|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.
A plan to reduce occupational cancer rates in Europe misses both the point and many of the causes, the TUC has said. The trade union body estimates over 70 per cent of cancer cases are caused by exposures at work not covered by the European carcinogens directive, and adds even where there are control limits proposed these are often ‘completely inadequate’. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson says solar radiation is the biggest single cause of occupational cancers and these are usually easily prevented, but aren’t on Europe’s list. Shiftwork, diesel exhaust, radon and passive smoking are other notable absentees. For silica, he says, the proposed occupational exposure limit for the lung carcinogen “will mean that 2.5 per cent of those exposed at that level will develop silicosis after 15 years. How can anyone think that that is acceptable?” According to Robertson: “The Commission needs a proper strategy for dealing with cancers based on the principle that no workers should be exposed to carcinogens because of their work. They should put much more emphasis on removal and substitution, rather than just maximum exposure limits.” He adds: “Of course it is not just the regulations that need to be sorted out, it is also enforcement. At present, employers are meant to remove carcinogens where practical and, if they cannot prevent exposure though other means regardless of whether there is an exposure limit, but most employers reckon that if they are operating at below the maximum limit that is enough, and regulators seem to accept that.”
More than a third (37 per cent) of black or minority ethnic (BME) workers have been bullied, abused or singled out at work, according to research published by the TUC. The polling is part of a major new TUC report on racism at work. It was carried out by ICM and is based on a survey of more than 1,000 British BME people. The research revealed that nearly half (47 per cent) of those who were verbally abused at work say this was because of their race. Only 1 in 5 (20 per cent) reported the bullying and felt their complaint was dealt with properly. And 1 in 6 (16 per cent) said they were treated less well after making a complaint. Women are particularly badly affected, the survey found, with 2 in 5 (41 per cent) reporting they wanted to leave their jobs because of bullying and harassment, but could not afford to do so. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Racist bullying, harassment and victimisation should have no place anywhere, least of all at work. And it’s clear that people are being denied opportunities because of their race.” She added: “Employers must take a zero-tolerance attitude and treat every complaint seriously. It’s a scandal that so few black and Asian workers feel their bosses are dealing with racism properly. And it's unacceptable that shop workers, bus drivers and street cleaners face racist abuse from members of the public. The government should change the law so their employers have to protect them.” The union leader said: “Anyone who has faced discrimination at work should talk to their union rep or join a trade union. We all have a responsibility to call out racism wherever we see it.” A report from the global union federation ITUC this year said action needed to be taken to address racial inequalities in occupational health, adding “as occupational risk increases the lower you go down the social class ladder, race as surely compounds this.”
TUC news release and ‘Is Racism Real?’ report. Face it: We are all sickened by inequality at work, ITUC/Hazards, March 2017.
The dangers of ‘light-touch’ regulation at work have been highlighted at the TUC’s Congress in Brighton this week. Paula Brown, vice president of the union PCS, spoke on the safety risks of light touch regulation, stating: “In this hall we represent members who face unnecessary risks at work every day.” Brown, whose union represents members in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), told delegates at the annual TUC meeting that official figures indicate 1.3 million workers were suffering from a work-related illness in 2015/16, and over 72,000 workers were injured. “Why is it then that our government continues to under regulate?” she asked. “We face Brexit at a time when HSE resources are at an all-time low.” The cost of work-related injuries is approximately £14.1bn every year, she added. Leo Nugent, a member of the national executive of the pilots’ union BALPA, said the airline sector had seen high quality standards replaced. “This light touch regulation has resulted in worsening of parameters that govern aviation,” he told delegates. “Light-touch regulation means self-regulation, which means no regulation at all.” He added: ““What we need is for the government to understand that regulation and enforcement are not dirty words. They are lifesavers.” Katie Dunning of CWU said “enough is enough. Placing profit before people is not only unlawful it is dangerous.” And Neil Hope-Collins of Prospect, the union representing frontline HSE inspectors, made the link between austerity and deregulation, telling delegates that they were “a single issue”. Congress voted to call on the government to scrap light-touch regulation and to provide additional funding to urgently address the decline in the HSE’s capacity.
The TUC will spearhead a major national campaign to increase public awareness of mental health problems in the workplace. The commitment came as delegates at the union’s annual conference urged the government to make understanding of mental health a priority. Tam McFarlane from the firefighters’ union FBU told delegates a recent study found a third of firefighters have mental health issues, much of it work-related, with 40 per cent taking prescription medication for the condition. John Hannett, general secretary of the retail union USDAW, said: “Usdaw’s experience has shown that mental health is an issue of growing importance to union members. In the UK, around 12 million people see their GP about a mental health problem every year, but mental health continues to be a hidden disability that is rarely spoken about. Therefore, it should be no surprise that recent TUC research on this subject has shown that 75 per cent of people with a long-term mental health condition are not in work.” The TUC is pressing for increased funding for mental health services and a halt to “unsustainable cuts.” There are almost 5,000 fewer mental health nurses since the Tories came to power in 2010.
Over half a million workers are now covered by the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter, which guarantees rights for workers facing a terminal diagnosis. The milestone was reached this month when Royal Mail Group, which has 140,000 employees, became the biggest signatory so far. The company joins 50 other signatories, including Santander, Legal and General, the Co-op, universities, local authorities, and various public bodies. Energy company E.ON was the first to sign in April 2016. The charter is part of the TUC’s wider ‘Dying to Work’ campaign which is seeking greater security for terminally-ill workers. The campaign began following the case of Jacci Woodcook, a 59-year-old sales manager from Derbyshire, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis.” She added: “Over half a million workers are now covered by the Dying to Work charter, and we expect more employers to commit in the coming months.” CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the charter “ensures that those workers facing a terminal illness diagnosis are not denied the choice of continuing work or how to spend their final months or years. That is, with dignity and being able to continue at work if they so wish.” Brian Scott, Unite officer for Royal Mail, said: “The charter provides for security of work, peace of mind and an opportunity to make the decision that is right for the individual and their families. It will also support employment protection and allow them to undertake the type of work that is suited to their condition in a dignified and therapeutic way.”
The government must ensure schools are safe from fires with all new and refurbished school buildings fitted with fire sprinklers, education unions have said. The National Education Union (NEU), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) this week took their own action, publishing joint guidance for school leaders on fire risk assessments in schools in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. They say “pupils, parents, staff and the wider community who use educational buildings need reassurance that they are not being exposed to a similar fire risk.” The three organisations are calling on the government to survey all school buildings to determine whether any inappropriate cladding has been used in their construction. They are also urging the government to introduce a legal requirement that all new and refurbished school buildings are fitted with a sprinkler system. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “In the aftermath of the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower attention has rightly focused on others who could be at risk, including children and school staff.” He added: “We have campaigned successfully to stop the government weakening guidance on school fire safety. The National Education Union will continue to hold the government to account to ensure that this guidance is adhered to. All new and refurbished schools should be fitted with sprinkler systems and a review of cladding on all schools needs to take place. Such a review should also focus on identification of asbestos and lead, in the longer term, to a programme of phased removal.”
Usdaw member Anthony Lampey has won the TUC health and safety rep of the year award. Tony collected the 2017 award from TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady at the TUC’s Congress in Brighton. Congratulating the Usdaw rep, his union’s general secretary, John Hannett, said: “Lay reps are fundamentally crucial to the union delivering for our members and Anthony is a shining example of what can be achieved. His Tesco dotcom site at Crawley is a much safer place thanks to the efforts of Anthony and his team. His knowledge, enthusiasm and persuasive personality have resulted in staff playing a full role in the safety agenda so any risks are spotted early and dealt with before they can escalate into something more serious.” The retail union leader added: “Always available to offer advice and support, Anthony has ensured changes are made, procedures followed and safety is well and truly embedded into the culture of the site. I was delighted to present Anthony with the Usdaw national award earlier this year. We are all extremely proud that he now gone on to secure the national TUC award.”
MPs lined up to call for a public inquiry into blacklisting and for construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine to be stripped of the contract to refurbish Big Ben. Sir Robert McAlpine, which was one of the major firms to pay compensation to blacklisted workers, has already been paid £3.5m of public money to carry out the enabling works on Big Ben and are in line for another £29m pay-out to complete the 4 year refurbishment project. During a 5 September parliamentary debate, MPs questioned whether Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, a driving force behind the blacklist, was the right contractor to be carrying out the works. Shadow minister for labour, Jack Dromey, said “there has to be consequences for historic blacklisting” adding that “it is a scandal that the iconic Big Ben contract has been given to that company.” SNP employment spokesperson Chris Stephens MP said: “Blacklisting firms have grown rich on public sector contracts” arguing that is was an “act of bad faith by the government that one of the main perpetrators is being given access to public money.” Labour’s Chuka Umunna presented emails between Crossrail and contractors obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests revealing the continuing surveillance of union members. Umunna described the new evidence as the “ugly underbelly of this sector that continues to go unaddressed” and repeated the call for a full public inquiry to get the truth behind the blacklisting conspiracy. Dave Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, commented: “In all the media coverage of the Houses of parliament construction works, Big Ben was described as the symbol of British democratic values. So how can a company that breached the human rights of thousands of honest construction workers be a suitable contractor for one of the most prestigious construction projects in the world?” GMB general secretary Tim Roache, said: “Government must never forget this sordid episode - this contract should never have been awarded and should now be cancelled.”
The construction union Unite has called on the government to act decisively “to end the nefarious practice of blacklisting once and for all”, by barring blacklisters from public sector contracts and holding a full public inquiry into the practice. The call came after Labour MP Chuka Umunna revealed in a 5 September parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall that Crossrail and major contractors working on the project are continuing to engage in the blacklisting of workers. The union said the workers, who are members of Unite, have been blacklisted purely due to their union membership or for raising safety issues. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Contemporary blacklisting is occurring in construction. The companies concerned have learned nothing from the Consulting Association scandal. Crossrail and its major contractors have been caught red-handed blacklisting workers. This is a publicly funded project and the government can no longer pretend this isn’t happening. They have always claimed they are opposed to blacklisting, now is their opportunity to act.” She added: “Construction will only finally rid itself of the stench of blacklisting when effective laws are introduced which bar blacklisters from public sector contracts, effective anti-blacklisting laws are introduced which make it a criminal offence and there is a full public inquiry into the practice.”
Many employers do not understand the terrible effects of migraines and could do more to support staff with the condition, three UK charities have said. They believe with one in seven people affected, more help and awareness from managers is needed. In a survey of 2,238 UK adults by the Migraine Trust, Migraine Action and the National Migraine Centre, 64 per cent said they thought employers were not properly informed about the nature of migraines or how they affected employees. One in five (21 per cent) believed health professionals were not fully aware of the impact of migraine on their patients either. Nine million people in the UK are thought to have migraines, with women more likely to be affected than men. The charities say each year 25 million work or school days are lost through migraine, at a cost to Britain’s economy of £2.5 billion. Simon Evans from Migraine Action said most people with migraines “kill themselves to get in to work”. He said employers should consider how lighting and computer screens could affect staff with the condition, and offer a sick room that is dark and quiet where people could go to recover. They should also send home those affected, if necessary. Research published in the journal Headache in July found that measuring daily stress levels could help predict when migraine attacks were going to occur in those who got them frequently.
Migraine Trust news release. BBC News Online. Huffington Post UK.
Timothy T Houle and others. Forecasting Individual Headache Attacks Using Perceived Stress: Development of a Multivariable Prediction Model for Persons With Episodic Migraine. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, volume 57, number 7, pages 1,041-1,050, July/August 2017.
A cake manufacturer has been fined £1m over the death of a contractor at its factory in Hull. David Shanks, 55, died from a head injury the day after falling from a stepladder while working at Greencore Grocery Ltd. The self-employed electrician, who worked almost exclusively for the firm, was not being supervised, was using a “totally inadequate” stepladder for the height, and had not been required by a project manager to provide a written risk assessment or method statement in line with company policy, Hull Crown Court heard. The father-of-two suffered a serious head injury in the 11 October 2013 fall, which happened when he “over-reached.” He had placed one foot on the cantilever lid of the machine he was working on, which moved, while his other foot was on the top of the 5ft 6ins stepladder. A Working at Height permit he was issued gave the height of the job as two metres, when the actual height was three metres. The company, which has an annual turnover of £210m, initially denied responsibility, but admitted a criminal offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act at its first court appearance. Judge Mark Bury said the project manager “did not seek from, and therefore did not discuss with David Shanks, a risk assessment and method statement, which had he done so would have revealed the ladders he had used were totally inadequate.” He added the stepladder “was clearly not tall enough, and it would have been obvious he would have had to over-reach.” Greencore Grocery Ltd was fined £1million and ordered to pay costs of £30,000. David Shanks’ family has previously accepted a £75,000 settlement from the company in a civil claim. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Denise Fotheringham said had the company met its legal responsibilities the death “could have been prevented.”
The owners of a Leeds restaurant have been fined after a worker’s foot plunged into a hot deep fat fryer. The Yorkshire Post reports that Piotr Sawicki was standing on top of a range in the kitchens of Restaurant Bar and Grill as he cleaned up at the end of service on 14 January 2016. But the kitchen porter’s foot slipped and went into the deep fat fryer, which had been turned off but was still very hot. His injuries required him to take six weeks off work. Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard Sawicki joined the team in 2012 and was shown the ropes by a colleague, who climbed on kitchen equipment to reach some of the surfaces. The injured worker had signed a risk assessment form days before the incident, but the court heard he had a limited grasp of English and had not fully understood what he was signing. Leeds City Council went on to issue a prohibition notice in May 2016 after learning procedures had not been changed. The court accepted that the restaurant acted on the advice of a health and safety firm. District Judge Marie Mallon ordered the restaurant to pay a £46,000 fine and £13,501 costs.
A car repair company and its director have been fined after failing to comply with legally binding improvement notices issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard that on 10 June 2016, Rochdale MOT Centre Limited and director, Nazar Hussain, failed to undertake the thorough examination of three two-post vehicle lifts by the dates specified in the three improvement notices. HSE had investigated the premises after an alert from the local authority. Rochdale MOT Centre Ltd and Nazar Hussain pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and were ordered to pay fines of £1,500 and £3,000 respectively. The defendants were ordered to pay the full costs of £15,609.14. HSE inspector Sarah Taylor said: “This case highlights the impact of HSE’s work, ensuring duty holders are held to account for their failings and taking the appropriate action to ensure workers’ safety.” She added: “All workers have the right to return home from work safe and healthy, both the company and director in this case placed employees at risk of harm by failing to address concerns raised by HSE inspectors.”
The work of a cleaner can be more hazardous that construction work, according to figures from Safe Work Australia. A new analysis by the official safety regulator shows the average rate of workplace injury in New South Wales since 2010 is 11.4 workers compensation claims per million hours worked in cleaning and related industries, compared to 9.5 for construction and 7.5 for mining. Australia-wide figures show a similar trend, with the injury rate for building cleaning, pest control and gardening services averaging 13.1 claims per million hours worked between 2010 and 2016. The rate for construction over the same period is 8.9 and 5 per cent for mining. The Safe Work Australia figures are based on time lost for injuries per million hours worked. United Voice, the union that represents cleaners, said injury rates in contract cleaning are high and injuries are serious. Causes included slips and falls, awkward posture and heavy lifting along with workload and time pressures. The union's NSW branch secretary Mel Gatfield said the state government’s plan to privatise cleaning services threatened to weaken protections around subcontracting and would attack the livelihoods of “some of the state's hardest workers.”
Global unions representing garment and retail workers are urging global garment brands to be part of the 2018 Bangladesh Accord on fire and building safety. The 2018 agreement was announced by the global unions and brand representatives at the OECD in Paris this June (Risks 809). IndustriALL and UNI have written to existing Accord brands that have not yet signed the new agreement to call on them to sign up. To date, 30 brands have signed the 2018 Accord, bringing more than 1,160 Bangladesh garment factories into the scope of the new agreement. The two global unions are calling on brands to sign up to the Accord by 5 October 2017, in time for the World Day for Decent Work on 7 October. “Our work must continue in Bangladesh because the Accord is still the only credible option to ensure structural integrity and fire safety in garment factories there,” said Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant general secretary. “Not enough factories have been fully remediated and too many life-threatening safety issues remain uncorrected.” Unions, non-governmental organisations and brands announced the first Bangladesh Accord in the weeks following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 workers and injured 2,500 more. “While many brands talk about supply chain transparency and social responsibility, those are just empty words without accountability,” said Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of UNI. “The Bangladesh Accord is the only platform that is legally binding, and its track record of life-saving remediation is proof of the effectiveness of this model.” The new, improved 2018 Accord comes into effect after the 2013 Accord expires in May 2018.
Scientists have traced the source of a re-emerging disease, Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) or ‘monkey fever’, to cashew plantations in Goa. Cashew nut workers, some of whom have tested positive for the condition, face occupational exposure to KFD, the scientists report in a study in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. The disease, which also affects black-faced langurs and red-faced bonnet monkeys, is spread by tick bites. Symptoms include high fever with headache, followed by haemorrhagic symptoms such as bleeding from the nose, throat and gums as well as gastrointestinal bleeding, and muscle stiffness, tremors, absent reflexes and mental disturbances. The convalescence period is typically very long, lasting for several months. In some cases, the condition can be fatal. “Our study showed that the persons fell ill after cashew nut harvesting in Goa on return to their residences in Belgaum within the incubation period of 6-7 days,” Dr DT Mourya, director of the National Institute of Virology, told The Indian Express. “This corroborates the assumption that these cases had acquired infection at Goa, as it takes a minimum of four days’ incubation period for the appearance of antibodies.” He said the only source of infection would be through monkeys and ticks during cashew nut harvesting.
DY Patil and others. Occupational exposure of cashew nut workers to Kyasanur Forest disease in Goa, India, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, volume 61, pages 61-67, August 2017. Indian Express.
On the fifth anniversary of the deadly Baldia garment factory fire, a research group in Pakistan has expressed serious concerns about the persistent unsafe working conditions prevalent in Pakistan’s factories. The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) said that majority of the country’s workplaces still do not have any health or safety precautions in place for workers. Over 250 workers employed at the garment factory Ali Enterprises in Baldia died in the 2012 fire, behind barred windows and locked doors. PILER said in Pakistan only one per cent of the entire labour force is unionised, which means labourers do not have the power to advocate for their rights. The Asian Network of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) also issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the Ali Enterprises fire. It noted: “ANROEV is calling on the government of Pakistan to deliver due social justice for survivors and affected families of Ali Enterprises factory fire tragedy, and ensure safer workplace for all.”
For the latest course information please visit www.tuceducation.org.uk
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).