Kären Clayton, director of HSE’s long latency health risks division, has made a number of recent conference presentations referring to the ‘hygiene without numbers’ theme.
Ÿ Hans Kromhout. Commentary: Hygiene without numbers, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, published online ahead of print, 2016. doi:10.1093/annhyg/mev096
A man from County Durham has been fined for potentially exposing members of the public to asbestos fibres during the refurbishment of a residential property in Croft on Tees. Darlington Magistrates’ Court heard how Peter Wade was converting an integrated garage into a bedroom at the property. While he was visiting the property for a quote, the home owners mentioned the possibility of the presence of asbestos in the garage. As Wade worked in the loft space of the garage, its ceiling collapsed. He proceeded to pull the remainder of the ceiling down, break it up and placing it in waste bags. It was not until he removed the material that he discovered it contained asbestos. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident on 14 March 2015 found that Peter Wade failed to ensure an asbestos survey was carried out prior to any work taking place. Peter Nigel Wade, trading as PN Wade Building and Civil Engineering contractor, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, and was fined £267 and ordered to pay costs of £1,765.
A Motherwell firm has been fined for criminal safety offences after a long-serving employee was knocked down and killed by a truck at its Mossend coal depot. Investigators found Fergusson Distribution had no system in place to separate pedestrians and vehicles while staff “routinely” went into the yard where the tragedy occurred. Depot supervisor Margaret Corcoran, 66, died when she was struck by a truck reversing at the depot days before Christmas 2014. She had left the office to speak to a driver when she was hit by the truck. The driver had not seen Mrs Corcoran, but investigators said there was no evidence that he was in any way to blame for her death. A Health and Safety Executive inspector concluded the system of work was “clearly unsafe” as workers were exposed to “unnecessary risk”. The company admitted criminal health and safety offences and was fined at Hamilton Sheriff Court. Gary Aitken, head of the Crown Office health and safety division which prosecuted Fergusson, said the company’s failings had resulted in tragedy. He said: “This was a foreseeable and entirely avoidable tragedy which has left family and friends devastated at the loss of a loved one. Hopefully this prosecution and the sentence will remind other employers that failure to fulfil their obligations can have tragic consequences and that they will be held to account for their failings.”
A mother whose son was killed in a crane collapse in Battersea, south London, has spoken of her agonising wait for justice after a trial date was set for 10 years after the tragedy occurred. Michael Alexa, 23, and Jonathan Cloke, 37, both died when a crane collapsed at a Barratt Homes development on 26 September 2006 (Risks 320). Mr Cloke was in the driving cab of the crane when it collapsed and Mr Alexa was cleaning his car in the street below. The trial date has finally been set for 5 September 2016 at Southwark Crown Court, a decade on from the tragedy. Mr Alexa’s mother, Liliana, branded the 10-year delay as “disgusting”. She said: “Of course I was angry when I heard about it, we tried to do a petition to move the date to a little bit earlier – it is absolutely disgusting but what can you do?” The body of Mrs Alexa’s son was left under the wreckage for three days as the authorities struggled to remove the broken crane. Falcon Crane Hire and its managing director, Douglas Genge, were charged with criminal safety offences after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found failings related to overloading and poor maintenance of the crane. Genge will next appear at Southwark Crown Court for a plea and case management hearing on 27 May.
Retail chain Aldi has been fined £100,000 for criminal health and safety offences after an unsecured smoking shelter was blown into a group of employees on a break. One employee was injured in the incident in October 2014 at the Aldi Stores Distribution Centre in Darlington. Aldi had contracted Wilkinson Maintenance Ltd to build an emergency exit to a first floor office. A smoking shelter had to be moved as it was at the bottom of the new fire exit staircase. It was left unsecured for eight days near the staff rest area. An investigation by Darlington Borough Council revealed neither Aldi nor Wilkinson Maintenance took responsibility for checking whether it was secured. The council found a number of failings at Aldi, including lack of a risk assessment and a failure to ensure Wilkinson Maintenance was properly carrying out the job. Wilkinson Maintenance also failed to produce a risk assessment for the work. Aldi Food Stores Ltd pleaded guilty at Teesside Crown Court and was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £5,295.61. Wilkinson Maintenance Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined 20,000 plus costs of £5,295.61. An Aldi spokesperson said: ‘We regret this isolated incident and are pleased the judge recognised the company’s impeccable character.”
A Dundee warehouse worker who was crushed by an Asda lorry has receive a compensation payout. David Scott, 69, was working at the Milton of Craigie superstore in Mid Craigie on 25 November 2014 when he was injured. Police and ambulance crews were scrambled to the scene when he became trapped between a reversing lorry and a metal frame. He had been required to remove a security tag from the back of the lorry as part of his checking and unloading duties, which meant he needed to stand at the rear of the vehicle. After the incident, he required several weeks off work to recover from his injuries. While Asda has not admitted liability for the incident, it agreed a compensation settlement worth close to £10,000.
Ÿ The Courier.
The TUC’s YouTube channel is a great resource for union activists – and a new video includes a useful example of union safety at work. The short clip features Pauline, a paramedic and a union rep for the Ambulance Service. With the help of her union, Pauline was able to redesign the ambulances her members were using, creating a safer environment where staff can now take better care of their patients.
The District Court in New Zealand has ruled that Talleys/AFFCO – a meat giant the global union federation IUF describes as a “serial rights abuser” - failed to meet its statutory obligations to provide a safe workplace. The court ruling came after an experienced night cleaner was impaled through the head by a meat hook and dragged along the line at the company's Rangiuru plant. Talleys/AFFCO, which will be sentenced next month after being convicted of safety offences, had attempted to blame the worker for the accident. Union members concerned about the firm’s shocking safety record (Risks 737) have been demanding improvements. The company’s response has been to intensify its union-busting efforts. On 7 March it removed all the union members at the Rangiuru plant in what it termed an 'intra-seasonal' layoff. IUF described the move as a flagrant violation of the law, with the layoff ignoring provisions of the expired collective bargaining agreement which have been twice upheld by the courts. Included among the layoffs were union leaders Bertie Ratu and Charmaine Takai who had been back at work for just a week after a court ordered their reinstatement.
Former South African gold miners and relatives of deceased ex-miners have reached a landmark settlement in their long-running legal battle against Anglo American South Africa Ltd and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. The 4,365 claimants sued the mining companies for the dust-related lung diseases, silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, which they claim resulted from working in unsafe, dusty conditions in the mines. The overall value of the settlement is estimated to be more than R500 million (£23 million). A total of R464 million (£21 million) will be paid into the Q(h)ubeka Trust for distribution to those affected or bereaved relatives. In addition, Anglo American and AngloGold will fund the costs of the Trust and related medical evaluations. In order to qualify for compensation, claimants will need to be medically diagnosed with silicosis and to have worked on Anglo American or AngloGold mines for at least two years. Richard Meeran from Leigh Day, one of the law firms that negotiated the deal, said: “This settlement is a triumph for justice and accountability. It will bring much needed financial relief to the victims and their families. This settlement scheme provides a model and, we hope, the necessary impetus for an industry-wide settlement for all gold mining silicosis victims.” A separate class action on silicosis is currently being considered by the courts.
The towns of Grants and Church Rock in New Mexico were ground zero for US uranium mining from the mid-1950s until the early 1980s. But years, sometimes decades, after labouring in the mines and mills, workers developed the hallmark diseases associated with uranium exposure. The US federal government, under a programme called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), has paid more than $750 million in restitution to uranium workers on nearly 8,000 claims. But in order to receive compensation, workers have to have been employed before 1972 - the year the federal government stopped purchasing uranium for its nuclear arms build-up. An investigation by In These Times magazine has found thousands who worked in uranium mines or mills after 31 December 1971 have diseases linked to uranium exposure, but are being denied compensation from RECA. Spouses of former workers also suffer health effects they believe are caused by uranium, even though they may have never set foot in a mine or mill. The Post ’71 Uranium Workers Committee, an advocacy group formed by the spouse of an affected uranium worker, surveyed 421 wives of uranium workers and found that 40 per cent reported miscarriages, stillbirths or children with birth defects. One vector of contamination may have been laundry brought home from the mines. Justice remains elusive. Several attempts to reform the law to include post-1971 workers have foundered. No bill has received a hearing and nothing is scheduled.
In the United States, where two-thirds of adults are classified as overweight or obese, larger patients are increasingly the norm, and the healthcare industry has evolved in many ways to accommodate them, from developing sturdier medical equipment to building heavier-duty hospital beds. The sector has been much slower, however, to tackle other, subtler ways obesity weighs on the healthcare system, such as the toll of physically handling larger patients, despite the vast medical and financial benefits of doing so, nurses and other medical experts say. In 2011, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics said hospital workers had twice the average rate of on-the-job injuries from overexerting themselves, citing lifting, moving and repositioning patients as the top risk factor. Even turning a 100-pound patient on her side puts about 1,000 pounds of pressure on the mover’s back, said injured nurse Elizabeth White, 60, who has now started a company that sells a machine called ErgoNurse to lift and move patients in hospital beds. Emily Gardner, a worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen, a Washington non-profit that has published a report on safe patient handling, says only 3 per cent to 25 per cent of hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the US have contraptions such as ceiling lifts or other machinery to ease the strain on nurses - and places that do own equipment don’t always train workers to use it. “Hospitals know that it’s a problem,” Gardner said. “But there are so many other issues they’re facing that they haven’t prioritised this as they should.” To date, 11 US states have instituted Safe Patient Handling laws, which call for healthcare facilities to have patient lifting equipment and training to use it. Experts also pointed out these laws benefit patients by preventing injuries and preserving dignity.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/