|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.
Keeping the workplace safe is good for business, fact - but just because that’s a no brainer doesn’t mean it should be the sole motivation for firms, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said he attended a recent meeting on health issues where a government official said it was important to argue the business case for safety. “In other words, we should show employers that it's beneficial if their workers don't get injured,” Robertson said. “There were lots of nodding heads in the room. But this kind of thinking really worries me.” He said agencies including the regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), have been pushing this business case. “Now I'm all in favour of using evidence of the benefits of health and safety to promote it, and of sharing good practice, but we seem to be putting too many of our eggs in one basket. By not emphasising the legal requirements, we're in danger of getting into the situation where employers only feel that they have to do something if it is beneficial for them to do so.” He said too many employers see their workers as ‘disposable’. He noted: “Employers have already worked out that there is no ‘business case’ to treat them with decency and keep them healthy. That is why these are the people who are more likely to be injured or killed at work, or to get musculoskeletal disorders and occupational cancers. Market forces make them more expendable.” The union safety expert argues that with preventive safety inspections and an “all-time low, it's hardly surprising that the government and the regulators are going to try to focus more on trying to get employers to do the right thing through trying to appeal to their wallets.” He concludes workers do not want the decision on whether to protect their health to be based on whether it is in an employer’s economic interest. “All workers should be afforded the same basic rights to a safe and healthy workplace. That is best done by strong regulation, strong enforcement and strong unions.”
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Reduced funding for mental health services across the UK is leaving staff vulnerable to violence and aggression from patients, and means they cannot provide the level of care needed, the union UNISON has said. The union’s report, ‘Struggling to cope’, is based on a survey of over 1,000 mental health employees across the UK, who work in a range of roles – with children and adults in hospitals, in secure units and out in the community. It found more than two in five (42 per cent) said they had been on the receiving end of violent attacks in the last year. Over a third (36 per cent) said they had witnessed violent incidents involving patients attacking their colleagues. Comments from some staff suggest that “violent or aggressive incidents happen on a daily basis”, and that they “go with the job”. Mental health workers blamed staff shortages (87 per cent) and the overuse of agency staff (49 per cent) as the main reasons behind the rise in violent attacks. Cuts also mean that a third of staff (33 per cent) are now having to work alone when they did not previously, making them more at risk of being abused, said UNISON. Almost threequarters (74 per cent) reported feeling stressed because of their work. The survey also revealed that a third of the mental health staff questioned (32 per cent) did not report violent incidents when they happened. Of those that did, 31 per cent did not feel supported by their managers afterwards. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Severe staff shortages mean there are fewer mental health employees to deal with a rising number of users with complex needs. As a result, many staff are having to work alone, making violent attacks more likely. It’s no wonder so many are planning on leaving for less stressful, safer work elsewhere.” Figures obtained by 5 live Investigates show there were more than 42,000 reported attacks on staff in 2016-17 in the mental health trusts who responded. The figure is more than a quarter higher than for the corresponding trusts four years earlier. Nearly two-thirds of mental health trusts in the UK provided data under a Freedom of Information request, which revealed assaults increased from 33,620 in 2012/13 to 42,692 last year. They included a healthcare assistant who was stabbed to death and a worker having part of their thumb bitten off.
Rail union RMT has written to MPs and the rail safety regulator, alerting them to two incidents on 3 October where Greater Anglia’s decision ‘to put strike breaking before safety’ could have had potentially catastrophic consequences. The union has said the problem stemmed from the company’s decision to replace workers striking in defence of rail safety with a hastily trained Person Utilised as a Guard (PUG – see Risks 819). The first incident occurred on the 5.10am Norwich to Sheringham service where, despite the signal being at red, the PUG gave two bells for the train to leave Cromer station. RMT said it was only because the driver noticed the error that the train did not past the red signal and an accident was avoided. The second incident was on the 6.15am Colchester to Ipswich service where the driver became aware the PUG did not know where to operate the door key switch. The driver put passenger safety first and refused to continue the service, said RMT. RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “RMT has warned that Abellio Greater Anglia are putting strike breaking before safety and these two incidents have confirmed our fears.” He added: “These are only the incidents we are aware of so far and we have deep concerns that Greater Anglia are playing fast and loose with passenger safety. We are asking that the safety regulator demands of the company full disclosure of all safety incidents that have been reported during strike action. Instead of strike breaking Abellio Greater Anglia should be deal making.” After a third incident affecting a train bound for Ipswich on 3 October, the union called for “full disclosure of all Greater Anglia’s safety breaches after it emerged that strikebreaking members of staff had opened the train doors on the wrong side resulting in passengers going onto the tracks.”
Rail union RMT has named 330 unstaffed stations which it fears will become crime hot spots and no-go areas for vulnerable and disabled passengers if Northern Rail bosses proceed with their plans for driver only trains. Although these stations are currently unstaffed, protection and assistance for passengers and the train driver at stations is provided by the guard on all trains. But RMT said Northern Rail is planning for at least 50 per cent of services to have no guards, with many lines and routes completely unstaffed. The union said removing the guard from trains travelling through 330 unstaffed stations “will result in a cocktail of dangers” where passengers and the train driver are more exposed to crime and anti-social behaviour, while disabled and older passengers will not be provided necessary assistance. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “No staff on many routes and lines, no staff on the stations and no staff on the trains travelling through these stations means there will be a cocktail of dangers at the locations we have identified which will increasingly become no-go areas for vulnerable passengers and new crime hot spots. At the same time our isolated drivers will be on their own, increasingly exposed to anti-social and violent behaviour.” He said the prime minister “should stop sabotaging a deal with Northern”, adding the union “will keep up the fight for a safe, secure and accessible railway with properly staffed stations and a guard on every train.”
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to being asked to investigate alleged fire safety breaches at the Parseq call centre in Sunderland (Risks 803). GMB, the union for workers at the call centre, said it has received report that during warmer weather fire doors have been propped open to allow the free flow of air through the offices. Chris Preston, GMB regional organiser, said it would be sending photographic evidence to the fire service. “Photographs provided to GMB by workers inside Parseq appear to show fire doors propped open,” he said. “Fire doors are there for a reason and leaving them open could potentially have dire consequences in the event of a fire. GMB is concerned too that it appears working conditions inside the building were so bad in the first place that jeopardising the health and safety of the workforce was deemed acceptable by Parseq managers - whichever way you cut the mustard, there are some serious issues to be addressed.” The union organiser added: “If managers were apparently not aware that fire doors were propped open then it is also a considerable worry that staff at Parseq did not feel confident enough to bring these potentially life-threatening fire safety breaches to the attention of management on site, although it seems somewhat unlikely that managers were unaware the doors were open and may well have opened them themselves. What GMB does know, is that many of Parseq’s clients would not allow these types of health and safety lapses on their premises.” He said: “As a first step, GMB is calling on the Tyne and Wear Fire & Rescue Service to investigate and establish exactly what has happened and why.”
Plans to lift a ban on the use of two helicopter types, imposed following a crash that killed 13 people, should be dumped offshore union Unite has said. The Airbus Super Puma H225LP and AS332L2 models were grounded after the fatal crash off the coast of Norway in April last year (Risks 749). Investigations revealed fatigue and surface degradation in the helicopter’s gearbox led to a “catastrophic gearbox failure”. But in July, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced plans to lift the ban if remedial work was carried out. Airbus now says changes have been made and is pressing for the helicopters to return to service. Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury arrived in a Super Puma 225 at the Helitech helicopter exhibition in London on 3 October “to share and to guide people through the safety measures that have been put in place.” But Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: “Without all the details being fully known in the Norwegian tragedy, Unite believes the decision by Airbus to reintroduce Super Pumas is not only premature but it potentially jeopardises confidence in the offshore helicopter health and safety system.” He said the Super Puma models should remain grounded “until a full investigation is complete and the results are fully known.” He stressed safety must be the “overriding priority.” Despite being cleared to fly by the CAA, the Super Puma models not resumed service in North Sea operations. A survey of workers, conducted by Airbus, revealed 62 per cent of workers would be unlikely to fly in Super Pumas again.
Laws must be put in place urgently to prevent a devastating collision between manned aircraft and drones, the UK pilots’ union BALPA has warned. The union alert came after the US Army confirmed one of its Black Hawk helicopters collided with what appears to be a civilian quadcopter drone near New York City and sustained damage to a main rotor blade and window. BALPA has been warning about the dangers drones pose for several years. Results of collision testing carried out by BALPA, the Department for Transport and the Military Aviation Authority earlier this year showed that drone impacts on aircraft windscreens and helicopter rotors could be catastrophic, even at relatively modest speeds with small drones (Risks 810). It also highlighted how different a drone strike is to a bird strike and that the industry and regulator need to look afresh at the threat drones pose. BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “This collision is a wake-up call. Luckily on this occasion the helicopter landed safely. But we don’t want to rely on luck and we simply cannot wait for a fatal accident before something is done. We now have evidence that drones pose a potentially life-threatening risk to aviation and at the same time we’re seeing a rise in in the number of cases of drones being flown irresponsibly close to aircraft and airport. That’s a recipe for disaster and action must be taken.” He added: “We are encouraged that the government has taken onboard calls for a registration and licensing scheme for drones and drone users, but we can’t rest on our laurels now. BALPA is keen to see details of what this new legislation will look like and is continuing to work with the Department for Transport to make sure drones can be safely integrated in to the sky. We need to control this proven threat before there is a disaster and lives are lost.”
Construction firms must support workers’ mental health to tackle the “very, very serious issue” of suicides in the sector, Unite has said. At a conference addressing skills shortages in construction, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail warned that long hours and tough working conditions were factors behind the high suicide rate among site workers. The latest official figures show that low-skilled male construction workers are 3.7 times more likely to kill themselves than the national average (Risks 793). “This is a very, very serious issue,” Ms Cartmail, who leads on construction issues for Unite, told the conference. The Morning Star reported that she called for better mental health support alongside direct employment of workers, a “social dialogue” between employers, government and unions, and decent working standards as a route to address the chronic shortage of skilled labour in construction.
‘Moderate to extreme’ anxiety and depression among workers in the UK has hit a record high with 1 in 10 workers now affected, new figures have revealed. Research by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) shows that rates of moderate to extreme anxiety and depression among employees has soared by 30.5 per cent since records began in 2013. Part-time workers appear to be bearing the brunt, with the figure among this group having risen by more than a third (33.6 per cent) in the same period. Collated from a GP Patient Survey with 781,174 respondents – 346,465 of whom were in full time employment and 105,040 who were part-time workers, the findings show that rates of moderate to extreme anxiety and depression among workers have risen from just over 7 per cent in 2013 to nearly 10 per cent in 2017. In 2013, the rate for those in full-time employment was 6.85 per cent, in 2017 this has risen to 8.89 per cent – a rise of 29.7 per cent. For those in part-time employment the rate of 8.66 per cent in 2013 has risen to 11.57 per cent in 2017 – a rise of 33.6 per cent. UKCP is calling for an urgent review of workplace practices. Chief executive Professor Sarah Niblock said: “It is extremely worrying. Ministers must realise that the crisis is here, and the crisis is now. The government promised a review of workplace practices and mental health back in January – but we’re still waiting for this to materialise. This work must be sped up, as workers cannot wait.” The professor added: “Compared with the potential cost to the economy in lost productivity, high quality psychotherapies are cheap.”
The managing director of a Widnes waste processing company has been given a suspended jail sentence after a worker was crushed to death. Fresco Environmental Limited employee Kevin Wright, 27, was processing waste carpet to be re-baled when one of the bales fell from a stack onto him, causing injuries from which he later died. The incident on 1 March 2016, could have been prevented if the company had carried out a risk assessment, Liverpool Crown Court heard. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to ensure proper controls were in place to reduce the risk of bales falling and injuring workers. There were no exclusion zones around the stacks of bales, bales were poorly stacked and in close proximity to vibrating machinery. HSE also found that the company’s managing director, Lee Heaps, failed to ensure that a safe system of work was in place for the processing of carpet bales, exposing his employees to avoidable risks. Fresco Environmental Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay £3,500 costs. Company director Lee Heaps pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, and must complete 100 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £400 towards costs. HSE inspector Helen Jones said: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented had Fresco Environmental acted to identify and manage the risks involved. As managing director involved in the day to day running of the company, Lee Heaps had a responsibility to ensure that his company provided a safe working environment for its employees. In failing to do so he exposed employees, including Mr Wright, to significant risk.”
A Bristol waste recycling company dumped thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste illegally at a development site in Avonmouth, exposing unwitting workers to mix of chemical irritants and carcinogens. Churngold Recycling Ltd has been fined more than £20,000 while two of its directors have been given suspended prison sentences for using the unprocessed toxic waste as building aggregate in the construction of a new Co-op distribution centre. Workers at the building site were exposed to asbestos, heavy metals and toxic chemicals including cyanide, which affected their health and had the potential to leak into local water supplies. A five-year Environment Agency investigation led to a nine-week trial at Bristol Crown Court earlier this year, at which the company - which has now changed its name to South West Recycling Ltd - and its directors John Barcham and Lee Phelan were prosecuted. In June 2011, Churngold was awarded a contract to remove hazardous waste from a site in Oxford where car maker BMW discovered extensive contamination under a building during re-development of its Cowley factory. Trial pits and testing revealed high levels of heavy metals, hydrocarbons and asbestos-contaminated materials. Around the same time, Churngold was awarded a contract to supply 60,000 tonnes of aggregate to the site of a new Co-operative supermarket distribution centre. The aggregate was supposed to have been mixed with inert material that had gone through a ‘stabilisation process’ making it suitable for use as a building material. However, ground workers at the Co-op site reported that the Churngold material gave them ‘runny and sore eyes’ and affected their breathing. Churngold Recycling Limited, John Barcham and Lee Phelan faced a total of 10 charges under the Environment Protection Act 1990 and Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010. The company was found guilty of four offences. John Barcham was found guilty of one offence and Lee Phelan was convicted of three offences. Churngold Recycling Ltd was fined £22,450. John Barcham was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. He was also ordered to carry out 75 hours of unpaid work. Lee Phelan was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work. Environment Agency spokesperson Adrian Evans said: “Churngold Recycling Ltd had a culture where commercial gain was given priority over environmental protection.”
An Essex-based road haulage firm has been fined after a 23-year-old worker was crushed between two articulated vehicles and later died from his injuries. Southend Magistrates Court heard how Martin Greenwood, an HGV driver employed by YCT Limited, suffered fatal injuries when his vehicle rolled forward out of control as he was coupling the HGV tractor unit to a trailer. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 20 October 2015, found that YCT Limited failed to implement safe systems of work or monitor arrangements to ensure that its drivers were consistently undertaking coupling and uncoupling operations safely, in line with widely available industry guidance. As a result of this, a culture developed where its drivers were not always applying trailer parking brakes. YCT Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £170,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,268.80. HSE inspector Jessica Churchyard said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young man, and was caused in part by the failure of his employer to implement and monitor safe systems of work to prevent vehicle runaways. This death could have easily been prevented if his employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and followed the industry guidance.”
Wrexham County Borough Council has been fined after a 57-year-old worker was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Mold Magistrates’ Court heard how the employee of the council’s StreetScene department was diagnosed with HAVS in September 2015. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the council had not addressed a HAVS risk following an audit in February 2011, which found it was not assessing the risk to employees from equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers and strimmers. The council had developed a number of HAVS policies dating back to 2004, however it was found these policies were not implemented. When a HAVS occupational health surveillance system for users of vibrating tools was introduced, a further eleven diagnoses of HAVS or vibration-related carpal tunnel syndrome were reported. Wrexham County Borough Council pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,901.35. HSE inspector Mhairi Duffy said: “This employee now suffers from a long term, life changing illness. The council should have implemented the policy they devised following the audit in 2011. Workers’ health should not be made worse by the work they do; all employees have the right to go home healthy at the end of the working day.” Helen Paterson, the outgoing Wrexham Council chief executive, said the council fully accepted the court's findings, sympathised with the individuals affected and regretted the circumstances which led to their exposure to developing hand-arm vibration syndrome. “Since this issue came to the attention of the council, we have worked with the HSE to resolve the matter and have implemented their recommendations,” she said. She added the HSE would be working with the council to ensure their action plan was implemented as part of a longer term health and safety strategy.
The national safety reps’ workplace inspection day this year is on the 25 October, the Wednesday of European Health and Safety Week. The TUC will be launching its 40 years of safety representatives campaign on that day. The union body has also produced a general guide to inspections, and says this year safety reps might want to make fire safety a major part of any workplace inspection. The TUC recently published an inspection checklist on that as part of the wider fire safety guide. Public sector union UNISON is highlighting the European Agency’s ‘Healthy workplaces for all ages’ theme this year, and says good workplace design and well managed health and safety benefit all of those at work; whether young, old, or in-between. The union has produced ‘High five for health and safety’ resources, and is urging safety reps to send in photos of their events on the day.
Electrical workers stopped work last week on the massive renovation of the Sydney Opera House, refusing to continue with the installation of cabling after receiving confirmation that potentially deadly asbestos had again been located in work areas. Testing of samples confirmed they contained friable asbestos, sparking a meeting of electrical workers where the 35 members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) decided to walk off the job immediately until the serious safety issue was resolved. The incident is the second in two months where asbestos concerns have halted renovation on the iconic building, with the ETU demanding the safety regulator and New South Wales (NSW) government intervene to ensure the issue is resolved. “This issue was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW giving builder Laing O'Rourke a weak slap on the wrist. The company had seven days to remove the asbestos or eliminate the threat to workers through appropriate safety measures and have clearly failed to do so,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said. He said members “raised the alarm that they were again being exposed to loose asbestos fibres, which has now been confirmed by scientific testing. Two months after this major safety issue was uncovered, and the builder was ordered to rectify it by the safety regulator, we have again seen workers exposed to these carcinogenic fibres.” Criticising the British construction giant running the renovation, he said: “Electricians have made a decision to put their safety first, despite the fact that Laing O'Rourke previously threatened to have them prosecuted in the Fair Work Commission after accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action when they last stopped work over asbestos concerns. It’s pretty clear the system is broken when workers are threatened with legal action for refusing to expose themselves to a deadly substance like asbestos, yet the safety regulator seems unwilling to ensure the builder is abiding by workplace health and safety laws. The NSW government need to get off their backsides, take responsibility for this serious issue, and ensure that all asbestos is removed from the Opera House.”
Canadian research has identified the high toll each year from work-related cancers. The study, ‘Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario’, which concluded there are ‘many opportunities’ to reduce the number of occupational cancers, was produced jointly by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) and Cancer Care Ontario’s Population Health and Prevention team. It found solar radiation, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and crystalline silica had the largest estimated impact on cancer burden and also the highest number of exposed workers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Approximately 450,000 Ontario workers are exposed, causing an estimated 1,400 non-melanoma skin cancer cases per year, according to the study. Fewer than 55,000 workers are exposed to asbestos, but the potent carcinogen is estimated to cause 630 lung cancers, 140 mesotheliomas, 15 laryngeal cancers and fewer than five ovarian cancers annually. About 301,000 workers are exposed to diesel exhaust fumes every year, the study found, causing 170 lung and 45 bladder cancer cases. An estimated 142,000 Ontario workers are exposed to crystalline silica, which annually causes almost 200 lung cancer cases. The paper adds that shiftwork “may be responsible” for 180 to 460 new cases of breast cancer in the province a year. “I can't count the number of times that I have talked about how important it is to prevent exposure to carcinogens, but raising awareness doesn't always lead to action,” said OCRC director Paul Demers, who is leading the study. “I think the numbers are important to make this real and push action towards preventing exposure to these causes of cancer.” This is the first publication in the project; a Canada-wide picture is expected within about a year.
Overwork caused the death of a 31-year-old female reporter with Japanese state broadcaster NHK in 2013, according to the labour standards inspectors, the public broadcaster admitted last week. The admission provided further evidence of the extreme working conditions many Japanese employees endure. Miwa Sado, who was based at the broadcaster’s centre in Tokyo, died of congestive heart failure in July 2013. She had worked 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the one-month period prior to her death, a local labour standards office concluded in May 2014. The broadcaster only revealed the cause of death this month, however. Sado’s family said they wanted to ensure such an incident never happens again. “Even today, four years after, we cannot accept our daughter’s death as a reality,” Sado’s parents said in a comment released by NHK. “We hope that the sorrow of the bereaved family will never be wasted.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has been seeking to improve working conditions in the country following the suicide of a new recruit at advertising giant Dentsu Inc in 2015 due to excessive working hours (Risks 772). Overwork-related deaths by heart attack or stroke (karoshi) or suicide (karojisatsu) are government recognised and compensated occupational diseases in Japan. The suicide of 24-year-old Dentsu employee Matsuri Takahashi in April 2015 caught national attention (Risks 782), and the conclusion by labour standards inspectors in September 2016 that it was caused by overwork sparked debate about the harsh working conditions in the country (Risks 800). On 6 October 2017, Dentsu was fined for making employees work excessive overtime. A Tokyo court ordered the company to pay 500,000 yen (£3,380).
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