|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 brand new TUC resource is now available to anyone who wants to make their workplace safer through building a strong union. Last year’s TUC guide to organising and health and safety was well received, especially the version for mobile phones. Now, to build on this success, the guide has an eNote companion. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “An eNote is a great resource to help representatives get a good grasp of an issue and this one is a self-contained module that contains a mixture of text, video and quizzes that you can work through. It lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and can be returned to as many times as you like. The different sections can be used together, or individual ones may be of particular use to your needs and situation.” Urging union safety reps to “give it a try,” he added that registering for the new resource “is a pretty simple process and will also give you access to all the other eNotes that TUC Education have produced, including one on sick notes, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health in the workplace.”
A union campaign has won the reinstatement of two hospital porters five weeks after they were suspended for refusing to use dangerous equipment. The two men, one of whom was a GMB union representative, were working at Watford General Hospital for Medirest. the company providing food, cleaning and logistic services at the hospital. However, the GMB members refused to use food trolleys they described as “damaged and unsafe in a manner that could injure themselves and patients”. Both men were suspended immediately, with a subsequent disciplinary inquiry held by the contractor concluding they had refused to work. After a high profile GMB campaign, both workers have now been reinstated to their former roles. Safety fears were raised after one worker sustaining an ankle injury while using a trolley, with some colleagues saying they were concerned that the trolleys were being overloaded. One worker said: “Pushing trolleys around a busy hospital when you cannot see over the loads is an accident waiting to happen. Also the trolleys’ sharp edges resulted in an ankle injury. We told our managers but eventually the GMB rep refused to work with the trolleys, and was suspended. Then another lad, who also refused, was suspended.” Mick Dooley, GMB London organiser, said: “Their crime was to ask for a proper instruction before they used the equipment, and for that they are kept under a cloud for five weeks fearing the worst. Hospital workers were angered by what they saw as an attempt to intimidate them and stop them raising safety issues. The Health and Safety Executive also visited Watford General and in no uncertain terms advised Medirest to ensure safe working practices.”
A new workplace campaign by the physiotherapists’ union CSP is aiming ‘to tackle growing and unreasonable workloads’. “We know from members and CSP reps across the UK that workplace pressures are currently affecting them, whether in the NHS or elsewhere,” the union notes. “Members working in the NHS are struggling to cope with high workloads, reduced resources and support during these difficult times. The impact of constant change and reorganisation in the NHS is also taking its toll.” Launching the new ‘Pinpoint the pressure’ campaign, the union says rather than struggling alone, “we want to get you thinking about what you can do to support each other – and to help find improvements that could alleviate these problems.” CSP says a new campaign resource pack will assist reps to identify the causes of workplace stress and overwork. The pack includes a simple survey, instructions, a results form and templates on how best to share the findings with colleagues and management.
Rail union RMT has told Merseyrail it will be in dispute with the company if it fails by 26 January to provide ‘cast-iron assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard.’ The union has written to Merseyrail following the recent announcement that new rolling stock to be procured for the network would be configured for driver-only operation (DOO), and that guards would be removed from all Merseyrail services. RMT says as well as ‘grave concerns over the downgrading of passenger safety’, it also has concerns over the future job security of fleet maintenance workers affected by the decision. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We will not agree to any extensions of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. RMT has asked Merseyrail on numerous occasions for assurances that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. To date, the company has failed to provide the union with these assurances.” The union leader added: “If Scotrail, which is run by Abellio, the same franchisee that operates Merseyrail, can introduce new trains with guards, then so can Merseyrail.” He said: “I have written to Merseyrail and informed them that if we haven’t received assurances over the safety critical role of the guard by 26 January then we will be in dispute with the company.”
Union members have demonstrated over the lack of decent welfare facilities for dock workers and drivers visiting the port of Liverpool’s Seaforth container terminal. The protest by Unite members working for Peel Ports, one of the UK’s largest port operators, took place on 13 January. The union, which represents dock workers and lorry drivers at the port, said its members are angry over a lack of access to clean toilets, rest areas and canteen facilities. The union said members have criticised the “appalling” toilets provided for up to 350 workers working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Unite adds there is no provision for hot food after 2pm or at weekends, as well as no trade union facilities for health, safety and workplace representatives – despite a previous agreement to provide them. Lorry drivers visiting the port are not provided with facilities to park their vehicles during a back log and the nearest safe and legal parking area with public conveniences is 20 miles away. The union says more than 800 members of Unite are affected by the ‘totally inadequate’ facilities at the port of Liverpool’s container terminal and is calling for urgent talks with Peel Ports management. Unite regional officer Colin Carr said: “Our members have little or no welfare facilities and appalling toilet facilities. There are also no toilets or canteen facilities available for visiting lorry drivers.” He added: “This is more like a port of the past than a port of the future. We have no choice but to take action to demand that decent facilities are available for all workers.”
Support staff in Scotland's schools are feeling exhausted, undervalued and stressed, according to their union. Announcing the findings of what it said was probably the ‘largest ever’ survey of school support staff, UNISON said 1,841 jobs supporting teachers in schools had disappeared since 2010. The posts included classroom assistants, technicians, cleaners and librarians. The union said the cuts were impacting on the workload of the support staff who remained - with teachers and pupils also affected. The union survey confirmed that a lack of time, resources and heavy workloads mean support staff are struggling to maintain standards for pupils in Scotland. Responses to the survey revealed a pattern of heavier workloads, jobs cuts, lack of educational supplies, and dirtier schools. The union says that there while there are now 6,707 more pupils in Scottish schools than in 2010, there are 1,841 fewer support staff and 1,389 fewer teachers. UNISON said its survey confirms the enormous stress this puts on support staff. It found 40 per cent carry out unpaid work because of high workloads and 80 per cent say workloads have increased. Six out of ten (60 per cent) say morale is ‘low’.
Workers need more clarity from the prime minister on her pledge to protect workers’ rights after the UK leaves the European Union, the TUC has said. The union call came after Theresa May said the UK “cannot possibly” remain within the European single market. In a 17 January speech, the prime minister also announced parliament would get a vote on the final deal agreed between the UK and the European Union. Addressing an audience including senior ministers and foreign ambassadors in central London, she said “a fairer Britain is a country that protects and enhances the rights people have at work. That is why, as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, we will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.” She reiterated a previous commitment that “under my leadership, not only will the government protect the rights of workers set out in European legislation, we will build on them.” Responding to the speech, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We are pleased the prime minister has committed to a parliamentary vote on the final deal. But before that vote, we will need to know exactly what the new framework she promised for workers’ rights and jobs will be.” She added: “Working people are worried they will end up paying the price of leaving the Single Market. There is real concern that it will be bad for jobs, bad for rights at work, and bad for the living standards of British people. The commitment to protect workers’ existing rights and to build on them is welcome. The best way to do this is for the prime minister to agree that UK workers’ rights will always be as good as, or better, than workers’ rights in the rest of the EU.”
The government’s labour market tsar must investigate working conditions at the online fashion retailer ASOS, the GMB has said. In a letter Sir David Metcalf, the newly appointed Director of Labour Market Enforcement (Risks 783), the union calls for an investigation into working practices at the giant ASOS warehouse in Barnsley. Media reports last year revealed between 1 January 2014 and 3 November 2016, 999 crews were called 120 times to the warehouse – for incidents including falls, back injuries, fits, psychiatric issues and suicide bids (Risks 781). In a letter to Sir David Metcalf, GMB calls for a full investigation and enforcement action where needed. GMB regional secretary Neil Derrick said: “There are now solid grounds for further investigation into the working conditions our members face - not least why there have been so many emergency call outs to the site. It is deeply troubling and must be investigated.” He added: “ASOS cannot go on hiding from these mounting concerns. It’s high time they worked constructively with GMB to make their warehouse a fairer and safer place of work.” In November last year, GMB launched a whistleblowing helpline for ASOS workers to allow anonymous reporting of concerns about terms and conditions and working practices.
A crisp and snacks manufacturer has been fined after an agency worker lost part of three fingers. Northampton Crown Court heard how the worker, working at Tayto Group Limited, was clearing a blockage of material from a machine on the production line. The worker’s hand came into contact with shears and three fingers on his right hand were severed, below the first knuckle. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the August 2015 incident found that the guard on the machine was not secured at the time of the incident. The company had not implemented a formal monitoring system on this machine, to ensure that all guards were in place and secure before the machine was started. Tayto Group Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), and was fined £330,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,752.23. HSE inspector Michelle Morrison said: “This man suffered a life-changing injury in what was an entirely preventable incident. Employers must have adequate and robust systems to ensure that guards used to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery are in place and secure before machinery is put into use.”
A Welsh landfill company have been fined after a worker had to have both legs amputated after being run over at work. Mold Crown Court heard how tractor driver Emrys Hughes was walking across the yard at the Bryn Posteg Landfill site in Llanidloes, when he was hit by a large shovel loader. The 65-year-old suffered severe injuries and needed both legs amputated at the mid-thigh. He was hospitalised for six months after the November 2015 incident. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company did not have any controls in place to protect workers from the high volume of vehicles and traffic on site. Although the firm had previously identified the risk and how it could prevent workers being hit by vehicles, it did not put the measures in places. Sundorne Products (Llanidloes) Limited, part of the Potter Group, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,657.10. HSE inspector Mhairi Duffy said: “It is extremely important to identify how to protect your workers but you must back this up with action. This worker’s and his family’s lives have been changed forever because Sundorne Products Ltd failed to take action and protect their workers from being run over by vehicles on the site.”
A roofing contractor has been fined after putting the lives of two employees at risk when working at height without protection against falls. The employees of Rochdale-based MW Roofing (NW) Ltd were removing a chimney on a two storey house when they were seen accessing the roof via a roof ladder, down which they were carrying buckets of waste material. The company had not put in place any fall prevention measures. Manchester City Magistrates heard that despite having previously received warnings from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about their unsafe working at height methods the company still continued to work in a dangerous manner. MW Roofing (NW) Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,440.60. HSE inspector David Argument said: “You cannot ignore the dangers of working at height, it remains the main cause of death and serious injury in the workplace, particularly in the construction industry. Simple measures, such as providing guard rails can prevent death and serious injury.”
This year’s International Workers Memorial Day will focus on inequalities in occupational health and the role unions play in narrowing the inequalities gap. The TUC says this theme for the world’s largest health and safety campaign, held on 28 April each year, will allow unions to raise discrimination based on gender, race, origins and class, which have all been linked to higher rates of occupational disease and injury. It also allows unions to emphasis the unacceptable risks facing workers in the ‘gig’ economy, where the combination of poor conditions and job fear can amplify risks.
The volume of discarded electronics in East and South-East Asia jumped by two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation and is growing fast, new research has found. Driven by rising incomes and high demand for new gadgets and appliances, the average increase in e-waste across all 12 countries and areas analysed — Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand and Vietnam — was 63 per cent in the five years ending in 2015 and totalled 12.3 million tonnes. China alone more than doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015 to 6.7 million tonnes, up 107 per cent. The report notes that some methods used in the recycling process cause acute and chronic ill-effects. “Open burning and acid bath recycling in the informal sector have serious negative impacts on processers’ occupational health,” study co-author Shunichi Honda co-author said. “In the absence of protective materials such as gloves, glasses, masks, etc., inhalation of and exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances directly affect workers’ health. Associations have been reported between exposure from improper treatment of e-waste and altered thyroid function, reduced lung function, negative birth outcomes, reduced childhood growth, negative mental health outcomes, impaired cognitive development, cytotoxicity and genotoxicity.” Deepali Sinha Khetriwal, an associate programme officer at UN University who also contributed to the report, added: “Indirect exposure to these hazardous substances is also a cause of many health issues, particularly for families of informal recyclers who often live and work in the same location, as well as for communities living in and around the area of informal recycling sites.”
Ontario aims to have a dedicated occupational disease response team in place by the end of the year to improve prevention and enforcement, as well as help workers who get sick from chemical exposures file compensation claims. Michael Speers, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour in Canada’s most populous state, said it was “critical” that job-related illnesses be treated with the same gravity as physical injuries in the workplace, which have declined over the past decade. The move comes after press reports on the struggle of hundreds of former General Electric (GE) workers to get compensation for often terminal illnesses like brain cancer. Around half of the 660 compensation claims filed by former employees of GE’s Peterborough plant have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn for apparently insufficient evidence. Critics say the standard of proof workers are expected to provide to compensation boards is often unrealistically high, and research also suggests that the vast majority of sick workers never file claims because they are not even aware their illness could be work related. Workers’ advocates have charged that occupational disease in the province is often not monitored, reported or compensated. Speers said the ministry is exploring ways to improve information sharing, including linking work history with electronic medical records, tracking dangerous substances in workplaces through the public health system and improving awareness about hazardous exposures. Some bereaved relatives are calling for ‘presumptive legislation’ that assumes that certain diseases are work-related unless employers can prove otherwise. This system is already in use for certain firefighters’ cancers in Ontario and eight other Canadian jurisdictions.
The union that represents conductors and train drivers at Canadian Pacific Railway is asking employees to come forward if they feel they’ve been forced to go to work tired. Teamsters Canada has created a platform for CP Rail employees to self-report if they have been “intimidated into reporting to work fatigued.” The union is also urging managers to come forward and report what they know about employees being forced to go to work while tired. Union president Doug Finnson said the web tool will help the union document the problem of fatigue on the rails, as well as give employees a place to take their concerns without fear of retaliation. “Workers now have a vehicle where they can submit their experiences,” Finnson said. “You don’t have to worry about your manager finding out, you don’t have to worry about your fellow workers finding out.” The Calgary Herald reports that the creation of the self-reporting platform is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between the union and CP over the Calgary-based railway’s workplace fatigue practices (Risks 777). “They want to treat us like batteries — where if you’re not working, you’re charging,” Finnson said. “Well, humans aren’t batteries, and it doesn’t work like that.” The union is advocating for a system in which workers are assigned set “on-call” periods instead of the current unpredictable call-out system.
At least five workers died in a fire onboard an LPG container ship at the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Pakistan on 9 January. Yet despite scores of fatalities at Gadani in the last few months, the global union IndustriALL says no measures have been taken to improve safety. An estimated 100 workers were dismantling the ship at plot no. 60 when the blaze started. Those on the vessel had to be rescued by lifeboat. A fire erupted on the same ship just two weeks ago, although that time there were no casualties. The ship’s owner, Dewan Rizwan, a former chair of the Gadani Shipbreaking Owners Association, fled from the shipyard when the fire broke out. He was later detained by police in the nearby city of Hub. Nasir Mansoor, from IndustriALL affiliate the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUF), said: “There has been no respite from accidents, injuries and deaths despite the claims of improvement in occupational health and safety measures at the Gadani shipbreaking yards. Safety is one of the most neglected areas in shipbreaking.” On 1 November 2016, the Gadani yard witnessed one of its worst industrial tragedies when at least 26 workers lost their lives and 40 were injured in an oil tanker fire. IndustriALL’s director for shipbreaking, Kan Matsuzaki, said: “Workers cannot wait a moment longer for health and safety reforms. The government and employers must act now. The same deadly mistakes are being repeated time and again while workers are being sent to slaughter at the shipbreaking yards.” NTUF has been successful in securing compensation for the injured and families bereaved in the 1 November tragedy. However, promises from the government to improve health and safety at the Gadani yard have not come to fruition.
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