|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.|
The possibility of the UK soon turning its back on the proven protection provided by EU health and safety regulations could mean workers will need an alternative set of rules to protect them, the TUC has indicated. The union body says the expected flurry of new trade agreements needs to go beyond previous deals, which included the ‘core’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards on freedom of association, freedom from forced labour, child labour, and freedom from discrimination, but did not include safety protections. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “There are however quite a lot of ILO conventions on health and safety – 13 in fact. These conventions are international treaties, which, if they are ratified by member countries, become binding on these countries… once a country has ratified a convention, a complaint can be made to the ILO if it does not implement it. If they are enforced, ILO conventions are an important guarantee of our rights to a safe workplace.” The UK, however, has refused to ratify most ILO safety conventions. Of the three fundamental safety conventions - Occupation Safety and Health Convention (C155), the Occupational Health Services Convention (C161), and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention (C187) – the UK has only signed up to the latter. Overall, out of 13 ILO conventions on health and safety, the UK government has ratified just three. Outlining the challenge facing unions, TUC’s Hugh Robertson said: “Given the discussions on what kind of agreements Britain will have with both the EU and other international trading partners post-Brexit, we need to start demanding that Britain commits to ensuring that trade agreements include provisions that both parties will ensure that all international labour conventions are adhered to and that, at the same time, the UK signs up to all those that it so far has not ratified.”
Weymouth bus drivers suffering from cancer and serious heart conditions have been told they will have their sick pay docked on strike days as long as a dispute over ‘poverty pay’ continues. Unite, which represents the more than 110 drivers based at Weymouth and Bridport and employed by First Hampshire & Dorset Ltd, said the decision was illegal and counter to ‘humanity and common decency’. The company has said sick pay will be docked on the days that strikes happen, even if employees have been ‘signed off’ work by their GP. Unite said that two of its members were suffering from cancer and two from serious heart conditions. Unite regional officer Bob Lanning said: “These are very serious life-threatening conditions – we are not talking about the odd day off for the common cold – and we are taking legal advice as we believe the management is acting illegally. What we are witnessing is almost unbelievable in the context of a legitimate industrial dispute in Britain in 2016 – it flouts every canon of humanity and common decency.” The crackdown on the seriously ill came as it was revealed the pay dispute would cost just £48,000-a-year to settle, while losses caused by the six week-old dispute are now £250,000 and could reach £500,000, if the industrial action continues for another six weeks. Unite has announced a further 23 days of strike action between 3 August and 4 September, which would take the dispute into its third month. The Weymouth and Bridport drivers earn about £18,300-a-year – or £8.80 an hour, while First Group drivers in Yeovil are on £9.50 per hour. Drivers working for rival firms in Bournemouth and Poole earn nearly £2 an hour more.
Rail staff employed by Govia Thameslink are being abused and assaulted by enraged passengers as a result of the company’s ‘lies and abuse’ to cover up their own gross mismanagement of train services, the union RMT has said. As proof, the union points to a ‘shocking’ BBC audio recording of staff “being spat at, punched and threatened with stabbing due to a constant barrage of company lies about the reasons for the constant chaos across the franchise.” It warns GTR’s behaviour could have ‘lethal consequences’ for staff. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the dirty tricks campaign by GTR, blaming their frontline staff for the gross mismanagement of the company bosses, would set our members up as punch bags to soak up public anger. The result is that the staff at the sharp end are being punched, spat at and threatened with being stabbed while the company chiefs carry on with their lies and abuse from their air conditioned offices.” The union leader added: “This cowardly and despicable approach from GTR has to stop before a member of staff is seriously injured just for doing their job. The vast majority of passengers know that GTR are to blame for the current rail chaos but tempers are frayed and anger is boiling over. The company’s abandonment of the basic duty of care to its staff could have lethal consequences and we will be writing to the safety regulator today demanding action to protect our members.”
Prison unions are calling for urgent action over alarming new figures they say expose the true scale of the safety crisis in prisons in England and Wales. The unions say latest Ministry of Justice figures released last week show that prison staff are increasingly the victims of the safety and staffing crisis. In the past year, assaults on prison staff have risen by 40 per cent to 5,243 for the year up to March 2016. The unions add that the long term trend is just as worrying, with serious assaults on prison staff having risen by a ‘staggering’ 124 per cent since the Conservatives entered government in 2010. Community general secretary Roy Rickhuss said new justice secretary Liz Truss “might just have started the job, but staff in the justice sector have been suffering for years.” He added: “I have written to Liz Truss asking for an urgent meeting to discuss how we can work together in making our prisons safer places to work. Our members deserve better from their government and Community will not stop working to ensure they are properly protected at work.” Mike Rolfe, national chair of the prison officers’ union POA, said its members “are fed up of being used as a punch bag due to chronic staffing levels, staff shortfalls, overcrowded prisons and impoverished regimes. These damning statistics demonstrate that frontline prison staff are now three times more likely to be assaulted than in 2010. This is totally unacceptable”. POA general secretary Steve Gillan said: “If the employer fails to protect their workers, then the union must step in to ensure the workplace is safe and secure”.
A Yorkshire factory worker has been awarded £16,000 in damages after an unguarded machine inflicted a deep laceration on the ring finger on his dominant hand. Unite member Kenneth Powell, 60, was operating an Altendorf saw, used to cut blocks of paper, in at the unidentified factory when the incident happened. He had turned off the machine but when he went to clear excess dust away from the surface, the blade continued to rotate and it cut into his right finger. The injured worker was examined by a first-aider before being transferred to hospital where it was found that he had damaged a tendon. He was off work for two weeks and nearly three years on he continues to suffer numbness in his thumb, especially in cold weather. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and issued an enforcement notice to his employer for its criminal failure to ensure the machine had a safety guard. Kenneth said: “I had worked with these machines for years so I knew to wait until I’d switched the power off before putting my hand near the blade. Despite waiting it continued to spin. It’s very frustrating to think that this whole incident could have been avoided if my employer had installed a safety guard around the blade.” Karen Reay, Unite’s regional secretary, said: “Our member was performing a routine task at work, but without a safety guard around the blade he was always at risk of injury, it was effectively a trap. This long term injury could have been avoided had the employer taken basic health and safety steps. It shouldn’t take a person to suffer an injury at work and enforcement action from the HSE for the employer to address such an obvious safety risk.”
Campaigners are reminding Theresa May that the effective regulation and strict enforcement of workplace safety laws is a life-saving necessity, not a burden on business. The grassroots Hazards Campaign wants the new prime minister deluged with old-style postcards and their e-card equivalents carrying this message. The cards note: “We warmly welcome your determination to tackle inequalities across society. One of the most damaging inequalities is in occupational health and safety, which contributes greatly to the mortality and morbidity gulf between rich and poor.” They add: “Effective regulation and strict enforcement of safety laws saves lives. Please do not neglect them. Use Brexit to improve not erode health and safety protection for all workers.” The initiative was launched at last week’s National Hazards Conference, where the keynote speaker was shadow chancellor John McDonnell. “After a long term decline I am very worried that workplace deaths and diseases are on the rise again. Workers deserve the protection of strong employment rights, trade union rights and a safety watchdog that is up to the job,” he said. “Six years of Conservative-led government have allowed rogue bosses to exploit an increasingly insecure and abused workforce. Labour will protect people at work, rather than create a world where the likes of Sir Philip Green and Mike Ashley can get away with whatever they want. Working people earn this country’s wealth and run our public services; these are essential tasks for which no-one should pay with their life.” Speaking on the health and safety implications of Brexit, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson told delegates “we didn't vote to see our rights disappear.”
Ÿ Hazards Campaign news releases on the postcard campaign and John McDonnell’s speech. Sign up to receive Hazards Campaign updates. Send an -e-postcard to prime minister Theresa May. Print copies are available from the Hazards Campaign, and can be ordered in bulk by unions.
The UK government has the opportunity to lead a ‘race to the top’ in tackling modern slavery, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said. The safety body was commenting as the prime minister Theresa May marked the first anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 with the announcement of a new UK cabinet taskforce to tackle the “sickening and inhuman crimes.” Under the Act, commercial organisations with a turnover of £36 million or more must produce a statement each financial year, showing what steps they have taken to make sure there is no modern slavery in their business and supply chain. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister stated that her government will “lead the way in defeating modern slavery”. She said: “These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free. This is the great human rights issue of our time, and as prime minister I am determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil.” Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, welcomed the initiative. He added: “We urge the government to require public sector, as well as private sector, anti-slavery disclosures and to also use due diligence and transparency as government procurement criteria. This way, it can lead a ‘race to the top’ in corporate governance and social responsibility.” A review to mark the first anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act found there had been 289 modern slavery offences prosecuted in 2015 - and a 40 per cent rise in the number of victims identified. The Home Office has estimated that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, with 45 million estimated victims across the world.
Desk-bound workers who do low amounts of exercise face a greatly elevated risk of an early death, a new study has found. A team of international experts found sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60 per cent. The study of more than one million adults published in The Lancet suggested sedentary lifestyles now pose as great a threat to public health as smoking and cause more deaths than obesity. Workers who spend several hours each day at their desk should change their routine to include a five-minute break every hour, as well as take exercise at lunchtimes and evenings, the study recommended. An hour of brisk walking or cycling spread over a day was enough to combat the dangers of eight hours sitting in the office, the researchers said. Lead author Prof Ulf Ekelund, from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, said: “We found that at least one hour of physical activity per day, for example brisk walking or cycling, eliminates the association between sitting time and death.” Many office workers, especially commuters, would find it hard to avoid long periods of being seated but should make every effort to break up their day, with short walks, the scientists said. Unions have raised concerns about the reluctance of many employers to take seriously the problems caused by bad job design, long working hours and too few breaks. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned last year: “Too many workers are still becoming ill through work and simply introducing ‘well-being programmes’ is not a substitute for stopping workers becoming ill, by addressing issues such as long hours, stress, unsafe conditions and a lack of respect at work. All these must be seen as part of the well-being agenda” (Risks 732). The union body published a detailed action guide of safety reps to help them address this well-being shortfall.
Ÿ Ulf Ekelund and others. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women, The Lancet, published online 27 July, 2016. The Lancet physical activity series. The Guardian and accompanying article. Sydney Morning Herald. Workplace well-being programmes: A guide for safety reps, TUC, December 2015. Hard to swallow: TUC warns that firms and government have an unhealthy preoccupation with your lifestyle, Hazards, number 133, December 2015.
A campaign group is investigating whether banned asbestos-containing materials could have been imported illegally into the UK by a Chinese-owned building materials multinational. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) said illegal imports into Australia by Yuanda Australia PTY Ltd were only “exposed thanks to a trade union representative who suspected that roofing panels at the site of a new chidren’s hospital in Perth, Western Australia, might contain chrysotile (while) asbestos; tests confirmed his suspicions.” Since then concerns have been raised at sites across Australia, causing a national scandal and intense pressure for the federal government to clampdown on deadly, illegal imports. According to IBAS: “It Yuanda Australia imported asbestos-containing building materials, it is not unreasonable to suspect that Yuanda UK Co Ltd could have done likewise.” It said its research had found the company is involved in major UK construction projects, adding: “Are toxic Tuanda products such as those used on the new children’s hospital in Perth, Western Australia, also being used on the London sites?” Fiona Murie, safety director with the global construction union federation BWI, said the Australian authorities had been ‘complacent’ and added: “Our organisation is extremely concerned about the welfare of building workers in the UK and other countries where Yuanda is active. Until the situation has been resolved, we urge national and regional authorities responsible for enforcing asbestos prohibitions to take every appropriate action to prevent asbestos-containing products from entering the country.” UK unions have approached the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise their concerns. The safety watchdog has said it will investigate.
A medicinal herbal manufacturing company has been fined after a worker died from exposure to a toxic gas. Leicester Crown Court heard Karl Brader, 50, was working for Herbs in a Bottle Limited. He was using cleaning chemicals to clean a changing room when he was exposed to a toxic gas – thought to be chlorine - and died at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 2 September 2014 incident found that Mr Brader had not been trained in the safe use of chemicals and the company had not carried out a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) risk assessment. Herbs in a Bottle Limited, of Essendine, Lincolnshire, pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety law and was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £4,842. HSE inspector Stephen Farthing said: “This was a tragic industrial incident that was entirely preventable had suitable precautions been taken. Karl Brader had not received any training in the safe use of hazardous chemicals and as a result died from the exposure to a toxic gas.” He added: “Companies should ensure that they assess all the risks associated with the use of dangerous chemical and that exposure to their employees is either eliminated or minimised.”
A power company has admitted health and safety failings after the electrocution of a worker on a power line in the Highlands. Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission plc was fined £133,000 for a criminal safety breach related to the ‘avoidable’ death of Gareth Aitken. The court heard that on 2 August 2012 the 26-year-old was supervising two junior colleagues, using a suspended work platform to replace the cables between the pylons on the line at Contullich Woods near Alness. While moving the platform to a lower position on the pylon, Mr Aitken came into contact with a charged electric cable. A joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and police found that the permit to work issued by Scottish Hydro Electric was inadequate and that the risk of death or very serious injury was “foreseeable and entirely avoidable.” The company, responsible for maintaining the electricity transmission network in the north of Scotland, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach. Gary Aitken, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) health and safety division, said: “The failing on the part of Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission plc to have in place an adequately specified permit to work did not provide for a safe system of work. This ultimately led to the tragic death of Gareth Aitken.” He added: “The risk of death from this type of work was foreseeable and entirely avoidable. Since this incident the company has carried out additional training in the Permit to Work process to ensure compliance with expected standards.” Colin Nicol, managing director for networks at Scottish Hydro’s parent company SSE, said: “We apologise unreservedly to Gareth Aitken's family for the failings that contributed to his death. This tragic incident is a constant reminder that safety must be our highest priority - we are committed to doing things safely or not at all.”
A Bradford factory that employed a worker who fell more than five metres to his death through a fragile skylight “missed ten opportunities to save his life.” Richard Perry suffered fatal head injuries when he landed on a concrete floor at Whiteghyll Plastics in June 2014. The firm was fined £120,000 at Bradford Crown Court after admitting failing to ensure the safety of Mr Perry and his colleague Mark Cromack. Mr Perry, a 43 year-old father, had been employed as a plastic fabricator at the firm for 18 years. On 13 June 2014, he got onto the roof through a TV room window to fix pieces of vinyl to a series of skylights, in a bid to block out sunlight and lower the temperature in the fabricating workshop. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident found that “there were no precautions in place to prevent either man falling through the skylights or from the roof”, adding that it wasn’t necessary to get onto the roof to do what they were trying to do. Judge Jonathan Rose said: “Mr Perry and Mr Cromack had not been instructed to go onto the roof, but were not on a frolic of their own.” He added: “This is a case of missed opportunities. Ten missed opportunities to save his life.” The court heard that the company, which manufactures signage and displays, employs around 70 people and had a turnover of £7.4 million last year. It was fined £120,000, with £40,000 due to be paid by 1 December, and two further payments of the same amount by December 2017 and 2018. It was also ordered to pay £37,655 in costs. Richard Perry’s wife, Samantha, said: “Not only did my boys lose their daddy but I lost my husband, my best friend and my soulmate. Nobody should die at work and leave behind a young family and wife. He had his whole life ahead of him.”
Tata Steel has been fined almost £2 million after two workers suffered serious injuries at one of its plants. A 26-year-old lost the middle and ring fingers on his left hand while trying to clear a blockage on machinery at the company's site in Corby, Northamptonshire, in September 2014, and a 52-year-old lost part of his little finger when his hand was caught in a lathe at the same plant in February 2015, Northampton Crown Court heard. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incidents found that there was a failure to appropriately guard and manage the risks arising from dangerous parts of these items of machinery. Tata UK Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches. Judge Rupert Mayo ordered the company to pay a fine of £1,985,000 and costs of £22,500, saying the injuries were as the result of “two subsequent and avoidable incidents.” HSE inspector Mark Austin said: “Guarding of dangerous parts of machinery is a fundamental of ensuring workers’ safety, HSE will not hesitate to hold those accountable who do not fulfil their legal obligations, especially if that results in someone receiving life changing injuries.”
A film production company has admitted criminal health and safety breaches over an incident two years ago in which actor Harrison Ford was crushed by a hydraulic door on the set of the Millennium Falcon spaceship while filming the most recent Star Wars movie. The firm has said while it admits its guilt, it will contest the extent of the risk. The Hollywood star, who was knocked to the ground and pinned down by the heavy door, could have been killed in the incident as he rehearsed during shooting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire on 12 June 2014, a court heard. The then 71-year-old was reprising his role as Han Solo when he was hit by the door, which had been designed to mimic the action of a door on the set of the original Star Wars film, released in 1977. Foodles Production (UK) Ltd, which is owned by Disney, admitted two criminal breaches of safety law. Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, told Milton Keynes magistrates court that Ford had gone through the door with another actor and hit a button. He started to walk back through the door, believing the set was not live and that it would not close. But the court heard it was remotely operated by another person, and that as the star passed underneath it he was hit in the pelvic area and pinned to the ground. Marshall said there was a “risk of death”, adding: “It could have killed somebody. The fact that it didn’t was because an emergency stop was activated.” The actor was severely injured, breaking his left leg in the incident, and was airlifted to hospital in Oxford. Foodles is due to be sentenced on 22 August at Aylesbury Crown Court. Defending, Angus Withington said that while Foodles pleaded guilty, it would contest the level of risk involved. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spokesperson said: “This was a foreseeable incident. Foodles Production (UK) Ltd has accepted it failed to protect actors and staff and HSE welcomes the firm’s guilty plea.”
The STUC says working women’s health and safety at work is a ‘major priority’ for its women’s committee, and is behind its decision to produce a tailored health and safety toolkit. The Scottish union body notes: “In workplaces where mainly or only women work, hazards are often unrecognised or under-researched. In workplaces where mainly men work, women are often expected to wear inappropriate safety clothes and differences between workplace health issues for men and women are insufficiently addressed.” It adds: “Health issues that only affect women need to be central to the agenda alongside those that only affect men. Above all prevention is better than cure – we want healthy, safe workplaces and working lives for all.” STUC said its new women’s health and safety toolkit, which includes a series of checklists and detailed information on a wide-range of topics, was produced with the help of its affiliates.
Construction workers in Brazil have paid tribute to colleagues killed in the rush to complete facilities for this month’s Olympics. The ceremony, ‘Lives lost at the worksites of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: Tribute to Workers’, was organised by the global site unions’ federation Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and held in Rio on 28 July. “Every death is a great failure and when 11 people have died you can tell something is very wrong. It is a result of bad planning, bad safety conditions and insane work pressure. No worker should have to die just because the organisers are running behind the schedule,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI. Concerns heightened last year, with BWI repeatedly raising the alarm on the unsafe and dangerous working conditions in the final stretch of the works for the Summer Olympic Games. According to safety body FUNDACENTRO there was an increase in the number of incidents as the deadline for the completion of the facilities grew closer. “There is a lack of responsibility for workers’ lives. The objective of the ceremony is to push the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to commit to create tools to guarantee safer working conditions for the workers in the preparations of the Olympic Games,” said Nilton Freitas, BWI’s representative for Latin America and Caribbean region.
Workers employed by Chinese electronics giant Johnson Electric have spoken out after developing blood cancers they say are caused by chemical exposures at work. Three employees or former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary of Johnson Electric, believe they contracted leukaemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals including the potent human carcinogen benzene. They say the company provided neither safety equipment nor training for workers, with a number of them contracting leukaemia as a result. Xie Fengping, a mother of two daughters, had worked for Johnson Electric since late 2008. Her main duties were to handle inks and thinners to print labels on products. In September of 2013, she was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Zeng Shumei worked for the company from August 2009 and was diagnosed with the cancer in 2013 after being exposed to substances including paints, thinners and industrial alcohol. Zou Xiuhua, who had worked for Johnson Electric since early 2013, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in June 2014. The firm has denied any of the cancers are work-related and has refused to pay either medical costs or compensation. It also obstructed efforts to get the workers assessed by the occupational health clinic. The affected workers went public in a July press conference in Hong Kong, before going on to the Johnson Electric annual general meeting, where company CEO Dr Patrick Wang declined to hear their complaints. The workers want the company to recognise their cancers are work-related, provide compensation and medical expenses, and to improve health and safety at the company. They also want an end to the use of benzene and other potentially deadly chemicals.
Some of the world’s biggest car makers including Vauxhall, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi are launching investigations into their paint supply chains after the Guardian linked their suppliers to illegal mines in India, where child labour and debt bondage are widespread. Children as young as 10 work at mines producing mica, a mineral that creates the shimmer in the car paint used on millions of vehicles around the world. The Indian government has pledged to stamp out child labour in its mica industry, with a small number of official mica mines now monitored for labour and environmental abuses. Yet illegal mining remains widespread, with child rights campaigners estimating that up to 20,000 children work in hundreds of small-scale mines in northern Jharkhand and southern Bihar. Occupational mica exposures in the regional have been known since the 1930s to cause chronic lung disease (Risks 717). Mica can also contain significant amounts of uranium, presenting cancer and other radiation-related chronic disease risks. The Guardian investigation linked car producers to mica supplied by Fujian Kuncai Fine Chemicals Co. Ltd, with some obtained from illegal mines. Phil Bloomer, executive director of the Business and Human Rights Centre, said companies using natural mica from India must start to acknowledge the risk of products from illegal unregulated mines entering their supply chains. “Nobody wants the curse of forced and child labour in their supply chains, but, with large-scale hidden production, it takes a lot more than a simple audit of your apparent ‘supplier’ to eliminate modern slavery from your supply chain. Too many companies are buying with one eye open to the price, and the other closed to the abuse,” he said. Volkswagen, General Motors and BMW said they would investigate the Guardian’s allegations, all saying they do not knowingly allow child labour in their supply chains.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/