|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.|
Escalating workload pressures and the unreasonable expectations placed on workers in the probation service are being ‘confronted’ by the union Napo in a ‘3C’s’ campaign that also ‘challenges’ employers and ‘champions’ professional standards. The union notes: “The specific concerns raised by our members across our bargaining areas shows that pressures on staff are negatively impacting upon the effectiveness, and in some cases, the safety of the services that they are expected to deliver. Staff regularly report feeling under pressure to cut corners, meet unrealistic targets and report that they feel they are failing service users and ultimately the public, in achieving their objectives.” The union said its campaign “won’t magically make the problem disappear and it will not make any impact on the employer without your involvement.” Outlining the first steps towards an effective campaign, the union said: “We are asking Napo branches to gain statistical information about workloads to enable accurate assessments of the pressures that our members are facing. But to do that we need hard facts and not just anecdotal information. The latter points to unsafe practices, ineffective delivery of services and a concerning impact on staff health and wellbeing as a result of workload pressures but to make it stick with employers and politicians we need empirical evidence.”
Taxi firm Uber has missed a ‘golden opportunity’ to start complying with the law, the union GMB has said. The union, which last year won a groundbreaking employment rights legal case on behalf of Uber drivers (Risks 775), said it was disappointed with the ‘cosmetic’ changes introduced for Uber drivers. The tribunal ruled that Uber drivers are employed workers entitled to receive holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. However the initiatives announced by the company this month instead centre around financial advice, English lessons and updated community guidelines to inform drivers what is expected of them. Maria Ludkin, GMB’s legal director, said: “GMB note that Uber have come up with a package of cosmetic measures which they claim address drivers’ concerns. The measures do not address the concerns of the hundreds of drivers contacting GMB who are focused on getting basic workers’ rights.” She added: “Uber missed a golden opportunity to start complying with the law. They continue to ignore the decision of the courts that drivers are employed workers with rights to receive holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. Free English lessons and updated community guidelines are not going to address the issue of paying workers below the minimum wage.”
Rail union RMT has accused rail operator Southern GTR of attempting to train 40 ‘scab’ replacement workers in two days of classroom talks. The union says the company intends to use these managers to work as on-board supervisors (OBS) on its strike days over safety. RMT described the move as “kamikaze safety control” and has written to the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) demanding that it intervenes and stops the “terrifying” use of replacements. In a letter to the regulator, RMT general secretary Mick Cash noted the “watered down” classroom training “demonstrates the cultural safety style that this company operates in, a kamikaze mentality and by any means a desperate drive to thrash health and safety protocols and standards.” The letter continued: “Have Southern GTR made you aware of their strike busting proposals to introduce an even less safe way of working? RMT will be bringing this matter to our members’ attention, along with the media and public, we will be closely monitoring the operation should you not intervene and we will write to you once again outlining our reports and images of what went wrong and the unprecedented manoeuvre by the company to further water down and breach health and safety standards within the railway industry.” The union leader’s letter concluded: “The message this is sending to railway workers across the industry is terrifying. I would request that you urgently intervene in this proposed Southern GTR situation and let me know of your investigation, observations and findings.”
Tube union RMT staged a ‘rock solid’ 24-hour safety strike this week on two of London Underground's (LU) busiest lines. The walk out by drivers on the Central Line and Waterloo and City line began at 9pm on 21 February. The dispute involves a plan to move eight train operators from an east London depot to one in the west of the city. Maintenance workers on London Underground have separately voted to strike over a breakdown in relations. No date has been set for this action. Speaking on 23 February, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT negotiators have made strenuous efforts to resolve this dispute but the door has been slammed in our faces. The action is rock solid today with the impact severe and widespread and the blame for that lies firmly at the door of an intransigent LU management that refuses to see sense.” He warned: “Let us be in no doubt, if LU are allowed to get away with this move on the Central Line they will start shunting drivers around the combine at the drop of a hat regardless of the consequences. Our members will be sent out from pillar to post to plug gaps that are solely down to staffing shortages. With massive budget cuts in the pipeline at LU this is a straw in the wind as to how the company expects to operate in the future.” The union leader concluded: “Staff across London Underground are angry and the company would be wise to recognise that. The action today reflects that anger at local level and RMT remains available for serious talks but is now down to the company to show that they are prepared to listen and engage with our negotiating team.”
Much of the past effort against cancer has fixated on the wrong enemies, with the wrong weapons, a leading expert has said. US professor Devra Lee Davis said while effort was focus internally on genetic factors, the external influences – what we breathe, drink, eat and absorb through our skin – is being overlooked. Writing in The Hill, she said “the great majority of cases of cancer occur in people born with healthy genes as a result of carcinogenic exposures at work, home, and school.” But she said the failure to recognise this has “less to do with science, and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks. Studies of identical twins tell us that most cases of cancer do not arise because of inherited defects. Only one in 10 women who develop breast cancer is born with defective genes. This means that most cases come about because of ways that our healthy genes interact with the world around us.” She added: “The list of workplace causes of cancer provides a litany of largely ignored factors. Women who work at night – like nurses or those who work in electronics – have lower levels of melatonin and higher rates of breast cancer. Men who work with chemicals or electromagnetic fields have higher rates of brain cancer and leukaemia. Those who work with wood dust and formaldehyde have higher rates of nasal cancer.” She concluded: “If we had acted on what has long been known about the industrial and environmental causes of cancer when this national war first began, millions of lives could have been spared — a huge number of casualties for which those who have managed the effort against the disease thus far must answer.”
Farmworkers who have a high pesticide exposure event - such as a spill - are more likely to experience molecular changes to their DNA that may lead to prostate and other cancers, according to a large study of pesticide applicators. Environmental Health News reports the research, part of the ongoing US Agricultural Health Study that is monitoring the health of more than 57,000 private and commercial pesticide applicators, adds to growing evidence that high exposure to certain pesticides may spur prostate and other cancers in people handling the chemicals. Researchers have long suspected pesticides may play a role in the elevated cancer rates among farmers and others who apply pesticides. Earlier findings of the same study have reported higher rates of prostate cancer linked to pesticide exposures. The current paper, published in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagensis, included 596 male pesticide applicators. It found men who experienced a “high pesticide exposure event,” meaning a spill or other accident that would leave them highly exposed, were more likely to have elevated levels of DNA methylation in a gene linked with increased prostate cancer risk. This type of exposure to pesticides would be “unusually high,” said lead author Dr Jennifer Rusiecki, an assistant professor of medicine at Uniformed Services University in Maryland.
Ÿ Environmental Health News. Work Cancer Hazards blog.JA Rusiecki and others. High pesticide exposure events and DNA methylation among pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study, Environmental and Molecular Mutagensis, volume 58, number 1, pages 19-29, January 2017.
Staff and students have been moved out of a 1970s Oxford University building for up to two years after asbestos was discovered. The Tinbergen Building, which houses the departments of zoology and experimental psychology, closed on 13 February. A total of 750 staff are normally based in the building and it is used by 900 students. A statement from the university said: "We do not believe there is, or has been, a health risk to regular users of the building, and more than 200 air quality readings, taken since September 2016, support this belief. But this asbestos cannot be removed while the building is occupied, so we have decided to close the building while expert contractors carry out remedial works.” The statement added: “We apologise to staff and students for the inconvenience that this unprecedented situation will cause, and we will do all we can to support them so that research and teaching can continue.” Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause frequently fatal illnesses including lung cancer and mesothelioma. The TUC and unions have for years been campaigning for all asbestos in public buildings to be surveyed and recorded and for a programme of safe removal. Last year the TUC launched a ‘time to get rid of it’ asbestos guide for safety reps (Risks 752).
A bus driver who was spat on by an investment banker in a fit of road rage has spoken out after the £90-000-a-year Barclays executive was fined one week’s wages. Father-of-three Leon Delahaye, 44, pulled out in front of Alexis Fountzoulas’ black Mini in London’s Piccadilly Circus on 26 June last year, a court heard. The London Evening Standard reports that Fountzoulas, 38, ran over to the number 9 double-decker, pulled open the window and spat at Mr Delahaye, hitting his arm. He then ran back to his car and was in tears when police arrested him minutes later. He pleaded guilty to assault after CCTV footage “refreshed his memory” and was fined £1,130 at Southwark Crown court. A charge of racially aggravated assault was dropped following a review of the footage. Mr Delahaye, who has been a London bus driver since 2005, told the Standard: “He is the lowest of the low. He was swearing at me and was really abusive. In more than 10 years of driving London buses I’ve never experienced anything like it. This is the first incident I’ve had.” He added: “I think a fine was the right sentence but it should have been more, considering his earnings, he should have been fined at least a month’s wages. Driving a London bus is hard work and drivers shouldn’t have to put up with abuse like this, especially from bankers who treat the general public with contempt.” Judge Jonathan Hall QC, sentencing, said the fact that Mr Delahaye was a public servant and Fountzoulas spat into the cab were “significant factors”. Mr Delahaye was “just doing his job”, said the judge. “In my view the only sentence is a fine and compensation. I am told you earn £1,130 a week and that is the fine I will set.” He also ordered the defendant to pay £500 in compensation to Mr Delahaye.
Bus company Go Ahead London has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a worker was killed when he fell from a ladder. Southwark Crown Court heard on 26 May 2011, 56-year-old Michael Porter was using a ladder to access the top of a fuel tank when he fell backwards two and a half metres, suffering fatal head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company did not implement and keep to their own procedures for managing contractors. As a result they failed to manage their contractors effectively and ensure that they conducted work in a safe manner. Go Ahead London was found guilty of a criminal safety breach and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £78,531. HSE inspector Neil Fry said: “This is a tragic case which could have been entirely preventable; if the company had managed their contractors effectively then the worker would have returned home safely from work.”
A self-employed businessman has been prosecuted after a casual worker fell from the flat roof of a building and died from his injuries. Manchester Crown Court heard how on 22 December 2013, father of two Jason Fogarty was working alongside company boss Roy Hardaker on a flat roof replacement project. The men were installing cladding and flashing around the top of the building to seal the edges of the roof. Jason Fogarty was holding the cladding sheets in position from a ladder footed by his colleague, while Hardaker secured the sheets and the flashing from the roof. However, after the casual worker climbed up onto the roof, he fell from the edge and was pronounced dead at the scene. A joint investigation carried out by Greater Manchester Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the work was not properly planned and there were no measures in place, such as scaffold edge protection, to prevent falls from the edges of the roof. HSE inspector Laura Moran said: “The dangers associated with working at height are well known. Mr Hardaker is an experienced roofer, who completely failed in his duties to properly plan the roof work and to ensure it was carried out safely. By failing to have suitable edge protection installed around the building, Mr Hardaker put himself and his employees at risk, ultimately costing Mr Fogarty his life.” Roy Hardaker, trading as 9 to 5 Roofing, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 200 hours of unpaid work.
A Canvey Island engineering firm has been sentenced for criminal health and safety breaches after a worker suffered life-changing injuries. Southend-on-Sea Magistrates’ Court heard that on 10 June 2015 Felix Trefas, 27, a welder for F Brazil Reinforcements Ltd, was making large steel reinforcing cages which were moved by overhead travelling cranes. When one of these cranes broke down, a colleague asked Mr Trefas to climb more than an estimated six metres up the crane supports to re-set the controls. While Mr Trefas was resetting the faulty crane, his left leg was crushed when he came into contact with another overhead crane. His leg was later amputated below the knee. A district judge heard the overhead cranes were poorly maintained so that workers regularly had to work at height to re-set them and during the night shift this often involved workers climbing the crane support column. Summing up, the judge said this “horrific accident should never have happened” and that the company “should have had systems in place” to identify that unsafe access to the cranes was regularly occurring. The court also heard the toilet and washing facilities for workers were in an extremely poor and dirty condition despite having been the subject of previous enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). F Brazil Reinforcements Ltd pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences. It was fined £282,000 and ordered to pay £11,904 costs. HSE inspector Sue Matthews commented: “It is essential that lifting equipment is properly maintained and that safe systems of work are in place for work at height. Employers have a duty to ensure that welfare facilities are kept clean.” She added: “Felix is incredibly lucky that he was not killed in this incident but he has suffered permanent life-changing injuries. This preventable workplace accident has changed the life of a previously fit and hard-working young man irrevocably.”
A West Yorkshire polythene film manufacturer has been sentenced for criminal safety breaches after a worker trapped his hand in machinery. Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court heard how the injured agency worker broke the little finger on his right hand while operating machinery in March 2014 at Total Polyfilm Ltd’s Brighouse plant. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to manage adequately the risk of workers being injured when operating machinery without safe working practices. Total Polyfilm Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £697. HSE inspector Jacqueline Ferguson commented: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has confirmed the broad theme for Workers’ Memorial Day this year will be ‘Unsafe and unfair –discrimination on the job hurts us all’. The global trade union body is urging unions to examine in their campaign activities for the 28 April event the “measures needed to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable in our workplaces, due among others, to gender, origins, class and/or sexual orientation.” It follows the TUC announcement of its version of the theme, ‘Good health and safety for all workers whoever they are’, with the same focus on inequalities in occupational health and the role unions play in narrowing the inequalities gap. Campaign taglines suggested by ITUC include ‘Inequality is a pain in the workplace’, ‘Safe work for women, safe work for all’, ‘Workplace injuries and diseases are a class issue’, ‘Racism hurts at work’, ‘Inequality at work makes us sick’ and ‘Profit and loss: When irresponsible firms put production first, workers can pay a deadly price’.
Ÿ ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2017 website and global events listing. Twitter: #iwmd17. 28 April global activities facebook page. Sign up for ITUC 28 April updates!TUC 28 April 2017 webpages and events listing.
A top European Union committee has for the first time recognised chemicals as hormone disrupting for humans. Substances with these endocrine disrupting (EDCs) properties have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other health effects. As a result of the vote by the EU REACH committee, the EDC notation on four chemicals will appear in their records on the EU Candidate List of substances of very high concern (SVHC). “The EDC criteria discussion has been a long and painful and somewhat of a never-ending story. Therefore we are very pleased with this concrete step in the right direction”, said Frida Hök, policy adviser with the environmental non-profit ChemSec. The four chemicals in question, DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP, are all phthalates used as plasticisers in plastic products. ChemSec says it has been identifying EDCs for many years and in 2011 started adding substances to its SIN [Substitute It Now!] List based solely on their hormone disrupting properties. Today the SIN List contains 32 substances identified by ChemSec as EDCs, which the group says makes it the most comprehensive list of EDCs available. It says chemicals on the SIN List have been identified by ChemSec as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) based on criteria established by the EU chemicals regulation REACH.
The acceptance by a New Zealand court that a safety regulator could let the man who owned a deadly mine to escape criminal charges in exchange for a cash settlement has denied bereaved families justice, the country’s top union body has said. The 16 February Court of Appeal ruling came in the case taken by Pike River Mine widow Anna Osborne, wife of Milton Osborne, and Sonya Rockhouse, mother of Ben Rockhouse, against the government safety watchdog Worksafe (Risks 713). The 19 November 2010 explosion at the mine killed 29 miners, aged between 17 and 62 (Risks 514). “The Court of Appeal agreed that it could re-examine the legality of the decision WorkSafe made to trade charges against Pike River Mine CEO Peter Whittall, for insurance money,” Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Richard Wagstaff said. But he said the court’s ruling “allows a deal to be struck. WorkSafe allowed an unrepentant defendant, to get his insurer to make a payment to the victims, in return for WorkSafe dropping the charge.” The union leader added: “There were several parts of the decision we were appealing. It is our view that the decision to drop the charges was the wrong one both in regards justice for the 29 men killed at Pike, and also that the decision was not in the public’s interest. The victims, the families, have been left out in the cold. The Court of Appeal did not think the victims ought to have been consulted before the deal was struck. We now need to consider what options remain. One thing is for sure, the 29 men that were killed on 19 November 2010 are still no closer to justice.”
Fewer economic opportunities may be exposing black and Hispanic workers in the US to an increased risk of workplace injury, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Southern California and Boston University found that even after adjusting for variables such as education, sex and age, black and foreign-born Hispanic workers often worked in jobs with the highest injury risks and as a result experienced higher rates of work-related disabilities. In particular, the findings published in the journal Health Affairs reveal that black workers had the highest prevalence of work-related disability, at two per cent, followed by foreign-born Hispanic workers, US-born Hispanic workers, Asian workers and then white workers. Foreign-born Hispanic workers experienced the highest expected workplace injury rates, but comparatively lower disability rates than black workers. White workers consistently experienced the lowest risk of workplace injury. The authors said their study revealed “systematic disparities” in the risk of getting injured on the job, adding the findings suggest that differences in economic opportunity may be exposing minority workers to greater occupational hazards. “Occupational safety and health professionals have historically focused on identifying policies and practices that induce employers to improve conditions for current workers, either voluntarily or because of pressure from government regulators, and not on hiring practices,” the paper concludes. “Although improving work conditions could be of great value, it would not directly address discrimination-based disparities in workplace injury risk. Based on our findings, policymakers and regulators may need to review whether employers are systematically assigning people of different races and ethnicities different jobs or job tasks according to the risk.”
Ÿ Seth A Seabury, Sophie Terp and Leslie I Boden. Racial and ethnic differences in the frequency Of workplace injuries And prevalence of work-related disability, Health Affairs, volume 36, number 2, pages 266-273, February 2017. The Pump Handle.
The decision by fast food magnate and notorious labour rights abuser Andrew Puzder to withdraw his nomination for the post of Labor Secretary has been welcomed by unions and labour rights campaigners. President Trump’s first pick for the role (Risks 785), who had been labelled the ‘anti-labor secretary’ by workplace rights campaigners, saw the writing on the wall as it became apparent he was unlikely to secure the Senate votes necessary to be confirmed in the post. The president’s replacement nominee for Labor Secretary, R Alexander ‘Alex’ Acosta, has received a less critical reviews. The 48-year old is dean of the College of Law at Florida International University. He served in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice beginning in 2003. He later served until 2009 as US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He was also a President George W Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board. Richard Trumka, president of the national union federation AFL-CIO, said: “Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration. In one day, we’ve gone from a fast food chain CEO who routinely violates labour law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.” He added: “The Labor Secretary is not just another Cabinet member – his or her actions directly impact our wages, safety and rights on the job every single day. We will judge this nominee by the commitment he shows to making life better for working people.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/