|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]uk.|
A high profile Unite campaign for the reinstatement of a union safety rep fired after raising concerns about non-functioning fire alarms has been successful. David Biddle, the chief executive of CGL, Birmingham’s leading substance abuse charity, received thousands of emails calling for Alison Morris’ reinstatement (Risks 750). The Unite safety rep was fired after she pointed out the fire alarms at the charity’s Scala House office were not working (Risks 749). In a statement, Unite regional officer Caren Evans said: “Following lengthy negotiations I can confirm that Alison Morris has been reinstated by CGL. Both Unite and CGL have committed to work together to improve industrial relations going forward.” Her statement continued: “I would like to thank everyone for their support over the last few months, including the many thousands who supported the campaign,” adding: “I also need to thank CGL management who have helped to resolve the issue. Alison is looking forward to getting on with her job supporting people in rehabilitation through the drug and alcohol service that is so crucial to improving lives."
Stress and long working hours are causing a retention problem in the veterinary profession, their union has warned. The British Veterinary Union (BVU), a part of the union Unite, says nearly 10 per cent of young vets are planning to leave the job as soon as possible. It points to a recent survey by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) that found 90 per cent of UK veterinary professionals consider their work life to be stressful, with an average working week of between 52-73 hours. This, combined with falling wages for new entrants, could lead to shortages of talented young people joining the profession in the future, BVU says. Ahead of its inaugural conference, BVU chair Dr Shams Mir said: “We want to get away from the cuddly image portrayed in the television series All Creatures Great and Small – a dreamlike idyll that definitely does not exist in 2016. This inaugural conference will explore strategies to combat the increasing pressures in the profession. It will urge veterinary employers to address the issue of long working hours and to improve the working conditions for veterinary professionals.”
The number of ‘vital, unannounced, life-saving construction inspections’ undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) declined further last year, site union UCATT has said. Official figures obtained by the union show there were 9,219 preventive HSE site inspections in 2015/16 compared to 9,656 in 2014/15, a decrease of 4 per cent. The union says number of construction inspections has been falling steadily in recent years. In 2012/13, HSE undertook 10,577 inspections, followed by a three-year decline of 13 per cent. UCATT said the reduction in inspections “comes at a time when the construction industry has been generally expanding and booming in some parts of the country. Therefore the overall number of sites which are being inspected has fallen significantly.” UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “These statistics are far from meaningless. They paint a serious picture of how a resource-starved HSE is increasingly unable to do its job.” He added: “Inspections save lives and prevent accidents. The reduction in inspections is endangering the lives, health and wellbeing of construction workers. This is a political decision by the government which have decided that it is financially justified to play fast and loose with the safety of construction workers.”
A prediction parts of the London Underground will be ‘inoperable’ within 15 years because of dangerous levels of overcrowding has been described as ‘truly terrifying’ by the rail union RMT. The union leader was commenting after Miles Ashley, London Underground's programme director for construction, told an audience of engineering researchers at Imperial College London that passengers at up to 50 stations in Zone 1 of the Tube system would face conditions akin to four people crammed into a telephone box, making the system ‘inoperable’. The Tube network is expected to handle 1.3 billion passengers this year - up from 800 million in 2002. That figure is expected to hit 1.7 billion by 2026 as London's population is forecast to grow from 8.8m to 10.2m by 2030. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, commented: “These projections are truly terrifying and require urgent action if we are to avoid a lethal cocktail of gridlock and extreme passenger danger right across the Tube network. Stations and platforms are already being closed on a routine basis on the quiet and those emergency measures are set to become commonplace.” He added: “Axing station staff jobs against this background is criminally irresponsible and RMT is calling on the new mayor Sadiq Khan to reverse the cuts and to instruct his officials to start taking the union safety warnings seriously. These surging passenger numbers are compromising safety on both Tube and mainline rail services and hacking back on safety-critical staff represents a lethal gamble by those calling the shots. Those cuts must be reversed before we have a major tragedy on our hands.”
Rail staff selling tickets on concourses could be a target for muggers if rail company Govia-Thameslink Railway (GTR) goes ahead with a massive programme of ticket office closures, the union TSSA has warned. Manuel Cortes, leader of the union for rail white collar staff, said: “Regardless of the spin from GTR, a total of 35 ticket offices will be closed completely and almost 50 more will partially close, only opening in the mornings during the rush hour. This will cause disruption to passengers and staff, particularly at weekends when all the offices will be closed. These changes are largely cosmetic to win the approval of the Department for Transport.” He added: “We have also called for detailed discussions on the new role of station hosts when staff will be selling tickets from station ticket office machines on concourses. We want assurances on staff safety when it comes to handling cash at busy times. We don't our members to be vulnerable to potential muggers looking for cash, particularly in the evenings.”
A former moulder has been compensated after exposure to silica dust at work caused him to develop breathing problems. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, began work in 1954 and spent 38 years as a moulder. Until the 1980s he worked for one Peterborough engineering company. Unbeknown to him, the plaster he used contained silica dust, which can cause lung scarring and breathing problems, cancer and other disorders. For more than 10 years, his employer failed to provide any personal protective equipment to prevent him from breathing in the dust. He later worked for two other engineering firms in Norfolk during the 1980s and 1990s, where he was also exposed to silica dust. After taking early retirement, the Unite member started to suffer from coughing fits and breathing problems. He was referred to a specialist to have a biopsy on his lungs, which confirmed that he had developed respiratory problems because of the silica dust. In a Unite backed compensation claim, he was awarded an undisclosed settlement on a provisional damages basis so that his case could be reopened if he developed another chronic silica related condition, for example the debilitating lung scarring disease silicosis. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “The dangers of working with silica dust are widely known and anyone coming into contact with the material should be provided with protective equipment. Due to the negligence of his employers our member was exposed throughout much of his career, and decades on he is suffering the damage it has done to his health.” Urging any Unite members who may have been affected by silica exposure at work to contact the union, he said: “Silica dust is associated with heavy industry and is found in certain types of rock, sand, stone and clay.” Major exposures are associated with foundry, quarrying, construction, ceramics and brick making jobs.
Only one person has been prosecuted for their criminal culpability in the blacklisting scandal, with not a single construction director behind the illegal operation having faced charges. However, Ian Kerr, the former head of the Consulting Association – the industry financed organisation that spied on union and safety activists and provided the information to major site firms – has now been joined by award-winning human rights campaigner Dave Smith, as the focus of a prosecution. Smith, a blacklisted worker and secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, was found guilty last week but discharged at the City of London magistrates’ court for disrupting traffic in Park Lane, London, in a blacklisting protest in March last year. Commenting after his conviction, he said since the scandal erupted, “only two people have ever been convicted because of their involvement with blacklisting — Ian Kerr and me.” Smith was not fined but the offence will be held on his record for the next six months. The Green Party has come out in support of calls for a public inquiry into the practice of blacklisting trade unionists and campaigners. Outgoing Green leader Natalie Bennett said: “The time has come for a public inquiry into the shameful practice of blacklisting. It’s vital that those who were discriminated against, and the public, gain an understanding of how this information on suspected trade unionists was collected and how it was shared with prospective employers.” Green Party member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones added that companies caught using blacklisting should not be left with the responsibility for ridding the industry of the practice. “That’s why parliament must step up and kick-start a public inquiry into blacklisting,” the baroness said. “I’m also urging any worker who was discriminated in this way to speak to me about their experiences. I’ll do all that I can to take this forward in the Lords.”
A call for it to be made illegal for a company to compel women to wear high heels at work is to be investigated by MPs. Over 140,000 people signed a petition to the government calling for the move after temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, was sent home without pay after refusing to change into high heels (Risks 751). The cross-party petitions committee noted: “MPs have decided to investigate this petition.” It added the investigation is going to look at what the law says and “what could be done to make the law better.” Those who have been affected were invited to pass on their experiences via a web forum. The petitions team added: “We also plan to hear from people affected and various experts in person. These ‘oral evidence sessions’ will be open to the public and available to watch live on Parliament TV.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: “The issue is more than just high heels, it is the misogynistic standards that managers impose on woman workers that portrays them as objects rather than human beings. This also means that women have to risk their health, wellbeing or safety to comply with inappropriate standards.”
Ÿ High heels forum. Petition - Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work. On twitter: #heelsatworkinquiry
A British company has been found liable for the first time for victims of modern slavery. In a 10 June high court judgment, Justice Supperstone found in favour of six Lithuanian men who were trafficked to the UK. The workers brought the civil case claiming compensation after being being severely exploited by the Kent-based gangmaster firm that employed them, DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd. The men were sent by the company, run by the British couple Darrell Houghton and Jacqueline Judge, to catch chickens on farms around the country. They worked frequently on farms owned by the leading egg supplier to major supermarkets. The workers were paid for the number of chickens caught on farms, but not for the time worked, night rates or for time spent travelling. The firm also charged prohibited fees, unlawfully withheld wages, and failed to ensure the workers had adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink. Other aspects of the claim, including personal injury claims, are still to be determined. “This is the first time the High Court has ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company,” said Shanta Martin, the partner from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the claimants. “It is an extremely important step towards proper compensation for our clients and should be seen as a warning to British companies that they must eradicate all forms of modern slavery from their businesses, whether in the UK or elsewhere.” Several more claims are outstanding. The law firm has said the firm and its directors should face criminal proceedings (Risks 740).
A British zoo has been fined for criminal health and safety offences after one of its employees was killed by a Sumatran tiger. Sarah McClay, 24, died at South Lakes Wild Animal Park – now known as South Lakes Safari Zoo – in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, after she was pounced on by the tiger on 24 May 2013. The tiger, which entered the keeper’s corridor of the zoo’s tiger house through an unlocked gate, left deep puncture wounds in Sarah McClay’s neck and body. She suffered ‘unsurvivable’ multiple injuries and was airlifted to hospital where she was formally pronounced dead (Risks 722). The zoo was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court. A £42,500 fine was also imposed for other health and safety law breaches relating to an incident where a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014. The zoo must also pay £150,000 prosecution costs over the next 10 years. The company, whose sole director David Gill founded the zoo, entered guilty pleas as a trial was about to commence. The prosecution offered no evidence against Mr Gill, 55, who had faced individual charges on the same allegations, but was formally acquitted. After the sentencing, Sarah McClay's mother Fiona, said: “We can't function yet with a member of our family missing, we have got to learn how to do that and we haven't got to that stage yet.” A day before the South Lakes Safari Zoo sentencing, Hamilton City Council in New Zealand pleaded guilty to safety charges relating to the death of zoo keeper Samantha Kudeweh, 43, who was mauled by a Sumatran tiger at a council-owned zoo on 20 September 2015.
A food waste disposal and recycling firm has been fined £250,000 after three employees were overcome by toxic gases at an animal waste facility in Stoke-on-Trent. Prosecuting, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Stafford Crown Court that, on 23 April 2014 driver William James, an employee of John Pointon and Sons Limited, was unloading carcasses from a truck during his night shift. As he did so, he was overcome by hydrogen sulphide – produced by the rotting carcasses – and a lack of oxygen. A short time later fellow employee Thomas Lewinski noticed Mr James was missing and climbed up onto the trailer to look for him and found him lying face down. As he tried to help, he too was overcome by the fumes and fell from the trailer. A third worker, Steve White, was also affected. Mr James suffered bruising and a head wound which required stitches, while Mr Lewinski spent five days in hospital. John Pointon and Sons Limited was fined £250,000 with costs of £37,362 after pleading guilty to three criminal safety offences. The court heard that this preventable incident could have resulted in fatalities and that the company had been prosecuted twice before for two fatal incidents which involved confined space entry within a processing plant. The latest court appearance came 12 months after the Cheddleton firm was fined £660,000 following the death of 50-year-old Mark Bullock (Risks 709). The self-employed contractor was repairing an industrial cooker at John Pointon and Sons Ltd when it filled with steam with him inside. He suffered severe scalding and died in hospital the following day.
Leading environmental services firm Veolia has been fined £750,000 after a worker was crushed to death beneath the tailgate of a refuse collection vehicle. Richard Calsen, 25, suffered serious injuries and went into a cardiac arrest at welding firm John Fowler and Son at Abbey Mill near Chorley, Lancashire. The father-to-be was supposed to be on holiday on the day of accident and had only gone into work as a favour. But after arriving at the firm's yard on 17 May last year, the welder was crushed between the tailgate and the vehicle when safety mechanisms failed. Veolia Environmental Services Sheffield Ltd admitted a criminal safety offence after Mr Calsen died as he was working on a Mercedes Econic vehicle, owned by the company. It was fined £750,000 with £11,981 costs at Preston Crown Court. John Fowler and Son was fined £65,000 with £12,443 costs after the court was told it had failed to undertake adequate risk assessments to protect its employees. Investigations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following Mr Calsen's death revealed a handwritten and undated risk assessment and no method statement to put measures in place to secure a safe working environment on the day Mr Calsen died. It also emerged Veolia Environmental Services Sheffield Ltd had failed to carry out routine inspections to its refuse collection vehicles and four other bin lorries in the fleet also had faulty safety limiting switches - although there had been no further incidents as a result. HSE inspector Rohan Lye said: “As a result of the failings on behalf of both duty-holders, Rick Calsen, a young man and father-to-be lost his life whilst going about his work.”
A motor vehicle repair company has been fined after a 27-year-old man on work experience was crushed to death by a vehicle. Muhammed Zohaib Yasin was watching another employee at Just Mercedes Limited carry out repair work on a Vauxhall Corsa.
Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Yasin was at the front of the vehicle as he added some antifreeze to the engine. The mechanic turned the ignition on from outside of the vehicle, which shot forward trapping and crushing the young man, who later died from his injuries. A Health and Safety (HSE) investigation into the 20 December 2014 tragedy found no defects with the vehicle, but it had been left in gear with the handbrake off. HSE found employees of Just Mercedes Limited had not been given any specific instructions on selecting gears and use of the handbrake when parking vehicles, on or off ramps. Nor had specific instructions been given on operating the ignition from outside of the vehicle. There was no system in place for storage of keys. HSE inspector Lisa Bailey said: “Had the company ensured employees were trained and instructed on moving vehicles around the garage safely then this tragic incident might not have occurred.” Just Mercedes Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £33,000 with £12,000 costs.
British Telecom plc (BT) has been convicted on criminal safety charges and fined £500,000 after an engineer fell seven metres from a loft in London, breaking his back and his ankles. The firm was criticised by the judge for trying to pass the blame to its employees. The Old Bailey heard how a BT engineer, David Spurgeon, was fixing a telephone fault in the roof void of a residential block of flats in Tower Hamlets, east London. He was working alone when he lost his balance and fell through the ceiling, landing on a concrete stairwell, sustaining serious injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the May 2011 incident found there was a series of management failures by BT, including inadequate planning of work taking place near fragile surfaces and checking that it was carried out safely. British Telecom plc was found guilty of criminal safety offences and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £98,913.51. In his sentencing remarks the judge criticised BT for attempting to blame its own engineers for the incident. He described their approach as being “not necessary, misplaced, and unfortunate.” On 27 May 2016, BT was fined £600,000 after two of its employees were seriously injured in falls on the same job on the same day (Risks 753).
A long-running campaign on multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) by Canadian public service union PSAC has seen the addition of a new video. ‘Demystifying multiple chemical sensitivity’ features MCS expert Dr John Molot and a PSAC member affected by the condition. PSAC says the video provides an introduction to the issue and a discussion starter in workshops and union health and safety events. The union says people with MCS can suffer debilitating physical symptoms when exposed to chemicals in the environment. These include trouble breathing, headaches, unexplained pain and chronic fatigue. PSAC says the most common triggers are chemicals in commonly used products such as perfumes, deodorants and cleaning products. The union’s campaign started over 20 years ago, and has included MCS conferences, regional and national workshops and publications. In the workplace, PSAC has used human rights and disability laws to require employers to accommodate affected workers.
Strong mobilisation by a coalition of citizen groups including trade unions has succeeded in temporarily blocking renewed EU authorisation of glyphosate, the world's most widely-used herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Food and farming global union IUF said the European Commission and national governments “are manoeuvring between pressure from the agrochemical lobby, organised in the Glyphosate Task Force, and a popular insurgency which shows no signs of going away.” The coalition, concerned about possible cancer and other health risks linked to glyphosate, are pressing for glyphosate use in Europe to be ended permanently. In a 13 June letter to the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, the IUF joined with 30 environmental, health, medical and consumer organisations to insist that glyphosate authorisation not be extended beyond 30 June, when the current authorisation expires. The IUF said it will “be actively working to ensure that continued glyphosate use is not approved” by an appeal committee or a review by the EC chemicals regulation agency EHCA. It adds “we will continue to work for the reduction and elimination of toxic chemicals in food production which place agricultural workers in the front line of exposure to hazards which threaten the environment and human health generally through wider contamination.”
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has set in motion a process unions hope could lead to a legal standard improving the lives of millions of workers in global supply chains. The ILO, which started the process towards a possible convention at its congress this month, estimates the number of jobs in global supply chains in 40 countries increased from 295 million in 1995 to 453 million in 2013. More than one fifth of the global workforce has a job in a global supply chain. But unions say many millions more are hidden workers. Global union confederation ITUC said it found a hidden workforce of 116 million workers in the global supply chains of just 50 multinational companies, or 94 per cent of their total supplier workforce, with most companies failing to accept responsibility for a minimum living wage, job security or decent working conditions. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said “a convention that requires governments to hold companies to account is essential and these conclusions allow this debate to continue.” A joint statement from employers, workers and governments was agreed following the ILO discussion on how to promote decent work through the many layers of global supply chains. Sharan Burrow said: “Transparency, responsibility and accountability need to be associated with global supply chains, not unsafe, insecure low wage work. Global supply chains contain exploitative and poor conditions for millions of workers. More than one fifth of the global population are in jobs where long hours, dangerous working conditions, forced labour and low wages have become the norm. Gaps in governance have allowed companies and governments to grow a global business model which is based on the exploitation of working people.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/