|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 Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is urging the inquiry team and the government to listen to firefighters, emergency fire control operators and to the FBU itself, when the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster gets underway. The union call came amid concerns that the inquiry will focus narrowly on simply what happened on the night of the fire, rather than questions about the wider safety regime and how such a devastating incident could take place (Risks 811). Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This inquiry needs to have very broad terms of reference if it is to have a real impact on reducing the likelihood of anything like this ever happening again. It needs to look at, for example, the fact that government-funded fire research has virtually disappeared in recent years, all at the very time when new insulation and cladding systems have been introduced.” He added: “So many factors contributed to make a perfect storm for this horrific incident to happen, and each of them needs to be examined and investigated in turn. Looking at one aspect of risk but leaving others unexplored will be utterly useless. We also want those at the very top – in central government – held to account. Their actions and decisions over recent years need to be thoroughly scrutinised. We urge those who are leading this inquiry to be thorough, to make the inquiry as wide ranging as possible, and to leave no stone unturned. Anything less would be an injustice to those who died and will do nothing to prevent a second Grenfell.”
Allowing vaping in the workplace is a bad idea, the TUC has reiterated. The union body clarification came in wake of series of misleading articles in the press suggesting that the government’s Five Year Tobacco Control plan for England released last month supported vaping at work. In fact, “there is very little about the workplace in the government plan and it simply states that employers should continue to encourage workers to stop smoking,” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said. He said that journalists had confused the new official guidance with ‘ambivalent’ Public Health England (PHE) advice released last year. But ACAS guidance “tends to come down on the side of not allowing vaping in the workplace”, he said. In the light of concerns about possible health effects the British Medical Association (BMA) has said there should be a ban on electronic cigarettes in public places, he added. Three years ago the World Health Organisation called for a ban on ‘e-cigarettes’ indoors (Risks 670). The union safety specialist concluded: “We need workplace smoking policies that benefit all the staff. The bottom line is that if vaping helps people quit smoking then we should encourage and support them, but, at the same time, we want our workplaces to be free from all fumes that can potentially make us ill. That is just as much the case with the fumes from e-cigarettes as with other chemicals, especially as the long-term health risks are still unknown.” Tests in 2014 found a butterscotch flavoured e-cigarette refill contained diacetyl, the chemical causing the devastating occupational disease ‘popcorn lung’, or bronchiolitis obliterans.
Outsourced cleaning staff working at four London hospitals who say they are being worked into the ground are taking industrial action for better pay and conditions. Serco was recently awarded the £600m domestic services contract for Barts Health NHS trust, which runs the Royal London alongside St Bartholomew’s, Mile End, Whipps Cross and Newham University hospitals. As the Unite members took strike action last month, one veteran cleaner, Adwoa Bema, 52, commented: “I’ve cleaned all my life. I know what it’s like to work hard, but this is just too much. Some days I feel like I’ll drop dead if I carry on.” When Serco took over the Barts Health contract in April, it agreed to pay all workers the London living wage of £9.75 an hour, but due to rapidly increasing living costs, many still have to take on a second job. Unite members, employed by Serco as domestic staff, porters and security workers at the trust, want a 30p an hour wage increase; that has been rejected. Since Serco took over, Bema said, she has experienced a huge increase in her workload. “I am now doing the job of three people. I have people following me telling me to clean more beds, more rooms. I’ve started doing the jobs of healthcare assistants and have received no extra training. My colleagues working in the kitchen are doing the same. Many of us have extra jobs and we are so tired and cannot do our jobs properly. I hurt everywhere when I get home and all I do now is eat and sleep.” The strike action led to talks between Serco and Unite in mid-July, but no agreement was reached. “The offer was totally inadequate, divisive and aimed only at a small segment of the membership,” said Len Hockey, a senior strike representative, who works as a porter. Florence Kwao, who has been working as a cleaner for eight years, told the Guardian: “We are being pushed and we can’t go on. My body hurts and I have waist pain every evening because I just work so hard. On top of all this, it’s hard to do our job well. We just haven’t the time to do it properly.” Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Workers regularly report getting home late, tired and sore from the intense workload heaped on them by Serco. They deserve better treatment and better pay.”
A damning report into an ambulance trust has confirmed union concerns about a culture of bullying and harassment and the ‘toxic’ atmosphere at South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb). After complaints were raised by GMB in February the trust commissioned an independent review (Risks 788). The trust said the report revealed “unacceptable” behaviour. In his report, Prof Duncan Lewis from the University of Plymouth said: “Common decency is a right, not a privilege, and harassment or bullying, including sexual harassment must end now.” He pinpointed Coxheath in Kent and Tangmere in West Sussex as areas “plagued by poor practices/behaviours.” In parts of Kent there are “serious questions of sexual harassment and sexual grooming,” with newly qualified women often targeted. Prof Lewis added: “Whilst it is possible sexual harassment might not have been known to the executive because employees are fearful of speaking out against a macho, boys club culture in Kent and in other parts of Secamb, ignorance is no defence.” The report noted those who voiced concerns had “suffered” for it, with more monitoring, work, and pressure because “managers default to supporting each other”. GMB Secamb branch secretary Jason Dicker commented: “The report underpins GMB’s evidence continually provided by its membership that Secamb’s workplace has been a breeding ground for a bullying and harassment culture. In order to ensure there is a zero-tolerance culture towards bullying and harassment in Secamb, GMB must demand that this report elicits detailed internal investigations.”
Air traffic union Prospect has slammed airline Ryanair after it called for the ‘resilience’ of air traffic control to be improved, but also made clear that it does not want to pay for the extra staff this would require. The union said overworked air traffic control officers (ATCO) cannot continue to take the strain in the under-funded, under-staffed ‘safety critical’ service. Ryanair’s comments came after a new report by the Civil Aviation Authority found that short staffing at NATS – the body that runs the UK's air traffic control - led to a lack of operational resilience and delays to flights. Ryanair said NATS should improve performance but should not increase charges to airlines in order to do it. Prospect said it has long argued that pressure from airlines including Ryanair for cuts in the charges they pay would lead to there being too few staff to maintain service levels. Steve Jary, Prospect national secretary for aviation, said: “Rightly passengers expect safe flights and delays to be minimised. But this can only be achieved in air traffic control by having the right number of air traffic control officers. We have been working with NATS to improve resilience by making sure staffing levels are increased and more staff are trained. But it takes a long time to train an ATCO and the failure rate of new trainees is high. Having cut numbers, it will take time and cost a lot of money to build them back up again. It is therefore ridiculous for Ryanair to continue to argue that they want to have their cake and eat it.” The union officer added: “Relying on more overtime was only ever going to be a short-term fix. Increasing overtime on a long-term basis brings with it a whole host of other problems for fatigue, long-term illness and safety. In a safety critical area like this, the only solution can be a proper long-term workforce plan that trains the staff we need, and can also adapt to increases in the number of flights.”
Pilots are warning that demanding schedules, lax controls of pilots’ hours of duty and a failure to recruit adequate numbers of pilots are pushing the system to the limits. Pilots’ union BALPA said the start of the summer holiday season on 21 July saw a new record when more than 8,800 flights left or entered UK airspace. The union said it is analysing routes to identify those that could cause serious fatigue. It added it is working with airlines and regulators to challenge these duties and adjust them to prevent already tired pilots becoming dangerously fatigued. BALPA said it is seeing increasing numbers of pilots who are looking to go part-time or have become long-term sick as a result of fatigue and “burnout” caused by inadequate rest and unworkable patterns of duty. It warns that it is “vital” commercial pressure does not have a detrimental effect on flight safety. It is challenging regulators and airlines to tackle the problem and look at the “serious issue of under reporting of fatigue.” BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said “no one wants pilots at the controls when they are tired. That’s why we are campaigning across the aviation industry to make sure the pilot duty time rules are properly adhered to so that pilots get the rest they need.” He added: “We are working with airlines and the CAA to identify and challenge patterns of duties that pose a threat to safety. Together we aim to create an industry wide culture that makes the understanding, reporting and mitigation of fatigue a priority.”
The prime minister has been inundated with messages telling her ‘enough is enough’, and urging her to reverse the government’s deadly deregulation drive. The call coordinated by the Hazards Campaign quickly saw hundreds of ‘e-postcards’ despatched by union safety reps direct to Theresa May’s email inbox. Thousands more print versions of the ‘We love red tape’ postcards have been snapped up by union reps alarmed about the damaging impact of the government’s rollback of safety rules and enforcement. The postcard notes: “When you tear up critical fire, building, product, environmental and workplace safety laws you are not removing red tape – you are removing the protection necessary to keep up safe.” Echoing concerns raised by the TUC and unions (Risks 805), the message notes: “The Grenfell Tower fire is one shocking example of the consequences of your government’s ‘bonfire of health and safety regulations’.” The message to the prime minister concludes: “Enough is enough. Stop undermining safety laws at work, in our homes and our communities – instead keep, improve, enforce and uphold the laws that protect us.” Artwork on the postcard gives this stark warning to the prime minister: “It’s your choice. Red tape or more bloody bandages.”
Ÿ Hazards Campaign news release. Send the Prime Minister the ‘Enough is enough’ epostcard. Print versions of the postcard are available from the Hazards Campaign.
The judge who headed the Piper Alpha disaster public inquiry has expressed fears that offshore workers still worry about raising safety concerns. The Piper Alpha platform exploded in July 1988, leaving 167 workers dead. Lord Cullen's report into the disaster after a 13-month inquiry led to massive changes in offshore safety rules. But the judge said he still had fears about whether workers feel able to raise safety concerns without repercussions. “What I hear are reassuring messages, but I cannot say that there aren't instances of not wanted (back), but I hope it's not happening anymore.” Being ‘Not Required Back’ or ‘NRB’d’ was the notorious blacklisting system used by the offshore industry to keep safety and union activists off the rigs. Lord Cullen added: “Painful lessons were learnt from the tragic events on 6 July 1988. These lessons, like so many others in the industry, must never be forgotten. They should be used to ensure the safety of the people who work in it, the protection of the environment and the overall economic health and sustainability of offshore operations.” Lord Cullen was speaking out as the industry launched a new guide aimed at preventing a repeat of the tragedy. Last month, offshore union Unite warned that the conditions that led to the disaster – cost-cutting programmes in the face of an oil price drop – were being replicated today (Risks 808).
A third man has died after a crane collapsed at a building site. David Webb, 43, was injured when the crane tilted and fell at a site in Crewe on 21 June. He died on 25 July as a result of his injuries. David Newall, 36, from Bradford, and Rhys Barker, 18, from Castleford, also died in the incident. The Health and Safety Executive and Cheshire East Council are investigating. The building site, which was formerly part of the Bombardier works complex, was run by Seddon Construction. Chief executive Jonathan Seddon said: “Seddon is continuing to co-operate with the Police and Health and Safety Executive during the course of this investigation and remains committed to ensuring all reasonable measures are taken to keep people safe on our construction sites.”
The owner of a scallop fishing boat on which two crewmen died from carbon monoxide poisoning has been jailed for 15 months. Mark Arries, 26, and Edward Ide, 21, died on the boat which was moored in Whitby harbour in January 2014. The pair were using a gas cooker to warm the boat overnight as they slept. Timothy Bowman-Davies had pleaded guilty to breaching safety laws but claimed he was not aware the men were using the cooker for heating. Bowman-Davies, 44, told Leeds Crown Court he was unaware of the risk of carbon monoxide on boats and did not realise he needed to have the cooker serviced. Judge Tom Bayliss QC rejected his argument and jailed him for 15 months. “Two men have died,” he said. “Those who employ others and whose actions create a risk of harm must take the consequences when harm results, such as here.” Mr Arries and Mr Ide had joined the boat, the Eshcol, to fish for scallops on 8 January 2014 and returned to Whitby harbour in the early hours of 15 January. They were found dead in their bunks with the gas cooker grill switched on. Bowman-Davies had admitted failing to ensure the boat was operated safely and admitted failing to ensure equipment on the boat was maintained efficiently.
A company which handles private jets has been fined £250,000 after a worker was crushed in a doorway. Suzi Dorbon, an aircraft mover at Signature Flight Support, became trapped in a mechanically operated doorway at Luton Airport in 2015. The 47-year-old's injuries were so severe they caused brain damage and she is in a persistent vegetative state. St Albans Crown Court heard Signature “took no steps” to monitor the way staff were operating the doors. Prosecutor Catherine Rabaiotti said the hangar has two doors, each with three sections which could be moved horizontally along tracks. She told the court the company provided “short training sessions” to staff on how to operate the doors but that a risk assessment document failed to identify steps to reduce the crushing risk. Judge Andrew Bright QC said: “In particular, staff were not told of a specific distance to stand back from the doors when operating them, nor were they provided with any follow-up or refresher training. Had the defendant done so, it would soon have become apparent that the way in which some employees were moving the doors was unsafe.” Mrs Dorbon is still in a coma at a care centre in St Neots and her husband Mick has given up his job to look after her. Signature was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £19,483.50 after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences between 28 March 2014 and 28 April 2015. The company said it had retrained staff, installed new warning signage and painted yellow lines on the floor to show workers how far to stand back from the doors.
A soft toy filling company whose negligence led to a worker losing his hand has been fined. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard the worker lost his left hand after being drawn into an unguarded carding machine on 8 March 2016. He was attempting to clear a blockage in the machine at Stuffing Plant Ltd (TSP). A flange attachment connecting pipework to the discharge chute supplying loose fibre to a single toy filling machine had been left off to allow it to discharge into a wooden enclosure which supplied three toy filling machines. As a result, a spiked roller located inside the discharge chute was unguarded and accessible during operation. The worker had entered the wooden enclosure and was clearing loose fibre from the discharge chute. The spiked discharge roller was still rotating and grabbed his left hand, drawing him into the machine and severing most of his fingers. The worker was airlifted to hospital where surgeons amputated his hand. The Stuffing Plant Ltd (TSP) pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £35,000 plus £2,486 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Eddy Tarn commented: “This man’s life changing injuries could have been prevented if a suitable and sufficient planning had been completed and the correct control measures were identified and implemented. The consequences of leaving off the flange and discharge pipework were foreseeable and could have easily been prevented.”
The rate of disabling injuries to Canadian postal workers is rising, with their union blaming the disturbing trend on expanded routes and heavier mail loads. “I'm seeing back injuries, I'm seeing shoulders. A lot of knees and feet from pounding on the pavement all the time, lifting the heavy parcels and stuff,” said Suzie Moore, health and safety officer with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). As part of Canada Post's transformation project, mail carriers are lugging more parcels for home delivery. The company’s shift from door-to-door delivery to community mailboxes has left mail carriers physically taxed, Moore said. “Our routes have doubled if not tripled in size,” she said. Disabling injuries among postal workers have jumped 93 per cent in three years, a report on occupational injuries among federal employers revealed. In 2013, before door-to-door delivery ended, fewer than four out of every 100 full-time postal delivery workers suffered a disabling work-related injury. By 2015, that number had shot up to 7.21 disabling injuries for every 100 workers. That was the highest disabling injury rate of any federal sector in that year, the report found. The union says it has also identified repetitive strain injuries as a problem, with more carriers slotting mail and flyers into community mailboxes. CUPW’s Moore said routes need to be shorter to allow carriers to work safely and efficiently. “We need to give the workers the time they need to safely do the job, pay attention to their surroundings - and injury rates will drop,” she said.
Workers in China who toiled in hazardous conditions for a German multinational have been left suffering work-related ill-health and without a job after the firm relocated a factory. A two-week strike by hundreds of workers at the tool giant’s Zama manufacturing plant demanding health guarantees and compensation was broken up by riot police last month. The Zama Precision Industry in Shenzen province in southern China, a subsidiary of Stihl, recently announced plans to relocate its factory. Its 2,000 strong workforce had been organising through the factory since April when they heard of the factory’s plans to relocate. Workers presented demands covering health and safety grievances, social insurance, and severance payments. They say many were suffering long term symptoms from working with dangerous chemicals without safety equipment, masks or gloves. In 2015 Stihl signed a Code of Conduct for its suppliers under the UN Global Compact and International Labour Organisation, committing them to a “safe and hygienic working environment” that meets national standards. Article 37 of China’s Work Safety Law stipulates that employees should be provided protective equipment on the job.
British mining multinational Anglo American has set aside $101 million (£77.5m) to cover potential damages claims from former South African employees who contracted the fatal occupational lung disease silicosis. The company’s announcement last month came in the wake of a Johannesburg High Court ruling in May that former and current mine workers, employed by South Africa’s main gold mining firms since 1965, could proceed with a class action against those companies. Press reports said the court decision cleared the way for up to half a million miners to sue for damages resulting from silicosis — a deadly respiratory condition developed from breathing in the fine silica dust found in places such as mines. “We have made an accounting provision within our half year results this morning, acknowledging the progress that is being made towards an agreement as part of the working group of companies in the silicosis litigation in South Africa,” said an Anglo American spokesperson. “This figure is an estimate at this stage and we will see where the negotiations land in the months ahead.” The miners accuse 30 subsidiaries of seven companies — including African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields and Sibanye Gold — of knowingly and systematically failing to protect workers against the disabling and potentially fatal lung-scarring disease. Gold Fields Ltd said it had set aside $30 million for the class action lawsuit.
Ÿ Anglo American half year financial report for the six months ended 30 June 2017, including statement on the silicosis set-aside, 27 July 2017. The Citizen
A group of Tesla workers has asked the electric car maker’s board to provide a plan to address employee safety concerns. The Tesla Workers’ Organising Committee, which hopes to become part of the autoworkers’ union UAW, said Tesla had a safety record worse than that of “sawmills and slaughterhouses.” In a statement, Michael Catura, a Tesla production associate, said: “We're tired of suffering preventable injury after preventable injury.” A letter from the committee to independent board members at Tesla asks the company to inform employees of the risks associated with working at the factory, make safety audits readily available, and allow workers to have a voice in the company’s safety plan. Employees at the electric carmaker’s Fremont factory in California have been seeking union protection since Jose Moran, a production associate at the factory, wrote a blog post detailing damaging work conditions at the flagship plant. The bulk of the demands have since centred on getting new equipment to reduce workplace injuries. The workers say giving them a greater voice could also help Tesla resolve long-running production and quality control headaches. Chief executive Elon Musk said in July that the company is going to go through at least six months of “manufacturing hell” as it ramps up its efforts to produce 500,000 cars per year, close to six times its 2016 output. UAW has accused Telsa of breaking the law in its attempts to suppress the unionisation drive.
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