|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.
Employers are failing workers in the community and voluntary sector by viewing violence at work as inevitable, UNISON Scotland has said. Launching ‘It’s not part of the job’, a new guide aimed at workers in the community and voluntary sector, the union said its survey last year had revealed the number of violent attacks on public service staff has doubled in the past ten years. UNISON said the results underlined its longstanding concerns over violence in the workplace. It added that of the members – mainly women – who had experienced violence in the course of their work, half (50 per cent) had been physically assaulted. More than six in ten (61 per cent) had faced threatening behaviour, 56 per cent had been verbally abused and the same percentage had experienced a combination of all three. Deborah Clarke, UNISON Scotland’s head of community, said: “We know from the direct experience of our members in the community and voluntary sector that violent assaults on workers, especially in care jobs, are a huge problem. This is made worse partly because it is regarded by many employers and others as just ‘part of the job’. Violence at work, in any form, is not acceptable and is not part of the contract of employment.” Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “Violence at work is a major occupational hazard for too many workers. While physical attacks are the most serious form of violence, verbal abuse and threats are much more common and can have long-term health effects.” He added: “This does not mean there are easy simple solutions that can immediately eradicate all attacks on staff. However, some employers appear to see violence as inevitable, unpredictable and therefore uncontrollable. We hope this guide will give our members the means to ensure that violence is never ‘part of the job’.”
Postal workers’ union CWU has criticised a court sentence for an irresponsible dog owner whose Doberman dogs mauled a Boston postwoman, leaving her with life-changing injuries (Risks 808). Sharron Singer was on her round in July when she was attacked by two Doberman dogs in the village of Wrangle near Boston. She suffered 19 bites, some of which caused very serious injuries to muscles, tendons and bones. She is still having surgery for her injuries. The dog owner, Julian Palfreyman, was charged with an aggravated offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act, for having a dog dangerously out of control. After hearing his guilty plea, the court sentenced Palfreyman to one year of probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered him to pay the victim compensation of £1,000 in instalments of £100 a month. The dogs were returned to Palfreyman, with a court order that they are muzzled in public. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce commented: “To say our members at Boston are angry is an understatement.” He added: “The court has the power to issue destruction orders on the dogs involved and can disqualify the convicted owner from keeping dogs for a number of years up to a life ban, but astoundingly, this court failed to do either… Some owners voluntarily destroy dogs after such a savage attack. This obviously didn’t happen either.” Under the revised Danberous Dogs Act, introduced following the CWU’s successful ‘Bite-Back’ campaign, the law was extended to apply on private property as well as public places and tougher sentences were introduced. Dog owners can face jail sentences of up to 14 years for fatal dog attacks and a maximum of five years for dog attacks causing injury, as well as unlimited fines.
The GMB has made a renewed call for a law to make assaults on emergency workers in the line of duty an aggravated offence. The union, which says there were assaults on 1,000 firefighters, 2,400 paramedics and over 2.4 million police officers last year, is urging MPs to support Chris Bryant’s Assault on Emergency Staff Bill. Addressing the Labour Party Conference last week about the ‘Our Protectors Bill’, GMB national president for manufacturing Andy Irving, said: “This year we have seen the very best of our emergency services and we have been completely humbled by their bravery. Frontline workers are increasingly finding themselves in vulnerable situations and all too often security at work is far from a reality.” He added: “MPs and trade unions are fighting for a change in the law so that any assault on emergency services is an aggravated offence.”
Members of the first fire crews to attend Grenfell Tower have expressed frustration at the time it took to send backup engines, a delay that hampered their ability to evacuate more people, the head of the firefighters’ union FBU has said. General secretary Matt Wrack, who has spoken to firefighters who attended the blaze, said the delay may have been worsened by closures of local fire stations. He said some of the firefighters had asked the union to highlight concerns about the time they had to wait for the second wave of firefighters during the crucial early stages, as they struggled to evacuate residents. Cuts to firefighter numbers and a process of fire safety deregulation should be a key part of the public inquiry into the disaster, Wrack told the Guardian. But he said the initial list of questions the government-commissioned inquiry sets out to answer did not explicitly address either issue. Wrack said his union would boycott the whole inquiry if members felt these crucial issues were not being addressed. “There have been fire station closures and fire engines axed,” he said. “Some firefighters who were there have said to me that a quicker response earlier might have made a difference.” A long-term deregulation of fire services and safety rules should be scrutinised, Wrack said. “David Cameron described health and safety as a monster. He discussed an over-obsession with health and safety in the fire service. He should answer some questions,” he said. Firefighters wanted senior figures to be held accountable, he added, and would not be satisfied with a prosecution of a “subcontractor who screwed a bit of cladding to the building”. The union leader concluded: “If regulations affected this, who signed the regulations? If policies were adopted who adopted the policies? This was the worst fire since the Blitz in terms of loss of life. If political decisions have helped lead to that outcome, the ministers responsible should be gone.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Unite has said it is disappointed but not surprised that the government is once again ‘washing its hands’ of blacklisting. Following a debate initiated by Labour MP Chuka Ummuna on the human rights scandal last month (Risks 817), SNP MP Chris Stephens wrote to junior business minister Margot James asking the government to take action to bar blacklisters from public sector contracts. In her reply, Margot James said: “It is up to individual contracting authorities to apply these measures and take steps to be confident in the current practices of their contractors.” Unite said the government’s latest refusal to act comes as the union was forced to intervene to secure the reinstatement of a member who experienced ‘contemporary blacklisting’. The Unite member was employed on a major construction project in London by sub-contractor Metalyapi, a Turkish company that specialises in steel frame roof glazing. Unite said a major safety incident occurred on the site where a steel frame was nearly dropped from a tower crane. As a result of this near miss, the member raised several health and safety issues. Sometime after the incident he concluded his work with the company. He later obtained work with a different company on the same project, underwent his induction but was then told there was no position for him. Unite said when the convenor spoke to the company that had refused him work, he was told: “You would not want him on site anyway as he cost the contractor a lot of money.” Unite said it “transpired the company had asked Metalyapi about our member, which had illegally said that he should not be employed.” After the Unite convenor stressed the union would not stand by while workers were illegally refused work, the member was reinstated. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Once again the government is washing its hands on blacklisting at a time when Unite is uncovering more new cases. What you get with this government is warm words but no action.” She added: “This case demonstrates why it is essential that workers are members of Unite and that the union has strong organisation on sites. Without the work of Unite’s convenor our member would have been denied work. When Unite identifies blacklisting we will do everything in our power whether industrially, legally or politically to identify the culprits and win justice for our members.”
Big Ben will now cost £61m to renovate with the extra taxpayers’ cash ‘trousered by the kings of blacklisting’ Sir Robert McAlpine Limited, the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) has said. The rising cost was announced as parliament confirmed it had appointed the construction giant to carry out the renovation, which could take up to four years, following a tendering process. The authorities said the revised figure followed a more detailed and technical assessment of the 160-year-old tower's condition, including the state of stonework and the cost of removing and repainting the metal in the tower and reglazing the clock face. In a statement, the union supported Blacklist Support Group commented: “This company was at the very centre of a national scandal that violated the human rights of over 3,000 workers over a 40-year period. Sir Robert McAlpine Limited has also been a major donor to the Conservative Party for decades.” It continued: “The Big Ben announcement came at the same time that minister Margot James reiterated the government’s position that the Tory government would not ban any blacklisting company from public contracts in a letter to Glasgow MP, Chris Stephens.” Roy Bentham, BSG joint secretary and a blacklisted carpenter from Liverpool, commented: “This is a case of the nasty party rearing its ugly head once more. The fact that so many of those complicit still work within the industry tells us everything. Only a full public inquiry will get to the truth of this conspiracy that blighted the lives of so many honest hard-working families.”
Rail unions have welcomed the announcement by the Welsh government that it will require the next franchise to keep a safety critical conductor or guard on all of the Wales & Borders trains and services, including the South Wales Metro. The administration said the commitment follows a ‘clear public response’ in consultations, where more than 90 per cent of respondents said a second member of staff was either quite important or essential in the Wales and Borders region. The announcement from First Minister Carwyn Jones also included confirmation that responsibility and ownership of the railway infrastructure will remain with Network Rail. “Our hard-working railway staff are a major asset in delivering a modern and safe railway, and it is right that they are central to our ambitious plans for the new Wales & Border Services and South Wales Metro,” the Welsh leader said. “I am, therefore, delighted that we have been able to have such positive and constructive discussions with the railway trade unions, something I have been keen to ensure from the offset.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “The First Minister's welcome commitment to keep a guard on every train is a breakthrough for our campaign against driver only trains and for our campaign for a safe, secure and accessible railway, not only in Wales but nationwide.” He added: “Our policy is for a national integrated railway under public ownership and we will continue to campaign for that objective. We note that this is also the aspiration of the Welsh government who are operating within the legislative constraints imposed by Westminster.” Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “We welcome these commitments. We also commend the Welsh government for recognising the importance of consulting with the rail unions. Our members are the people who deliver the service on a daily basis and their voice must always be heard when deciding how the industry moves forward.”
Construction projects across Britain are being told to ensure the health and safety of their workers is protected, as the second phase of a targeted inspection initiative gets underway. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said 43 workers were fatally injured in 2015/16, and an estimated ten times that number died from construction related ill-health, with a further 65,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries. HSE said it is now asking every construction contractor, client and designer to ensure they are not adding to this unacceptable toll by failing to manage well-known risks. In addition to things such as falls from height, the campaign will focus on control of harmful dusts including respirable silica from concrete, brick and stone, asbestos and wood dust, as well as work at height, structural safety, materials handling, good order and welfare provision. HSE said there is a misconception that health problems cannot be controlled in construction. It said harmful dust is a serious issue and can be managed effectively with the right design, equipment and training. It added that health effects “may not be immediate, but the ultimate impact on workers and their families can be devastating.” The safety regulator carried out over 2,000 inspections during the first phase of the initiative earlier this year, with the enforcer taking action to address these issues in almost half of visits. HSE chief inspector of construction Peter Baker commented: “In phase 1 of this campaign HSE’s inspectors found lots of good examples of small sites working safely and protecting workers’ health from exposure to harmful dusts, proving it can be done. My message to smaller businesses is don’t wait for an accident or a visit from an HSE inspector – learn from the success of others and act now.”
The waste and recycling industry has been told it must pay closer attention to how it manages workplace risk or face serious penalties. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says a programme of proactive inspections will review health and safety standards in waste and recycling businesses across the country, with the unannounced inspections to take place in October. The visits were announced as HSE released sector plans that pinpoint the waste and recycling industry as a priority sector. The watchdog says the waste and recycling sector, which has around 120,000 workers, has a higher rate of workplace injury than other sectors. In the five years to 2016/17 there were 39 fatalities to workers and 11 members of the public were killed. It adds the sector’s workers are more likely to suffer work-related illness than any other sector. HSE’s head of waste and recycling Rick Brunt said: “The waste and recycling industry continues to have one of the poorest health and safety records. This inspection initiative will look at certain activities to ensure effective management and control of risk.” He added: “HSE is calling on anyone working in the industry to take the time to refresh their knowledge of our advice and guidance, available for free on our website. Every worker has the right to return from work safe in the knowledge that their employer takes their health and safety seriously.”
A recycling company and its two directors have been prosecuted after ignoring a succession of official warnings from the safety regulator and concerns raised by the company’s own staff. Northampton Crown Court heard how Monoworld Recycling had failed to manage risks when its staff worked at height, failed to suitably maintain work equipment and failed to control risks from electrical systems. After several visits from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a total of 15 enforcement notices were served on the company and three served on each of the two company directors, in less than two years. The notices covered topics including work at height, work equipment and electrical concerns. An investigation by HSE found employees were instructed to carry out work at height even after a prohibition notice was served and staff felt pressurised to complete their work even when they had raised concerns about their safety. Monoworld Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £83,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000. Director Dhanesh Ruparelia pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months, and fined £10,000 with £7,000 costs. Co-director Nimaye Ruparelia pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was ordered to complete a 150 hours community order and was fined £7,500 with £7,000 costs. HSE inspector Neil Ward said: “The company’s failings in this case have put their workers at risk from serious personal injury. It was clear the overall approach to business risk was haphazard at best, with a culture of negligence, for which the two directors were ultimately responsible.” He added: “The HSE took proactive action, throughout its dealings with Monoworld, and tried to work with the company when concerns were first raised.”
A waste removal contractor from Bridgend has been fined after undertaking asbestos removal work at two locations without the required licence. Swansea Magistrates’ Court heard how on 1 September and 7 November 2016 Mark John Gibson, who advertised as an asbestos removal service, was contracted to remove asbestos containing materials from properties in Pont Y Clun and Dyffryn Chapel, Caerau. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Gibson, trading as All-Gone Waste, worked with asbestos containing materials that required him to have a licence from the HSE. He did not have and has never had a licence issued to him for this purpose. Mark John Gibson pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,657. HSE inspector Phil Nicolle commented: “Mr Gibson undertook asbestos removal work which he was not licensed to do. Asbestos removal must be done by HSE licensed contractors to ensure the highest standards are met to prevent health risks to employees and members of public.”
An oil storage company has been fined after contractors cut into a sealed pipe causing a tank to explode. Liverpool Crown Court heard that on 19 January 2015 contractors working at ESL Fuels Ltd cut into a sealed pipe using a grinder. The pipe, which was attached to a vessel, was being used as part of a waste oil recovery process at the fuel firm’s North Blend Tank Farm. Flammable gases within the pipe ignited, resulting in the lid of the tank detaching due to pressure build up. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company was having difficulty with the waste oil recovery process, with chemicals foaming out of the vessel. Rather than dealing with the health and safety issue directly, a decision was taken to connect the vessel to an emergency relief dump tank to collect further foam. But this created a flammable atmosphere within the dump tank and connecting relief pipework. ESL Fuels Ltd, based at the Stanlow Oil Terminal near Ellesmere Port, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,000. HSE inspector Matthew Lea said: “The contractors were given a very basic induction and were not told about health and safety issues in relation to ESL Fuels Ltd being a COMAH major hazard site. Contractors were not warned about the process work being carried out in the North Blend Tank Farm and how it could impact on them.” He added: “HSE has brought this prosecution because a failure took place that could have resulted in death or serious injury and we believe every person should be healthy and safe at work.”
A newly released publication from the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlights the ‘special relevance of environmental risks’ for non-communicable diseases (NCDs). WHO presents the burden of NCDs caused by environmental risks – a category that includes occupational risk factors - as well as the many areas where action is needed to reduce the burden. It estimates almost a quarter (23 per cent) of global deaths are linked to environmental factors. The report notes that measures necessary to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include steps to: “Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular, women migrants, and those in precarious employment.”
Three workers are currently on trial on charges relating to the Lac-Mégantic train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the small Quebec town on 6 July 2013 (Risks 669). But many believe the three are scapegoats, and those responsible for corner-cutting and poor regulation should instead be in the dock. Former Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd (MMA) train engineer Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations, Jean Demaitre, facing 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death. Local resident Jean Paradis told Global News that on the night of the accident, he was inside the Musi-Café. Standing outside the courthouse, he said he can still remember hearing his friends’ cries for help as they perished in the fire. But says he doesn’t want answers from the three men on trial; he isn’t happy that MMA executives are “in the States. They’re with their money” and not facing questions in Quebec. “Transport Canada has let those cheap companies run railroads for less money, for making more money instead of acting for security for people,” Paradis said. “Security should be first. Not third.” After analysing the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report into the crash, Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer at the Université de Sherbrooke, found that upper management should be involved in this trial — if at least to testify. “It appears from the TSB report that the company has tolerated improper braking practices, did not provide appropriate braking practice and did not ensure the employees were properly trained and demonstrated that they understood the training,” he told Global News. “The TSB report indicates that improper repairs were conducted on the locomotive that caught fire the tragic night.” Lacoursière notes that TSB found that MMA lacked leadership by not effectively managing risks, implementing safety management systems and that it provided ineffective training. He argues leadership must come from the highest authority in a company through procedures and resources to make sure equipment and policies are up-to-date. “Leadership is not only words, but a deep involvement of the leaders ensuring that what they stated is implemented,” he told Global News. Lacoursière points to a “weak safety culture” from Transport Canada that did not encourage MMA to train its employees properly. A conviction on criminal negligence causing death can carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. The trial is expected to last until 21 December.
Transport workers in two of Hong Kong’s biggest unions have called on the government to carry out a complete overhaul of franchise bus drivers’ pay structure and working hours to minimise overwork and lower traffic accident risks. The call came as transport officials said they would consider reviewing guidelines for drivers’ shifts after a deadly bus crash last week. Three people were killed and 31 others injured when Citybus-operated double-decker mounted a pavement and ploughed into pedestrians. The driver, 44, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving causing death and released on bail. Kung Sui-tong, deputy head of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s Citybus branch, said the driver had a record of being “reliable and hardworking” during his five years of employment. His original shift was 9pm on the night of the crash, but he was asked by his supervisor to start at around 5pm, which he willingly agreed to, Kung said. The driver had recently been working 14 hours a day – the maximum number the department recommends for drivers. But Citybus claimed he had sufficient rest time of at least 10 hours as stipulated by regulation, between shifts. However, both the union and the separate Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions called for a more progressive pay scale for drivers to reduce their reliance on overtime work. “Because of the low salary, some bus drivers have to work overtime to support themselves,” said federation vice-chair Henry Hui Hon-kit, a Citybus driver. The department’s guidelines on working hours and rest times – which stipulate drivers may work up to 11 hours per day – did not help either, he said. Cheung Tsz-kei, the general union’s principal vice-chair, said the problem of overwork would persist if drivers did not get a rest break of at least 20 to 30 minutes between routes. His union is also calling for rest stations at all bus terminuses.
Seven in ten nurses in Japan always feel exhausted, a union survey has found. The Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions (Iroren) has conducted a survey on working conditions of nurses once in every five years since 1988. Over 33,000 nurses are included in the latest survey, which found 71.7 per cent of the respondents had symptoms of chronic fatigue, such as an inability to recover from tiredness. In addition, 62.5 per cent felt stressed and 55.3 per cent were concerned about their health. Around 80 per cent of the respondents had experience of making or nearly making a medical error. Nearly threequarters said that they often think about giving up their careers, mainly because “the workload is too heavy due to labour shortages.” Almost a third of respondents (32.8 per cent) said they had health problems, twice the rate for women workers in all industries. Iroren is urging the government to establish rules to reduce working hours of nurses on shifts, especially those on the night shift, and sufficiently long intervals between shifts. Night shift work has been linked to higher breast cancer (Risks 781) and road traffic accident risks (Risks 808) in health care workers.
Ÿ Japan Press.
The authorities in Qatar should adopt and enforce restrictions on outdoor work to protect the lives of the migrant construction workers at risk from the country’s intense heat and humidity, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The group said current heat protection regulations for the great majority of workers in Qatar only prohibit outdoor work from 11.30am to 3pm during the period 15 June to 31 August. But HRW says climate data shows that weather conditions in Qatar outside those hours and dates frequently reach levels that can result in potentially fatal heat-related illnesses in the absence of appropriate rest. It says the Qatari authorities should investigate the causes of migrant worker deaths, regularly make public data on such deaths, and use the information to devise appropriate public health policies. “Enforcing appropriate restrictions on outdoor work and regularly investigating and publicising information about worker deaths is essential to protect the health and lives of construction workers in Qatar,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “Limiting work hours to safe temperatures – not set by a clock or calendar – is well within the capacity of the Qatari government and will help protect hundreds of thousands of workers.” Experts consulted by the labour rights group said that Qatar’s weather conditions and rudimentary regulations pose significant risks to the health of workers. Dr Rebekah Lucas, an environmental physiologist at the University of Birmingham, said “workers performing moderate to strenuous labour under such adverse climate conditions are at risk of suffering acute heat-related injuries and impaired work performance.” Professor Douglas Casa, a University of Connecticut expert in exertional heat stroke, said “in view of the inadequacy of Qatar’s heat policies, there is a high probability that heat stroke played a role in many of the unexplained deaths or the deaths attributed to cardiac arrest.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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