|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 TUC-backed guide us set to help trade union health and safety representatives tackle workplace stress. The resource, produced jointly with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is designed to help union representatives work with employers to find practical solutions to work-related stress. Last year 7 in 10 respondents to a TUC survey of more than 1,000 health and safety representatives identified stress as the top concern in their workplace. The new guide is based on the HSE ‘management standards’ in handling stress. It breaks down the causes of work-related stress into six key areas: demands; control; support; relationships; role; and change. The handbook proposes that a group – made up of representatives from every level of the organisation – gathers information on the current situation in the workplace and carries out a risk assessment based on the HSE standards. The group can then identify solutions such as tackling a long hours culture, improving workplace practices or increasing staffing levels. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers are increasingly suffering from the effects of workplace stress as pressures of long hours and low job security are taking hold across the UK. But it’s in no-one’s interest to have an overstretched workforce, as anxious staff are less productive and are more likely to take time off. And the HSE standards provide the best way of tackling the issue.” She added: “Union representatives have a key role to play in working with employers to tackle this problem once and for all. Stress is preventable if workers have reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment. Anyone worried about their workload or being unfairly treated at work should join a union, to get the support they need and their interests represented at work.”
The pilots’ union BALPA has won a key legal case establishing the union right to negotiate the full range of terms and conditions for their members. The f case involving Leeds-based airline Jet2 at the Court of Appeal centred around whether rostering and scheduling of pilots fell within the scope of the “pay, hours and holidays” on which BALPA could negotiate with the employer. Jet2 wanted a very narrow definition to be employed, the union said. It was concerned that if the Jet2 definition had been accepted it would have had ‘a very negative effect’ on trade unions’ right to negotiate for their members. The original case was heard in March 2015 in the High Court and was won by Jet2. BALPA heard last week its appeal against this ruling in favour of Jet2 had been successful. BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said he was delighted with the Court of Appeal ruling, adding: “We would like to have a good professional relationship with Jet2, as we do with most of our other airlines, so we can resolve any differences amicably before they get to this stage. We believe that would be in the interests of Jet2 and BALPA members. But this case proves that where it is necessary BALPA will robustly defend our right and duty to stand up for pilots and their interests.” He added: “I am hopeful that we can now put this matter behind us and that BALPA and Jet2 can get around the table to negotiate important issues to our members in that airline, ensure the company is a first-rate employer and one of the country’s first choices for pilot careers.”
There must be an immediate and transparent investigation by the Qatar government into the death of a British worker during the construction of the Khalifa International football stadium in Doha, the UK construction union Unite has said. The man, aged 40, fell when a platform used to manage sound and lighting collapsed at the stadium on 20 January, the construction contractor said. The Midmac-Six Construct joint venture added that his safety harness was cut during the fall. Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This tragedy is not an isolated incident and we demand that the Qatari authorities carry out an immediate full and transparent investigation.” She said Unite was working with the global union for the sector, BWI, “on a programme of joint inspections on the health safety and worker welfare conditions of World Cup 2022 stadia and infrastructure. This tragedy shows how long overdue such work is and how important it can be. Unite’s priority will always be the health safety and wellbeing of our sisters and brothers employed in Qatar.” Amnesty International said it was the second death reported by the organisers related to a workplace incident at a Qatar stadium in the last three months. An Amnesty report last year on working conditions at the stadium noted: “By failing to ensure it carried out adequate due diligence with respect to all of the labour rights of workers employed on the Khalifa Stadium refurbishment, whether these workers were on site for a month or a year, Midmac-Six Construct JV has also breached its responsibility to respect human rights” (Risks 745). Labour's shadow sports minister, Rosena Allin-Khan, said: “This kind of incident is becoming all too common... and it's unacceptable that basic health and safety precautions are not being followed.” She said football’s global governing body Fifa and the Qatari authorities “are putting profit before safety,” adding Fifa president Gianni Infantino should “show where his priorities lie, launch an urgent investigation and ensure everything is done to protect workers.”
An incident where a Unite member lost his leg at a Jaguar Land Rover plant has been described as ‘shocking’ by the union. The luxury car manufacturer was convicted of a criminal safety offence and fined £900,000 after Mark Widnall was crushed at the vehicle plant in Solihull in 2015. The 59-year-old from Coventry had been carrying out vehicle checks on the tracks at the plant on 8 February 2015, when a colleague drove a vehicle onto the track causing a four vehicle shunt, with a vehicle then crushing the union member’s leg. The severe injury required an above the knee amputation of the leg. The Unite member had to move house to accommodation better suited to his reduced mobility. Two other workers suffered minor injuries. A jury at Birmingham Crown Court found Jaguar Land Rover guilty of a criminal safety offence. In addition to the fine, the company was ordered to pay £49,854 court costs. Mark Widnall is currently pursuing a Unite-backed compensation claim. He said: “This is the first stage in drawing a line under my accident but I have been left with a prosthetic limb which means I can’t do things I used to do, like going out dancing. I had to move in with my elderly mother for a while, who also has to care for my brother. It is stressful having to rely on others but I am hugely grateful for the support provided by Unite Legal Services, who have been fantastic.” Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This is a shocking case. We will be supporting our member through his compensation claim but the fact remains that he has lost a limb due to the negligence of the company and no money will change that.”
Resource cuts are responsible for a sharp rise in the number of people who have died as a result of fires in the home, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union was speaking out after the Home Office released its latest Fire Incident Response Times statistical bulletin. This revealed that in England between April 2015 and March 2016, the number of fatalities from fires in the home increased by 17.4 per cent compared with the same period in 2014/15, resulting in 34 more deaths. The FBU said these figures show how the government’s cost cutting exercise in the fire and rescue service has backfired. The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “Firefighters are doing their best to provide a world class service but the government have compromised the service by axing thousands of posts, closing fire stations and cutting equipment. It is the public who will pay the price of the government’s folly. The decision to prioritise budget cuts ahead of public safety is another example of how out of touch this government is.” The report also found that the average response time to primary fires had increased by 31 seconds since 2010. In rural areas, the figure was even worse, with fire crews taking on average 48 seconds longer to get to emergencies. The FBU leader said: “In a fire, every second counts. Those extra seconds might not sound like long, and ministers will try to dismiss them, but in an emergency, that time can be the difference between life and death.” The union warned last year that resource cuts were putting firefighters’ lives at risk (Risks 779).
A chief fire officer has been accused of behaving recklessly after he sent home two firefighters from their shift on 16 January when they refused to operate a Tactical Response Vehicle (TRV). Firefighters’ union FBU has warned these vehicles are unsafe because they cannot perform firefighting or rescue operations at incidents where there is a risk to life, such as house fires. Nigel Hutchinson, chief fire officer (CFO) for North Yorkshire, took the decision after a fire engine was removed from service at Scarborough fire station and replaced with a TRV. The two firefighters followed union guidance and refused to crew the vehicle. They were then relieved for the remainder of their shift and sent home leaving Scarborough without enough crew members to operate one of its fire engines or specialist equipment used to for high rise rescues. Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “The actions of the CFO were uncalled for and unnecessary. He has sullied his reputation and put the safety of the public at risk. It is disgraceful that our members are being victimised by management for standing up to defend the safety of their colleagues and the public. It confirms a total disregard for public and firefighter safety.” He added: “The way that managers want to utilise and crew TRVs is creating a major safety issue and moral dilemma for our firefighters. If these vehicles were the first ones to respond to a major fire, as management has indicated they could be, all they could do is survey the scene. They cannot perform rescue operations and have limited firefighting capabilities. These proposals are going to significantly increase the risk to firefighters and the public getting seriously injured or killed.”
Too many employers are ‘stuck in the past’ on workplace dress codes, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after a report on high heels and workplace dress codes was published this week by two committees of MPs. The Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee report said the government must enforce the law properly to ban sexist dress rules at work that discriminate against women. The report was prompted by the experience of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels. The joint report of the two committees, entitled High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, found that the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either gender. The MPs’ report recommends that a publicity campaign be launched to ensure that employers know their legal obligations, and also that workers know how they can complain effectively. But its key recommendation is that the existing law should be enforced more vigorously, with employment tribunals given the power to apply bigger financial penalties. The committees heard expert evidence that requirements to wear high heeled shoes were damaging to women's health. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “Far too many employers are still stuck in the past when it comes to dress codes. It is unacceptable that in 2017 bosses are still forcing women to wear painful, inappropriate shoes and uniforms. Wearing high heels on a regular basis can cause foot, knee and back problems. High heels and make-up should be a choice, not a condition of the job.” She added that with employment tribunals fees running at up to £1,200 – even if you’re on the minimum wage – “many women can’t afford to challenge sexist policies. If ministers are serious about enforcing equality legislation then they should scrap tribunal fees immediately.”
Ÿ Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee news release and High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes – summary, conclusions and recommendations and full report, 25 January 2017. TUC news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online.
A man died on his way home from a benefits appointment six months after being declared ‘fit to work’, his family have said. Lawrence Bond, 56, suffered a fatal heart attack on 12 January after leaving Kentish Town Jobcentre. Mr Bond complained of extensive long-term health problems, including breathing difficulties and reduced mobility. His Employment and Support Allowance had been cut following a work capability assessment which found he was fit to work. He had submitted two appeals against the ruling and was awaiting the outcome of the second appeal at the time of his death. His sister Iris Green told journalists that Mr Bond had been required to attend a meeting at the benefits centre and arrived in a state of clear “physical distress”, on the day of his death. She told The Camden New Journal, staff faced an “awful dilemma” after realising he appeared ill but requiring him to attend the appointment. She said he died while making his way home from the meeting. “I realise that the reception staff have no clinical knowledge or responsibility for doing it, but the rules need to be changed so that they have the right and discretion when they see a human being turning up in physical distress to flag the situation up and ask for urgent re-assessment,” she said. “The main thing is that they have the means to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We have such a tick-box society. If we can change that, then people can flag things up and really help someone.”
Two brothers who trafficked 18 people from Poland to the UK and subjected them to violence and intimidation have been jailed. Erwin and Krystian Markowski, both from Nottingham, recruited the vulnerable men to work at the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. The pair controlled their victims' bank accounts and kept most of their wages, totalling £35,000, between 2015 and 2016, Nottingham Crown Court heard. Both men were sentenced to six years in prison for modern slavery. Erwin, 38, and Krystian, 35, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to arrange travel with a view to exploitation and fraud by false representation. They were given a two-and-a-half year sentence for fraud to run at the same time as the six year jail term. The brothers paid for the Polish men to travel to the UK, but when they arrived their passports were taken and they were “totally isolated”. Some victims spoke of being treated “like a piece of rubbish” and said the brothers “destroyed their lives.” The case only came to light when one of the victims reported his ordeal to police in January 2016. During the sentencing, Judge Stephen Coupland, said it was a “planned and systematic” scheme of “human trafficking.” He said: "You employed a spotter in Poland to identify people who were vulnerable. Your intention, by selecting vulnerable people, was to make it easier to control them over here. You controlled their ability to contact others by using physical and verbal threats, using actual violence on occasions.” The prosecution accepted it was not “forced labour” but said the workers had “very little choice.” Detective Constable Sarah Fearn of the Nottinghamshire Police serious organised crime unit, said the sentence “was a victory for the victims and also shows a warning to those acting in a similar manner.”
At least four in 10 junior doctors have fallen asleep while driving home from a long night shift, according to research for a BBC documentary. Out of 1,100 newly qualified doctors surveyed, 41 per cent of them said they had nodded off at the wheel. The Inside Out programme reported how 23-year-old Lauren Connelly died when her car crashed after her first night shift (Risks 635). Her father Brian — whose campaign brought about a reduction in the permitted number of consecutive night shifts in Scotland from seven to five — told the programme how he and his wife had set out to look for Lauren, learning of her accident only when they arrived at the crash scene. In another case, 33-year-old Dr Ronak Patel from Gosport died when his car hit a lorry when he was heading home to his pregnant wife after his third night shift in a row. According to evidence at the inquest, it was likely that he had fallen asleep. Reports in the US and the UK have warned of the road traffic risk to overworked medics. In 2005 the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warned junior medics working long shifts were twice as likely to be involved in a car accident leaving work. They were also five time more likely to have a “near miss” than colleagues on shorter hours. A 2006 UK study of 1,619 junior doctors by the former Royal College of Physicians vice president Professor Roy Pounder found one in six had had a traffic accident on the work commute.
British workers exposed to the elements account for 2 per cent of cases of the most deadly form of skin cancer, a new study has concluded. Exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun while at work leads to one death and five new cases of malignant melanoma every week, the authors found. Construction workers are most at risk of malignant melanoma (44 per cent of deaths) followed by those who work in agriculture (23 per cent). Police, the armed forces and other public administration workers are also susceptible, according to the study published online in the British Journal of Cancer. The researchers estimated there are 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year in Britain caused by people being exposed to the sun while working. Dr Lesley Rushton, lead researcher from Imperial College London, said: “We’ve shown previously that people often don’t understand the risks of damage caused by sun in the UK. But this research shows you don’t have to work in the Mediterranean or a traditionally sunny country for the sun to damage your skin.” She added: “It’s important to get to know what your skin is normally like, and to tell your doctor if you notice any changes to how your skin looks or feels. Skin cancer can appear as a new mole or mark, or it can be a change to something you’ve had for a while. Now that we have a clearer picture of the extent of the damage caused, employers need to make sure they take sun exposure at work seriously and work out how to reduce it.” The authors found the main industries “of concern” were construction, agriculture, public administration and defence and land transport. Construction workers accounted for 21 deaths and 101 cases of malignant melanoma. “We estimate that 2 per cent of all cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain can be attributed to occupational exposure to solar radiation giving approximately one death and five new cancers per week,” they concluded. “This highlights the need to develop appropriate strategies to reduce this burden.”
Ÿ Imperial College London news release. Daily Mirror.Lesley Rushton and Sally J Hutchings. The burden of occupationally-related cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain due to solar radiation, short communication, British Journal of Cancer, advance online publication, 17 January 2017 [abstract].
National bread maker Warburtons has been fined £2 million after a worker was hospitalised following a fall that subsequently cost him his job. Andrew Sears was off work for more than a year after being hospitalised with a compression fracture to his spine, a court heard. But the father-of-one was unable to continue in his old role and, after another period of sick leave, was dismissed by Warburtons. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard how on 11 November 2013 he was cleaning one of the mixing machines at the bakery giant’s Wednesbury bakery, a routine job he carried out every few weeks, when he lost his footing and fell nearly 2 metres. Mr Sears, who had worked at the factory since 2007, was not able to return to work until December 2014. He was dismissed almost exactly a year later following another long period of sick leave. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was a lack of training and supervision for employees working at height. Warburtons Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety charge and was fined £2 million and ordered to pay costs of £19,609.28. HSE inspector Mahesh Mahey said: “This case highlights how important it is for companies to fully assess the risks from work activities at height and to take appropriate action to prevent injury in the workplace. This should have been prevented, falls from height is one of the biggest killers in the workplace and even falls from fairly low levels can be extremely dangerous. Mr Sears’ life has been changed forever but he his injuries could have been more severe.”
An asbestos analyst has been fined after he falsified an asbestos air clearance certificate, following a licensed asbestos removal job in Manchester. Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how Barrie Lyons, a well-trained asbestos analyst with 29 years of experience, was contracted to carry out the final inspection and air testing, following asbestos removal at a construction site in central Manchester. His job on 19 November 2015 included a thorough examination of the area from which asbestos had been removed, within the defined enclosure and in the areas surrounding it. He also had a series of air samples to collect and evaluate, to ensure that the air was substantially free of asbestos. However, an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that Lyons had failed to carry out a suitable inspection of the site and had not carried out the correct amount of air sampling, despite his report to his employer and the client indicating he had. The asbestos removal contractor had to have a second clearance test carried out which incurred significant delays and additional expense. HSE inspector Matthew Greenly said: “Mr Lyons sadly chose on this occasion to falsify his records which was a massive abuse of the trust placed in him by the client. This deliberate act increased the risk of numerous people potentially being exposed to asbestos, a risk Mr Lyons would be very well aware of from his experience, all to save a little time and finish the job early.” Barrie Lyons pleaded guilty to a criminal safety charge and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,905.73.
Major brands are implicated in the exploitation of child labour in garment factories in Bangladesh, a report has concluded. Researchers from the Stop Child Labour coalition found low wages and long working hours at firms supplying multinationals including C&A, The Gap, H&M, Esprit and Marks and Spencer play a key role in the decision of parents to take their children out of school and allow them in to work. The Branded Childhood report, which includes extensive interviews with the parents of child labourers, notes that almost 50 per cent of the textiles produced in Bangladesh are exported to European Union brands and retailers. It adds that in the country more than 3.5 million children aged between five and 17 are in work. Gerard Oonk, senior advocacy officer with Stop Child Labour, said “companies should assess the impact of their purchasing practices and the consequences for the workers and their children.” He added: “The various disturbing stories in the report make it clear that urgent action is needed and companies should quickly work towards the payment of a living wage that enables adult workers to meet their basic needs.”
The Japanese government is urging people to leave work early and go shopping in an attempt to reduce deaths from overwork and to boost the ailing economy. The voluntary policy - known as Premium Friday - calls on employers to let their workers out at 3pm on the last Friday of every month to start the weekend early. The government hopes the extra time will allow people to unwind from Japan’s long working week and to go shopping, stimulating Japan’s stagnant economy. Influential business figures have backed the policy with the Japan Business Federation urging its 1,300 members to take part. The trade minister, Hiroshige Seko, has also said he will not arrange meetings on Premium Friday afternoons. According to 2014 figures from the Japan Institute for Labour Policy, Japan has the highest percentage of workers working over 49 hours per week among the G-7 nations. However data from the Japan Productivity Centre indicates that the country also has the worst productivity among the group. The average Japanese worker also takes only half of their paid holidays due to a culture where taking time off is seen as an inconvenience to colleagues. Around 200 deaths from karoshi – death from overwork – are recognised officially each year and a period of economic downturn and job insecurity is increasing work pressures in the country. The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo estimates that if most workers take advantage of Premium Friday it could boost the economy by 124 billion yen or £900 million every month.
A union call for a new official rule to protect workers from violence is moving forward. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the USA’s federal safety regulator, told a stakeholder meeting last week it was accepting the petitions submitted by unions to the Department of Labor last year and would commence rule making on a workplace violence standard to protect workers in health care and social assistance. National union federation AFL-CIO said the announcement “is a strong commitment by the agency to help protect caregivers of this nation from violence on the job. By the end of the day, OSHA recognised the universal consensus by unions, academics, workers and health facility managers on the need for a workplace violence standard.” The union body says the rate of violence-related injuries at work is ‘astronomical’ compared to other causes of injuries at work. In the past decade, injuries caused by workplace violence increased 110 per cent in private hospitals and 102 per cent in private psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. Two out of every three of these injuries are suffered by women. The union body added these injuries can be prevented using key elements of a ‘workplace violence prevention programme’. “Unions will ensure that OSHA remains committed to protecting health care and social service workers, and developing a comprehensive standard, without delay,” AFL-CIO said.
A commitment to effective regulation and enforcement of workplace safety was behind the Obama administration’s ‘exemplary’ record on workplace safety, a new report has concluded. The policy brief from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) notes that ‘adopting and enforcing sensible rules saves lives’. It comes ahead of confirmation hearings on president Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder. US fast food mogul Pudzer is an outspoken critic of regulation and workers’ rights. Should his nomination be confirmed, he will head the department responsible for the official federal safety regulator, OSHA (Risks 782). NELP’s briefing paper says any step back by OSHA from its commitment to rule making and enforcement will cost lives. It says as well as witnessing a dramatic decline in fatalities under the Obama administration, safety rules have had a demonstrable impact. “OSHA’s rule to prevent workers getting killed in trenching and excavation work has reduced workplace deaths by more than 40 per cent; its standard for handling bloodborne pathogens has virtually eliminated occupationally acquired hepatitis B fatalities that killed 120 workers every year; and its grain handling standard led to a 70 per cent decrease in fatalities,” the briefing notes. NELP concludes: “The Senate must conduct a vigorous investigation into Mr Puzder’s values and priorities, and if indeed he is as unsuited to this position as the record appears, the Senate must deny him confirmation.”
Ÿ Worker safety and health in the Obama years: An exemplary record, NELP policy brief, January 2017.
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