|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.|
Social workers are struggling with heavy caseloads, longer working hours and going without lunch breaks, according to a survey by UNISON and Community Care magazine. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said the volume of cases they were responsible for left them feeling ‘over the limit,’ and more than half (56 per cent) blamed staff shortages for their heavy workload. The survey report, A Day in the Life of Social Work, is based on feedback from more than 2,000 social work professionals, including those in child protection and adult mental health. UNISON says it gives a snapshot of a typical day in their working lives and highlights how cutbacks and staff shortages are taking a toll on the profession. Nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) of those who completed the survey said cuts had affected their ability to make a difference to the vulnerable people they support. Verbal abuse was another key issue for nearly half (47 per cent) of respondents. UNISON head of local government Heather Wakefield said: “This is a profession on the brink of burnout. Staff are working long hours without breaks and having to cope with unprecedented caseloads. Those in need are suffering because social workers have less time to go out and help them.” She added: “All councils should set up a system of monitoring to reduce demands on already over-worked staff. Otherwise not only social workers but those they’re trying to help will suffer.”
UNISON’s legal battle to give people at work the right to access justice – without having to pay unaffordable fees – when employers break the law went to the Supreme Court this week. The two-day hearing was the final stage of UNISON’s legal campaign against employment tribunal fees, introduced four years ago. Since July 2013, anyone who has been treated unlawfully or unfairly by their employer, and who wants to challenge them at an employment tribunal, has had to fork out a fee, which ranges from £390 to as much as £1,200. Workers challenging victimisation for raising safety concerns fall into the highest priced bracket. UNISON said the latest round in its legal challenge comes after the government produced its long-awaited review of the impact of fees in January. This showed there had been a 70 per cent drop in the number of cases since July 2013. Low-paid women, especially those treated unfairly when they were pregnant or on maternity leave, were the biggest losers. UNISON’s case to the Supreme Court asserted that the government’s decision to demand a fee from anyone taking their employer to court has stopped many thousands of badly treated employees – especially those on low incomes – from getting justice. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “If an employer breaks the law and treats one of their employees unfairly, they should be challenged. It cannot be right that unscrupulous bosses are escaping punishment because people simply don’t have the money to pursue a case.” He added: “Bad employers are having a field day, safe in the knowledge that few will be able to afford to challenge them at a tribunal. The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is penalise lower paid employees with genuine grievances. That’s why it’s so important our legal challenge succeeds.” UNISON said it believed it would be about six weeks before a ruling was made.
Supermarket security staff on the look-out for shoplifters one day could be guarding Britain’s nuclear deterrent the next, Unite has warned. The union said it is concerned that the proposed privatisation of the Ministry of Defence Guard Service (MGS) will lead to a drop in standards and training, with adverse repercussions for the security of sensitive sites. The MGS employs more than 2,000 guards providing unarmed security for more than 100 Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites, including the MoD main building in Whitehall and the naval bases at Portsmouth and Devonport. Unite national officer Mike McCartney said: “The UK government is planning to open up the MGS, whose personnel are well-trained, to privatisation. Unite wholeheartedly opposes these plans and considers any such proposals are irrational and dangerous to the security not only of MoD sites, but to the security of our service personnel, their families and to all the civilians employed across these sites.” He added: “If these proposals went ahead we could see someone deterring shoplifters at a supermarket on a Sunday then that same person turning up to guard a nuclear site on Monday. Employment conditions, training and standards could be compromised in ‘a race to the bottom’ by a private company keen to maximise profit.” The union said that private security companies would be required to bid under a system based 70 per cent on price and only 30 per cent on quality.
Offshore union Unite has called for a transparent investigation into an incident where rig workers were exposed to ionising radiation. The incident happened on EnQuest’s Thistle platform, off Shetland, last December. Rigging supervisor Steve Innes, from Sunderland, told the BBC he and fellow Wood Group contractors discovered they had been exposed to alpha radiation. EnQuest said “additional precautionary steps” had since been taken. The men were working at Thistle, 125 miles (201 km) north east of Shetland, doing shutdown work with pipe equipment. An EnQuest spokesperson said: “EnQuest can confirm that, in December 2016, during planned shutdown activities on its Thistle platform, six personnel employed by Wood Group under a contract with EnQuest were removing a piece of pipework when they were exposed to low levels of NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material). The level of exposure was less than 1 per cent of the level at which it is reportable to the Health and Safety Executive however EnQuest advised the HSE of the matter at the time.” The company added: “Following an investigation, additional precautionary steps have been taken to further ensure that personnel avoid any such exposure.” Union regional officer John Boland commented: “Unite believes that the way these workers has been treated is terrible. It's vital for workers’ safety that there is openness and transparency about serious safety incidents, so that we can learn lessons and create a safer working environment for everyone offshore.” A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the BBC: “HSE has been made aware of this incident. However, it was not reportable under the present RIDDOR system (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) and no staff raised the issue with HSE separately so no investigation has been carried out.”
Rail union RMT has vowed to continue its resistance to driver-only trains, citing guards as “the last line of defence” for passenger safety. The Morning Star reports that delegates rose to their feet at the North West TUC conference last week after RMT’s regional organiser John Tilley made the pledge. Strikes against driver-only operation have spread from Southern Rail to Liverpool-based Merseyrail and transPennine service Northern Rail. John Tilley told delegates how safety critical guards on trains had intervened to ensure passengers were made safe in recent incidents, including a train colliding with a car on a level crossing and the evacuation of passengers from two trains trapped after a landslide blocked tracks. He said the union’s members were defending safety standards on the rail system. “They have been guaranteed alternative jobs, so why strike? Because they know that what is coming is not safe. We are now the last line of defence between the passengers and misery rail — the dark days of no safety.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A workplace may be seriously unhealthy, but it’s frequently only budgets, deadlines and margins in the must-do column for senior management, a leading trade union safety educator has warned. Dave Smith, writing in the latest issue of Hazards magazine, warns a solitary union rep may have problems being heard, “particularly when the company board is more fixated on a healthy profit than a healthy workforce.” To counter this, Smith says when it comes to organising around workplace health and safety, the key to success is recognising that unions are collective organisations. That means individual reps can’t do it all on their own, they need support. Echoing a mapping approach recommended in the TUC’s organising strategy (Risks 784), he notes: “My suggestion for new reps is to get a big piece of paper and draw a plan of the workplace divided into different departments... Next, ask yourself two simple questions. What are the issues? And do I have any friends?” Smith adds: “By patiently chatting with people over a period of time, the rep raises the profile of the union and it’s likely that that will lead to them recruiting a few new members in the process. But it will also uncover workers’ concerns. This means when reps talk to management in the future, they are talking about issues their members are really interested in.” The union educator concludes: “In union organising, we call this process ‘mapping’. If you were training to be an army officer at Sandhurst, they would call it ‘reconnaissance’. It’s simple, it’s non-confrontational but it really pays dividends in the long run. Give it a go.”
Ÿ Find a friend, Hazards 137, March 2017 and Dave Smith’s guide to organising around safety. TUC health and safety organising guide. Register for TUC eNotes on health and safety organising and other health and safety topics.
A worker who killed himself had been badly affected by a succession of safety issues at work, an inquest has heard, including an industrial fatality, demotion over a safety breach, a fear of losing his job and personal disputes in the workplace. Jeffrey Taylor, 55, was ruled to have taken his own life as a result of five contributing factors which were said to have been weighing heavily on his mind. He had also been affected by two family bereavements and a dispute over a will. The inquest, held at Barrow Town Hall, heard one of the key factors related to an incident in 2007, at tissue maker Kimberly-Clark where he worked, when a colleague was killed by an unguarded toilet roll cutting machine. Kimberly-Clark was fined £180,000 in December 2011 as a result of the tragedy which killed Christopher Massey, with the 28-year-old deemed to have had insufficient training in using the equipment (Risks 537). In the months that followed the tragedy, Mr Taylor was demoted due to a health and safety breach and for six months was afraid he would lose his job. It was around this time when he first started taking the anti-depressant sertraline – the only substance found in his body when he hanged himself on 3 June 2016. Ruling that the death was suicide, coroner Paul O'Donnell said: “This was not simply a cry for help and Jeff intended the consequences of his actions.” Last week the TUC warned the UK is turning a blind eye to work-related suicide (Risks 793). The union body was speaking out after a series of reports highlighting how work factors can put large sections of the workforce at a greatly increased suicide risk, but the problem is not on the radar of the safety regulator. A report in Hazards magazine revealed that a broad-range of factors can be behind work-related suicides, including stress, harrowing or traumatic work experiences, oppressive management practices, job insecurity, overwork, toxic chemical exposures and occupational injuries, disability and diseases.
Ÿ North West Evening Mail. TUC guidebook on mental health in the workplace (registration required). Suicidal work: Work-related suicides go uncounted and unaccounted for in the UK, Hazards magazine, number 137, 2017. Hazards quick guide to work-related factors linked to suicide.
Whirlpool UK Appliances Limited has been fined after a self-employed contractor fell from a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) and later died from his injuries. The contractor had been working at a height of nearly five metres installing revised fire detection equipment, at the site of the former Indesit factory in Yate, near Bristol. At the same time Whirlpool UK maintenance workers started an overhead conveyor, unaware that the contractor was working nearby. The movement caused the work platform to tip over and the 66-year-old man fell to the factory floor. He later died from his injuries. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no effective control or supervision in place to prevent the conflicting work tasks from being undertaken at the same time. Whirlpool UK Appliances Limited pleaded guilty at Bristol Crown Court to a criminal safety offence and was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,466. HSE inspector Matt Tyler commented: “This is a tragic case where the incident could have been prevented if the company had planned and controlled the work properly.” In September 2016, a contractor worker at Whirlpool’s plant in Marion, Ohio, died in a fall from a crane. The company is a US multinational. Both contractor deaths occurred in plants making dryers.
A major construction firm has been fined £800,000 after a worker was crushed to death by a dumper truck driven by his brother. Robert Paul Griffiths’ foot became stuck between the truck's brake and accelerator as he tried to move a broken-down scissor lift on a service road at Heathrow Airport while working for Laing O'Rourke on 2 October 2014. The truck reversed and crushed Mr Griffiths' brother Philip, 38, who was standing between the two vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found neither worker had the appropriate certificate to use the dumper truck and the operation was not properly overseen or managed. Laing O’Rourke Construction Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the construction management regulations and was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs. Speaking after sentencing at Southwark Crown Court, HSE inspector Jack Wilby said: “This incident was a tragedy for all concerned and, as revealed by our investigation, entirely avoidable. Laing O’Rourke did nothing to address the trend of these workers carrying out tasks they weren’t trained or authorised for. These dedicated staff, including Philip and his brother, needed appropriate supervision.” He added: “Had there been appropriate supervision, then better segregation between Philip and these two vehicles could have been established and maintained.” Robert Griffiths said his brother’s death had “devastated” the whole family. “My whole life changed for the worst on 2 October 2014 and will never be the same again,” he said.
A London construction company has been fined after complaints from the public alerted the safety regulator to a slew of criminal practices. Basildon Magistrates’ Court heard how Malik Contractors and Engineers Ltd was working at a site in Corringham, Essex in 2016 when concerned members of the public contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The firm was the principal contractor for the development of a public house and 24 flats. Responding to the complaints, HSE carried out three inspections of the site. On each visit the inspectors found numerous criminal breaches of health and safety legislation, including dangerous electrical systems, unsafe work at height across the site, and no fire detection alarm. There was no firefighting equipment, despite workers sleeping on site. HSE issued four prohibition notices, stopping hazardous work immediately, and three improvement notices (INs) on the firm. Malik Contractors and Engineers Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the construction management regulations and was fined £52,000, and ordered to pay £4,415 in costs. HSE inspector David King commented: “This case highlights the importance of complying with enforcement action. Duty holders have the responsibility to provide their workers with appropriate training and equipment so they can work safely. In this case Malik Contractors failed to do so.” He added: “It is essential those responsible for construction work understand they are also responsible for the health and safety of those on and around the construction site, and ensure suitable and sufficient arrangements are in place to plan.”
A Bedfordshire trailer firm has been sentenced after an employee suffered crushed ribs when he was trapped between a lorry’s cab and a trailer. Luton Magistrates’ Court heard the worker was arranging the movement of lorry trailers in the transport yard of BS Trailer Services Ltd in Leighton Buzzard, on 15 September 2015. Another employee was assisting by driving the cab, but the court heard there appeared to have been a misunderstanding over which trailer the driver of the cab was to move first. He manoeuvred the tractor unit to hitch up the same trailer his colleague was looking at but could not see him in his ‘blind-spot’. The reversing cab trapped the worker between the tractor unit and the trailer. The cab driver had his door window open and heard a shout and stopped quickly. The trapped man sustained six broken ribs in the incident. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the yard was not organised to allow safe circulation of people and traffic. Three other organisations also occupied premises in the yard owned by the defendant, all with their own employees and visitors manoeuvring in the yard. BS Trailer Services Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £25,000 plus costs of £1,599.50. HSE inspector Robert Meardon said: “A Traffic Management Plan agreed with the tenant businesses would have identified areas of segregation and measures for the separation of vehicles and people with barriers and clear signage. This had not been carried out and implemented.” He added: “The injuries could easily have been fatal and I want to say to all companies that they need to consider and take measures to reduce the risk of people being injured by the movement of vehicles on their site; this is one of the most common causes of accidents. There are more than 5,000 accidents involving transport in the workplace every year, some of which are fatal.”
Arrow Recycling Ltd has been fined after a worker was left fighting for his life after being crushed by about 400kg of cardboard. Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court heard how Parvez Ahmed, 49, had been working on the recycling site in Smethwick, West Midlands on 22 April 2016 when he was crushed under bale stacks of falling cardboard. He suffered a cracked skull and a brain haemorrhage and was placed into a coma for ten days in hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to establish a safe way to stack bales. This resulted in unstable and heavy bales which eventually fell, causing the injuries to Mr Ahmed. Arrow Recycling Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,917. HSE inspector Mahesh Mahey said: “This incident highlights the need for employers to devise and implement safe systems of work in relation to storage of baled materials. If the company had safe systems of work in place Mr Ahmed would not have been seriously injured.”
Precarious work is bad for both mental and physical health, according to a new survey of nearly 5,000 workers by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). The union body, which represents workers in Canada’s most populous province, found almost one-third of survey respondents cite mental and physical health issues as impacts of precarious work. OFL said its survey results underscore the case for modernising Ontario’s ‘woefully out of date’ employment laws. “We need to consider the whole picture when it comes to employment, instead of just businesses’ bottom line,” said OFL president Chris Buckley. “I think that’s what business critics are missing, when we talk about changing the employment laws to make improvements for workers. Precarious work makes people sick – period.” OFL said its ‘Make it fair’ campaign takes on issues of inequality in the workforce, and coincides with the provincial government’s Changing Workplaces Review. The campaign is seeking across-the-board changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act that would improve standards for every worker and make it easier for them to join a union.
Global food and farming union IUF has slammed a ruling by the European Chemicals Safety Agency (ECHA) that the toxic herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, is not carcinogenic. The conclusion of ECHA’s risk assessment committee - which came after the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced in March 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” - is based largely on unpublished industry reports. But IUF says ‘substantial evidence’ from independent researchers was disregarded in a 'weight of evidence' approach which prioritises 'risk' over hazard elimination. The report was issued two days after internal Monsanto documents released by a United States court documented the company's consistent efforts to produce glyphosate-friendly studies and squash independent reviews by government regulatory bodies. The court released the documents, which reveal the extent of collusion between Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency, in response to a lawsuit brought by agricultural workers linking glyphosate exposure to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer. The European Commission must issue a final decision on glyphosate reauthorisation by the end of 2017. According to IUF: “In Europe, the fight over glyphosate, and the wider struggle to rescue the food system from its addiction to toxic pesticides and destructive production methods, has come full circle to where it was one year ago.” The global union added: “Public authorities have once more demonstrated the extent of their capture by the industry they are charged with regulating, while new evidence for banning glyphosate continues to accumulate. Sustained public pressure is needed now more than ever to take our food system off the pesticide treadmill.” IARC said its evaluation of glyphosate is not affected by the ECHA review, and the ‘probable human carcinogen’ designation would remain. A 23 March paper in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health was highly critical of the science used to justify glyphosate’s approval and called for a ‘urgent’ review. “It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects,” it noted. “After a review of all evaluations, we conclude that the current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment.”
Ÿ IUF news release. ECHA news release. Laura N Vandenberg and others. Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, published Online First:JECH news release
Unions should take action to stop the asbestos industry once again ‘sabotaging’ efforts to better control its toxic exports, the global union for the construction sector has said. BWI was speaking out ahead of a crucial conference to update the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of especially hazardous substances subject to ‘prior informed consent’ (PIC) health warnings when they are exported. Past conferences, which take place every two years, have seen the blocking of every attempt to get chrysotile asbestos – the only form currently in production – added to the PIC list, after extensive lobbying by the industry. A requirement for consensus – which is being challenged at this conference - means the asbestos lobby only has to enlist the support of one government to block the proposed listing. The latest conference, to take place in Geneva from 24 April to 5 May, will see government representatives from 160 countries gather to discuss which hazardous substances should be listed. It will be the sixth time the conference will hear a UN recommendation that chrysotile asbestos be added to the PIC list. “Chrysotile meets all the criteria for inclusion,” said Ambet Yuson, BWI’s general secretary, “so it is outrageous that this is being blatantly and persistently blocked by asbestos exporting countries. We need all governments to push the exporting nations to behave responsibly, and to recognise that this Convention is fundamentally flawed.” He added the requirement for unanimity should be removed “in order to put an end to this farcical situation, which completely undermines the credibility of this important international convention.” Global union IndustriALL and international trade union confederation ITUC have also urged their affiliated unions to press for a change to the voting system, backing a proposal by a group of African nations. The recommends a switch to the 75 per cent approval system that exists already for the two other UN treaties dealing with hazardous substances and exports, the Basel and Stockholm conventions.
A decision by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to maintain pressure on Qatar over its ’kafala’ system of modern slavery has been welcomed by the global union body ITUC. The union body was commenting after the ILO’s Governing Body decided to keep open the possibility of a Commission of Inquiry into Qatar. The decision came despite the Gulf state’s unprecedented deployment of dozens of lobbyists at the Geneva meeting aiming to shut down any possibility of the UN body’s strongest compliance procedure being applied. Worker delegates at the ILO, with the support of representatives of employers and governments of democratic countries, refused an attempt by Sudan and the United Arab Emirates to water down the Governing Body’s decision, denying Qatar a propaganda coup. Speaking after the 22 March decision, Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Qatar is on notice and has until November when the ILO will revisit this case. The government has refused any serious reform in the years since it was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and ILO delegates have rejected the false and misleading claims made by Qatar in its report to the ILO this month. There is still hope for the more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar, many of them trapped there and forced to work against their will.” She added: “Governments, unions and business can see that Qatar has a choice. It can choose to stop the use of modern slavery and meet its international legal obligations on workers’ rights by abolishing exit permits, introducing a minimum wage and ending the race based system of wages, establishing an independent grievance procedure and allowing workers’ representation. International businesses working in Qatar don’t want to see their workers or their reputation sullied by modern slavery.” She added: “This decision will also increase pressure on Fifa, which has pledged human rights respect in its major events after 2022, but so far failed to use its enormous leverage on Qatar to ensure real reform, and respect for international labour and human rights standards.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/