|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.
They TUC plans to publish a report on 40 years of trade union health and safety representatives in October this year, to mark the anniversary of their lifesaving role. The union body is now calling for case studies showing the difference that safety representatives have made since they were introduced with the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977. “As the aim is to emphasise the importance and value of the regulations, and of safety representatives, we need positive stories,” said TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “It can be any time over the past 40 years, and can include groups of health and safety representatives or work through safety committees. All we ask is that the example illustrates that there was a difference in the workplace as a result of having trade union health and safety representatives.” He said the TUC wants safety reps to give accounts of their safety breakthroughs in their own words, together with the who, why, where and when of how it happened. “The information we need is the name of the representative; the union; the employer; what was done and what was achieved. References to safety reps training and joint safety committees would be helpful. Case studies should be at least 200 words and no more than 500.” The TUC safety specialist added: “It would also be useful to get testimonies from any union health and safety reps who were safety reps/safety stewards before 1977 to talk about the difference that the regulations have made.”
Unions are calling on the new Conservative minority government to abandon its cuts agenda and to shore up employment rights. The union comments came as key government figures acknowledged a string of manifesto commitments will have to be shelved or revised after Theresa May’s bid to increase the government’s majority backfired dramatically. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This election has sent out the clearest possible message that the British people have rejected the Tory programme of cuts, austerity, privatisation and division.” He added the union was now calling for “an immediate halt to the push to axe the guards on our trains. That was a political policy driven by the Tory Party and should now be buried under the weight of votes that have racked up against Theresa May and her programme. There is no mandate for diluting safety on our transport services.” Firefighters’ union FBU said Theresa May’s “disastrous election result will mean the end to a round of cuts that, had they continued, would have cut fire and rescue service funding in half over a decade.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Theresa May now has no mandate to continue with the policy of endless cuts that put the safety and health of the public at risk.” He added: “Our members are very proud of the fire and rescue service, but it now needs investment, not more decimating cuts.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This election was about bread and butter issues - what needs to change for ordinary working people.” She added: “The next government must deliver a new deal for working people. They should implement popular policies from the campaign – like banning zero-hour contracts, pushing up the minimum wage and delivering a long overdue pay rise for nurses, midwives and all public servants. And it’s clear that there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit. The government should go back to the drawing board and negotiate a Brexit deal that puts UK jobs, decent wages and workers’ rights first.”
A planned curb on zero-hours contracts for thousands of care workers unveiled by the Welsh government has been given welcomed by the union UNISON. But the union says the chronic UK wide underfunding of the service also needs to be addressed. Under the proposals for Wales, workers will be given the choice after three months of whether they want to carry on with the arrangement or move onto a minimum-hours contract. The measures also aim to tackle so-called ‘call-clipping’, when care time is cut short by travel between visits. Research found a “substantial number” of workers caring for people in their own homes were on zero-hours contracts. Most of the estimated 18,000 care workers in Wales work for private care companies. Under the new Welsh government proposals, employers would have to offer the care worker a range of contracts, including a minimum-hours contract based on the average hours previously worked. Social services minister Rebecca Evans said: “While some staff prefer zero-hours contracts, valuing the flexibility they can offer, for many the uncertainty and insecurity they pose can have a hugely-detrimental impact on their lives.” She said the plans, which have gone out for consultation, “will ensure employees have a choice. After three months of employment, they will be able to choose whether to move onto another zero-hours contract, or take up alternative contractual arrangements." UNISON Cymru's organiser Andy Rutherford said the care sector had been starved of money through UK government cutbacks, and zero-hours contracts were a symptom. “Yes, the Welsh government is to be commended for taking action here, but let's look at the procurement process as a priority. Councils should not be allowed to pass the buck," he said. Ministers want the new rules to come into force in April 2019.
A new survey has confirmed that workload pressures on teachers in Scotland are growing, with implications for morale in schools and on the learning environment. Scottish teaching union EIS undertook the representative workload survey of members across Scotland. It says the findings indicate that cuts to staffing, coupled with ‘significant’ changes to the curriculum and reforms to assessment and qualifications, are now pushing teachers ‘to breaking point.’ EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the survey results “make for worrying reading. The findings indicate that the pressures on teachers are excessive and growing.” He added: “A startling 87 per cent of respondents indicated that their workload has increased during the past year – with around a third of all respondents indicating that their workload has increased significantly.” The union leader said levels of workload satisfaction were also down, with 19 per cent of respondents stating they were ‘not at all satisfied’ with their current workload compared to 10 per cent in the union’s previous survey. “The results of this survey highlight that teachers increasingly feel overworked, underpaid and underappreciated,” Larry Flanagan said. “Declining staff numbers, coupled with significant curricular and assessment changes, have led to substantial workload burdens being placed on staff.” He warned that workload and pay pressures must be ‘addressed urgently’ if a recruitment crisis in teaching is to be averted.
Transport union RMT has written to the home secretary Amber Rudd urging her to abandon a proposal in the widely-derided Tory manifesto to abolish the British Transport Police (BTP). The union, whose letter was delivered two days before Rudd narrowly defended her Hastings and Rye seat in the general election last week, said the government must protect security on the transport network by halting cuts to the frontline staff who are trained to help prevent a terrorist attack. The union said it was ‘pure hypocrisy’ for ministers to praise transport police and rail staff one day and then cut them the next. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Rail staff are the eyes and ears of the rail network who are especially trained to help prevent terrorist attacks yet one day the government is praising rail workers as heroes and next day they are cutting rail workers- it is not only hypocrisy it is also pure folly.” He also criticised Conservative manifesto plans to abolish the BTP. “Not only will this increase the terrorist threat by diluting a specialist police operation on the railway it will also mean that the force will be subject to a major reorganisation and no doubt cuts when it should be focusing on the terrorist threat. We are repeating calls for an urgent security summit and seeking an urgent meeting with the home secretary.”
Conservative MP David Gauke has replaced Damian Green as work and pensions secretary, and will head the department responsible for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Gauke, a relatively unknown MP who was previously chief secretary to the treasury, was appointed in Theresa May’s low key post-election Cabinet reshuffle. Previously a solicitor, he said he was “delighted and honoured” to have been appointed to the role overseeing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The majority of the Cabinet remains unchanged after rumoured plans for a more radical reshuffle were abandoned in the fall-out from the election, where the Tories won just 318 seats and lost their Commons majority. Penny Mordaunt retains her position in DWP as minister of state for disabled people, health and work, with her responsibilities including oversight of the Health and Safety Executive and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The government was warned earlier this year of the deadly danger posed by fire safety failings in tower blocks, as it emerged it had earlier shelved indefinitely a promised fire safety review. The government’s inaction was brought under new scrutiny this week after at least a dozen people died when a fire ripped through a West London residential block in the early hours of 14 June. The March 2017 warning came in report into a July 2009 fire in the 14-storey Lakanal House in South London, in which six people died. The All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group of MPs called for a fire safety review in the wake of the tragedy. However, the government’s subsequent commitment to review fire safety requirements in the building regulations was delayed and has yet to take place. There are still 4,000 tower blocks that are under the same old building regulations as those in Lakanal House. It's not clear whether the 27-storey Grenfell Tower, where this week’s horrific blaze broke out, was built according to those regulations. At least 12 people died in the fire, with many more in a critical condition in hospital. The fatalities total is expected to rise. Tenants at Grenfell Tower had warned repeatedly about the risk of deadly fire at the building. They said they had “predicted a catastrophe” but claimed their safety warnings “fell on deaf ears”. A 20 November 2016 blog posting by the Grenfell Action Group predicted “only a catastrophic event” would result in tenants’ concerns being heard. It added: “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of… residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur”. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU, said: “The thoughts of firefighters from all over the UK will be with the victims of this devastating tragedy and their families. Lives have been lost, many people have suffered serious injuries and others will be made homeless as a result of the fire.” He added: “A full investigation will need to be undertaken at the first possible opportunity to establish exactly what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident happening again.” Prime minister Theresa May said there would be a full investigation and “if there are any lessons to be learned they will be.”
The family of a former clay dryer who died of an occupational dust disease four years ago has received a five-figure compensation settlement. Walter Patton, from St Austell, died aged 83 in February 2013, with an inquest into this death finding his death was a result of kaolin pneumoconiosis linked to his employment. Walter had worked at English Clays’ Lovering Pochin & Company (ECLP), latterly known as Imerys Minerals Ltd, in the 1950s and 1960s. Personal injury lawyers retained by Walter’s son, Brian, have now secured a settlement of £52,500 from Imerys Minerals. Solicitor Alex Storey, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, was able to negotiate the payout after securing valuable information on the dusty conditions at the firm from Walter’s former workmates. He said: “This case highlights the terrible impact that exposure to clay dust over a number of years can have on workers, particularly when employers fail to provide adequate protective equipment.” Brian said his father started work for ECLP around 1950, with his role as a clay dryer and labourer seeing him employed at both the Methrose Dryers and Blackpool Dryers sites. He left the job in the late 1960s. “I remember visiting Dad at work when I was a child and seeing him covered head to toe in dust. There were certainly no face masks or protective equipment to prevent him from breathing it in.” He added: “While I remember Dad struggling with breathlessness in the years leading up to his death, he actually did not tell me about his illness until just a few weeks before he passed away… Securing a settlement is a huge relief, but our biggest hope is that lessons are learned from Dad’s story so that no one else ever faces the same issues again. We are also hugely thankful to everyone who helped with the witness appeal, as that information was vital to us getting the justice we feel we deserved.”
Vertellus Specialties UK Limited has been fined after an uncontrolled fire at the company’s Seal Sands premises in Middlesbrough. Teesside Crown Court heard the large fire occurred at the premises in the early hours of 14 May 2014. The fire involved large quantities of dangerous substances including Vitride, which led to this fire being declared a major incident. The Vitride was in sealed drums that burst open while being heated in ‘hot box’ ovens, causing an explosion and large fireball. Rosalind Scott Bell, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), told the court there was “significant risk to life” as a large fire started in one of the ovens. She said: “There were a number of members of staff on site at the time when the explosion took place. Had any of them been in the vicinity of the hot box, they would almost certainly have suffered serious or fatal injuries.” She told how site senior management were told the hot box had been overheating that day, but did not intervene to stop the operation. Staff wrongly believed there was an automatic trip if the temperatures rose too high, said Ms Scott Bell. No one was injured, but police declared a major emergency and the road was closed for several hours. Eleven fire engines, an ambulance and a police helicopter attended the scene. An investigation by HSE, the Environment Agency (EA) and Cleveland Fire Brigade (CFB) found that Vertellus failed to adequately maintain its equipment and failed to ensure the equipment was suitable to control temperature or prevent ignition to an uncontrolled release. Vertellus Specialties UK, which has a turnover in the region of £25 million, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and was fined £135,000 and ordered to pay costs of £37,632.72.
A roofing company has been convicted of criminal safety offences after members of the public called regulators about dangerous work practices. Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard G&S Roofing Limited had twice ignored written advice to address the issue of working at height in an unsafe manner. In August 2016, a further concern was raised by a member of the public who contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after seeing operatives hired by G & S Roofing working unsafely at height. Inspectors visited the site and found one of the operatives working on the flashings of a chimney from a ladder resting on the pitch of the roof at the unguarded gable end of the two storey house. There were no suitable measures in place to prevent a person falling from the gable end. A stop work prohibition notice was served but the company took no action to rectify the dangerous working conditions. G&S Roofing Ltd was found guilty in its absence of breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,574. HSE inspector Rebekah Dunn said: “The dangers associated with working at height are well-known and G&S Roofing had a duty to protect all operatives from the risk of falling from height. Despite repeated advice, the company failed to put in adequate precautionary measures. It is vital for duty-holders to ensure that all issues related to health and safety are suitably addressed, particularly when the issues are highlighted.”
Cargo handling company Dnata Limited has been fined over £500,000 after criminal safety failings in its handling of radioactive materials were discovered by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that on 23 April 2015 an HSE specialist radiation inspector attended the firm’s Middlesex site and identified breaches of the lonising Radiations Regulations 1999. The regulator served two improvement notices on the company requiring compliance by no later than 12 June 2015. However, a follow up visit on 2 July 2015 found Dnata Limited had not complied with the requirements of one of the notices. Shielding provided by the dedicated radioactive substances store was still inadequate. Dnata Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and on 24 May was fined £534,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8816.24. HSE principal inspector John Crookes said: “Dnata failed to comply with enforcement action, and put employees at risk of exposure to ionising radiation, by failing to install the appropriate level of shielding in the radioactive substances store.”
A multinational waste company has been handed a six figure fine after one of its workers received severe burns. The SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Tees Valley Ltd site at Haverton Hill, Stockton-On-Tees processes waste and burns it to create energy. Teesside Crown Court heard that on 17 October 2014 a worker at the site was seriously scalded by hot ash and water. Following a blockage on one of its lines, the worker had opened two hatches on a chute that takes the burnt waste away. He used a metal pole to dislodge the blockage of waste, that then fell into a pit filled with water, causing a plume of hot ash and steam to erupt from the hatches. The worker suffered severe burns to his upper body and face as he turned to escape. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to adequately consider the risk workers were exposed to during this task. It was also found the company failed to implement appropriate systems to manage and supervise this workplace activity. This meant the limited measures they had put in place were not followed. SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Tees Valley Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £220,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,695.65. Judge Deborah Sherwin, sentencing, said: “It seems to me there were breaches that had existed over a number of years prior to February 2014 and afterwards. The risk of an accident such as this was an obvious risk.” The firm was “on the cusp of medium to high culpability,” she said. Parent company SUEZ has almost 84,000 employees in 70 countries.
A United Nations agency has again added its voice to calls for a global asbestos ban. A new World Health Organisation (WHO) factsheet, released on 13 June at the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Ostrava, Czech Republic, notes: “There is no evidence for a safe threshold for the carcinogenic effect of asbestos. As increased cancer risks have been observed in populations exposed to a very low level, the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases it to stop using all forms of asbestos.” The factsheet adds: “All forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic to humans.” Chrysotile is the only form of asbestos still in commercial use, and has been the subject of a well-resourced and ongoing global promotional campaign by the asbestos industry (Risks 799). The UN agency warns that most workers worldwide affected by frequently fatal asbestos diseases have no access to compensation. It argues there is no business case for continuing asbestos use. “There are no observable mid- or long-term negative economic impacts from bans or a decline in asbestos production or consumption at the country levels, nor observable persistent negative effects at the regional level,” the factsheet notes. Instead it warns: “There are substantial and increasing costs associated with the continuing production and use of asbestos. The long-term negative effects far outweigh any short-term economic benefits. Substantial health costs, long-term remediation and additional litigation costs further reinforce banning all uses and the production of asbestos as early as possible in favour of sustainable and healthy economic development.”
A South Korean man who lost his vision in his twenties making Samsung smartphones has testified before a United Nations (UN) committee. Kim Yeong-shin said he lost his sight as a result of exposure to the solvent methanol while working for a Samsung Electronics subcontractor. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, the 29-year-old explained that after working at a mobile phone supplier for Samsung in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, for just two weeks in January 2015, he suffered methanol poisoning and loss of vision. “I lost my vision and suffered brain damage while making your mobile phones. I worked at a third-tier supplier for Samsung Electronics for 12 hours a day for two weeks without a single day off. We were used and thrown away like disposable paper cups, and no one told us… that methanol was dangerous for us,” Kim said. “There are at least five more young people in South Korea like me. They haven’t received any kind of response, apology or compensation. We haven’t gotten any justice either from the government or from the company.” He continued: “What we wanted was to live a happy life like other people. Samsung, LG and the South Korean government need to take responsibility.” The reason, Kim said as he wrapped up his speech, is that “our lives are more important than corporate profits.” Ryu Mi-kyung, international director of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), commented: “When Kim said that no one had told him that methanol was dangerous, I could hear sighs around the meeting room. All the national delegates listened intently to Kim’s speech, and when his speech was over, all the South Korean activists wept.”
Recent reports have highlighted the wide range of work factors leading to increasing work-related suicides worldwide. A University of Iowa (UI) study of suicides and homicides among farmers and agricultural workers across the US from 1992 to 2010 found 230 farmers killed themselves during that time, an annual suicide rate that ranged from 0.36 per 100,000 farmers to 0.95 per 100,000. The rate is well above that of workers in all other occupations, which never exceeded 0.19 per 100,000 during the same time period. Study co-author Corinne Peek-Asa, professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health, commented: “Occupational factors such as poor access to quality health care, isolation, and financial stress interact with life factors to continue to place farmers at a disproportionately high risk for suicide.” The higher rates of suicides seen in domestic workers in Lebanon have a very different cause. According to statistics obtained by the news agency IRIN from General Security, Lebanon’s intelligence agency, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of two per week. Many of the deaths are suicides or botched escape attempts in which migrant women choose to jump off buildings rather than continue working in abusive and exploitative situations. The death of a trainee doctor in Japan illustrates another common factor that can drive workers to kill themselves. The Labor Standards Inspection Office in Niigata on 31 May acknowledged that the suicide of a 37-year-old female trainee doctor who worked at the city’s general hospital had been caused by extremely long working hours. Kimoto Aya started working as an intern at the hospital in April 2015, and was sometimes forced to work 251 hours of overtime a month. Half a year later, she suffered from depression and finally killed herself in January 2016. A report in Hazards magazine this year warned: “Studies in the United States, Australia, France, Japan, China, India and Taiwan point to a steep rise in work suicides. Researchers have linked these suicides to a generalised deterioration of working conditions, including unmanageable workloads and increased job insecurity.” In March, the TUC warned the UK “is ignoring this major workplace killer” (Risks 793).
Ÿ University of Iowa news report. IRIN News. Japan Press.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.
Seventeen workers dying in the US between 2000 and 2015 isn’t enough to convince the methylene chloride industry that more is needed than just labels on a can to prevent the needless deaths of worker stripping bathtubs. Instead legal representatives of a solvents industry lobby group say the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ban on methylene chloride – also known as dichloromethane - as a paint stripper is a “blatant and raw power grab” of the authority that Congress gave the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Members of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, Inc (HSIA) include companies that make products containing methylene chloride, a chemical blamed for numerous deaths of bathtub refinishers. Jordan Barab, writing in the Confined Space blog, notes: “The industry is using the same old arguments that they use to object to every health and safety regulation issued by EPA or [workplace safety regulator] OSHA: the science isn’t good (the solvents industry also denies that the chemical causes cancer), ‘devastating’ impacts to small businesses, astronomically higher costs (and lower benefits) than EPA estimated, and ‘viable and effective regulatory alternatives, including enhanced labelling and consumer education and training requirements’.” A letter from WM Barr & Company, Inc notes that small business manufacturers “implored the agency not to move forward with a proposed rule that would require formulators to discontinue products that have been in use for generations in favour of alternative formulations that are less safe, or less effective and more expensive than the high-quality products we offer today.” Products containing methylene chloride are widely available at hardware and other retail stores across the US, with campaign group the Environmental Defense Fund warning that unless banned “there will surely be more avoidable deaths and other health impacts due to use of high-risk chemical paint strippers.” Methylene chloride use is heavily restricted in Europe and is banned from over-the-counter preparations (Risks 721).
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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