|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.
The TUC has welcomed a government announcement this week that cladding on hospitals and schools will be tested for safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but has expressed concern that those workplaces are tower blocks are being ignored. The union body says no guidance has been given to other employers who may have staff working in high-rise buildings. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Millions of people across the UK work in high-rise buildings, many of which could have cladding and insulation similar to that used in Grenfell Tower. Those workers need urgent reassurances about their safety, and if there is any risk to them, there must be immediate action.” She added: “The government should give advice to employers on how to ensure that their buildings are safe. That includes information about what types of cladding and insulation material may be dangerous, how to get samples tested and what remedial action they should take if their cladding fails safety tests.” She concluded: “The government needs to ensure that all high-rise buildings are made safe.” The New York Times has said the Grenfell Tower disaster was the consequence of ‘mindless deregulation’. The editorial urges US president Donald Trump to rethink his decision to adopt a deregulation programme modelled on that introduced by the Conservatives and implicated in the Grenfell Tower disaster. “Supporters of Mr Trump’s mechanistic two-for-one deregulation pretend that public health and safety would take care of themselves as business is freed of what they say are undue burdens. But this approach is not about safety or business burdens, it’s about increasing profits by reducing compliance costs,” the paper notes. “After the Grenfell Tower fire, the dangers of reflexive rejections of regulation, like Mr Trump’s executive order, are clearer.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has written to all MPs demanding that the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster is a judge-led full judicial inquiry. The FBU also says it must be a ‘core participant’ at the hearings, along with families of victims and survivors. It wants clarification from the prime minister on the inquiry’s scope and terms of reference. Dave Green, FBU national officer and a former firefighter, said: “Firefighters want justice for the victims of this appalling tragedy, and all of those who were affected by it. Firefighters responded with great courage and professionalism to this unprecedented fire, seeing sights that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They need to be heard as part of this inquiry.” The union’s letter to MPs included references to cuts to the fire and rescue service, with a new figure obtained via a Freedom of Information request confirming that 11,000 frontline firefighter jobs have been lost since 2010 – it says until recently the figure quoted was 10,000. This equates to almost one fifth of the entire workforce, which the FBU says puts public safety at risk. The FBU is also calling on the inquiry to address the decline in fire safety inspections which it says is impacting on public safety. The letter to MPs states: “As a result of the massive funding cuts to fire and rescue services, there has been a significant decline in the capacity of fire authorities to undertake crucial fire prevention work. Home safety checks in England have fallen by 25 per cent according to Home Office figures,” adding “there are fewer firefighters available to carry out this irreplaceable, life-saving work!” The government announced on 29 June that recently retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, formerly a commercial lawyer, is to lead the inquiry.
Construction union Unite is seeking urgent meetings with ministers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed a sharp drop in construction site safety inspections. The FOI response from the HSE revealed that the number of unannounced inspections in the construction industry fell by 14 per cent in just 12 months. In 2015/16 there were 9,219 inspections, but this fell to 7,912 in 2016/17. The reduction in inspections continues a downward trend, coming after a 4 per cent decrease in the previous 12 months. Unite says several academic studies have confirmed a clear correlation between the frequency of inspections and compliance with safety laws. Since receiving the FOI response, Unite has written to the HSE and David Gauke, the new work and pensions secretary, seeking meetings. Unite wants the secretary of state to spell out the government’s future plans for the HSE and safety laws. The HSE’s funding is set to be cut by 45 per cent, compared with what the organisation received in 2010, by 2019. Unite says successive Conservative governments have scrapped safety laws and there are concerns this legislative cull could increase as part of the Brexit process. The union is also calling on safety regulator HSE to explain the latest decrease in construction inspections and to say what strategies are being put in place to reverse the trend. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “These figures are alarming as they demonstrate a huge decrease in vital lifesaving inspections. Sadly there remain far too many employers who are all too willing to cut safety regulations and it is only the genuine prospect of an unannounced inspection which keeps them in check.” She added: “The government has slashed funding for the HSE and it is clear that it is increasingly struggling to make ends meet. With a new secretary of state in place Unite and our members need to know what plans he has for the HSE and safety laws. We also need answers from the HSE about whether they are taking steps to redress this fall in inspections and whether there are specific reasons for these reductions.”
New Brexit minister Steve Baker has lobbied the government to weaken asbestos laws, Unite has revealed. The union says it is concerned by the minister’s ‘alarming’ position and is demanding that the government now provide ‘cast-iron guarantees’ that asbestos regulations won’t be watered down. Much of the existing legislation, which bans the use of asbestos and controls how the substance is removed, is based on European Union directives. Unite says Mr Baker’s appointment raises concerns that when the Tory’s ‘Great Reform Bill’ becomes law, he will be able to use his position to weaken asbestos laws, bypassing effective parliamentary scrutiny. In October 2010, in a series of parliamentary questions regarding asbestos, the Conservative MP asked the secretary of state for work and pensions: “If he will bring forward proposals to amend the provisions of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 to distinguish the white form of asbestos and the blue and brown forms of that substance,” also questioning: “If he will commission an inquiry into the appropriateness of the health and safety precautions in force in respect of asbestos cement.” In a further question, Baker asked the minister if he would “bring forward proposals to amend existing regulations governing the safe use of asbestos cement…”. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is alarming that an MP who holds such extreme views on asbestos has been given such a sensitive position. It demonstrates the prime minister is more interested in appeasing hardline Brexiters, rather than the welfare of workers.” The new Brexit minister has also pressed for a relaxation of the rules on “end of life asbestos cement sheets on farms”, citing John Hoskins, one of the global asbestos industry’s go-to experts (Risks 743), to support his contention. Unite’s Gail Cartmail said: “Following these revelations it is essential that very senior government ministers give a cast-iron guarantee that the existing asbestos regulations will not be weakened or modified and the safety of workers will remain the priority. With thousands of people dying every year, directly as a result of being exposed to asbestos, the priority must be to ensure that the existing safety laws are adhered to and employers who ignore this life saving legislation are prosecuted and convicted.”
A GMB branch officer who was denied safety training has won a legal challenge against his local authority employer and has been awarded compensation. An employment tribunal in London Central ruled in favour of Grant Bennett and against London Borough of Camden on the right to time off for training under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act (TULRA) 1992. Grant is the health and safety branch officer for GMB, responsible for the Camden Branch, and was eligible under TULRA to time off for training to enable him to carry out his functions. The bus driver with Camden’s Accessible Travel Solutions department, who has been employed by the council since 2002, was awarded £2,500 in compensation plus the employment tribunal fees incurred. Helen Purcell, GMB London organiser, said: “GMB are over the moon about the tribunal's decision. Grant's dogged determination throughout this whole process is to be commended. It is disappointing that Camden Council sought to block our representative and defended the claim at tribunal.” She added: “Grant is delighted with the outcome and has maintained throughout that it is the declaration that is important to him. We hope that we can now move forward in a positive way to improve industrial relations and our representatives can go about their business without obstruction.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service is so over-stretched it is ‘begging’ its stressed-out workforce to give up their holidays to put in extra shifts. Unite says the ‘dangerously overstretched’ ambulance service needed workers to provide overtime cover, with management pleading with some workers to step in instead of going on holiday. Unite rep Jamie McNamee said: “All workers need a break away from their workplace to recover from the demands of the job. Ambulance workers particularly are faced with emergency situations on a daily basis, witnessing things most people won’t have to see in a lifetime. Yet ambulance service managers think it is OK to pressurise our members to work their holidays. It’s disgraceful.” He added: “Holiday leave is needed to recover from the pressures of a stressful and often traumatic work environment. Trade unions fought hard for holidays and we don’t intend to give them away because management can’t work their rotas properly. This is yet more evidence, as if we need it, of the crisis in our public services. We don’t believe the crisis in the Scottish Ambulance Service is being reported by management. Something needs to be done before lives are lost. If the Scottish Ambulance Service's managers feel they need extra cover over holiday periods, they should recruit more people to do it.” A survey of ambulance workers carried out by Unite found that 54.3 per cent suffer from stress. A further 94.5 per cent have said morale has worsened. 91.4 per cent said that staffing levels were insufficient and 90.4 per cent said they were suffering from fatigue.
Despite ‘dangerously high’ figures on laser attacks on aircraft, the new government has dropped plans to introduce tougher laws, a move the UK pilots’ union BALPA says is “infuriating and dangerous”. Before the general election, the union had welcomed a specific laser offence included in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. BALPA had been campaigning for the tougher laws in response to consistently high reports of laser attacks on planes year on year. Last year’s figures stood at more than 1,200 reported attacks. The new offence proposed that offenders could face up to five years in prison if they shone a laser at an aircraft. However, the union says it has learned the Bill will not now include the laser regulations. The union has warned repeatedly that shining a laser at aircraft is extremely dangerous, particularly in critical phases of flight such as take-off and landing, putting lives at risk. BALPA general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “It is infuriating to see the changes we’d hoped for appear to have been discarded. Not having this legislation is dangerous and puts the lives of passengers and crew at risk. The proposed tougher laws received cross-party support so it’s baffling that they have been dropped.” He added: “When a laser pen is pointed at an aircraft it can dazzle and distract the pilot, and has the potential to cause a crash. Last year’s incident figures remain dangerously high, with the equivalent of more than three laser attacks a day across the UK.”
Dozens of RMT members at Freightliner Coatbridge are set to strike in a dispute over bullying and harassment, after voting overwhelmingly for action. The move comes after one of the union's members was assaulted by a senior member of staff earlier this year. This is just the 'tip of the iceberg', according to employees, who are demanding management take action. RMT’s national executive said it believes that industrial action is necessary to force management to resolve the issues as a matter of urgency, with a 24-hour walkout scheduled to start on 3 July. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “On behalf of myself and the Executive Committee I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our members at Coatbridge for their show of strength and solidarity in supporting this very important dispute. Bullying and harassment from management is wholly unacceptable to the RMT and our membership and must be called to a halt.” He added: “The union has a zero tolerance policy of bullying and harassment and Freightliner should take note of the anger amongst the workforce and get this matter resolved. The union remains available for talks.”
Unite is seeking urgent answers after a crane collapse in Crewe killed two workers and injured several other people. The incident on 21 June occurred on a residential construction site operated by building firm Seddon. It is understood that a tower crane collapsed as it was being erected. David Newall, 36, from Bradford and Rhys Barker, 18, from Castleford were working for Falcon Tower Crane Services at the Seddon site. Both died at the scene from crush injuries. A third man – David Webb, 45, – was taken to Royal Stoke Hospital with serious injuries. Seddon chief executive Jonathan Seddon said the tragedy happened “during the erection of a tower crane by Falcon Tower Crane Services Ltd.” Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay said: “Workers on construction sites throughout the UK will now have serious questions and concerns about the safety of similar cranes. It is imperative that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigates and as a matter of urgency provides advice and reassurance to ensure that similar accidents cannot and will not happen again.” Falcon Crane Hire was prosecuted and fined £750,000 after two people were killed when one of its cranes collapsed in Battersea, south London in 2007 (Risks 291). The Notification of Tower Cranes Regulations, a cranes register introduced in the wake of the tragedy in 2010 to improve safety (Risks 446), were axed by the Conservatives as a part of ministers’ ‘war on red tape.’ Falcon Crane Hire and Falcon Tower Crane Services share the same Thetford premises and website.
Controversial government proposals to relax fire safety standards for new school buildings as a cost-cutting measure are to be dropped by ministers in a major policy u-turn following the Grenfell Tower fire, the Observer has reported. The move came shortly after firefighters’ union FBU and teaching unions NUT and ATL condemned the ‘shameful’ government plans and called on education minister Justine Greening to drop the proposal (Risks 805). The Observer said the move is evidence of a dramatic change of approach across government, from a previous preoccupation with deregulation and cost-saving to a safety-first attitude, in the aftermath of the west London tower block tragedy. It said across government, ministers have been ordered to look again at fire safety policies in their departments. An urgent rethink has been under way at the Department for Education (DfE), which had begun a consultation on official new draft guidance on fire safety in schools last year that was widely seen as a substantial watering down of safety requirements. Last week, in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the revised draft guidance disappeared from the DfE website. “Amid signs of panic, officials tried to insist that there had never been any intention to change policy,” the Observer reported. The paper says it “now understands that the proposals in the new draft guidance are to be taken back to the drawing board and that any sections which might be seen as weakening safety requirements – including the new language suggesting sprinklers are unnecessary – will be struck out.” Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Parents want to know that schools are safe for our children, and there are real questions for the government to answer. It would be completely unacceptable if they have attempted to water down safety requirements simply to make free schools cheaper or let developers make an easier profit.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
More than 800 organisations and individuals have now signed an open letter to UK prime minister Theresa May challenging the ‘arbitrary’ deregulation of health and safety. Sent to 10 Downing Street on 21 June, the letter calls for a shift in politicians’ attitudes towards health and safety regulation and fire risk management in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy (Risks 805). An original list of 70 signatories included the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the British Safety Council, the TUC, Unite and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). Within days this grew to over 800 signatories. Lawrence Waterman, who led health and safety for the London Olympic Delivery Authority, said: “We’re very willing indeed to sit down with the government to help ensure it promotes smart safety regulations that protect people without being overly burdensome – but it’s time to scrap the red tape initiative.” Last week TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the Grenfell Tower tragedy was in part testimony to “the government’s ideological obsession with deregulation.” He added we “need to ensure that the lessons are learned from the disaster so that our fire regulations and enforcement regime are as robust and effective as possible.” A 22 June New York Times editorial condemned the Tory red tape initiative as ‘mindless deregulation’ that has caused ‘senseless harm’. The Metropolitan Police has said its investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire will consider manslaughter charges.
Labour will halt the growing use of driver-only trains by private rail firms, Jeremy Corbyn had told transport workers. Speaking at rail union RMT’s annual meeting, the Labour leader also pledged to renationalise the railways. He said: “We want our railways run in the public interest, with fare rises capped, service levels improved, stations and trains safely staffed. That’s why we are opposed to the expansion of driver-only operated trains.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the Labour leader “set out a vision for the transport industry in Britain that frees us from the profiteering and fragmentation of privatisation. This would allow the public to own and control the services that they rely on. That is a clean break from more than two decades of the privatised rip-off that has consigned Britain to the transport slow lane.” He added: “The mood in the country has very clearly changed since the Tories called the general election. Cuts, austerity and privatised greed are on the way out and a Labour government with a programme dedicated to the many and not the few is waiting in the wings.”
Two construction companies have been fined after a 44-year old woman worker was struck by falling scaffolding. Weymouth Magistrates’ Court heard how employees of Carter Training Ltd were using a mobile crane on a site in Poundbury, Dorchester when the attachment holding 500 scaffold fittings weighing 2kg each was turned on its side, emptying its contents onto workers and the concrete floor 10.5 metres below. The injured worker suffered two fractures to her left shoulder blade, a fracture to her left collar bone, a cut to the back of her head and bruising. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the stillage attachment used on the crane was not suitable for lifting large quantities of heavy scaffolding equipment. Lifting the scaffolding directly above a number of contractors working below also put these workers at risk of harm. Principal contractor Zero C Holdings had failed to carry out an audit of all lifting plans and as a result failed to manage the risks associated with this lifting activity. The company did not have clear lines of communication with lifting company Carter Training Ltd and contractors working on the site. Zero C Holdings Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 and was fined £145,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,500. Carter Training (services) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the lifting regulations and was fined £18,000 plus £3,500 costs. HSE inspector Nicole Buchanan commented: “The worker is very lucky that her injuries were not life-threatening. Both Zero C Holdings and Carter Training put a number of workers at risk of harm when they failed to plan or identify the risks of heavy lifting.” She added: “This case highlights the need for duty holders to properly plan all lifting operations before work is carried out to manage the risk of injury to workers. Lifting directly above workers is inherently unsafe and should be avoided wherever possible.”
Over three million people – one in ten of the UK workforce – now face insecurity at work. Not only do they often face uncertainty about their working hours, they also miss out on rights and protections that many of us take for granted, including being able to return to the same job after having a baby, or the right to sick pay when they cannot work. A new TUC report, ‘The gig is up: Trade unions tackling insecure work’, shows the impact of insecurity at work on workers, and on the UK’s economy and public finances. It reports back from a TUC survey of people in insecure jobs, enabling them to communicate their experience of work in their own words. The report also sets out what policy-makers could do to ensure that the modern world of work is one in which everyone can have a decent job – not one of ever-increasing insecurity. The TUC says it wants policy-makers to: Help more workers to have voice at work; upgrade the framework of employment rights to make it fit for the twenty-first century; make sure these rights are properly enforced; and ensure that the tax, social security and pensions systems all encourage employers to offer decent jobs, and guarantees that everyone has a decent standard of living when they’re not at work.
The European Union and national governments must do more to support workplace health and safety reps tackle work-related strain injuries, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said. The union body says back, neck, shoulder pain and strain-related occupational conditions affecting hands, elbows and knees - known collectively as musculoskeletal disorders (or MSDs) – are the most common work-related disease in Europe. The most common causes are repetitive hand or arm movements, and sitting for long periods of time. ETUC says European directives put obligations on employers to prevent such disorders. But further action to prevent strain injuries has been stalled for a decade. “The EU needs to act to enforce existing legislation,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC general secretary, “and if necessary take new measures to end the costly plague of back, neck and shoulder pain. What is needed is proper risk assessment and involvement of workers and their safety reps in all workplaces.” Launching a new Europe-wide campaign for action to address strain injuries, the union leader added: “Health and safety is not red tape. Action is needed to save working people from unnecessary suffering, and save businesses from avoidable sick leave and compensation claims. The European Union cannot brush this under the carpet in the name of better regulation. What working people need is better protection and enforcement of at least existing legislation.”
The number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers has risen by 10 per cent in just one year, according to the annual ITUC Global Rights Index. The global union confederation says attacks on union members have been documented in fifty-nine countries, fuelling growing anxiety about jobs and wages. Its report shows that corporate interests are being put ahead of the interests of working people in the global economy, with 60 per cent of countries excluding whole categories of workers from labour law. “Denying workers protection under labour laws creates a hidden workforce, where governments and companies refuse to take responsibility, especially for migrant workers, domestic workers and those on short term contracts. In too many countries, fundamental democratic rights are being undermined by corporate interests,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. The report say last year workers were murdered for their union activities in 11 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Venezuela. “We need to look no further than these shocking figures to understand why economic inequality is the highest in modern history. Working people are being denied the basic rights through which they can organise and collectively bargain for a fair share. This, along with growing constraints on freedom of speech, is driving populism and threatening democracy itself,” said Sharan Burrow. The report ranks the ten worst countries for workers’ rights in 2017 as Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Ukraine’s government has announced its national ban on all asbestos use has come into force. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), which has supported campaigns for a ban in countries across the globe, said the new regulations, which ban the use of all types of asbestos including chrysotile (white) asbestos, were achieved in the face of ‘fierce opposition’ from domestic and foreign asbestos lobbyists. “This is no surprise given that amongst Ukraine’s neighbours are two countries which account for around 65 per cent of global asbestos output,” noted IBAS coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen. Between 2009 and 2015, Ukraine imported an average of 42,200 tonnes of asbestos a year. “There is no doubt that this ban will adversely impact on the financial prospects of Russian and Kazakhstan asbestos mining companies, however, perhaps of even greater import is the strategic significance of Ukraine’s action,” reported Kazan-Allen. “After all, if Ukraine can ban asbestos, so too can other asbestos-using countries in the region such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”
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