|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.|
New guidance to help recruit more union members and encourage more existing union members to become health and safety reps has been launched by the TUC. The guide says the UK’s current network of 100,000 union safety reps work hard to reduce injuries and ill-health at work. The TUC trains around 10,000 safety reps every year, who focus on finding and resolving potential problems at work. The report says it was union reps first highlighted risks including asbestos, violence at work, RSI, the effects of passive smoking and stress. The benefits are felt across society, the report indicates, noting prevention of workplace injuries and work-related ill-health as a result of the ‘union safety effect’ saves the economy the equivalent of £219m-£725m a year at 2014 prices. The TUC warns that the government’s Trade Union Bill may seriously affect health and safety at work, if it limits union rights and time to do perform union work, restricting the ability of union safety reps to deliver these improvements. The new TUC guide, published in partnership with Hazards magazine, is intended to help unions attract new members and to encourage existing members to become more involved with health and safety issues. It notes that health and safety is a good way of recruiting members as concerns about workplace safety are one of the main reasons that people join a trade union. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Union health and safety reps are unsung heroes, working tirelessly to look after people at work and saving the economy millions. Staff who are worried about health and safety issues in their workplace are more likely to consider joining a union to protect themselves. It’s vital unions take the chance to encourage workers to sign up and to become more involved.” She added: “Good employers recognise the importance of working with unions to ensure their shops, offices and factories are safe. It’s a shame the government is putting this good work at risk with its ill-conceived Trade Union Bill.”
As the government’s Trade Union Bill continues its progress through parliament, the TUC has reiterated its warning about the dangers of restricting access to facility time for trade union safety representatives in the public sector. It says although time off to perform the trade union safety rep role is protected in law and is not classed as ‘facilities time’, the Bill’s cap on time off for union functions would inevitably mean unions had to choose between safety and other essential union work. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson explained: “Health and safety reps’ functions are extremely variable and they may find that, if an unusual situation arises such as a fatality or the introduction of new safety systems, they are limited to an inappropriate, and potentially unlawful, cap.” He added: “There is no doubt that trade union health and safety representatives make a massive difference. The TUC has produced evidence that they save the economy the equivalent of £130m-£360m in the public sector alone through reduced injury and ill-health. What kind of message is the government giving by even thinking of trying to restrict this? We still have a chance to defeat this attack on trade union health and safety representatives and, hopefully, all union representatives.” On Wednesday night the House of Lords voted by 248 to 160 to remove the clause allowing the government to restrict facility time in the public sector. The Bill now goes back to the House of Commons and it is unknown whether the Government will try to reinstate the clause.
Union safety activists who were blacklisted by major construction firms for their safety and union activities occupied the lobby of Skanska’s Hertfordshire head office on 14 March. Police were called to the peaceful demonstration which lasted several hours, and which stopped only when the protesters voted to end the action. Skanska is one of eight major contractors who set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme to try and settle with blacklisting victims out of court. Unite national construction chair Billy Spiers, who was himself a victim of blacklisting, joined the action. He told the Morning Star: “There’s no real remorse in the construction firms. They are just trying to get out of the case as quickly as they can and as cheaply as they can. They should be offering blacklisted workers a job.” Blacklist Support Group (BSG) secretary Dave Smith said: “If blacklisting companies like Skanska are truly sorry for what they’ve done and have stopped blacklisting, then they would give us a job. They’ve admitted their guilt but are continuing business as usual and refusing to give us work.” He said Skanska fired Unite activist Dan Collins as recently as 2012 after he raised health and safety concerns on the Crossrail project. Blacklisted workers and their unions, Unite, GMB and UCATT, are continuing to fight a long-running battle to win proper compensation through the courts. The court case began last May and is not set to finish until the end of July. While a first tranche of cases was settled out of court last month, other workers are continuing their court challenge. “It’s not about the money,” said BSG’s Dave Smith. “We are not going to give up our human rights for a couple of grand. They’re trying to throw money at us so that we all go away.”
Unions have said lessons from the 2013 North Sea helicopter crash that claimed four lives must lead to further safety improvements. The unions were commenting on the publication of the final Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report into the incident where a CHC Super Puma plunged into the sea on its approach to Sumburgh in August 2013. Rig workers Sarah Darnley, Gary McCrossan, Duncan Munro and George Allison lost their lives in the crash. Fourteen people were rescued. A total of 28 safety recommendations have been made but the report said many of them have already been implemented. These include helicopters not being allowed to fly offshore in severe sea conditions, passengers having to be seated next to emergency exits, and a size limit for those on board. The report confirmed the findings of an initial AAIB report that found the crew failed to notice the helicopter’s air speed dropping until it was too late. A statement from the UK pilots’ union BALPA said: “The Sumburgh incident was a tragedy for all those involved. Any accident, especially those resulting in loss of life, needs to be examined extremely carefully so that all the lessons can be learnt and similar accidents avoided in the future.” It continued: “Many safety improvements have already been made to helicopter operations since this tragic accident but pilots and safety experts will be examining the report to identify what more can be done to avoid a repeat. The challenge will be to drive up industry-wide standards at a time when the drive to reduce contract prices puts those standards under pressure.” The Union Offshore Co-ordinating Group (OCG), which includes the unions BALPA, GMB, Nautilus, RMT and Unite, welcomed the AAIB findings. Speaking on behalf of OCG, STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “The circumstances of this tragic accident have already led to significant improvements in the safety of offshore helicopter operations in the UK sector and the trade unions have played a part in the drive for continuous improvement.” He added: “The trade unions continue to work with the aircraft operators, the aircraft manufacturers, the regulators and the offshore industry to avoid any repeat of the circumstances involved in the Sumburgh tragedy. That effort will not diminish and during these testing times for the industry the OCG will be ever more vigilant in this respect.”
UK pilots’ union BALPA has said pilots must not be discouraged from revealing any mental health problems as this could lead to more incidents like the March 2015 Germanwings crash that killed all 150 people onboard. The union was commenting on the publication of the final report by the French crash investigation agency, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), which found that neither Germanwings or its parent company Lufthansa could have done anything to stop Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who crashed the passenger plane into the Alps. Lubitz was urged by a doctor to attend psychiatric hospital weeks before he crashed the plane on 24 March 2015, but his employer was never alerted, the final BEA report says. Investigators believe Lubitz brought down the plane deliberately. The 27-year-old had also been signed off work sick by two doctors and given anti-depressants. Neither medic informed Lufthansa he was not fit to fly. BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “A year ago pilots were shocked that this could occur. Today our thoughts are still with the Captain who lived our worst nightmare – being locked out of the cockpit and trying to get in to save the plane and its passengers.” He added: “The worst thing that could happen as a result of this accident and investigation is that the awful actions of one lone individual could drive mental health issues underground and stigmatise the very real issue of mental health. One-in-four people in the UK suffers mental health issues at some point in their lives. With support and treatment almost all can get better. Our industry, and society at large, need to get better at understanding and dealing with these issues, and bringing them out into the open.” McAuslan said: “Evidence shows that ‘peer support’ programmes where fellow pilots and family members can report any concerns are the best way to identify and treat an individual. BALPA will continue to work with industry and regulators to see these programmes prioritised and implanted in every airline.” BALPA news release. IFALPA statement. The Guardian. BBC News Online.
The number of legal cases against UK airlines on behalf of cabin crew exposed to ‘toxic cabin air’ has increased dramatically. Unite says concern has been mounting over ‘fume events’ and exposure to contaminated aircraft cabin air, with the number of legal cases being pursued the union increasing from 17 to 61 in recent months. Unite is also supporting the family of Matthew Bass, a Unite member, was a cabin crew member for 15-years before his sudden death in January 2014. Matthew was found to have died from ‘chronic exposure to organophosphates.’ In most modern aircraft unfiltered ‘bleed air’ from jet engines is used to supply the cabin, but faults with engine seals and seepage can lead to ‘fume events’ where toxins such organophosphates enter the cabin air. In more serious cases, ‘aerotoxic syndrome’ is suspected to have caused the death of both pilots and cabin crew. Speaking ahead of a 17 March House of Commons debate, Howard Beckett, Unite’s executive director for legal affairs, said: “The issue of toxic cabin air is so serious that our cabin crew members are likening it to the impact of asbestos in the building industry. Increasing numbers of our members have come forward, seeking help and advice since we set up our toxic air helpline a few months ago. Some have been involved in one-off ‘fume events’ while others fear they have suffered long-term exposure to contaminated cabin air.” He added: “Continuing to brush it under the carpet will not wash, which is why this parliamentary debate is so important and a fuller public inquiry is needed. Unite believes in a safety first approach and is also calling on airlines to monitor cabin air quality and for aircraft manufacturers to fit detectors and filters and ‘design out’ the use of bleed air, therefore reducing the risk of fume events. We will not have passengers and our members put at risk and will not rest until the industry acts to eliminate the risk of aerotoxicity and justice is achieved for those whose lives have been blighted by contaminated cabin air.”
Construction union UCATT has condemned the ‘shocking and inordinate’ amount of time it takes to secure a criminal conviction following the workplace death of a British construction worker. It says latest official figures show that it takes 1,267 days - almost three-and-a-half years - for a firm responsible for the death of a construction worker to be convicted. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: “I would like someone to give me a straight answer as why it takes three-and-a-half years to convict someone of causing the death of a British construction worker? Three years of further pain for families who have lost their loved ones, three years of reliving the horror of it all, three years where our so-called civilised society twists the knife into the hearts of the grieving.” He added: “Three years is a disgrace. Construction deaths are not complex legal issues. The process to get to convictions should be quick and transparent. British construction workers and their families deserve justice and they deserve it to be delivered promptly. Aside from the pain caused to families, management failure needs to be highlighted and eradicated – full stop – or others will be killed in the interim. It doesn’t help that the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] is arrogantly aloof to the real world by not publishing a phone number on its website. Who do they think they are?”
Firefighters’ union FBU is looking to train fire service employees as personal fitness trainers in an effort to support firefighters to remain fit enough to do their physically demanding job. The move to provide FBU ‘personal training apprenticeships’ has attracted interest from more than threequarters of fire and rescue services in England, the union said. The union was acting as new official guidance produced jointly by fire service employers and FBU was launched, recommending a joint approach to enable firefighters to remain fit. FBU said the best practice guidance will be used to challenge any fitness policy that fails to recognise the key points within the guidance. The union said it “will not agree to any policy that places firefighters in danger in relation to their fitness levels.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This document is a positive step in firefighter fitness. It suggests a safe fitness standard, a consistent approach to assessments and a supportive rather than a punitive attitude. We hope that it will mean that older firefighters will be safe to carry on working and be as fit and healthy as they can. The guidance doesn’t resolve all of our concerns, but it does give us a platform to work from.” He added: “Our message to employers is simple – unless you can provide a logical, robust, evidenced reason for not conforming to the guidance, then your fitness policy should replicate it. We are also very pleased that fire and rescue services in England are interested in taking up our personal training apprenticeships, and hope very much that they will contribute to the maintenance of the healthy, fit firefighter workforce the public deserve.”
Staff cuts on the London Underground system are putting lives at risk, a rail union has warned after investigators confirmed that a woman dragged along a platform was only saved by the intervention of under-threat ‘safety critical’ Tube workers. The woman fell under a Northern line train and was dragged 60 feet last March, when her coat was caught in a carriage door. In spite of substandard CCTV images in the cab, the train’s driver noticed and applied the emergency break — while a platform attendant switched off the electricity. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said the design of the platform and the CCTV equipment meant the driver could not see that the woman had fallen before the train started moving. Rail union RMT said the loss of “nearly 1,000 safety-critical station staff” has damaged the ability of staff to prevent fatalities — and hit out at Tube bosses for floating the idea of driverless trains. “It was only the actions of the driver who stopped the train that prevented a tragedy at Clapham South and that alone proves the need for trains to have a driver,” the union’s general secretary Mick Cash said. He told the Morning Star: “In addition, the actions of the station assistant in discharging traction current ensured the passenger wasn’t electrocuted and proves the need for properly staffed stations. This is something London Underground doesn’t share, having cut nearly 1,000 safety-critical station staff with the threat of more massive budget cuts to come.” The union called on London Underground to heed an accident investigators’ recommendation that all platforms be staffed.
Occupational and environmental health studies with industry funding are more than four times as likely to report negative results, an analysis of hundreds of scientific papers has found. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health also identified a ‘dose-response’ effect, meaning the greater the industry backing the greater the likelihood the study would find nothing to worry about. Lee Friedman and David Friedman analysed 373 original research articles published in 2012 in 17 peer-reviewed occupational and environmental health journals. They found “a clear relationship between negative results in studies evaluating adverse health outcomes in humans and financial COI [conflicts of interest] arising from relationships with organisations involved in the processing, use, or disposal of industrial and commercial products.” These studies were 4.31 times as likely to report negative results. Where the backing came from the military, negative results were more than nine times as common. The authors found occupational and environmental health research funded by public agencies didn’t have a bias towards positive results. The paper, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, notes: “A publication bias can be caused by multiple factors, including inappropriate study design, biased interpretation or presentation of results, legal obstruction preventing an author from publishing results, and failure to report findings that are found to be damaging to the interests of the funding organisation. The findings presented in this analysis show a clear association between financial COI and reported findings, and the direction, magnitude, and observed ‘dose-response’ effect of the relationship is consistent with the vast majority of similar studies in other scientific fields (eg. pharmacology, biomedicine, and so on), which demonstrates the need for further research in the field of environmental and occupational health to determine whether this observed association is a product of an underlying publication bias, in particular the omission of studies showing ‘positive’ findings within the public forum.”
Ÿ Lee Friedman and Michael Friedman. Financial Conflicts of Interest and Study Results in Environmental and Occupational Health Research, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 58, issue 3, pages 238–247, March 2016 [abstract].
UK-based scientists are playing a prominent role in promoting the continued use of asbestos around the world, according to a new investigative report. ‘Friendly fibre?’ notes that while Britain has the highest death rates from asbestos cancers in the world, it is also home to some of the industry’s more turned-to experts. It alleges these have shown a ‘remarkable willingness’ to defend chrysotile, the most common and last remaining form of asbestos in commercial use. The report, published in the latest edition of Hazards magazine, presents evidence of UK-based scientists authoring scientific papers claiming chrysotile is safe or playing down the risks without declaring their links to the asbestos industry. Named in the report are Fred Pooley, an emeritus professor at the University of Cardiff, Allen Gibbs, an NHS pathologist from the University of Wales College of Medicine, Ken Donaldson, a particle toxicologist with a long association with the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Royal Society of Chemistry fellow John Hoskins. Hoskins’ recent activities have also included presentations at International Chrysotile Association (ICA) promotional seminars in India and Vietnam. Hoskins and Gibbs were also among the authors of ‘Chrysotile revisited’, an ICA-funded defence of chrysotile. This was used by the industry in its successful campaign to block tighter global rules on chrysotile exports and to defeat planned national bans, including an officially proposed prohibition in Pakistan. The Hazards report notes: “Supporting those selling chrysotile asbestos in the developing world isn’t a crime. Neither is producing industry-sponsored research to order. Nor is authoring papers that defy the ‘overwhelming’ scientific opinion on a carcinogen like chrysotile. But neglecting to mention those industry affiliations is a big deal. So is producing science that omits inconvenient evidence and that crosses over from plain scientific fact into clear product defence.” It concludes: “Maybe, just maybe, in the face of what is already the largest industry-created health catastrophe in history, there’s a reason to wonder if this combination of commissions and omissions really does cross the line.”
Ÿ Friendly fibre? How the asbestos industry turns to British scientists, Hazards, number 133, March 2016.
A gas engineer removed potentially dangerous asbestos material during a gas boiler replacement putting himself and others at risk from exposure to asbestos fibres. Brian Hockin, 58, was removing an old warm air heating system at a residential property in Wrafton when he disturbed asbestos insulation board that surrounded the warm air boiler. The tenants of the property raised their concerns with Hockin, but he continued to remove the material, bagging it and removing it from the property and storing it at his yard. The tenants were so concerned they contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted Brian Hockin at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court. The court heard the gas engineer had employed no safety measures to prevent the spread of asbestos and that he used no protective clothing or protective breathing apparatus when he was removing the asbestos. He pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £450 and ordered to pay £921.40 in costs. HSE inspector Simon Jones said: “Brian Hockin’s negligence could result in serious health effects to both him and anyone else who may have come into contact with the asbestos material that he disturbed.” He added: “Given Mr Hockin’s vast experience as a gas engineer he should have realised that there is a very good chance that a 30-year-old gas boiler could be insulated with asbestos insulation board but he made no checks before working around the material. He then compounded matters by ignoring concerns raised the tenants that the material that he had disturbed was asbestos and carried on removing the material.”
The global union confederation ITUC has made new resources available online. A brochure for use around International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April is available in English, French and Spanish editions. The guide spells out the reasons behind the three pronged theme for this year’s global activities – strong laws, strong enforcement and strong unions. ITUC has also produced a ‘Supply Chain Resources Hub’ to support action to clean up supply chains, including links to reports and “international policy decisions through to solidarity actions to support workers who are trying to organise for decent pay, conditions and job security.”
Unions are warning that occupational cancer kills 100,000 people every year in the European Union (EU) and are calling for an end to this preventable waste of life. Europe-wide union federation ETUC says occupational cancer is the most common work-related cause of death, with between 8 and 16 per cent of all cancers in Europe the result of exposures at work. Criticising the EU’s do-nothing workplace health and safety strategy, Esther Lynch, confederal secretary of the ETUC, said: “Occupational cancer is the ignored epidemic. Workers are dying, literally in the thousands every year, and for 12 long years the EU has done nothing about it. These deaths are the result of preventable workplace exposures.” She added: “Trade unionists demand binding workplace exposure limits now for these predictable causes of cancer. The Commission needs to stop stalling, delaying until 2020 is irresponsible and unacceptable. The EU should aim for zero workplace cancer. Workers who have been exposed to cancer-causing substances or processes should get regular health checks during and after their employment.” The ETUC’s list of 50 targeted causes of occupational cancer includes diesel engine exhaust, leather dust, formaldehyde, refractory ceramic fibres, respiratory crystalline silica, cadmium and cadmium compounds, benzo(a)pyrene, chromium VI compounds, ethylene oxide and trichloroethylene. A new report from ETUC’s research wing, ETUI, identifies more than 70 carcinogenic substances for which it says binding limit values for exposure of workers at the workplace should be set at the EU level.
Ÿ ETUC news release. ETUI news report and publication alert. Carcinogens that should be subject to binding limits on workers’ exposure, ETUI report no.136, March 2016. Stop cancer at work infographic.
A 15-year struggle to secure compensation for hundreds of mercury poisoned former employees of Hindustan Unilever in India has ended in victory. The settlement between the company, part of the UK-headquartered multinational Unilever, and 591 former mercury workers from its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal was described by activists as an ‘unprecedented victory’ in a campaign that has attracted international support. The campaigners say the decision by Unilever to settle is the result of “public outrage, not corporate responsibility.” They say millions of people shared the viral music video ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’, and more than 150,000 people in over 100 countries took to social media to call on Unilever’s global chief Paul Polman to act. “The much-delayed settlement is great news, but Unilever still has unfinished business in Kodaikanal. You can expect a high-decibel global campaign in the coming months to ensure that Unilever cleans up its mercury contaminated site in Kodaikanal to international standards,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based writer and activist. The mercury thermometer factory operated by Hindustan Unilever in the south Indian hilltown of Kodaikanal was shut down by state regulators in 2001 after the company was discovered dumping toxic mercury-contaminated waste in a densely populated part of town. An Indian government study published in November 2011 concluded many former Hindustan Unilever workers suffered from illnesses caused by workplace exposure to mercury.
At least two chronically overworked workers have died at construction sites for the Winter Olympic Games to be held in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Global construction union BWI said ‘inhuman work pressure’ was behind the death in April last year of a dump truck driver. He was found in his truck cabin with his hands on the steering wheel after having worked ‘extraordinarily long hours’ on a railway construction site. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Another fatality occurred in November when a dump truck driver fell to the ground when he was changing his truck’s container into a de-icer spraying machine. “We are two years away from the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and already two workers have lost their lives. This is not a good start to ensuring that Sochi, Russia is not repeated in Pyeongchang,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI. The Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU) has for two years been highlighting the dangerous and unsafe working conditions on construction projects in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, as part of BWI’s ‘Global Sports Campaign for Decent Work’.
The ashes of half a dozen unidentified labourers ended up at a Buddhist temple in a town just north of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. They were simply labelled ‘decontamination troops’, employed in Japan's massive clean-up campaign to make Fukushima liveable again five years after the area was contaminated with radiation. ABC News reported the men were among the 26,000 workers — many in their 50s and 60s from the margins of society with no special skills or close family ties — tasked with removing the contaminated topsoil and stuffing it into tens of thousands of black bags lining the fields and roads. They wipe off roofs, clean out gutters and chop down trees in a seemingly endless routine. “Coming from across Japan to do a dirty, risky and undesirable job, the workers make up the very bottom of the nation's murky, caste-like subcontractor system long criticised for labour violations,” ABC reported. They typically work on three- to six-month contracts with little or no benefits, living in makeshift company barracks. The government is not even making sure that their radiation levels are individually tested. “They're cleaning up radiation in Fukushima, doing sometimes unsafe work, and yet they can't be proud of what they do or even considered legitimate workers,” said Mitsuo Nakamura, a former day labourer who now heads a citizens' group supporting decontamination labourers. “They are exploited by the vested interests that have grown in the massive project.” The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare examined more than 300 randomly selected companies doing Fukushima decontamination work and found that nearly 70 committed violations in the first half of last year, including underpayment of wages and overtime and failure to do compulsory radiation checks. Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, said: “What started as a natural disaster, turned into one of the worst industrial accidents in human history and a reminder that humanity must urgently turn its efforts towards safe, clean renewables.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).