|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.|
Football supporters across the country have made a clear statement that the game they love should not be sullied by Qatar’s callous attitude to the workers helping prepare the country to host the World Cup in 2022. Preparations of venues and infrastructure for football’s top tournament have been marred by the exploitation of migrant workers, who have been systematically denied basic employment and safety rights (Risks 766). Last weekend saw action by fans from Anfield to the Emirates, with the TUC noting: “It’s only by raising our voices as fans, here and around the world, that we can start to rattle the confidence of Fifa, its sponsors and Qatar itself that as the World Cup approaches all we’ll care about is football, and not the human price that was paid for it.” Fifa, football’s global governing body, is facing union action in the Swiss courts over what unions and campaigners believe is its complicity in the frequently deadly mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The Netherlands trade union confederation FNV is spearheading the legal case - which says Fifa should have demanded the Qatari authorities end the kafala migrant labour system - on behalf of Bangladeshi migrant worker Nadim Sharaful Alam. Unions and campaigners have argued that Fifa should do more to use its influence to push for improvement for workers on related infrastructure projects and for wider changes to the kafala system that has been compared to a form of modern slavery. The Guardian reports this is the first time that Zurich-based Fifa has been made directly accountable in the Swiss courts.
Southern Rail cannot bribe staff to stop them striking in defence of safety, the rail union RMT has said. Since April RMT members have been taking industrial action in opposition to Southern’s push to end the crucial safety role of guards on trains. Talks between RMT and Southern Rail broke down again after company boss Charles Horton retabled a proposal to give staff a £2,000 one-off payment to settle the dispute. RMT general secretary Mick Cash responded: “This latest letter from Charles Horton does not move this dispute on a single inch. There is no offer whatsoever to start engaging in serious talks about the safety and access issues at the heart of this matter. Instead, Southern have rehashed the £2,000 bribe to our members even though the company have been told repeatedly that money is not the issue and that the safety of passengers and staff is not for sale.” He added: “Last week the Transport Select Committee exposed the on-going shambles that is Southern Rail and the blind-eye that has been turned by the government to gross-mismanagement of this franchise on an industrial scale. The Select Committee called on the government to engage in talks with the company and the union.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “MPs are confirming what passengers have known for a long time. Southern rail’s management have made a pig’s ear out of the train service. Southern simply isn’t providing the service it is contracted to, and have tried to blame staff and unions for its problems. It is time for the government to terminate their contract.”
Ÿ RMT news release. TUC news release. Transport Select Committee news release and report, The Future of Rail: Improving the rail passenger experience, 13 October 2016. Morning Star.
Teachers and firefighters have warned the government it is putting fire safety in schools at risk. Teachers’ union NUT and firefighters’ union FBU have written to education secretary Justine Greening strongly criticising her department's revised policy on sprinklers in schools. The unions say not only has the 'expectation' that sprinklers be fitted to new schools been removed from its own guidance, “but the Department for Education has refused to divulge which, if any, organisations supported this short-sighted and retrograde step during the recent consultation exercise.” The government must be open and transparent and justify the basis upon which this decision was made, the unions say. They add that sprinklers protect staff and pupils, property and reduce fire damage to hazardous materials commonly found in schools, notably asbestos. NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The government's change of policy on sprinklers is illogical and this is only compounded by the secrecy around who actually supported the change. Failure to provide this information gives the impression that the consultation was not undertaken in good faith and that the decision had already been taken.” Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: "The government's decision to remove sprinklers from all newly built schools is irresponsible, dangerous and a false economy.” He added: “The secretary of state for education needs to admit the government was wrong on this issue, and reintroduce the expectation that all newly built schools will have sprinklers. Anything less is putting teachers' and children's lives at risk alongside their right to an uninterrupted education, whilst putting the lives of firefighters at risk as well.”
A report on smoking risks in prisons that was kept under wraps for over a year has warned of a significant passive smoking risk to prisoners and prison staff. Prison officers’ union POA says the findings lend support to its long-running campaign for the legal ban on workplace smoking to be extended to prisons. The ‘Prison Air Quality Medical Report’ commissioned by the prison service from John Britton, professor of epidemiology at Nottingham University, is dated May 2015 but was only made public by the government last month. The medical opinion from Professor Britton notes it is “evident that even the smallest amount of exposure to second-hand smoke carries a reasonable probability of injury.” It adds that people with existing heart or lung conditions can be at a higher risk. POA says despite a series of legal challenges from prisoners and arguments supporting a ban put forward by the union, “successive governments have resisted in making prisons smoke free,” adding: “This report justifies the concerns of the POA.” Mike Rolfe, national chair of the POA, said: “The publication of this report and its findings must raise serious questions over the safety of our prisons.” He said the government’s failure “to protect staff and prisoners from the harmful effects of second hand smoke may open the floodgates for future compensation claims. The POA are now seeking further legal advice and will advise our members on what measures to take to ensure their workplace is safe.” Last year the government announced a pilot scheme to introduce smoke free prisons in Wales and parts of England (Risks 722).
Ÿ POA news release. Reports for the government on air quality in prisons, including Prison Air Quality Medical Report by Professor John Britton, University of Nottingham.
Most women teachers report suffering mental and physical health problems caused by overwork, teaching union NASUWT has warned. The union said ‘crushing workloads’, gender inequality and attacks on their pay and working conditions are threatening to drive women out of the profession. A real-time electronic poll of attendees at the NASUWT’s annual women teachers’ consultation conference found that over half (55 per cent) say they feel generally or very pessimistic about their future in the teaching profession. Two-thirds reported their mental and physical health is being damaged by their workload. They revealed pressures of the job and workload are the biggest factor that would impact on whether they are still in the profession in five years’ time. More than a third (36 per cent) said they’ve been treated less favourably at work in the last year because they are a woman. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Women teachers have expressed their deep anger at the way in which they have been treated over recent years and about the successive attacks on their pay, working conditions and job security.” She added: “Excessive workload and attacks on teachers’ working conditions are having a profoundly negative effect on women teachers’ mental and physical health and well-being and undermining the quality of education for children and young people. The number of women saying they feel pessimistic about their future in the profession and the number saying their priority is to leave teaching must give employers and government pause for thought about the urgency of the need to create a teaching profession which genuinely values and supports all women teachers.” The union leader warned: “It is not overstating the point to say that the future of the teaching profession depends on it.”
Communications union CWU has issued an urgent safety alert after a postal delivery driver was seriously injured by a swing-arm barrier five years after another postal worker was killed in a similar incident. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce has called on the union’s safety reps “to ensure all members who drive as part of their job are aware of the dangers posed by unsecured swing-arm barrier gates following a recent accident involving a Keighley postman delivery driver who received serious head and facial injuries after a collision with one of these barrier gates that went through his windscreen,” adding “in a previous accident in 2011, a 48-year-old Somerset postman driver was killed when the swing arm barrier penetrated the windscreen on his van and went through his chest, killing him instantly.” He said the Health and Safety Executive has warned that there have been several serious incidents, including fatalities, involving the gates used extensively in car parks for retail, leisure and industrial premises. Dave Joyce said: “Accidents have occurred when barriers have been inadequately secured so that they have partially opened and presented a least visible end on profile of the protruding barrier which has impaled an oncoming vehicle. The end profile of the barrier may not be clearly visible to an oncoming driver. Other incidents have occurred as a barrier has swung into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Unsecured barriers can swing open due to the wind, gravity or as a result of vandalism.” He added that safety reps should encourage all drivers to identify and report to managers any unsecured swing barrier gate hazards that present a risk. Managers should ensure that all hazardous swing-arm barrier gates locations are recorded and logged, with controls agreed with staff and customers to eliminate the hazard and reduce risks of injury, he said.
Tube staff are set to vote on strike action after confirming an increase in attacks in the wake of the closure of ticket offices. Rail union TSSA is in a dispute with Transport for London (TfL) as a result of London Underground (LU) ticket office staff being relocated onto station concourses. A survey of union members revealed an increase in verbal abuse and physical attacks followed the change. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the survey also exposed staff concerns about London Underground’s ‘Working for the future’ directive, which changed working practices. “I am sickened and appalled at the findings of our survey and we will be pulling out all the stops to ensure something is done - and quickly - to make life better for our Tube workers,” said Cortes. “When subjected to a thorough staff scrutiny, Fit for the Future turns out to be making the Tube unfit for its workers. Almost 85 per cent of staff say the Tube is less safe as a workplace - and a journey place - than it was six months ago. Seventy-nine per cent of staff have experienced a sharp rise in verbal abuse and physical abuse from passengers.” In a letter to LU management, the union leader warns: “TSSA's survey has revealed alarming facts of Tube working life. Unless remedial action is taken immediately, an industrial action ballot is now inevitable.”
A former firefighter from Merseyside has received ‘substantial’ compensation after he developed the asbestos-related condition, pleural thickening. FBU member John Ford, 85, was first exposed to asbestos in 1951 when he was employed as a labourer at a shipyard, working in boiler rooms and near pipework that was insulated with asbestos. From 1954 to 1984 he worked as a firefighter, where he was again exposed to the dangerous fibres when dealing with fires in buildings that contained asbestos. During John’s training for the fire service he was given protective breathing equipment, but early in his career it would only be used on officers’ instructions. When he began to suffer breathing difficulties he visited his GP, who discovered fluid on his lung. Further tests confirmed that he had developed pleural thickening. The condition is disabling and leaves him at risk of developing more serious asbestos-related diseases, such as the cancer mesothelioma. Dave Green, FBU national officer, said: “John was a dedicated firefighter for three decades, but as a result of the negligent actions of his employer, he now suffers from a completely preventable illness. His membership to the FBU meant that we could support him with his claim so his employers were held to account.” The provisional payout agreement means he can reopen the claim if his health deteriorates or if he develops another asbestos-related condition.
Occupational medicine in the UK is facing a ‘crisis’ caused by a ‘massive fall’ in the number doctors being trained in the specialism combined with a drop in the provision of workplace occupational health services, MPs have warned. A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health notes only 1 in 8 UK workers can access a specialist occupational physician, with the numbers of being trained in the specialism is now at “an all-time low”. It says this is despite 1.2 million workers suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current work and a further 0.8 million former workers suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their past work. Over 23 million working days are lost annually due to work-related illness. The report notes that the crisis in recruitment and the large number of existing occupational doctors nearing retirement threatens the UK’s ability to provide its workers with access to the medical expertise necessary to prevent, identify and manage occupational diseases. It calls for new funding models for the training of occupational physicians and more support to ensure employers provide workers with access to multi-disciplinary occupational health services. It adds that occupational medicine should be part of the core curricula for all medical undergraduates and doctors in postgraduate training. The report notes: “UK occupational medicine faces a ‘perfect storm’, in which we not only lack trained doctors to do the work, but we will soon lack the trainers to supervise the future generation of specialists. This makes it even more urgent to implement immediate and lasting solutions.” Ian Lavery MP, chair of the All-Party group, said: “Given the huge number of workers who are being injured or made ill at work we need to work towards every employee having access to an occupational health service. That means, among other things, enough doctors qualified in occupational medicine. We need urgent action to support and develop the profession.”
Ÿ Occupational medical workforce crisis: The need for action to keep the UK workforce healthy, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, 18 October 2016. Ian Lavery MP news release.
Economic globalisation may create stressful employment conditions in high-income countries, contributing to the worldwide epidemic of cardiovascular disease (CVD), a study has found. Peter Schnall and Marnie Dobson from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Paul Landsbergis from the State University of New York (SUNY) say their study pulls together a robust body of evidence documenting the effect of the work environment, including psychosocial job stressors. “We conclude from more than 30 years of epidemiological research that CVD is a disease of modern industrial society and not the natural result of aging,” said Schnall, who is with UCI’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) and a clinical professor of medicine and public health. “It is related to forms of production that emerged with industrialisation and that have expanded with economic globalisation: long work hours, repetitive work, high demands, lack of control, long hours, and job insecurity.” Dobson, an assistant adjunct professor at COEH, added: “Global economic policies and the rise of the new flexible labour market have caused an increase in precarious employment in advanced industrialised countries. These work stressors in turn contribute to CVD risk factors such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.” Landsbergis, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate, said: “Given the high costs of medical treatment and the economic impact on employers and society of ill-health, lost productivity, and sickness absence, it is in the interest of all to seriously consider improving work organisation.” Remedial action proposed by the researchers includes national surveillance of occupations, industries and workplaces to identify elevated levels of hazardous work characteristics. They also call for upper limits on yearly working hours, a living wage, mandated vacations for all employees to facilitate recovery, and the introduction of “regulations and laws limiting psychosocial stressors on the job.”
Ÿ SUNY Downstate Medical Center news release. Peter Schnall, Marnie Dobson and Paul Landsbergis. Globalization, work and cardiovascular disease, International Journal of Health Services, volume 46, number 4, pages 656-692, October 2016.
Regulatory bodies including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are ill-equipped to properly address health risks posed by fracking, according to new research. The rapid evidence assessment by Stirling University experts raises a serious question mark over government claims that regulators including HSE and the Environment Agency will be able to ensure the safety of fracking. Professor Andrew Watterson, the report’s co-author, said: “A constant refrain from a number of UK inquiries into fracking and from the industry itself is that everything will be fine as long as there is robust regulation and good industry practice. The evidence to support this view from our analysis is remarkably thin and nor is it supported in any way by Westminster’s current de-regulatory regime.” The review examined scientific and academic papers along with professional, government agency, industry and industry-funded reports. Each case study is analysed from the perspective of public health and regulation. The review warns: “These reports frequently fail to draw on independent expertise in the fields of public health, fail to adequately explore different regulatory systems and their drivers, and do not deal with evidence of industry malpractice. These are all areas that should be essential to any rigorous assessment of past and future fracking activity.” The report notes that investigations into the Buncefield explosion, the most noteworthy recent incident where like fracking HSE and EA shared regulatory responsibility, demonstrated that “that the two agencies tended to undermine the regulatory effectiveness of each other.” In a response to the report, HSE said it had been allocated an extra £0.5m each year to 2020 for its work on unconventional gas – although this is mentioned nowhere in its latest business plan which covers this period, but which instead reveals HSE’s already severely squeezed budget faces another substantial fall over the period (Risks 745).
Ÿ A rapid evidence assessment of regulation and regulatory practices involved in fracking and it public health implications, Stirling University, October 2016. Environmental Health News.
A production company behind the latest Star Wars movie has been fined £1.6m after Harrison Ford broke his leg on set. The actor suffered the break and deep lacerations in June 2014 at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire as he reprised his role as Han Solo. He was struck by a metal door during dress rehearsals on the set of the Millennium Falcon spaceship. Foodles Production (UK) Ltd, owned by Disney, pleaded guilty earlier this year to two criminal charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In a statement, Foodles said it “deeply regretted” what it described as an “unfortunate on-set accident.” Following the incident during the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ford was airlifted to hospital for surgery. The door that struck the Hollywood superstar had been designed to mimic the action of the spaceship on the original set. Aylesbury Crown Court heard how a combination of preventable events, starting with how the door was designed, led to the incident. As the cameras were not rolling the movie star did not expect the door to close. However the production crew member who was operating the prop believed they were in full rehearsal and closed the door. The risk of the door causing a serious injury or death had been highlighted by one of the health and safety officers for the production company. Foodles Production (UK) Ltd was fined £1.6 million and ordered to pay costs of £20,861.22. HSE divisional director Tim Galloway said: “This incident was foreseeable and preventable and could have resulted in more serious injury or even death.” He added: “It was only the almost instantaneous actions of the prop operator in hitting the emergency stop that prevented the door from continuing to press down on Mr Ford as he lay on the floor.”
A building contractor has been fined after a worker was killed when a load fell from a tower crane during a lifting operation in Colchester. Urban Summit Construction Ltd was the principal contractor on the construction site where 780 student accommodation apartments were being built. On 8 January 2014, during a lifting operation using the site’s tower crane, a caged load become detached from the chains and landed on the banksman who was in charge of the operation. David Holloway, 35, sustained extensive injuries and died on site. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Urban Summit Construction Ltd at Chelmsford Crown Court after an investigation found the company failed to ensure the lifting operation was carried out in a safe manner. The firm was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £29,127 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998. Judge Emma Peters said: “The fine must be financially at a level to have a real impact.” She allowed the firm, who blamed a sharp profits and turnover dip on the difficulty winning contracts while the fatality prosecution loomed, 30 months to repay the amount in stages. Judge Peters said: “I do that out of compassion for the employees of the company.”
Oldham manufacturing firm R Tindall (Fabricators) Ltd has been prosecuted after a worker died after he was crushed under metal pipework. Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard that 53-year-old Frank Dunne was operating a side-loader forklift truck which was carrying a vacuum packed pipe bundle. While he was attempting to load a second bundle weighing 1.5 tonnes, it fell, crushing him underneath. There were no eyewitnesses to the incident and Mr Dunne was found over an hour later when work colleagues moved the side-loader which was still running, discovering his body under the pile. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no risk assessment or documented system for moving and stacking pipework or any items around the site. The method of packing bundles had changed without being documented anywhere. The previous method using a wooden framework was more stable and would have meant that Mr Dunne would not have been in a danger area if this system had continued. R Tindall (Fabricators) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000. HSE inspector Mike Lisle said: “There was no risk assessment carried out on this new method of working and no system put in place for the operators to follow. If the company had provided a safe system of work for their employees to follow, this tragic incident to Mr Dunne could have been avoided.”
The TUC says a big strength of trade union courses is the opportunity it provides for union representatives from different unions, different workplaces and different backgrounds to exchange information and experiences. Outside the classroom, keeping up this mutual support can be problematic, though – which is why the TUC developed the Unionreps website and mobile app. The TUC explains: “It gives you the perfect platform to share your experiences. There are over 20,000 union representatives who are registered on the site and they include stewards, health and safety representatives, learning representatives, equality representatives and green representatives, and you can use it either on your computer, or as an app on a phone or tablet.” Bulletin boards on seven topic areas cover health and safety, learning and skills, equality, law and representation, organising and recruitment, pensions and environment. Law and representation and health and safety are the most popular discussion areas. Queries on the bulletin boards are not answered by ‘experts’, but by other union representatives who may have already seen it and solved it. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson notes: “This is a fantastic tool and is an example of the web at its best, based on empowering people and founded clearly on the principle of collective help.” He adds: “I have always thought that Unionreps is indispensable for all union representatives and I am amazed when I find out that a lot do not even know it exists. So if you are one of those that have not tried it out yet, then give it a go.”
Danish industrial conglomerate Maersk has sent two ships to be recycled at a shipyard in India considered by experts to present a serious threat to the health of the shipbreaking workers. Cancer, mutilation and death caused by a lack of protective equipment threaten employees, according to occupational safety experts. Research by investigative group Danwatch confirmed the giant container ships Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming are lying on an Alang beach on India’s west coast, where the Shree Ram shipbreaking yard has been hired to scrap the ships for Maersk. The Danwatch investigation found the workers have neither employment contracts – in direct violation of Maersk’s internal standards and of international conventions – or the personal protective equipment necessary in an industry that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called the most dangerous in the world. Reviewing the Danwatch evidence, Peter Hasle, professor of occupational environment at the Centre for Industrial Production at Aalborg University, commented: “It makes you wonder why Maersk chose this shipyard, because it is obvious that it does not fulfil the company’s requirements. My assessment is that the shipyard was not able to show that they meet Maersk’s standards, and so maybe they prepared some nice paperwork to explain how they plan to make improvements along the way. But the problems I see here are so significant that it seems completely meaningless. They are not even close to meeting the requirements. It’s the absolutely baseline conditions that are the problem.” Hasle added: “Maersk has a tremendous responsibility here. If they are present and observe these things without taking action, then they are communicating to the local management and employees that these dangerous situations are acceptable. If Maersk is present, but does nothing, then Maersk employees learn that it’s acceptable to conduct business that way – and that Maersk’s requirements do not matter.” Danwatch says its findings contradict earlier Maersk claims that conditions have improved and that the Shree Ram shipyard complies with the company’s standards.
Tyre multinational Goodyear has been fined more than $1 million for serious safety and health violations at a US plant. The action by Virginia’s health and safety regulator, VOSH, comes after four people died in incidents at the Danville plant within a year. Goodyear has said it will contest the penalties. VOSH issued four wilful, 115 serious and three other than serious violations and $1,012,400 in penalties following comprehensive safety and health inspections. The company said it “will work with VOSH and the United Steel Workers (USW) to implement any necessary additional corrective actions at our Danville plant, beyond those we have already identified ourselves and are addressing.” VOSH also issued two wilful, two serious violations and $152,600 in penalties in response to the 12 April 2016 death of another Goodyear employee, who died from burns and drowning. His body was found in a two-metre sump containing boiling water and oil. A further penalty related to a non-fatal injury to worker. The union USW said that a $1 million fine is large for Virginia. It added it was expecting significant fines after four deaths at the Danville plant in a 1-year period. USW national office said that it is working very closely with the union at the plant because it recognises the severe and serious emotional affects losing four employees in a year can have on those still working there.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).