|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 [email protected]|
Refuse workers’ union GMB is calling for a crackdown on the scourge of dangerous driving its says is responsible for high death rates in the sector. The union points to figures from refuse firm Biffa, which estimates there are 1,000 incidents of dangerous or reckless driving on Britain’s roads each day. Video footage released by the firm shows drivers mounting pavements, kerbs and grass verges to get around bin lorries making rubbish collections. In one recorded incident, a worker is knocked flat on his back by a car – which then carries on driving. GMB says refuse collection is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country – with at least 12 staff killed over the two years 2014/15 and 2015/16. GMB national officer Bert Schouwenburg commented: “Refuse collection is a vital public service provided to every single household in the country, it is also one of the most dangerous professions you can do – with more deaths per person than almost any other job. That there should be as many as 1,000 incidents every day that put these key workers at risk of death or serious injury beggars belief.” He added: “Being driven at by angry drivers, and put at risk of death or serious injury on a daily basis, should not be dismissed as some sort of occupational inconvenience to just be got on with; our members deserve to go into work knowing they will come home to their families safe at the end of the day, just like anybody else. This has to stop and it is down to the authorities to ensure that happens.” He said the union “expects the police and the courts to come down hard on anyone putting our members’ lives at risk.” Earlier this year, New York State has become the latest in the US to introduce a ‘slow down’ law to protect garbage workers. These laws already exists in 11 states: Virginia, Indiana, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Illinois, and have been introduced over the last decade in response to poor driving that has led to sometimes fatal incidents for refuse collection workers (Risks 757).
Around 200 FBU activists have taken the union safety campaign for greater professional standards in the fire and rescue service to parliament. The 29 November lobby heard Labour’s John McDonnell warn devastating fire service cuts and the gutting of professional standards were putting lives at risk. The shadow chancellor said many of those firefighters who had died in the line of duty “would still be alive” if politicians had listened to FBU concerns over cuts. The government had cut firefighters numbers by 10,000 over the last decade, with a one in six firefighter jobs axed since 2010, a record described by Labour MP Ian Lavery as ‘criminal’. FBU said that professional standards have diminished since 2004 with the scrapping of the Fire Inspectorate for England and Wales and the dropping of national standards for fire cover, including clarity over response times. The mass parliamentary lobby was held following the publication of an FBU report into the “needless death” of Manchester firefighter Stephen Hunt as a result of what a coroner said was “a catalogue of errors.” His death was “a tragedy that must never be repeated,” warned the FBU. The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said that he was “fed up of hearing that lessons need to be learned. The lessons are not new, they just need to be applied.”
Growing worries about safety at work and a decline in passenger service and safety standards on London Underground are behind a vote in favour of industrial action by customer service assistants on the Tube. Their union, TSSA, says frontline staff report being on the receiving end of ‘unprecedented’ levels of verbal and physical abuse from passengers. The rise in abuse followed Transport for London’s (TfL) imposition of new working practices in April, which saw all Tube station ticket offices closed and 800 workers replaced by ticket-vending machines. Remaining staff were ‘redeployed’ as solo workers on station gatelines to assist passengers facing the inevitable difficulties with tickets machine. TSSA says problems like machine breakdowns and retained Oyster and cash cards are also contributing to long queues, adding significant stress to Tube journeys and more frustration vented towards staff. A TSSA survey found further ‘Fit For the Future’ operational changes introduced in September had led to high levels of anxiety in customer service assistants, with four out of five staff reporting a sharp increase in verbal and physical abuse. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Our customer service assistants are overwhelmingly trying to warn the public that the Tube they use is not safe. We no longer have enough staff, enough evacuation trained staff, enough CCTV monitoring staff and not enough staff to staff stations effectively.” He said the strike vote is “an act of desperation by mindful and public-spirited customer service assistants at their absolute best by putting passenger safety before anything else.”
Tube union RMT has said ‘serious consideration’ should be given to closing the Piccadilly line until its antiquated and broken trains are made safe. The union also wants the London mayor and London's transport commissioner to call a summit to draw up and implement an action plan to sort wheel defects on trains. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The entire Piccadilly line fleet of trains has got a major engineering problem which has finally boiled over. It's nothing new and it is down to pressure on services and sheer managerial incompetence.” The union leader explained: “Basically the problem is flatted wheels, which mean the train has to come off the road for a chunk of time to have the wheel checked and lathed back to safe tolerances.” He said London Underground’s fleet engineers have worked under ‘impossible management pressure’ to keep services running. “But now the sheer danger of massive delays and overcrowding means that the service on the Piccadilly Line is inherently unsafe and will get worse under Night Tube. Our members are asking why will it be another 10 years before these 43-year-old trains are fully replaced when refurbishment clearly isn't working.” He said the problem wheels had only recently been installed, so the “contract for that job needs to be forensically examined.” Speaking on 28 November, Cash said: “RMT has been told the problem could take weeks to fix properly. Trying to do it on the hoof with our members taking the rap is no way to proceed. That's why consideration has to be given to the service being suspended until the trains are repaired and signed off as safe. We will have health and safety reps out and about from this morning advising our member and we expect an urgent response from the mayor and his officials which we have set out today.”
Rail firm Southern’s efforts to roll out driver-only trains have received a further blow with train drivers announcing nine days of strike action. Their union ASLEF said 79 per cent of drivers had voted for a walkout, with 95 per cent supporting other forms of action. The action, which includes an overtime ban, follows protracted industrial action by the train guards’ union RMT against the company’s attempts to jettison the essential safety functions train guards perform. The cost-cutting move has also been criticised by the TUC (Risks 774). “We have done our level best to try and reach a sensible, workable compromise with Southern in the interests of passengers as well as staff,” said ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan. But he said the company “doesn’t want to discuss, it wants to impose. Because it doesn’t care about passenger safety, only about profits for shareholders.” The union leader told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on 28 November that driver-only operation (DOO) is ‘inherently unsafe.’ He told MPs: “The difference between us, and the DfT [Department for Transport], and companies like Southern, is that we’re honourable. Where we have agreements we work to those agreements, even when we are seeking to change them because we think they’re inherently unsafe. And the industry is now catching up. DOO is not fit for purpose. There are blind spots all over the place.” Strike days have been set for 13, 14 and 16 December 2016, and 9-14 January 2017.
A Unite member from Cambridgeshire has been awarded £165,000 in compensation after exposure to asbestos caused him to develop the incurable cancer, mesothelioma. The man, whose name has not been released, was exposed to asbestos when working for an electrical firm in Peterborough from 1966 to 1968, where he completed his apprenticeship. From 1969 to 1971 he worked as a maintenance electrician at a heating company. In both roles, he worked near colleagues mixing and applying asbestos lagging to pipework. He also worked for two other firms as an oil fired service engineer between 1971 and 1978, where he would have to regularly cut and replace wicks in boilers that were made of asbestos, which would cause the dust to spread on his face and clothes. None of the 69-year-old’s employers warned him about the dangers of asbestos or gave him protective equipment to wear. He was prompted to visit his GP when pain from an injury to his ribs didn’t go away. After he developed breathing difficulties his lungs were tested, and an x-ray discovered fluid on his lung, which led to his diagnosis of mesothelioma. Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary at Unite, said: “Our member worked in a variety of jobs throughout the 1960s and 70s, but in every instance his employer would disregard his health and expect him to work in close proximity with asbestos. The stark reality of this is that he now struggles with his health on a daily basis and relies on heavy doses of medicine to attempt to ease the pain.”
Controversial plans to delete more than 2.5 million public records, which could have frustrated claims for work-related disease compensation, have been abandoned by the government’s company registration agency. Companies House, which maintains a database on every firm incorporated in the UK, listing their accounts and all directors and shareholders, was considering proposals to reduce the amount of time the records of dissolved companies were retained from 20 years to just six. The plans provoked an outcry when they became public in August, with warnings that they would hamper the ability to track down white collar criminals, combat money laundering and obtain compensation for workers harmed by their jobs. The TUC warned at that time that both workers and the public purse would pay the price of a records cull, adding “there is no reason, given the low cost of data storage, why Companies House should not be retaining the records of all companies that have been dissolved regardless of the timeframe” (Risks 763). In response to a written parliamentary question tabled last week, Margot James, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for Business, said: “The government has no current plans to bring forward proposals to reduce the period of time that Companies House retains records of dissolved companies. Nevertheless, we will continue to keep the retention period under review, during which time the registrar of companies will ensure there is no destruction of records. Additionally, any future proposal to change the retention period would be subject to public consultation.” The issue was first raised by Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, which had planned legal action against the government if the proposal went ahead. Its chair, Graham Dring, said: “This decision is good news for victims of mesothelioma and other long-tail industrial diseases who already face an uphill struggle securing justice in the courts. If these proposals had gone ahead it would have denied access to justice to many asbestos victims unable to pursue a negligent employer or their insurer.” The forum’s solicitors, Leigh Day, said the plans “would have seen thousands of victims of asbestos exposure denied justice”.
Gaps in rotas, poor access to basic facilities and an ever-growing workload means junior doctors are experiencing high levels of stress in their roles – with 80 per cent reporting that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ causes them excessive stress. A new report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) presents a bleak picture of the conditions junior doctors currently face and the impact this is having on patients. Based on a survey of 498 junior doctors, RCP found that the current health and wellbeing of the junior doctor workforce is ‘at a harmful and unsustainable level’. Four out of five junior doctors reported that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ causes them excessive stress. One in four stated that their job has had a serious impact on their mental health. And over half (54 per cent) reported that their job ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ had a negative impact on their physical health. Commenting on the findings, RCP president Jane Dacre said “poor access to even basic facilities, gaps in rotas and the constant pressures of administration, often taking them away from treating patients, is having a stark impact on the mental and physical health of our junior doctors.” Dr Carol Postlethwaite, chair of the trainees committee of the RCP, said the job of a junior doctor often felt like ‘trench warfare’, with the report showing how “recurring institutional failures to care about their health, welfare and training needs have damaged morale and are forcing many away from the front line. We see this in daily rota gaps where there are simply not enough doctors to provide safe patient care.”
Ÿ RCP news release and report, Being a junior doctor. Experiences from the front line of the NHS, December 2016.
A new survey showing high levels of pressure and exhaustion among public sector workers exposes the impact of swingeing job cuts, the union GMB has said. The union said the findings of the CIPD/Halogen Employee Outlook survey show “unacceptable” levels of stress afflicting workers in the sector. The survey of 2,000 employees found public sector employees still report higher levels of pressure and exhaustion at work than any other sector. More than two in every five public sector workers (43 per cent) say they are under excessive pressure at work at least once a week, compared to 38 per cent for all employees. And nearly half (46 per cent) say they come home from work exhausted either always or often, compared to just a third across all jobs (33 per cent). GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “What this research makes crystal clear is pressure and exhaustion are serious problems in the public sector.” She added: “With one million public sector jobs binned off since the Tories came into power in 2010 – it’s hardly surprising stress levels have shot through the roof. GMB members recognise that their working environment has pressures but stress like this is not good for their health and is unacceptable.” CIPD’s Claire McCartney said “it’s crucial that employers address these issues before workers burn out and satisfaction levels take a nose dive.”
Sleep-deprived workers are costing the UK economy £40bn a year and face a higher risk of death, according to a new study. The calculation is based on tired employees being less productive or absent from work altogether. Research firm Rand Europe, which used data from 62,000 people, said the loss equated to 1.86 per cent of the country’s GDP. The biggest impact was on health, with those sleeping less than six hours a night 13 per cent more likely to die than those sleeping between seven and nine hours. The study evaluated the economic cost of insufficient sleep in the UK, US, Canada, Germany and Japan. “The effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual's health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation's economy,” said Marco Hafner, a research leader at Rand Europe and the report's main author. The TUC this year said union safety reps can play a crucial role in preventing fatigue. A report from the union body said as well as an increased risk of injury at work, fatigue can increase the risk of a range of potentially serious health conditions including digestive and mental health problems (Risks 759). The report notes: “The main cause of fatigue is a loss of sleep, either ‘acute’ from the night before, or ‘cumulative’ as a result of lack of sufficient regular sleep over a longer period. It can also be caused by poor quality sleep or changes in sleep patterns.” Advising safety reps to check for problems in their workplaces, the TUC guide adds: “Employers have a responsibility to prevent workers from getting fatigued through work and, where there is a safety critical job, they also need procedures to be in place to monitor the risk of a fatigued worker placing themselves and others at risk, even if the fatigue is a result of factors outside their work.”
Ÿ Rand Europe news release and full report, Why sleep matters – The economic dosts of insufficient sleep. BBC News Online. Fatigue - a guide for health and safety representatives, TUC, July 2016 [pdf].
An Uxbridge manufacturer of ejector seats has been fined £800,000 after three workers developed debilitating lung conditions. The skilled CNC machine operators at Martin Baker Aircraft Company Limited developed extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA) after many years of exposure to metalworking fluid, used as a coolant and lubricant when machining metal. The lung condition, also known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is a body’s allergic reaction to breathing in a substance and symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and joint pain. Aylesbury Crown Court heard how the workers, who had served with the company for more than 20 years, were exposed to the metalworking fluid mist over at least a three-year period. One worker has been so severely affected he has become virtually paralysed by the illness, another will never be able to work with metalworking fluids again, a key material in the industry, and a third must have special measures in place to ensure he never comes into contact with the substance. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the measures in place in the factory to stop workers being exposed were inadequate. HSE found around 60 workers had been exposed to the mist. Martin Baker Aircraft Company Limited failed to put in place a system of cleaning away the excess fluid or providing extraction to prevent the build-up of the mist. There were also failings in the provision of health surveillance, which should have identified the issue early enough to ensure the company were able to put in place and monitor any appropriate safety measures. The firm pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay costs of £36,912.36. HSE inspector Stephen Faulkner said: “The dangers of breathing in metalworking fluid are well known within the industry. In this case one worker has had his health permanently and severely damaged, two others have also been affected, all will have to live with their condition for the rest of their lives.” The problem received national media coverage when a large scale outbreak of occupational asthma and EAA caused by metalworking fluids affected dozens of workers at a Powertrain plant in Birmingham (Risks 309).
A car component manufacturer has been fined after six workers experienced back injuries from repeatedly lifting heavy car engine parts by hand. MAHLE Powertrain Limited (MAHLE) manufactures engine parts for Audi and Jaguar Landrover cars which are no longer in large scale production. Birmingham Crown Court heard that between 1 November 2013 and 7 January 2015, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received six reports of workers who had injured their backs and been off work for more than seven days. One worker was in hospital for seven days and off work for more than nine weeks. Other workers suffered back problems but were not off work for the seven days required for the incidents to be legally reportable. An HSE investigation found that workers who were based on two of the company’s production lines were expected to manually lift engine components weighing between 14 and 21kg, hundreds of times during a shift. Mechanical lifting aids were either not provided, not suitable, or no training had been provided to workers in how to operate them. MAHLE Powertrain Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the manual handling regulations and was fined £183,340 and ordered to pay £21,277.10 costs. HSE inspector Elizabeth Hornsby said: “Companies need to recognise that manual handling as a high risk activity. It is equally important to get health issues right, as well as safety. An Office of National Statistics report on Sickness Absence in the Labour Market stated that 30.6 million days were lost in 2013 due to musculoskeletal problems. This itself should highlight the need for employers to get health issues right.”
A Derbyshire engineering construction company has been prosecuted after a worker fell from height and suffered severe injuries. The worker was repairing a fibreboard roof of a barn and using two homemade crawling boards when he fell six metres on to the floor below, sustaining serious injuries to his head, hip and lungs. Derby Magistrates Court heard how at the time of the incident on 30 July 2014, he was working with a colleague to replace the roofing panels. His workmate was under the roof in a ‘man basket’ that has been attached to a telehandler. When the incident happened he had to climb down the boom of the machine to help the stricken worker. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that there was not sufficient platforms or coverings for the roof to protect workers from the fall. The risk assessment and method statement, which would have told the workers how to run the work, was in the office but not specific to the job. There were no separate controls for the man basket, leaving the other worker stranded when his colleague fell. Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Ltd of Thorpe, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Working at Height regulations and was fined £267,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,750.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has published a report putting a ‘gender lens’ on the issue of violence prevention in the workplace. The report summary says it “reviews the international literature and a selection of regulatory instruments with respect to occupational violence - work-related violence involving incidents in which a person is physically, psychologically or sexually assaulted, threatened, harassed, bullied or mobbed in circumstances relating to their work. This definition covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that can create a risk to the health and safety of employees.” It adds the report, written by Katherine Lippel, a Canadian expert in safety law who has worked closely with unions, “provides an overview of policy strategies addressing the prevention of occupational violence. It also examines the various, (sometimes competing) conceptual frameworks underpinning policy responses to violence, and describes different models of regulatory and policy interventions. It also examines compensation for disability attributable to occupational violence, and other remedies and sanctions. The report identifies the gender dimensions of occupational violence and the need for gender-responsive policy in this area.”
Unions are putting the issue of violence against women at work high on their safety agenda. Early this year, global unions IndustriALL and IUF struck an agreement with soups-to-soaps multinational Unilever to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and make it easier for employees to report it. The union bodies say not only does the deal provide a clear definition of sexual harassment for management and employees but it also sets out procedures for employees to raise an issue and report any abuses in confidence. “Trade unions have a vital role to play in stopping violence against women in the workplace. Clauses to tackle sexual harassment and violence against women can be included in collective bargaining agreements. Organising more women in unions and having more women as leaders will mean that women’s voices and concerns will be better heard,” said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft. “We must work harder to prevent violence against women in the workplace and act when it occurs, including when trade union members are the perpetrators. More trade unions need to adopt strong policies against violence in the workplace, which can be used to educate all their members about what is and what is not acceptable treatment of women,” added Holdcroft. This year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling on trade unions to join a global campaign for an ILO Convention to stop gender-based violence at work (Risks 771).
Chinese authorities have detained 13 people over the collapse of scaffolding at a power plant construction site that killed at least 74 workers in one of China's most serious industrial tragedies in years. Most of those killed had been working on the interior concrete wall of a massive circular cooling tower 70 metres up when the scaffolding collapsed on the morning of 24 November in the north-eastern city of Fengcheng. Although authorities did not disclose details about the 13 detentions, the focus of the investigation has turned to the power plant's operator, Jiangxi Ganneng, and a major engineering firm, Hebei Yineng, which has taken on multiple high-profile power plant projects and has a history of workplace fatalities. The firm has won contracts to build plants in more than a dozen provinces and in Turkey and Malaysia, according to previous interviews given by executives. In 2012, seven Yineng builders in a cooling tower in Yunnan province fell to their deaths after scaffolding collapsed. Three years before that, two workers died after a vehicle backed into a scaffolding support beam at a Yineng-built cooling tower in Guangdong province. State media reports said the latest tragedy occurred during a change of work shifts, possibly accounting for the high death toll. Workers had also been toiling around-the-clock in three shifts to make progress on the project ahead of the arrival of harsh winter weather, according to local media interviews with surviving employees. Xi Jinping, the country’s president, has urged local officials to hold those responsible accountable.
Ÿ ABC News.
Widespread subcontracting and insecure work in the cement industry is leading to high numbers of fatalities and unhealthy working conditions, the global union for the construction sector, has warned. BWI’s survey of workers’ representatives in 113 cement plants from 40 countries covered issues including trade union rights, subcontracting and outsourcing, health and safety at work and climate change. The BWI survey identified several major challenges in the cement industry. It found there is “organised wholesale outsourcing” in the sector, “which includes the core production activities and affects up to 75 per cent of activities in the new plants.” It discovered these insecure workers “are often not reached by the trade unions, excluded by the companies from collective agreements, and more exposed to exploitation, bad working conditions, occupational accidents, diseases and fatalities.” BWI said the overall health and safety situation is ‘frightening’. It found 30 per cent of the cement plants surveyed had experienced at least one death over the last three years and 60 per cent had cases of occupational disease. “The cement industry needs to clean up their act,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI. “Cement industry is hazardous, but prevention of accidents and ill-health is seriously undermined by the abuse of outsourcing in the sector and its refusal to take responsibility for bad working conditions.” BWI global health and safety director, Fiona Murie, said: “Companies must do better. We want them to ensure there are elected and trained trade union health and safety representatives, joint management-union health and safety committees and proper management of health and safety for all workers, not only direct employees.” She said specific demands included “respiratory health management, a 25kg maximum weight limit for manual handling and zero cancer campaigns throughout the industry. We desperately need a more democratic, less militaristic, rule-based approach to prevention. The industry’s current behavioural safety schemes are a failed model.”
In a last minute flurry of activity, the US regulator charged with ushering into effect a new chemical safety law, has named the first 10 chemicals it’s selected for risk evaluations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcement was the first major benchmark established by Congress when it passed sweeping changes earlier this year to the Toxic Substances Control Act. The list, which had to be agreed before a 19 December deadline, includes seriously hazardous chemicals including n-methylpyrrolidone, 1-bromopropane and the organic solvents methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene (‘perc’) and trichloroethylene. The list also includes asbestos – which safety professor Celeste Monforton described as “the deadly mineral that has long served as the poster child for why a new chemical safety law was needed.” As President Barack Obama explained as he signed the law in June, “the system was so complex, so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos –a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by that.” Following EPA’s announcement, Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said: “We support EPA’s choice of chemicals. The list they announced today is a strong one and appropriate EPA action will strengthen public health and environmental safety. We are particularly glad to see asbestos included on the list. The EPA’s inability to ban asbestos under the old law was a primary catalyst for the recent reforms. Asbestos is a major piece of unfinished business for the agency.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/