|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.
The number of people in insecure work – those working without guaranteed hours or baseline employment rights – has shot up by more than 660,000 (27 per cent) over the past five years, according to new research for the TUC. The union body says the trend toward more precarious work, which has been linked to higher rates of occupational injuries (Risks 675) and work-related ill-health (Risks 698), can be a financial ‘nightmare’ for families. Insecure workers are also far less likely to feel able to take sick leave, an official UK study found (Risks 711). The TUC found the growth in people being forced into vulnerable, precarious work is being driven mainly by traditional industries, rather than newer tech sectors. Restaurant and pub waiters make up one fifth of the increase. Education workers account for over one tenth, and social care accounts for a tenth of the increase. The TUC estimates that over 3 million people now work in insecure jobs – up from 2.4 million in 2011. That represents 1 in 10 workers in the UK. The study, commissioned by the TUC from the Learning and Work Institute, defines insecure work as seasonal, casual, temporary or agency work, those on zero-hours contracts and low-paid self-employed workers. The findings also show that people in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be in secure jobs. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Insecurity at work is becoming the new normal for too many workers. It’s happening across new and old industries, with workers forced onto shady contracts whether they’re Uber drivers, bar staff or teaching assistants. People need jobs they can live on and build a life around. But if you don't how much work you will have from one day to the next, making ends meet is a nightmare.” She added: “The rules that protect workers need to be dragged into the 21st century. The government’s Taylor review is a prime opportunity to sort this. But we also need to get more people into unions. Workers in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be on secure contract. So I say to working people: If you’re not in a union, get some mates together and all sign up if you want a better deal at work.”
The Health and Safety Executive’s fledgling health and work strategy has been welcomed by the TUC, but the union body says questions remain over the impact of swingeing funding cuts on the watchdog’s ability to deliver. Commenting on progress on HSE’s December 2016 strategy, which prioritises action on stress, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung diseases, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “At the TUC we have argued strongly for an evidence-based approach from the HSE in terms of the areas it addresses both through advice guidance and support, and also through enforcement, and that means putting the emphasis on the risks that are affecting workers the most such as cancers, stress and back or limb pain. Well, it now looks as through the HSE is taking this on board.” He said moves like the joint HSE/TUC stress guide for safety reps launched last month (Risks 785) were a positive step, as was work with teaching unions to develop pilots for stress interventions in schools. But the TUC safety specialist, who had earlier criticised the omission from HSE’s 2016/17 business plan of any commitment to new regulations on the prevention of these health conditions (Risks 745), added: “The strategy is still at an early stage and it is unclear what resources will be available to fund it but the HSE have already started working with unions at a national and local level on some issues.” He warned: “All the evidence is that the cuts in funding to the HSE and changes to the inspection regime that we have seen over the last seven years have disproportionately impacted on the health agenda.” HSE inspectors’ union Prospect has also welcomed the new focus on health, but like the TUC has warned the regulator “needs the people and resources to ensure that risks to people's health and safety from work activities are properly controlled. Yet governments have cut HSE’s funding by more than 40 per cent since 2010” (Risks 782).
Unions have accused the government of ignoring the devastating deterioration in workplace justice caused by punitive employment tribunal fees. Commenting after the government published its long-awaited review into the impact of employment tribunal fees, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is turning a blind eye to the impact of tribunal fees. The evidence is there for all to see. Thousands are being priced out from pursuing cases each month. Charging people up to £1,200 to take claim has been a gift to Britain’s worse bosses. And it’s allowed discrimination at work to flourish unchallenged.” Tribunal claims against employers who victimise workers for raising safety concerns fall into the top priced category. The government review, which was supposed to be published in summer 2014, admits there has been “a sharp, significant and sustained drop in the volume of tribunal claims following the introduction of fees”, with a 68 per cent fall in the number of cases taken. Unite general secretary of Unite Len McCluskey accused the government of “dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out.” He added: “The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.” TUC leader Frances O’Grady concluded: “Until the government commits to abolishing fees its commitment to ‘improve workers’ rights’ in post-Brexit Britain looks pretty hollow.” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, whose union is challenging the fees system in the courts, said: “The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is punish lower paid employees with genuine grievances. That’s why our legal challenge continues.” The UK Supreme Court will hear UNISON’S appeal against tribunal fees on 27-28 March 2017.
Ÿ TUC news release. Unite news release. UNISON news release. The Mirror.
Construction union Unite renewed its demand for a public inquiry into blacklisting this week and backed calls by the Labour MP Chuka Umunna to strengthen the law to prevent blacklisting from happening. The call came ahead of an 8 February Westminster Hall debate on blacklisting led by the senior Labour MP. Acting Unite general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite fully backs Chuka Umunna’s renewed calls for a public inquiry and government action to prevent the insidious practice of blacklisting ruining ever more lives.” She added: “The victims of blacklisting deserve nothing less than a full public inquiry and government action to strengthen the law and rid the construction industry of the stain of blacklisting forever. The blacklisters should be under no illusion. Unite will continue to fight industrially, legally and politically to bring pressure to bear and secure justice for those who have been blacklisted.” Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett added: “The pernicious actions of crooked bosses continues to impact on people’s lives. Unite is currently pursuing legal action for over 60 further victims of blacklisting and remains ever vigilant of contemporary blacklisting. Unite is determined to secure justice for those who have been blacklisted and challenge abuses such as bogus self-employment and the abuse of agency labour.” Business minister Margot James, responding on behalf of the government, said the practice had been a “terrible blight and indictment of the companies.” But she rejected the calls for an inquiry, saying that too much time had passed since the height of the practice. “Such an inquiry would have had an effect 20 years ago, and I regret very much there wasn’t one held then,” she said. She said the government was “not currently aware of any evidence that the blacklisting regulations are not doing their job.” Unions say the process continues and the existence of the database, which led to the legislation, was only revealed as recently as 2009.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw has called for urgent preventive action after latest figures showed a sharp upturn in violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures reveal a 40 per cent increase in incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff. The finding reinforces the worrying message from Usdaw’s own annual survey, which found half of shopworkers were verbally abused in the last year and 29 per cent were threatened with violence. Overall, 8 per cent reported they had been assaulted, but worryingly a third of them did not report to their employer a violent attack by a customer, the union said. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. So this latest survey from the British Retail Consortium is very worrying.” He added: “Retail crime remains too high and there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. It is time for the government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”
London Underground union RMT has repeated its call for a reversal in staffing cuts on the Tube system in the wake of a major fire-related incident at London Bridge station. The fire underneath an escalator on 31 January prompted a full evacuation. The union says only the vigilance and professionalism of the staff at the scene prevented tragedy. RMT safety reps have reported the fire appears to have been caused by a build-up of grease. “It's not a co-incidence that maintenance regimes of major assets, including escalators, have been cut and this kind of incident was predicted by RMT safety reps as a consequence of cash-led attacks on the inspection and maintenance frequencies,” the union said. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This incident fully justifies RMT’s current dispute on safety on the Tube. If this incident had happened at one of the stations that has seen staff cut to the bone the outcome may have been very different. The fact that it occurred at London Bridge meant that on this occasion there was an adequate number of staff on hand to put in place a model evacuation procedure. With the cuts to maintenance regimes on escalators and other assets it is foolish in the extreme to run these kind of risks across the Tube network.” He added: “The London Bridge incident reinforces the need for all stations to be fully staffed at all times by trained and equipped staff. As we prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the Kings Cross fire, which began on the escalators, RMT repeats the call for eternal vigilance to prevent any repeat of that disaster.”
People who work more than 39 hours a week are putting their health at risk, new research has found. Lead researcher Dr Huong Dinh from the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Population Health said: “Long work hours erode a person's mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly.” For women, Dr Dinh said the healthy work limit was 34 hours per week once their other commitments were considered. The healthy work limit for men was up to 47 hours a week generally because they spend much less time on care or domestic work than women. “Given the extra demands placed on women, it's impossible for women to work long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health,” she said. The research used data from about 8,000 Australian adults as part of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. Professor Lyndall Strazdins, who co-authored the study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, said there was a “need to dispel the widespread belief that people need to work long hours to do a good job.”
Ÿ ANU news release. The New Daily.
A London council has accepted liability for the death of a teacher who was exposed to asbestos at a school in Mitcham. Kathleen Bennett, who died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma aged 66 in May 2015, taught at the St Thomas of Canterbury Middle School during the 1970s and 80s. In 1985, a heating engineer alerted the school keeper to asbestos in the roof above the school hall and staff room. Removal work was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but it is not clear whether it took place. Electrical repairs began at the school in January 1987, but four months later a safety inspection identified asbestos dust in the air in the school. It is likely asbestos dust fell down from the ceiling. The work was immediately stopped and a clean-up operation ordered, but by this time Mrs Bennett had already been exposed. Merton Council was responsible for all maintenance at the school. In August 2016, the council admitted liability and breach of its duty of care to protect employees. Last month, the council agreed to pay a compensation settlement of £250,000.
A demolition company director has been jailed after putting workers and nearby residents at risk of “serious harm” by exposing them to asbestos. David Briggs, who runs Bury-based Briggs Demolition, was contracted to demolish the former Oakbank Training Centre in Chadderton in 2015. He advised the owners of the site to commission a survey of the building before any demolition took place. This found about 230 square metres of asbestos. However, despite this discovery, he began tearing down the building without having the asbestos safely removed. Briggs had already torn down about half of the building by the time the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received a tip-off from a member of the public in May 2015. HSE inspectors visited the site, but Briggs denied there was any asbestos. Officials stopped the work until further tests were carried out, with HSE scientists subsequently confirming the presence of asbestos. The court was told that during the demolition, three of Briggs' employees were potentially exposed to the deadly material, which can cause cancer. Briggs pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety law, including removing asbestos materials without a licence. He was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison by district judge Nicholas Sanders at a hearing at Manchester Magistrates’ Court. HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Mr Briggs wilfully ignored a professional asbestos survey, instigated by himself, and in doing so failed in his duty to protect his workers and anyone else around this site from a foreseeable risk of serious harm.” He added: “Anyone who worked on this site at this time, due to the lack of care taken by Mr Briggs, could possibly face a life shortening disease at some point over the next 30 years from an exposure which was totally preventable. This case sends a clear message to any individual or company that it does not pay to ignore known risks on site, especially to increase profits at the expense of people’s lives.”
The director of a construction company has been jailed for eight months after a young worker receiving life-threatening injuries when a fireball blasted him off of a skip. Cardiff Crown Court heard the worker was instructed to stand on top of the skip and pour a drum of flammable thinners onto the burning waste to help it to burn. When the thinners ignited, a fireball blew the worker from the skip and caused substantial burns to his arms and legs. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found company director David Gordon Stead did not ensure the burning of the waste material was being carried out in a safe or appropriate manner. He failed to administer any first aid to the injured worker and did not send him to hospital. He also failed to inform HSE of the incident, a legal requirement, and the incident was only reported sometime later by a third party. Stead pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 32 weeks in jail, half on release under licence. The Stead Construction Services Ltd boss was disqualified from being a company director for seven years. HSE inspector Adele Davies said: “David Stead failed his employees. His actions could have resulted in the death of this worker. The young man suffered unnecessary life-threatening injuries due to poor working standards.” She added: “We hope this sentence sends out a message that directors of businesses must take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.”
The two owners of Kidderminster-based fencing contractor Hoo Farm Fencing have been given suspended jail terms after a worker was hit by timber posts and frames that fell from a forklift truck. Raymond Lainsbury, 49, suffered injuries that still require regular physiotherapy sessions following the incident on 12 February 2016. Worcester Magistrates’ Court heard how Hoo Farm Fencing’s work method was unsuitable. Raymond Lainsbury was helping to dip timber posts and frames in preservative, when they fell from the metal frame on the forklift truck, striking him. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the company had not been using equipment suitable for the task. The operator had not been properly trained to operate a forklift truck. Company owners Maurice James Blackford and Susan Hawthorne both pleaded guilty to criminal safety charges and were each sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years and a £10,000 fine. Prosecution costs of £4,318 were split between the two defendants. HSE inspector Tariq Khan said: “The seriousness of the safety failings could have resulted in much more severe injuries to Mr Lainsbury who was lucky to walk away from this incident. This case highlights the importance of maintaining proper safety practices and also all duty holders will be held accountable for failing to do so.”
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has been hit with a bill of almost £1 million after two young workers were burned with hot gravy. In a January 2017 prosecution, KFC admitted criminal safety breaches at two restaurants where employees were hurt and scarred. Joshua Arnold was just 16 when he was scalded with gravy at the Teesside Retail Park store in July 2014, leaving him with second degree burns on his arms. A more experienced female worker was injured preparing hot gravy at KFC in Stockton in December 2015. Judge Sean Morris said Joshua was an inexperienced employee who was not properly supervised. “There was - by lower management - a reluctance to follow the guidance that was provided by the company. And that’s when accidents happen,” he said. “Kitchens are dangerous places. There are large vats of boiling fat, hot ovens, microwaves warming up, in this case gravy. Burns occurred as a result of inadequate, in my view, supervision and the inadequate provision of safety equipment such as gauntlets.” After he was burned, staff put Joshua in a taxi to A&E. His hands were wrapped in paper towels, later removed at hospital with pieces of his skin. He was dismissed while recovering from his injuries. The judge said DVD footage showed staff taking hot gravy tubs out of the microwave with bare hands. “In this case, the inevitable happened,” he said. “It is the duty of management at every level to ensure that corners are not cut.” In a prosecution at Teesside Crown Court brought by Stockton Council, KFC admitted criminal safety breaches and was ordered to pay £950,000 in fines and £18,700 in costs.
A ground engineering company has been fined after a worker contracted severe hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee working at Keller Limited’s earth retaining division, known as Phi Group, was only diagnosed as suffering from ‘life altering’ HAVS after repeatedly flagging his symptoms to the company for over five years. Symptoms of HAVS, caused by using vibrating tools, can include tingling, numbness and pain in the hands. This can affect sleep and sufferers have difficulties in gripping and holding things, and can face difficulties with everyday tasks, including doing up buttons, writing and driving. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company did not have the right system in place to manage its workers’ health. There was not a suitable health surveillance programme in place to monitor for the early onset of HAVS and to prevent the irreversible condition from developing. Keller Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,263.45. HSE inspector Mehtaab Hamid said: “This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance.” He added: “If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers’ health and the employee’s condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life altering stage.”
A defunct West Yorkshire engineering firm has been fined for the criminal safety breaches that left a worker suffered life changing injuries. HE Realisations Ltd, which was formerly Hogg Engineering Ltd and is now in liquidation, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences. Gateshead Magistrates’ Court heard that on 24 February 2015, employee Kevin Tait was using equipment to lift an 18 tonne steel roll at the company’s premises in Blaydon-on-Tyne. The lifting equipment was not suitable for the operation as the load exceeded the equipment’s safe working load. During the lift, part of one of the shortening clutches sheared, causing the load to swing and strike Mr Tait on the head. The court was told the lifting operation had not been suitably planned and the equipment in use was poorly maintained. HE Realisations Ltd of was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £2,230 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Laura Catterall commented: “Lifting operations are hazardous and require a competent person to properly plan and supervise them to ensure that suitable and properly maintained equipment is used in the right configuration to avoid exceeding safe working loads.” She added: “Kevin is incredibly lucky that he was not killed in this incident and he has suffered permanent life changing injuries as a result. This workplace accident has changed the lives of Kevin and his family irrevocably.”
A report has revealed the major reasons why truck driving is Australia’s deadliest job. Long hours, pressure to drive unsafe schedules with unsafe loads and an inability to raise safety concerns without jeopardising their jobs are among the risks to safety facing drivers, the Macquarie University study found. It criticises a lack of training and a “critical gap” since the government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal “that can eliminate existing incentives for overly tight scheduling, unpaid work, and rates that effectively are below cost recovery.” The report was launched last week at a safety summit organised by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), bringing together truck drivers, industry, academics and politicians to devise a plan to deal with the ‘crisis’ in trucking. Professor Louise Thornthwaite, a co-author of the research, said it “points to the importance of increasing enforcement and sanctions, particularly to ensure safety for those at the bottom of the supply chain including employees, owner drivers and others. This study highlights a ‘blame the victim’ culture, and calls for those at the top of the chain of responsibility to be held accountable for safety.” TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon commented: “This report showcases a supply chain which puts all the pressure on drivers at the bottom and none of the accountability on the top, the wealthy retailers and manufacturers. It shows how this supply chain pits transport operators, which prioritise safety and employ experienced, trained drivers, against operators which cut corners and force drivers to take risks.” Federal government reports published last April acknowledged the link between safety and the pay rates of drivers. One report also showed a system of safe rates, where drivers are paid minimum rates for all their work, would cut truck crashes by 28 per cent.
Management and union negotiators in Japan are locking horns over how much overtime employees should be allowed to work during busy periods, as the government mulls a ceiling of 100 hours per month. After attending a meeting of the government’s Council for the Realization of Work Style Reform last week, union leader Rikio Kozu dismissed the 100-hour limit floated as “totally impossible.” He suggested lowering it sharply. The government has proposed that overtime be capped at 720 hours a year per employee, or an average of 60 hours per month. At the same time, it proposed letting employees work up to 100 extra hours per month during busy periods, on condition that the average is limited to 80 hours over two consecutive months. The government came up with the number based on the legal criteria for approving posthumous workers’ compensation applications involving people who die from overwork. The threshold is 100 hours a month. But Rikio Kozu, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), said the government should respect an existing management-union agreement that restricts overtime per employee to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year, when considering a specific limit. He also called on the government not to exempt any industry from the new rules on overtime. He added that it is necessary to set a mandatory interval of hours between when one working day ends and another begins. Earlier this year, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said only 2 per cent of about 1,700 companies surveyed had minimum daily rest periods.
An executive order issued by US president Donald Trump could significantly limit or even halt the introduction of new regulations by the government safety regulator OSHA. It is feared the move may also put several recently passed regulations in jeopardy. The Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs calls for two prior regulations to be identified for elimination every time a new regulation is issued. In addition, the order calls for agency heads to ensure the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, that will be finalised this year have a cost of no greater than zero unless otherwise required by law. New incremental costs associated with new regulations must be offset by eliminating existing costs associated with at least two prior regulations, the order says. The order has generated some backlash. Richard Revesz, the director of the Institute for Policy Integration at the New York University School of Law, called the one-in, two-out policy “a deeply flawed and irrational approach to regulation.” Robert Weissman, president of the thinktank Public Citizen, said: “It will fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits, and will lead to a dangerous new era of deregulation and corporate ‘self-regulation’.” And Professor Jody Freeman of Harvard University’s Environmental Law Program said: “This policy of ‘2 for 1’ regulations is arbitrary, not implementable, and a terrible idea. The purpose of an order like this is to strangle even the most beneficial rules under the guise of cutting red tape.” She added it “ignores completely the huge societal benefits that come from many public health, safety and consumer protection rules.”
Ÿ Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, 30 January 2017. Public Citizen news release and detailed analysis of the Executive Order. Business Insurance. CNBC News. The Pump Handle. Statement from Professor Jody Freeman, Harvard Environmental Law Program.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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