|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 new edition of the TUC’s best-selling guide to health and safety at work is now available. The union body says this fifth edition is published at a time when safety rights are under attack. “That is why trade union reps, officers and anyone with a practical interest in health and safety matters should have a copy of the 2016 edition of Hazards at Work,” TUC says. “It explains the way unions organise to improve health, safety and welfare, how the law has changed in recent years and gives full details of the key legal provisions and how they are enforced.” The core of the book is the 24 chapters on the common hazards and causes of ill-health at work, and how to assess and prevent them. The A4, 368-page, single volume softback also has a section on people in ‘special’ categories, such as young workers, casual workers, agency workers and disabled workers. The book also includes extensive checklists, case studies and web resources. Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, commented: “There are still too many people living with, and dying of, workplace injuries and illnesses. This book is the TUC’s most comprehensive tool for understanding, assessing and dealing with workplace hazards.”
Leaving the EU could put millions of people in the UK at increased risk of work-related injury and ill-health, a TUC report has concluded. ‘EU membership and health and safety’, published on 28 April to coincide with International Workers’ Memorial Day, finds that EU legislation has helped stop illnesses and injuries at work, and saved lives. The report notes that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of new British health and safety regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in Europe - 41 out of 65 laws. It says these new safety rules have contributed to a reduction in workplace fatalities in the UK. In 1992 there were 368 worker fatalities in Britain; this dropped to 142 last year. Over this period, the work fatality rate fell from 1.5 to 0.46 per 100,000 workers. The report notes that EU law has had a ‘significant impact’ on UK workplace safety laws, including requiring the UK to strengthen safety rules in construction – one of the most dangerous industries. It was also behind better rules to protect police officers. And the EU required improvements in the UK’s asbestos regulations – leaving us better protected from the biggest work-related killer in the UK. The report notes that if the UK votes to leave the EU, the government would be able to choose whether or not to keep protections derived from EU laws. TUC says there is no guarantee they would keep health and safety legislation at its current level, warning that the UK government has already indicated it wants to reduce the ‘red tape’ of EU protection. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “it’s clear that voting to leave the EU is a big risk for people’s safety at work. Brexit could see many of the vital protections that keep workers safe in shops, factories, offices or on building sites stripped away, leaving millions of people at increased risk of accident or injury in the workplace.” She added: “The government has already hinted its readiness to water down key health and safety rules should Britain vote Leave in June. And we know that some of the biggest cheerleaders for Brexit see protections for ordinary British workers – like health and safety law – as just red tape to be binned.”
Offshore workers employed by a contractor on Shell’s North Sea platforms are demanding the withdrawal of proposals to cut their terms and conditions. Unite is to meet with the Wood Group’s management team to press home offshore workers’ opposition to further cuts. The union is concerned that continuing reductions in the workforce could make it impossible to maintain the ‘rigorous’ health and safety standards required offshore. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Unite has long warned that the oil and gas industry is cutting too fast and too far. Lives and safety are being put at risk and workers have had enough.” He added: “Employers must not respond to the current downturn in this industry’s fortunes by putting people in a position of risk. Workers are feeling increasingly frustrated that their concerns are going unheard. I repeat our call for all involved in this vital industry to be brought together in an oil and gas summit so that safety standards are not the casualty of this downturn and that the potential for catastrophe is averted.” He added that the union would be consulting with its membership regarding possible official industrial action. Unite Scotland says it has been calling on the industry to redouble its efforts to tackle its safety challenges by properly engaging with workers and their trade unions, “particularly in light of the recent issues with Health and Safety Executive cuts, offshore helicopter transport safety and an ageing offshore infrastructure.” The union says around 50 per cent of fixed platforms on the UK continental shelf have exceeded their 25-year life span.
A union health and safety rep working for CGL, a leading drug and alcohol abuse charity, has been sacked after pointing out fire hazards that could have cost colleagues’ lives, her union Unite has said. The union is calling for the immediate reinstatement of Alison Morris, a drugs referral team leader Unite says has a 14-year exemplary record working for the NHS and the charity. She was summarily dismissed earlier this month from her Reach Out Recovery job, following her joint inspection with a fire brigade officer at the charity’s Birmingham city centre Scala House office in January. The inspection found non-operational fire alarms in the building. The safety rep reported that the building may be closed, if the problem was not sorted the following day. Senior management said she said it ‘would’ close, alleging she intentionally misleading management. Unite regional officer Caren Evans said: “This is one of the most extraordinary cases I have come across in my experience. Alison should have been praised for going the extra mile in her own time to protect her colleagues from death in fire, not dismissed for carrying out her duties.” She added: “Alison was transferred from the NHS in March 2015 to CGL and now she has been treated in the most horrendous way by a draconian management which has a vibrant anti-union bias. We are calling for Alison’s immediate reinstatement after what can only be described as a drumhead court martial. Unite has lodged an appeal against the sacking and Alison’s case has gone to Unite legal services to lodge an unfair dismissal claim should Alison not be re-instated.” Unite said that the 300-strong CGL workforce in Birmingham is backing the call for Alison’s immediate reinstatement. The union said if she is not given her job back, “an industrial action ballot is on the cards.”
Fire chiefs have joined the firefighters’ union FBU to raise concerns about the deadly impact of fire service cuts. Reacting to new official figures showing a 21 per cent rise in fire deaths over the past year, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We are now witnessing the tragic results of such wrong-headed cuts to the fire and rescue service. Over the past five years, the government has cut 7,000 frontline firefighters jobs, closed more than 40 fire stations and axed scores of fire engines. This has culminated in the longest response times to fires for 20 years.” He added: “Whereas the government’s focus should be on reducing the disturbing rise in fire-related deaths, they are instead continuing with discredited proposals for a police takeover of the fire service. These plans, which will only exacerbate the problems facing the fire service, show that this government is intent on saving money rather than lives.” The latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 294 people died in fires in England during 2015, an increase of 21 per cent compared with the 242 deaths recorded in 2014 and the largest increase since figures were published in 2001-02. The chief fire officers from the six largest English cities outside London have also described the rise as worrying, as the fire service faces budget cuts of up to 50 per cent by 2020 from a 2010 benchmark. “The budget cuts have seen the loss of frontline firefighters, response times getting longer, stations closing and fire prevention measures reduced too,” said a statement from the Association of Metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities who cover Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds.
Seafarers’ union Nautilus has called for a further crackdown on substandard shipping in European waters following a UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the loss of a cement carrier and its eight crew off Scotland in January 2015. MAIB concluded that the capsize of the Cyprus-flagged Cemfjord in ‘extraordinarily violent sea conditions’ was a predictable accident that could have been avoided, with the decision to enter the Pentland Firth rather than to seek shelter the result of poor passage planning and commercial pressures. Investigators said the 31-year-old vessel had gone down in gale force winds and a strong, opposing tidal stream during a voyage from Denmark to the UK port of Runcorn with a 2,084 tonne cargo of cement. The MAIB investigation found the ship had been at sea with significant safety deficiencies related to its rescue boat launching arrangements and bilge pumping system. In the 13 months before the tragedy, the ship was found to have spent 54 per cent of its time with exemptions from safety regulations — 40 per cent of this related to lifeboat defects. “Cemfjord was at sea with significant safety shortcomings; there is no evidence that any consideration was given to delaying departure until these problems were fixed,” the report noted. Nautilus senior national secretary Allan Graveson said the report showed the ‘rotten underbelly’ of the shipping industry. “Given the damning findings of the investigation, the European Maritime Safety Agency needs to take substantive action to ensure that all ships sailing under member state flags are maintained to appropriate safety. The operation of such older tonnage is unfairly undermining good operators who run modern and environmentally sound ships,” he added.
A UNISON rep who has helped address safety problems at work, in Scotland and across the UK and Europe has won a top award from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). Glasgow City UNISON health and safety officer Scott Donohoe is the recipient of this year’s STUC Frank Maguire Award for Health and Safety. Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said: “Scott Donohoe is an outstanding example of the difference trade union members can make in delivering safer and healthier workplaces. However, in Scott’s case he takes it a step further, playing a leading role in the Hazards movement at home and abroad.” He said under Scott’s direction, the UNISON branch had used “health and safety failures as leverage to recruit and grow membership.” The STUC leader added: “Scott provides support and advice for workplace reps to resolve issues at the earliest possible stage, avoiding harm to members and costly damages actions for employers. However, he is never afraid to challenge employers particularly around stress at work and has developed a specialism in challenging adverse ill-health retiral decisions for UNISON members. At a time when the United Kingdom is attacking facility time for trade union reps, Scott provides a perfect example of why agreed trade union facility time is vital for unions and employers.”
Two Derbyshire-based construction firms have been fined for criminal safety offences as a result of separate investigations into reported cases of occupational diseases. Derby Crown Court heard how employees at Sandvik Mining and Construction Limited and Sandvik Construction Mobile Crushers and Screeners Limited were regularly exposed to hand arm vibration through the use of vibratory tools in the assembly and servicing of crushers and screeners. The exposures led to separate reported cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and hand-arm vibration syndrome. Investigations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the activities of the companies found both had failed for long periods to adequately manage the risk to employees from exposure to vibration. HSE discovered they had failed to carry out suitable and sufficient assessments for the risk from vibration and had not made reasonable estimates of employees’ exposure. Sandvik Mining and Construction Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,246. Sandvik Construction Mobile Crushers and Screeners pleaded guilty to a criminal breach and was fined £280,000 plus costs of £8,246. HSE inspector Edward Walker said: “There is a well-known health risk associated with exposure to hand arm vibration and it is important that measures are put in place to manage the risk. Exposure to hand arm vibration can cause debilitating affects which could have been avoided.”
Explosives are to be used to demolish the remaining section of the collapsed Didcot Power Station. Four workers were killed and five injured in the collapse on 23 February, with one body recovered from the site (Risks 741). RWE Npower said it knew controlled explosions at the site would be distressing for the missing workers' families. The firm said it would ensure the remaining building falls away from the existing debris pile.
The Health and Safety Executive is carrying out a joint investigation with police into the cause of the collapsed boiler house. A spokesperson for RWE Npower said: "The recovery work can only be completed safely once the unstable standing structure has been brought down. Having explored other manual options, our experts have made it clear that the quickest and safest way to bring the building down is by controlled explosive demolition." The recovery mission began on 19 March and is being supported by forensic archaeologists and structural engineers, with drones and cameras gathering information.
The bodies of Christopher Huxtable, 34, from Swansea; Ken Cresswell, 57, and John Shaw, 61, both from Rotherham, have not yet been found. The body of Michael Collings, 53, from Brotton in Teesside, was recovered from the site soon after the collapse. RWE Npower said the families of the missing workers have been told about the plans. Both the bereaved families and the union Unite have expressed ‘increasing concern’ about the amount of time it is taking to recover the bodies (Risks 746).
A vehicle seat manufacturing company based in Ebbw Vale has been fined after a worker was injured from an explosion. Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how an operator at Sears Manufacturing Company (Europe) Limited suffered burns to his head and hands. The incident was caused by a highly flammable release agent used in the manufacturing process, to prevent foam sticking to the seat mould. The release agent ignited, causing an explosion which injured the operator. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 26 January 2015 found that a failure to have suitable control measures in place caused the release agent to ignite. Sears Manufacturing Company (Europe) Limited pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,010.
The owner of a Leamington Spa business that manufactures specialist adhesive tape for industrial applications has been fined after a teenage apprentice lost his finger on a rotary die press. Nuneaton Magistrates’ Court heard how the 16-year-old was adjusting guides on a laminating head forming part of a rotary die press. Whilst making the adjustment he tripped, put his hands forward and his index finger got caught in the drive gear at the rear of the laminating unit. His finger needed to be amputated as a result. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 9 September 2014 found that the machine did not have appropriate guards in place to prevent access to dangerous parts of the rotary press. James Fussell, trading as Tecman Speciality Materials, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £6,000 with £1,754 costs. HSE inspector Michelle Morrison said: “If the company had ensured that access to the dangerous moving parts of the rotary die press had been prevented, then this young man would not have lost the top of one of his fingers. This was an entirely preventable incident.”
A construction company based in Derbyshire has been fined after a worker was seriously injured when he fell through a void. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard the injured worker was employed by a sub-contractor working for Bowmer and Kirkland Limited, which had been contracted to pour concrete onto the first floor of a building that was under construction at Fort Kinnaird Retail Park, Edinburgh. The worker was walking across a floor that was under construction when his boot caught and he tripped. He dislodged an unsecured wooden board that had been placed over a void and exposed the opening of the two-by-one metre hole. He fell approximately 4.5 metres through the void and sustained serious injuries to his back as well as a broken foot. He was off work for 22 weeks and suffers continuing pain. He has reduced mobility, finding it difficult to walk or sit for long periods. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 16 May 2014 found that the company, by not fixing the wooden panels placed on the void, had failed to take the measures necessary to prevent a fall. Belper firm Bowmer and Kirkland Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulation 2005 and was fined £6,600.
On 24 April, workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan remembered the dead and demanded improved factory safety, and punishment to those responsible for a garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh three years ago. More than 1,100 workers perished and over 2,500 were injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka on 24 April 2013. Affiliates of the global union federation IndustriALL formed a human chain and organised a press conference in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka to mark the anniversary. In Pakistan, IndustriALL affiliate the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) organised a rally and press conference at the Karachi press club to extend solidarity and demand justice for the victims of both Rana Plaza and the fire at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan, which killed 254 workers on 11 September 2012. IndustriALL policy director Jenny Holdcroft said: “We must never allow what happened at Rana Plaza to be forgotten… Most garment workers still do not have the protection of a union and it is our responsibility to organise them.” In response to “persistent and growing violations” by the Bangladesh government of its responsibility to respect workers’ rights, global union federation ITUC has lodged a Freedom of Association complaint at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The case will be heard by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the decision by the European Commission to set up an EU Observatory for nanomaterials, instead of a Register, fails to protect workers from health risks and does not contribute in any way to the traceability of nanomaterials, and the transparency and accountability of industry. “Workers have a right to know what they are handling and being exposed to,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC confederal secretary. “That way trade unions can assess risk, support the work of health and safety representatives, and demand the necessary health safeguards. That is what a Registry would enable and an Observatory cannot.” ETUC says instead of requiring companies to register annually their use of nanomaterials, an Observatory would simply collect information which may or may not be useful. Unions, non-government groups and the European Parliament were all in favour of register, with only the industry lobby opposed. The European Commission followed the industry line. ETUC’s Esther Lynch said: “I regret that the European Commission has ignored an opportunity to support risk and safety assessment of nanomaterials despite a clear and widespread wish that it should do so. The ETUC will not give up hope and will continue to push the Commission to move in a more helpful direction.” She added: “It would also be easier for industry if there was one European register rather than several different national ones which is currently the case.”
International union bodies have joined forces to increase pressure on seafood companies to stop the “barbaric” treatment of their workers. At a meeting coinciding with the Brussels Seafood Expo Global, which brings together more than 2,000 fish and aquaculture companies, the unions said ‘concrete measures’ must be introduced to protect workers producing seafood imported into the European Union. Global transport union ITF and food union IUF, together with their European counterparts, said the EU yellow card system only considers a country’s IUU - illegal, unreported and unregulated -fishing violations. But this system excludes many commonplace labour rights violations. IUF general secretary Ron Oswald said: “Barbaric human rights abuses in the fishing industry have been brought to the public’s attention through media exposure, but the abuses in many cases continue because the companies are under no real pressure to comply with international human rights standards. Effective mechanisms must urgently be developed to ensure that companies that export their products to the European Union respect the right of workers to form trade unions and to negotiate their conditions of employment. Companies which fail to do so must face meaningful consequences.”
The global union federation ITUC has warned negligent employers of the consequences of putting workers’ lives at risk. Commenting on the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Over 2 million workers die needlessly every year because their workplaces are dusty, dirty and dangerous. The risks are as obvious as they are preventable, whether they are falls from height, crippling workloads or chemical exposure. Every single death represents an employer's failure to act.” Occupational cancers alone kill at a rate of one worker every minute worldwide, Burrow said. “Yet pressure from corporate interests means that even asbestos, one of the worst industrial killers, is banned in only a minority of countries. This is not legitimate business activity – it is criminal behaviour.” Trade unions in more than 70 countries marked 28 April with a demand for 'Strong laws, strong enforcement and strong unions' as the only way to stop the carnage at work. She said negligent companies increasingly have nowhere to hide. “From the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, the global firms responsible have been subjected to a previously unheard-of level of sustained criticism and public scrutiny,” Burrow said. “The jail term handed this month to former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for the death of 29 miners in a US coal mine blast is a reminder that for irresponsible bosses, the boardroom may no longer be a safe haven. Unions would rather see safe and healthy workplaces than an irresponsible employer behind bars. But if workers don't get prevention, they will seek justice.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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