|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@example.com.|
The TUC has given a heavily qualified welcome to the new and long delayed European Union health and safety blueprint. The communication released by the European Commission on 10 January prioritises action on cancer-causing substances, stress and musculoskeletal disorders, but steers clear of legislative action. In a detailed briefing on the strategy, the TUC says it makes no mention of unions or safety reps, which the union body believes should have been central to efforts to improve safety standards at work, but neither does the ‘modernisation’ document erode existing workers’ rights. “After over a year of waiting we now have the response from the European Commission to their review of all EU health and safety regulations the final response is both a relief and a disappointment,” said TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “It is a relief because there do not appear to be any significant attacks on workers’ rights, but it is a disappointment because there is little practical being proposed, especially on the big issues such as cancers, stress and musculoskeletal disorders.” On cancer-causing substances, the union safety expert added: “The proposals for five new binding limit values are too little, too late and in some cases, far less than we would have wanted. We had been promised 12 new binding limit values, instead we got five. We need more action on the biggest killers such as asbestos, diesel exhaust and silica and there is no sign of that from the Commission.” CIEH, the organisation representing local authority safety regulators, said the document raised questions about UK workplace health and safety in “a post-Brexit world”. CIEH head of policy Tony Lewis said: “We certainly wouldn’t want to see current health and safety regulations diminished as a result of the UK leaving the EU and urge the government to start thinking about new policies as soon as possible. Robust and effective health and safety policies are not a burden but enable workers to conduct their duties effectively and efficiently, which ultimately leads to healthy workplaces and therefore successful businesses.”
Ÿ TUC Stronger Unions blog and briefing. European Commission news release and Communication - Safer and Healthier Work for All - Modernisation of the EU Occupational Safety and Health Legislation Policy. CIEH news release.
Naming and shaming rogue companies is not enough and bad bosses must be prosecuted, the GMB has said. The union was commenting after Sir David Metcalf was named by the government as the first director of labour market enforcement. He will oversee the work of three regulators: The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA); the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS); and the HMRC National Minimum Wage (HMRC-NMW) enforcement team. The government says the appointment “comes weeks after powers came into force which mean rogue employers now face up to two years in prison for serious or repeat labour market offences.” However, these measures were introduced under the Immigration Act, and deal only with employment of workers who don’t have the legal right to work in the UK. The GMB said employers guilty of exploitative practices should face the courts. Tim Roache, the union’s general secretary, said: “Sir David’s appointment must herald a long overdue move to step up the fight against worker exploitation in the UK in 2017. Not a week goes by without new stories of workers in UK industries being exposed to shameful working conditions. GMB members from all backgrounds need to know they will be protected from unscrupulous employers and working practices that are quite simply unacceptable in this day and age.” He added: “Naming and shaming is not enough - we need see a crackdown on those employers who are breaking the law. We need rights at work fit for the Twenty First Century - and to see them properly enforced - which is why trade union workplace reps are so valuable.” The appointment received a warmer welcome from the Institute of Directors. The organisation’s head of employment and skills policy, Seamus Nevin, said: “The government is right to address public concerns over exploitation and black market employment. The IoD will never support the small number of rogue companies who employ illegal workers, or exploit people by paying less than the minimum wage. This is criminal behaviour which is shunned by all honest businesses.” He added: “Businesses are a part of society, they do not sit apart from it, so practical measure like this to reduce exploitation and improve integration will be welcomed by all responsible UK employers.”
Pilots have cautioned that 2017 could see even more close calls involving drones and aircraft – perhaps even a collision – as figures show reports have more than doubled in a year. With drones one of the most sought-after Christmas gifts once again in 2016, the pilots’ union BALPA expressed concern this could lead to a serious incident if users don’t follow the rules. It says in 2016 there were 69 reported incidents of drone near-misses with aircraft, up from 29 in 2015. In 2013 there were zero. BALPA says while we should welcome and embrace drone technology, users, particularly hobbyists, need to ensure they are educated in the rules of where and how to fly their drones and take full responsibility for doing so. Steve Landells, BALPA flight safety specialist, said: “Measures should be put in place that will allow the police to identify and locate anyone who flies a drone in an irresponsible way.” He added: “Owing to the huge numbers of drones being sold, more technological solutions will undoubtedly be required to address this problem and should be mandated. These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner.” He said: “If the user has endangered an aircraft, we would like to see the culprit prosecuted; endangering an aircraft has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.”
Unions have welcomed the recall of type of Sikorsky helicopter for safety checks after an incident on 28 December. A S-92 gouged a slit in the helideck, damaged its wheels and spun on the deck of Total’s West Franklin platform when it was forced to land. The CHC-operated helicopter had experiencing technical difficulties mid-air. There were nine passengers and two crew on board when the incident happened, however there were no reported injuries. After the incident, a mandatory bulletin was issued which means checks must be carried out before the helicopters of this model can return to service. Mick Cash, general secretary of the offshore union RMT, said: “We welcome this move as it is a precautionary measure to assure workers and industry that a generic problem doesn't exist with this model of aircraft.” Brian Strutton, general secretary of the pilots’ union BALPA said: “We believe the decision to ground the S-92 model for checks is sensible and we support it. Clearly the most important thing is ensuring passengers and crew are safe. But, we do want to see these checks carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible so that North Sea and Search and Rescue operations can return to normal.” A bulletin from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released this week said damage to the tail rotor caused the problem. It said a bearing was in a “severely distressed condition”, and initial findings indicated the failure had been “rapid.” Further disassembly found “signs of severe overheating with extreme wear.” The AAIB bulletin said there was a “consequential total loss of control of the tail rotor.”
‘Solid’ strike action this week was in defence of safety standards on London Underground, unions have said. They warn cuts have left Tube safety procedures ‘decimated’, with the system now ‘an under-staffed death trap.’ TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Put quite simply these levels of cuts are not compatible with a safely run, properly staffed Tube and my members are now highly anxious about the impact this is having and will continue to have on their ability to keep you safe.” He added: “Too many stations are being been left open without staff, CCTV monitoring which protects against congestion has all but vanished, evacuation procedures are now insecure and the abolition of ticket offices have exposed our members to a sharp spike in levels of personal and physical abuse at work from increasingly frustrated passengers. No wonder they are fearful at work - there is much for them to be worried about.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This action has been forced on us by savage cuts to jobs that have reduced London Underground to an under-staffed death trap at a time of heightened security and safety alert. RMT members will not stand idly by while they see day in and day out the safety regime on the Tube being slashed to ribbons.” He said the London mayor and his officials “need to come up with serious and urgent plans designed to address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and a schedule for staffing back up on the stations to a level our reps believe is safe and sustainable.”
A transport safety regulator is being used by Southern Rail to downplay the safety implications of driver-only operated (DOO) trains, unions have warned. An Office of Rail and Road (ORR) report released last week claimed that giving drivers the task of closing train doors would be safe with suitable equipment, training and “competent staff.” However, Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said the report, issued ahead of strike action on the Southern Rail network, “is a complete whitewash that proves conclusively that the Office of Road and Rail is no longer fit for purpose and is nothing more than an arm of government, wholly committed to propping up the train companies and the Department for Transport.” He added: “The authors of this report have taken no evidence from the trade unions, have swallowed whole the distorted pictures painted by Southern Rail and have limited their work to the issue of door control when there is a whole raft of safety issues that are allied to the question of driver-only operation. That is scandalous.” Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “Despite what Southern Railways is disingenuously claiming, the report from the Office of Rail and Road does not give driver-only operation a clean bill of health. It doesn’t say it is safe, merely that it can be safe.” He added: “The company seems to expect drivers to operate trains which it knows are unsafe – because it concedes the work the ORR wants done has not yet been completed – which proves, yet again, that this is all about putting profit before passenger safety. The truth is that passengers, every time they are asked, want a second safety-critical person on their trains. On board to help the elderly, the young, and the disabled. The company, which doesn’t seem to care what passengers to think, want to take us one step closer to losing that second role.”
Workplace campaigners have said a speech by Theresa May outlining her action plan for mental health fails to address root causes and the government-imposed funding crisis blighting mental health services. In a speech at the Charity Commission this week, the prime minster announced a ‘comprehensive’ package of measures on mental health support in schools, workplaces and communities. She said: “I want us to employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society.” The plan includes “a new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace.” There will also be a review headed by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Mind chief executive Paul Farmer “on how best to ensure employees with mental health problems are enabled to thrive in the workplace and perform at their best.” However, the union GMB said the prime minister was “in a dangerous state of denial” about the economic drivers of mental ill-health and the impact of government cuts on mental health services. National secretary Rehana Azam said: “The bottom line is more than 12 per cent of mental health staff have left and almost 5,000 mental health beds have been cut since 2010.” She added: “The prime minister must also address some of the economic causes of increased mental ill-health including the increasingly stressful and insecure nature of work which adds to the pressure on individuals and their families. Happy sound bites and small measures are all well and good - but what we desperately need is a cash injection for our chronically underfunded mental health services.” Hilda Palmer of the national Hazards Campaign, said the Theresa May’s speech was “woefully inadequate”, adding spiralling workloads, increasing job insecurity and long hours were among the factors driving the increase in mental health problems. She said: “We do not need another report, what we need is urgent action. Action which forces employers to ensure that their employees’ mental health is not made worse by their workplaces.”
Burnout and suicides have reached ‘crisis’ proportions in healthcare workers, an editorial in the Lancet has warned. The 7 January commentary notes: “The rate of depressive disorders among healthcare workers compared with the general population is alarming and is an issue that spans the medical profession.” Adding “this crisis is not confined to the UK,” the editorial recommends a US initiative to address the problem should be followed globally. A suicide rate of 400 physicians per year in the USA - more than double that of the general population –prompted the US National Academy of Medicine (NAM) “to collaborate with more than 20 professional and educational organisations, including clinician and consumer groups, healthcare organisations, and policy-making bodies, to promote clinician wellbeing and resilience.” It concludes: “Collaboration will be essential to further understand and tackle the deep-rooted underlying issues associated with mental ill health in the medical profession, not just in the USA but globally. Now is not the time to become complacent or to let the health of medical workers slip down the political agenda, but to start 2017 by following a lead taken by the National Academy of Medicine: to ensure that the health and resilience of our medical workforce are the highest priorities in every country.”
Incentive-related pay schemes can stress rather than motivate employees, according to new research. The study by academics from the universities of East Anglia and Sheffield explored the relationship between three types of ‘contingent pay’ – performance-related, profit-related, and employee share-ownership – and positive employee attitudes such as job satisfaction, employee commitment and trust in management. Researchers found that only performance-related pay had a positive impact on all three employee attitudes. However the results, published in Human Resource Management Journal, confirmed that performance-related pay is also associated with more intense working. The authors said this could mean employees are encouraged to work too hard and too much, leading to work-related stress or poor well-being, and offsetting some of its positive impact on staff. The study involved 1,293 managers and 13,657 employees at 1,293 workplaces in the UK. Lead researcher Dr Chidiebere Ogbonnaya said: “Our study is the first to show empirical support for claims that the productivity gains of these pay schemes might be associated with employees’ experience of more intense working. Performance-related pay in particular is associated with the feeling that work might be too demanding or that there is insufficient time to get work done.” He added: “Even though employees may value these earnings as a ‘good thing’, the ultimate beneficiary of their extra effort is the organisation. As a consequence, performance-related pay may be considered exploitative, or a management strategy that increases both earnings and work intensification.”
A plant hire boss has been jailed for two years after a worker was killed when a mobile platform collapsed. Safety net rigger Gary Currie and his colleague Alexander Nisbet were in the basket of the platform removing netting from the facade of an office block in Glasgow when the third main boom section buckled causing the platform’s basket to fall 28 metres. Nisbet was seriously injured and Currie suffered fatal injuries. After a 16-day trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court, Craig Services manager Donald Craig, 57, was convicted of a criminal breach of health and safety legislation and sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. Hamilton based Craig Services & Access Limited was also found guilty of three charges relating to the collapse of a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) and failures in relation to it maintenance and use and was fined a total of £61,000. Another company, J M Access Solutions Ltd, was fined £30,000 for its failure to carry out a systematic and thorough examination of the platform and its safety-critical parts. This came after an earlier incident, in May 2011, involving the platform after which Craig Services & Access Limited had instructed to repair a damaged section of the main boom. The repair had been incorrectly carried out and J M Access Solutions Ltd subsequently failed in their duty to carry out an adequate, thorough examination of the platform. Gary Aitken, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s health and safety division, said: “This incident, which resulted in the death of Gary Currie and caused serious injury to Alexander Nisbet, could have been avoided had Donald Craig and Craig Services & Access Limited heeded advice and taken measures to maintain the platform in a safe condition.” He added: “At the centre of this all was the decision to instruct this repair. It was a decision that left Gary Currie and Alexander Nisbet exposed to an unacceptable risk and was essentially an accident waiting to happen.”
National chain store Wilko has been fined £2.2m after a worker was crushed and left paralysed. Corisande Collins, who was 20 at the time of the incident, was pinned beneath a metal cage full of paint while she was working at a store in Leicester in 2013. Ms Collins, who was working part-time while studying for a degree, now uses a wheelchair. Leicester Crown Court heard the company admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees. Ms Collins, now 23, had just completed the first year of a degree at Northampton University and had taken work at the Beaumont Shopping Centre branch. She was pulling a roll cage overloaded with 230kg (507lb) of paint out of a lift when it toppled on her, the court heard. The prosecution described it as a “high culpability case” as there was no risk assessment for the lift or the use of the roll cages, as well as “inadequate training and supervision.” Health and safety inspectors from Leicester City Council said they were “shocked” by practices at the store, adding “the systems were unsafe.” Govind Mandora, public safety team manager at Leicester City Council, which brought the prosecution, said: “The injuries suffered by Corisande have been devastating and life-changing and the fine that has been placed on Wilko today reflects that.”
Network Rail has been fined £800,000 in a prosecution brought by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), for a serious criminal safety breach which left a worker with life-threatening injuries. Track worker Alan Evans sustained multiple serious injuries when he was struck on the right shoulder by a train in June 2014, while performing rail maintenance work near Redhill in Surrey. He required 20 operations as a result of these injuries. An extensive ORR investigation concluded the work on the main line between Brighton and London was inadequately planned and managed, placing track maintenance workers in unnecessary danger. Guildford Crown Court heard that works were scheduled whilst fast, frequent trains continued to run, in an area with a narrow and steep embankment where the ability of track workers to retreat to a ‘position of safety’ when trains approached was materially compromised. The court also heard that the works could have been carried out at night, when other scheduled works would have ensured that no trains were running. ORR principal inspector Tom Wake commented: “In 2014, Network Rail's planning of track maintenance work near Redhill fell below legal standards, placing workers in unnecessary danger and causing an employee to suffer life changing injuries.” He added: “After the incident, Network Rail undertook a review of worker safety on the London to Brighton line, reducing track maintenance with trains running, introducing better warning systems and providing additional training for staff.”
An inspection programme by health and safety regulators across the European Union is to determine how legally required safety information on hazardous chemicals is communicated in company supply chains and followed in workplaces. The key element of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) project will be to investigate the quality of the safety data sheets that contain guidelines on the safe use of hazardous substances. Inspectors will check if the extended safety data sheets used in the workplace are consistent with chemical safety reports (CSRs) prepared by the chemical firms manufacturing the substances. They will also go through the exposure scenarios attached to the safety data sheets. An exposure scenario describes the amount and character of exposures when a substance is manufactured or used. It also advises how human and environmental exposures can be controlled. ECHA says one objective of this enforcement project is to ensure that workers handling hazardous chemicals, especially substances of very high concern, receive sufficient and correct safety information. The project will also map how effectively extended safety data sheets are passed on and communicated all the way through the supply chain, from manufacturers of chemicals to end users. ECHA say the project will be the first joint EU enforcement project that aims to improve communication, through safety data sheets, throughout the supply chain.
A new rule issued by the US safety regulator OSHA dramatically lowers workplace exposure limit for beryllium. OSHA says beryllium is a ‘strategically important’ material that can cause the devastating lung condition chronic beryllium disease (CBD), or beryllosis. The new beryllium standards for general industry, construction and shipyards – introduced as one of the final acts of the Obama administration - will require employers to take additional, practical measures to protect an estimated 62,000 workers from these serious risks. Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the aerospace, electronics, energy, telecommunication, medical and defence industries. However, it is highly toxic when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, or mist into the workplace air that can be then inhaled by workers. OSHA says that studies have established that low-level exposures to beryllium can cause serious lung disease. “Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” said outgoing OSHA head David Michaels. “OSHA’s new standard is based on a strong foundation of science and consensus on the need for action, including peer-reviewed scientific evidence, a model standard developed by industry and labour, current consensus standards and extensive public outreach. The new limits will reduce exposures and protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers.” The final rule will reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic metre to 0.2 micrograms per cubic metre. OSHA estimates that – once in full effect – the rule will save the lives of 94 workers each year from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease. The UK limit remains at a level 10 times higher than the new US limit.
Some workers who make or work with the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) have levels in their bodies 1,000 times higher than the general public, a study by a US government agency has found. The research led by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found, on average, these workers had 70 times more of the chemical in their bodies than the general public, levels well above what has been shown to affect reproduction. BPA is also linked an increased risk of breast cancer and other health effects. A total of 77 workers at six US companies that make BPA, BPA-resins or BPA-filled wax provided urine samples after two consecutive days at work. The average total BPA in their urine was 70 times higher than a study of US adults, according to findings published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health. One worker’s levels spiked up to 18,900 micrograms per gram of BPA at the end of the shift on the second day of work. The median level of BPA in the general public is a little less than 2 micrograms per gram. NIOSH's Cynthia Hines, lead author of the study, said there are no workplace exposure limits for BPA in the US. “If we clearly had an exposure level - for example something like lead - we'd go the extra measure to make them aware of their risk with those levels,” Hines said. “With BPA, we don’t have standards.” She said the researchers did send general advice to the companies and workers on how to reduce exposure. Industry has argued that the body passes all accumulated BPA within a day, and so current exposures cause no harm. The federal study, which consistently showed higher levels after the second day of work, undercuts that argument.
Ÿ NIOSH blog. Environmental Health News. Cynthia J Hines and others. Urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations among workers in industries that manufacture and use BPA in the USA, Annals of Work Exposures and Health, 1 January 2017.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/