Issue date
22 Jul 2016
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 760 - 23 July 2016
 
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]
 

UNION NEWS

Don’t leave sweltering workers hot under the collar

Safety reps can help inform HSE’s science strategy

MoD scraps ‘despised’ performance management system

Union acts on firefighter mental health concerns

Musicians to find out the score on health risks

Unite is closing the net on blacklisters

ScotRail to face more union safety action

Official report supports union warnings on rail dangers

Swarf ripped open man’s thumb

OTHER NEWS

New ministerial team for workplace safety

Search for bodies resumes after Didcot demolition

Worker crushed to death by a tonne of floor tiles

Engineering worker suffers life changing injuries

EVENTS

Hazards 2016 conference programme

RESOURCES

Journal tackles safety of ‘informal workers’

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: Toronto Star suicide prompts investigation

Bangladesh: Multiple murder charges for Rana Plaza

Italy: Olivetti bosses get jail for asbestos manslaughter

Global: Asbestos industry’s fight to the death

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2016

UNION NEWS

Don’t leave sweltering workers hot under the collar

The TUC is calling on employers to temporarily relax workplace dress codes so staff can work through the heatwave as comfortably as possible. The union body says where people are working outdoors, employers should consider reviewing working times so that, where possible, it is being done in the morning and afternoon, rather than around midday when temperatures are highest. It adds that as temperatures spike employers can help their staff by allowing them to leave their more formal work attire at home. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous. Employers should relax dress code rules temporarily and ensure staff doing outside work are protected.” She added: “While shorts and vest tops may not be appropriate attire for all, nobody should be made to wilt in the heat for the sake of keeping up appearances.” Regular breaks and flexible working can help, along with provision of sun screen, cool drinks and covered rest areas for outdoor workers. The TUC has for a number of years been pushing for a change in safety regulations to introduce a new maximum indoor temperature. It wants this set at 30 degrees Celsius – or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous jobs – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24 degrees.

TUC news release and temperature at work guide. Usdaw news release.

Get your MP to sign the Early Day Motion calling for a maximum workplace temperature.

Safety reps can help inform HSE’s science strategy

The Health and Safety Executive is reviewing its workplace health science strategy and is seeking input from union safety reps. The safety regulator says the review aims to improve how it anticipates new challenges through ‘foresight research’ and identifies risks and measures to address them. It says the findings will be used to support its enforcement and regulatory activities. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “The HSE are keen to check that their priorities for research chime with the view of those involved in protecting workers’ health on a day to day basis. To this end, they want to involve workplace health and safety representatives and hope to conduct two focus groups with worker representatives across a range of sectors. The groups should take place in both the North and South at locations to be confirmed.” The review is to a tight schedule, so any reps interested in participating should get in touch with HSE immediately. There will be options to participate in one of the August focus groups or if this isn’t possible, by telephone interview. HSE will cover costs.

Union safety reps interested in participating, should contact Beverley Bishop at HSE before the end of July.

MoD scraps ‘despised’ performance management system

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to end the use of a performance management system that civil service union PCS says is ‘despised’ by staff. New permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove has made an agreement with the Cabinet Office to end performance management reviews in the department, including forced rankings where employees are individually ranked best to worst. Under the system, which PCS described as ‘divisive and unfair’, the bottom 10 per cent are labelled poor performing and subject to 'management of poor performance action', which may lead to dismissal on grounds of inefficiency. The only constraints from the Cabinet Office are that any new system manages poor performance and that the department can have some way of rewarding good performance. PCS welcomed the move, which will come into effect next year, and said it ‘is engaged in ongoing discussions with the department about what the new process will look like and the fundamental principles that should underpin any alternative approach.’ The union is concerned that similar performance management systems are still in operation in other parts of the civil service. In a recent survey of 27,000 PCS members, more than 60 per cent described their overall experience of performance management as ‘mainly negative’. PCS defence sector group president Chris Dando said: “We are pleased that the permanent secretary has listened to our union about this divisive and unpopular system and is now entering into an open and collaborative process to develop a fair system. Our union will be participating fully in this process and we would welcome views from members on potential options.” The chair of the PCS parliamentary group, Chris Stephens MP, has tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons calling for a fair performance management system across the civil service. PCS is urging members and supporters to urge their MPs to sign up and back the union campaign.

PCS news release. Tell your MP to back the PCS campaign for a fair management system.

Union acts on firefighter mental health concerns

Firefighters’ union FBU is taking action to protect the mental health of its members after a report warned that shockingly high numbers had contemplated suicide. Mental health charity Mind reported this year that 30 per cent of firefighters have contemplated taking their own lives. In response, a new FBU guide for union reps sets out to help them understand and support those suffering from mental health problems. The guide explains the range of mental health challenges that can affect firefighters, what the workforce can expect from their employers and how FBU officials can represent and support those affected. Sean Starbuck, the FBU national officer responsible for the guide, said that the government’s austerity programme has made the situation worse. “In recent years firefighters have faced lower pay, longer hours, job insecurity, changes to shift systems, attacks on pensions and a whole host of other arbitrary changes to working practices,” he said. “There is still a stigma attached to poor mental health. Many members would rather say they are off ill with something else – anything but admit to mental health problems. We are not going to be able to help anybody when they fear punishment for suffering from a legitimate medical problem. This guide will help our reps tackle that stigma and support our members who are going through a terrible period in their lives. The FBU take the issue of mental health very seriously and this is only an initial document. We have other work planned.”

FBU news release and guide, Mental health in the workplace – an initial guide for reps.

Musicians to find out the score on health risks

The Musicians’ Union is backing an initiative to provide performers with advice on work-related health problems. A series of health and wellbeing events throughout August are scheduled for Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, and London, with more to be confirmed. The union says a programme of ‘Musicians’ Insights’ will raise awareness of key health issues for musicians and workshops will give self-help tips and expert guidance. The events are being organised by the union in conjunction with Help Musicians UK and the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM). According to the union: “From vocal health, to ways to beat stress and deal with perfectionism, right through to drumming without pain, the workshops will be available to all musicians or artists at any stage of their career and aimed towards building sustainable and healthy careers.” Diane Widdison, national organiser at the Musicians' Union said: “We understand the importance of health and wellbeing for our members and musicians in general and therefore we are delighted to be partnering with BAPAM and Help Musicians UK for this 4th annual event which has expanded to the whole month of August. We are also pleased that we are able to offer such a range of workshops with renowned experts from the world of performance arts medicine.”

Musicians’ Union news release. Help Musicians UK. British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM).

Unite is closing the net on blacklisters

This year’s multimillion pound compensation payout from the major site firms behind the construction industry blacklisting scandal, wrapped in a public apology (Risks 749), was not the end of the matter, the union Unite has said. Assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail has warned that “from our members’ experiences we believe blacklisting is a contemporary problem that continues to blight the lives of our members.” Writing in the Morning Star, she noted: “Bogus self-employment, unscrupulous agencies and payroll companies make a bad situation worse. Our demand that the major contractors directly employ their workforce is linked to our campaign to root out blacklisting and discrimination.” Cartmail was commenting as new ‘fight back’ guidance, ‘Closing the net: Combatting contemporary blacklisting’, was launched at Unite’s policy conference. “Unite’s guidance sets out a step-by-step process the union advises members to follow,” she said. “This includes advice on contact with people in the industry responsible for hiring. We are urging our members to make a record of their job applications and to follow through on the disheartening brush-offs and refusals of work. Unite will rely on individual members to help us collate the case studies we need to demonstrate blacklisting is a contemporary issue.” She said the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 should be amended to ensure “that it is always illegitimate to refuse to hire workers on grounds of past trade union activity, whether that is as a hirer of someone purporting to be an independent contractor, or as a hirer of agency labour, or as the end user of labour supplied by another entity in a chain. This means a worker of any kind or status, including agency workers.” She concluded: “The publication of ‘Closing the net’ can be taken one of two ways by construction employers, either as an invitation to work with Unite to root out discrimination hidden by opaque hiring practices, or notice that Unite will fund and organise to achieve the same objective. Either way, Unite is determined to close the net.”

Morning Star. Unite blacklisting webpages.

ScotRail to face more union safety action

The rail union RMT is stepping up its dispute with Scotrail over the firm’s plans for driver only operation (DOO) and driver controlled operation (DCO), moves that would mean the loss of the crucial safety back up provided by guards. Latest strike dates are 24 July and 31 July, and follow a series of ‘rock-solid’ strikes across Scotland. RMT says it has attempted repeatedly to resolved the issue in talks at ACAS, but accuses the company of trying to ‘pick and choose issues and divide and rule the workforce.’ It adds that contrary to ‘a barrage of misinformation’ from the company, ‘the issue at the core of the dispute is safety and the safety-critical role of the guard.’ RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Despite this series of rock-solid strikes it is extraordinary that Abellio/Scotrail continue to ignore the strength of feeling amongst their staff over the extension of DOO. That disgraceful and cavalier approach to jobs and safety on Scotland’s railways now leaves us with no choice but to put on additional strike dates.” He added: “The workforce knows only too well that there is a very real threat to passengers of watering down and wiping out the safety critical role of the guard on these Scotrail services. That is a lethal gamble with basic rail safety. We have had fantastic support from the travelling public for our action as passengers know full well that this strike is all about their safety. The union remains available for serious and meaningful talks.”

RMT news release.

Official report supports union warnings on rail dangers

Union warnings about the growing threat to life and limb on railway platforms have been confirmed in an official safety report. Rail union RMT said the annual safety report from the Rail Standards and Safety Board (RSSB) exposes ‘the nonsense of government and train company plans to axe guards and station staff.’ The RSSB report notes that there has been a 48 per cent increase in incidents at the platform/train interface (PTI). RMT says the RSSB admission comes ‘at a time when staff cuts and dangerous overcrowding on services are right at the top of the rail industry agenda as a result of persistent and high-profile campaigning by RMT and its sister unions.’ RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This report from the RSSB should serve as an urgent alarm call to both the government and the train operating companies as they look to hack back on staffing levels at a time of severe overcrowding and increasing numbers of assaults on passengers. The surge in incidents at the platform/train interface confirms RMT’s warnings about potentially lethal levels of overcrowding and makes a nonsense of plans to undermine the safety-critical role of the guards and to press on with the dash towards driver only operation.” He added: “RMT will continue to step up the fight to defend the guards and the station and platform staff in the light of overwhelming evidence that our rammed-out railways are becoming more dangerous by the day.” Launching the report, RSSB's director of system safety, George Bearfield, said: “No one is complacent about safety and there are clear areas where risk still needs to be managed; such as on stations, assaults, as well as areas where we simply don't have good enough data yet, such as health and wellbeing.”

RMT news release. RSSB news release and Annual Safety Performance Report 2015/16.

Swarf ripped open man’s thumb

A Hinckley factory worker has received more than £21,000 in compensation after lacerating his thumb on a piece of metal. The 27-year-old Unite member was operating a machine used to cut sections of metal when he noticed that metal shavings, known as swarf, had built up on a conveyor belt. To dislodge the waste, he put on the pair of thin gloves provided by his employer and used his hands, as shown by his manager. As he did this, a piece of swarf wrapped around his hand and ripped through the glove, causing a deep cut to his right thumb that damaged his tendons and nerves. The man, whose name and employer’s details have not been released, needed six weeks off work following surgery to help repair his thumb and, despite the injury occurring more than three years ago, still suffers with pain. His employer has since provided workers with thicker Kevlar gloves to wear and a hooked pole to use when removing build-up of swarf. Unite regional legal officer Kevin Hepworth said: “Five minutes thinking the job through would have saved our member a huge amount of pain and he is now unable to carry out tasks and hobbies that he was previously capable of. Yes, his employer has addressed the problem now and we are pleased for that, but it shouldn't have needed the physical and financial strain that the injury put our member through for them to do that.”

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

OTHER NEWS

New ministerial team for workplace safety

The reshuffle following the replacement of David Cameron as prime minister by Theresa May has resulted in the appointment of an entirely new ministerial team responsible for workplace health and safety. Damian Green replaces Stephen Crabb as secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the government department responsible for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Within DWP, the new minister responsible for health and safety is Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North since 2010. Replacing Justin Tomlinson, she becomes ‘minister of state for disabled people, work and health’. Health and safety forms a small part of her brief, which includes the welfare to work benefits system and the compensation scheme for those with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. The prominent pro-Leave MP commented: “It is a privilege to be given the chance to improve the social and employment opportunities for the millions of disabled people across the UK. I will do all I can to improve support for people with disabilities and health conditions, help more people into work and ensure they have every opportunity to thrive.” The media savvy former communications specialist has nurtured a high public profile, including starring in the ITV celebrity diving show, Splash!

DWP news release.

Search for bodies resumes after Didcot demolition

Search efforts for three men killed in the Didcot power station collapse have resumed after the remainder of the building was demolished. A remote demolition brought down the remaining part of the boilerhouse on 17 July, in an operation using remote-controlled robots. Ken Cresswell, 57, and John Shaw, 61, and Chris Huxtable, 34, were trapped under rubble on 23 February. The body of Michael Collings, 53, of Teesside, was recovered. The boiler house - which was due for demolition when it partially collapsed - had been too unstable to be approached afterwards (Risks 748). The search was suspended in May when contractors reached a 50m (164ft) exclusion zone, beyond which is was considered too dangerous to continue. The families of the three men yet to be recovered had opposed plans to use explosives for the demolition. Roland Alford, the explosives contractor at the power station, said the four-month delay in completing the demolition was necessary on safety grounds. He added: “It was almost unthinkable to send people to work underneath there and place charges, given the fact the building could come down at any moment - you legally can't justify that.” A statement from Thames Valley Police following the remote demolition said: “The absolute priority of our multi-agency response remains the recovery of the missing men so they can be returned to their families and to understand what caused this tragic incident.” Unions and bereaved relatives have expressed concern at the delay in recovering all the bodies (Risks 746).

Thames Valley Police news release. BBC News Online.

Worker crushed to death by a tonne of floor tiles

A Manchester company has been fined £40,000 after a tonne of stone floor tiles fell from a forklift, killing an employee. Soran Aziz died after the incident in October 2010 at Stone Superstore Ltd warehouse in Gorton. The 27-year-old suffered serious head injuries and died in hospital two days later. Environmental health officers from Manchester City Council visited the site and found that the forklift truck driver who dropped the tiles had not received formal training, despite it being a legal requirement. Manchester Crown Court also heard that although two forklift trucks were used daily at the warehouse, none of the company’s employees had received any formal training. Stone Superstore bosses pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences - one of failing to adequately train, supervise and instruct staff and a further charge of failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. It was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,221. Manchester’s council executive member for neighbourhoods, councillor Nigel Murphy, said: “This heartbreaking case saw a young man lose his life and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.” He added: “Health and safety regulations are often sneered at but they exist for good reason – to prevent avoidable tragedies like this one. This case should serve as a warning, companies that do not adhere to health and safety regulations are needlessly putting people at risk and we will vigorously pursue them for their dangerous behaviour.”

Manchester City Council news release. Manchester Evening News.

Engineering worker suffers life changing injuries

A Hull engineering firm, has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a marine hatch and frame weighing more than 500kg fell forward, seriously injuring an employee and narrowly missing another person. The Point Engineering (Hull) Ltd employee was preparing the marine hatch for inspection and used a sling and overhead crane to move it to a vertical position so that the hinge could be stamped with an approval mark by the surveyor accompanying him. The marine door fell onto Richard Blake, 63, a welder and fabricator at the company, trapping his pelvis and legs. The surveyor, who was approximately one metre away, narrowly escaped injury when the hatch and frame grazed the toe of his safety boot. Mr Blake suffered a shattered pelvis and broken hip in the February 2014 incident. After initially using a wheelchair and crutches, he now walks with a stick, has been unable to work and suffers from depression. Point Engineering (Hull) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and was fined £30,000 with £24,577 costs at Hull Crown Court. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Sarah Lee commented: “If the job had been correctly planned and risk assessed then a safe way of doing the job could have been established. Sadly it was not, which lead to Mr Blake suffering from these terrible injuries.”

HSE news release. Hull Daily Mail.

EVENTS

Hazards 2016 conference programme

The Hazards 2016 conference programme has been announced, listing plenaries, workshops and campaign themes. Speakers includes union specialists, top experts and Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell. Campaign meetings include Unite on the Sports Direct campaign, major global figures Sanjiv Pandita and Omana George on international safety campaigning, asbestos, safety law developments, safety and global trade agreements, the ‘Better than Zero’ campaign against zero hours contracts and the BFAWU Justice for Fast Food Workers campaign.

National Hazards Conference, 29-31 July, Keele University. Full programme.

RESOURCES

Journal tackles safety of ‘informal workers’

A health and safety journal that looks to solve problems, not just record them, has taken on the thorny issue of health and safety for ‘informal workers’. New Solutions is a highly practical, union-supported resource with an international focus. Rather than concentrating on the evidence of harm caused by work, it prioritises pointers on better, healthier ways to work and to support workers. The current issue is particularly useful to those organising and campaigning around the issue of precarious (insecure and informal) work. An introductory editorial notes: “This special edition describes some of the risks and hazards, but focuses on strategies and interventions - such as taking occupational health and safety services to markets where informal workers operate, legal reforms, and designing appropriate equipment. The diversity of occupations and workplaces (many in public space) mean that new stakeholders such as local municipalities, informal workers associations and unions, as well as health professionals, need to be considered when striving for a more inclusive occupational health and safety.”

New Solutions. Special Issue: Health and Safety for Informal Workers, volume 26, number 2, August 2016. Related information: ITUC on union organising and informal workers.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: Toronto Star suicide prompts investigation

Top Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star will conduct an “independent facilitation process review” of the newsroom’s culture, after journalists’ union Unifor called for an independent investigation in the wake of reporter Raveena Aulakh’s suicide and the events surrounding her death. The paper confirmed the paper had also received an official grievance filed by the union in relation to the death. Chair of the company John Honderich and Star editor Michael Cooke said in a memo that while they did not share the union view that the newsroom was a ‘poisonous workplace’ rife with harassment and bullying, “in recent conversations with newsroom staff, we have heard legitimate concerns raised and questions posed.” Local union president Paul Morse said the union does not believe the review constitutes a full independent investigation, and that the union “made it clear to the company that we agreed to the review without prejudice to our call for an independent investigation.” Morse said one concern for the union is that the Star’s review will not have a mandate to investigate the circumstances surrounding Aulakh’s death.

Canoe.com. Winnipeg Free Press. More on work-related suicides.

Bangladesh: Multiple murder charges for Rana Plaza

A court in Bangladesh has formally charged 38 people with murder in connection with the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building which killed over 1,100 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster. A total of 41 defendants face charges over the collapse of the complex, which housed five garment factories supplying global brands. Plaza owner Sohel Rana is the principal accused. Public prosecutor Abdul Mannan said 38 people had been charged with murder while three were charged with helping Rana to flee after the incident. Rana was arrested after a four-day manhunt, apparently trying to flee across the border to India. Of the 41 people charged, 35, including Rana, appeared before the court and pleaded not guilty, Mannan told reporters. The other six are fugitives and will be tried in absentia. If convicted, defendants could face the death penalty. Following the Rana Plaza tragedy a global union-led campaign secured a system of safety checks and a landmark compensation mechanism (Risks 729), which has provided a template for other industrial tragedies (Risks 759).

The Guardian.

Italy: Olivetti bosses get jail for asbestos manslaughter

Leading Italian businessman and media mogul Carlo De Benedetti has been convicted in connection to asbestos-related deaths at a company he led more than two decades ago. The 81-year-old was one of 16 defendants in a case concerning Olivetti, a typewriters and computers company where 13 employees died between the late 1970s and the early 1990s after being exposed to asbestos. A court in Ivrea, the north-western city where Olivetti is based, found De Benedetti at fault for lax health and safety standards, found him guilty of manslaughter and causing injury, and sentenced him to five years and two months’ imprisonment. De Benedetti was either chief executive or chairman at Olivetti from 1978 to 1996. His brother Franco, who also held top management positions between 1978 and 1994, was convicted of the same crimes and received the same sentence. Another high profile defendant - former economic development minister Corrado Passera, who was Olivetti‘s chief executive from 1992 to 1996 - was sentenced to 23 months’ jail time. Prosecutor Laura Longo said the verdict proved that asbestos deaths at Olivetti “could and should have been avoided,” while a lawyer who represented the union FIOM-CGIL at the trial, Laura D’Amico, said “the victims have been given justice.” The defendants in the Olivetti trial can challenge the first instance verdict and are unlikely to go to jail unless their convictions are finally upheld. Exhausting appeals procedures can take several years in Italy.

Europe Online. The Local.

Global: Asbestos industry’s fight to the death

The global asbestos industry is engaged in a well-resourced defence of its deadly product. As well as promoting chrysotile asbestos in ‘scientific’ and public relations presentations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, a key target for the campaign is the United Nations (UN). “The resolute determination of industry stakeholders to torpedo UN attempts to regulate international sales of chrysotile (white) asbestos fibre was evinced yet again by the actions of lobbyists from Russia, Brazil, India, Kazakhstan, Canada and Zimbabwe at a workshop held under the auspices of the Rotterdam Convention in Riga, Latvia on 2-4 July 2016,” noted Laurie Kazan Allen, who heads up the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). The convention is a UN treaty intended to ensure information on health risks accompanies the most toxic exports. The asbestos industry has lobbied successfully for many years to keep chrysotile asbestos off this list. “As officials and delegates from 20+ countries explored ways of protecting populations from the asbestos hazard, vested interests did everything they could to block progress being made,” Kazan Allen noted. She said amongst those at the Riga meeting who disputed the need to include chrysotile asbestos on the convention’s list were industry representatives from India, Brazil, Mexico and Zimbabwe, as well as global asbestos lobby group the International Chrysotile Association. Kazan Allen said it was “inconceivable” that people could continue to make profits from this deadly product, adding: “The day is coming when this deadly technology will be consigned to the history books and those who profited from it will be called to account for their crimes against humanity.”

IBAS news report. RightOnCanada.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2016

Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse

Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work
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