|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.
Staff at a privatised probation company are suffering high levels of stress as a result of intensive, high paced work and unrealistic deadlines, a joint union survey has found. Napo and UNISON represent staff employed in five Purple Futures Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) owned by Interserve. After privatisation in February 2015, Purple Futures introduced a new operational model that included ‘significant staffing cuts’, the unions say. They add that the changes led to a marked deterioration in working conditions, with occupational stress the top cause of sickness absence. The unions embarked on a survey to support their negotiations with management for improvements to work practices. They say the ‘striking findings’ of the study showed workers were being pressured into undertaking excessive work, over long hours at a high pace. Nine out of ten (89 per cent) respondents said that they often or always have to work very intensively and 79 per cent reported they often or always have to work very fast. Six out of ten (61 per cent) said they often or always have unrealistic time pressures. Almost half of all respondents reported they are unable to take sufficient breaks, are pressured to work long hours and often or always have unachievable deadlines. Napo and UNISON are now calling on Purple Futures to follow Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines and establish a joint working group to oversee the stress identification and management process, and for this group to include adequate trade union representation. They are also calling on the company to “remove the triggers for stress in the workplace and provide a safe system of work for all Purple Futures staff in relation to workload” and to “ensure that individual and group stress risks assessment are completed and reviewed when necessary, and that trade union health and safety reps are involved in the risk assessment process”. They say the company should also “agree with the unions a workload management tool, which provides all staff with the reassurance that their workloads will be set according to strict criteria to protect both staff health and safety and public protection.”
Young people employed at a Sunderland call centre are being required to work longer shifts with fewer breaks than are required by law, a union has charged. GMB, the union for workers at the Parseq call centre on Doxford Park, is calling on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the conciliation service Acas to conduct an audit into the company’s application of the Working Time Regulations. This law, introduced as a health and safety measure, includes tighter stipulations on the hours worked by young workers. These limit their working hours to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Young workers are also entitled to two days off each week and a 30-minute rest break after 4.5 hours of work. GMB said it has written to Parseq to request a meeting to discuss its concerns but said the company had declined the union’s offer. Chris Preston, GMB regional organiser, said: “GMB members at Parseq have complained to the union that young people under 18 are required to work longer shifts and have fewer breaks than the Working Time Regulations state. Other people aged over 18, who have not ‘opted out’ of the regulations, end up working well above the 48-hour week, averaged out over 17 weeks.” He added: “These concerns by GMB members should be investigated immediately and GMB calls on the Health and Safety Executive and Acas to conduct a Working Time Directive audit to check that the law is being adhered to and not being abused.” The union organiser said GMB would cooperate fully with an audit. It is concerned the company is sometimes operating a mandatory overtime system, or forcing those refusing “to work a later shift on a Friday as punishment. This is exactly the sort of treatment that has forced GMB members to have to operate in secret inside Parseq like some sort of North East Underground Resistance. GMB's written request for a meeting with Parseq to discuss these and other concerns has been declined but our offer to meet remains open.”
Understaffing is forcing school support staff to take on jobs outside their job descriptions and is leaving pupils inadequately protected, UNISON has warned. The education union says school administrators, business managers and finance workers are regularly administering first aid, handing out medicines to pupils and conducting criminal record checks because of cuts in staff numbers. The union’s survey of 1,400 school office employees reveals that administrative and finance staff carry out many duties that are crucial to the running of schools. These activities go way beyond the support role suggested by their job titles, and have a direct impact on the quality of learning and pupil safety, the union says. The survey shows that office staff are key to keeping school children safe. UNISON warns Conservative plans to merge support staff or share them between schools could put children’s health and well-being at risk as staff are already overstretched, with excessive workloads their top concern (87 per cent). UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “These employees play a vital role keeping children safe, reassuring parents and ensuring the smooth and cost-effective running of schools. Without them, already overstretched teachers and teaching assistants could be pulled out of classrooms.”
Almost a third of school support staff have been injured in a violent attack at work and many report they are attacked on weekly basis, a survey by the union GMB has found. The union says the ‘disturbing statistics’ from its nationwide survey of members found almost one in five support staff (18 per cent) experience violence on a weekly basis, and nearly a third (30 per cent) have been injured in violent incidents at school. Over half of the attacks (57 per cent) were by a pupil. Incidents highlighted in the GMB study including members of staff being strangled, punched, kicked, having tables and chairs thrown at them and working in fear of violent gangs marauding the school corridors. Karen Leonard, GMB national officer, said: “No one should have to put up with being attacked while at work – and our members are no different.” She added: “The results of this survey make truly disturbing reading, with teaching assistants, caretakers, lunch time supervisors and more experiencing shocking levels of violence. Many are left with terrible mental and physical scars. GMB demands a zero tolerance approach to violence in schools – with proper, reliable support systems in place for those who do experience it.”
Rail union RMT is warning that plans for driver only trains could heighten the terror risks faced by passengers. Calling for an urgent safety summit, the union revealed that under-threat train guards have been given a crucial role in combatting the terrorist activity. A management instruction to guards notes: “If you are a conductor [Guard] you should continue to make security announcements at appropriate points throughout your journey, advising customers to keep bags and belongings with them and report any suspicious activity to a member of staff or British Transport Police.” Yet despite this crucial role, the union says rail bosses are seeking to remove guards from Southern, Northern and Merseyrail services. RMT is calling for a summit involving politicians, the rail industry, transport police and unions, seeking assurances that security concerns are put at the forefront of decisions on frontline railway staffing. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Rail staff are required to follow strict procedures to help reduce the risk of terrorist attacks. But if you remove the guarantee of the guard on trains or cut the number of station staff you will reduce the frequency of the security checks and security announcements that could be vital in preventing a terrorist attack.” He added: “We would hope that there would now be an industry and political consensus to say that we should not be taking guards off trains and staff off our stations. We are calling for a summit of politicians, the industry, transport police and unions to ensure that security concerns are put at the forefront of decisions on frontline staffing.”
Courier firm Hermes is putting its drivers and the public at serious avoidable risk by cutting corners in the interest of profit, the union GMB has said. The union is seeking clarification from the Association of British Insurers regarding Hermes’ insurance practices. It says the firm misleads potential drivers by failing to stress their insurance companies must be told they are using their own vehicle for business purposes. GMB says Hermes dodges its responsibility to check proper insurance cover is in place by asking drivers to acknowledge they “understand that motor insurance is required to deliver and collect parcels and/or catalogues on behalf of Hermes.” Any drivers who have failed to notify their insurer are likely to find their entire insurance is void. According to GMB, if a driver does not return an ‘insurance decision letter’ to Hermes then they are automatically included by Hermes in a scheme operated by the insurer QBE, on a third party basis only and charged to the driver at 55 pence per day. But it says drivers who believe that they will be getting proper top-up insurance are being “seriously misled.” Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Hermes are deliberately dodging their responsibility to make sure their drivers are properly insured for business purposes, and are in fact knowingly misleading hard working Hermes drivers into thinking they have proper cover.” He added: “GMB has serious concerns that Hermes is putting their drivers and the public at serious risk by cutting corners in the interests of profit. GMB is calling on the Association of British Insurers to lend their voice to ensure that Hermes behaves responsibly.”
Up to 10 million workers - or nearly a third of the UK workforce - do not have secure employment, according to the union GMB union. The union’s research warns that this precarious employment – defined as those in the gig economy, on zero or short hours contracts, temporary workers, the underemployed and those at risk of bogus self-employment - is damaging people’s health. The findings come ahead the anticipated publication this month of recommendations from Matthew Taylor’s review into the gig economy (Risks 802). The GMB poll questioned 1,000 precarious workers and found six out of 10 (61 per cent) had suffered stress or anxiety as a result of their current job, with the same proportion reporting they had been to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on future hours. Almost eight out of 10 (78 per cent) previously had permanent employment, which GMB said highlights the changing nature of the workplace. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “We hear a lot about employment figures, well this research shows the today’s job market is based on a shaky foundation of insecure work where people are doing their best but still not able to get on. Insecure work impacts on people’s health, their families and whether they are able to plan for the future.” He added: “There is a political choice to be made. Our workforce, communities and indeed the Treasury is paying the price of insecure work, it's not fair and it's not sustainable.” A TUC study released on 2 June found that 1 in 13 BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) employees are in insecure jobs, compared to 1 in 20 white employees. It said there are over three million BAME employees in the UK, of whom nearly a quarter of a million are in zero-hours or temporary work.
While much has been said about the employment rights abuses of the ‘gig’ workforce, the attention of the medical community is only belatedly turning to the damaging health impact of insecure work. However, one academic is now calling for a “Gighall” study — paralleling to the landmark Whitehall studies into the health of UK civil servants that demonstrated the less power you have in the workplace, the greater your risk of ill-health. Quantifying the damaging effect on health of precarious work could prove less straightforward. Gig work is often conducted privately, in cars and homes, from bicycles and motorbikes, instead of from a shared workplace, so basic hazards, such as fatigue associated with long hours, can go unnoticed. Gig workers, who tend to be classified as independent contractors, are also not generally eligible for sick pay or compensation for injury. Molly Tran, assistant professor of public health at the State University of New York, recently urged professional organisations, such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, to take notice of the potential dangers to workers’ health associated with the gig economy. “As occupational medicine specialists, we have a fundamental ethical responsibility to promote social justice,” she notes in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Chris Yuill, a lecturer in medical sociology at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, told the Financial Times: “It’s an illusion that these people can work when they want. In Aberdeen I walk past a spot in the city where young men hang out, just waiting to get a call. There are the usual health and safety concerns, such as having to make a certain number of deliveries in a certain time, but what’s the psychosocial effect of waiting for that message to come up, telling you you’ve got your next job? We need to understand the effects, because we associate being in control with good health. And there are good indications that workers [in the gig economy] do not have high levels of control.” He added: “We need a ‘Gighall’ study. There’s been a change in the way that work is organised in our economies. People are working quite long shifts to make a basic income. People are also spending their wages in order to work.” Delivery couriers and taxi drivers often supply and maintain their own vehicles. “We need to ask: what is happening and, also, what is it good for? Does it produce a way of life that we think is acceptable in our society?”
Ÿ Financial Times.Molly Tran and Rosemary Sokas. The Gig Economy and Contingent Work: An Occupational Health Assessment, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 59, issue 4, pages e63-e66, April 2017.
Work factors including a lack of paid sick leave, job insecurity and workplace bullying are linked to worse health status, a study has found. The research from the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked at data from 10,767 adults employed across many occupations who participated in the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. It found workers with no paid sick leave were 35 per cent more like likely to report fair or poor health. Workers who were worried about becoming unemployed were 43 per cent more like likely to report fair or poor health. Those who reported difficulty combining work and family were 23 per cent more likely to report fair or poor health and workers who reported being bullied at work were 82 per cent more likely to report fair or poor health. According to NIOSH: “Work is an important determinant of health. The influence of work on a person’s health manifests in various ways, such as: Employment conditions, how the work is organised, specific job-related tasks, exposures to hazardous agents, and long work hours. Work-life balance takes on a whole new meaning when these issues are perceived by the workers themselves as having a negative effect on their well-being.”
Public sector workers are more likely to feel anxious at work and take sick days for their mental health than those in the private sector, according to a new study. The charity Mind asked 12,000 UK employees about their mental health. It found 48 per cent in the public sector took time off because of mental health issues, compared with 32 per cent in the private sector. Mind also found 15 per cent of public sector workers - of which there are 5.4 million in the UK - said their mental health was poor, compared with 9 per cent in the private sector. Among public sector workers, 53 per cent said they have felt anxious at work on several occasions over the last month, compared with 43 per cent of their private sector counterparts. The research suggested public sector workers were more likely to speak up if they were suffering mental health problems. Of those with a mental health problem, 90 per cent of public sector staff disclosed it to their employer, compared with 80 per cent in the private sector. The public sector workers surveyed said they had taken an average of three sick days in the past year for a mental health issue, compared with an average of one sick day for those in the private sector. However, only 49 per cent said they felt supported after disclosing mental health issues, compared with 61 per cent in the private sector. Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “It's clear there is still a long way to go in both the public and private sector to address the gap between people asking for support and actually getting what they need.” He added: “By promoting well-being for all staff, tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems and supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems, organisations can help keep people at work and create mentally healthy workplaces where people are supported to perform at their best.”
A Scottish farming company has been fined £50,000 after one of its workers was crushed to death when a trench collapsed in on him. Gary Coutts was carrying out drainage works for AT Wilson & Co at Mains of Annochie Farm in Auchnagatt, Ellon, when the soil caved in and left him trapped on 28 January last year. Colleagues frantically dug away piles of mud that was pinning him inside as they fought to free the 32-year-old. Paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after, but it was too late. The cause of death was given at a post mortem as a closed blunt force head injury. At Aberdeen Sheriff Court the firm admitted failing to carry out a proper risk assessment before they started carrying out the work. Fiscal depute Richard Brown said Gary Coutts had climbed down into the trench, which was 6ft high, 4.5ft wide and 46ft long, to clear material from the old drainage system. “At this time, a crack appeared in the right hand side of the trench. This wall then collapsed into the trench and onto Gary Coutts, tightly pinning him to the opposite wall,” he said. The Health and Safety Executive found no written risk assessment had been carried out and none of the recommended control measures were implemented to reduce the level of risk involved. “There was no means that the trench could be accessed/exited safely. A ladder could have been provided but was not done,” the fiscal depute said. These could have included shoring equipment to reinforce the walls or to batter back the walls. Fining the company £50,000, Sheriff Alison Sterling said: “I take the view that this is a serious case for two reasons. Firstly, Mr Coutts lost his life. Secondly, this was foreseeable and avoidable.”
A Birmingham engineering company has been fined after a worker suffered life changing injuries as a result of a horrific incident. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard that on 21 March 2016 the worker at Pipework Engineering Services Limited (PESL) was operating a foot pedal saw when he came into contact with the rotating blade. The 35-year old severed his hand and wrist, which required surgery to reattach. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found PESL failed to install the machine correctly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, meaning that it could be operated from a position that took the operator very close to the saw’s moving blade. Pipework Engineering Services Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £24,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2087.16. HSE principal inspector Geoffrey Brown said: “The company failed to ensure the machinery was set up in a safe manner and as a result the worker suffered life changing injuries. To prevent future, similar accidents it is essential that duty holders install and set up machines correctly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.”
Unions and a safety enforcer have condemned an Australian federal court ruling that limits the ability of union health and safety representatives to take action to remedy health and safety breaches. WorkSafe, the official safety regulator for the state of Victoria, said the decision in favour of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC) requires that when a health and safety representative (HSR) seeks occupational health and safety (OHS) assistance from a person who is also a union official, the union official is required to hold a federal entry permit. Criticising the ruling, WorkSafe said safety reps “play a significant role in keeping workplaces safe, and the power they have to seek advice from external safety experts is an important tool in their prevention armoury. Today’s decision has a serious impact on this critical element of the Victorian OHS system.” The regulator added: “WorkSafe strongly supports HSRs being able to call on any person with sufficient health and safety knowledge to assist them to resolve OHS risks in the workplace. We continue to maintain that the safety of workers in Victorian workplaces is paramount and should not be constrained.” Luke Hilakari, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, said: “Health and safety representatives can’t waste time jumping through hoops to please the ABCC when workers’ lives are at risk. The safety of workers is their first priority, and it should be the government’s.” The head of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's safety team, Gerry Ayers, said he was shocked at the ruling. “There simply shouldn't be any impediment for any occupational health and safety representative to seek the assistance of anyone who’s qualified and has the expertise to assist with safety,” he said. The CFMEU said it may seek special leave to appeal the decision to the High Court. WorkSafe Victoria said it was “considering its options”.
In Cambodia’s booming construction industry, where up to 250,000 workers toil on building projects during peak season, labourers wear sandals or flip-flops and cloth gloves, if they have gloves at all. One-third are women, who receive lower wages and are limited to the least skilled tasks that offer no opportunities for training and advancement. These construction workers risk their lives each day on the job, scaling tall structures without harnesses, helmets or other safety equipment and often are not paid for weeks. The country’s lack of a labour inspection system allows employers to avoid fines or other punitive measures when workers are injured. As a result, construction workers do not have access to fundamental workplace rights like the protective equipment required by law. Workers also receive little or no safety training. “Based on a report we conducted in 2015, we discovered that more than 2,000 construction workers have been injured on construction sites,” says Yann Thy, secretary-general of Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC). “Out of this figure, 36 died.” Yet when they seek to form unions and improve their working conditions, they often suffer retaliation, violence and imprisonment, in common with garment workers and other workers across Cambodia, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Cambodia is now one of 10 countries ranked the worst for working people, according to the ITUC’s annual Global Rights Index.
The leader of the global union confederation ITUC has joined a union teach-in in South Korea to mark the 600th day of protest against labour and safety abuses by the electronics multinational Samsung. Since 7 October 2015, the campaign group SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to compensate its occupational disease victims and provide a “sincere and full” apology. On 29 May this year Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, visited the site families of Samsung’s cluster victims and campaigners have occupied in protest at Samsung’s decision to end negotiations. “Thanks for your amazing tenacity in holding this company to account,” Burrow told the SHARPS activists and supporters. “I am bringing with me the solidary of 180 million workers around the world.” Burrow focused her 30-minute talk on Samsung’s vast global supply chains, which she said are plagued by rampant violations of labour and human rights. She pointed to ITUC’s research that has established the multinational relies on multi-layered, complex supply chains to hire casual workforces globally. Samsung claims there are 320,000 workers in its supply chains. However, the global union body found there were 1.5 million Samsung supply chain workers across the world, many of them working on short-term contracts for sub-subsistence wages. At a 30 May meeting with South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, Burrow raised SHARPS campaign, along with other major labour concerns in South Korea.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has told unions they should leave it to DOJ attorneys to defend a crucial Obama-era workplace safety regulation under attack from the business lobby. The rule that DOJ says it will defend on the unions’ behalf was adopted by the federal safety regulator OSHA in May 2016 and concerns the reporting of injuries by employers. According to Celeste Monforton, a prominent safety academic based at Texas State University, the law “is being threatened by a frivolous lawsuit brought the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Home Builders, and the National Chicken Council.” Writing in The Pump Handle blog, she says the national union federation AFL-CIO and steelworkers’ union USW responded with a motion to intervene in the case, to defend the OSHA rule. They argue they should be granted the right to participate in the lawsuit because they represent millions of workers who are affected by the new regulation and they were active participants in the rulemaking proceedings which led to the new OSHA reporting rule. But in a brief dated 30 May, DOJ attorneys told the court that the unions do not meet all of the requirements to justify being a party to the litigation. The briefing notes: “The unions do not satisfy the fourth requirement because they have not shown — and could not show — that the government would inadequately represent their interests.” According to Monforton: “In other words, the unions should rely on Trump’s DOJ to defend OSHA’s regulation… This is the same Trump administration that is requiring agencies to identify two regulations to repeal for any single regulation the agency may want to implement. It’s also the same Trump administration that has teams set up in every agency to identify regulations to repeal, replace, or modify. And the same Trump administration that has already suspended indefinitely the compliance date for this exact OSHA injury reporting rule [Risks 793]. So why would unions trust this administration to defend the rule vigorously against the Chamber of Commerce et al’s frivolous lawsuit?” She said in OSHA’s 47-year history, “it is unprecedented for the government to object to a union intervening to defend an OSHA regulation. But I’ve gotten used to the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘Trump’ being used in the same sentence.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).