|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.
Staff at BBC World News are taking industrial action over ‘reckless and self-defeating’ rota changes that require them to work significantly more hours. NUJ members voted by 96.5 per cent, on a strong turnout, for the action, which kicked off on 7 July with a 24-hour walkout. The union notes that many workers at the 24-hour news station work anti-social, irregular and night shifts. But it adds there is a long-standing agreement which allows flexible hours, “in an acknowledgment of the health risks of anti-social shifts and working late.” But the union says the BBC now wants to cut costs by imposing new rosters. The NUJ adds the BBC move ignores an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into conditions at BBC World News which reported staff working ‘excessive hours’ and no evidence of a plan to deal with work-related stress. The new rosters require NUJ members to work extra days or longer hours, including extra ‘float’ shifts, imposed as additional days on top of a regular four-week rota pattern. David Campanale, NUJ’s spokesperson at BBC World News, said: “When asked at a staff consultation whether management was concerned that longer hours and more days would worsen sickness rates, harm already rock-bottom morale or undermine staff productivity, the head of the channel replied that this was a risk she was ‘prepared to take’.” He added: “Such an approach to staff health and well-being is both reckless and self-defeating. It is the wrong response to the HSE investigation. Night-work or shifts that start or end in the early hours of the morning are known risk factors in heart disease, cancer, gastro-intestinal problems and can cause relationship breakdowns. No savings will come from this plan, just grief and animosity.” The union says it is willing to continue talks with management to try to resolve the dispute if the threat of imposition of the new rota system is withdrawn.
The number of dog attacks on postal workers in the UK is at an “unacceptable” level, post workers’ union CWU said. The union was speaking out as new Royal Mail survey, launched at the start of the CWU-backed Dog Awareness Week, revealed there were more than 2,600 attacks on postal workers across the country in the last year. CWU said more than a third of attacks happen at the front door and warned “irresponsible” owners risk fines or a jail term. The number of dog attacks rise by 10 per cent during the school holidays, when dogs are more likely to be in gardens unsupervised, the Royal Mail said. Its research confirms that in the last year, 36 per cent of attacks on staff happened at the front door, while 35 per cent took place in the front garden. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said: “The vast majority of our customers and their dogs aren't a problem but irresponsible and reckless dog owners are. The new dog control laws now identify and penalise chronically irresponsible dog owners.” He added: “One owner was recently fined £8,800 after his dog injured a postwoman as she put letters through the door.” CWU said there are indications that the dangerous dogs campaign in which the union has played a leading role is now having a positive effect, with the latest statistics indicating a 10 per cent reduction in incidents. Dave Joyce said: “This figure is still unacceptably high. Through initiatives such as Dog Awareness Week, we want to keep on driving those figures down.” TV presenter Paul O'Grady, who is backing the campaign to reduce the number of dog attacks, said: “No one should feel unsafe in the workplace and it's important we as dog owners, take the necessary steps to give postmen this same respect.”
Passengers will face greater safety risks on trains if plans go ahead to remove guards, a rail safety watchdog has warned. But the Railway Safety Standards Board (RSSB), which is financed by train companies, has been criticised by rail union RMT after concluding driver-only operation of trains should go ahead anyway. Plans to strip guards of their skilled roles in train operation — leaving them in purely customer service roles — have led to strikes on Govia Thameslink Rail’s Southern division and Abellio’s ScotRail franchise in Scotland. At the RMT’s annual conference, reps hit back at an RSSB report that says driver-only operation should be expanded, despite finding the practice could “increase the likelihood of an event occurring or increase the severity of its consequence.” The RSSB report argues for cost savings by “employing fewer staff,” “replacing guards with cheaper non-safety critical on-train staff” and cutting safety-critical training for conductors. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is extraordinary that the rail industry’s own risk assessment body, funded by the train companies, can find on the one hand that driver-only operation is downright dangerous and on the other recommend ploughing on regardless in the name of profit.” He added: “They are destroying their own credibility and making a mockery of their claim to be independent.” The other rail regulator, the Office of Road and Rail, is also funded by train companies and has also angered unions by supporting the expansion of driver-only operation on trains. RMT leader Mick Cash said: “It's important that we destroy this myth that the ORR is an independent body. They are an arm of the Tory Westminster government funded by the train companies and rail operators.”
A Unite member who suffered multiple fractures to his foot after being hit and then run over by a forklift truck at work has received £35,000 in damages. Paul Winter, who works for a magazine printing company whose name has not been disclosed, was collecting new reels to insert into large printers when the incident occurred. He was pulling a pallet truck loaded with reels when a forklift truck reversed from behind a wall, knocked him to the ground and ran over his right foot. The 59-year-old suffered a blow to his head and multiple fractures to his foot. He needed surgery to fuse the bones in his foot and suffered a concussion and a temporary loss of memory. He had to take six months off work while he was on crutches and his foot healed. He subsequently returned to the same job but continues to suffer pain and has been warned by doctors that the injury might lead to him developing arthritis. The compensation settlement came in a Unite-backed claim. Paul said: “A few of my colleagues had complained that they had nearly been hit by a truck in the past, but nothing was done to make the factory safer for us.” Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “Any workplace with staff working near moving vehicles should ensure that there are clear boundaries that are enforced, had there been at this workplace Paul’s accident wouldn’t have happened. Even though there were previous reports of near-miss accidents the employer did nothing about it. Unacceptably, it took a nasty injury before they did.”
Calls for the government to remove asbestos from all schools and colleges have been stepped up following the death of a teacher. Sue Stephens, who was a primary school teacher in Buckinghamshire for almost 30 years, died last month of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) said the government must prioritise the removal of asbestos from all schools and colleges. Kevin Courtney, acting general secretary of the teaching union NUT, said: “Yet another teacher’s life has been tragically cut short by this dreadful, and entirely preventable, disease. Nothing can be done to put right past asbestos exposure, but we must do more to protect future generations of schoolchildren and staff. The government must now set out a long-term strategy for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools.” Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “It’s scandalous that every year teachers and support staff are dying from asbestos related illnesses because they have been exposed to asbestos in school. The government must listen and start a phased removal of all asbestos in schools so that no more children or teachers are exposed to asbestos and risk dying from this entirely preventable disease.”
Campaigners marked Action Mesothelioma Day on 1 July with high profile events nationwide. The event, which focuses attention on the toll claimed by asbestos, Britain’s biggest industrial killer, is now in its tenth year. Campaigners have been critical of the lack of resources targeted at the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, which usually kills within two years and which claims over 2,500 lives each year. A similar number are thought to die from asbestos-related lung cancers. In March 2016, the government announced a grant of £5 million as seed money to set up a National Mesothelioma Centre of Excellence. Graham Dring of Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group said: “The announcement of £5 million for a National Mesothelioma Centre of Excellence is good news. Mesothelioma has been the poor relation when it comes to research funding for far too long. This initiative offers the chance to co-ordinate research work and offer hope to all those living with the disease now, and those inevitably to come.” He added: “The government described this as ‘seed money’ and it is crucial that this jump starts government action to ensure not only more money for mesothelioma research, but sustained funding for the future so that real progress can be made in the search for a cure.”
Scottish artists are demanding that Glasgow School of Art end its contract with a major building firm that was involved in the construction industry blacklisting scandal. The call came after Kier Construction was appointed as the main contractor for the restoration of the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). In May Kier was one of eight leading construction firms that apologised in the High Court to hundreds of workers which were blacklisted via the covert vetting firm The Consulting Association, which was closed in 2009. Facing hundreds of union-backed compensation claims from workers victimised for their safety and union activities on sites, the firms settled out of court for an estimated £50m. Following the announcement that Kier was to head the art school restoration, the Scottish Artists Union, representing more than 1,400 professional artists living and working in Scotland, wrote to the art school urging it to “review its decision, and to reconsider this contract.” It says that the organisation is “deeply concerned and disheartened by the decision”, adding: “The Scottish Artists Union expresses our continued support to workers and their families affected by blacklisting. We oppose this decision to award Kier Construction this contract and also question the procurement methods that led to this decision.”
Ÿ The Herald.
The government has excluded unions from its discussions on Britain’s post-EU future. Business secretary Sajid Javid said the 28 June roundtable he convened aimed “to ensure that the negotiation of our future relationship with the EU is carried out in the interest of UK companies, investors, potential investors and workers.” He invited employers’ group CBI and other business lobbyists to the economic summit but snubbed the TUC and unions. The TUC immediately wrote to the minister pressing the case for its inclusion, arguing that talks about Britain’s future must include the broadest range of expertise and opinion. Mr Javid’s office replied that the TUC’s attendance was “unwarranted.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was “disappointing” that government ministers were refusing to work with the TUC to limit the impact of any economic downturn. “Unions must be present to feed in the concerns of working people and to contribute to the development of a practical plan to protect British jobs and industry. Excluding the TUC and our member unions from this meeting is not acting in the national interest.” On 30 June, the business secretary announced he would chair a new business engagement inter-ministerial group bringing together ministers from across government, to feed into the Cabinet Office’s new EU Referendum Unit. But while membership includes the energy secretary, environment secretary, culture secretary, defence secretary, foreign secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury and the trade and investment minister, no-one from the Department of Work and Pensions – the lead ministry covering many workplace issues and the department responsible for workplace safety regulations and enforcement – is apparent on the invitation list. Prior to the referendum, the TUC warned that workplace safety (Risks 748), employment rights (Risks 749) and working hours protections (Risks 751) could all be at risk if the UK left the European Union.
The UK workforce is too insecure, has many second class employment rights and is not protected by adequate labour and safety enforcement systems, a new report has concluded. ‘Manifesto for Labour Law’ published by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) in response to Labour’s Workplace 2020 consultation, is authored by 15 leading labour lawyers and academics. The manifesto, which includes health and safety proposals, notes that the UK has a ‘high proportion’ of insecure workers and trails many other major nations on sick pay and other employment rights. It notes the UK has “no labour inspectorate and a negligible complement of health and safety inspectors.” The report is critical of the Trade Union Act, noting collective bargaining without the right to strike amounts to no more than ‘collective begging’. Report co-author Professor Keith Ewing said that government policy had focused on “destroying collective bargaining, making it easier to hire and fire workers, provide them with insecure positions such as zero-hours contracts and pay them low wages” for the last 35 years. Aside from making things worse for working people, this reduced productivity and made Britain more vulnerable to financial collapse, he said. Fellow author John Hendy QC said: “Promoting greater wealth and opportunity among those on lower incomes stimulates a virtuous circle of growth.” The report includes 25 major policy recommendations, including the repeal of the Trade Union Act and “fundamental and enforceable rights for workers.” Recommendations include criminal penalties for firms that blacklist workers. Labour's Workplace 2020 initiative, launched in May by Jeremy Corbyn, aims to boost the rights of employees and to encourage trade union membership.
Ÿ Online preview of Manifesto for Labour Law, Institute of Employment Rights, 2016. Morning Star.
A Sheffield man was left permanently scarred by a rare illness described by experts as ‘TB for fish’. The fish technician, who wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with ‘fish tank granuloma’ around a year into his work cleaning tanks and looking after fish for Dronfield-based JMC Aquatics. As well as suffering lesions and scarring caused by bacteria in the water, the worker developed side-effects linked with the medication he was required to take for eight months, including an upset stomach and an episode of shingles. Law firm Irwin Mitchell secured the aquarium worker both a five-figure settlement and an admission of liability from JMC Aquatics. Alison Gregory, the legal expert at Irwin Mitchell who represented the man, said: “This is a very worrying case in which a worker has contracted a serious illness as a result of problems which should have been avoided through something as simple as the provision of proper protective equipment and training.” She added: “While we are delighted to have helped him gain justice regarding the issues he has faced which will hopefully help him move forward with his life, we would also urge those involved in the marine and aquatics industries to ensure that health and safety of workers remains their key priority.” The man began work as a fish technician for JMC Aquatics in October 2012, with the role involving regularly handling fish imported from across the world. A year into the job, he noticed a lesion on his hand which then spread up his arm. The Department of Infectious Diseases at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital diagnosed him with fish tank granuloma, described as ‘effectively a type of TB for fish’.
A medic who fainted in a stifling NHS laboratory and suffered a debilitating foot injury has won an undisclosed compensation payout in the courts. Helen Stidwill suffers chronic pain after collapsing in the lab at King’s College Hospital, London, in March 2009. Despite “extensive treatment,” the 38-year-old mum-of-two now relies on crutches, Central London County Court heard. She is afflicted by “ongoing pain, functional limitations and associated fatigue”, her lawyers said. She came to grief when she “fainted and fell” due to excessive heat in the lab, the court was told. Henry Charles, for Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said Mrs Stidwill’s faint at work had been caused by “excessively high temperatures”. But the only “immediately identifiable injury” was a “stubbed toe”, claimed the barrister, who described it as a “trivial or innocuous contact injury”. However, the court heard Mrs Stidwill’s injury has since blighted her life, making daily chores and child-raising extremely difficult. On the second day of the trial, the trust agreed to pay undisclosed damages. The TUC has spearheaded a campaign for a maximum workplace temperature – at the moment there is no legal limit (Risks 614).
Two companies based in Northamptonshire have been fined after a worker died following a fall through a roof. Northampton Crown Court heard A-Lift Crane Hire Limited had been hired by Premier Roofing Systems Limited to provide them with a crane to lift roofing sheets onto a factory roof at Virani Foods Limited in Wellingborough. Whilst the sheets were being lifted onto the roof, A-Lift Crane Hire Limited employee Peter Smith fell eight metres through an unprotected skylight. The 58-year-old died as a result of his injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 9 August 2013 incident found that preventive measures to allow operatives to work safely on the roof were not put in place. Prosecuting, Adam Farrer said: “The death was completely avoidable and occurred due to a series of safety errors by the defendants.” Premier Roofing Systems Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £140,250 and ordered to pay costs of £41,428. A-Lift Crane Hire Limited also pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £83,300 with £21,500 costs. Judge Rupert Mayo, sentencing, said: “It is immediately apparent there was a muddle as to ensuring he appropriate equipment, training and instructions were provided to Mr Smith.”
A coach company in Wrexham has been fined £90,000 after it failed repeatedly to comply with legal notices to get its lifting equipment examined. Wrexham Magistrates’ Court heard that, between 4 April 2014 and 28 August 2015, GHA Coaches Limited failed to have its lifting equipment thoroughly examined within the required timescales to ensure that health and safety conditions were maintained and that any deterioration could be detected and remedied. In 2015, an inspection discovered Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) examinations were overdue on at least 14 items. An improvement notice was served, and extended twice, and still resulted in a failure to comply. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that an improvement notice had also been served in 2011. GHA Coaches Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) and failing to comply with an improvement notice and was fined £90,000 plus costs of £3,068.
Work Cancer Hazards, an occupational cancer website run by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and Hazards magazine provides news on latest campaigning, research, scandals and compensation developments on what is the biggest workplace killer. The upgraded resource at www.cancerhazards.org now has a facility to sign-up for email updates.
Ÿ Sign-up for Work Cancer Hazards updates.
Chemical exposures are causing a public health catastrophe claiming over a million lives worldwide each year, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report has concluded. ‘The public health impact of chemicals: knowns and unknowns’, produced by the UN body’s International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), estimates that 1.3 million lives and 43 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost in 2012 due to exposures to selected chemicals. However, it says data are only available for a small number of chemical exposures and people are exposed to many more chemicals every day. The report notes that chemical production is increasing “and, with it, the potential for chemical exposure.” It adds: “Chemicals such as heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, paints, detergents, kerosene, carbon monoxide and drugs lead to unintentional poisonings at home and in the workplace. Unintentional poisonings are estimated to cause 193,000 deaths annually with the major part being from preventable chemical exposures.”
The Nepalese contractors who guarded the Canadian Embassy had become respected fixtures in Kabul, part of a larger community of South Asian security guards who stood sentry at foreign missions all around the Afghan capital. Driven to work in Afghanistan by collapsed economic prospects back home, the contractors were able to send desperately needed money back to their families. But nothing in Afghanistan is without risk. On 20 June, a suicide bomber killed 15 men, 13 Nepalese and two Indian contractors who helped secure the embassy, striking the guards’ commuter bus just after it had picked them up at their residence compound. It was one of the deadliest attacks on foreign workers in the capital. The New York Times reports that it is another example of how the South Asian contractors who have become mainstays in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are vulnerable in ways that many of their Western counterparts are not. Many of the Nepalese guards had worked for months just to recover the thousands of dollars in broker fees they had paid to secure jobs in Afghanistan. It is believed that the practice of transporting migrant security workers in minibuses, rather than armoured vehicles, is not restricted to the Canadian Embassy. Reports say, for example, the British Embassy in Kabul also uses minibuses. Laxman Basnet, the Nepal-based general secretary of the South Asian Regional Trade Union Council, said the attack might deter people for a few weeks, and give others second thoughts, but “there are no job opportunities in Nepal.” People have become inured to deaths from violence or after years of toiling abroad, he said.
Four non-union site workers walked off of a multimillion-dollar residential project being constructed in Long Island City after claiming their employers were exploiting them with low pay and unsafe working conditions. The 1,789-unit three-tower residential complex is being developed by Tishman Speyer. Alex Xande, Yuriy Olefirenko, Ivica Juric-Marijanivoc and Marjan Pejkovic all walked off the site last month and joined the union Steamfitters Local 638. The union captured the four men walking out in a video.
In May, the city partially halted construction because objects fell off the roof of the construction site. Pejkovic, a Croatian welder, said Turner Construction, the company that runs the site, was not running it safely. According to city records, Turner Construction racked up several violations including “failure to safeguard all persons and property affected by construction operations” on 16 May. Two days later, the company violated the approved site safety plan when it failed to create an emergency exit. On 4 May, inspectors noted that Turner Construction failed to provide guard rails to protect workers who were erecting the 12th floor of one of the towers. James Sheeran, an organiser for Steamfitters Local 638, approached Pejkovic and the other men about joining the union. After signing up, Pejkovic and his colleagues started working on a project for the School Construction Authority just three days later. “We had a beautiful experience [with] 638 union and the way they welcomed us and how we had a job right away, I wish that for everybody,” Pejkovic said. Sheeran said in addition to providing benefits and delivering higher pay rates, members are trained by the union in safe working practices.
Ÿ QNS News.
Routine discounting of health and safety fines by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is leaving workers in sometimes deadly peril, a new expert report has concluded. The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) says that the agency needs to reassess its policies to better deter violators and prevent worker deaths and injuries. ‘OSHA's discount on danger’ includes a new data analysis that exposes a systematic discounting of fines by the agency. “Federal law required an act of Congress to increase the amount OSHA is allowed to fine companies that put their workers in danger,” said Thomas McGarity, a contributing author of the report. “But the agency doesn't need congressional legislation to fix the way it settles citations with scofflaw employers or to maximise the deterrent effect of the fines it gives to companies that break the law.” When OSHA issues penalties, companies can contest them, during which time they aren't legally required to correct the violations that put workers in danger. The report warns that far too often, the agency agrees to substantially reduced fines in exchange for a promise to fix the hazard “promptly.” The report notes that during the Obama administration, OSHA’s pursuit of the quick fix resulted in median penalties of only $5,800, less than the cost of an average funeral. “When violators in one of America's most dangerous industries are awarded significant discounts on danger, it's clearly time for a change,” said Katherine Tracy, co-author of the report. “Companies are supposed to be following the law and keeping their workers safe. They shouldn't be rewarded with lower fines simply because they threaten to contest a citation or because they make empty promises.”
Ÿ CPR news release and full report, OSHA's discount on danger: OSHA should revise its informal settlement policies to maximize the deterrent value of citations, CPR, 30 June 2016. The Hill.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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