|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.|
Concerns over exposure to lead at work have led the union Unite to create an exposure register to track members who may have been at risk from the potent nerve poison, which is also linked to kidney and brain damage and cancer. The union says information in this Lead Exposure Register will be used to assist in pursuing personal injury claims for affected workers. It would also be used to identify members who were employed by the same company or at the same site and may have been exposed and to trace witnesses who can assist with claims. According to the union: “Unite has for some time maintained an asbestos database, which has proved hugely successful in assisting with securing compensation for workers who have been exposed to asbestos at work and later developed an asbestos related condition.” Acute effects of exposure to lead at work can include headaches, tiredness, nausea and stomach pains (Risks 728). Lead can also cause long-term conditions, including cancer and brain and kidney damage. A study published in December 2014 linked occupational exposure to lead to a greatly increased risk of developing the degenerative condition Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ (Risks 685). The Unite register has been introduced amid concerns about the Health and Safety Executive’s dwindling medical (Risks 729) and occupational hygiene (Risks 742) capability, necessary to identify effectively affected workers or potentially dangerous workplaces.
Civil service unions have recorded a major victory on sickness absence. A Court of Appeal ruling released on 15 April has confirmed that the Department for Transport (DfT) is unable to change contractual sickness absence rules without the agreement of unions. In 2012 DfT imposed major changes to sickness absence procedures, including reducing the “trigger points” for taking disciplinary action when workers were off sick (Risks 740). The imposed measures included a formal written warning for absences of eight working days, the first step in the dismissal procedure. Unions Prospect, the FDA and PCS brought breach of contract claims against the DfT on behalf of members in the department and in affected agencies, the Driving Standards Agency, DVLA, Highways Agency, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Vehicle Certification Agency and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. “The new trigger points were much stricter,” said Prospect legal officer Linda Sohawon. “They would stigmatise individuals who may have chronic complaints or unrelated illnesses and create anxiety because of the threat of disciplinary action.” The unions argued that the DfT handbook identified the sickness arrangements as being contractual and the terms could not be changed without agreement from either the employees or recognised unions. Linda Sohawon said: “This ruling is good news for employees suffering under these new procedures, as the old sickness absence policy must now apply.” The DfT terms were unusual in expressly stating that the sickness procedures were contractual.
Unions have called for urgent action on drone safety following reports one may have collided with an airliner as it came in to land at Heathrow airport. The unions were speaking out after a police investigation was launched into a reported incident on 17 April where a passenger plane approaching Heathrow Airport and carrying 132 passengers and five crew flew into what is believed to have been a drone. “Just last week, we started working with our colleagues in pilots' union BALPA to draw up proposals for the regulation of drones,” said Steve Jary, national secretary of Prospect, the union for aviation safety professionals. He said the incident at Heathrow was “a wake-up call. The commercial use of drones is going to be a fact of life and with reports of near misses involving drones increasing rapidly, it is only a matter of time before there is a major accident. The implications of a catastrophic collision with an airliner approaching or leaving a major airport such as Heathrow are obvious. The government and the CAA must put proper safety regulation in place before it is too late.” Prospect has members in safety regulator the CAA, as well as NATS, the air traffic service provider, and a number of airlines. Steve Landells, from the UK pilots’ union BALPA said it had been “only a matter of time before we had a drone strike.” He called for greater enforcement of existing rules, adding: “The law as it stands says you're not supposed to go above 400ft (122m) or 500m away from the base unit, depending on the drone you're using, but we've been seeing incidents up at 8,000 feet where drones just have no place to be, so we've got to do something. That's a registration process, some sort of tracking, some sort of electronic security - we've got to do something about this.” A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson said it was “totally unacceptable” to fly drones close to airports.
The closure of 17 Edinburgh schools because of serious safety concerns makes a review of public private partnerships (PPP) and private finance initiative (PFI) projects unavoidable, the union Unite has said. The action at the 10-year-old schools was prompted after workers attending to structural issues at one Edinburgh primary found “further serious defects.” The Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which operates the schools, said it could not provide safety assurances at all its schools leading to other closures. Unite said it has argued consistently that PPP/PFI does not provide the taxpayer with value for money and the Edinburgh revelations “highlight the potential cost-cutting measures used by contractors compromising health and safety.” Mary Alexander, Unite deputy Scottish secretary, said: “The closure of the schools in Edinburgh is a national scandal but it could be the tip of the iceberg.” She added: “This is also not a situation exclusive to Edinburgh but one with national implications. The real question is how many other schools and infrastructure across Scotland built through PPP/ PFI are affected, which means nothing other than a full review is required.” Scottish teaching union EIS also called for an urgent review of all schools following the safety revelations. Edinburgh City Council admitted last week that it allowed the public-private consortium that built the 17 unsafe schools to self-certify itself as having met “all the relevant building standards.”
A former prison worker has been awarded £140,000 after a six-year legal battle with the prison service following an injury that ended her career. While working at a London young offender’s institute, the POA member had been restraining a prisoner after a fight had broken out. The two prisoners involved in the altercation had been placed on ‘separate unlock’, meaning that they should not have been free to associate with one another. The prison worker, whose name has not been released, warned her colleague of the restriction, but the prisoners were still released at the same time. As the fight broke out the POA member fell onto a stairwell, bending her right hand forward. She instantly suffered pain and was taken straight to hospital. She was eventually diagnosed with the neurological condition complex regional pain syndrome, and was not able to move her right hand for a year. She returned to work on interim light duties after four weeks. However she still had to handle keys, despite suffering pain in her hand. She was offered another position in the prison service but this would have reduced her salary by more than £10,000, which she could not afford. She had to leave the prison service as a result. Six years later she still experiences flare-ups and takes medication for the condition. In a union-backed compensation case, a settlement of £140,000 compensation was agreed days before the case was due to go to court. Glyn Travis, from the POA, said: “Her trade union membership meant that she was fully supported during an ordeal, which was prolonged by the unhelpful attitude of the National Offender Management Service who seem to resist claims in the hope that people will give up trying to get justice. As this case shows, the POA won’t give up and will pursue cases all the way.”
A POA member from County Durham has received compensation of £220,832 after contracting asbestos-related lung cancer. The retired carpenter, whose name has not been released, was employed in various prisons between 1963 and 1995 where he carried out maintenance work on prison buildings. He worked in one prison from 1964 to 1977 renovating its commercial laundry room. As part of the renovation, he was asked to remove asbestos corrugated sheeting, cut new asbestos sheets, lay asbestos floor tiles and renew lagging on heating pipes. He also mixed the asbestos plaster while other workers stripped asbestos insulation from pipework, steam presses and irons. In September 2014, he began to feel unwell and visited a doctor and was diagnosed with lung cancer. The six-figure compensation settlement came in a POA-backed claim. Glyn Travis, of the POA, said: “Asbestos-related cancers are often associated with industries like shipbuilding, but the reality is that this disease affects workers everywhere, including prison employees. The settlement will give our member and his family security following the diagnosis of this terrible illness.”
You don’t have to work in the chemical industry to be harmed by chemicals at work, two 59-year-old Unite members have found to their cost. A now retired electrical technician for a pharmaceutical company needed two skin graft operations and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being sprayed with bromine. The father-of-three from Newcastle was sprayed while disconnecting pipes from a tank that housed the chemical. The pipes connecting the tank to the computer system were supposed to have been drained before he started work, but this hadn’t happened. After being sprayed, he ran to a nearby safety shower, but the skin on his right leg, right arm and face was already severely burnt and his vision was impaired. He received £210,000 in a union-backed claim. In a second incident involving a Unite member, the worker on an assembly line at a car manufacturer in Solihull noticed a strong chemical smell and started to feel light-headed and breathless and collapsed onto the concrete floor. It was later found that the smell was caused by an independent contractor working in an adjacent section of the building using the chemical Sikafloor-Proseal PRO, which makes concrete dry faster. The man was given oxygen by first aiders but when his condition didn’t improve, he was rushed to a hospital respiratory clinic. Doctors found exposure to the fumes had aggravated childhood asthma, which had not affected his health since he was 10-years-old. For several days after the incident the Unite member suffered from nausea and migraines, and months later continues to find physical activity difficult because of tightness in his chest. He received an undisclosed payout in a Unite-backed compensation claim.
Recent TUC polling indicates that sexual harassment is still rife in many workplaces. As part of its project on sexual harassment in the workplace, the TUC would now like to hear about your experiences of sexual harassment. It has prepared a short online survey where you can describe your experience. The information you share will be treated in confidence and the survey can be completed anonymously.
A new study has found that low-paid workers who received the national minimum wage in April 1999 reported a decline in symptoms of depression for at least 22 months afterwards. The researchers discovered that receiving the national minimum wage was equivalent to the effect of taking antidepressants. Their paper, published in the journal Health Economics, concludes that wage rises for low-paid workers reduce feelings of anxiety and depression partly, at least, because they are under less financial strain.
The study, led by the University of Oxford, proves that wage rises significantly improve the mental health of low-paid workers, the authors said. Lead author Dr Aaron Reeves, from Oxford's Department of Sociology, said: “This study proves that wage rises significantly improve the mental health of low-paid workers. This suggests that the new national living wage is likely to have a similar positive effect in the short-term for low-wage workers.” Professor David Stuckler, also from the University of Oxford, added: “Our study found that increasing wages for low-income workers can have as powerful an effect on mental health as prescribing antidepressants.” Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commented: “So far, it has focused on jobs and profits of employers but, as our research shows, increasing the income of the lowest paid can make an important contribution to their mental health at a time when the NHS faces unprecedented pressure.” In February, prime minister David Cameron promised an extra £1 billion a year for mental health care and said it would mean tens of thousands of people in England with mental health conditions will be supported to find or return to work. The new research suggests improving pay rates would be a very effective way to help them stay in work.
Ÿ University of Oxford news release. Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, Johan Mackenbach, Margaret Whitehead and David Stuckler. Introduction of a national minimum wage reduced depressive symptoms in low-wage workers: a quasi-natural experiment in the UK, Health Economics, published online ahead of print, April 2016.
A new study shows that desktop 3D printers release produce airborne nanoparticles that should be controlled to avoid hazardous exposures. According to the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), 3D printers have become more common in homes, schools and libraries as their prices have come down. But a study by FIOH and the University of Helsinki had confirmed nanoparticles are emitted into the air when printers are used. FIOH notes: “Printing every once in a while is not very harmful, but we should recognise the exposure and attempt to reduce it in places where people are exposed to printing daily.” Anna-Kaisa Viitanen, a research scientist at FIOH, commented: “Exposure can be reduced by acquiring an encased printer that has been designed with emission management in mind, by avoiding staying in the same room with a printer for longer periods of time or, most reliably, by directing the emissions out of the indoor air.” The study identified pollution arising from use of both ABS and PLA, the two most common plastic mixtures. It added treating the printed objects with chemicals is an integral part of 3D printing and is typically used in printing on an industrial scale. “When chemicals are used in post-processing, it is important to perform a risk analysis of these chemicals and people must use the correct protective equipment,” Viitanen said.
A North Yorkshire steel fabrication company has been fined after a forklift truck operator was killed when the truck he was operating overturned. Teesside Crown Court heard how 27-year-old Kelvin McGibbon was reversing the forklift truck when it struck some steps, causing it to overturn. He was not wearing a seatbelt and suffered crush injuries that proved fatal. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 13 March 2013 found that Severfield (UK) Limited failed to manage forklift truck driving operations. They did not enforce the wearing of seatbelts or control the speed at which some operators drove their trucks. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the management regulations and was fined £135,000 and ordered to pay costs of £46,020. The offence to which Severfield pleaded guilty was not a significant cause of the fatal accident, HSE concluded. HSE inspector David Welsh said: “A company has a legal duty for the health and safety of people working on its site, whether they are employees or not. They are required to assess risks, eliminate them where possible and enforce proper control measures, such as seatbelt wear, by checking that safe driving practices are being followed to deal with the risks that remain.”
Two injuries in three months at the Haverhill site of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company have led to the firm and two safety consultancies being fined for criminal health and safety failings. Ipswich Crown Court heard how in the first incident an employee of the company sustained serious injuries when operating a biscuit cutter. The rotating blade made contact with his hand, cutting his thumb to the bone. The second incident occurred when an employee sustained injury to his hand whilst using the cutter of an overhead router. This worker received serious lacerations and crush injuries to his right index finger. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incidents which occurred on 28 February 2014 and 2 June 2014 found that both were the result of unsafe working practices. In 2013, Worksafe Training & Consultancy Ltd had been commissioned by Jan Cavelle Furniture Company Ltd to review all risk assessments and work procedures and to provide updated risk assessments and procedures where required. This consultancy subsequently sub-contracted this work to Tony Baker of Leading Health & Safety Consultants Ltd, who provided risk assessments and recommendations relevant to both the biscuit cutter and the overhead router. These were neither suitable nor sufficient to control risks arising from the operation of these two machines, HSE found. Jan Cavelle Furniture Company Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was £18,000 with £4,000 costs. Bury St Edmunds firm Workplace Training and Consultancy Limited was convicted of two criminal safety offences and fined £22,500 with £22,500 costs. Leading Health and Safety Consultants Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £5,000 with £5,000 costs.
A London construction company has been fined after inspectors found a deep unprotected pit had been excavated immediately behind the only entrance to a site. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how RS Construction UK (London) Limited was working at a site in the city that was inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The inspector found there was an excavation directly behind the front door, which was the only way in or out of the site. The excavation was approximately 3.5 metres deep with no shoring to support the sides and no edge protection around the top to stop persons, materials or objects falling into it. A worker in the bottom of the excavation was instructed by the inspector to exit the dangerous excavation immediately. An investigation by HSE found that RS Construction had faced previous enforcement action relating to similar risks on other sites. RS Construction UK (London) Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £1,486.
International Workers’ Memorial Day will be marked in communities and workplaces worldwide on 28 April. But that’s not the end of it – increasingly the campaign is going into cyberspace. One example is this year’s online action by the global mining union IndustriALL, which is tweeting for mine safety. IndustriALL says “there is a safety crisis in the mining industry. But a solution exists: ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health on Mines.” It says the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention requires countries to have a proper enforcement system and measures to ensure mine companies keep their operations safe. It also stipulates that workers have the right to independent safety representatives, and to refuse unsafe work. “But ILO C176 has only been ratified by 31 countries - and many countries with the worst safety record have not signed up,” says IndustriALL. It concludes: “28 April is International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. On this day, mourn the dead, but fight for the living: tell your government to make mining safer by ratifying ILO Convention 176.”
Ÿ INdustriALL Thunderclap for mine safety: Tweet ‘Mourn the dead, fight for the living: it's time to ratify ILO #C176 on #MineSafety #IWMD16 http://thndr.me/Nw6RC0’. TUC 2016 Workers’ Memorial Day activities listing. Add your 28 April event to the TUC .For UK Workers’ Memorial Day resources including ribbons, car stickers and free posters, contact the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre by email or phone 0161 636 7557. ITUC/Hazards global events listing and resources, including new posters in English, French and Spanish. For tweeters
A weekend that saw 18 deaths involving trucks on Australia’s roads has exposed the folly of government plans to abolish a tribunal created to lift the pressure on truckers to drive unsafely, the transport union TWU has said. “My thoughts are with the families left devastated by these tragedies which have to be fully investigated. This has been a black weekend for the trucking community and the wider community which bear the brunt of these horrific crashes. I am appealing to the government not to abolish the one body tasked to examine the pressure in trucking which leads to so many tragedies,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon. “What other proof does the government need that there is a problem with safety on our roads involving trucks? We know that a deadly cycle is at play in transport with major retailers and manufacturers squeezing transport operators and drivers with low cost contracts to the point that our roads are not safe.” Truck drivers and TWU have urged the government not to axe the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which adjudicates on safe pay rates and work patterns for truck drivers (Risks 733). The union also wants the tribunal to ensure client contracts allow for all costs to be covered by transport operators including employee driver minimum rates, insurance, maintenance of fleets, superannuation and fuel. “Road deaths in truck crashes are unacceptably high. Truck drivers have the highest workplace deaths, they suffer from chronic fatigue, stress, mental health problems and are among the highest numbers for suicide and bankruptcies. The government must acknowledge there is a problem in this industry,” TWU’s Tony Sheldon said.
The Australian government’s plan to abolish the country’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) if re-elected is “an attack on safety”, the global transport unions’ federation ITF has said. ITF general secretary Steve Cotton stated: “The RSRT has been one of the bright spots among the otherwise depressing picture of fatigue and danger among Australia’s truckies. Now, unbelievably, the government is considering snuffing out that spark. This isn’t just an attack on the tribunal, it’s an attack on road safety.” He continued: “To stretch belief even further this decision comes at a time when the Safe Rates model – of safe and fair pay and conditions across the transport supply chain – that was born in Australia is being studied and imitated around the world [Risks 725]. This tribunal has a part to play in supporting those aspirations. Undermining it undermines Australian road safety. It’s impossible to see this wrongheaded decision as anything less than another assault by the Turnbull government on workers and their unions.” Australian government ministers have claimed there is no link between low pay and higher risks in trucking. However, these claims have been missed by academics, who say ministers have misrepresented the evidence or used poor quality studies to support their argument. Professor Michael Quinlan of the School of Organisation and Management at the University of New South Wales (Risks 746), said: “There is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety.” And US transport safety expert Michael H Belzer, an associate professor in the economics department at Wayne State University, said “there is ample evidence that supports the relationship between compensation and safety in trucking and across other modes. In my own work, I see it in intercity buses. In others’ work, I see it in airlines and even in rail.”
International trade unions have launch an online petition calling on building products giant LafargeHolcim to respect workers’ rights and improve its poor health and safety record. The unions say around 70 workers die each year toiling for LafargeHolcim, 90 per cent of whom are employed indirectly. Unions want the cement giant to sign a global framework agreement before the end of the year to help to improve workers’ rights and health and safety. IndustriALL, the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) and its European sister organisation EFBWW want directly and indirectly employed workers on all its worksites to be covered, and are demanding a joint union-management body to ensure “fruitful social dialogue at a global level.” The unions say following their joint efforts last year, including a number of global days of action, LafargeHolcim became more receptive to workers’ concerns, “however our campaign is not yet over.” They add their objectives include: “Improved health and safety for all directly and indirectly employed workers through joint health and safety committees with trade union representatives in all workplaces.”
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