|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.
Stress is the top health and safety concern in UK workplaces according to a TUC study. The TUC’s biennial survey of more than 1,000 health and safety reps asks them to pick out the hazards at work that most trouble them and their workmates. Findings published by the TUC on 10 October - World Mental Health Day – indicate stress was at the top of the list in this year’s survey, with 7 in 10 reps (70 per cent) citing it as a problem – up 3 per cent since the last survey in 2014 when 67 per cent did so, and a higher proportion than in any previous TUC study. The union body says stress is one of the main causes of mental health problems, in particular anxiety and depression. It adds the problem is worse in the cuts-ravaged public sector, with central government, education and health services worst affected. The latest survey found a sharp rise in reported stress in medium-sized companies. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The message from the shopfloor is clear, stress is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Pressures of long working hours and low job security are being felt in workplaces across the UK.” She added: “It’s in no-one’s interests to have overstretched workforces. People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off. Stress is preventable if staff have reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment.” TUC guidance on stress prevention notes that it is a problem that can affect anyone, and advises affected workers to talk to someone like a union rep, a friend, a GP or a support service. It adds stress-related illnesses caused by work are preventable. Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or remove anything at work that could make you ill – and that includes workplace stress, the TUC says.
A landmark victory for two easyJet cabin crew will have wide implications for working women wishing to continue breastfeeding after their maternity leave ends, Unite has said. The union argued that the budget airline had neglected health and safety procedures, despite claiming it was acting on safety grounds. Two members of easyJet’s Bristol-based cabin crew, Unite members Sara Ambacher and Cynthia McFarlane, mothers of baby boys Sydney and Eli, took the low-cost airline to an employment tribunal claiming that easyJet’s failure to limit their duty days to eight hours to allow them to express milk or to offer them ground duties whilst they continued to breastfeed was discriminatory. The tribunal ruled EasyJet had demonstrated indirect sex discrimination and breached the Employment Rights Act. It said the airline should have reduced the breastfeeding mothers' hours, found them alternative duties or suspended them on full pay. Unite said although in its training literature easyJet recognises breastfeeding as being a ‘globally recognised human right’ where passengers are concerned, this recognition did not extend to its cabin crew. The union added that the airline had disregarded the advice of four GPs, failed to carry out its own risk assessments despite having a dedicated health and safety team and failed to send the women to be assessed by occupational health. “Instead, managers admit to Googling ‘breast feeding risks’ on the internet before coming up with a series of unworkable ‘solutions’ each of which involved Sara and Cynthia suffering a significant detriment,” Unite said. Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus described the tribunal ruling as “a ground-breaking victory which has wider implications for all working women particularly those in atypical workplaces like cabin crew.” She added: “The days of ‘I’m going back to work so I will have to give up breastfeeding’ are over. Unite has tens of thousands of female cabin crew members across the major airlines and we will be working with those airlines to ensure that they adopt policies and practices that reflect this ruling.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan has been urged by Unite to put his ‘economic fairness’ pledge to the top of the agenda by tackling the exploitative work practices in London’s hotel industry. The union’s research, published in August, found nine out of every ten hotel housekeeping workers in the capital suffer from back pain caused by their job (Risks 765). ‘Unethical London’ also found over threequarters of the chefs surveyed reported having witnessed an injury or a near miss caused by fatigue. A Unite letter sent to Sadiq Khan and all members of the London Assembly calls for bold leadership and the adoption of ‘city-wide principles’ to deal with the low cost, exploitative business model used by global hotel chains. The union call came ahead of the British Hospitality Association’s (BHA) ‘Big Hospitality Conversation’ event at city hall this week, promoting hospitality as a career choice. The Unite report revealed that behind the public face of London’s booming tourism industry is a hidden army of low paid workers, where pain, low pay, excessive working hours, zero hours contracts and open hostility to trade unions have become standard practice. Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said: “The BHA says that a good conversation can lead to good things. Well, it needs to start listening to our members, the hidden army of cleaners, porters, receptionists and room attendants who have painted a very bleak picture of working conditions in London’s hotels.” He added: “We are calling on the mayor and London Assembly members from all four parties to get behind our city wide principle initiative, to put pressure on the global chains to start engaging with Unite. A truly ethical capital city and successful hospitality sector can only be built on respect.” Unite said the hospitality sector is the UK’s fourth largest employer, with 10 per cent of the UK workforce.
UNISON is urging its health and safety reps to give European Health and Safety Week a ‘High 5’. In the run up to the annual event, to run this year from 24-30 October, the union is keeping track of the events organised by its union branches and safety reps, from recruitment stalls to workplace safety inspections. It also wants union reps to use social media to raise the profile of the union’s safety activities. Some ‘health and safety for all ages’ themed activities will be featured on the union’s health and safety ‘High 5’ wall of fame, it says. The union notes: “UNISON health and safety reps make sure employers keep our members safe at work – regardless of whether they are younger, older, or somewhere in between!” It adds: “Don’t forget to use the hashtag #HSHigh5 and #EHSW2016 on any social media posts of your activities, and check out our High 5 poster.”
Ill-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) is putting seafarers’ health and safety at risk, the union Nautilus has warned. Nautilus council member Jessica Tyson, addressing the union’s UK conference, changed into a boiler suit to highlight the problems of the ‘one size fits all’ approach to PPE and emergency equipment. She moved a motion warning that a lot of PPE is manufactured to traditional specifications — often meaning it is not suitable for the increasing number of female seafarers. But she stressed the issue affects all seafarers. “If you are tall or short, and the equipment does not fit properly, it can be dangerous as you are not able to focus on the job you are meant to be doing. We are all different and there should be some understanding of this in the equipment that we have.” Nautilus member Samantha Belfitt told delegates how she had to wear size 10 fire boots, when her shoe size is four. “Every time I walked up and down, the boots fell off,” she recalled. The meeting gave unanimous support to the motion, which calls for PPE suppliers to design and provide equipment that is fit for purpose and suitable for all seafarers. It also calls for employers to carry out a full risk assessment of all PPE and emergency equipment onboard to ensure that all crew members can use it safely.
Construction union UCATT is calling for an urgent independent inquiry into ‘safety and workplace abuses’ on the Crossrail tunnelling contract being undertaken by contractor ATC, a consortium involving Alstom, TSO and Costain (Risks 770). The union says its members working on the Crossrail tunnelling contract say ATC management are employing ‘intimidatory’ working practices. It adds workers are being forced to work until they are physically exhausted and are being required to undertake work that is beyond them. Welfare facilities are “appalling”, it adds, with some workers required to walk two miles to the nearest toilet. UCATT has written to London mayor Sadiq Khan, Crossrail and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) calling for an independent inquiry. UCATT regional secretary Jerry Swain said: “Not only is this project a disgrace in its treatment of its workforce but there are now serious safety concerns. These issues should cause great alarm amongst ATC and Crossrail management.” He added: “We need an urgent independent inquiry in order to investigate and end these abuses. The workforce and the country require reassurance that this flagship, state-funded construction project will follow the gold standard for workers’ treatment and workplace conditions. Tunnelling is a dangerous environment.” UCATT says there are currently over 1,000 workers employed by ATC on the tunnelling section of the Crossrail contract. It adds that problems on the site have been made far worse because the contractors refuse to give UCATT normal access to the workforce.
Rail union RMT is calling on Merseytravel to abandon ‘reckless’ plans for driver-only trains. The union say’s the travel authority’s ‘complete failure’ for more than six months to answer key safety questions over plans to remove guards from Merseyrail trains “tells us everything we need to know.” RMT says since the union first wrote to Merseytravel chair Liam Robinson in March, emergencies have taken place on the railway network – one of them on Merseyrail itself – which have underlined the critical role played by guards in protecting passengers. On 25 August, a safety-trained Merseyrail guard protected the train, isolated the electric rail and evacuated passengers to safety after a car collided with a train at a level crossing in Southport, while the driver remained in his cab suffering from concussion. And on 16 September, a trained guard protected a train derailed by a landslide at Watford, carrying out all the safety protocols laid down in the railway rule book, and again leading passengers to safety while the driver was incapacitated in the front coach (Risks 770). RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “No spin doctor’s words about putting safety first can get around the cold, hard fact that these latest incidents would have put lives at serious risk had there not been trained guards present to deal with them. The deafening silence in response to our safety concerns and these recent emergencies completely vindicates our argument for retaining the safety-critical guards on Merseyrail.” He warned: “To continue along the path to driver-only operation in these circumstances would be nothing short of reckless.”
Rail union RMT has forced train company Southern to scrap a ‘Strike Back’ campaign (Risks 771) that prompted assaults on staff and a public backlash. The union said it has evidence the dramatically ill-judged Southern social media and poster attack led to rail workers on the network being abused and assaulted. After Southern’s twitter page was swamped with messages critical of the company and supportive of the union, an urgent company memo instructed managers to remove and destroy immediately what RMT called ‘the offensive and incendiary posters’. Southern’s memo said the decision was because of the “extremely negative public sentiment around the brand.” The union said the abandoned media campaign against its industrial action over safety has cost the taxpayer between a quarter and a half a million pounds. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This is a despicable and nasty campaign designed by Southern to set their workforce up for abuse and assault. It is incitement pure and simple and we are now seeing the consequences. Encouraging abuse of staff who are doing nothing other than standing up for passenger safety is a measure of this basket case outfit running Britain's biggest rail franchise.” He added: “It is estimated the campaign budget is around half a million pounds, money that could have been spent on keeping the guards and resolving the dispute.” The TUC has backed RMT’s call for Southern’s parent company Govia to be stripped of the franchise, with the line instead returned to public ownership.
Southern Rail – having seemed to have learnt nothing from their disastrous social media campaign – has “come back for more of a metaphorical kicking,” according to TUC’s Sharon Sukhram. Writing in TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, she points to a Southern ‘Safety in numbers’ advert published in the free Metro newspaper. She says this “attempts to mislead the public on the safety element of the dispute with RMT.” According to the Southern advert, the Rail and Standards Board (RSSB) has confirmed that it’s safe for the driver to close the train doors. What they don’t tell you is that for driver only operated trains the RSSB says “there may be changes to the risk profile, in terms of the likelihood of events occurring, or the severity of their consequences”. Nor does the advert acknowledge that RSSB’s failure to condemn outdright Southern’s plans might have been influenced by the presence of Charles Horton, chief executive of Govia Thameslink – the company that owns Southern – as a non-executive director on the RSSB board. Horton took part in RSSB’s discussions on removing guards, which concluded according to the leaked internal briefing: “Adopting a strategy of guards redundancies delivers the greatest economic benefit.” According to TUC transport and public service specialist Sharon Sukhram: “Southern’s advert highlights that a number of trains already run nationally with the driver in control of the doors. As mentioned above – this doesn’t mean it’s the safest option.” She adds that in recent days Southern has spent around £150,000 denouncing its own staff in the press. She questions: “Is that coming from the government’s £20m investment to turn around the failing line? Or from their parent group’s £99.8m profits after some eye-watering taxpayer subsidies? Wherever the cash is coming from, both guards and passengers could no doubt find better ways to spend it to help get Southern back on track.”
A former Unite union representative has received £38,000 compensation after developing the asbestos-related condition, diffuse pleural thickening. Roy Green was exposed to asbestos throughout his career. From 1955 he was employed as a steel erector, where he worked alongside colleagues who were insulating pipework and machinery with asbestos. His employer did not provide protection to prevent him breathing in asbestos. In the 1980s he also worked with asbestos at a number of power stations, where he dismantled boilers and ducting lagged with asbestos for a Rotherham-based demolition firm. When Roy began suffering from a persistent chest infection he visited his GP, who referred him for an x-ray. He was diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening, which causes breathing difficulties. Roy, who was a Unite representative during his career, said: “I had actually heard about the dangers of asbestos after my retirement, which concerned me a lot as I knew I been exposed to it in my line of work. Nonetheless, that didn’t prepare me for how would I feel when I was diagnosed, and I knew then I had to get in touch with Unite.” The union’s regional secretary, Karen Reay, said: “Roy worked in a variety of roles during his career but unfortunately he wasn’t adequately protected against the dangers of asbestos. Although Roy has contracted a disabling condition that could have been avoided if his former employers had taken adequate precautions, he did the right thing by contacting Unite Legal Services and has received full compensation.”
Teachers in England are suffering high rates of burnout as a result of overwork, an education thinktank has warned. Most worked an average of 48.2 hours per week, according to the new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI). But it found one in five works 60 hours or more - 12 hours above the limit set by working time regulations, a law introduced to protect workers from the health impact of excessive hours. The EPI report, based on data collected in the OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey between 2012 and 2014 - which compares the practices of teachers in secondary schools in 36 jurisdictions - found teachers in England work longer hours than their counterparts in all but two of these states. The survey found England's teachers near the bottom of the international table for continuing professional development. EPI said its findings raised concerns not only for professional development and teaching quality, but also for the wellbeing of teachers. EPI chair David Laws said: “This analysis highlights that the English education system is unusual internationally in its long working hours for teachers, low levels of professional development, and what looks like a high burnout rate of teachers.” Commenting on the EPI findings, NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Teaching has always been a long-hours profession, but hours spent preparing exciting lessons are very different to hours spent providing evidence for bureaucrats. The fact that teachers are working 60 hours a week is totally unacceptable and is exacerbating the teacher shortage.” Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “Teachers want to do the best they can for their pupils, but they are being held back by 'busy work' and a lack of training and development which would enable them to meet the challenge of change which, for many, is overwhelming.” NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “This is another report to add to the already overwhelming mountain of evidence that teachers' professional lives are blighted by an excessive workload.” She added that “increasing numbers of teachers leave the profession and potential recruits are deterred from joining it because of the toxic combination of increasing workload and decreasing pay.” A TUC report this year warned fatigue caused by too demanding work hours and patterns can increase the risk of a range of potentially serious health conditions, including digestive and mental health problems. (Risks 759).
Ÿ EPI news release and report. ATL news release. NASUWT news release. NUT news release. BBC News Online.Fatigue - a guide for health and safety representatives, TUC, July 2016 [pdf]. Tired out! Don’t take fatigue risks lying down, Hazards, number 135, September 2016.
Pigs infected with the superbug MRSA can be freely imported into the UK due to regulatory loopholes, putting workers and consumers at risk, an investigation has found. Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism established that there is no mandatory screening for live breeding pigs leaving Denmark – where MRSA is rife throughout the country’s herd – and entering the UK. Experts are warning that if no action is taken, the UK’s pig herd could rapidly become infected. Such an epidemic could have a serious impact on human health. Thousands of people have contracted the livestock-associated strain of MRSA in Denmark and six have died from it in the last five years. The strain that affects pigs is known as Livestock Associated Methycillin Resistant Streptococcus Aureus (LA-MRSA) CC398. It can be passed to humans when they work directly with infected livestock – the primary transmission route – but also when they handle contaminated meat. The disease is resistant to human medicine. While many people can carry the bacterium without getting ill, LA-MRSA CC398 can cause skin complaints as well as more serious and life-threatening infections – mainly in people with underlying conditions such as pneumonia and blood poisoning. Global food and farming trade union federation IUF told Hazards magazine: “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) leading to the spread of MRSA and other ‘superbugs’ is a major and growing threat to the health of agricultural workers and meat processing workers.” The union body is preparing resources to help workers combat the problem. Public Health England (PHE) said three confirmed human cases of CC398 have been recorded in the UK.
One of Britain's largest wholesale companies has been fined £500,000 after a delivery driver was killed by a faulty gate at a depot in Newport, south Wales. Ronald Hayward, 42, died in 2011 when he was pinned under a 660lb (300kg) steel gate that collapsed at the Blakemore Wholesale store in the city. The Merthyr Tydfil driver was making early morning deliveries from a bakery. At Cardiff Crown Court, AF Blakemore and Son Limited admitted criminal health and safety breaches. As well as the £500,000 fine the firm was ordered to pay costs of £108,625.80 within a 28-day period. “Our thoughts are with Mr Hayward's family who lost a much-loved husband and father almost 5 years ago,” said Newport council cabinet member, Bob Poole. The council brought the prosecution against the company, following a joint investigation with Gwent Police. “Mr Hayward lost his life in an avoidable incident while he was carrying out his job. I hope this case reminds businesses that they have a duty to ensure their premises are safe places for both employees and visitors.” The delivery driver had been working for the Cynon Valley firm Garth Bakery when the incident happened on his first delivery job of the day. He arrived at the site at about 4am and unlocked the entrance gate. But as he was preparing to leave the gate broke when a metal-fatigued bolt failed, and landed on him. A resident raised the alarm after hearing screaming, and despite emergency services arriving swiftly on the scene, Mr Hayward died of traumatic asphyxia. The company admitted failing to ensure that the gates and gateposts were maintained and were in working order.
A Cornish construction company has been fined after a worker had to have both legs amputated at the knee after being crushed by a dumper truck. Roger Daw, 58, was operating a fully loaded front tipping dumper on his employer’s site in Liskey Hill, Perranporth. He drove the dumper down an incline where it overturned. Mr Daw was thrown from the vehicle, which landed on his legs and crushed him. Truro Crown Court heard that there were a number of failings that led to the incident. The specific type of truck being used by Mr Daw was not appropriate for the task but no-one on site had assessed the equipment’s limitations. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had not carried out an assessment for any of their drivers or their competence in using the site vehicles. Mr Daw, from Plymouth, was airlifted to hospital where they had to amputate both of his legs about the knee. MJL Contractors Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,312.56. HSE inspector Jo-Anne Michael said: “Roger Daw’s life has been changed forever. If MJL Contractors Ltd had planned the work properly, assessed the equipment and the drivers this incident would not have happened.” She added: “Companies must learn that risk assessments are there to protect their workers from the real risk that mobile plant can become unstable.”
A tyre maintenance company has been fined after a tyre exploded, seriously injuring a worker. Nottingham Crown Court heard an employee of Tyre Maintenance Limited went to the waste and recycling centre in Beeston to replace tyres on an excavator. It was during the process of removing two split rim tyres from the vehicle, that there was a violent explosion of the inner of the two wheels on the front nearside of the vehicle. The explosion pushed the outside tyre off with such force it propelled the tyre fitter over two metres into a metal fence. He suffered significant injuries, including a serious head injury, from which he is still recovering. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the split rim had separated and was only being held in place by the opposing tyre. When the fitter removed the last wheel nut on the outside tyre it allowed the rim to separate causing the explosion. There were inadequate risk assessments and safe systems of work in place to deal with the specific risks from split rims, and the company could not demonstrate adequate arrangements for assessing competence, providing training and ensuring the company’s mobile tyre fitters were able to work safely. Leeds firm Tyre Maintenance Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £134,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,582.00. In June this year another tyre company, Kent firm Watling Tyre Service Limited, was fined £1m after 21-year-old employee Matthew Hoare was killed when a tyre exploded (Risks 754).
Europe’s unions have repeated their call for urgent action to tackle the epidemic of work-related back, shoulder, neck, elbow, hand and knee pain that results in a severe loss of quality of life for workers and millions of days off work. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says this number one cause of occupational sickness in Europe comes at a cost to employers, workers and health services estimated at €163 billion (£147bn) a year. “Back pain is crippling Europe,” said Esther Lynch, confederal secretary of the ETUC. In 2013 the European Commission refused to support a directive on ‘ergonomics in the workplace’ proposed by employers and trade unions and instead issued a non-binding recommendation. “It’s time for the Commission to admit that their recommendation is not enough,” said Lynch. “More need to be done.” ETUC said ‘all the evidence’ demonstrates that the intensification of the pace of work is obliging workers to operate in an atmosphere of constant urgency and reduces their operational leeway. It says workers in the food, metal, car, building, agriculture, transport and health sectors are most at risk. Prevention is key and this means designing work around the human being, adds ETUC. Workplace health and safety committees, effective regulations and enforcement as well as economic incentives to decrease work-related musculoskeletal disorders provide the best hope for improving the situation in EU workplaces. The ETUC’s Esther Lynch made her call at a conference on ‘Reducing the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace’ this week in Brussels, attended by European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and organised by the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). EULAR said ‘ambitious’ legislation was needed to tackle workplace strains.
Trade unions around the world have been involved in activities to mark the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) road and rail action week. This year’s event, which wrapped up on 9 October, marked 20 years of the safety focused ITF event, which started in 1997 as a ‘Fatigue Kills!’ global day of action for road transport workers. Activities this year included ramped up working condition checks for urban transport workers in Bulgaria, outreach to truck drivers on the Spanish-Portuguese border, a road safety awareness raising drive in Togo and a protest in Quezon City in the Philippines, against proposals for a change in the way the popular public transport system of jeepneys is managed. Aziz Kiirya, general secretary of the transport union ATGWU in Uganda explained why the week is important to his union and its members. “Transport workers are taking action and involved in action throughout the whole year but during this week it’s a chance for workers to come together and take a collective look at the big issues affecting them,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to evaluate what they’ve gone through, to educate members on what’s happening and to drill down and really work out next steps for the year ahead. Action week is about giving direction for future campaigns and enabling workers to achieve their goals as part of their union.” ITF said the week is used to emphasise how important it is to be part of a union and to strengthen activism internationally, regionally, nationally and locally.
The suicide of a female employee of a major Japanese advertising agency has been recognised as related to her work. A labour standards inspection office in Tokyo ruled that 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi killed herself as a result of the pressures she faced working at Dentsu Inc. Takahashi started working at Dentsu in April last year and was assigned to a job related to internet advertising in June last year. After her position because permanent in October last year, she often worked more than 70 overtime hours each month, far longer than the limit set under a labour-management agreement. According to her family and their lawyer, one manager told Takahashi that 20 of her overtime hours were a waste for the company. On her Twitter account, Takahashi started posting comments in October last year that suggested an intention to kill herself. On 25 December 2015, she jumped to her death from a corporate dormitory. The newspaper Asahi Shimbun reports it was not the first work-related suicide at the company. A young male employee of Tokyo-based Dentsu killed himself in 1991 because of his long work hours. In a lawsuit filed by his family, the Supreme Court acknowledged in 2000 that the company was responsible for his death. The acknowledgment paved the way for other courts to make the same judgment in other similar cases. After the Supreme Court ruling in 2000, Dentsu said it would strictly monitor the working hours of employees. A labour ministry white paper on the prevention of deaths from overwork was released on 7 October. It said in fiscal year 2015, labour standards inspection offices around Japan recognised that 93 suicides or attempted suicides resulted from overwork. Suicide caused by overwork –karojisatsu – is an officially recognised and government-compensated occupational condition in Japan.
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