|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.
New official Health and Safety Executive fatality figures showing 137 people died at work in 2016/17 ‘are just the tip of the iceberg’, the union GMB has said. Commenting after HSE’s provisional fatality statistics were released this week, the union said every death demands justice and enforcement. GMB health and safety director, Dan Shears, said: “Whilst this is a low figure compared to the plateau of recent years, it is absolutely no cause for celebration. Each of these avoidable deaths is a tragic cutting short of a life, and leaves behind devastated family, friends, and colleagues. Every one of these deaths deserves full investigation, with enforcement and prosecution where warranted.” The union safety specialist added: “In an economy moving from industrial manufacture to service provision, it remains shocking that 137 died at work – and this figure excludes tens of thousands of deaths due to industrial disease, work-related suicide, and deaths on road, rail, air and sea. It gives a misleading picture of the true ‘burden’ of health and safety failings on our society.” Shears said more needed to be done to protect workers. “The recent disaster at Grenfell Tower shows the consequences of deregulation, and this government and future governments must ensure that our regulations are protected, strengthened, and proactively enforced, so that next year’s statistics reflect genuine progress and protection of workers. No-one ever died from too much regulation, but the human cost of ‘cutting red tape’ remains intolerable.” The point was echoed by the national Hazards Campaign. “The Grenfell Tower fire was a publicly visible result of how the Tory bonfire of red tape led to a real-life inferno of people,” a statement said. “We call for an end to this deadly deregulation culture now.”
A radical new approach to safety and building laws is necessary following the Grenfell Tower fire, the union Unite has said. The union has three key demands; an overhaul of building regulations, the end of attacks on existing regulations, and the implementation of an official licensing regime across the construction industry. Unite’s national construction committee is calling for an urgent review of the existing building regulations and says this “must place safety first rather than profit at its core.” It wants a new licensing system across all construction trades - paralleling the existing Gas Safe system for gas engineers – to make it illegal for non-licensed practitioners to undertake construction work. Unite is also calling for a ‘sea change’ in the government’s approach to regulations. The union wants the government’s Red Tape Initiative ‘scrapped’ along with its one-in, three-out policy on the introduction of new regulations. Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay said: “Unite has repeatedly warned that attacks on safety laws and the weakening of the building regulations could have catastrophic consequences. Sadly those concerns have been shown to be entirely correct.” He said: “We now need to have a major sea change in the way that we view regulations,” adding “we should be educating people to understand that properly enforced laws and building regulations are essential in ensuring safety. In particular, we need to professionalise the construction industry by introducing a licensing and company registration system so only fully accredited workers and bona fide construction companies can undertake construction work on all future public sector contracts, especially involving safety critical work.”
Building control staff in Scotland are overworked, stressed and stuck in the office, a UNISON Scotland survey has found. The union’s report, ‘Building stress: a survey of building control staff’, is the latest to examine ‘the impact of austerity cuts on the country’s public services and the people who deliver them.’ Scotland’s building standards service, which checks both building plans and that existing premised are safe, is provided by local authorities. UNISON’s survey found almost 9 out of every 10 building standards workers (89 per cent) reported their workload was increasing, and almost half (47 per cent) said they should be spending more time on site visits. Almost half (48 per cent) described morale as low, with over threequarters (78 per cent) saying they don’t expect it to improve in the face of budget cuts, increased workload and stagnant pay. Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “This report reveals a dedicated workforce committed to ensuring that buildings meet the standards required but who are under enormous pressure. They feel exhausted, undervalued and are struggling to deal with the demands placed upon them.” He added: “Salami-slicing of services avoids headlines but the long years of austerity are having a severe impact on our services and the staff trying to deliver them with limited resources.”
The long-running Woolwich Ferry ‘bullying culture’ dispute (Risks 786) has been settled, following what Unite has described as ‘a remarkable display of worker solidarity’. The deal hammered out between Unite and Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd has seen one manager dismissed and another senior manager leave the site. There has also been what Unite said was a ‘fair’ settlement for a female employee who suffered sexual harassment. The company, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), has also agreed to a new and improved health and safety regime, which Unite says puts safety first, as well as settling outstanding issues relating to pay and allowances. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said the comprehensive agreement “is a tribute to a remarkable display of worker solidarity. By taking collective action and standing firm since this dispute started last winter, Unite has demonstrated that unions can achieve great victories in the workplace on behalf of their members and that bosses don’t have carte blanche to engage in unacceptable behaviour.” He added: “The union was able to resolve the sexual harassment complaint to the member's satisfaction which sends out a strong message about the abhorrent nature of this offence.” Workers, belonging to the unions Unite and the GMB, walked out on 27 January and 3 February, before suspending industrial action so that talks could take place.
A drone flying close to passenger aircraft at Gatwick Airport and causing runways to be closed twice has prompted the UK pilots’ union BALPA to renew its call for better regulation and education. The incident on 2 July led to the airport closing the runway for two periods of nine minutes and five minutes. BALPA has repeatedly voiced concern about the rise in near misses involving drones. The union is calling for better education of users, compulsory registration during which the rules are made clear and more high profile prosecutions for offenders. BALPA flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, said: “Yet another incident at Gatwick involving drones shows that the threat of drones being flown near manned-aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster. Drones can be great fun, and have huge commercial potential, but with a significant increase in near-misses in recent years it seems not everyone who is flying them either know or care about the rules that are in place for good reason.” He added: “We believe a collision, particularly with a helicopter, has the potential be catastrophic. Measures should be put in place that will allow the police to identify and locate anyone who flies a drone in an irresponsible way.” The union specialist said additional technical and legal safeguards are necessary. “Owing to the huge numbers of drones being sold, more technological solutions will undoubtedly be required to address this problem and should be mandated. These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner. If the user has endangered an aircraft, we would like to see the culprit prosecuted; endangering an aircraft has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.”
Teachers at a troubled school have walked out over ‘unreasonable management’ and the safety of staff. Willenhall E-ACT Academy was rated ‘inadequate’ in a March Ofsted report after pupils threw food at inspectors. Unions NUT and NASUWT say they resorted to strike action after 18 months of fruitless negotiations with management. Anne Brimacombe, national executive member of NASUWT for Birmingham, said: “Teachers feel like they're not being listened to and the behaviour situation is not getting any better.” She said there had been “malicious allegations” against staff. Commenting on reports of food being thrown at Ofsted inspectors, she added: “If they're doing that to senior leadership what are they doing to regular teachers?” She said that between 2015 and 2016, 70 per cent of teachers left the school and there have been three different head teachers this year. “There is a culture of blaming the staff, not supporting them,” she said. A spokesperson from E-ACT told the BBC: “We take seriously the concerns raised by union members and believe that these are being addressed at pace and with urgency. Raising the expectations at Willenhall is the absolute top priority for E-ACT and a raft of changes and improvements are already under way.” Further strike action was postponed this week after what the unions described as ‘positive talks’ with management.
The continuing presence of asbestos in our schools is a ‘scandal’, as is the ‘shocking’ lack of consistency in the way in which it is managed across the country, education unions have said. The statement came from the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) ahead of its first national conference on 4 July. JUAC warns that around 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos and adds that in 2014, 17 teachers aged 74 and under died of mesothelioma. The total number of support staff deaths is not known, it says, and notes that the risk to children is greater still. JUAC is calling for a national audit of asbestos in schools, a long-term removal strategy and sufficient funding for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “to routinely inspect schools”. NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said “by bringing together representatives from government, the HSE, the medical profession, those who work in the field, employers and trade unions we hope that all parties will share a better understanding of the need to do more to protect the occupants of schools and begin a national phased programme of removal.” ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “It is shameful that the government continues to ignore the simple fact that as long as asbestos remains in school buildings children and staff are at risk of entirely preventable illnesses.” NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said “in the absence of a coherent removal plan, how asbestos can be managed to minimise risk to all teachers, support staff and pupils.” Calling for government action, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “It is a scandal that the health of our children and teachers is being jeopardised because of the continued presence of asbestos in schools.” And UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government must rethink its policies not only on asbestos, but on school funding and academies as well.”
Latest figures on deaths at work confirm the workplace remains a major killer. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) annual statistics on deaths in Great Britain resulting from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma and from fatalities at work show an overall increase on the previous year. Fatalities dropped from 147 in 2015/16 to a provisional figure of 137 in 2016/17, the second lowest level on record. However, the figures for mesothelioma deaths showed an increase from 2,519 in 2014 to 2,542 in 2015 – the most recent data available. There was a record low 30 construction deaths in 2016/17, but the sector’s death rate is still around four times the all-industry average. Agriculture saw 27 fatal injuries recorded, the same as the previous year. This sector has the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, around 18 times as high as the all industry rate. There were 14 fatal injuries to waste and recycling workers recorded. Despite being a relatively small sector in terms of employment, the annual average fatal injury rate over the last five years is around 15 times as high as the all industry rate. HSE’s headline fatality figure does not include the 92 members of the public fatally injured in incidents connected to work in 2016/17. HSE chair Martin Temple said: “Every fatality is a tragic event that should not happen. While we are encouraged by this improvement on the previous year, we continue unwaveringly on our mission to prevent injury, death and ill-health by protecting people and reducing risks.” An estimated 100 people die of occupational diseases for every one killed in an occupational fatality. HSE estimates, for example, there is one asbestos-related lung cancer death for each mesothelioma death, showing the annual asbestos toll exceeds 5,000 deaths, with an anticipated decline yet to materialise. HSE’s estimate is widely believed to be conservative.
A young mum has become one of youngest to die of an asbestos-related disease at just 34 – but never found out how she contracted her cancer. Kirsty List died last month, leaving five-year-old daughter Aimee. She believed she may have been exposed to asbestos either while a pupil at school or when she worked as a pub barmaid. She went to a primary school in Reading, Berks. which was built in the ’80s and was “riddled with asbestos”. She later went to secondary schools in Reading and North Devon and the latter also contained asbestos. She also spent 13 years working in pubs throughout the south west – some of which were being renovated. Kirsty, from Exeter, Devon, had peritoneal mesothelioma, which is an asbestos-related cancer of the abdominal lining. Her dying wish was that more would be done to raise awareness about where asbestos is to help keep people safe, and not suffer like she and her family have. After being diagnosed she said: “If asbestos is in a building everyone should be aware of where it is and how it should be treated to keep themselves and other people safe. It has to be a group effort. The asbestos register should also be overhauled to make sure reviews are ongoing.” Helen Grady, at solicitor at law firm Simpson Millar who worked with Kirsty on her compensation case, said: “The case is on-going and we are still investigating where she was exposed.
Over the last five years there have been around 14,500 dog attacks on postmen and woman across the UK, with around 2,500 in the last year alone, new figures from Royal Mail have revealed. Announcing the figures at the start of the fifth annual Dog Awareness Week on 3 July 2017, the company said on average there are seven attacks each day on delivery workers, some leading to a permanent and disabling injury. Royal Mail’s research also shows that the number of attacks rises during the school holidays and in the summer months when parents and children are at home. The analysis shows in the last year, 71 per cent of dog attacks on postal workers have happened at the front door or in the front garden. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce commented: “Seven postal workers attacked by dogs every day of the year is unacceptable and the whole idea of Dog Awareness Week is to highlight the problem and the repercussions for dog owners and the victims, many of whom are seriously injured”. He added: “Dog owners need to fully understand that their actions usually are the cause of a dog being dangerous and simple precautions can prevent the pain for everyone concerned. No matter what breed of dog is involved, the dog can present a substantial danger to postal workers.”
Two men have been jailed following the death of a father-of-five at a Northamptonshire building site. Single parent Shane Wilkinson was trying to earn enough money to buy his kids shoes for school. Andrew Winterton and Dean Wortley appeared at Northampton Crown Court last week for sentencing following a nine-week trial. Shane, 33, was employed as a ground worker at the Conquest Homes building site in Collyweston when he died on 4 September 2014. The court heard how he had been standing next to a deep trench that had been incorrectly excavated by trench digger-driver Wortley. When an unsecured trench wall collapsed, Wilkinson was completely buried under the rubble. Site manager and director of Conquest Homes, Winterton, 52, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. He was sentenced to four years in jail. He will spend two in custody and two on licence. He was also ordered to pay costs of £90,500. Wortley, 48, who traded as Clearview Demolition, was convicted of criminal safety offences. He was given a 12-month jail sentence and will spend six months in custody and six months on licence. He was ordered to pay £20,000 towards costs. Both men were convicted following a joint investigation by Northamptonshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The court heard the trench had not been properly or adequately shored. Senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Steve Woliter from Northamptonshire Police, said: “As a single parent of five young children Shane Wilkinson had only been working on the Collyweston construction site for a couple of days during the early part of September 2014 because he needed money to buy school shoes for his children. His death was an avoidable and terrible loss of life due to the gross negligence of Winterton and the dangerous environment created by both him and Wortley.” He added: “Shane’s death could easily have been avoided if Winterton and Wortley had shown any regard for basic safety measures on the site. No sentence imposed will ever turn back time for Shane or his family, however I do hope this sentence sends out a clear message to others that adequate safeguards must be put in place to prevent people from harm.”
A building firm owner whose neglect of workplace safety resulted in the death of one of his workers has been jailed. Polish national Slawomir Swiatek, 49, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 41-year-old Grzegorz Wrezel, who worked for his company, at a hearing on 9 June. Swiatek also admitted a criminal safety offence at the same hearing. On 29 June at Kingston Crown Court, Swiatek was sentenced to a year and 10 months' imprisonment. He was also disqualified from a being a company director for seven years. The court heard how Grzegorz Wrezel was working for Swiatek's building firm - Earnest Builders Ltd - at a site where a one-storey extension was being added to a house. As part of the work, Wrezel and another employee were digging out a trench for the foundations to be laid. Swiatek instructed his employees that the trench should be dug directly alongside an existing boundary wall. However, on 3 February 2016 Grzegorz was working in the trench when the wall collapsed. The lower portion of the wall pinned his legs while the upper portion fell on his upper body, causing severe injuries. Following medical advice, his life support was withdrawn and he died on 10 February 2016. An investigation by the police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Swiatek has paid no regard to his obligations under health and safety law. His assessment of the boundary wall and whether it was stable enough to have a trench dug next to it was cursory at best, the investigation found. After Grzegorz's death, it was established Swiatek had no insurance. Detective Chief Inspector Sam Price of the Homicide and Major Crime Command led the police investigation. She said: “This death was entirely preventable and illustrates why employers should take their responsibilities with regard to health and safety seriously - in this case, it was a matter of life and death.”
A steel firm has been fined £1m after an oxygen pipe exploded in front of a worker, causing horrific burns. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident at Sheffield Forgemasters Engineering Limited (SFEL), said the 57-year-old worker suffered ‘life-changing injuries’ in the explosion on 9 August 2013. Sheffield Crown Court heard that work was carried out by an in-house contractor to fit a valve to an oxygen pipe that carried pure oxygen. The worker was carrying out checks when he heard hissing from the valve. While investigating the noise, the pipe and valve erupted in flames. The injured worker, whose name has not been released, suffered severe third degree burns and was initially not expected to survive. He was kept in a coma for several weeks, undergoing several skin grafts. HSE found the oxygen pipe had been fitted with contaminated second-hand flanges and a butterfly valve, containing materials unsuitable for use with oxygen. It was foreseeable that work would at some point be undertaken on the oxygen pipelines that ran across the entire site, HSE said, yet no action had been taken to take control of this line or to implement training or levels of responsibility for the management of this type of work. Sheffield Forgemasters Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £1 million with £58,000.45 costs. HSE inspector Carol Downes said: “This incident could have been avoided if simple checks had been carried out.”
Bread maker Warburtons has been fined after an agency worker was injured when his arm got trapped against a running conveyor belt. Nottingham Crown Court heard how on 4 August 2015 Wayne Thorpe was cleaning parts of the bread line when his arm became trapped, leaving him with friction burns that required skin grafts. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found CCTV footage showing the worker cleaning parts of the line. As he reached into the line, the 44-year-old became trapped between two conveyors. Part of the machine had to be dismantled to release him. HSE inspectors found the machine could have been fitted with localised guarding to prevent access between the conveyors. Warburtons Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £1.9 million and ordered to pay full costs of £21,459.71. Judge Rosalind Coe QC said Wayne was caught in a 40mm gap and added: “This trapping point was overlooked. Guarding of machines was inconsistent. Remedial steps were simple and not unduly expensive.” The judge said it was an important factor that there was no “means of stopping the machinery immediately within reach.” HSE inspector Edward Walker said: “Warburtons failed to guard the machine sufficiently to prevent access to the running conveyors, which in this case could have prevented the injuries. Employers should ensure that all equipment used by agency and their own workers alike are sufficiently guarded and take appropriate measures if any deficiencies are found.” The court heard Wayne, who had worked at the bakery for three years, died within two weeks of the incident from unrelated health issues.
A power company has been fined £800,000 for criminal failings that contributed to the death of a young father when the electricity pole he was working on fell. Ryan Thomas, a a linesman for Western Power Distribution (WPD), died in woods in Cawsand, near Torpoint, on 16 January 2013. The 28-year-old was part of a crew undertaking emergency repairs. They were replacing low overhanging cables with insulated cables when wires connected to the pole he was on were cut, which caused the pole to collapse. WPD, which had earlier pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence, was sentenced last week at Truro Crown Court. Prosecuting, Kate Brunner, QC, told the court how on that evening there had been a "catalogue of errors" which included failures in planning, communication and coordination. “There was no group meeting and therefore no group discussion of methods and risks posed at the site and nobody was allocated as being in charge," she said. She added how the group, who were only equipped with head torches and were without walkie-talkies despite visibility being poor, began to cut different wires on each pole and on one occasion did so suddenly, causing a release in tension which resulted in Ryan's pole crashing down. The court heard how bindings on the wire were meant to be cut in a way that would release tension slowly, to prevent such an occurrence. Recorder John Trevaskis fined WPD £800,000 plus costs.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July, global unions have called on the leaders of the major industrial nations represented to look to the recently re-signed Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety as a model for promoting sustainable business practices. IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: “The legally binding Accord is, at present, the only credible option for health and safety in Bangladesh garment factories and has saved lives since its creation. The new agreement puts greater emphasis on the right of workers to organise and join a union, recognising worker empowerment is fundamental to assuring workplace safety.” He added: “The Accord can be expanded to other sectors, and as worker representatives, we urge you to acknowledge the new Accord's significance as an important step towards responsible global supply chains.” Christy Hoffman, deputy secretary of UNI, the general union whose affiliates represent retail staff, said: “The discussion of responsible business practices is incomplete without a serious look at the Bangladesh Accord’s success and renewal. Simply put, this model of accountability and transparency works. The first agreement is saving lives in Bangladesh’s garment industry, and the 2018 Accord strengthens worker protections by explicitly acknowledging the role unions play in making work safe.” UNI and IndustriALL, along with more than 20 brands, announced a new Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety at the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct in Paris on 29 June, to run for three years after the current deal runs out in 2018. Many more brands are expected to join.
The death of at least 13 garment workers in a boiler explosion at the Multifabs Limited factory in Bangladesh on 3 July demonstrates that the current safety accord must be extended to include boiler safety, unions and labour rights campaigners have said. UNI deputy general secretary Christy Hoffman said: “The Bangladesh Accord has made significant progress in making work safer in this sector, but this explosion shows the need to expand the agreement’s scope to include boiler safety.” The non-union factory was covered by the Accord, but its current scope does not cover boiler inspections, which are monitored instead by the Bangladesh government. In light of the explosion, UNI, with IndustriALL, the Clean Clothes Campaign and other labour rights campaigns are demanding that it be expanded to include boiler safety. Since the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, the Accord has completed fire and building safety inspections at 1,800 garment factories supplying more than 200 signatory brands. Accord engineers have identified over 118,000 fire, electrical and structural hazards at these factories. To date, 79 per cent of workplace dangers discovered in the Accord’s original round of inspections have been remediated.
Women workers in Indonesia’s palm oil industry face insecure work, toxic pesticides and lower pay then male workers. “The women on the plantations have no rights, not even the right to a salary in many cases,” said Herwin Nasution, president of SERBUNDO, a trade union alliance representing mainly agricultural workers in Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer. “They live in a paternalistic society, where no one listens to them.” A major problem for the workers is their constant exposure to chemicals, including the highly toxic pesticide paraquat, without the necessary safety measures. Workers suffering ill-health from their exposures are often required to see the doctor who works for the plantation, rather than going to the local hospital, according to SERBUNDO. Chris Wangkay of Oxfam Indonesia, said one of the key problems is the lack of research into the real needs of the women on the plantations. “There is a huge lack of information. We need, first of all, to collect data from the women themselves, to ascertain what their key problems and priorities are,” said Wangkay. According to Amnesty International: “Producing 35 million tonnes a year, Indonesia accounts for 45 per cent of the world’s palm oil supply. Around three million Indonesians work in the sector, accounting for at least a third of the global palm oil workforce.” It adds: “Indonesia generally has strong labour laws but weak enforcement of these laws has led to companies being able to get away with systemic abuses of workers in palm oil plantations.”
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).