Issue date
01 Sep 2016
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 766 - 3 September 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]
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

Football fans cry foul over Qatar abuses

West Ham’s first Premier League match at their newly acquired London Olympic Stadium was used by a trade union and football supporter-backed campaign to highlight the ongoing horror of Qatar’s World Cup 2022 preparation. The 21 August day of action marked the start of many by Playfair Qatar, the TUC’s campaign with the Football Supporters’ Federation to raise awareness of the exploitation and abuse faced by workers in the Gulf state. Campaign co-ordinator and TUC policy officer Stephen Russell told the Morning Star: “This stadium was at the heart of the safest Olympics ever - no-one lost their lives. If these standards can be applied for the Olympics they can also happen for the World Cup.” He added: “As a mega-sporting event it stands in stark contrast to the situation in Qatar where hundreds, if not thousands, of people are at risk building both the infrastructure and stadia.” Russell said football’s governing body, Fifa, has the power to put pressure on the Qatari government to ensure that proper health and safety and work conditions are applied, but has continually ignored calls from the global union federation ITUC, unions and Amnesty International to strip Qatar of the tournament. “It is making no effort to reform,” Russell said. “Qatar continues with the Kafala system which binds people in jobs for five years, unable to quit and go to another employer or even just to leave and go back to their families.” He told the Morning Star: “I am not sure what Fifa stand to gain from refusing to act. If Fifa doesn’t take action in Qatar, as the only remaining agency able to compel the Qataris - who clearly have no interest in reforming themselves - then they will have blood on their hands.”

Ÿ  Morning Star. Playfair Qatar and related TUC webpages. UCATT news release.

Firing range death came after union ‘death trap’ warning

A soldier has been shot dead during a night-time live firing exercise at a military training area earlier branded a ‘death trap’ by the union Unite. Pte Conor McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, was shot in the head and died during the 22 August exercise at the Otterburn camp in Northumberland - the UK's largest firing range. The death came four months after Unite warned that Otterburn and other military training grounds had become “death traps”. In April, the union said that the Otterburn Army Training Estate, which covers about 93 square miles of the Southern Cheviot hills, had become unsafe as range wardens had been withdrawn. Previously, range wardens were employed to supervise people using firing ranges and ensure that the area around them was clear. But two years ago, Wiltshire-based private company Landmarc won the £322 million contract to manage the UK’s armed forces training estate. And Unite said the proposal to move the range wardens from the ranges formed a cornerstone of Landmarc’s pitch. The MoD said at the time that jobs were being filled by members of the units using the ranges with a qualified and experienced Range Conducting Officer acting in an overseeing role. The union argued that without specialised wardens, ranges are left without adequate protection against people accidentally walking into the line of fire. Unite regional officer Bob Middleton called on the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) to review the decision to remove range wardens, which affect more than 80 sites across the UK. A letter to the defence secretary ‘received no direct reply’, the union said.

Ÿ  The Herald. BBC News Online. Firing ranges are ‘death traps’ as wardens withdrawn, warns Unite, Unite news release, 19 April 2016.

Union challenges ministers over workload action

Government changes to the system of pupil assessment in England will drive up teachers' workload still further, making a ‘mockery’ of ministers’ claims to be taking action to address teacher well-being, NASUWT has said. Delegates to the teaching union’s annual conference in Birmingham heard the Westminster government had reformed assessments by removing a levels system, but this was driving schools to create and implement their own, often bureaucratic, assessment and testing structures for pupils. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The failure of the government to properly think through the potential consequences of its reforms to the assessment system has led to increased workload and bureaucracy in schools. Assessment Without Levels was promoted by ministers as a reform that would enable teachers in England to focus on teaching and learning; but, instead, it has had the effect of driving futile and workload intensive data management systems and practices which are not only financially costly but which are also a distraction from teaching and learning.” She added: “This is yet another example of the gulf between the Westminster government’s rhetoric which claims to be committed to tackling teacher workload, and the reality of its policies which are having the opposite impact by piling ever greater workload pressures onto an already exhausted and overburdened teaching workforce.”

Ÿ  NASUWT news release.

Scots secondary teachers set for workload action

A second Scottish teaching union is to ballot its members on industrial action over ‘excessive’ workload. The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) said the vote would take place between 14 and 30 September. Another teaching union, the EIS, began a partial work to rule in June over workload related to new qualifications (Risks 756). The move came as Scottish education secretary John Swinney issued new guidance to schools on the Curriculum for Excellence, saying it was designed to cut down on bureaucracy. But SSTA general secretary Seamus Searson said action over the burden of new qualifications was not being taken fast enough, adding “the SSTA view is that teacher workload has and is unlikely to be significantly reduced in the current session, especially in the area of national qualifications and therefore, a formal ballot is necessary to protect its members.” SSTA president Euan Duncan said: “Should any teacher decide to keep their working week within the 'working time agreement', the reality is that they would be unable to develop the necessary resources for learning and teaching.” A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are committed to reducing teacher workload and continued engagement with the profession will play a critical role in making this happen.”

Ÿ  SSTA update. BBC News Online.

Fire brigade’s shift proposal ‘unsafe and unlawful’

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has again slammed fire chiefs in Cambridgeshire for attempting to introduce a ‘Victorian shift system’ that would see firefighters working 96-hour shifts (Risks 757). The system, known as day crew plus, would mean the hours a firefighter works in one week would double and their hourly salary would be one of the lowest in any fire service in the country. In a new video, local officials Cameron Matthews and Riccardo La Torre are joined by Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, as they highlight a previous legal case won by the union against similar duty systems. In an earlier criticism, Riccardo la Torre said: “Who in their right mind would believe that an individual working 96 hours straight, can realistically be expected to be operationally ready for any eventuality? To rescue someone from a burning building or from swift moving flood water?” He said Cambridgeshire chief fire officer, Chris Strickland, “is playing Russian roulette with the lives of firefighters and the public they serve. He is fully aware that these proposals are unlawful and he’ll also be aware of studies that show the detrimental impact on the health of individuals working excessive shift work. It is completely immoral.” The FBU is urging fire chiefs in Cambridgeshire to think again and says they should negotiate a suitable alternative more in keeping with the modern 21st century fire and rescue service.

Ÿ  FBU news release and video update.

OTHER NEWS    

MPs call for more protection for pregnant women

A committee of MPs has called for UK women to have far greater legal protection at work after a 'shocking' increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade. Measures proposed by the Women and Equalities Committee include a system of individual risk assessments to be introduced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by the end of the year and a straightforward mechanism to ‘compel’ employers to remedy any work-related health risks to the pregnant woman, the pregnancy or the baby. The MPs also call for a ‘substantial reduction’ in employment tribunal fees for discrimination cases. Committee chair Maria Miller commented: “The arrival of a new baby puts family finances under extreme pressure yet, despite this, thousands of expectant and new mothers have no choice but to leave their work because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination. Shockingly this figure has almost doubled in the last decade, now standing at 54,000.” The committee said it had heard evidence of a clear need for new and expectant mothers who are casual, agency and zero-hours workers to be properly protected. It found that women in this group are more likely to report a risk or impact to their health and welfare than other types of worker; more likely to leave their employer as a result of health and safety risks not being resolved; and less likely to feel confident about challenging discriminatory behaviour. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the report “must lead to action.” She added: “Pregnancy discrimination forces tens of thousands of women out of their jobs every year. It is not just confined to a few workplaces, it is happening on an industrial scale.” The TUC is also calling on the government for ‘a cast-iron guarantee’ that Brexit will not result in weaker protections for women at work.

Ÿ  House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee news release and report. TUC news release. BBC News Online.

‘Unacceptable’ six month wait to recover Didcot dead

The ongoing wait to recover the bodies of three men killed in the Didcot Power Station collapse six months ago is ‘unacceptable’ and a ‘national scandal’, an MP has said. The search for the missing men resumed last month after the demolition of the remaining section of the boiler house. Ken Cresswell, 57, John Shaw, 61, and Chris Huxtable, 34, have been buried under the rubble since 23 February. The body of Michael Collings, 53, was recovered shortly after the collapse. Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion represents two of the missing men’s families. “I am so frustrated that the men are yet to be found. It is a national scandal that six months on their grieving families are still unable to bury their loved ones,” she said. “The families have had to fight to keep the recovery on track, they should never have been forced into this position. They are as much victims of this disaster as their men who died. It is completely unacceptable that these men, carrying out their work in good faith, have paid with their lives.” An RWE Npower spokesperson said about half the debris pile had been cleared. “We understand how difficult the delay in recovering the men must be for their families and are fully committed to do everything we can,” she added.

On 31 August it was announced a second body had been recovered from the rubble.

Ÿ  Sarah Champion MP news release. BBC News Online.

Workers are victims of robbery on the high seas

An offshore supply ship’s crew, abandoned on-board ship in a Great Yarmouth dock since December, has gone without pay for several months. The 12 crew members, all Indian, spent their time growing vegetables in pots on the deck of the Malaviya Twenty, writes journalist Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. She says the company hoped they would give up, but they are holding out for their pay. “They’re trying to wear us down,” one officer told her: they want no names printed for fear of blacklisting. The Indian supply ship plies its trade sailing between the British coast and UK offshore oil rigs and wind farms. Despite this, its foreign owners need not pay the UK minimum wage: rates are often a third less than for British sailors. The trade union Nautilus has stepped in to assist the crew. It notes: “The exploitation of these crews directly undermines our own shipping industry with unfair competition.” The union has called in the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which means the ship is barred from leaving port until the men are paid. According to Toynbee: “The shipping industry is a prime example of what an unfettered free market does to a workforce, of globalisation at its reddest in tooth and claw. Flying flags of convenience, British shipping has been allowed to register in low-pay, low-regulation countries.” She adds: “Can Britain rule its own waves again after Brexit, restoring its ships to the UK flag with decent pay and safety conditions? No chance, since Britain has been the strongest lobby in Europe against reform. Of EU nations, Britain protects its own sailors least from unfair, undercutting competition, and issuing most ‘certificates of equivalent competency’ to foreign mariners so they can work on its ships.” Leaving the EU could make matters worse, she warns. “The three politicians who now command the Brexit negotiations are all extreme free marketeers. Once outside the EU, don’t expect welfare, wages and working conditions to be high among their priorities as they attempt to strike new trade deals.”

Ÿ  The Guardian.

Back shattered by falling granite slab

An Aberdeen memorial firm has been fined after a worker’s spine was crushed by a falling slab of granite. A&J Robertson employee, Kenneth Rennie, was left with a shattered vertebra after a large piece of rock became detached from a six tonne boulder and struck him and pinned him to the ground. As a result, Mr Rennie had to have metal screws and rods inserted into his spine. At Aberdeen Sheriff Court the firm pleaded guilty to criminal safety charges relating to the incident on 6 March 2014. The court heard that Mr Rennie had been in a stone-working shed assisting his colleague, Anthony Jack, unload a cutting trolley which held a large piece of granite from the primary saw. After checking everything was secure, the men positioned themselves on the same side of the trolley and proceeded to push against it to move it away from the saw. However, the off-cut slab of granite - which weighed approximately 100-150kgs, and was top heavy - fell towards the two men. Mr Jack managed to avoid the falling slab, however, Mr Rennie was struck on the back by a failed support bar and the off-cut slab of granite. Sentencing the firm, Sheriff Graeme Napier said it was a serious incident which could have resulted in a fatality. He fined the company £23,500.

Ÿ  Press and Journal.

Pub chain fined after worker suffers burns

A national pub chain has been fined £95,000 after a staff member suffered burns while working in South Wales. Enterprise Inns plc was taken to court after the worker at the Angel Inn in Caerphilly was injured when a ‘flash over’ occurred from a gas fired cooking range on 16 July 2015. The firm was prosecuted by Caerphilly County Borough Council following an investigation. It pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences at Newport Magistrates’ Court and was ordered to pay a fine of £95,000 with costs of £15,860. Councillor Nigel George, the council’s cabinet member for community services, said: “We take all cases of accidents reported to the council very seriously and investigate them thoroughly. This was a serious incident involving a person becoming injured as a result of a faulty gas appliance and I am pleased that the court has reflected this in the fine.”

Ÿ  Caerphilly County Borough Council news release. Wales Online. BBC News Online.

Theatre supplier fined after lorry driver is crushed

A renowned theatre supplier has been ordered to pay out almost £40,000 after a lorry driver was crushed by falling canvasses. Founded in 1840, Brodie and Middleton is one of the oldest theatre suppliers in London selling drapes, costumes and make-up, among other art supplies. A lawyer for the company said the fine was a further setback for an organisation already in “dire straits” financially. The driver, Jaan Kramartsuk, was struck by the canvasses falling from a forklift truck as he helped a Brodie and Middleton employee unload his lorry at the supplier’s north London warehouse. Both of the Estonian’s legs were broken in the incident, while he also suffered nerve damage to his left arm. At a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, the court heard that the forklift truck was “ill-equipped” to bear the weight of the load, and that the Brodie and Middleton employee was attempting to unload the lorry quickly as it was blocking traffic. Brodie and Middleton pleaded guilty to three criminal health and safety breaches over the incident, which took place in June 2014. Judge Quentin Purdy ordered the supplier to pay a £30,000 fine, £2,000 in compensation to the victim and £7,292 in court costs.  Julia Hendrick, who represented Brodie and Middleton, said: “This is a company which in the past made a modest profit, but now is in relative dire straits. The director is trying to keep it afloat. The director and senior managers care very much about their staff, they don’t want to lay them off if they don’t have to.” The judge gave the firm up to five years to pay the fine.

Ÿ  The Stage. London Evening Standard.

Roofing firms and director prosecuted after fall death

Two roofing companies have been fined and a director given community service after a worker fell to his death through a skylight. Cardiff Crown Court heard how 46-year-old Lance Davies, a father of seven, died after falling over seven metres through a roof light at industrial premises in Crumlin, South Wales. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 15 December 2011 tragedy found that work at height on the roof was not properly planned, managed or monitored. There were inadequate control measures in place to prevent a fall through the roof lights. SPAN Roofing Contractors Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £65,000 and ordered to pay costs of £37,500. B&T Roofing Solutions Limited also pleaded guilty and was fined £20,000. Kristian Griffiths, a director of B&T Roofing Solutions Ltd, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was given a 160 hours community service order. B&T Roofing Solutions and Kristian Griffiths were ordered to pay costs of £32,500 between them. HSE principal inspector Paul Harvey said: “Falls through fragile roof lights and roofs are one of the biggest causes of fatalities and serious injury in the construction industry. The issue is well known in the construction industry and there is plenty of guidance available.” He added: “The tragic death of Mr Davies could easily have been avoided had the work been planned, managed and monitored effectively and simple and cost effective control measures put in place.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Wales Online.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: Union hails ‘life-saving’ armoured car ruling

Canada’s federal ministry of labour has ordered security firm Brink’s Canada Limited to change its practice requiring the driver and guard to both exit armoured vehicles at drop-offs and pick-ups, saying it puts workers in danger. The decision comes after an investigation into a continued refusal to work by an employee in Edmonton, Alberta. The move, which followed an official safety investigation into the ‘All off’ model employed by many companies in the armoured car industry, was welcomed by the union Unifor. “This is a tremendous step forward for the safety of all armoured car workers, this decision has the potential to save lives,” said Mike Armstrong, Unifor’s national lead on the armoured car industry. “We now look to the entire industry to eliminate the unnecessary danger associated with ‘All off’ crews.” The investigation concluded with a decisive ruling to direct Brink's Canada Limited to immediately alter its practice relating to the driver and guard both exiting the armoured vehicle at drop-offs and pick-ups. It said the ‘All off’ approach does not provide employees with any information of suspicious persons or activities occurring outside while they are inside the customer’s location. Unifor said the move is in line with its long-standing position on the importance and safety benefits of having the driver as the crew’s eyes and ears. Canada has witnessed more than 85 armoured car robberies since 2000, resulting in five deaths and ‘countless’ physical and mental injuries, the union said. “These employees face potential danger on every shift,” said Armstrong. “We look forward to working with our industry partners to implement new protocols to protect them.”

Ÿ  Unifor news release and safe cargo campaign. Global News. Canadian Occupational Health and Safety magazine.

Russia: Unions and Fifa sign Russia 2018 deal

The organisers of the 2018 football World Cup have signed an agreement with unions to ensure workers preparing facilities for the event in Russia have decent and safe working conditions. Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) are football’s global governing body Fifa, the Local Organising Committee (LOC), the Russian Construction Workers Union (RBWU) and global construction union federation BWI. As part of the deal, the event organisers have agreed BWI and RBWU will participate in visits to 2018 Fifa World Cup stadium construction sites. The signatories to the agreement will also facilitate the negotiations to address and resolve workers’ complaints on serious violations of decent working conditions, the deal stipulates. “As we are strengthening our approach towards safeguarding human and labour rights, the collaboration with independent stakeholders is of key importance,” said Fifa’s head of sustainability, Federico Addiechi. “The signature of this MoU marks a significant step towards bringing on board important partners such as trade unions and working together to ensure decent and safe working conditions at Fifa World Cup stadium construction sites in Russia.” BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson said: “The MoU is an important step forward to ensure decent work and safe working conditions for all construction workers working at 2018 Fifa World Cup stadium construction sites. We hope it will lead to a fall in the incidents of worker rights violations that we have witnessed in recent months. The BWI will work closely with the RBWU, Fifa, and the LOC to implement the MoU so that the lives of workers on the ground can improve.”

Ÿ  BWI news release. Fifa news release.

Russia: Warehouse fire kills at least 17 migrant workers

A fire at a printing warehouse in northern Moscow that killed at least 17 migrant workers on Saturday 27 August was triggered by a faulty electrical lamp, officials have said. The fire started around 7:00am in the warehouse’s first-floor loading zone and quickly climbed an elevator shaft to the fourth floor, where around 30 workers were finishing their night shift. Firefighters arrived five minutes after receiving a call and extinguished the fire within two hours. They rescued at least 12 people, but also found 16 bodies.

Many workers were trapped in a remote room of the building, and the firefighters had to destroy a wall to reach them, the state-run Rossiya 24 news channel reported. Five people were hospitalised, and one of them, a 20-year-old woman, later died. Most of the warehouse’s workers were from Kyrgyzstan and were legally permitted to work in Russia. “All victims are young women,” Abdygani Shakirov, a representative of Kyrgyz immigrants in Moscow, told the Interfax news agency. “They were in a changing room and could not get out. The smoke has cut off the exit for them.” The building was equipped with working smoke detectors, firefighters said. The Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal policing agency, said it would open a criminal investigation into the cause of the fire. In January, 12 people, including 10 migrant workers, died in a fire at another warehouse in Moscow.

Ÿ  New York Times.

USA: Fair pay, safe workplaces law welcomed

After a US Senate report found in 2014 that many federal contractors had been repeatedly cited for cheating, harassing and injuring their employees, President Obama ordered federal agencies to check how well companies have complied with labour laws before awarding contracts. The result, final regulations and guidance implementing the president’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, came on 24 August 2016. Announcing the new measures, US secretary of labor Thomas E Perez said: “Contractors that illegally cut corners at the expense of their workers should not benefit from taxpayer-funded federal contracts. At the same time, employers who meet their legal responsibilities should not have to compete with those who do not. The regulations and guidance we are announcing today seek to ensure a level playing field for contractors and workers alike.” Welcoming the regulations, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said “these new rules mean that for those contractors who do not comply with the law and continue to practice workplace discrimination, illegally short-change workers on wages, or jeopardise worker health by exposing them to safety risks, there will be no more free passes. Why should taxpayer dollars reward corporations that cut corners and put our nation’s workers at risk?” She added: “We are confident that the rules will help ensure the federal government does business only with responsible companies that respect our nation’s worker protection laws. Today ushers in a new era in which all hardworking Americans can finally receive, by law, the fair pay and safe workplaces they deserve.” According to a New York Times editorial, the “new procedures require companies to disclose violations from the previous three years when bidding for new contracts of $500,000 or more. They require procurement officials to take the common-sense step of considering past wrongdoing that is serious, wilful, repeated or pervasive in weighing whether to award a contract.” It adds: “The main goal is not to deny contracts or to blacklist companies, as critics claim, but to rectify and prevent violations. To that end, the new rules allow companies to meet with compliance officials and develop plans to fix violations before submitting bids. If a given company takes corrective action, its bid will be considered. The rules lay out procedures to check compliance.” The paper criticised Republicans in Congress for opposing the effort. “At last, the government has devised a means to better protect American workers and ensure that companies obey the law. Why would anyone stand in the way?” the editorial noted.

Ÿ  US Labor Department news release and Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. NELP news release. New York Times.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS      

Courses for 2016

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

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Hugh Robertson
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