|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.
Prison officers cut short a 24-hour safety protest on 15 November after the government obtained a High Court injunction against the action. Up to 10,000 prison officers in England and Wales had stopped work over concerns about spiralling levels of violence in the under-staffed service (Risks 775). It is illegal for the profession to strike, but the Prison Officers Association (POA) said “protest action” was needed to keep staff and inmates safe. Commenting after the injunction was granted, POA’s Stuart Brittenden insisted the officers’ action was not illegal and was necessary because they were being forced to work in an “unlawful” situation because of a lack of health and safety in jails. He said the protests came after two weeks of fruitless attempts to persuade the justice secretary to change jail regimes to make them safer. The POA said “chronic staff shortages and impoverished regimes” have “resulted in staff no longer being safe, a lack of discipline and prisoners taking control of areas. The continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm, coupled with the recent murder and escapes demonstrate that the service is in meltdown.” The union's national chair, Mike Rolfe, said members did not take the action lightly, but conditions had to change “before any more lives are lost or blood is shed.”
Construction union UCATT is calling on the industry to introduce ‘long overdue’ health and safety guidelines on work in extreme weather. The union says construction “is blighted by the inhumanity of the industry towards the workers”. It adds working in hostile weather conditions for up to 12 hours at a time is unacceptable, noting: “The majority of the British population wouldn’t let a dog suffer such conditions – so why a building worker?” UCATT has written to the chief executive of the National House Building Council (NHBC), Mike Quinton, calling on the NHBC to introduce clear rules for construction workers operating in extreme weather. It says the NHBC publishes equivalent guidance dealing with building materials. “The NHBC makes it clear mortar should not be used below 2 degrees Celsius, whilst construction workers should put their gloves on, get out there and suffer,” the union notes. UCATT acting general secretary, Brian Rye, said: “It’s a complete indictment of an industry that has temperature guidelines to safeguard materials but none whatsoever for the workers. This must now change. We have written to the NHBC to ask them to inject some humanity into the industry and provide clear temperature and extreme weather guidelines for constructors to apply to workers. In an age when we no longer send young children up chimneys to clean them, we should equally not be forcing construction workers to work in inhuman conditions.” He added: “Meteorologists are predicting a very severe winter for the UK – so we call on the NHBC to show some leadership and make a long overdue change in the housing building industry. If it’s too cold for mortar – it’s too cold for mortals!” Unions are currently negotiating to have rules or guidance on working in extreme weather included in the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) agreement, the largest industry-union agreement covering construction workers.
Bonfire Night attacks on fire crews have been condemned and described as “nothing but a criminal act” by the firefighters’ union FBU. Firefighters and vehicles were targeted in incidents in south Wales, Salford, West Yorkshire and Essex, marring the 5 November celebrations. Crews in Scotland also had missiles and fireworks thrown at them. Dave Green, from the FBU, told the BBC the attacks were unacceptable and had a ‘debilitating’ effect on staff morale. “We condemn entirely people attacking firefighters in the course of duty,” the FBU national officer said. “This just goes beyond the pale and I think 99.9 per cent of people would agree with us. It is just not acceptable and we ask people to consider that these firefighters are doing a job and the last thing they expect is the very people they're trying to help attacking them.” He added: “Aside from the physical issue and the fear for their safety, the effect on morale is quite debilitating. You're trying to help these people and they are turning on you. We are a humanitarian service.” He said substantial cuts to personnel, with 10,000 fewer firefighters than in 2010, had reduced its ability to build relationships within communities, a tactic which had helped break down the image of the fire service as an ‘authority’ service.
Nearly one in ten shopworkers have been assaulted in the course of their duties, but almost a third of them did not report the incident, retail union Usdaw has found. Interim results of Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear survey show that nearly half of shopworkers have been verbally abused and a quarter have been threatened. Commenting on the findings, the union’s general secretary John Hannett said: “Violence, threats and abuse against workers is one of the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required.” He added: “All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender isn’t even charged, victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted. That can lead to staff not reporting incidents and our strong message is ‘report it, to sort it’.” The union leader say the government must introduce ‘stiffer’ penalties on those who assault shopworkers, together with “a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. On four separate occasions parliament has had the opportunity to toughen the law to better protect shopworkers, but each time the Tories and Liberals have combined to block Labour’s attempts.”
Pilots have welcomed the announcement of improvements to European Union civil aviation safety rules to address the emerging risks posed by drones. The rules were amended and approved by the European Parliament’s transport and tourism committee last week, and will introduce EU-level requirements for drones, to ensure safety and privacy. Both pilots’ union BALPA (Risks 752) and Prospect (Risks 753), the union for air traffic controllers, have called for tighter regulation of drones to avert a potential disaster. The draft European regulation sets out essential safety requirements for unmanned aircraft design, production, maintenance and operation, parts and control equipment as well as personnel and organisations involved. According to the European Commission, civil drone technology could account for an estimated 10 per cent of the EU aviation market within the next 10 years. Welcoming the draft law, BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “We fully recognise the many benefits drones bring but we need to ensure they are introduced in a safe and sensible manner. BALPA has been calling for tougher regulation on drones for some time now so we’re pleased to see some of our calls are being answered.”
A retired member of the firefighters’ union FBU has been awarded compensation after developing the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The 80-year-old man, whose name has not been released, worked as a firefighter between 1959 and 1989 where he would attend to fires in schools, factories and offices. During his career he was only occasionally provided with breathing equipment, meaning that he was often exposed to smoke and asbestos. Once a fire had been put out, he would be required at times to pull down unsafe sections of the building and check the debris to make sure nothing was burning, which caused asbestos dust to again be breathed in. Years later, when he developed an ache in his chest and breathing difficulties, his GP sent him for an x-ray. This discovered fluid on his lungs, and he was later diagnosed with mesothelioma. The FBU member said: “Even though I haven’t worked for the fire brigade for several years, the FBU still made sure I was looked after.” Dave Green, FBU national officer, said: “Our member dedicated 30 years of his career to the fire service, but tragically his loyalty to his job has led to him to developing this terrible condition. The FBU works hard to support its members, both working and retired, so that negligent employers are held accountable for their wrongdoing.”
A Cheshire man who suffered a disabling injury to his arm in a workplace fall was made redundant before his lengthy recuperation was complete. The maintenance engineer, 50, was repairing a water tank in the barn loft of an agricultural firm, elevated 15 feet above the ground, when the injury occurred. To access the tank the Unite member, whose name has not been released, had to walk across metal girders that were just a few inches wide, while carrying a torch in his hand because the light was limited. He lost his balance and fell two storeys from the girder, dislocating his arm and fracturing his skull. He was airlifted to hospital and had surgery to insert pins into his wrist and a metal joint in his elbow. He remained in hospital for a month and needed a year off work to recover. However, before he could return to work, he was made redundant and has since been unable to find full-time employment. Doctors have also told him that further surgery may be needed on his arm. He received a six figure compensation payout from his unnamed employer in a Unite-backed claim. Mick Whitley, North West regional secretary at Unite, said: “It is completely unacceptable that this employer made our member work at considerable height without providing him with the appropriate safety equipment to prevent him from falling.” He added that the substantial compensation settlement ensured “his employer was held to account for its failures.”
A factory worker suffered a deep laceration to his finger after a manager dismissed his concerns and told him to get on with the job. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, was employed at Greys Packaging in Bristol. He was trying to place a 350kg reel of polythene onto a print machine when the incident occurred. He pointed out to his manager that the reel was too big to fit in its designated holder, but his manager told him to carry on. When he was unable to place the reel he had to move it to another holder on the machine, and as he did so the reel caught a section of the machine, triggering the emergency trip mechanism. As the reel was being repositioned a colleague turned on the machine, causing the reel to rotate and cut into the member’s right index finger. He needed two weeks off work and stitches in the finger. On his return to work, he wore a glove to protect the wound, but it still became infected. He continues to suffer with numbness in his finger and does not have full range of motion in his hand. Stuart Davies, regional legal officer for Unite, said: “A catalogue of errors has led to our member suffering a painful injury that affected his work and social life for months.” He added that the manager should have understood the risk of putting such a heavy reel on the machine.
The number of workers in Great Britain suffering harm caused by their jobs has risen sharply, latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics have confirmed. The figures, just published by the safety watchdog, show that in 2015/16 1.3 million workers had a health problem related to their job, up from 1.2 million. Provisional HSE figures released in July showed fatalities also increased in 2015/16, up to 144 from 142 the previous year (Risks 759). HSE also reports that the ‘total costs’ bill for work-related injuries and work-related ill-health has not fallen in five years. The HSE costs breakdown shows that nearly 57 per cent of the cost of workplace injuries and new cases of work-related ill-health is borne by the individuals affected, compared to less than 20 per cent falling on employers, who also pay significantly less than the public purse. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: “It is clear that ill-health caused by work is no longer falling, but appears to be getting worse. The HSE needs to urgently address this. The figures also reinforce what the TUC has always said, which is that the real cost of employers’ disregard for health and safety falls on the individual workers. This has become even worse since the government made it harder for workers injured or made ill due to their employers’ negligence to claim compensation.”
Amazon delivery drivers regularly work illegal hours, with time pressures so extreme some are forced speed and to urinate and defecate in their vans, a BBC investigation has claimed. Drivers for agencies contracted by the e-commerce giant told an undercover reporter they were expected to deliver up to 200 Amazon parcels a day. Some admitted breaking speed limits to stay on schedule, while others said time was not allowed for toilet breaks. A BBC reporter who got a job with AHC services, one of many agencies which supplies drivers to the firm's delivery wing Amazon Logistics, worked in excess of the 11 hour daily legal driving limit to meet his deliveries target. He was told by an agency supervisor he “didn't have to worry about a seatbelt” because “the police won't stop” a delivery driver. Colleagues told him they had to “defecate in bags” and “urinate in bottles” because there was no time for toilet breaks. Some agency staff complained the system does not allow for traffic jams and does not factor in time for breaks. Amazon Logistics requires agency drivers to be self-employed, and therefore not entitled to the minimum wage or employment rights like sick pay or holiday pay. Tonia Novitz, professor of labour law at Bristol University, told the BBC’s Inside Out programme that in her opinion drivers contracted by AHC should not be classed as self-employed, because they do not determine their own routes, days of work or rest periods.
Amnesty International has criticised a UK trade minister for travelling to Qatar to seek contracts for British companies ahead of the 2022 World Cup without apparently highlighting the human rights abuses faced by migrant workers building venues for the event. Greg Hands, the junior minister at the Department for International Trade, was in Qatar for a 9 November conference in Doha called Sport is Great, billed as an opportunity “for UK companies to meet with key decision-makers and buyers actively looking to procure services to support projects in the run-up to the 2022 Fifa World Cup”. Amnesty International said it was “extremely disappointing” that Hands had not spoken out about human rights ahead of the visit, saying Qatar’s construction sector was “rife with abuse”. The award of the World Cup to Qatar has proved hugely controversial, particularly the treatment of the thousands of foreign workers, mainly from south Asian nations, many of whom have been put up in squalid accommodation, had their pay withheld or delayed, and their passports confiscated. Dangerous working conditions and high numbers of fatalities have been reported by unions. Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth, said it was “extremely disappointing” an article penned by Greg Hands for a Qatari newspaper, like the British Embassy news release highlighting the visit, failed “to make even a passing mention of the dangerous and exploitative conditions many of the migrant labourers building Qatar’s gleaming new sports venues find themselves in.” He added: “The stadiums, roads and other infrastructure for World Cup 2022 are being constructed by often poorly paid people from places like India and Nepal – migrant workers who routinely have their passports confiscated and regularly work excessively long hours in intolerably hot and dangerous conditions.”
A chemical company has been fined £3 million after a worker was killed in an explosion. Paul Doyley, 48, died two weeks after inhaling toxic fumes when a container ruptured at a Cristal Pigment UK Ltd plant in Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, in 2010, Hull Crown Court heard. Another man, Ronald Ingoldby, was left with irreversible lung damage following the blast on 5 March. The firm previously admitted three criminal health and safety offences. In addition to the fine, Cristal was ordered to pay £37,868 costs. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had deviated from the normal operating procedures, which led to the dangerous build-up of the chemical titanium tetrachloride. Parts of the plant and its procedures were poorly designed and the company had not established robust safety management procedures and systems of work to assess and control risk and to ensure that these were followed. Sentencing Cristal Pigment UK Ltd, judge Jeremy Richardson QC said a “very serious dereliction of duty” exposed employees and members of the public to the risk of chemical poisoning. “This is a comprehensible, shameful episode in the history of the company,” he added. Mr Doyley, who had worked at the site for 20 years, was working a night shift at the time of an explosion so powerful a thick, toxic, cloud could be seen pouring out of the factory and across the Humber Estuary, the court was told. Shipping movements were stopped for several hours and the public was put at risk. Mr Doyley, a father-of-two, died two weeks later. Two of his colleagues, Steven Russell and Richard Braithwaite, were each awarded £250 from the High Sheriff's fund for putting their own lives at risk to try to rescue him. The following year, on 27 July 2011, there was another uncontrolled release of a toxic vapour during the cleaning of a redundant vessel. In a statement Cristal - which employs 390 staff and makes titanium dioxide, a key ingredient in paint and plastics - said it was “extremely sorry for the failings” and had “made significant improvements” at its site.
A Southampton window installation company has been fined after a worker suffered fatal head injuries following a fall from a ladder. Brighton Magistrates Court heard how Mark Taylor, 48, a window fitter from Southampton, was helping in the installation of uPVC windows at a three storey house in Brighton on 10 September 2014. He was working from an unsecured ladder when it slipped sideways and he fell to the ground. The father of two was taken to hospital suffering from head injuries but died the following day. The Health and Safety Executive investigation found Kevin McLean, trading as South Coast Installations, failed to ensure that the work at height was adequately planned and carried out in a manner, which was safe. He pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £10,000 plus £6,250 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Amanda Huff said: “Mark Taylor’s family have been devastated because simple steps where not taken to secure the ladder he was using. If Kevin McLean had ensured a proper risk assessment was carried out this tragic incident could have been prevented.”
A company, its director, and a self-employed contractor have been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), after a man helping his friend was fatally injured after falling through a roof light. Warrington Crown Court heard how on 11 June 2013, Terry Lewis, a 65-year-old retired mechanic, was helping out his best friend, Leigh Bakewell. They were cleaning roof lights on the roof of a building in Congleton. Mr Lewis fell approximately 7 metres through a roof light to the workshop floor underneath, and subsequently died. Both the roof and the roof lights were not able to support the weight of a person. The HSE investigation found that Leigh Bakewell, who primarily was a gardener and not a roofer, did not take precautions to prevent a fall through the roof, nor off its edge. Nor did he have the necessary knowledge or competence to carry out the work. The court heard Roman Lodge Asset Management Limited failed to have adequate systems in place to ensure a competent roofer was appointed. Both the company and its director, Jonathan Marshall, failed to adequately plan and supervise the work. The firm pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £20,000 with £8,010.00 costs. Jonathan Marshall pleaded guilty to two criminal safety charges and was sentenced to four months imprisonment on each count, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to pay £8,010.00 costs. At a hearing on 18 August 2016, Leigh Bakewell pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to pay £8,610.47 costs. HSE inspector Warren Pennington said: “Each defendant knew that the roof was fragile and each accepted unsafe working practices. Terry Lewis was only on the roof in order to help out his best friend. If Roman Lodge and Jonathan Marshall had asked questions about Leigh Bakewell’s experience and knowledge, they would not have employed him.”
After campaigning as a champion of coal miners, Donald Trump is reportedly close to choosing for commerce secretary a New York billionaire who owned a West Virginia mine where a dozen miners were killed in 2006 (Risks 238). Press reports say Trump’s favoured candidate, Wilbur Ross, also engineered buyouts that cost workers their benefits and their jobs. The Nation magazine notes: “It’s a striking choice, considering Trump’s promises to improve the lives of coal miners and other working class Americans.” Ross made his money collecting “distressed assets” - failing steel and textile mills in the Midwest and South of the US, and mines in Appalachia’s coal belt. Dubbed the “the King of Bankruptcy,” Ross cut jobs, wages, pensions, and health benefits at the companies he acquired, and reaped the profits. One of the acquisitions of his company, International Coal Group (IGC), owned Sago Mine, about 100 miles east of Charleston. The mine, a non-union operation, racked up a slew of safety violations from federal inspectors - more than 208 in 2005 alone. That year, the roof of the mine collapsed 20 times. Workers at Sago were injured three times as often as workers in similar mines elsewhere. Though Ross claimed not to be part of operating management at Sago, he admitted later that he was aware of the violations, and waved them away. In January 2006 methane ignited deep in the mine. The explosion instantly killed one worker and stranded a dozen others about two miles from the mouth of the mine, in a passageway filled with carbon monoxide. It was more than an hour before company managers called for help, and four hours until a rescue team arrived. Nearly two days later, when they finally reached the trapped miners, all but one had died (Risks 239).
A major dispute is escalating between Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the union Teamsters Canada, over proposed new work patterns the union believes are unnecessarily inflexible and could increase fatigue risks. The issue is a high profile concern, with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board this month identifying employee fatigue as a contributing factor in 20 per cent of its rail incident investigations conducted since 1994 where human factors were identified as a primary cause. In a statement, TSB board chair Kathy Fox called previous efforts by the railway industry and Transport Canada to address the issue “inadequate,” and called on railways and Transport Canada to take further action to mitigate the risk of fatigue for operating crew members on freight trains. The company wants to institute mandatory rest provisions, but Teamsters Canada is challenging the move. Union president Doug Finnson said the problem with the mandatory rest provisions is that they were in effect regardless of trip length, meaning even an employee who had only done a three-hour run would be required to “rest” for six hours after arriving at the destination. If that destination was not the employee’s home base, he or she would be prevented from getting on the next returning train and essentially be stranded away from their family. “It was a ridiculous policy that actually caused fatigue, and didn’t prevent fatigue,” Finnson said. In August, an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favour, saying CP had provided “absolutely no evidence” to demonstrate that mandatory rest after every run would reduce fatigue or make the workplace safer. However, the arbitrator went on to say railway workplace fatigue is an important issue, and the two sides should address it in collective bargaining. This week the union released its own document on fatigue risk and best practices in the railway industry. Finnson said the union is advocating for a system in which workers are assigned set “on-call” periods.
How far the production standards developed by the electronics industry fall short of expectations set by experts in occupational health and safety have been exposed by two key international campaign groups. The GoodElectronics Network and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (IRCT) this week launched an online Chemical Challenge Gap Analysis to chronicle the shortfall. The effort was initiated amid concerns that exposure to toxic substances linked to increased rates of cancer, reproductive damage, birth defects and other serious illnesses, is increasing for workers on the electronics assembly lines. GoodElectronics and ICRT say the companies responsible are secretive about the chemicals and toxins their electronics workers are exposed to at work. They plan to use the new tool in discussions early next year with EICC - an industry coalition advocating electronics supply chain responsibility. “In the upcoming discussions, the objective will be to agree on specific priority areas to be improved and then define a road map leading to concrete changes in the entire electronics industry. Some of the potential focus areas include: public disclosure of names and addresses of all suppliers; policies and contract clauses guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining; and policies ensuring suppliers provide fair compensation to workers,” said Alejandro Gonzalez from GoodElectronics. “We call on the electronics industry to proactively reduce and eliminate human rights violations associated with the use of process chemicals in the manufacturing of electronics products and components.”
Unions are demanding the deadly Gadani shipyard in Pakistan be reopened, with appropriate safety measures, because so many livelihoods depend on it. The Pakistani government closed the Gadani shipbreaking yard after the blast on 1 November. Two weeks after the explosion and fire at the yard, 28 workers had been confirmed dead and a further 60 workers injured, most in a critical condition. Many others are feared missing, with at least 20 families having approached Pakistan’s National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) regarding a missing family member. It is uncertain how many of the informally employed workers were on the ship at the time of the explosion, as there are no records. Unions say instead of closing the yard, the government should ensure it operates safely and should provide compensation to those affected by the disaster. They estimate 12,000 workers depend on the Gadani yard for their livelihood. The unions are are critical of the government for failing to ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships and for not taking other measures to make shipbreaking safer. Apoorva Kaiwar, regional secretary for the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, said: “Closing the Gadani shipyard is a cynical attempt to divert attention away the failure to make shipbreaking safer, and it amounts to the collective punishment of workers. The yards must reopen, and the government must work with unions to change the industry.”
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