|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 ‘valuable’ role and ‘expert insight’ of workers and their health and safety reps has been recognised in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study of updated safety practices in the ports industry. The research, which looked at the impact of a code of practice on safety in docks introduced in 2014, examined the impact of more extensive ‘worker engagement’. This, said HSE, “goes beyond consultation and refers to the extent to which workers contribute to decisions that affect their health and safety.” The report found that a positive example from the ports ‘leadership’ was important in creating and sustaining effective worker engagement, adding: “Listening to and acting on workers’ concerns and ensuring that feedback is provided on issues raised was also important in facilitating and/or sustaining worker engagement.” It noted: “Health and safety representatives played an important role in increasing attention to health and safety and were generally supported in their role.” The report confirmed findings of earlier studies, concluding: “Involving employees and H&S [health and safety] representatives in assessing the risks of a workplace or work activity is valuable as they have an expert insight on the risks involved. Further, workers are more likely to understand and comply with procedures in place to control risks if they have been involved in developing them.”
Ÿ HSE publication notice and full report, Leadership and worker engagement in the ports industry, Research report RR1089, 2017.
Unite has said last week’s victory in the long running Birmingham bins dispute has protected a vital safety role. The union said that the city council had accepted the refuse workers’ case and restored the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles, leading to the suspension of the industrial action. Unite said the union and the city council would hold further talks at the conciliation service Acas to resolve outstanding issues. Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “We are very pleased that we have reached the stage where we can suspend the industrial action while we hold further talks about the future of the refuse service.” He added: “The council has addressed our members’ concerns, including the safeguarding of the grade 3 post that is vital to the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. Unite also welcomes the fact that our suspended rep is now returning to work.” The vehicle safety risks to the public and refuse workers has led to the introduction of specific new laws in in the US. Last year, New York State become the latest in the US to introduce a ‘slow down’ law to protect garbage workers. Slow down laws had already been introduced in 11 other states over the last decade in response to distracted driving that has led to sometimes fatal incidents for refuse collection workers.
Rail union TSSA has said the UK and Scottish governments must stop the break-up of the British Transport Police (BTP) as it emerged the rail network has been identified as a terror target for Al-Qaeda. The union was commenting in the wake of revelations that an Al-Qaeda guide is encouraging its supporters to target train stations in Britain. Press reports on 17 August revealed Al-Qaeda’s e-magazine Inspire says they can attack a train directly from “either inside or out”, target “the rail itself so as to derail the train” or assault stations, which “are always crowded, causing major interruption to transport”. In response, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes called on home secretary Amber Rudd, transport secretary Chris Grayling and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon to intervene immediately to halt BTP restructuring programmes. “Since the tragic events of 7/7 we have known that our transport networks have sadly been vulnerable to attack. The fault for this lies with the terrorists and I'm appalled to learn of this specific targeting of our rail network,” Cortes said. “Whilst we can't guarantee that we will stop every attack, we do need to do everything we can in the face of this threat to minimise risk.” The union leader added: “A TSSA petition against the break-up of BTP has gathered nearly 10,000 signatures. In the light of today's news we'd like to extend to the public the opportunity to sign our petition to make their voices heard by the politicians when decisions are being made about their safety.”
The scope of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower blaze in which at least 80 people died is too limited to learn all the necessary lessons, unions and the Labour Party have warned. Commenting after the government published the terms of reference for the inquiry, firefighters’ union FBU said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ that the public inquiry will not investigate the preparedness of fire services outside London to deal with a similar incident. Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the FBU, said: “We are appalled that the inquiry into the worst fire in generations is to be handicapped by such narrow terms of reference that won’t, for example, look at government policy on social housing.” He added: “The best tribute we can pay to the people who lost their lives is to make sure that a fire like Grenfell never happens again. Clearly, the government has missed a chance to do right by the victims and investigate every aspect of the disaster.” Jeremy Corbyn has also urged Theresa May to look again at the terms of reference. In a letter to the prime minister, the Labour leader said there was a fear that the inquiry’s “priority is to avoid criticism” for policy issues “rather than secure justice for Grenfell survivors”. He added: “I am deeply concerned by the decision to exclude the broader social and political issues raised by the fire from the terms of reference of the inquiry.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson criticised the Conservative government’s “sickening” attitude to regulation. He told online news report Equal Times: “Every single time a politician anywhere in the world talks about the idea that red tape burdens business, we have to remember the human cost. Grenfell shows us that. I hope the derogative language that politicians have hidden behind for years to try to promote their deregulatory, anti-worker agenda will now be challenged.”
Workers who stand on the job most of the time are at greater risk of heart disease than workers who predominantly sit, a new study has found. It suggests even after taking into account a wide range of personal, health and work factors, people who primarily stand on the job are twice as likely as people who primarily sit on the job to have a heart attack or congestive heart failure. Dr Peter Smith, the senior scientist at the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) who led a team of researchers from IWH and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), said: “Our results suggest that workplaces also need to pay attention to the health effects of prolonged standing, and target their prevention programmes accordingly.” The study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed for 12 years 7,300 workers aged 35-74 from Ontario, Canada who were initially free of heart disease. Even after adjusting for a wide range of factors - personal, health conditions and health behaviours - the risk of heart disease was still twice as high among people who primarily stood on the job compared to those who primarily sat. In fact, the unadjusted risk of heart disease among people who stood on the job (6.6 per cent) was even slightly higher than among daily smokers (5.8 per cent). “A combination of sitting, standing and moving on the job is likely to have the greatest benefits for heart health,” concluded Smith. “Workplaces need to apply this message not just to workers who predominantly sit, but also - in fact, especially - to workers who predominantly stand.”
Ÿ IWH news release. Peter Smith and others. The Relationship Between Occupational Standing and Sitting and Incident Heart Disease Over a 12-Year Period in Ontario, Canada, American Journal of Epidemiology, kwx298, August 2017.
A bout of noisy hysteria over the silencing of Big Ben’s chimes for four years for essential maintenance (Risks 813) has prompted a backlash from politicians and safety advocates, with moaning MPs told to ‘get a grip’. As the bells fell silent on 21 August, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) labelled the controversy surrounding the move “unnecessary and unhelpful”. Graham Parker, president of the safety professionals’ body, said: “The chimes of Big Ben have a 118-decibel peak noise. Anyone close to the bell and exposed to it for just a few seconds would suffer irreparable hearing damage. At midday, imagine what a dozen would do. Yet, in the lead-up to the silencing of the bongs, certain sections of the press have taken the opportunity to lambast health and safety, suggesting this is the main reason for the decision – and that it is entirely unwarranted.” He added: “Their arguments are unfounded, unnecessary and unhelpful. They are simply stirring the pot and creating controversy. It is time for them to wake up and understand the real world of costs and complexity.” A statement from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) noted: “This has been one of many projects where we work with contractors in the planning stages, and we’ve noted how intricate, complex and challenging this particular exercise will be. Health and safety aside, we understand these challenges would have silenced Big Ben’s chimes for at least two years anyway.” A small group of MPs who said they planned to mark the end of the chimes with heads bowed under Big Ben came in for sharp criticism from colleagues. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, wrote on Twitter that she hoped MPs might realise “how ridiculous we look”, adding: “I tell you what is a shame, work place induced deafness.” In another tweet, she noted: “My mom suffered from decades of tinnitus caused by working practices. Turn the bell off!” Fellow Labour MP Wes Streeting said he’d also be ignoring the silent protest. He tweeted: “I will be sat with a good book instead. #getagrip.”
Two Hampshire-based companies have been fined after the death of a 42-year-old worker in a preventable fall. Bournemouth Crown Court heard that on 20 July 2012 Antony ‘Tony’ Ockwell, a sub-contractor working for Quality 1st Building Services Ltd, was undertaking remedial work to a roof at a domestic property in Ringwood, Hampshire when he fell seven metres from the roof to the ground. He was taken by air ambulance to hospital where he died of head injuries later that day. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found neither the principal contractor for the site, EP Abley Ltd, nor Quality 1st Building Services Ltd had ensured the roof work had the correct edge protection to prevent falls. The companies had failed to clearly communicate and co-ordinate the work being undertaken on the site in a safe and appropriate manner, HSE found. Quality 1st Building Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2015, and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,500. EP Abley Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £26,667 plus £22,500 costs. HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said: “This death could have easily been prevented had both companies taken safety measures before any work at height had begun.”
The director of a company that removed asbestos with hammers and used wet wipes to clean it up had “a cavalier attitude to safety”, a court has heard. Jeremy Uphill, the director of Sarum Asbestos Ltd, pleaded guilty to six charges of criminal negligence relating to work between 2012 and 2015. The 61-year-old was sentenced at Salisbury Crown Court to a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years. The company, which turned over of just under a million pounds a year before going into liquidation, was fined £100,000 and £31,000 costs. Prosecuting, Simon Morgan said Uphill agreed to remove pipe lagging at Moonfleet Manor hotel in Weymouth, despite not being licensed to work with high-risk asbestos. A Sarum Asbestos employee disclosed in a statement he never received any training and had been instructed to “pull the lagging off by hand”. Afterwards the area was hoovered and wiped down, but the hotel manager inspected the area and found debris, and an employee returned and “used only wet wipes” to clear the area. Mr Morgan said the Sarum Asbestos contractors wore normal clothes as “they had seen a management survey [which said] it was a low level asbestos, which it clearly was not”. He added: “There was no decontamination station for the workers and they wore the clothes home.” Mr Morgan said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sent Sarum Asbestos a warning letter in May 2013 “as a result of concerns raised by various clients”. And despite meeting with HSE that year to discuss the problems, Sarum Asbestos went on to carry out work at the former police station in Corsham in 2015, while still unlicensed. A month later HSE issued Sarum Asbestos with a prohibition notice preventing the firm from carrying out any further works, and the company went into liquidation. Judge Keith Cutler said there “should be no shortcuts” in asbestos removal. Addressing Uphill, who now provides asbestos surveys for another company, the judge said: “You displayed from time to time a cavalier attitude to safety. Many listening to this case would shudder with alarm.” He added: “A key way of looking at it would be ignorance, but I’m afraid I take the view that it is arrogance on your part, that you could continue despite the warnings you had had. We won’t know if there has been any harm until years down the line.”
A worker was required to play ‘Russian roulette’ every time he filled a gas bottle at his place of work, a court has heard. Luke Hawthorn’s luck ran out when one of the bottles used in the pub trade exploded and flying metal ripped through his leg, which later had to be amputated. Blackpool Magistrates’ Court heard the 30-year-old was taken by air ambulance to hospital. Witnesses said they felt the ground shake at the force of the explosion. Other workers were also injured in the blast at the J and R Gases depot in Nelson. The firm was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £5,932 costs after it pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive. District judge Jeff Brailsford heard how the firm, which has a turnover of £1.4million-a-year, had not given proper training to the victim. The company supplies gas bottles to pubs, clubs and hotels and refills up to 500 bottles a day. Judge Brailsford said: “This was a very serious injury. I have read the victim’s statement and it is very moving. His injuries were life-changing. It is my position that the training given to Mr Hawthorn was inadequate. The likelihood of harm was high and some simple checks could have reduced that risk.” Prosecutor Charlotte Atherton said: “Every time he filled a cylinder he was at high risk, it was Russian roulette for him. He had only worked there four months and had no competency in the filling process. He was trained at a very shallow level.”
The employer of a man who died after suffering extensive burns while cleaning a spray booth at the vehicle repair company’s base in Derbyshire has been fined. Nottingham Crown Court heard how on 26 May 2012, Daniel Brown, an employee of LW Smart Repairs Limited, suffered serious burns after a pressure washer ignited highly flammable vapour in the spray booth. The 27-year-old died later in hospital. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found no proper planning had been undertaken by the company, and this should have identified alternative and far safer methods of keeping the booth clean. LW Smart Repairs Limited of Alfreton, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,500. HSE inspector Scott Wynne commented: “LW Smart Repairs Limited failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks associated with the use of a highly flammable solvent for cleaning. This incident could have been prevented if the company had done all that was reasonably practicable to reduce the risks associated with the cleaning operation.”
A paper coating company has been fined after a worker suffered burns following a fire on a coating machine. Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court heard how an Olympic Varnish Company Limited employee suffered burn injuries in the blaze caused by the unsafe use of a highly flammable liquid to clean rollers on the coating machine. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 10 July 2015 incident found the company did not ensure that risks from the use of highly flammable liquids was eliminated or reduced. Olympic Varnish Company Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,505.40. HSE principal inspector Andrew Kingscott said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to inform, instruct, and train their workers in that safe system of working. In this case, if a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the serious injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”
A vegetable grower has been fined after a worker became entangled in netting in a field near Boston, Lincolnshire. Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard how on 27 June 2015 at a field near Frampton, netting was being removed from a crop on a field using a tractor mounted hydraulic net winding machine. The netting caught the glove of the worker, who was pulled onto the rotating reel. His head hit the metal frame of the machine, causing a head injury and concussion. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that M Baker Produce Limited failed to properly plan the activity and had not defined a safe system of work. The machine was not fitted with a trip device to stop the rotation of the reel and prevent anyone getting caught by the netting being wound onto the rotating reel. Nor was there an emergency stop device that could be reached from ground level. The firm pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,800. HSE inspector Martin Giles commented: “This incident was easily prevented and the injuries could have been more serious. Employers should make sure they properly plan work and apply effective control measures to minimise the danger from machinery.” In July, HSE said agriculture remains the UK’s ‘riskiest industry sector’ (Risks 810).
Asbestos isn’t just the biggest industrial killer of all time, it is also a massive drain on the economy, new research has confirmed. Canadian researchers estimated the lifetime cost of newly diagnosed lung cancer and mesothelioma cases associated with occupational and para-occupational [typically exposed family members] asbestos exposure for the calendar year 2011, including healthcare, productivity and output, and quality of life costs. They said in the year there were 427 cases of newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases and 1,904 lung cancer cases attributable to asbestos exposure. They estimated the economic burden at million (£515m) in direct and indirect costs for the total 2,331 newly identified cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer and .5 billion (£0.93bn) in quality of life costs. The calculation is based on a value of ,000 (£62,000) per quality-adjusted life year. This amounts to ,429 (£221,000) and ,369 (£404,000) per case, respectively. The authors conclude the cost is “substantial”, but add: “This burden estimate is large; yet, it is only the tip of the total economic burden, since it includes only 2,331 newly diagnosed occupational and para-occupational cases from one calendar year.” They add that the estimate does not include other occupational diseases that are associated with asbestos exposure, such as pleural plaque and several other cancers, and non-occupational exposure, “so our estimate of the societal economic burden of new cases in Canada is likely a conservative one.”
Ÿ Emile Tompa and others. The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First 29 July 2017. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-104173
A union in New Zealand has won a supply of safe drinking water for parched orchard workers employed by a German multinational. The union FIRST said it was astounded to discover that workers employed in kiwi fruit orchards in the north of the country had been denied access to clean drinking water. Instead, when workers requested a drink, they were told they could drink irrigation water. “Irrigation water isn’t fit for human consumption. Most people wouldn’t even give their pets irrigation water to drink, let alone their own workers,” said FIRST spokesperson Jared Abbott. “We were frankly shocked that a large corporation like this would treat their workforce so appallingly. It’s no surprise they struggle to attract local employees.” Turners and Growers (T&G), a subsidiary of the German based international trading and services group BayWa, initially responded to the union demand for drinkable water by defending its offer of irrigation water to its employees. However, the union demanded ‘the universal right’ to clean drinking water be respected and the company has since installed filters at five locations at the site. T&G made a 2016 profit of NZ$32.4 million (£18.4m).
After Carlton Nelson was thrown across a power plant floor and seriously injured in an explosion in 1997, Tampa Electric quickly discovered what had gone wrong. The tank he had been trying to fix was spewing a deadly substance called slag from an open door, like a volcano gushing lava. Nearby, a forklift was melting in the molten goo. After, Tampa Electric wrote special guidelines so another accident like it would never happen again. Then two decades later, almost to the day, five workers were killed, burned to death performing a near-identical job at the utility’s Big Bend Power Station. The incident happened when a group of contractors, hired by the utility, attempted to clear a blockage in a tank that emptied liquefied coal slag from one of the power station's boilers. The workers attempted to clear the blockage while the boiler was still running. If Tampa Electric had followed its own guidelines the boiler would have been shutdown and the men would still be alive. The 29 June 2017 tragedy and the incident in 1997 hinged on a critical decision: whether or not to turn off the boiler connected to the tank before starting the work. Tampa Electric says money wasn’t a factor. But each time a utility turns a boiler off, experts say, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. On 29 June 2017, Tampa Electric decided to leave it on. The company now says no worker will clean out a slag tank with the boiler running until the company and the safety regulator OSHA finish investigating. “We’re not going to do it until we understand what happened,” said Tampa Electric CEO Gordon Gillette. But the union, whose earlier complaints about the practice had been dismissed and saw the company contract out the work instead, isn’t satisfied. “This is a start,” union business manager Doug Bowden said in a statement. “But we must ensure that that no employee, either company or contractor, is ever directed to or allowed to work on a slag tank when there is a potential that they can be injured.” Union leaders filed a formal grievance on the issue last month.
A loophole in Florida law has led to hundreds of injured workers being deported. While nearly all 50 states have given undocumented workers the right to receive workers’ compensation, in Florida this comes with a catch. A 2003 law made it a crime to file a workers’ comp claim using false identification. Since then, insurers have avoided paying for injured immigrant workers' lost wages and medical care by repeatedly turning them in to the state. To assess the impact of Florida's law on undocumented workers, journalists analysed 14 years of state insurance fraud data and thousands of pages of court records. They found nearly 800 cases state-wide where employees were arrested under the law, including at least 130 injured workers. An additional 125 workers were arrested after a workplace injury prompted the state to check the personnel records of other employees. Insurers have used the law to deny workers benefits after a litany of serious workplace injuries, from falls off roofs to severe electric shocks. A house painter was rejected after she was impaled on a wooden stake. Tipped-off by insurers or their private detectives, state fraud investigators have arrested injured workers at doctor’s appointments and at depositions in their workers’ comp cases. Some were taken into custody with their arms still in slings. At least 1 in 4 of those arrested was subsequently detained by immigration authorities or deported. Activists fear what's quietly been happening to workers in Florida, unnoticed even by immigrant advocates, could be a harbinger of the future as immigration enforcement expands under President Trump. “It's infuriating to think that when workers are hurt in the United States, they're essentially discarded,” said David Michaels, the head of the federal safety regulator OSHA under Obama. “If employers know that workers are too afraid to apply for workers' compensation, what's the incentive to work safely?”
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