|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 protected]|
Fire crew sizes for a fleet of controversial small fire vehicles in North Yorkshire will increase as a result of pressure from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The chair of North Yorkshire Fire Authority, councillor Andrew Backhouse, last week announced that four firefighters will now crew each Tactical Response Vehicle (TRV), instead of three. The union says that the move could save up to 20 firefighter posts, and even save lives. It is a policy u-turn from the fire authority, who earlier this year wanted to reduce TRV crews to just two firefighters. The move came after North Yorkshire FBU brigade secretary Steve Howley presented a damning statement to the fire authority about how public safety was being put at risk by two-strong fire crews. The FBU won the support of local MPs, prompting the newly appointed fire authority chair to offer up the policy change. Fire crews operating the TRVs at fire stations in Ripon, Tadcaster, Northallerton and Malton will be made up of at least four firefighters by April 2018 at the latest. Simon Wall, chair of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “We welcome this news, which could potentially save up to 20 firefighter posts over the coming year. This is the right course of action to safeguard both the public and firefighters.”
Pilots’ union BALPA has accused the outspoken head of Ryanair of giving a ‘worrying’ message dismissive of pilot fatigue risks. The union was responding after Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of the discount airline, said last week that pilot fatigue as a result of flying in short-haul operations does not exist, and that pilots fly a maximum of 18 hours a week. BALPA said it believed O’Leary is wrong on both points. Brian Strutton, BALPA general secretary, said: “Fatigue is endemic in all kinds of commercial flying. To suggest that pilot fatigue in short-haul operations can only occur because of the pilot’s activities outside of work is, in our view, wrong. BALPA is worried about what message this is giving to pilots, and what effect this management attitude has on safety culture.” He added: “Pilots are legally-bound to report their fatigue as it can have dangerous effects on pilot performance. Ryanair appears to be telling its pilots that if they report, their attitude will be that it’s the pilot’s own fault. This is not a good way to engender an open reporting culture. Additionally, the 18-hour figure that Mr O’Leary has come up with does not seem to have any basis in reality. Pilots’ flying and duty hours are rightly regulated in order to avoid fatigue. Current EU-level regulations limit pilots’ duty hours to 60 per week, and flying hours to 100 in 28 days.” He said: “If Ryanair cared to share their pilots’ rosters with us we’d be happy to analyse them for fatigue.”
Rail you RMT warned last week of a severe threat to passenger safety on Greater Anglia rail services “from a hastily cobbled together scab army of managers.” It said the replacements were drafted in by Abellio in a desperate bid to break strike action planned for the first week in October. The union says the action by RMT members is part of their fight to maintain their safety critical role. In a letter to Abellio bosses, copied to safety regulator the Office of Road and Rail, RMT general secretary Mick Cash highlighted a recent incident where a trainee manager opened the train doors before a train stopped at Halesworth station. The letter also demanded “a halt to the high risk strike breaking plan.” Mick Cash said: “I am aware of plans the company are putting in place to minimise the effect of RMT industrial action during our current dispute. I understand this includes providing training to non-safety critical staff in a desperate attempt to carry on running business as usual. We believe these contingency plans include provision for persons utilized as guards (PUGS).” Referencing the Halesworth station incident, he added: “I would suggest that the company’s time and effort would be more productively utilised in reaching an agreeable solution to the dispute rather than continuing in your forlorn attempt to weaken the effect of our industrial action.”
Legal claims over exposure to diesel exhaust fumes at work are rising as unions raise concerns about toxic air in the workplace. Royal Mail and at least one local authority are among major employers who are being sued over their alleged failure to protect staff from the damaging health effects of diesel pollution from vehicles, reports the Guardian. More cases are lined up, according to lawyers and unions involved in supporting workers. Dan Shears, health and safety director for the GMB union, said: “We strongly believe it is a major problem. It needs a test case and then there will be an increase in claims. It’s almost like the early days of asbestos.” He added: “There are potentially lots of people who have unnecessarily suffered premature death who may have been affected by industrial exposure. We are now with diesel in the same place we were with asbestos in the 1930s.” Exposures can cause respiratory and heart diseases, and cancer. In one case Parcelforce Worldwide, part of Royal Mail Group Limited, is being sued by an employee who worked at a major depot where he says he was exposed daily to diesel exhaust pollution for eight hours a shift. He says the exposure led him to develop asthma, and provides medical evidence to support his claim. The claimant, who is 47, said no protection was provided by his employer in the form of ventilation in his booth or protective equipment. With the backing of his union, CWU, he is taking action against Royal Mail, whom he said failed to advise him of the dangers of exposure to diesel fumes, failed to carry out a risk assessment of where he worked, failed to monitor the air quality at all until 2015, and failed to take action to protect him. The union Unite said exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is a ‘ticking time bomb’ (Risks 798). It has set up a diesel emissions register so employees can record their exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. A study by the union revealed that affected workers are reporting short-term health effects that included wheezing, respiratory problems, eye irritation, nausea and headache. Long-term problems recorded included reduced lung capacity, breathlessness and asthma.
Unite has written to transport secretary Chris Grayling urging him to take action to ensure the safety of mobile cranes when they are driven on roads. The union says mobile cranes are exempt from requiring an annual MoT. Following a three-year long consultation, the Department of Transport has recently announced that it will introduce regulations that will require mobile cranes on an HGV chassis to undergo MoTs. However mobile cranes are exempt from MoT testing as many of them are too large to fit into a testing centre. Unite says while it understands size considerations are an issue, it believes that a compulsory testing and regulations must be introduced to improve safety and to reassure both drivers and other road users the vehicles are roadworthy. The union is also calling on the government to introduce a tachograph system for mobile cranes and other forms of major plant. Unlike a lorry, these vehicles can currently be driven on the roads without restriction and without the driver having to take mandatory breaks. Unite national officer for construction, Bernard McAulay, said: “Members of the public will be concerned that there are no rules ensuring that these large machines are roadworthy. Mobile crane drivers need to know that they are in a safe vehicle.” He added: “Chris Grayling must re-think the government’s response. Too often we have seen how penny pinching on safety matters has terrible consequences and we should ensure that this is not the case with regards to mobile cranes, including the all-terrain variety.”
A legal employment rights victory by the GMB paved the way for the app based taxi firm losing its licence to operate in London, the union has said. GMB said its court action forced the company to defend its record on drivers’ employment rights and public safety and brought its exploitative practices into the public gaze. Speaking this week after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew Uber’s license to operate in the capital, Maria Ludkin, GMB legal director, said: “This historic decision is a victory for GMB’s campaign to ensure drivers are given the rights they are entitled to - and that the public, drivers and passengers are kept safe. As a result of sustained pressure from drivers and the public, Uber has suffered yet another defeat - losing its license to operate in London. It's about time the company faced up to the huge consequences of GMB's landmark employment tribunal victory - and changed its ways.” She added: “No company can behave like it's above the law, and that includes Uber. No doubt other major cities will be looking at this decision and considering Uber’s future on their own streets. GMB will always challenge bogus self-employment and tackling exploitation. This decision vindicates our campaign and should be a wake-up call to a company that has for far too long been in denial.”
Black cab drivers’ union Unite has praised mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) for ‘putting the safety of Londoners ahead of big corporate interests’ by deciding not to renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital. The chair of London’s Unite black cab section, Jim Kelly, said: “The mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have done the right thing in putting the safety of passengers and Londoners ahead of the big corporate interests of Uber.” He added: “Dogged by controversy, Uber’s approach has been to exploit workers and bend the rules while trying to brush passenger safety concerns under the carpet.” He said the decision “signals that the mayor of London and Transport for London are not prepared to allow London to become the ‘wild west’ of the cab trade and put passengers at risk. In the coming weeks Uber will no doubt throw all its legal and corporate lobbying might to overturn this decision. We would urge the mayor of London and Transport for London to stand firm and continue to stand up for the safety of Londoners and the capital’s trusted cabbies.”
A tribunal has ruled Addison Lee drivers are entitled to basic workers’ rights, in a union backed case. The Central London Employment Tribunal ruling, which will affect thousands of Addison Lee drivers, determined a group of the company’s drivers represented by the GMB union were not self-employed, as Addison Lee argued, but are workers who are entitled to essential workers’ rights, including to be paid the National Minimum Wage, receive holiday pay, take breaks and not have their contracts terminated because they are members of a trade union. In October 2016, GMB won a similar ground-breaking ruling against taxi app firm Uber. Maria Ludkin, GMB legal director, said: “Once again the courts have agreed with our argument regarding bogus self-employment. Addison Lee drivers are worker and are therefore entitled to workers’ rights. This ruling means yet another logistics firm has been forced to obey the law and honour responsibilities to employees.” Liana Wood from law firm Leigh Day, who represented the drivers, said: “Addison Lee advertises itself as a premium driving service and seeks to ensure that its drivers meet the high standard required for that premium service. However, Addison Lee drivers very often work very long hours, in excess of 60 hours a week, in order to just earn enough to cover their basic living costs.” She added the legal action was needed because of “a creeping erosion of employment rights as companies misclassify their workers as self-employed” to avoid providing them basic employment rights.
Over 300 firms are to be interviewed by the Metropolitan Police as part of the Grenfell Tower investigation. Around 200 Metropolitan Police detectives are currently working on the case combing through millions of business records of companies. Officers previously said they had identified 60 companies that had been involved in the construction, refurbishment or management of Grenfell. But they say that number has now grown to 336 different organisations. The Met says each is being contacted to establish exactly what their role was. “Where their role is considered relevant, digital downloads of all business records are being recovered. So far, in excess of 31 million documents have been recovered and it is anticipated that number will increase,” the Met said. The police also confirmed that they will be considering individual and corporate manslaughter charges. Detective Chief Superintendent Fiona McCormack said: “The investigation into what happened at Grenfell Tower is a priority for the Met and we are determined to find the answers that so many desperately seek. Outside of counter-terrorism investigations, this is the biggest investigation the MPS is undertaking and the scale is huge.” The forensic examination of the tower is ongoing and will continue into the New Year. The Metropolitan Police has confirmed to the Hazards Campaign their investigation will not involve questioning ministers about the government’s deregulatory and cost-cutting policies, factors linked to the tragedy by the TUC (Risks 805) and unions (Risks 807), safety bodies (Risks 806), the international media (Risks 806) and campaigners (Risks 809).
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has called for justice for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower blaze and said the disaster was a ‘direct consequence’ of deregulation of fire standards. Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, the Labour MP said the blaze symbolised the Tories’ failure and said the issues “go further than the borough council.” She said: “Events at Grenfell are also a direct consequence of deregulation of fire standards and inspection, privatisation and outsourcing.” Abbott added: “Labour in government will work across departments to counter the effects of deregulation, liberalisation and the weakening of trade union rights and freedoms.” She added a Labour government would recruit 3,000 additional firefighters. “We fully support the campaigning of the Fire Brigades Union, against the cuts,” she said. “We all saw the photographs of the brave smoke blackened firefighters insisting on going back into the flames to save lives. We relied on our fire brigade at Grenfell. And the fire brigade must be the lead agency for assessing risk, fire inspections and proper sign-off for all major works and refurbishment. No more outsourcing to the private sector.” It is thought the 14 June fire claimed as many as 80 lives. The TUC last week published new workplace fire safety guidance, highlighting ways to address potential risks in high rise and other workplaces (Risks 818).
Soaring rates of mental health workers going sick through stress is a ‘real concern’, the union Unite has said. It added that many more working wounded will be ‘soldiering on’ despite being unwell. The union was commenting after BBC freedom of information requests discovered the number of NHS mental health staff who have had to take sick leave because of their own mental health issues has risen by 22 per cent in the past five years. Those taking long-term leave of a month or more rose from 7,580 in 2012-13 to 9,285 in 2016-17. Out of 81 mental health authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 58 provided the BBC with comparable information. Commenting on the findings, Unite said cuts to staff and services were putting extra pressure on frontline mental health workers. Dave Munday, mental health professional lead at Unite, which represents 100,000 health workers across the UK, said: “These figures are of real concern and they only tell part of the story. We know that many more mental health professionals will feel unwell but try to 'soldier on' or mask the real reason they're taking leave.” He added: “Our members tell us workplace stress is increasing and that cuts to staff and services mean they're working longer hours with fewer resources. Staff themselves are feeling the impact of austerity and there's a lack of trust in the often repeated but not fulfilled promises of the current government.” A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing said: “The pressure to make the right decision and provide care for extremely vulnerable people against a backdrop of staff shortages, can take its toll on their health and wellbeing.” They added: “We want to see action on work-related stress, including violence at work which, as well as physical injuries, adds to burnout stress, and depression.”
A retired headteacher died of an asbestos cancer she believed was caused by exposure to the deadly fibre during her teaching career. A 21 September inquest at Exeter’s County Hall heard how Cathy Kowan, who was living in Exmouth at the time of her death, had varied jobs, but the majority was spent working in education. During her retirement she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in October 2015. She died in a hospice in Exeter on 3 May 2017, aged 72-years-old. Her cause of death was confirmed as malignant mesothelioma, and an existing condition of intra-abdominal adhesions was noted. In a statement made after her diagnosis, Mrs Kowan said she believed she might have been exposed to asbestos while working as a headteacher at Dulvertton First School and Nursery in Somerset. However, Somerset County Council said it did not accept she was exposed to asbestos during her time working for them. The council’s solicitor, Jamie Mitchell, said Mrs Kowan’s husband was a carpenter who worked in a joinery shop and would take his clothes back home from work which could have contained asbestos fibres. This had been refuted earlier by Mrs Kowan. Coroner John Tomalin said: “There is ongoing mitigation which is outside of my remit. I think it’s more likely than not that Mrs Kowan was exposed to asbestos fibres during her lifetime. As to where this happened or when I cannot say. I have not direct evidence to give such a conclusion.” The inquest recorded that Mrs Kowan’s death was asbestos related.
Sports stars, amateur players and ground staff could be at risk as a result of a “remarkable” lack of occupational health checks on the effects of rubber crumb pitches, a study has found. The health of some people who work with surfaces made from recycled tyres – such as production workers, suppliers, installers and maintainers – may also be jeopardised due to inadequate monitoring, the research suggests. Professor Andrew Watterson, who authored the study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, said it appears that risks are being “downplayed” despite well-documented links between rubber production and illness, bans on landfill disposal of used tyres and concerns about the health of sports people and others who use such surfaces. Indoor and outdoor pitches made from artificial grass may be filled with crumb rubber, which can contain hazardous chemicals. Due to data gaps and limitations of earlier studies, the risks posed by low level exposures to these chemicals are constantly being re-assessed and lower control limits applied. Professor Watterson, head of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, said the lack of health monitoring of sportspeople and crumb rubber production and maintenance workers was “remarkable”, given well-publicised concerns. “The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority inspectors clearly have an important role to play here. We hope that our research results in more frequent, independent scrutiny of the industry by HSE and of private leisure facilities by local authorities and encourages the industry and regulators to increase and improve the information available to users along with more extensive health surveillance and monitoring.” The professor is calling for “proper” cumulative health impact assessments to be carried out, looking at the risk of hazardous chemicals, including rubber crumb. He said: “There have already been calls for tougher controls on some of the chemicals that may be present in crumb rubber and a cautious approach is wise.”
Andrew Watterson. Artificial turf: Contested terrains for precautionary public health with particular reference to Europe?, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, volume 14, number 9, 2017.
Sexual harassment at work is bad for mental health, according to a new study. Researchers in Denmark found 1 per cent of more than 7,600 employees working for over 1,000 different organisations were sexually harassed by a supervisor, colleague or a subordinate, while 2.4 per cent suffered the same treatment from someone else they dealt with at work. Women were much more likely to face this treatment than men, with 169 out of 4,116 – compared to just 11 out of 3,487 men – reporting sexual harassment by customers. Of those who said work colleagues had harassed them, 48 were women and 31 were men. The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, measured the effect on mental health using the Major Depression Inventory (MDI), a questionnaire used to work out a score in which 20 indicates mild depression and 30 or more major depression. Harassment by clients or customers increased the score by an average of 2.05 points, while this treatment at the hands of colleagues raised the score by 4.5 points. Co-author Dr Ida Madsen, of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark, said: “In this study we found that sexual harassment from clients or customers, which is more prevalent than harassment from other employees, is associated with an increased level of depressive symptoms.” She added: “This is important as some workplaces, for example in person-related work such as care work or social work, may have an attitude that dealing with sexual harassment by clients or customers is ‘part of the job’.” A survey by the TUC last year found that two-thirds of 18 to 24-year-old women had suffered sexual harassment at work with a third subjected to unwelcome ‘jokes’ and one in four receiving sex-related comments about their body or clothes (Risks 764). One in four had been touched inappropriately and one in eight said someone had tried to kiss them.
Maria K Friborg and others. Workplace sexual harassment and depressive symptoms: a cross-sectional multilevel analysis comparing harassment from clients or customers to harassment from other employees amongst 7603 Danish employees from 1041 organizations, BMC Public Health, published online 25 September 2017. The Independent.
TUC guide to your rights on sexual harassment, union reps’ guide to addressing sexual harassment and report, Still just a bit of banter? Everyday Sexism Project and ‘shouting back’ platform.
Two scaffold inspectors who provided a fraudulent safety sign off on a scaffold have been prosecuted after a worker fell through a gap between the scaffolding and the building, resulting in serious injuries. Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how on 26 March 2014, the 49-year old worker was working on a re-roofing project. As he stepped down from the untiled roof onto a fixed scaffold, he fell through a gap between the working platform of the scaffolding and the building. He suffered fracture injuries to his spine and had to wear a back brace for eight weeks. The scaffolding had been signed off as safe for use by Stephen Harper and Garry Arnold. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed that they had not carried out the relevant inspections and had falsified the certificates to show that the scaffold was safe for use. HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Scaffold inspectors are relied upon by workers and must be trusted. Falsely completing reports without carrying out a thorough inspection can lead to serious risks being missed and life changing accidents occurring.” Stephen Harper and Garry Arnold pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and were each sentenced to 170 hours community service and ordered to pay £1,500 costs.
The deaths of at least six people in a textile mill fire in Bangladesh last week highlights the pressing need for new compensation scheme for bereaved families, a labour rights group has said. The Clean Clothes Campaign said “in order not to leave them destitute without just compensation for employment injury, it is imperative that brands, employers and the government of Bangladesh step up to improve access to and provision of remedy in the short-term and by moving forward towards a permanent solution with adopting the National Employment Injury Scheme.” Local media report that a fire broke out in the Ideal Textile Mill in Munshiganj, Bangladesh, on 20 September, killing five men and one woman, who were trapped on a higher floor. This fire is one of several deadly factory incidents in the country’s textile industry this year, including the Multifabs Ltd boiler explosion on 3 July 2017 (Risks 807) as well as the Pakiza Textile Ltd fire on 1 June 2017 (Risks 805). Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign said: “It’s been nearly four years since the Aswad textile factory burned to the ground in Bangladesh killing and injuring over 50 workers. Tragically, to add insult to injury, their families are still waiting for adequate compensation. Their plight shows why a bridging solution for access to remedy is urgently needed until a full-fledged national system is operational.” The campaign said until an employment injury scheme covering all workers has been implemented at a national level in Bangladesh, brands that placed orders at factories where garment workers were grievously injured or died in factory fires, including H&M, Aldi, Lindex, Newbody, Rex Holm and Scanwear, “should actively support a bridging solution coordinated by the ILO, using the Rana Plaza Arrangement methodology for calculating payments and delivering benefits.” It repeated its call for textile factories to be brought within the scope of Bangladesh Accord, a union brokered safety deal covering garment factories introduced after the catastrophic Rana Plaza factory collapse.
Chicken has dethroned beef as the USA’s favourite meat. As demand increases, the industry’s friends in Congress are dusting off previously rejected proposals to dramatically and dangerously increase speeds on the poultry production lines. Naomi Tsu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported one worker developed disabling repetitive strain disorders one month after taking a job in the industry, and was promptly fired. “As bird carcasses sped by him, he grabbed, twisted, and folded their wings into the position the company wanted. His quota was 40 wings a minute, or about 18,000 a day,” she wrote in The Hill. And yet, she noted, Georgia Representative Doug Collins wants the rate upped from the ‘whopping’ 140 birds per minute (bpm), set by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), to 175 bpm. In 1999, the rate was just 91bpm. Collins’ approach to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “is placing private profit over the health and safety of workers, and disregarding consumers who expect uncontaminated poultry,” she wrote. “In a recent letter signed by us and 39 other organisations, we implored Secretary Perdue to take the health concerns of poultry workers more seriously,” she observed, adding: “With more consumers opting for chicken, the health of poultry plant workers as well as consumers themselves is, quite literally, on the line.”
For the latest course information please visit www.tuceducation.org.uk