Nearly half of UK workplaces have never had a health and safety inspection – including more than 80 per cent of construction workplaces – according to a new TUC survey of health and safety reps. The union body’s biennial survey, which analysed responses from over 1,000 safety reps, found manufacturing is the only sector in which a majority (57 per cent) of safety reps said there had been an inspection during the past year. In stark comparison, in the notoriously hazardous construction industry – where there were 65,000 reported work-related injuries and 67,000 work-related illnesses in 2015 – just one in six (17 per cent) reps was aware of an inspection in the last year. Overall, nearly one in two (46 per cent) respondents said that as far as they know their workplace has never had an inspection by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Just one in four reps (24 per cent) reported an inspection within the last 12 months. The TUC indicated the figures are more alarming because workplaces with dedicated health and safety reps are usually larger workplaces where there are greater risks to workers. It added that by 2019/20 government funding of the HSE will have been slashed by nearly half in a decade, adding in recent years, local councils have reduced workplace inspections by 97 per cent. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s deeply worrying that nearly half of health and safety reps say their workplace has never been inspected by the HSE.” She added: “Huge cuts to the HSE and to local authorities continue to undermine vital safety protections at work. That means more workers at risk of accidents in unsafe workplaces every day. It's time to fund the HSE properly and make sure bosses know that they can't get away with chancing workers' lives in dangerous workplaces.” Earlier this month the TUC condemned the government’s appointment of a former employer and business leader to a seat on the board of the HSE that is reserved for a representative of workers’ interests (Risks 767).
The ‘astonishing’ lack of official safety inspections on building sites exposes the government’s ‘wilful neglect’ of workplace safety, the construction union UCATT has said. The union warning came after a TUC survey of union safety reps found 80 per cent of sites have never been inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The union said the “demanding and often hazardous work environment requires rigorous health and safety rules and monitoring, so that workers get home safely. This new research reveals the utter neglect by the government body mandated with safeguarding the country’s working environments.” UCATT acting general secretary, Brian Rye, said: “This survey result is astonishing. What is the point of the HSE if they don’t inspect? UCATT health and safety reps, shop stewards and convenors spend their working lives trying to protect British construction workers, the very least we could expect from our government is some support.” He added: “If there are effectively no health and safety inspections by the HSE then unscrupulous employers will neglect the safety of their workers, if it means they can save money. This Tory government’s wilful neglect of the British worker is tantamount to creating a Wild West in the workplace – and we all know the consequences of such neglect will be injuries and maybe lives lost for construction workers. It is utterly shameful.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said she was “appalled that 80 per cent of reps in construction say their workplaces haven't been inspected. Construction workplaces can be some of the most dangerous places to work.”
Union safety reps are increasingly the only health and safety protection workers can rely on, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stopped preventive inspections in most workplace years ago and local councils have almost entirely given up workplace oversight. The meant “in the vast majority of unionised workplaces, the only people who are there to challenge the employers on health and safety when they risk the health or safety of the workers are union health and safety representatives.” But he added the union’s biennial survey findings show “despite all the attacks on unions from both the government and many employers, trade union health and safety representatives are still doing an amazing job. Over threequarters of them have managed to get themselves trained, despite the pressures of work and the barriers that employers often put in their way. Also around 80 per cent of representatives had inspected their workplace and of these who had, well over half had inspected three or more times in the past year.” Robertson commented: “This is a great achievement and is the reason why workplaces with union health and safety representatives are so much safer and healthier than those without. So let’s remember that these people are volunteers who, for no material reward, give up their own time to help others and, as a result help save people from injury, illness or even, in some cases, death. We should never lose an opportunity of celebrating this amazing band of people.” The 2016 survey results showed stress is the dominant concern in every sector, with bullying and harassment also big issues. “What this indicates is how much the workplace has changed dramatically over recent decades and with new ways of working, changes to the economy and austerity cuts, the health hazards that we encounter at work have changed enormously,” the TUC safety specialist said.
Sports Direct has bowed to shareholder and union pressure by agreeing to an independent review of its working practices and corporate governance. The company had said the law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC), which carried out a preliminary review published this month, would conduct a further investigation. However, after strong shareholder backing for an independent review at the Sports Direct AGM this month (Risks 767), the company has now said that “an independent party other than RPC” would conduct the review. The company also said a worker representative would be elected to the board by all staff “directly engaged or employed by Sports Direct”. The Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) group welcomed the announcement, which followed a TUSO resolution calling for an independent review that was tabled earlier this month at the company’s AGM (Risks 761). It was supported by a majority of independent shareholders. TUSO chair Janet Williamson said: “The board should now consult both shareholders and trade unions in finalising the plans for the independent review. Trade unions representing workers at Sports Direct stand ready to work with the company to ensure a successful future that is fair for its staff.” Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “We have always urged, as we did at this year’s AGM with the backing of investors, that an independent review is a vital component of this company truly getting to grips with its many and serious employment problems, so we are pleased that the company has now seen sense.” He added: “We will continue to make the case that only with decent, direct employment right across the business can this company truly convince its stakeholders and the watching world that it is genuine about making the much-needed changes to practices that have shocked people everywhere."
Rail workers took ‘rock solid’ strike action on two London Underground lines last week over ‘timed’ toilet breaks. RMT members on the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines walked out for 24 hours after what their union described as a ‘flagrant disregard for agreed policies and procedures’. Commenting at the start of the action on 16 September, the union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “Members on the lines affected by this dispute are standing firm this morning and the reports from the two main depots involved confirm that the action is rock solid. This dispute is about the basic issues of protecting working conditions of our members and defending agreements from attempts to drive a coach and horses through them. The management are out of control and the anger at their failure to follow procedures has boiled over.” He added: “This breakdown in industrial relations should never have been allowed to happen and if agreements and processes had been adhered to from the off the package of issues at the heart of the dispute could have been resolved through the joint machinery. The union remains available for serious and meaningful talks.” London Underground operations director Steve White denied the company was timing toilet breaks. He said: “We are trying to support our staff, offering help through our occupational health team if a driver has health issues which requires them to take long breaks.”
A series of criminal safety offences have seen telecommunications giant BT run up a fines bill in excess of £1 million in just five months. The firm’s latest penalty, £51,000 plus £2,166.83 costs handed down at Boston Magistrates' Court this month, was in relation to 15 safety offences involving BT contractors who put the public in danger at road work sites in Kirton, Sleaford and Tattershall between January and March this year. Dave Joyce, national safety officer with the communications union CWU, said: “Hopefully, the result of these prosecutions will have a salutary effect and underline the importance of prioritising safety both in the workplace and when working on the roads.” Other recent prosecutions saw the company fined £600,000 plus £60,000 costs at Teesside Crown Court in May, after two CWU members fell from step ladders in separate incidents on the same day, on the same job (Risks 753). The victims sustained several serious head and back injuries. BT was also fined £500,000 plus £98,913.51 costs at London’s Old Bailey in June after an engineer fell seven metres from a loft in a London block of flats, breaking his back and his ankles (Risks 755).
A former railway worker from Luton has received compensation after asbestos exposure caused him to develop a disabling lung condition. The ASLEF member, whose name and former workplace have not been released, began his career as a train engine cleaner in 1956. His colleagues would dismantle train engines and remove asbestos boiler insulation, which caused asbestos dust to settle on his hair and clothes. After he retired, he had a routine check-up for a heart condition, which discovered that he had fluid on his lung. Further tests confirmed he had developed pleural thickening which can be caused by asbestos. He has now received an undisclosed payout in a union-backed claim. Mick Whelan, general secretary at ASLEF, said: “Our member was never provided with any protective equipment throughout the course of his career, which left him defenceless against inhaling asbestos. As a member of ASLEF, he was able to receive 100 per cent of the compensation secured for him.”
Labour’s John McDonnell has warned that the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) regulatory mission has been compromised by its new profit motive (Risks 753) – and has said in contrast to the current government, the protection of people at work is a ‘red line’ issue for his party. In a feature in the latest issue of Hazards magazine, the shadow chancellor said Labour is committed to delivering a strong workplace safety regime underpinned by restored trade union rights. McDonnell said he was “scandalised at the commercialisation of the HSE, the fact that the HSE is tasked with selling its products not just in this country but around the world. You know as well as I do that as soon as the profit motive enters an organisation, principles go out the window. I think there is a conflict of interest about making a profit and doing the job of enforcing properly and independently.” He said Labour in opposition “will expose the lack of performance of the HSE due these cuts and analyse the lack of investment and deregulation. I will work with you to use every possible parliamentary mechanism to expose all of this, and every public measure available too.” He added: “Health and safety advances go hand in hand with trade union advances. We cannot establish an effective health and safety regime in this country unless we restore trade union rights as well.” Labour would implement “clear policies to restore trade union rights, to address anti-trade unions laws and, yes, to scrap the recently enacted Trade Union Act,” he said.
Hard labour: Labour pledges to listen and act on workplace health and safety, Hazards magazine, Number 135, 2016.
Genetically modified enzymes used to create flavourings and aromas and boost the power of cleaning products and medicines, are “potent allergens” that can immediately sensitise those occupationally exposed to them, researchers have found. A paper published online in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine warns as yet there are no commercially available diagnostic tests to monitor the potential health risk posed by these new enzymes. It warns that new developments in industrial processing, fuelled by consumer demand for low fat foods and ‘natural’ flavours, have prompted an explosion in the production of these artificially created flavourings, fragrances, and other industrial applications that rely on enzyme technology, turning it into a US$10 billion industry. But genetically engineering the enzyme protein may change its allergenic properties, the researchers note. The allergy warning came after the team of health experts from Britain and Germany measured specific antibodies to artificially created enzymes in blood samples from 813 workers, employed in industries - food, drinks, chemicals, detergents and medicines - that use enzyme technology for their products. They found almost one in four of the employees (23 per cent) had specific antibodies to the genetically modified enzymes to which they were routinely exposed during working hours. More than one in three (36 per cent) of a sub-group tested for skin and lung reactions said they had symptoms of rhinitis or asthma that were related to their job; they were more than twice as likely to have high antibody levels than workers who didn’t have symptoms. The researchers said their study was hampered by commercial secrecy, which prevented them from gaining access to the formulations used. Nevertheless, they state: “Genetically engineered enzymes are potent allergens eliciting immediate-type sensitisation.” The paper concludes: “The assessment of allergenicity should be mandatory for all new products... Enzymes should be tested like any other potentially hazardous chemical.”
Lygia T Budnik and others. Sensitising effects of genetically modified enzymes used in flavour, fragrance, detergence and pharmaceutical production: cross-sectional study, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, online first 22 September 2016.
Doctors in Scotland are to be given new guidance on how to diagnose asbestos-related disease in the hope of improving care for sufferers. Campaigners from Clydeside Action on Asbestos (CAA), which helps people with asbestos cancers, has developed a new initiative designed to help GPs spot the signs of related diseases including mesothelioma quicker. The charity argues the faster the person is diagnosed with asbestos-related disease, the better care they will receive. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who met this month with CAA staff to discuss the new training book, said: “Clydeside Action on Asbestos has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of this illness and its consequences for individuals, and I am delighted that this new educational resource for GPs and their practice staff is now available.” She added: “There are many issues for GP’s to consider in relation to a potential diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease, and I believe there is a real demand for there to be specialist information available for GP’s to access.” Phyllis Craig, the senior welfare rights officer at CAA and one of the main driving forces in developing the training, said: “This resource will allow doctors a better understanding of the emotional, legal and financial strains that victims and their families encounter. CAA are confident that this new learning resource will help GPs to understand the difficulties of asbestos related conditions.”
A manufacturing company based in Hemel Hampstead has been fined £1 million after a worker was crushed to death by a machine as a consequence of ‘ad hoc’ attempts to move it. Colin Reddish, 48, was involved in moving a large CNC milling machine within the company’s Grantham factory on 30 April 2015 when it overturned and killed him. The machine had been lifted using jacks and placed onto skates in order to give Mr Reddish access to use an angle grinder to cut and remove the bolts that had secured it to the floor. He was working alone at the time of the incident. Lincoln Magistrates Court heard how Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Ltd had not ensured that workers who were tasked with lifting and moving the machine were sufficiently trained and had the right experience for carrying out such a potentially dangerous activity. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found during its investigation that the work was not properly planned. The centre of gravity of the machine had not been properly assessed and taken into account before the move took place. This resulted in an unsafe system of work being used for the job, with fatal consequences. Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £1 million and costs of £6,311. HSE inspector Martin Giles said: “Colin Reddish’s death was entirely preventable. Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Ltd had already tried unsuccessfully to lift the machine using a forklift truck but instead of learning from this failure they carried on. Their ad hoc approach to managing dangerous tasks resulted in one of their workers losing his life.” He added: “All companies can learn from this incident and make sure they have properly risk assessed the situation before they start and that they have trained staff with the right type of experience to carry out the task in hand safely. Taking an extra few minutes to properly think through a problem could save a worker’s life.”
A Surrey construction company has been fined after a contractor was run over and suffered serious injuries on a large site in Wokingham. David Cole, a site foreman on the large housing development project, was struck by and pulled under a large bulk powder carrier on 7 December 2014. The worker, contracted to Harlequin Brickwork Ltd, was walking along the site road toward the rear of a bulk powder – mortar - carrier. The vehicle was located on a t-junction, having just reversed into the junction. Mr Cole walked along the nearside of the vehicle as it pulled forward and turned towards the nearside. He was hit by the vehicle and pulled under it, suffering life-threatening injuries. His skin was removed and split on his left arm and leg, he fractured his left hip requiring a pin to be inserted, and fingers on his left hand were broken. His left leg has been left permanently 20mm shorter than his right leg. Reading Crown Court heard principal contractor Crest Nicholson Operations Ltd had failed to plan and manage workplace transport effectively. The incident could have been avoided had the firm monitored and taken action to ensure workers stayed behind the pedestrian barriers and not walked on the road, and prevented large HGVs reversing hundreds of metres at a time. Crest Nicholson Operations Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £800,000 plus £10,984 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector John Berezansky said. “David Cole suffered life-changing injuries because Crest Nicolson Operations Limited did not properly manage and monitor the workplace transport on their construction site. When working with such large delivery vehicles and construction plant, especially on projects where there are lots of pedestrians, the principal contractor much take responsibility and ensure the health and safety of all those involved.”
A Kent company that supplies road safety products has been fined after a worker suffered life-threatening injuries when a drum he was working on exploded. Maidstone Crown Court heard how 41-year-old Andrew Foster, an employee of Highway Care Limited, was using a plasma cutter to cut up a drum that had previously contained a flammable substance. The drum exploded in his face causing complex head and brain injuries. He has permanently lost vision in his right eye and now has very limited vision in his left eye. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 6 August 2012 incident found that the company failed to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Highway Care Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay costs of £33,358.46. HSE inspector Caroline Fullman said. “Andrew Foster has been left with devastating injuries that will impact on the rest of his and his family’s lives. This incident could have resulted in a fatality.” She added: “If a welding torch or plasma cutter is used on a tank or drum that has contained or contains a flammable substance, it can explode. It only takes a small amount of residue to create a potentially flammable atmosphere.” Andrew Foster said: “I have lost my independence and now rely very heavily on my wife Donna for almost all my everyday needs. I worry about the financial impact of me not working will have on my family.” He is now pursuing a compensation claim. He said he hoped that “by taking legal action myself that I will be able to provide for my young family and ensure I can access the help and support I need so we can begin to rebuild our lives and try and put this ordeal behind us.”
Union safety reps should make sure the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) knows how important strong, effective chemical regulations are at work, the TUC has said. The union body wants union reps to make their views heard in an HSE review of the current chemicals regulations. The review covers the core chemical safety rules, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), as well as the Control of Lead at Work Regulations (CLAW) and the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR). As part of the review, HSE is conducting an online survey. TUC wants union safety reps to make submissions to the review ahead of an 18 October deadline. HSE says the survey should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. It adds: “Towards the end of the questionnaire you will be given the opportunity to volunteer to help us further, by discussing your experience in more detail, and will be asked to provide contact details if you are willing to help.”
Hazardous substances in the workplace - review of regulations: Complete the HSE chemicals regulations survey.
The TUC has published a short guide to the government’s Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme, which covers both injuries and certain occupational diseases caused by work, including occupational asthma, deafness and vibration disease, and some dust diseases, strain injuries and occupational cancers. The guide is an important resource for affected workers or for safety reps advising members on compensation claims and work-related benefits – which can be clawed back if a compensation claim against the employer is successful.
The death of a young woman killed when a conveyor belt caught her clothing at a Toronto factory has prompted renewed union calls for better safety protection for temporary workers. The 23-year-old, whose name has not been released, died at Fiera Foods where she had been sent by a temp agency. Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Chris Buckley has written to the Toronto Police asking for a criminal investigation into the most recent death. In 2004 the Canadian Criminal Code was amended by Bill C-45 and now provides special criminal negligence provisions for companies that disregard the health and safety of workers. The intent of the legislation is to hold employers criminally liable for the deaths of workers. “Every worker who is killed at work deserves to have their death investigated through the lens of C-45. Their family deserves to know the police have done more than rule out foul play, that they have looked at criminal negligence by the employer as a possible cause,” said Buckley in the letter. OFL said too many employers treat temp agency workers as a disposable commodity, relegating to them the most precarious and dangerous work. It added an ongoing review of Ontario’s employment laws “means we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring in sweeping changes and create the employment laws Ontario workers need, including holding all employers to account.” United Steelworkers' (USW) Ontario director Marty Warren said: “In Ontario, there is little or no coordination between law enforcement and regulators under the Ministry of Labour. This means justice is rarely, if ever, served in Canada's largest province. It gives too much freedom to employers to get away with fines as a cost of doing business. It has to stop.”
A UK activist who campaigned for the rights of migrant workers in Thailand's fruit processing industry has been found guilty of defamation and computer crimes. Andy Hall, from Lincolnshire, was given a three-year suspended jail term and fined 150,000 baht (£3,300). Hall had contributed to a report by Finnwatch in 2013 alleging the Natural Fruit Company mistreated its workers (Risks 717). Finnwatch, a Helsinki-based non-profit corporate responsibility watchdog, said it was “shocked” by the verdict. “Andy has been made a scapegoat in order to stifle other voices that speak out legitimately in support of migrant worker rights,” said executive director Sonja Vartiala. “We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling.” Hall's sentence was suspended for two years, meaning he will not go to jail. Because the report was published online in Thailand, he was also found guilty of violating the Computer Crimes Act. A spokesperson for the British embassy in Bangkok said it would be raising the matter with the Thai authorities. The Finnwatch report - Cheap has a High Price - included allegations that migrant workers were being paid wages below the legal minimum, working long hours at factories and had had their passports illegally confiscated. Natural Fruit, one of Thailand's biggest pineapple producers, denied all the allegations and brought charges against Hall, who was living in Thailand at the time. The frequent use of the criminal defamation law in Thailand to silence critics has been condemned by human rights groups. The US-based Human Rights Watch said Hall had co-ordinated “important research” and that prosecuting him raised “serious questions about Thailand's readiness to protect workers' rights.”
Courses for 2016
Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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