|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 protected].uk.|
Only 3 in 10 women are given protective clothing specifically designed for women at work, according to a new TUC report. Despite a legal duty on bosses to provide the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to their staff free of charge, less than a third (29 per cent) told the TUC that the PPE they wear for their jobs is specially designed for women. The TUC report, published on the inequalities-themed International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, also revealed more than half the women (57 per cent) responding to the survey said that their PPE sometimes or significantly hampered their work. Just 1 in 20 (5 per cent) women working in emergency services said that their PPE never hampered their work. More than 2 in 5 (41 per cent) women said the protective trousers that were given were unsuitable. And more than 1 in 3 (35 per cent) found their overalls unsuitable for carrying out their work duties. Problems were particularly acute during pregnancy, women said, with half forced to cut back on their normal range of duties or to change their role in the run up to maternity leave. The main reasons given were a failure by employers to supply suitable PPE during the pregnancy period, or that suitable PPE was not available. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “I’m shocked that so many women – even those working in frontline emergency services – do not have the right protective clothing to do their jobs safely. Bosses’ complacency risks serious injury. It shouldn’t be hard to ensure protective gloves and boots come in men’s and women’s sizes.” She added: “Trade unions have fought for protections from dangerous workplaces for as long as we have existed. I would urge anyone worried about health and safety at work to join their union, and make sure their voice is heard and their interests represented.”
Ÿ and full report.
Workers must be given the power to challenge sexist dress codes at work, the TUC has said. The union was responding to an announcement by the government that it intended to issue new guidance to improve compliance with laws that ban discriminatory workplace dress codes. The Government Equalities Office, responding to a petition (Risks 755) and parliamentary investigation (Risks 785), said existing legislation was ‘adequate’ but it would issue new guidelines to firms this summer. The parliamentary investigation into heels and company dress codes had found ‘widespread discrimination’ in workplaces. Commenting on the government response, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a welcome step towards getting rid of sexist dress codes in the workplace. But the new guidance won’t be enough if working people can’t afford to take sexist bosses to a tribunal.” She added: “The government should scrap employment tribunal fees so it no longer costs hundreds of pounds to access justice. This would mean workers can afford to put a stop to sexist dress codes in practice, as well as in legislation.” Earlier this month, the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) announced it would outlaw any requirement to wear high heels at work. BC labour minister Shirley Bond said: “This change will let employers know that the most critical part of an employee’s footwear is that it is safe.” The move was welcomed by the head of the restaurant trade lobby, who said it would make it easier to recruit staff.
Friends and families who have lost loved ones to workplace fatalities are having to wait over three years to secure justice, according to official figures obtained by Unite. The union said the figures, which it obtained in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, reveal the average time between a workplace death and conviction for a related criminal safety offence is 1,234 days. Describing the time lag as ‘shameful’, Unite has called on all political parties to make a commitment to hold a systemic review, “to reduce the extraordinary length of time between a workplace death and a conviction.” It said the figures, released ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, expose delays far longer than those that occur in high profile criminal cases. The figures also revealed that the time between a fatality and a conviction is increasing. In 2009/10, the average length of time between a workplace fatality and a criminal conviction was 1,206 days. The union said major cuts to the budgets of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other public bodies including the police, coroners and the court service, could explain the delays. Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “These figures are distressing. It is terrible to lose a loved one at work but then to have to wait for over three years before those responsible are brought to justice, dramatically increases and prolongs that agony.” She added: “Unite is calling on all political parties to commit to holding a major review following the general election and bring together all the agencies involved in the process to understand why these delays are occurring and then dramatically speed up the process.”
Unite is warning that workers’ lives are being placed at risk due to a sharp fall in the number of frontline health and safety inspectors. Figures obtained by the union in a freedom of information request reveal that since 2010 there has been a 25 per cent reduction in the number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors. In 2010 there were 1,311 frontline inspectors, but by 31 December 2016 that number had reduced to just 980, the union says. The union warns HSE “has been in the frontline of the Conservative’s obsession with cutting so called ‘red tape’.” By the end of this parliament its budget will be 46 per cent lower than in 2010. Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “HSE inspectors play a vital role in keeping workers safe. Rogue bosses who are prepared to break safety laws, are only kept in check by the fear of being caught and punished. Fewer inspectors mean more bosses willing to risk workers’ lives to boost profits.” She added: “It is clear that the HSE is being denied the resources to undertake its role properly. In these circumstances, it is more important than ever that union safety reps are given the training, support and time to conduct their duties and keep their fellow workers safe. However rather than boosting the rights and powers of safety reps the Conservative government has been intent on making their role even more difficult. All political parties need to give a pledge to make workplace safety a priority and commit to giving the HSE the proper resources to undertake its role effectively and ensure workers are safe at work.”
A new TUC guide to trade union facility time says the unique legal rights to time off for union health and safety representatives cannot be reduced as a result of a union-bashing clampdown in the Trade Union Act. The guide advises unions to ensure that the time taken by union health and safety reps is not included in any facility time agreement. It says instead there must be a guarantee that union safety reps are given their legal right to as much time as is ‘necessary’ to perform their functions, including inspections, investigations and representing workers. The guide notes: “There is no limit to the amount of time that can be taken and it is likely that it will vary considerably depending on the workplace. They may also need more time following an incident at work or if new safety procedures are being carried out.” The guide adds: “Union health and safety representatives are also different from other union representatives in that they can represent all employees in the workplace, not just union members.”
Scotland’s top trade union safety award has been won by members the journalists’ union NUJ. The union reps at Newsquest Herald & Times are this year’s recipients of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) Frank Maguire Award for Health and Safety, after a campaign that saw union membership hit record levels. The award recognised the NUJ chapel committee’s use of health and safety “to campaign for healthier and safer workplaces at The Herald and Times, while at the same time improving industrial democracy within the organisation.” Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said the union had faced an ongoing threat to jobs, leading to stress, anxiety and industrial tension. “Having identified the impact enforced job losses were having on the mental health and well-being of the workforce the Chapel Committee implemented the HSE Stress Management Standards, identifying key workplace issues needing addressing. The Chapel Committee has worked with a new and, thankfully less, confrontational management to address these issues and put in place control measures to reduce the exposure of risk to stressful situations.” He added: “These changes have not only improved the work environment, the NUJ have improved industrial relations within the company including more open and transparent negotiations on staffing levels and increasing trade union membership to record levels.”
The TUC has welcomed a commitment from Labour to match European Union improvements in employment and environmental standards after Brexit. The union body was commenting after Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow secretary for Brexit, said “instead of going ahead with the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill we will introduce new legislation – an EU Rights and Protections Bill. This will make sure that all EU-derived laws – including workplace laws, consumer rights and environmental protections – are fully protected without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses. We will work with trade unions, businesses and stakeholders to ensure there is a consensus on this vital issue.” In a speech, he added: “A Labour approach to Brexit will ensure there can be no rolling back of key rights and protections. And we will go further, because protecting existing rights can never be the summit of our ambition. A Labour government will work with EU partners, trade unions and businesses to ensure that, outside the EU, the UK does not lag behind Europe in workplace protections or environmental standards in future.” Commenting on the speech, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Lots of working people are having a hard time, and need better protections at work. Gig economy workers need stronger rights. Parents need more flexibility to juggle work and childcare. So we don’t want hardworking Brits to miss out when EU workers are given a better deal.” She added: “The next government must guarantee that there will continue to be a level playing field after Brexit. When EU rights improve, so must UK rights. Otherwise UK workers will fall behind and become the second-class citizens of Europe. Common standards to protect workers, the environment and consumers must be at the heart of our negotiations with the EU.”
More priority needs to be given to protecting the world’s estimated 111 million welders and other workers from exposure to toxic welding fumes, according to Harvard University’s David Christiani. The professor of environmental genetics at the university’s TH Chan School of Public Health was among 17 scientists from 10 countries who met last month at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, to review scientific literature and evaluate the carcinogenicity of several welding chemicals to humans. “The Working Group found new evidence to support the conclusion that welding fumes are a likely cause of lung cancer in humans, possible cause of kidney cancer, and definite cause of melanoma of the eye,” Christiani said. In addition to fumes, welding can expose workers to radiation and asbestos, which are known to cause cancer. The Health and Safety Executive’s 2012 top 10 occupational cancer ‘priorities for prevention’ include welding-related lung cancer. Two other chemicals evaluated at the IARC meeting — molybdenum trioxide (sometimes used in welding) and indium tin oxide (used to make computer screens) — were determined to be possibly cancer-causing in humans.
Ÿ Harvard University news release. Carcinogenicity of welding, molybdenum trioxide, and indium tin oxide, Lancet Oncology, published online first 10 April 2017.
South West Water has been fined £1.8 million following the death of 54-year-old Robert Geach. Truro Crown Court heard Mr Geach was working on the sand filtration unit of the Falmouth Waste Water Treatment Works on 30 December 2013 when a colleague discovered him face down in water. The catchment operator was last seen working on the top of the unit several hours before he was discovered by the colleague, who was responding under a lone worker system. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to identify the risk of drowning with the maintenance activity undertaken on a regular basis by Mr Geach and his colleagues. South West Water Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach. In addition to the £1.8 million fine, the company was ordered to pay costs of £41,607.71. HSE inspector Georgina Speake commented: “This tragic case could have been prevented if the company had reduced the size of the hatch used to access the sand filters, and properly considered the hazards of the operation, including how close Mr Geach was to the water.” She added: “Mr Geach was exposed to the risk of drowning which could have been easily been controlled if the task had been properly planned and simple measures adopted earlier which South West Water failed to do so adequately.” Mr Geach's widow, Sylvia, said: “The last three years have been a difficult time for our family. We are pleased, however, that concerns we had around lone working and health and safety have been acknowledged by the court.” She added: “Although too late for Rob, changes to working practices and the lone working system have been made. We would like to thank the police, the GMB and the Health and Safety Executive for their kindness and support throughout this time.”
Hague Construction Limited has been fined following the death of employee Daniel Clifford Yeowell. Lewes Crown Court heard the 26-year-old was employed by Hague as a ground worker and on 4 October 2013 he and his colleagues were constructing and installing drainage boxes at a site at Langley Green Primary School, Crawley. Mr Yeowell was struck by a concrete drainage cover as he was standing in the excavation area and died later as a result of severe head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Hague failed to properly plan the operation to lift the drain cover and also failed to supply workers with the safe and appropriate equipment to carry the work. It was also found the lifting chains used were too long for the work and were not attached safely to the cover or the excavator. Hague Construction Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £16,918. HSE inspector Andrew Cousins commented: “Our investigation was prompted in the most tragic of circumstances. Hague Construction should have properly planned the lifting operation regarding this work activity. If the company had done so Mr Yeowell’s death could have been avoided.”
Becketts Foods Limited has been fined after a worker’s hand was crushed in a meat separating machine at the company’s Moat House base in Coventry. Coventry Magistrates’ Court heard that on 11 May 2016 the 22-year-old worker was loading meat into the meat separator, when he fell and his hand entered the machine. The worker suffered serious injuries to his hand which required surgery and skin grafts. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to implement a safe system of work for separating the meat using this machinery. The company also failed to equip the machinery with the appropriate level of guarding to protect the workers from harm. Becketts Foods Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety law and was fined £366,666 and ordered to pay costs of £10,978.09. HSE inspector Christopher Maher commented: “This case highlights the dangers of failing to assess risk. All duty holders must ensure that all dangerous machinery has the appropriate level of guarding in place to avoid serious injury like in this case.”
Noodle maker SCLA Limited has been fined after a worker suffered life changing hand injuries while operating machinery. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how on 17 December 2015 the worker was clearing a blockage on one of the noodle production lines when the index and middle fingers on his right hand were severed by the machine. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a risk assessment was unsuitable and the company had failed to ensure that the guards on the machine provided the protection necessary. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay full costs. HSE inspector Nick Wright said: “The consequences of not guarding dangerous machinery are often catastrophic and life changing. This case demonstrates a straightforward, systematic approach to assessing machinery and ensuring that it is adequately guarded can play a significant part in reducing the risk of injury.”
Around the world, Amazon is famous for its low prices, fast delivery, ruthless efficiency and antipathy towards unions, who say it treats workers like robots. Unions in Australia – where Amazon is about to expand its operations – are taking heed. They say they will be prepared as the retail giant set up large warehouses - or ‘fulfilment centres’ as it calls them - in Sydney and Melbourne. National Union of Workers national secretary Tim Kennedy said his union would seek to organise Amazon's workforce at these distribution centres. “Its reputation is ruthless, running classic 19th century-style satanic mills,” he said. “We want to organise them; we will really focus on this as a big opportunity.” International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow said even in countries with high employment standards, Amazon’s “treatment of workers is more like robots than human beings.” She questioned whether the company “was doing enough to respect workers' rights, safety and paying enough tax,” adding the strictly controlled work patterns imposed were a step towards far greater automation. “They're using them (workers) to set up a robot future,” she said. In one infamous case, there were so many calls for ambulances from workers overheating at a US site that an ambulance was stationed outside on hot days.
The 24 April fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, killing 1,138 workers, shows why a groundbreaking, union-brokered Accord must be continued, IndustriALL has said. The global union says that although progress has been made, efforts to make Bangladesh’s garment industry a safe place for workers are still needed and the Bangladesh Accord must continue beyond its planned 2018 expiry date. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the first binding supply chain agreement signed by garment brands and trade unions, has seen hundreds of factories inspected and many working hazards remedied since its creation in 2013. But with only one more year to go and the majority of factories behind schedule with repair plans, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft says that the garment industry in Bangladesh is at a critical point and the pressure to continue improvements must not be lifted. “With only one year left of the Accord, we need a new agreement or there is a real risk of safety standards slipping back to where they were in 2012. The government is not yet in a position to be able to guarantee workers’ safety in the factories and we are committed to continuing the Accord until they are.” IndustriALL is part of a coalition of trade unions and non-government organisations behind a new ‘transparency pledge’, where companies commit to publish information on where their products are made. The pledge draws upon existing good practices of global apparel companies and sets a floor, not ceiling, for supply chain transparency.
Global union confederation ITUC has called on more garment companies to sign a new supply chain ‘Transparency Pledge’ launched by a coalition of trade unions, human and labour rights organisations. Of 72 companies contacted by the coalition, only 17 are expected to have fully implemented the pledge by the end of 2017, meaning that they will have published information that will enable consumers, workers and advocacy groups and others to find out where the company’s products are made. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “With a hidden workforce of 94 per cent in global supply chains, transparency is a crucial step towards due diligence on workers’ rights in every aspect of a company’s operations. With the Rana Plaza tragedy and other workplace disasters in recent years, the global apparel industry has become identified with exploitation and abuse of workers. We call on all companies in the sector to join this pledge, as a step towards ensuring safe work, living wages and decent working conditions throughout their entire operations.” But she warned: “While transparency is a foundation for accountability, companies still need to do more. Due diligence requires identifying the risks of violating human rights. Most importantly, they should ensure that workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are respected throughout their supply chains, and also make agreements with global union federations to ensure that local practices match commitments which they have made.” The coalition consists of ITUC and global unions IndustriALL and UNI, Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium.
For more than a decade the asbestos industry has blocked the wishes of the overwhelming majority of governments by refused to allow a basic health warning to be required on exports cancer-causing chrysotile asbestos. Now a Global Asbestos Action Alliance of unions, environmental and labour rights organisations is renewing the push to have the deadly substance listed on the ‘Prior Informed Consent’ requirements of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention, being held in Geneva from 24 April to 5 May (Risks 796). The alliance is challenging blocking tactics spearheaded by a Russian delegation, and supported by a handful of other major asbestos producing nations, including Kazakhstan and China. “How many more people will have to die because of Russia’s refusal?”, said Michael Borowick of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), who is an observer at the event. “Australia banned asbestos in all its forms in 2003. It’s time that at the very least, we controlled its transport and storage internationally.” Andrew Dettmer, national president of the Australian union AMWU and also an observer at the conference, said: “The Convention itself is dysfunctional. Because one nation can effectively mount a veto, this leads to perverse outcomes.” Unions are backing a reform of the voting rules proposed by 12 African nations, so a 75 per cent vote could lead to listing. The change would bring the treaty into line with the Basel and Stockholm conventions, the UN’s two other treaties on hazardous substances.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/