|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.
A new guide to occupational hygiene for union health and safety representatives has been published jointly by the TUC and the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). The organisations say the role of an occupational hygienist is ‘extremely important’ in ensuring that workers are protected and that necessary health tests and surveillance are carried out. The report points out that 99 per cent of work-related deaths each year are the result of occupational diseases, with injuries contributing just 1 per cent to the occupational death toll. Announcing the publication of the new guide, BOHS chief executive Steve Perkins said: “We are delighted to collaborate with the TUC on this essential new publication for union health and safety representatives. The current levels of mortality, and morbidity rates, caused by occupational disease in Britain, are unacceptable and must be tackled via a concerted and highly focused approach. As a Society, we believe this collaborative approach, typified by partnership endeavours such as the new BOHS/TUC guide and our other similar projects to share expertise and guidance, is key to Britain’s future success in worker health protection.” TUC head of safety, Hugh Robertson, added: “It is unacceptable in a modern, civilised society that each year, thousands of workers in Britain should battle ill-health and lose their lives as a result of occupational health hazards which can effectively be controlled by the application of simple occupational hygiene principles.” He concluded: “Union health and safety representatives, working in partnership with occupational hygienists, are in a unique position to help spearhead important transformational change in workplaces to bring health on a par with safety and ensure that work-related health risks are no longer overlooked in Britain’s workplaces.”
Ÿ TUC publication notice. BOHS news release. Occupational hygiene explained: A guide for union health and safety representatives, TUC/BOHS, November 2016.
UK unions have welcomed a new deal that will allow union-run inspections of working conditions on Qatar’s World Cup building sites. The memorandum of understandings (MOU) between Qatar’s Supreme Committee for the 2022 event and the global construction union BWI allows the union body to inspect conditions and talk to workers, and covers up to 30,000 people involved in stadium construction and refurbishment. BWI will also provide expertise in health and safety to the Supreme Committee and all the companies contracted to work on stadium projects. The TUC said the deal means BWI will now be able to take a role in ensuring compliance with the ‘Worker Welfare Standards’ developed by the Supreme Committee in the wake of widespread criticisms of Qatar’s treatment of the predominately migrant workforce. TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the agreement was “an important first step”, adding: “BWI’s hard-won role in providing independent inspection for working and living conditions and assessing workers’ forums to ensure their effectiveness in providing a route for workers to raise and resolve grievances, offers a chance to show the rest of Qatar that engaging with unions is an opportunity, not a threat, and the only way to ensure decent conditions and begin to fix Qatar’s battered reputation.” Unite’s Gail Cartmail, who was in Qatar with the BWI team that secured the deal, said: “It is testament to the tireless work of BWI and campaigners which importantly secures access to worksites and the right for BWI to conduct labour inspections. There is still a lot more to be done and a lot more hard work ahead. Unite has said consistently football is a beautiful game and those who make major sporting events possible by their hard labour deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. This is our goal.”
Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of the union reps responding to the TUC’s 2016 Equality Audit said that disability-related sickness absence was the number one equality issue they dealt with at work. Reps told the TUC that disabled people can have higher or more frequent rates of sickness absence, but that workplace policies were not adjusted to account for this. They said more work was required to ensure managers had adequate training to manage disabled workers. According to the TUC, most disability-related sickness absence can be more effectively managed through better policies, implemented in partnership with unions. Changes to the work of disabled members of staff – for example ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the job, being able to work flexibly or work from home and providing time off for medical appointments – would minimise disability-related sickness absence and discrimination. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Disabled people deserve a fair deal at work. Employers can do much more to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from working. Adjusting working patterns, open communication with staff and good equality policies all help.” She added: “Unions are working hard to win decent pay, opportunities to training and promotion at work for disabled people. I would urge all disabled people at work to join their union, to make sure they get their voice heard and their interests represented.”
Drone hobbyists with ‘little understanding’ of air safety could put lives at risk if action is not taken, the pilots’ union BALPA has said. The union’s warning came after it was revealed a passenger aircraft narrowly avoided a collision with a drone over central London. The Airbus A320, which was carrying around 165 passengers as it approached Heathrow Airport on 18 July, was within 66ft (20m) of the device. The report, based on the pilot's observations, described the incident as a “very near miss”. The UK Airprox Board report said: “Members agreed that this incident appeared to be a very near miss and that the drone operator should not have been flying in that location at that altitude.” Commenting on the report, BALPA flight safety specialist Steve Landells said: “All drone users, especially hobbyists, who often have little training or understanding of the rules of the air, need to be aware of the dangers of flying them in, or near to, restricted areas; these include airports and densely populated areas such as central London.” He added: “Pilots are pressing for better education and compulsory registration, during which the rules are made quite clear, and more high profile prosecutions of offenders… Flying a drone in an irresponsible manner puts lives in danger and any offending drone should transmit enough data to allow the police to locate the operator, and, if they have endangered another aircraft, a prosecution should follow.”
The National House Building Council (NHBC) has ‘washed it hands of any responsibility’ for ensuring that workers on housing projects are protected in extreme weather, the construction union UCATT has said. The union body had written to NHBC chief executive Mike Quinton requesting his organisation introduce the same NHBC protective rules for workers that already exist for construction products (Risks 777). Under NHBC rules mortar and cement cannot be used in temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius but UCATT says the council does not apply this same principle to the workers using the products. In his reply to UCATT, Quinton said the NHBC sets standards and provides warranties, but “cannot influence the terms under which workers or contractors are employed. Based on our experience many employers and self-employed workers will make their own determination about the conditions they or their staff are prepared to work in.” Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, commented: “The NHBC have washed their hands of the problem. Workers face the continued misery of being forced to work in extreme weather conditions because powerful organisations decide to look the other way.” He added: “The NHBC cannot escape from the fact that they have clear rules on not using construction materials in cold weather but provide no such protection for workers.”
British TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson has been condemned for ‘victimising’ an airport worker prior to a flight from Germany to the UK. Clarkson claimed the check-in worker had verbally abused him as he stopped him boarding a flight from Stuttgart last week. The allegations were a front page story in the Sun, with Clarkson calling the worker “an ignorant little worm”, adding “he will pay for it”. However, police in Germany queried Clarkson's claim he was barred from a UK-bound flight by an airport employee because of a 2014 Top Gear controversy which caused a diplomatic incident with Argentina. A Reutlingen police spokesperson said it was “not comprehensible” to link the furore with Clarkson's inability to board a plane at Stuttgart Airport. Global transport unions’ federation ITF and German union ver.di condemned the ‘victimisation’ of the Stuttgart Airport worker. The check-in agent, Manuel Pereira, is a member of ver.di, whose air transport national officer, Katharina Wesenick, called for the “constant” press harassment to end. She added: “The airport has investigated and established that this was a clear cut case of an airport worker having to refuse boarding to passengers who had arrived late from the lounge, where they had missed the urgent reminders. If the press have any questions I suggest they put them to Jeremy Clarkson.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said both the airport and the local police had confirmed the airport worker’s version of events. But “Jeremy Clarkson unleashed a torrent of unbelievable abuse and now disproven allegations. We now learn that Mr Pereira, the innocent party in this rather sordid little affair, is being constantly hounded by some journalists,” he said. “That has to stop now.” Some observers have hinted that Clarkson concocted the story to gain publicity for his new TV show, which was launched later that week. The Guardian noted: “The controversy happens to coincide with the debut of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime on Friday.”
Government plans to reform personal injury claims in England and Wales would take the compensation system back to the dark ages and would mean many occupational disease victims would lose out, lawyers have said. The warning came after a Ministry of Justice consultation proposed removing or restricting the right to full compensation for pain and suffering as a result of car crash whiplash injuries. But legal experts say workers suffering debilitating occupational diseases would also lose out as a result of the planned changes. One proposal - raising the limit for cases in the small claims court for all personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000 – would mean most workers suffering an occupational disease would have neither the resources nor the legal support to pursue a genuine claim. “The right to compensation for an injury caused by someone else’s negligence has been an important aspect of civil justice for centuries, and with good reason,” said Neil Sugarman, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). “In a society where no-one bats an eyelid about claiming compensation for a late train or being mis-sold an insurance policy, the idea that injured people should be treated as some kind of second class citizens simply beggars belief.” The government has also proposed forcing the vast majority of personal injury victims into a court system better suited to arguments about faulty fridges than bodily injury, the APIL president added. Tom Jones of the personal injury law firm Thompsons Solicitors, said: “If they go ahead, these government reforms will hit injury victims, on the roads and in the workplace, while lining the pockets of car insurer CEOs and their shareholders.” Unions have pointed out that compensation cases have played an important role in establishing the links between workplace exposures and occupational diseases. They warn that changing the system would impact on this process and related prevention efforts.
Exhausted delivery drivers could pose a road safety risk over the next few weeks as thousands of staff are urged to work up to 20 days in a row to cope with the rush of online orders around Black Friday on 25 November. Government safety inspectors have been asked to investigate the possible danger arising from delivery drivers working six days a week and who have been asked if they are also willing to work Sundays. Labour MP Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate after Hermes, which delivers parcels for retailers including John Lewis and Next, made the request to about 5,000 couriers. If they agree, some could work 20 days without a break starting from 21 November. The Guardian reports that Field has asked the HSE “to ensure the company’s actions do not put the safety of its couriers as well as road users at risk” and warned of “a risk of tiredness... towards the end of the 20-day stretch”. Hermes is expecting to deliver 750,000 parcels on the Sunday after Black Friday. It is offering a £40 bonus for couriers who work Sunday 27 November and Sunday 4 December to help cope with “unprecedented volumes”. The firm said “we do not believe that if couriers choose to work on those Sundays there will be any safety risks.” It added it would “act swiftly and accordingly” if workers were put under pressure to work excessive hours.
Ÿ The Guardian.
A judicial review of the way the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) operates its controversial Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme (Risks 672) will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on 10 and 11 May 2017. Facilities outsourcing company OCS Group UK launched the case after unsuccessfully querying an FFI bill it received for its management of hand arm vibration. The hearing is expected to take one and a half days. OCS alleges that the HSE’s process for retrospectively reviewing whether a notice of contravention – the trigger for an invoice – is legitimate is not independent, because it is carried out by the regulator’s staff. According to a document written by counsel to the claimants, Keith Morton QC, HSE acts as “prosecutor, judge and jury” in its adjudication of the dispute. It claims the HSE has a “financial interest in imposing, maximising and upholding fees for intervention”. Safety magazine HSW reported last month that OSC is questioning whether the HSE FFI system complies with natural justice, the principle that a person cannot be a “judge in their own cause” and that a defence must always be fairly heard. The OCS case relates to a notice of contravention it received in August 2014 over its use of strimmers at Heathrow airport, where the HSE alleged it had breached the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations, resulting in FFI bills totalling £2,306. OCS denied that it was in material breach of the regulations, but appeals were in turn rejected by HSE’s internal team and the HSE disputes panel.
A council has been fined after a worker was left with permanent health damage after being diagnosed with hard arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Canterbury Crown Court heard how a worker from Thanet District Council was diagnosed with the condition after visiting his GP. HAVS, which can cause tingling, pins and needles, numbness and pain in the hands, can make everyday tasks difficult or impossible. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the worker would typically spend up to six hours a day using a range of powered equipment including mowers and hedge cutters, depending upon the season. He was not under any health surveillance or told how he should report his symptoms. The council had not taken steps to eliminate or control the exposure of their workers to HAVS. After the firm was issued with an improvement notice and introduced health surveillance, a further 15 cases of ill-health relating to vibration exposure were identified and reported to HSE. Thanet District Council pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and was fined £250,000 plus £18,325.84 in costs. HSE principal inspector Mike Walters said HAVS “is a serious disease that impacts on people’s lives and impairs their ability to work. It is entirely preventable but once the damage is done it is permanent. Any business, council or employers can learn from this case. If you have workers who use heavy machinery you need to ensure you properly manage the risks from HAVS, control or eliminate the exposure and train them so they can identify the symptoms.”
The £1.75m fine handed out to energy firm Scottish Power Generation (SPG) after a worker was scalded at Longannet Power Station has been reduced by the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s supreme court. David Roscoe, a plant controller at the company’s now decommissioned power station in Alloa, Scotland, was engulfed in high temperature steam and severely burned while inspecting a faulty drain valve in October 2013. The valve opened unexpectedly, releasing high pressure steam. He lost his job as a result of his injuries (Risks 754). In May, the company pleaded guilty at Dunfermline Sheriff Court to a criminal safety breach and was fined £1.75m, reduced from £2.5m for the early guilty plea, with the figures based on 2015 sentencing guidelines (Risks 727). SPG lodged an appeal against the penalty in July. The firm argued the £2.5m starting point for the fine was “excessive” and failed to take into account mitigating factors. In delivering the opinion of the court, Lord Carloway, lord justice general, said a starting point of £1.5m would “seem reasonable”, before a discount for an early plea. The court then considered that a 20 per cent discount would be “reasonable” to reduce the starting point of £1.5m by £300,000 to produce a fine of £1.2m. “The appeal is accordingly allowed. The court will quash the figure of £1.75m and substitute one of £1.2m”, Lord Carloway said.
An international engineering company has been fined following the death of a worker who fell 30 feet from an electricity pylon. Vincent John Richards, 49, was installing fall arrest lines for painters to use on the pylon at Great Orton, Carlisle on 5 July 2014 when the tragedy happened. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and prosecuted Bilfinger Industrial Services (UK) Limited for serious criminal safety failings. Carlisle Crown Court heard that Mr Richards, who was employed by the company as a rigger, had been working with a colleague preparing the pylons in readiness for painters to carry out maintenance work. On the morning of the incident, Mr Richards arrived at pylon FT37 and found that the painters had already commenced painting even though the pylon had not been rigged. He had climbed approximately 30ft up the pylon when he fell backwards, narrowly missing one of the painters working directly below him. As a result of the fall, Mr Richards sustained serious multiple injuries and died at the scene. The HSE investigation found Bilfinger Industrial Services (UK) had a safe system of work, but failed to implement, monitor and enforce it. This failing exposed their employees to the risk of death. Bilfinger Industrial Services (UK) pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £59,320.10. HSE inspector Susan Ritchie commented: “The company were clearly aware of the hazards involved with pylon work and had a system in place to manage the risks. Unfortunately they failed to implement, monitor and enforce this system of work. In addition they failed to ensure the proper inspection and provision of safety critical personal protective equipment.”
The director of a Port Talbot furniture factory and three of its shareholder-managers have received suspended prison sentences for their failure to remedy serious criminal safety failings. Swansea Crown Court heard how Margam Hall Upholstery Limited was included in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) programme of visits to woodworking premises, which the watchdog classifies as a high risk industry because of dangerous machines and hazardous substances. A visit early in 2015 highlighted a number of health and safety concerns at the factory, including poor control of wood dust, no maintenance of work equipment including fume and dust extraction and noisy conditions. There was also inadequate toilet and washing facilities. Ten improvement notices were served on the company in February 2015. Despite ongoing intervention by the HSE, there was little progress and conditions remained poor, with HSE finding seven of the improvement notices were not complied with. Director Brian Baggs was given a 10 month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay costs of £2,500. He was also disqualified from acting as a company director for five years. Brothers Matthew and David Lewis, both shareholders and managers at the firm, were each given a 10 month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to pay costs of £2,500. Although not currently directors, they were also disqualified from acting as a company director for five years. Michael Ball, another shareholder and manager, received the same penalty and disqualification. Judge Geraint Walters said: “The operation the four of you were engaged in was nothing short of a ticking time bomb in relation to the health and safety of employees.” The company was prosecuted by the HSE in 2015 for similar criminal health and safety breaches.
Diesel exhaust exposures are causing high rates of fatal lung cancers in underground miners, according to a new study. Researchers from Australia and the Netherlands found underground production workers, including diesel loader operators and shotcreters, face the highest risk. They called for strict controls to limit their exposure. The study, published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, marks the first phase of an investigation into conditions in Australian mines. Using Department of Mines and Petroleum data from 2003 to 2015 and other studies, it modelled the average levels of exposure among employees in a range of occupations on Western Australian mine sites. It then estimated the number of lung cancer deaths caused by those levels with stark results. “If somebody were to be exposed as an underground miner, we saw that that person would be exposed to on average 44 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3),” said lead investigator Dr Susan Peters from the University of Western Australia. At this exposure level over a 45-year working lifetime, compared to the general population, the miners would have 38 extra lung cancer deaths per 1,000 males. Above-ground mine workers were found to face a lower but still elevated risk, with an average exposure of 14 µg/m3 over 45 years causing about 5.5 additional lung cancer deaths per 1,000 workers. The paper concludes “exposure levels in the contemporary Australian mining industry are still substantial, particularly for underground workers. The estimated excess numbers of lung cancer deaths associated with these exposures support the need for implementation of stringent occupational exposure limits for diesel exhaust.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel exhaust as a top rated ‘Group 1’ human carcinogen in 2012 (Risks 560).
Ÿ Susan Peters and others. Estimation of quantitative levels of diesel exhaust exposure and the health impact in the contemporary Australian mining industry, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online first, 15 November 2016. Work Cancer Hazards blog.
A review of Australia’s federal and state road safety agencies is urgently required, following a spate of truck crashes that left six people dead in just three days, the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has said. The tragedies struck between 14 and 16 November. The union said that since the start of October, 26 people have died in truck crashes, including eight truck drivers, confirming trucking as Australia’s deadliest job. “In April the government tore down a road safety watchdog that was holding wealthy retailers and manufacturers to account for safety in their supply chains. We are now seeing the effects of this lack of scrutiny and the effects of the financial pressure they are clearly putting trucking companies and drivers under,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon. TWU said low cost contracts force transport operators to skip maintenance and lower rates for drivers, forcing them to speed, drive long hours, skip breaks and overload their vehicles. The union added that the cost pressure is also leading to untrained migrant workers driving trucks. “The federal government’s own report released this year shows a system of safe rates, where drivers are paid minimum rates for all their work, would cut truck crashes by 28 per cent,” Sheldon said. “Still the government abolished the only system that had the power to examine these problems and replaced it with a few extra speed cameras that tell us what we already know: truck drivers are under too much pressure.” A Safe Work Australia report published in October showed truck driving is Australia’s deadliest job, with 583 drivers killed between 2003 and 2015. In the 10 years to 2014, over 2,500 people died in truck crashes.
TWU news release. Resources: US NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety website and newsletter, Behind the Wheel at Work. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation's Business Pulse publication.
An organisation set up by Walmart as an alternative to independent scrutiny of its supply chain in Bangladesh is giving a clean bill of health to factories that have not improved their dangerous practices since the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 that killed over 1,100 people (Risks 760). An independent systematic survey of the Bangladeshi garment factories used by members of Walmart’s Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, whose members also include global retailers Gap and Target, has concluded the factories have so far failed to implement key safety renovations by their own mandated deadlines. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) have neither viable fire exists nor a properly functioning alarm system. And nearly half (47 per cent) have major, uncorrected structural problems. The report notes that deadlines for repairs and improvements set for 2014 and 2015 have in some cases been scrapped and replaced with a 2018 deadline that coincides with the end of the Alliance arrangement. In the wake of the tragedy, retailers formed two groups to address safety issues in Bangladesh. The first, a legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, was negotiated by local and global unions, with signatories including H&M, Adidas, Benetton, Marks & Spencer and Tesco. Walmart balked at this union-led deal, and instead founded the voluntary Alliance. Whereas the Accord prioritises transparency in its work (Risks 754), Walmart’s Alliance is far more secretive. The independent report on the firms used by the Alliance was compiled by the International Labour Rights Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Maquila Solidarity Network. It identified 175 factories that supply both Accord and Alliance’s signatories. The report found of the 107 factories labelled as being “on track” by the Alliance, 99 were still failing in one or more safety categories. “The Alliance has never offered any justification for the decision to ignore its own safety deadlines. Nor has the Alliance explained why it is responsible to allow factories four years to carry out life-saving renovations that should have been completed in less than one, while still labelling those factories as ‘On Track’,” the authors of the report write. Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, said: “What motivated Walmart and Target to do the right thing is public embarrassment. We are three and a half years on and they assume memories are fading.” He added: “This data set, if anything, overstates progress. I’m not saying that nothing has been done – it’s just that this work should have been done a long time ago and you still have issues that could lead to fatalities.”
Ÿ CCC news release and full report, Dangerous delays on worker safety, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign and Maquila Solidarity Network, November 2016. The Guardian.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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