|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.
A single type of asbestos cancer has killed over 2,500 people for three consecutive years, latest official statistics show. The TUC, commenting on the release by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of mortality figures for the cancer mesothelioma, said although most people have probably never heard of mesothelioma the new figures for 2014 show that “for the third year running, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has been over 2,500 and this level is likely to continue for at least the rest of the decade.” The TUC calculates that since mesothelioma deaths figures were first published in 1968, “the number of people who are recorded as having died from mesothelioma in the past 46 years is 54,631. Given the high levels of under-diagnosis in previous decades, the true figure is much higher.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson noted: “We could have prevented most of these deaths if the government had listened to the unions and safety campaigners instead of the employers and asbestos industry when asbestos was being widely used in the 1960s and 70s. The importation and use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 so of course we are now told that mesothelioma is soon going to become a disease of the past. Well it is not. There are still millions of tonnes of it in place in at least half a million commercial properties, and every day thousands of workers are put at risk of breathing in the fatal fibre.” He said while the government’s recent moves to compensate mesothelioma victims and to provide seed corn funding for a research centre into the condition was welcome, “if it wants to really do something about this terrible disease, it has to take the more long-term view and work toward the complete eradication of asbestos. Only then will we be able to consign mesothelioma to the history books.”
Union safety reps can play a crucial role in preventing work-related fatigue, the TUC has said. The union body said as well as an increased risk of injury at work, fatigue caused by too demanding work hours and patterns can increase the risk of a range of potentially serious health conditions including digestive and mental health problems. ‘Fatigue - a guide for health and safety representatives’, a new publication from the TUC’s health and safety department, says “prolonged exertion, sleep loss or disruption of the internal clock” can cause a lack motivation and energy. It adds: “Even though fatigue and drowsiness are not the same, drowsiness, or the desire to sleep, is a common effect that people with fatigue experience. Apathy may also accompany fatigue.” These effects can be deadly in sectors like road (Risks 429), sea (Risks 615) and air (Risks 613) transport, with for example 20 per cent of road accidents thought to result from fatigue (Risks 349). “However any organisation can have an issue with fatigue and it can be a problem with any sector where there are long hours, high demands, monotonous work, shift work or where low pay forces workers to take on addition part-time work. It can lead to accidents, poor production and considerable health problems,” the guide notes. The TUC says because it is often identified as a cause of accidents, “employers will tend to blame the worker if they have an accident when suffering from fatigue. In fact most fatigue is caused by the demands placed on people by the employer and can be prevented by ensuring that workers are not fatigued or having systems in place to stop them working when fatigued.” Advising safety reps to check for problems in their workplaces, the guide notes: “Employers have a responsibility to prevent workers from getting fatigued through work and, where there is a safety critical job, they also need procedures to be in place to monitor the risk of a fatigued worker placing themselves and others at risk, even if the fatigue is a result of factors outside their work.”
Ÿ Fatigue - a guide for health and safety representatives, TUC, July 2016 [pdf].
A UNISON Scotland survey has revealed more than four out of five college support workers have experienced stress at work, with one in five becoming so sick they were unable to work. Support staff from 17 colleges participated in the survey which revealed ‘shocking’ levels of stress and bullying in Scotland’s colleges, the union said. The vast majority (85 per cent) of respondents have felt stressed in Scotland’s colleges over the last two years. One in five (20 per cent) has taken sick leave due to stress, bullying, anxiety or depression as a result. Responses to the UNISON survey revealed the main reasons for stress were cited as “too much work” (56 per cent) and “a demotivating environment” (58 per cent). Chris Greenshields, chair of UNISON Scotland’s further education committee, said: “The stress levels of college staff are reaching breaking point and the government needs to step in urgently to address these failings.” He added: “Frontline services have never been so stretched and for 85 per cent of support staff to have suffered from stress since the new regionalised college sector was created is nothing short of a national disgrace.” Committee vice-chair Shirley Sephton said: “The fact that so many support staff think the new college environments are demotivating is worthy of investigation alone and is a worrying sign for organisations concerned with the teaching and development of students.”
Nearly 50 workers at Suffolk animal feed firm A B Agriculture Ltd (AB Agri) are voting on industrial action, in a dispute over the imposition of longer hours and worse terms and conditions. Unite says the ballot of its members at the Bury St Edmunds firm has been prompted by the unilateral imposition of a ‘draconian’ workplace agreement. The ballot closes on 22 July. The union says its members face increases in working time, cuts to their annual holidays and the withdrawal of incentive payments. Drivers are being told that they must increase their working day from 12 to 15 hours and mill staff are having two days docked from their annual leave entitlement. Unite regional officer Steve Harley said: “Staff have been threatened with losing their jobs, putting their homes at risk, if they vote to take industrial action. We have raised these allegations with management and the human resources department - and yet not a single case has been investigated. Industrial action is always a last resort and is only taken when workers have been pushed against the wall by intransigent bosses.” He added: “The management has sought to erode terms and conditions that have evolved over many years. It has done so without allowing the recognised trade union, Unite, or the employees any chance to challenge this process. Unite’s door for talks is always open, as long the management intends to negotiate in good faith. And it should not be forgotten that the Bury St Edmunds operation is financially very healthy.” According to its website, AB Agri is the agricultural division of ABF, a diversified, international food, ingredients and retail group with sales of £13.3bn and over 113,000 employees in 47 countries.
The chair of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority is facing calls to quit after firefighters’ union FBU passed unanimously a vote of no confidence in his leadership. The union says the position of councillor David Acton is untenable after the authority approved plans to put firefighters on ‘family unfriendly’ 12-hour shifts, a move the union said was “universally unpopular” and would “cause mayhem for those with caring responsibilities.” The new shift pattern would see firefighters working from 10.30am to 10:30pm. The shift pattern change is part of a raft of measures unveiled in response to central government funding cuts that include more than 250 job losses, leaving the service dangerously stretched. Gary Keary, brigade secretary of the FBU in Greater Manchester, said: “We are deeply disappointed that Cllr. Acton has failed to listen to firefighters who have great concerns about the new shift system, especially when we have offered viable alternatives.” He added: “It is absolutely galling that this decision was taken when there is still a distinct possibility our members will reject the proposal. It is clear that his position is untenable and he needs to consider his future. Firefighters have lost trust in him. The union believes he must go.” Last month, FBU accused Cambridgeshire’s fire chief of peddling an ‘unlawful’ shift system that could see firefighters work 96-hour shifts (Risks 757).
A new film from the firefighters’ union FBU has warned of the threat posed to the service’s lifesaving work by government cuts. It says the public “are no longer safe” - and identifies some of the deaths it believes have been caused by the cuts. The union says planned 20 per cent cuts in this parliament will follow the 30 per cent cut already imposed by the government. The number of stations, appliances and staff are all being reduced, the union says. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We made this film because things have reached crisis point and the public are in danger as a direct result of sustained attacks on fire and rescue service funding.” He added: “People don’t think about the fire and rescue service until they need it — it’s the kind of thing, like an insurance policy that people don’t want to pay for. Then if the unthinkable happens and they suffer a fire or other trauma that relies on firefighters attending the scene, they are as glad as hell that they paid up.” The union wants the public to sign a nationwide petition against the cuts.
Official figures have revealed the number of people killed at work has increased again. Provisional workplace fatality figures released by the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) indicate that 144 people were killed while at work in 2015/2016 – up from 142 in 2014/2015, and 136 in 2013/14. “This is the second year running that the numbers have increased and is a worrying trend given the decline in inspection activity by the HSE and local authorities,” commented TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. The upturn bucked what HSE said was a “long term trend has seen the rate of fatalities more than halve over the last 20 years,” but with the actual HSE statistics report also conceding “in recent years this shows signs of levelling off.” The safety regulator called on all sectors to learn lessons to ensure workers return home safe from work. New HSE chair Martin Temple said: “One death at work or life needlessly shortened, is one too many and behind every statistic lies a real story of loss and heartbreak and families left to grieve.” Construction deaths increased in 2015/16, up to 43 from 35 in 2014/15 and have shown no overall reduction in five years. Brian Rye, acting general secretary of the site union UCATT, commenting on the “sharp rise”, said: “Each and every one of these fatalities is an individual tragedy and a family will have been left devastated by the loss of a loved one. If we are to improve safety in our industry we need to properly address the reasons why people continue to die.” Not included in HSE headline fatality figure is the 103 members of the public fatally injured in accidents connected to work in 2015/16, of which 36 (35 per cent) related to incidents occurring on railways. Nor do the HSE fatality figures include the tens of thousands who succumb each year to work-related diseases. Work-related transport deaths and occupational suicides are also absent from HSE’s figures.
Five recycling workers have died in a 7 July wall collapse at a recycling plant in Birmingham. The men, originally from Gambia, died when a 15ft wall of concrete and scrap metal fell on them as they worked at Hawkeswood Metal in the Nechells part of the city. The last two bodies buried in the rubble were recovered the following day. Det Supt Mark Payne, of West Midlands Police, said officers were in contact with all of the families and the coroner's office “to take the families through the next stage of the process.” He said after the area was made safe “we will work with the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] to see exactly what the cause of this incident was. Then we will take appropriate action once we know.” The men, Spanish citizens of Gambian heritage, have been named locally as Bangaly Dukureh, Ousman Jabbie, Alimamo Jammeh, Mohammed Jangana and Saibo Sillah. All are believed to married with children. A sixth man, who escaped with a broken leg, is also a Spanish citizen of Gambian heritage. At a meeting with the Gambian community in Smethwick, several people voiced their concerns about health and safety at the site, highlighting a serious accident at the site in 2010 when a worker trapped his arm in machinery. Hawkeswood Metal Recycling Ltd, which employs about 50 people, was fined £50,000 for the incident. In an HSE prosecution in 2012, it pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. Brian Rye of the construction union UCATT said “this tragedy underlines that in dangerous industries it is imperative that the Health and Safety Executive plays an active and high profile role in ensuring safety is maintained. The ongoing cuts to the HSE have meant that in general the number of inspections and inspectors has been declining.”
An upturn in workplace fatalities and a third workplace multiple fatality in 12 months suggest the government is prioritising business profits over human lives, the Hazards Campaign has charged. The broad-based workers’ safety campaign was commenting after latest official figures published the day before five workers died in a Birmingham recycling yard showed the number of workplace fatalities had increase by 6 per cent since 2013/14. The Birmingham deaths came within a year of the death of four workers in a 17 July 2015 wood flour mill explosion in Cheshire (Risks 717) and the 23 February 2016 deaths of four demolition workers in the collapse of part of Didcot Power Station (Risks 741). Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said the group “completely opposes” any deregulation of safety and employment rights, a key objective of prominent Brexit campaigners. “We know, and the families of those killed at work know, that red tape is far better than bloody bandages. No-one died from too much regulation and enforcement but from quite the opposite,” she said. “We demand that the government put an end to the constant denigration of health and safety regulations and enforcement, and reverse the attacks on budgets and policies at the HSE and local authorities, so that workers can be protected properly at work. The HSE’s latest strategy is little more than a business advice brochure and their hashtag, #helpgbworkwell, no more than wishful thinking.” Palmer said: “We also urge ministers to meet with us, with Families Against Corporate Killers, and the families of those killed at work in Birmingham, at Didcot and Bosley, and all across the country in much less noticed single worker incidents, to explain why their lives have less priority than the freedom of employers to make profits.”
A grieving family have hit out at a businessman after his firm was fined £45,000 over the death of a worker, saying: ‘It’s just change to him’. Basic safety measures were not in place when a mooring rope used to pull a crane snapped and killed Paul Hudghton, a court heard. The 50-year-old self-employed scrap worker died at Tipner scrapyard in Portsmouth when Diverse Ventures Ltd launched an ‘ad hoc’ plan to right a crane on a barge that had slewed out to sea. He suffered significant head injuries as a result of the rope breaking under tension and striking him. He was not part of the work activity, but was standing in the danger area of the operation. Night watchman Frederick Butcher was also struck by the rope. He suffered minor injuries and has recovered. The firm, run by well-known local businessman Henry Pounds, was fined £45,000 over Mr Hudghton’s death on 21 November 2012. Sentencing the firm at Hove Crown Court, judge Christine Laing QC said there were no basic safety measures, adding: “The focus was on the recovery of the boom, effectively at all costs.” Paul Hudghton’s daughter Laura, 26, told local paper the Portsmouth News: “In my view he’s got away with it – that’s change to him. I wanted to know he was suffering even a part of what we suffered.” An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident found that there was no management of safety during the activity, or any suitable and sufficient risk assessment. Diverse Ventures Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. In addition to the £45,000 fine, it was ordered to pay costs of £9,000.
New sentencing guidelines introduced in February have seen a spate of large fines take the total penalties handed to construction firms hit £8m in six months. The February guidance from the Sentencing Council instructed courts to consider the size of a company when it comes to imposing fines for criminal safety offences (Risks 727). Trade publication Construction Enquirer reports that penalties have soared since then, including a £2.6m fine for Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions after a worker was killed in a trench collapse. Insurance and risk specialist BLM has been tracking fines since the changes. BLM found that out of 101 health and safety fines issued since February, 38 per cent affected those in the construction sector. The three highest fines alone totalled £5.6m while directors of two construction companies were also given custodial sentences. BLM’s Helen Devery said: “These new guidelines have introduced fines that are proportional to the size of the company, meaning that both small and large businesses will feel the same impact. It is expected that fines will remain high for larger firms that are charged with serious offences so businesses need to work harder than ever to avoid incidents and the subsequent negative impact on their people, productivity and profits.”
A construction company has been fined after a worker suffered crush injuries when he was hit and then run over by an excavator. Complete Demolition Ltd had been contracted to demolish a school on the site in Ellesmere Port to make way for a new leisure centre. The firm was prosecuted by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found arrangements for ensuring pedestrians and vehicles were separated were inadequate. HSE also found there was insufficient control of workers on the site. The incident occurred on 27 November 2013 while the site was being cleared. The driver of a Complete Demolition Ltd skip wagon was attempting to reverse the skip into an area that was already occupied by a 40 tonne excavator but that was manoeuvring out of the way. A worker was standing in the same area as the skip wagon and excavator and as the excavator moved it hit the worker, knocking him to the ground where its tracks ran over his left foot. Liverpool Crown Court heard the 45-year-old father of four has been severely affected by his injuries. He has undergone several operations to rebuild his foot. He is still in constant pain and is unable to work. Complete Demolition Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety charges and was fined £40,000 with £7,246.95 costs. HSE inspector Deborah Walker said: “This was an entirely foreseeable incident which could have been avoided. The company failed to properly plan for the duration of the works putting pedestrians at risk.”
One of the world’s biggest motor manufacturers has been fined after asbestos boarding panels contaminated a work site. General Motors UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after work being undertaken at its Ellesmere Port site in 2014, exposed contractors to asbestos. An investigation by the HSE found that during work to replace high pressure hot water boilers with gas burners in the company’s paint unit, suspected asbestos insulating boards (AIB) were discovered beneath external cladding on the stores building. On the day the suspected boards were discovered the asbestos register was not fully available to the contractor to allow it to check whether the boards contained asbestos. No direct instruction was given by General Motors to the contractor to stop the work to prevent any AIB being disturbed. The work, including the removal and cutting of holes in AIB board, continued without suitable precautions. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard no assessment of the risk was undertaken by General Motors to determine if the work was notifiable or licensed asbestos work. On completion of the work, licensed contractors were employed to conduct a clean-up and decontamination programme of the roof and in the stores. General Motors UK Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £11,779 in prosecution costs. HSE inspector Jane Carroll said: “Asbestos kills around 5,000 workers each year; this is more than the number killed on UK roads.” She added: “Whenever asbestos containing materials are found to be present, companies have a legal duty to document and implement an Asbestos Management Plan which includes measures to adequately control the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.”
Two prosecutions in two days demonstrate how workers continue to be injured in entirely predictable and preventable incidents involving workplace machinery. On 5 July, Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard how on 1 October 2015 an employee of Special Machined Products Limited (SMPL) became entangled with a rotating metal bar being used to prevent materials being ejected from the lathe he was operating. The employee’s jumper became entangled with the rotating ‘stop’ bar as he lent over the lathe to reach spare cutting tips. He suffered severe trauma to the lower left arm. Special Machined Products Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £55,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,107. On 6 July, Newport Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of Chepstow-based Reid Lifting Limited was using an unguarded milling machine to manufacture an aluminium component. As he tried to brush some debris away, the index finger of his gloved left hand snagged in the rotating tool and it pulled his hand into the tool. He suffered a deep cut to his index finger and severing of his flexor tendon. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 26 November 2014 incident found there were no guards fitted to two of the company’s milling machines. Reid Lifting Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,566.
Over three years after over 100 workers died in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Bangladesh, compensation payments to the victims have finally been completed. The Tazreen Claims Administration Trust says a total of US$2.17 million has now been paid to the families of 112 dead and missing workers, and to 174 people injured in the fire on 24 November 2012. In one of the worst disasters to hit the garment industry in modern times, workers burnt alive behind locked exits, while others leapt to their death from factory windows. Many suffered life-changing injuries in the fire at the 1,600 worker factory. The Tazreen Claims Administration Trust grew out of an agreement signed by fashion retailer C&A, the C&A Foundation, global union IndustriALL and the Clean Clothes Campaign in November 2014. IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said: “Finally we have some form of justice for the victims of this dreadful tragedy,” adding that global unions continue to press “for a safe and sustainable garment industry in Bangladesh and elsewhere, to make sure that disasters like Tazreen never happen again.” Samantha Maher of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) commented: “The achievement of fair and transparent payments to the Tazreen workers is something to celebrate.” She added: “The campaigning undertaken by CCC, ILRF [International Labor Rights Forum] and other allies was vital in getting this outcome and proves that we can make progress when we stand together with workers fighting for justice.” The compensation process was based on the mechanism used to compensate thousands of victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.
The deaths of 15 mineworkers at Bamangwato Concessions Ltd (BCL) mine in Botswana in separate incidents over a five year period has prompted renewed union calls for urgent action. But they say despite numerous appeals to government to improve safety at the state-owned mine, conditions are in fact deteriorating. The BCL mine employs around 5,000 workers, of which over 3,200 are union members represented by the Botswana Mine and Allied Workers Union (BMWU). Frustrated at the government’s inaction, the BMWU staged a demonstration on 6 July 2016, in Botswana’s capital Gaborone. Union leader Jack Tlhagale handed over a petition to the country’s vice-president Mokgweetsi Masisi. “The mine has been a problem for a long time - security and productivity have declined. Despite the mineworkers’ appeals to the company management and the government there has been no improvement,” said Tlhagale. The BMWU’s petition calls on the government to enforce the law, introduce the International Labour Organisation’s mine safety convention, and to support the mineworkers’ jobs. Jyrki Raina, head of the global mine unions’ federation IndustriALL, commented: “If the government continues to postpone action on the deteriorating safety conditions at the mine, it will certainly result in more deaths.” IndustriALL has called on the Botswana government to involve BMWU in measures to ensure that adequate health and safety standards be put in place immediately to avoid any further preventable accidents at the BCL mine.
Working night shifts leads to sleep and metabolic disorders, and some serious diseases, according to a study by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES). The review of 24 recent epidemiological studies found there is a proven link between night shift work and sleep disorders, particularly drowsiness. It also established a connection between night shifts and ‘metabolic syndrome’, a grouping of conditions including obesity and increased blood pressure. The researchers also believe that night work is likely to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, coronary diseases and, due to the disruption of biological cycles, even breast cancer. In 2007, shift work was recognised as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The 2015 European survey on working conditions by Dublin-based thinktank Eurofound found that 19 per cent of European workers are engaged in night work. It revealed that night shift workers are generally subject to a higher number of physical risks, greater time pressures - work schedules, time constraints, tight deadlines - and increased tensions with colleagues or the public.
Six workers have been killed and least 20 others severely injured in a major incident at the Tarbela Extension Project, a dam development in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The largely World Bank-backed project is controlled by the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), with the Chinese multinational construction company Sino Hydro Group as the main contractor. Three Chinese engineers were among the dead. The incident occurred on 3 July when the scaffolding at one of Tarbela’s under-construction power houses came crashing down. Rescue agencies had to cut through the debris of concrete and steel to recover the dead bodies and assist the injured. Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the global construction union BWI, said the union had previously raised concerns about safety standards with project co-funder the World Bank. He said: “This unfortunate tragedy could have been averted had Sino Hydro adhered to health and safety norms which is something that BWI along with our affiliate in Pakistan has been consistently advocating for since the beginning of the construction of the project. These concerns were reaffirmed in our May 2016 meeting with the World Bank in Washington, USA.” Yuson continued: “We have been requesting the World Bank to conduct joint inspections to assess the health and safety system so that workers have a greater say in the systems that are supposedly designed to protect them. The World Bank must encourage WAPDA and Sino Hydro to work closely with the trade unions, to ensure Sino Hydro implements and actually enforces health and safety norms at all times at the Tarbela Dam and to earnestly implement a collective bargaining agreement that guarantees workers’ rights and safety.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/Enter text here]
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