|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at email@example.com.
Construction union Unite has said a serious accident on the Aberdeen bypass site adds to its ‘ongoing concerns’ about the working conditions on the prestige job. The Scottish Water contractor’s injuries are believed to be serious but not life-threatening. It is understood he suffered a broken leg and ribs after being crushed under a half-tonne section of pipe. Responding to the incident, Unite called on the construction companies involved in the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) for more transparency and dialogue. Unite regional officer John Clark said: “Our first thoughts are with the worker who has been injured and with his friends and family. No worker should be put in a position where they don’t return safely home from their shift.” He added: “We have had ongoing concerns over health and safety on the AWPR project but too often, bosses aren’t listening. We need proper dialogue between the contractors and their workers and union reps, and when things go wrong we need openness and transparency so that we can put them right as soon as possible. Safety should be a top priority on every construction project – and especially on a flagship public project like this one. Our officers and workplace reps will continue to monitor working conditions on the project, and will be making sure that workers’ voices are heard in any investigation.” A Scottish Water spokesperson said: “Scottish Water takes health and safety very seriously and it is a top priority on all of our sites and we will work with our contractor and the Health and Safety Executive to find out the cause of this accident.”
Rail union RMT has accused Arriva Rail North of concocting a plan that will break agreed safety procedures in its determination to run services during industrial action next week. The union says the company’s published timetable for services on the 13 March strike day “comes at the price of passenger safety.” RMT said it will be monitoring and reporting to the safety regulator any breaches of agreed procedures. General secretary Mick Cash said: “Instead of winging it with this high-risk, scab timetable Arriva Rail North should be round the table with RMT working on a safe and sustainable future for their services.” He said the industrial action would have been “entirely preventable if the company had listened to the union’s deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously, stuck to their earlier commitments and had put passenger safety before profit.” The union leader added: “The company's intransigence has forced our hand and given us to option but to announce industrial action. The disruption to services on Monday will be entirely down to Arriva Rail North reneging on their earlier commitments. The union remains available for genuine and meaningful talks and we expect the company to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw is calling for a “new deal” to protect hairdressers. The union, which represents many of Britain’s estimated 140,000 salon workers, says they face risks ranging from musculoskeletal disorders, to dermatitis, asthma and cancer. Paddy Lillis, the union’s deputy general secretary, said the government needed to give “proper protection” to barbers and hairdressers, the majority of whom are female and younger than 40. A Europe-wide agreement on health and safety standards for the industry has been blocked by the European Commission, under pressure from successive British governments. “It’s time we had a new deal for hairdressers,” Lillis said. “All too often the safety of shopworkers is overlooked in the mistaken belief they work in low-risk environments. This is a mistake the UK government made when they scaled back Health and Safety Executive inspections and slashed inspections by local authorities who enforce safety in shops, warehouses and offices.” He told the Guardian: “It is time that the government and the European Commission took these risks to the health and safety of hairdressers seriously and gave them proper protection.” In 2012, the union grouping that represents about one million hairdressers across the EU, Uni Europa, was involved in drawing up an agreement for EU member states to sign up to that set shared health and safety standards for hairdressers. But since Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the European Commission, the agreement has been blocked, under pressure led by Britain and some other parts of the EU, according to Oliver Roethig, regional secretary of Uni Europa (Risks 741). “When we look at hairdressing, it’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Social legislation by the EU has been completely taken off the agenda by the Juncker commission. He said the EU must not be big on the smaller things. But we don’t think that hairdressers having to give up work is a small thing.”
Workers in the community should not fear violence, the union UNISON has said. The union’s community service group conference agreed last week to launch a ‘Violence at Work Charter’ which would see employers commit themselves to “a series of interventions”. These include: collecting and monitoring data on violent incidents; proper structured support for staff who experience violence; and thorough risk assessments when staff are placed in vulnerable situations. Also on the union’s action list is training for staff so they know how to deal with threatening situations. UNISON said it plans to launch a pilot scheme to get employers to sign up to its charter on violence at work in the housing association sector later this year. It would then be expanded, incorporating any lessons learned, to cover all employers in the housing, community and voluntary sectors. After hearing that “some members face violence at work and suffer serious injury – and then have to suffer inadequate sick pay,” conference delegates agreed that UNISON should campaign for the “fundamental principle” that “no employee in the community sector should suffer a financial detriment as a result of injuries they have received in the course of their work.”
The union GMB is to start legal action on behalf of couriers working for the delivery company, DX. The union says it wants to “secure rights on pay, holidays, health and safety, discipline and grievances on behalf of members who work as couriers and drivers for DX.” The case mirrors the successful legal action backed by the union last year, where a tribunal accepted that Uber’s claim that its taxi drivers were self-employed was bogus (Risks 775). DX couriers are currently classed as ‘self-employed’, not workers or employees, and are not entitled to basic employment rights such as minimum wage, holiday or sick pay. GMB argues that like Uber workers, DX couriers are effectively controlled by the company, which recruits, allocates work, sets the price of jobs and produces invoices for drivers. The Aim-listed courier firm works for Amazon, the US embassy and dozens of other clients. Maria Ludkin, GMB legal director, said: “This is another company trying to duck its obligations and responsibilities by making its workforce ‘self-employed’. These are effectively working full-time for one company, DX, without many of the basic employment rights enjoyed by employed workers.” Leigh Day, the law firm acting for the union, said the issues raised by the drivers have been submitted to the Acas early conciliation process. It says if a satisfactory outcome is not reached at Acas, the case will be submitted to the Employment Tribunal. Michael Newman, a partner in Leigh Day’s employment team, said: “As we have seen in the case against Uber some employers are falsely classifying those that work for them as self-employed, and therefore not providing them with basic workers’ rights, despite exerting tight controls over how they carry out their work.” Speaking this week at the first hearing into the future world of work by the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, Hannah Reed, a senior policy officer at the TUC, said: “There should be a floor of rights for all working people – a single worker definition.”
Ÿ GMB news release. Leigh Day news release. House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee’s Future world of work and rights of workers inquiry hearings.
The father of a cabin crew worker whose death was linked to exposure to toxic air on aeroplanes has warned cabin crew from more than 40 countries of the dangers. Unite member Matt Bass died in 2014 after returning from a flight to Ghana (Risks 743). A special post mortem paid for by his family found evidence of chronic exposure to poisonous organophosphates. His father, Charlie Bass, addressed the cabin crew meeting of the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on 8 March 2017. He said he wanted to meet the union delegates attending the global transport union’s meeting “so that together we can all build pressure on the industry and government to do more about the scandal of toxic cabin air. The ITF and its unions have been brilliant in our campaign; they recognise the seriousness of the issue and are raising it at the highest political levels. Together we can make sure no one else dies like Matt did.” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “The campaign around cabin air quality is an example of what ITF unions do best – fearlessly exposing issues when the industry falters. The union movement has always led the way in improving safety and well-being for workers, and passengers alike - and long may this continue.”
An inquiry into work dress codes has exposed “widespread discrimination” against women, MPs have said. The investigation was prompted by a petition, being debated by MPs, that called for a ban on requiring women to wear high heels at work. MPs said they were “shocked” by stories submitted as part of the inquiry, which included one case of a woman who had been told to dye her hair blonde. More than 152,000 people signed the petition set up by Nicola Thorp, after she was sent home from her temp job when she refused to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel” (Risks 785). Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said: “It is fair to say that what we found shocked us.” She added that the inquiry “has exposed widespread discrimination against women, stereotypical views of what women should look like and dress like and behave like. It's shown up out-dated attitudes towards women in the workplace, and it has shown that constantly women are belittled when they try to challenge those attitudes.” Speaking in the debate, Labour's Gill Furniss said her daughter had suffered a metatarsal fracture having had to wear high heels in a retail job. For the government, equalities minister Caroline Dinenage urged employers to review dress codes and make “dodgy 1970s workplace diktats” a thing of the past. Commenting earlier this year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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.”
Parcel delivery firms DPD and Parcelforce Worldwide have been called before a committee of MPs to answer questions about the working conditions faced by their self-employed couriers. Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions select committee, has written to the bosses of both companies asking them to provide evidence as part of an ongoing inquiry into the gig economy. The move came after the Guardian revealed drivers were charged up to £250 if they couldn’t provide cover when they were ill. Field set the firms a deadline of 20 March to provide details of their contracts with “owner-driver” couriers. Owner-drivers are not directly employed by the company and must fund their own vehicle, fuel, insurance and uniform in return for a payment per delivery. Neither firm pays self-employed staff for days when they are off sick or take a holiday, while Parcelforce couriers can also be charged £250, or £150 at DPD, if they fail to find their own cover. Field had earlier said the charges appeared to be part of a “bidding war, to see who can slap the biggest penalty on workers who are sick”. He has now asked companies to explain the policy, including the legal basis of charging owner-drivers for taking the day off due to illness. He asked them to calculate how much couriers could expect to lose out on when sick, including lost earnings.
A former teacher from Kent who died of asbestos related cancer could have inhaled the fibres in the classrooms where she worked. Pearl Davis, 69, spent a decade working at schools in Gillingham, Chatham and Maidstone. Last April, years after her retirement, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She died earlier this year. Speaking after an inquest into her death, her widower Freddie called on Kent County Council to do more to warn people who could have been exposed. He said: “You always think labourers get mesothelioma because they work so closely with these substances, but to be in a classroom day-in day-out with young children, it came as such a shock to us. What was also incredibly upsetting to Pearl was the idea that children may have been put at risk on those premises. It doesn’t bear thinking about.” At the inquest, the coroner ruled her death was the result of industrial disease, but said it was not clear where Mrs Davis had been exposed to asbestos.
Ÿ Kent Online.
Two London-based companies have been fined for criminal safety failings after one man died and another was left seriously injured after falling six storeys down a lift shaft. Southwark Crown Court heard how on 17 January 2011, work was being carried out to decommission a lift shaft in a building that was being converted into luxury apartments. The chain supporting the lift car broke while two men were working on top of it, causing it to fall to the bottom of the shaft. Romanian labourer Silviu Stefanita Radulescu, 31, who was poorly trained and not wearing a harness, was killed. Colleague Viorel Serban fell in the space between the car and shaft, but was wearing a harness and survived with serious injuries. Mr Radulescu had been sent to the job by MGM Construction Ltd as a labourer, to work for the main contractors Carey Group plc. TE Scudder Ltd, which acted as principle contractor and employer on the site, was contracted to remove many of the internal fixtures and fittings, including the seven passenger lifts and their associated equipment. The firm pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay £27,408 in costs. Patrick Pearson, a director of Intervale Ltd and the contract manager responsible for planning the decommissioning of lift shafts on site, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was ordered to complete 120 hours community service and pay costs of £3,000. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Lisa Chappell said: “The hazards associated with working at height and lifting were not appropriately addressed in the planning stage of this project. Furthermore, those involved in planning the job did not have appropriate training in lifting operations.” She added: “This case highlights the importance of proper planning when working at height. This work must be appropriately supervised and completed by competent people.” A February 2013 inquest at Westminster Coroner’s Court ruled Mr Radulescu had been unlawfully killed.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been issued with a Crown Censure by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an agency driver working for the MoD was fatally injured by a reversing vehicle. Graham Wood, 55, was crushed between a reversing lorry and a stationary vehicle on the evening of 19 November 2013. Mr Wood and a colleague were delivering goods to a large holding area at MoD Kineton, Southam, Warwickshire. An HSE investigation found the MoD failed to assess the risks created by the movement of large vehicles in the area. It also failed to ensure a safe system of work was in place to identify and control the risks. Following the fatal incident, a safe system of work including marked parking bays, well defined walkways for pedestrians and a one way system was introduced. After delivering the Crown Censure, Jane Lassey, HSE’s deputy director of field operations said: “Like any other employer, the MoD has a responsibility to reduce dangers to agency workers, as well as their own employees, on their sites as far as they properly can, and in this case they failed Graham Wood.” By accepting the Crown Censure, the MoD admitted a criminal safety breach. Government bodies and agencies cannot be prosecuted for safety offences, so there is no fine or criminal record attached to the censure. The MoD has received a number of Crown Censures for serious criminal safety offences. The most recent prior to this case was in September 2016 after a soldier died when he was shot in the neck on a training exercise (Risks 771). In 2010, the MoD was censured for asbestos offences (Risks 474).
A Bedfordshire contractor has been fined after failing to carry out suitable assessment of the risks posed by asbestos removal work. Luton Magistrates Court heard how Anthony West was contracted to complete demolition work at a building in Biggleswade. West then had a pre-demolition asbestos survey carried out for the building. However, an approach by a member of the public to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 16 April 2015 prompted an investigation into the work. This found that West did not adequately check the pre-demolition asbestos survey before carrying out the work, and did not follow advice to use a licensed asbestos removal contractor. He pleaded guilty to four criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £2,970 and ordered to pay costs of £5,419. HSE inspector Alison Outhwaite commented: “The safety failings in this case could have led to severe illness in later years. West not only put himself at risk to exposure but potentially to fellow workers and members of the public walking past. Duty holders have the responsibility to ensure that adequate assessments take place to avoid the risk of asbestos exposure. This includes checking the accuracy and clarity of any information provided by others.”
A further delay in implementing a Canadian Ministry of Labour ruling is putting the safety of armoured car workers and the general public at risk, the union Unifor has said. “The directives in the original order recognised that the use of two-person, all off crews elevates the danger of armoured car personnel being attacked in public, which also increases the risk to innocent by-standers,” said Mike Armstrong, Unifor’s lead for the armoured car industry (Risks 766). In December last year the ministry ruled in support of a work refusal by an armoured car worker who cited safety concerns associated with the “all off” model, where both the driver and the messenger exit the armoured car at drop-offs and pick-ups. The ruling ordered Brinks Canada Limited to immediately change from a two to three person crew to allow the driver to stay onboard to keep watch over his colleagues. The December ruling also backed an earlier Federal Occupational Health and Safety Branch investigation ruling into the “all off” model, employed by many companies in the armoured car industry. In its appeal of both orders, Brinks Canada Limited was granted a temporary stay against the order which has now been extended. “Two rulings both came to the same conclusion – this is a dangerous way to do business,” said Armstrong. “Yet Brinks Canada Limited seems determined to fight to stall implementation of three-person crews, a protocol that could literally save lives.” The union says more than 85 armoured car robberies have taken place in Canada since 2000, resulting in five deaths and countless physical and mental injuries.
Two United Nations experts are calling for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming, and move towards sustainable agricultural practices. The report, which is highly critical of the claims made by the pesticide industry, notes: “The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading.” It adds: “The industry frequently uses the term ‘intentional misuse’ to shift the blame on to the user for the avoidable impacts of hazardous pesticides. Yet clearly, the responsibility for protecting users and others throughout the pesticide life cycle and throughout the retail chain lies with the pesticide manufacturer.” Farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections, the report notes. It was authored by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak. They told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that widely divergent standards of production, use and protection from hazardous pesticides in different countries are creating double standards, which are having a serious impact on human rights. The Special Rapporteurs pointed to research showing that pesticides were responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The overwhelming number of fatalities, some 99 per cent, occurred in developing countries where health, safety and environmental regulations were weaker. Urging a new approach to farming, they say: “It is time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”
The poor safety record of Ukraine mines has been condemned by the global mining union IndustriALL. The union was commenting after a 2 March explosionat state-owned mine in Stepnova killed eight miners. The workers were members of an IndustriALL affiliate, the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU). Over 20 other miners were hospitalised. Operations at the mine were temporarily suspended following the blast, with authorities declaring 3 March a day of mourning. NPGU chair, Mychailo Volynets, said state mines had been starved of the funds necessary to operate safely. “Last year NPGU warned about the critical situation in the coal industry. State coal mines had not received full funding from state budget. There was lack of money for providing safety, buying new equipment and modernisation of mines,” he said. “All this factors create the danger of accidents at state mines.” IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan commented: “We mourn for our killed miner comrades. Our support and solidarity with their families and unions.” He added: “Ukraine's mining health and safety record is completely unacceptable. IndustriALL Global Union urges the Ukrainian Government to take necessary measures without delay.”
President Trump and congressional Republicans are poised to roll back a series of Obama-era worker safety regulations disliked by business groups. This week the Senate voted to kill a rule that required federal contractors to disclose and correct serious safety violations. In a narrow result that divided along party lines, the Senate voted 49 to 48 to eliminate the regulation, dubbed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule. Finalised in August and blocked by a court order in October, the rule would limit the ability of companies with recent safety problems to complete for government contracts unless they agreed to remedies. The measure to abolish it had already cleared the House. The next step after the Senate vote will be the White House, where Trump is expected to sign it. A half-dozen other worker safety regulations are in Republican crosshairs. “This is the opening salvo of the Republican’s war on workers,” said Deborah Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project. “It sends a signal that Congress and the administration is listening to big business and their lobbyists and they are not standing up for the interests of the American workers.” Republican lawmakers are employing the rarely used Congressional Review Act (CRA) to target safety rules. The CRA allows Congress to roll back recently enacted regulations by a simple majority vote. Once a rule is killed, it is killed forever. No future administration can pass a substantially similar measure unless Congress is persuaded to pass a law instead — a far more difficult task.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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