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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 765 - 27 August 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







Sharp rise in fire deaths as firefighter job cuts worsen

The number of people who have died in fires in England has jumped by 15 per cent over the past year to 303, with firefighters’ union FBU calling the figures ‘a damning indictment’ of government policy. The Home Office statistics for the year from April 2015 reveal the single biggest percentage increase in fire deaths for 20 years. The statistics come after the Department of Communities and Local Government, the government department responsible for the fire service until January this year, published data last year showing that response times to fires were at their slowest in two decades. Firefighters’ union FBU said the fault lies solely with the government, which has cut fire and rescue service budgets by more than 30 per cent since 2010, resulting in 9,600 firefighter jobs being axed. Dave Green, national officer for the FBU and a former firefighter, said: “These figures are a damning indictment of how this government have managed the fire and rescue service. They have slashed budgets without regard for public safety.” He added: “The long term trend of falling fire deaths is now going into reverse, with two consecutive rises in one year – the figures are released six monthly. This shows us very clearly that the fire and rescue service needs investment immediately if more lives are not to be lost.” The figures show that in 2015-16, fire services across England attended around 162,000 fires - an increase of 7,000 from the previous year. From these incidents, fire services recorded 303 fire-related fatalities, which is 39 more than in the previous 12 months. Brandon Lewis, minister for policing and the fire service, responded: “There has been a long term downward trend in both fires and fire deaths for many years, recently reaching historically low levels.”

Ÿ  FBU news release. Home Office statistics, April 2015-March 2016. BBC News Online.

Hotel union challenges backbreaking work

Nine out of every ten hotel housekeeping workers in London suffers from back pain caused by their job, a union survey has found. Over threequarters of the chefs surveyed reported having witnessed an injury or a near miss caused by fatigue. Unite said its research confirmed global hotel chains have made the capital one of the most ‘unethical’ tourist destinations in the world. The union said it report, ‘Unethical London’, exposes the low pay and exploitative work practices that have been allowed to flourish unchecked in the multi-billion hotel industry, which employs 100,000 people in London. It added the report shows that, despite many being signatories to various ethical social responsibility agreements, big name hotel chains, including Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) and Hilton, are ‘only paying lip service to workers’ basic human and trade union rights.’  Unite is calling on all hotels operating in London to adopt a set of ‘City Wide Principles’, based on the key provisions of the OECD guidelines, the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code and the United Nations Global Compact. Peter Kavanagh, Unite London regional secretary said: “The London hotel sector is failing its workforce. It has become a byword for low pay and exploitation. If these stories tell us anything, it is that shameful work practices, similar to those exposed at Sports Direct, have no place in 21st century Britain.” He added: “Our call is simple: work with us, take a stand against bad practice by signing up to our City Wide Principles. Together we can make London a world class and ethical tourist destination.” The union’s research found 90 per cent of housekeeping staff surveyed said they were in constant pain caused by their job, 84 per cent of housekeeping staff said they suffer from back pain, and 53 per cent of front of house surveyed staff frequently miss meal and rest breaks because of workload and staff shortages. The survey found 78 per cent of chefs surveyed have had a ‘near miss’ or accident at work due to feeling overtired.

Ÿ  Unite news release and Unethical London report.

Stressed-out journalists issue strike warning

Journalists on Newsquest titles in London are balloting for industrial action over inadequate staffing levels, excessive workloads, health and safety concerns, reduced quality of newspapers and poor pay. A union stress survey earlier this year covering staff in south London showed many were suffering from high workloads, job insecurity and struggling with a new production system and poor communication from the company’s senior management. Their union NUJ notes: “It is not just the health and safety of staff that has driven the journalists to ballot for a strike. They are passionate about their jobs and want to produce the best newspapers and websites as possible, but understaffing and the loss of experienced colleagues have put quality under threat.” The NUJ’s stress survey found 88 per cent of journalists often or always worked intensively, 36 per cent said they had unachievable deadlines, more than half (52 per cent) did not have supportive feedback on their work, 56 per cent did not have sufficient breaks and 88 per cent said they were not consulted about changes at work. Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “The situation on these titles has become critical in terms of the strain put on the staff. What is so upsetting is that we have a group of professional journalists who are thwarted from being able to produce work to a high standard, but it seems the management doesn’t care. Young trainees who start off thinking they are beginning their dream career are dejected and burnt out by the workloads and lack of support.” She added: “The union is seeking urgent talks with Newsquest to address these critical issues and avoid industrial action.” The ballot concludes on 9 September.

Ÿ  NUJ news release. Morning Star.

Union concern at rise in dog attack deaths

The death of a young boy in an attack by an out-of-control dog highlights the need for stronger enforcement action, the union CWU has said. The union was speaking out after the death last week of three-year-old Dexter Neal in Halstead, Essex. This tragedy came just a week after 52-year-old David Ellam was killed by an out-of-control dog in Huddersfield (Risks 764). According to statistics collated by CWU, Dexter’s death was the UK's 34th dog attack fatality “with all but three of them occurring since 2005 which indicates the steep rise over the last decade.” Dave Joyce, CWU national health and safety officer, who spearheaded the union’s successful ‘Bite-Back’ campaign to revise the UK’s dangerous dogs laws, said: “How many more lives must be lost before more effective action through adequate resources and controls are put in place. We still get 3,000 to 4,000 attacks on CWU members every year and this must stop. The breed and type of dog is secondary to the bad ownership problem. Many of these people shouldn't have dogs at all.” The union safety specialist added: “More police dog legislation officer and dog warden resources are needed and an injection of resources into public awareness campaigns, training and ownership controls need examining. We cannot allow this situation of dog attack deaths to continue at the present rate – it’s not acceptable in a civilised society.” After the latest tragedy, a 29-year-old woman was arrested for allowing a dog to be dangerously out-of-control and was released on bail until 19 October.

Ÿ  CWU news release. BBC News Online. ITV News.

Unions stress safety priority for the Night Tube

As the first phase of the night train roll out commenced on the London Tube system last weekend, rail unions stressed that safety must be a top priority. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT will be maintaining a policy of ‘extreme vigilance’ with our reps monitoring issues like safety, security and the impact on staff of running services round the clock. The union will also continue to resist any attempts to deliver Night Tube on the cheap. Huge logistical challenges in areas like safety, maintenance and engineering will remain under close scrutiny by the union.” The union ASLEF welcomed the arrival of Night Tube on the Victoria and Central lines, but added in a statement: “ASLEF will be watching closely to ensure that staffing and policing levels are adequate to ensure a safe environment for the traveling public and all those working hard to deliver the service. But we believe that having professional, well trained, properly rewarded staff on a publicly owned and publicly operated transport system will always be the best and safest option for travelling in London.”

Ÿ  RMT news release. ASLEF news release.


MP attacks government asbestos inaction

A Labour MP has accused the government of failing to protect children and teachers from “an asbestos timebomb” in our schools. Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said up to 21,000 schools across the country could still contain asbestos, but added: “The truth is that we do not fully know the full extent of the problem or the nature of the risks faced by staff and pupils. There is also the uncertainty surrounding newly established free schools – some of which are housed in former office blocks and other redundant buildings – and whether those new schools contain asbestos.” She said as the new chair of the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) group she would “be pressing the new education secretary, Justine Greening, to do more to deal with the threat that a report from the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health and safety described as the ‘timebomb in our schools’.” She warned that asbestos is not yesterday’s problem. “Sue Stephens, a primary school teacher for 30 years, died a few weeks ago in June after she was exposed to asbestos in the classroom. Sue asked her family to start a campaign so that every child’s potential exposure to asbestos has to be disclosed to families. More than 6,000 people have signed a petition created by Sue’s campaigning daughter Lucie Stephens.” The MP added: “Sadly, Sue’s heartbreaking case is not unique. Between 2003 and 2012, an estimated 224 teachers in England died of mesothelioma. Evidence submitted to MPs suggests the death rate for former pupils may be up to 300 a year… It’s time for the government to get a grip and act to end this needless risk to the health of thousands of teachers and children.”

Ÿ  Labourlist. Teaching Times.

Work is a pain in the neck – official

Work factors are a major pain in the neck, a study has found, but has highlighted the prevention measures that could put the problem behind us. Working with academics, investigators at the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirmed the link between neck pain and specific psychosocial and organisational risks in the workplace. NIOSH said in the United States, neck pain and other injuries to the upper arms and back are the underlying causes of approximately one-third of injury-related lost work days in manufacturing. Across all US industry, neck pain affects an estimated 15 per cent of workers, it said. The NIOSH-backed study, which analysed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), found that neck pain was significantly more common among workers who reported one or more psychosocial and organisational risks in the workplace than it was among other workers. Findings published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine indicated these risks included: work-family imbalance; exposure to a hostile work environment and job insecurity; non-standard work arrangements, such as contracting, consulting, on-call, or temporary work; multiple jobs; and long work hours. Intervention programmes targeted to these specific risk factors for neck pain could benefit workers, according to the investigators. In addition, long-term studies of both psychosocial and physical risks for work-related neck pain are important to confirm these findings and identify other risk factors, they said.

Ÿ  NIOSH Research Rounds, volume 2, issue 2, August 2016. Haiou Yang and others. Workplace psychosocial and organizational factors for neck pain in workers in the United States, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 59, issue 7, pages 549-560, July 2016. NIOSH resources: Persistent pain in the neck! What resources help you prevent MSDs in the workplace?

Samaritans warning on site worker suicides

Suicide is the overlooked construction worker killer, the Samaritans has warned. The mental health group told a seminar hosted by three building engineering bodies that more attention needs to be paid to depression and stress in the industry. The charity’s Will Skinner said: “With the amount of energy being put into managing physical risk, you have to question whether the industry is getting the health and safety balance right.” The seminar was hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA), and the CIBSE Patrons and focused on depression and suicide. The meeting heard suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and the highest suicide rate is among males aged 45-59. The Samaritans said that the main risk factors include depression and mental illness, which can often be brought on by a stressful working environment, money worries, or drugs and alcohol. It indicated men from poorer economic backgrounds are also 10 times more likely to die by suicide than men who are financially better off. BESA chief executive Paul McLaughlin, who chaired the event, said: “Both large and small companies share the same concerns, but many simply don't know how to deal with this. The first thing you have to do is acknowledge there is an issue, which is why we are now working with Samaritans.” He said how the industry behaved and how it treated people was a major contributory factor to growing depression and suicidal feelings in workers. “There are thousands of risk assessments being carried out across the industry and very few even mention mental health,” he said. “If something is important, you need to start measuring it, which is what the industry does with physical injuries and accidents. We need to introduce something similar for mental health.” Last year an Australian suicide prevention group revealed construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than in workplace accidents (Risks 730). The high suicide rates in the sector have been attributed to long hours, high stress and a transient lifestyle (Risks 698). In 2011, the ‘epidemic’ of work-related suicide affecting construction workers in Australia prompted a prevention campaign by site union CFMEU campaign to extend support to members under strain (Risks 522).

Ÿ  BESA news release. More on work-related suicides.

Balfour sets aside £25m for higher safety fines

Balfour Beatty has set aside up to £25 million to cover potential health and safety fines under new sentencing guidelines. The contractor was hit by a £2.6m fine in May after a trench collapse killed a worker on a Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Limited site (Risks 750). The huge fine came weeks after safety sentencing guidelines were changed to reflect the turnover of guilty firms (Risks 759). Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering was fined £1 million in January, for criminal safety offences related to the death of father-of-four Larry Newman, 37, while repairing a barrier on the A2 (Risks 736). Trade journal Construction Enquirer reports that Balfour Beatty made £28m in provisions for non-underlying items in its latest half year accounts. The accounts revealed the whole group made a profit of £7m during the first six months of the year. The firm said: “This included a £25 million charge relating to revised legal guidelines and settlements. This largely relates to a reassessment of potential liabilities on historical health and safety breaches following new sentencing guidelines introduced earlier this year.” A Balfour spokesperson approached by Construction Enquirer declined to confirm details of any upcoming safety investigations. A worker was killed on Balfour’s Third Don Crossing site in January.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Bulgarian contractor handed £0.5m safety crime fine

A Bulgarian construction firm has been handed a £500,000 fine after a member of the public reported unsafe working practices during the construction of an adventure course in Markeaton Park, Derby. Derby Magistrates’ Court heard how the whistleblower noticed work at height being carried out from a pallet on the forks of a telehandler at the site in Markeaton Park, where a high ropes adventure course was being constructed by Bulgarian firm Walltopia. The member of the public first reported this to the company but despite receiving assurances the matter would be dealt with, unsafe work at height continued. The individual then reported the dangerous practices to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE’s investigation at the site found work was taking place on a section of roof 11 metres off the ground, without the use of any means to prevent two workers falling from the open edges. In addition, these workers were accessing the roof by climbing from the basket of a cherry picker. Walltopia of Bulgaria was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,013.25 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE inspector Lee Greatorex said: “Using a pallet on a telehandler for planned work at height is an unacceptable means of access. It appears that the company failed to put in place control measures after being alerted about this.” He added: “Walltopia failed to follow recognised industry standards during work at height and did not make effective changes to the control of their working methods following the matter being brought to its attention. Work at height should always be sufficiently planned and managed to protect workers from being exposed to extreme risks from falls from height. In this case someone could have suffered significant injuries or death.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and work at height webpages. Construction Enquirer.

Distillery blaze left 21-year-old worker engulfed in flames

A distillery in the West Midlands has been fined after a young employee with only six months’ experience on the job was engulfed in flames in a fire that destroyed a warehouse and its contents. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard how highly flammable ethyl acetate was being transferred from a bulk storage tank into an intermediate bulk container when the employee was engulfed in flames. The 21-year-old sustained 20 per cent burns to his head, neck and hands. The fire, at the Alcohol Limited distillery in Oldbury, destroyed the warehouse and caused damage to nearby cars and houses. West Mercia Fire and Rescue Service were called to bring the fire under control. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 26 November 2012 incident found that the most likely source of ignition was a discharge of static electricity generated by the transfer of the liquid. There was poor maintenance of pipework and associated valves. There was also a failure to competently inspect the equipment or monitor the systems of work. Alcohols Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal health and safety offences and was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,009. HSE inspector Kieron Jones said: “Companies that fail to ensure the integrity of their safety critical equipment place their employees, members of the public, emergency services and their entire livelihood at risk of serious harm. Poor management of highly flammable liquids can have catastrophic results both for individuals and businesses.” The court was told the firm had compensated the injured member of staff and paid £25,000 in damages to the public.

Ÿ  HSE news release. Express and Star.


Blacklisting, bullying and blowing the whistle, 16-17 September, London

The University of Greenwich, London is to host a 16-17 September conference on ‘Blacklisting, bullying and blowing the whistle’. The event has been organised by the university’s Work & Employment Research Unit (WERU) in conjunction with the Blacklist Support Group. Speakers include top academics, campaigners, employment and human rights lawyers, union officers and activists and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Ÿ  Further information on Blacklisting, bullying and blowing the whistle, Friday/Saturday 16-17 September 2016, University of Greenwich, London. Conference programme.

IER safety conferences in London and Liverpool, October

The Institute of Employment Rights is organising ‘health and safety update’ conferences, in Liverpool on 4 October and London on 18 October. IER notes “those attending will hear contributions covering such issues as the nature of HSE’s new strategy for workplace health and safety, how post-2010 governments have acted to reduce workplace inspections, worker experiences of pursuing claims for compensation, recent legislative changes, how other European countries approach the issue of health and safety inspection as well as workplace inspection, and developments in the construction industry relating to worker engagement and mental health.”

Ÿ  IER health and safety update conferences. Liverpool: 9.30am-3.30pm, Tuesday 4 October 2016, Jack Jones House, Unite NW Office, Liverpool. London: 9.30am-3.30pm, Tuesday 18 October 2016, Unite head office, London.


Canada: Good safety management is good management

There is no trade-off between excelling in safety or production management – in fact they are ‘complementary’, a Canadian study has found. Researchers Emile Tompa and Lynda Robson from the Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health (IWH) examined the performance of nearly 200 manufacturing organisations in Ontario and found no evidence of a trade-off. Instead, their findings suggest a ‘complementary relationship’, with organisations that focus on both operations and occupational health and safety (OHS) through ‘joint management system’ (JMS) practices achieving the same operational outcomes - better cost, quality, delivery and flexibility outcomes - as organisations that emphasise operations over safety. According to IWH: “In essence, employers that adopt the JMS approach, which allows for the coordinated management of both operations and safety, do significantly better across the board compared to those that don’t.” The findings support the idea that organisations with JMS practices can be competitive and, possibly, even leaders in both operations and OHS performance, the researchers concluded. Organisations that focus on both operations and safety can do well on both fronts, they said.                                    

Ÿ  IWH news release. At Work, Issue 85, IWH, Summer 2016.

USA: Firefighters run high traumatic stress and cancer risks

US firefighters are more at risk for cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population, according to union research. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) report points to research by the Warrior Research Institute in Austin, Texas, that identified a clear link between traumatic situations experienced by firefighters and paramedics - from car accidents to mass-casualty incidents - and PTSD. IAFF also cites research that found 20 per cent of firefighters and paramedics suffer from PTSD, compared to 3.5 per cent of the general population. On cancer, the IAFF report says the risk is “significantly higher for firefighters than the general population” because when fighting fires they are apt to come into contact with synthetic materials such as plastics, foam and coatings that contain carcinogens. The report cites a 2013 study by the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that found firefighters have a 14 per cent increased risk of dying from cancer when compared with the general population. “Our communities and their legislators need to understand how PTSD and cancer are impacting their firefighters over the course of a long and dedicated career protecting the public,” IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said in a statement. “New advanced protocols are needed to help prevent PTSD and cancer from taking hold, and more elected officials need to step up and support laws that help firefighters afflicted with these hidden hazards.” The IAFF has run a highly successful campaign for state-based presumptive legislation for firefighters who contract cancer, meaning in most instances firefighters developing a related cancer qualify for compensation automatically. In April, Idaho became the 34th state to introduce these presumptive protections.

Ÿ  IAFF news release and cancer awareness and prevention resource. Omaha World-Herald.

USA: Enforcement crackdown on poultry plants

America’s notoriously hazardous poultry firms have been given food for thought after two high profile penalties on top brands and the launch of a new official health and safety enforcement campaign. A Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in northern Florida was cited this month for failing to allow workers to seek outside medical help after getting hurt on the job. This was followed by another groundbreaking citation from the safety regulator OSHA, this time against Tyson Foods. Citations like these could become much more common, as OSHA has launched a special programme to crack down on workplace safety abuses in the poultry industry. Commenting after Tyson Foods was fined $263,498 for two repeated violations and 15 serious safety violations linked to a finger amputation, OSHA head David Michaels said: “As one of the nation’s largest food suppliers, it should set an example for workplace safety rather than drawing multiple citations from OSHA for ongoing safety failures.” Workplace safety advocates were quick to praise the decision by OSHA to crack down on the poultry industry. “The terrible injury and numerous safety violations at a Texas chicken processing plant confirm what some Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) affiliated worker centers have been saying for years: cheap chicken comes at a high cost for the workers who process poultry,” stated IWJ executive director Reverend Doug Mork. Debbie Berkowitz, former chief of staff at OSHA and a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), cautioned that both prosecutions came because unionised workers felt able to blow the whistle on bad practices. She said: “The reason OSHA finds the violations in union plants is because workers feel secure in talking to OSHA. They know the union will protect them from illegal retaliation.” But she added: “The thoroughness and effectiveness of an OSHA inspection really in most cases depends on being able to talk to workers. In non-union plants workers are terrified of talking to OSHA for fear of retaliation.”

Ÿ  OSHA news release. IWJ news release. NELP statement. Payday Report.


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