|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.
After the UK voted last week by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the European Union, the TUC is warning that the vital rights at work from EU-driven laws must be protected. Prior to the 23 June referendum vote, the TUC had warned that the official Leave campaign had workers’ rights in their crosshairs. The union body pointed out workplace safety (Risks 748), employment rights (Risks 749) and working hours protections (Risks 751) were all at risk. The TUC says prominent leave campaigners have called for a halving of regulations derived from EU law, or flexibility in interpreting rights, claiming that British business would benefit from a reduction in "red tape". But the TUC said: “What they call ‘red tape’ is really rights and protections that are valued by millions of working people. Attempts to cut these rights, or to limit the range of workers they apply to (for example exempting staff of small businesses or temporary workers), would cause great harm to fairness at work and to working people's living standards.” The TUC says it is important “to keep a close eye on our MPs as they start to debate what happens to our rights at work, and hold them to account, whether they backed leave or remain. They must not cut or water down any of the rights that working people and their unions fought so hard to win.” It argues it is important to ensure MPs – particularly Conservative MPs – get the message that crucial protections are not up for grabs. The TUC has started an online petition “we will use to show them how many of their own constituents support strong rights at work, and will publish their response. Please sign our petition and let your MP know you're watching.”
The TUC has warned that health and safety rights could be under threat after the 23 June referendum vote in favour of UK leaving the European Union (EU). TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, notes: “There is a real and serious danger that the final outcome could mean that we will lose much of the protection that EU membership has given us, but much will depend on the outcome of the negotiations that are will take place between Britain and the EU.” He says it could be years before this process is concluded, “but in the meanwhile all European directives and obligations continue to apply.” Robertson says the outcome of the negotiations is hard to predict, with many Conservatives wanting the trade benefits of being in the EU without the employment and safety protections that come with it. “If the UK were to leave the EU and reach an agreement whereby they were not covered by European regulations on issues such as health and safety then they will be able to reduce standards to whatever they want. The only restrictions will be international conventions but the government, in most cases, has the right to opt in or out of them. The government will also be able to have standards well above those of the EU, but of course they have that right at the moment and certainly have been pretty reluctant to use them.” The TUC safety specialist concludes: “So far the EU have been quite clear. Access to the internal market means playing by the rules and there is certainly not going to be an exception for the UK. That is also the very strong position of European trade unionists. Britain cannot have a system which gives equal treatment to bankers, manufacturers and those providing services, while workers are denied the same rights.”
The shopworkers’ trade union has expressed deep concern about reports of threats and abuse against migrant workers and people from minority ethnic groups has called for “calm and respect.” Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “It is deeply disturbing that some people have taken the vote to leave the EU as a green light to abuse others who they believe don’t have the right to be in the country. That is utterly unacceptable behaviour and needs to be stamped out immediately.” He added: “Last Thursday’s vote does not mean that EU nationals lose their right to live and work in our country. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just plain wrong. Migrant workers make a valuable contribution to our economy, culture and wider society. They, like everyone, must be treated with respect and allowed to go about their lives free from fear of abuse.” The union leader said: “Usdaw reps have for many years been providing support for members who face violence, threats and abuse and they will continue do so in this challenging period after the referendum. The result showed that the country is deeply divided, so we must work together to heal the rift, overcome the uncertainties we now face and get the best deal for the UK.”
Women are being forced to use ill-fitting personal protective equipment at work causing discomfort and putting their safety at risk, according to a Prospect survey. Just 29 per cent of the women who took part in the union study reported that the PPE they wear at work was designed for women. According to Prospect, this represents only a small improvement on a 2009 survey by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) that found 74 per cent of such equipment was designed for men. Trousers, overalls, jackets and gloves were identified as the items least likely to provide a suitable fit. Excluding overalls, these items were also cited as the worst PPE clothing in the previous research.
The Prospect study, carried out in May in partnership with WES, Women in Science and Engineering, the TUC and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, received responses from 3,086 women between the ages of 20 and 59. The responses came from a wide array of sectors, including emergency services, transport, manufacturing, construction, research and development and the nuclear industry. Of these, 57 per cent reported that their PPE sometimes or significantly hampered their work, a similar result to that seen in the 2009 survey. A further 27 per cent said that they were occasionally hampered. Emergency services and energy were revealed to be the most affected sectors, with emergency service workers highlighting the unsuitability of body armour, stab vests and hi-vis vests and jackets. Prospect deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said: “These findings are stark when considered against data from the Health and Safety Executive showing that 142 people were killed at work in 2014/15 and 611,000 injured. Equipping workers properly should not be seen as optional and it can be done.” As well as the risk to safety, women reported that ill-fitting PPE could cause discomfort, especially during pregnancy and the menopause.
Local government workers are experiencing unprecedented pressure and stress in the workplace – and government cuts are to blame, the union UNISON has found. Its report – ‘Under pressure, underfunded and undervalued’ - is based on a survey of more than 2,000 local authority staff, including teaching assistants, social workers, librarians and carers who look after people in their own homes. The union says its findings highlight how staff morale and working conditions have suffered as a result of government cost-cutting, with more than half a million jobs in local government axed since 2010. Threequarters (75 per cent) of council workers said workload and pressure have increased in the last 12 months, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) believe morale has declined and nearly threequarters (73 per cent) report rising stress levels. The report also reveals that bullying in the workplace is a major issue for local government staff. Three in five respondents (60 per cent) have faced at least one form of abuse such as violence, verbal or physical threats, and bullying or harassment. Seventeen per cent of respondents had witnessed harassment from employers and 13 per cent had been victims. UNISON’s head of local government Heather Wakefield said: “Council staff are being worked into the ground because of government cutbacks.” She added: “If you neglect the people who empty our bins, who support our children and care for our vulnerable relatives then you neglect the services we all depend upon. Everyone suffers if those on the front line are so stressed and undermined they cannot do their jobs properly.”
Public service union UNISON is to explore ways of supporting activists and reps in stressful situations, after concerns were raised by delegates to its national conference. Sara Feeney of Coventry City branch said that “activists are the backbone of UNISON” and members rely on them at difficult times in their life. “But that comes at a great cost personally. The common theme is that the workload now is much greater than it was four or five years ago.” She said the union must also “look after its own.” Hilary Mellor from Staffordshire told delegates that “in the toughest times, we must band together.” Janet Maiden of University College Hospital branch in London said that there could not be anyone in the room who would not be affected by stress. The conference agreed that the UNISON executive should investigate the possibility of a telephone support service for activists, and should provide training and produce a handbook for activists on how to deal with stressful situations and how they can support branch colleagues.
Teaching union NUT says its members in England are to strike over an erosion of working conditions and spiralling workload. Teachers will walk out first on 5 July, after 91 per cent of those who voted backed the action. NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said problems caused by government funding cuts had led to the dispute. He said: “In light of the huge funding cuts to schools, worsening terms and conditions, and unmanageable and exhausting workloads, teachers cannot be expected to go on without significant change. The effects on children's education are also real and damaging.” The union is calling for an increase in funding for schools and education, and wants the government to resume negotiations on teacher contracts to allow workload to be addressed. The Department for Education said the decision to strike was “disappointing when we have offered and committed to formal talks between ministers and the unions to address their concerns about pay. Industrial action causes disruption to children's education and parents who have to take time out of work to arrange childcare, we urge the NUT not to proceed with this strike and to resolve pay disputes at the negotiating table rather than playing politics with children's futures.” The NUT said the government was misrepresenting the reasons behind the dispute. Kevin Courtney said: “The Department for Education is being entirely disingenuous when it says that our action is about levels of pay. The NUT is taking strike action in response to the funding crisis in our schools, which is impacting on teachers’ terms and conditions and children’s education.” He added: “Teachers do not take strike action lightly. It is essential that the government listens. We need investment in education, not harmful cuts.”
Prisoners can now be prosecuted for attacks on prison workers, after a union-backed High Court case. In a landmark victory for the prison officers’ union POA, the court ruled last week that it is important to be able to prosecute prisoners for acts of violence committed against prison officers while serving time in prison, as a way of protecting prison officers and prisoners. The ruling came after the POA contested a police decision not to prosecute a prisoner who assaulted an officer at HMP Coldingley in January 2016. The prisoner was being verbally abusive towards medical staff when the prison officer asked him to leave the area. The inmate instead punched the officer and attempted to gouge out his eye. Police decided it was ‘not in the public interest’ to prosecute, due to the length of the prison term the man was already due to serve, and the fact that the prisoner had been moved to a higher security prison as a result of the attack. POA, acting for the injured member, successfully challenged the decision not to prosecute the prisoner. POA assistant general secretary Glyn Travis said: “Our members should be afforded the same rights as any worker carrying out a public service. Prison officers are often required to work with violent individuals, but that does not mean they should be expected to be dismissed by police when they are physically attacked.” He added: “This is an important victory for prison officers everywhere as it states very clearly that violence will not be tolerated against prison staff and that there will be consequences.”
Cambridgeshire’s fire chief has been accused of peddling an ‘unlawful’ shift system that could see firefighters work 96-hour shifts. Day Crewing Plus, described by firefighters’ union FBU as a ‘Victorian era shift system’, would see firefighters spend four days and nights working on a station. FBU said it sets a dangerous precedent for public safety and could result in dangerously tired firefighters being sent into burning buildings and other critical emergencies. FBU’s Riccardo la Torre said: “Who in their right mind would believe that an individual working 96 hours straight, can realistically be expected to be operationally ready for any eventuality? To rescue someone from a burning building or from swift moving flood water?” He said Cambridgeshire chief fire officer, Chris Strickland, “is playing Russian roulette with the lives of firefighters and the public they serve. He is fully aware that these proposals are unlawful and he’ll also be aware of studies that show the detrimental impact on the health of individuals working excessive shift work. It is completely immoral. We will resist these proposals by all means necessary.” Last year, in a case brought to an employment tribunal by the South Yorkshire branch of the FBU, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ruled that a similar shift system - Close Proximity Crewing - was “unlawful” and contravened the Working Time Directive. FBU says HSE communicated this information to all chief fire officers.
A finance officer has received an undisclosed payout after fracturing her right foot in a fall, which led to her developing deep vein thrombosis. The Unite member had just finished an accountancy exam at a college in Cornwall and was leaving the exam hall. The stairwell and wheelchair ramp leading from the exam hall were not clearly separated and she twisted her ankle between the two. She didn’t immediately seek medical help but returned home. However the next morning she went to hospital because she was in so much pain. An x-ray discovered she had broken a bone in her right foot, causing her to be off work for six weeks. During the time in plaster her leg began to swell due to deep vein thrombosis and she needed a course of blood-thinning tablets to stop the blood clotting in her leg. When she returned to the college the following year she discovered that the wheelchair ramp that caused her fall had been extended across the entire stairwell to prevent further accidents. She said without the union’s legal support “I don’t think I would have been able to secure compensation and actually hold the college to account. Seeing as I never had an apology for what happened to me, I’m glad I had my trade union to turn to.” Unite regional legal officer Stuart Davies said: “It’s a cruel irony that something installed as a safety precaution caused our member to painfully injure her foot. A shoddy job fitting the wheelchair ramp created a tripping hazard. The compensation secured for our member meant that her prescriptions and transport costs were covered while she recovering from her injury.”
A production worker at a car manufacturer in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, has been awarded almost £12,000 in damages after he suffered a crush injury and lacerations to his left leg. Union safety reps stepped in after the incident and ensured safer work practices were introduced. The incident happened as Unite member Terence Deen, 61, was placing information on a work noticeboard, when an unattended heavy duty wheel rolled towards him and hit his left foot and ankle. The wheel, which is used for large trailers, should have been stored in a stillage to stop it from moving, but had been left standing against a wall. The force of the huge wheel hitting Terence damaged the muscles and skin on his left leg. He ended up having to have nearly six weeks off work before he was able to start a phased return on light duties. Doctors have warned him that in addition to continuing to suffer from pain in his leg, he may get ulceration of the skin in later life. Tim Parker, Unite regional officer, said: “Our local Unite health and safety representatives quickly followed up the initial accident with the company and ensured that safer working practices were introduced immediately to stop any future reoccurrence. However, it’s still shocking that it took a serious injury to happen before the company took the very basic step of ensuring that immensely heavy, large trailer wheels were safely stored.” He added: “Our health and safety representatives will continue to monitor the area to ensure that the proper health and safety procedures are strictly adhered to in the future.”
A website selling answers to crucial tests taken as part of construction’s plant operator skills card scheme is still operating despite determined attempts to shut it down (Risks 744). Trade publication Construction Enquirer says the website is undermining the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) which covers thousands of machinery operators across the industry. It is relied on by contractors to prove that operators are qualified to drive site machinery like excavators and dumper trucks. A website started-up earlier this year based in Romania selling the answers to the theory part of the CPCS tests for less that than £10. Scheme owners the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) have been battling to shut down the rogue site. They won a hearing in April to seize control of the Romanian website’s domain name and planned to close it down. But it is now operating under a different domain name hosted in America. Braden Connolly, head of product management at CITB, said: “CITB is working hard with industry and the police to fight fraud in construction. The illegal website in question, of which we gained control following legal action, is now being operated from the United States.” He added: “We are working with the US regulator and the company that hosts the website to put a stop to its operations. This process does take time but we are determined to shut this site down.” The latest scandal comes on the heels of the revocation of 4,615 Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards earlier this year (Risks 736) after the discovery of fraudulent activity at centres where candidates were taking the tests accredited by both CITB and the British Safety Council (BSC).
Costain is to use drones to keep workers ‘out of hazardous environments’. The construction giant, which was one of eight major firms that in May agreed a massive compensation payout for their involvement in the covert blacklisting of union and safety activists (Risks 750), is working with operators of the spy-in-the-sky ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs) to develop “innovative and intelligent solutions to its customers’ challenges.” Peter Slater, the firm’s aerial solutions manager, said: “One of the main drivers of the work comes down to taking people out of hazardous environments.” He added: “In addition, improvements in speed, efficiency and payload make this a technology with high potential.” He said the firm would not be training up its own workers to operate the drones, but would be using outside contractors, partly due to the speed at which UAVs are developing. “The technologies involved can become obsolete quite quickly. On top of that, the regulatory environment governing their operation will continue to undergo some notable changes.”
A Plymouth company has been fined £500,000 after an employee suffered fatal injuries when a stack of boxes of frozen fish fell on him. Tomas Suchy, 22, an employee of Interfish Limited, was helping to clear up a fallen stack of frozen fish boxes in a -25 Celsius cold store room at a factory when another fall of stock weighing about 1 tonne struck him. He received multiple and severe injuries which proved fatal in the 18 October 2013 incident. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no safe system of work or instruction to staff on how pallets should be stored. Nor was there any written procedure for dealing with falls of stock when they occurred. Judge Ian Lawrie, sentencing at Plymouth Crown Court, described the boxes being stacked up to six metres high as “haphazard.” After seeing photographs of the scene following Mr Suchy's death, Judge Lawrie said: “It is like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” Interfish Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £24,800. HSE inspector Emma O’Hara said after the hearing: “Safe stacking of stock is a cross-industry necessity and can often be overlooked when considering safe systems of work. Duty holders need to ensure that they are stacking safely and that they have a plan for dealing with any unforeseen circumstances such as a fall of stock.” The victim, Tomas Suchy, was an architecture student who moved from Slovakia to the UK for work. His colleague was knocked down to the ground and is still suffering nerve damage and is unable to work.
An agriculture safety chief has urged farmers not to ignore simple life-saving advice to wear helmets when riding quad bikes. Rick Brunt, the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) head of agriculture, made the call after details of an horrific incident, when a teenager suffered a serious head wound, emerged in court proceedings. The farmworker, aged 17, from Shap, Cumbria, was trapped underneath an overturned quad bike for an hour with a wound that later needed 17 stitches. Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard that family partnership JF & M Bland had contracted the worker for general agricultural duties and he was instructed to use the firm’s quad bike to get to a large sloping field. He did so, without any training, and without being provided with a helmet. The vehicle overturned and it was an hour before one of the partners of the company found him. After investigating the circumstances of the incident, which happened in April 2014, HSE decided to prosecute JF & M Bland, of Dacre, Penrith, for criminal breaches of health and safety laws. The company pleaded guilty and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,693. HSE’s Rick Brunt said: “Vehicle-related accidents are a significant problem in agriculture and one of the biggest killers. Only people who are trained and capable should operate all-terrain vehicles, like quad bikes. Every year, on average, we see two deaths and numerous injuries involving ATVs.” HSE inspector Matthew Tinsley, who investigated the incident and prosecuted for HSE, said: “This is a reminder to all farmers and farm workers that it just isn’t worth taking unnecessary risk. Training is vital, as is head protection. This is simple, common sense advice that, if followed, can save lives.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled 7-1 that workers made ill by hazardous substances at work don’t need to prove their case with scientific certainty in order to collect workers’ compensation. Health union members Kristina Hammer, Patricia Schmidt and Anne MacFarlane are three of seven lab technicians out of a total of 63 who developed breast cancer after working at a Mission BC hospital over a 20 year period. Their cancers occurred at a rate eight times higher than expected. The women blamed their work environment which, especially early in their careers, meant working with solvents and reagents containing known carcinogens. Until 1994 the air intake vent of their lab was near the hospital incinerator that burned medical waste containing plastics and chemicals. The Supreme Court found HSA members Katrina Hammer and Anne MacFarlane and HEU member Patricia Schmidt were entitled to workers’ compensation payouts. Their employer, Fraser Health Authority, fought their claims for more than a decade. HSA president Val Avery said: “Beginning almost 15 years ago, these union members embarked on a campaign for compensation because they were sick. Today, they are responsible for setting an important precedent for all workers.” The union’s lead counsel, Tonie Beharrell, said: “If there is evidence that occupational factors are an element in workers’ health, a tribunal is able to consider all of the evidence before it, including circumstantial evidence, and, in this case, approve workers’ compensation coverage.” In its judgment, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled: “While the record on which that decision was based did not include confirmatory expert evidence, the Tribunal nonetheless relied upon other evidence which, viewed reasonably, was capable of supporting its finding of a causal link between the workers’ breast cancers and workplace conditions.”
A first-ever estimate of the toll of asbestos-related cancers on Canadian society pegs the cost of new cases at $1.7-billion (£1bn) per year in Canada, and notes this is probably an under-estimate. The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma from work-related asbestos exposure in Canada amounts to an average of Can$818,000 (£471,000) per case, according to a team led by health economist and senior scientist Dr Emile Tompa at the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health. The calculations include costs related to health care and lost productivity and the impact on quality of life. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in May the federal government is “moving forward on a ban” on asbestos. It was the first time since taking office in October 2015 he had publicly talked about a potential ban, although he gave no timeline and it was not an official announcement. “We are moving to ban asbestos,” he told a conference of building trades unions on 10 May. “Its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” The economic burden numbers are based on newly diagnosed cases in 2011 that were attributable to occupational exposure. The calculation is based on the number of new cases of mesothelioma, a cancer associated almost exclusively with asbestos exposure, for that year, along with estimates on the numbers of new lung cancer cases caused by workplace asbestos. These totalled 2,099 in 2011. The study noted that new cases are likely to grow in the near future due to long latency periods of these diseases and continued exposure.
At least 93 people have been killed and more than 20 injured by lightning strikes in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Most of the people who died were working on farms during torrential rains on 21 June, reports said. “Many of the victims are children and women," Anirudh Kumar, a senior official at Bihar's disaster management agency, told AFP news agency. Lal Babu Usvaha, a farmer from Kanti Butiya village near the city of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, said: “Work is work. We can’t stop because of the weather. We have to keep working in the fields. But we feel scared when we see so many clouds, so much electricity in the sky.” Usvaha said the government should help farmers working in the fields, who make up a large proportion of the thousands of Indians who die in lightning strikes every year. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "deeply anguished" by the loss of life. The government has announced that it will give 400,000 rupees (£4,000) to each of the lightning victims’ families to provide relief. Other relief funds may also be accessible to injured farmers, depending on the severity of their injuries. At least 2,000 people have died in lightning strikes in India every year since 2005, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. India receives 80 per cent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season, which runs between June and September. A report this year by meteorologist Ronald J Holle, who looked at 969 lightning deaths in agriculture in at least 10 Asian countries, found most farmers died working in rice paddy fields, which are often huge tracts of flat and flooded land. Holle wrote that what famers desperately needed was a nearby shelter. “Fully enclosed metal-topped vehicles can provide such a lightning-safe location but they may not be available nearby when needed,” he noted.
Ÿ The Guardian. BBC News Online. The Atlantic. Ronald J Holle. Lightning-caused Deaths and Injuries Related to Agriculture, conference paper, April 2016.
New York State has become the latest in the US to introduce a ‘slow down’ law to protect garbage workers. The move came after a Taylor Garbage Services employee was struck and killed by a driver last year. The change to state law will require all vehicles to slow down and use caution around sanitation vehicles. The amendment to the ‘Move Over Law’ was approved by the state legislature seven months after 27-year-old Sean Tilghman was killed. Under the new legislation, sometimes referred to as the "Slow Down Law," sanitation or garbage trucks would be classified as ‘hazard vehicles’ while engaged in collecting refuse on a public road. This would include them in the state's already-existing "Move Over Law," which requires vehicles to change lanes or slow down when encountering police or fire vehicles parked on the roadsides. The bill, which was passed unanimously, is expected to be signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and could take effect as early as 1 November. “We truly believe and hope that this will save lives,” Democratic assemblywoman Donna Lupardo said. ‘Slow down’ laws already exists in 11 states: Virginia, Indiana, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Illinois. This law has become a trend within the last decade in response to distracted driving that has led to sometimes fatal incidents for collection workers.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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