|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.
Almost half the staff (47 per cent) working for charities and housing associations have experienced violence or aggression, either from people who use their services or from colleagues, according to a UNISON survey. The survey also revealed that a quarter (26 per cent) of staff felt unsupported when working alone, with many feeling in “danger” due to a lack of training and managerial support. Almost half the respondents (47 per cent) said that they were regularly required to work beyond the end of their shifts because of understaffing. More than threequarters (79 per cent) also admitted that they were stressed because of their work. In response to the abuse facing its members, UNISON has launched a charter that commits voluntary sector organisations to comply with their duty of care to staff when it comes to violence in the workplace. The charter aims to ensure that employers sign up to protect their staff from attacks. This includes training staff how to deal with threatening situations, completing thorough risk assessments and making senior management responsible for the welfare of staff. So far six community sector employers have signed up – MENCAP, Places For People Group, Coverage Care, Incommunities, Apex Housing, WM Housing Group and the RNIB. UNISON head of communities Gavin Edwards said: “Six employers have so far signed up to our new charter and we hope more will do so in the coming weeks. This way they can help end this pervasive, dangerous culture and prove their commitment to their employees’ well-being.”
Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett has welcomed an early day motion, with cross-party support, calling on the government to introduce legislation providing an additional penalty for those who assault workers in the course of their duties. The Usdaw general secretary said: “Often shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases of products like knives, tobacco or alcohol, or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger. Parliament has given shopworkers the duty to enforce the law, so parliament should provide the necessary protection.” Pointing to a series of union case histories, he added: “I have been shocked by the leniency of some of the sentences for assault of workers. Around 200 shopworkers are assaulted every day and it is time to say enough is enough.” He said the government had on five occasions blocked Labour attempts to introduce stiffer sentences. “Unfortunately the government’s record on tackling retail crime shows that since 2010 there are 20,000 fewer police and a steady increase in shoplifting rising 8 per cent this year, but the number of shop thieves going to court dropping by a quarter. The government must act to address these issues and act quickly. Usdaw members welcome the support of MPs for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out. We must give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”
Allegations of sexual harassment and serious sexual assaults against film mogul Harvey Weinstein have exposed the unacceptable pressures women frequently face in the entertainment industry, UK actors’ union Equity has said. The union said it “wants to reiterate that the union is here for members should they have any concerns regarding their treatment in the workplace.” In a statement Equity said: “Workers in the creative industries deserve to be treated with the same respect as other sectors of the economy and Equity will continue to challenge employers who abuse our members.” It said the union recognises that members may not report bullying and harassment because they fear losing work, adding: “Members should be reassured that they can talk to the union in complete confidence. Equity’s officials are experienced in dealing directly with employers on these issues and will act on behalf of members who have experienced inappropriate behaviour at work.” The union is promoting its recently launched Manifesto for Casting, “to inform the entertainment industry of the standards it demands of all those engaged in the casting and employment process. The union has also created a Casting Questions leaflet to empower members to challenge inappropriate and illegal questions at castings.”
Rail union RMT says it has written ‘yet again’ to the industry’s safety regulator demanding action over ‘serious safety failures by strike-breaking managers’ on Greater Anglia. The union has also accused the regulator of colluding with the company to cover up safety breaches. In his latest letter to Ian Prosser, the Chief Inspector of Railways, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said Greater Anglia has been “using a rag tag of volunteers to try and break our dispute” (Risks 821). He said these Persons Utilised as a Guard (PUGs) have not received adequate training and have been linked to a series of series safety breaches. The RMT leader said the union had made numerous complaints to the rail safety regulator over these potentially lethal safety breaches during the strike action on Greater Anglia “and they have completely ignored us. That is outrageous and points to deliberate collusion on a politically motivated basis. The regulator is supposed to be an independent body and is failing wholesale in its duty to the travelling public, that is disgraceful.” He added “we are again demanding action from the Inspectorate and we expect them to start taking this issue seriously and to drop this scandalous bias in favour of the private train operator.”
Fire services have lost over a quarter of their fire safety inspectors since the Conservatives came to power, research by the firefighters’ union FBU has found. The union, which compiled the figures from a series of Freedom of Information requests, says the ‘staggering’ 28 per cent drop in inspector numbers across the UK is a risk to public safety. FBU warns that the real figure could be much higher as some fire and rescue services do not know how many inspectors they employed in 2010, when the Conservatives took office. Fire safety inspectors are responsible for ensuring that communal buildings and public spaces meet fire safety standards. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “Fire safety specialists play an essential role in the fire service. They help to enforce fire safety regulations that save lives and prevent damage to property. Fire services need proper funding, more inspectors and greater support if they are to continue keeping people safe.” He added: “Grenfell Tower has underlined the importance of fire safety in buildings. The drastic cut in fire safety inspectors makes it much more difficult for those remaining to do their job effectively. The government needs to wake up to what endless budget cuts have done to the lifesaving fire service.” The impact of the reduction could be worse than the FBU figures suggest, as 16 fire and rescue services could not provide data on the number of fire safety inspectors they employed in 2010. The union says this is proof that the government’s ‘laissez-faire’ approach to regulating fire services, leaving the responsibility to local authorities, has backfired.
Scottish teaching union EIS has said low pay and high workloads are having a dire effect on the health and well-being of teachers. The union held a joint fringe meeting with Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, at the SNP conference this month. In her response to the minister’s outline of the Scottish government’s education aims and policies, EIS president Nicola Fisher highlighted the impact low pay and workload were having on the profession and said that this was having a “disastrous effect” on teachers’ health and well-being. She said teachers’ pay had fallen by 16 per in real terms, adding: “Workload is the iceberg of the education system. People think they understand the scale of the problem because they can see the tip of it, but unless you are experiencing it day in and day out, you cannot hope to grasp the full horror which lurks beneath the surface.” The EIS president said: “Teachers are working far in excess of their contracted hours. With some reports saying teachers are regularly working 50 or 60 hour weeks. Even then all the work isn’t done. The effect this is having on teacher health and well-being is disastrous.” She warned: “Scotland’s teachers are on their knees and if we want to close the attainment gap and we want a first-class education system, we have to help these people whose mental health is suffering, whose physical and emotional health is suffering and whose family life and personal life is suffering.”
The long hours culture in film production is damaging family life and causing ill-health, according to a report from BECTU. The media and entertainment union questions the sustainability of a creative process that fails to nurture creativity, instead running the industry as a production line. The industry's biggest asset - its workforce - is being run into the ground, warns the union study. ‘Eyes half shut: A report on long hours and productivity in the UK film and TV industry’ calls for a ‘more humane’ approach. In an introduction to the report, BECTU head Gerry Morrissey calls for an industry-wide commission with input from the Advertising Producers Association, the British Film Council, BBC, Channel 4, Directors UK, ITV, the major motion picture studios, PACT and Sky to work together to secure change. “The treadmill isn’t just confined to shooting locations. Our members working as editors, VFX artists or in the art department also report preposterous working schedules. This is a creative industry. It relies on innovative and imaginative thinking,” the BECTU leader said. “If we run it as a treadmill, we will destroy the long-term future of a vital sector.” He added: “The UK economy has never been as reliant on high-skilled film and TV workers as it is today – and many of them are working below-par because of this counterproductive industry culture. A well-managed industry can achieve just as much without demoralising its workers. This report argues that the industry’s long-hours culture is unnecessary. It calls on employers to invest in management practices that will improve working conditions… I hope all parts of the industry will work with us to make this sector more humane, efficient and productive.”
Unite has welcomed a call by over 60 MPs for construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd to be stripped of the multimillion pound contract for the restoration work on Big Ben. The Early Day Motion tabled by Labour MP Chuka Umunna calls for the contract to be awarded instead to a firm without a history of blacklisting. It notes “awarding the contract to Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd is inappropriate and an insult to the victims of blacklisting in the construction sector.” Howard Beckett, the Unite assistant general secretary with responsibility for legal services, commented: “Unite is currently suing Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd on behalf of victims of blacklisting having forced them and other construction firms to apologise and pay compensation after our lawsuit exposed their role in blacklisting last year. The Elizabeth tower and Big Ben are emblematic of the nation's democracy and sense of fair play to the rest of the world. It is a stain on our democracy that a firm with a history of blacklisting and ruining lives should be awarded such a contract.” He added: “It is simply reprehensible that a firm that was engaged in the pernicious practice of blacklisting should be allowed to fill its coffers at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Attacks on emergency workers will result in tougher sentences under a new law that has been given government backing. Chris Bryant's private member's bill would double the maximum sentence for common assault against an emergency worker to a year. The Labour MP called assaults on police and paramedics “a national disgrace”. Policing minister Nick Hurd told MPs the government was “very supportive” of the principles of the bill, telling the Commons that violence against emergency service workers was “intolerable”. The legislation will cover attacks on police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance staff. A government spokesperson said: “This crucial change will send a clear message that we will not tolerate attacks on them, and we will work with Chris Bryant and others to ensure those who are violent face the full force of the law.” Under the bill, judges will also consider the victim being an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in offences including common assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. The legislation will also give the power to take blood samples, with consent, from people who have spat at or bitten emergency workers and exposed them to the risk of infection, the government said. It also creates a new offence of failing to provide this blood sample without good cause.
Reducing exposure to toxic chemicals pays off by reducing both work-related disability and welfare costs, a new study suggests. The Swedish study investigated whether the decreased use of paints based on organic solvents has led to a decreased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders in painters by studying their rates of related disability pensions. Chronic toxic encephalopathy – brain damage caused by chemicals – is a recognised industrial disease in solvent-exposed painters. The study led by Professor Bengt Järvholm of Umeå University, Sweden, examined the number of disability pensions in painters and other construction trades. While about 40 per cent of paints were solvent based in the 1970s, two decades later this had fallen to about 4 per cent. The report noted: “High exposure to organic solvents increased the risk for disability pension in neurological disorders, and the risk decreased when the use of organic solvents decreased.” The authors concluded their study “showed an increased risk for disability pension in neurological disorders compatible with brain disorders caused by organic solvents. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the decrease in disability pension in neurological disorders is due to a change in the occurrence of neurological diseases and that the decreased use of organic solvents in paints has contributed to this decrease.”
Ÿ Bengt Järvholm and Alex Burdorf. Effect of reduced use of organic solvents on disability pension in painters, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 74, issue 11, pages 827-829, 2017.
A new £15 million government programme will see up to 1 million people trained in basic mental health “first aid” skills. The government says the programme will help people recognise and respond effectively to signs of mental illness in others. The campaign, designed and delivered by Public Health England (PHE), will help people assess their own mental well-being and learn techniques to reduce stress. PHE said it will work closely with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and other mental health organisations to ensure the campaign builds on the knowledge and experience of the sector. Prime minister Theresa May said: “I want to use the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society, and at every stage of life.” She added: “Tackling the injustice and reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions is a priority for me, which is why today I set the goal of providing 1 million members of the public with basic mental health awareness and first aid.” PHE says it is encouraging a range of workplace health and well-being programmes, which “have been found to return £2 to £10 for every £1 spent, benefiting staff well-being and economic productivity.” MHFA says mental ill-health costs UK employers an estimated £35 billion each year - £10.6 billion in sickness absence, £21.2 billion in reduced productivity, and £3.1 billion in replacing staff who leave their jobs for mental health-related reasons.
Train toilets emptying their contents directly on to Britain’s rail tracks will end in 2019, rail bosses and ministers have promised. A combination of new trains and retrofitting old stock with modern, holding-tank toilets will end the dumping of raw sewage on the railways. Mark Carne, the chief executive of Network Rail, said he had secured a ‘pledge’ that will clean up the tracks and protect rail workers. The introduction of modern fleets has meant almost 1,000 fewer train carriages flush out waste now than in 2015, but around 500 carriages still have toilets that empty directly on to the tracks, with lines in the West Country and in East Anglia particularly affected. Speaking to the Guardian at Swindon station, where the contents of a recently flushed train toilet were clearly visible on the tracks, Carne said: “It’s disgusting. I’ve been out there with the track workers and you see it coming, like a plume of steam. It’s totally unacceptable and I’m pleased we’ve got government agreement.” All rail franchise holders will be required by the Department for Transport to operate trains with retention tanks, to be emptied in rail depots, as part of their contracts by the end of the decade. Unions have long campaigned for cleaner tracks. A spokesperson for the rail union RMT said: “We want to see a firm schedule that forces the train operating companies to stop this foul and disgusting practice, which leaves our members out on the railways regularly sprayed with human sewage. We’re not interested in halfhearted pledges – we want cast-iron guarantees.”
The director of a Brighton-based waste collection and recycling company has been given a suspended jail sentence after a worker died from injuries sustained when he was struck by a reversing telehandler. Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard how on 7 July 2016, United Grab Hire Ltd employee Joe Stevenson was struck by a reversing telehandler when crossing the work yard in Horley, East Sussex. The 69-year-old sustained multiple injuries and later died in hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to address the management of large vehicle movements on its site and had not carried out an on-site health and safety inspection. The driver of the telehandler involved in the incident had not received any training in operating this vehicle. United Grab Hire Ltd director Mark Howard pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence was sentenced to a six month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community service. His company pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £500,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £5,968.42. HSE Inspector Russell Beckett said: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company and its director to take simple steps.” He added: “The company failed to have adequate pedestrian segregation measures such as walkways or crossing points in areas where pedestrians walked routinely. Reversing of large vehicles near to pedestrians was commonplace. This was a dangerous mix which led to this tragic incident involving a much-loved husband, father and grandfather losing his life.”
The director of a Swindon-based scaffolding company has received a suspended jail term after a worker was left with life-changing injuries. Swindon Magistrates’ Court heard how Jamie Mines was erecting scaffolding on 19 December 2016 when the structure came into contact with 33KV overhead power lines. The 33-year-old father of five received an electric shock which led to the amputation of his left arm above the elbow, right arm below the elbow and both of his feet. He also suffered severe burns to his legs and back, damage to his vocal chords, and was in an induced coma for six weeks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company and its director failed to ensure a safe system of work was in place for erecting a scaffold under overhead power lines. Boundary Scaffolding Limited director Jonathon Lee Griffiths-Clack pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 12 months. He has been ordered to pay costs of £1,545.30. His company pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £80,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £1,415.10. In a statement, Jamie Mines said: “I can’t quite put into words how it feels to wake up with no hands. I had five-month-old twin girls at the time of the accident, all I could think of when I woke up was the things I wouldn’t be able to do, for example I wouldn’t be able to hold my babies’ hands again, I wouldn’t be able to draw, play catch or teach my girls any of the things that I had learned with my hands.” He added: “Sitting here now in my wheelchair nine months after the accident and I still don’t walk, for a man who was very active before the accident it has been extremely difficult! I was a keen a sportsman as well as someone who enjoyed his job and was really hands on with my babies. How my life has changed is almost indescribable.”
The Europe-wide workplace health and safety week runs from 23-27 October this year. The TUC has designed the Wednesday of the week, 25 October, as national safety reps’ workplace inspection day. The union body will mark the event by launching its 40 years of safety representatives campaign. It 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 fire safety, as part of the wider fire safety guide. Unions including Unite and UNISON have produced their own inspection guides.
Ÿ European Health and Safety Week. TUC workplace inspection day guide and fire safety checklist. UNISON inspection day webpages and and poster. Unite safety reps’ inspection and organising resources. Hazards workplace inspections and mapping guide.
Unions say a industrial manslaughter law passed last week in the Australian state of Queensland will deter companies from cutting corners and putting profits ahead of people. Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) general secretary Ros McLennan said unions had long called for tougher sanctions to make sure dodgy bosses and their companies don’t just get a slap on the wrist if their negligent actions have led to a workplace fatality. “There’s nothing more important than workers coming home safe after a day’s work,” said Ms McLennan. Michael Ravbar, divisional branch secretary of the construction, forestry and mining union CFMEU, said: “This is a huge win for Queensland workers and everyone who has campaigned to achieve industrial manslaughter legislation for the last 20 years. These laws will ensure that employers, who kill or badly injure workers because of their negligence, will finally be held criminally responsible for their actions.” The maximum penalty for industrial manslaughter under the law will be 20 years imprisonment for an individual, with a maximum fine of $10 million (£5.9m) for a corporate offender. Queensland is the first state in Australia to introduce an industrial manslaughter law, although the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) also has a similar law. The law was supported by the state’s Labour government, but opposed by major opposition parties. Industrial relations minister Grace Grace said the law reflected community expectations around how work-related fatalities should be treated. “The creation of a new offence of industrial manslaughter will bring about an important cultural shift,” the Labour minister told parliament.
Ignoring the health and safety of workers is just part-and-parcel of Amazon’s anti-union plan, unions have said. A meeting of the UNI Amazon Alliance this month, involving 30 trade unionists from 10 countries, agreed an action plan to organise at Amazon. Across the board, the meeting heard of Amazon’s abusive labour practices and virulent anti-union stance. UNI, the global union coordinating the alliance, said “working for Amazon can be physically and mentally brutal - muscle problems, joint problems and the mental exhaustion that comes with constant surveillance are all part and parcel of working for them.” San Francisco State University professor and expert on industrial relations John Logan told the meeting: “Amazon are intensely hostile to unions both at home and in Europe - they are one of the largest proponents of the race to the bottom in the labour market. Amazon masquerade as a modern company and as the future of the world of work, but really, they are closer to those of the past than those of the future.” He added: “Behind the scenes, Amazon deeply fears the presence of unions in their worksites. Despite the bruising workplace culture and warehouse jobs which push their workers to their physical and mental limits, organising at Amazon has been particularly difficult through a combination of fear of reprisal and hiring 'union avoidance' experts.” Nigel Flanagan, a senior organiser UNI, said: “Amazon may be a huge company, but every success the labour movement has won started with people getting together to build networks, information and challenge the status quo.”
The Japan labour standard office has determined the suicide of a 23-year-old man who worked at Tokyo's new Olympic stadium construction site stemmed from overwork, and his family is eligible for government compensation. Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing the victim's family, said the victim, in charge of quality control of materials at the stadium site, recorded 190 hours of overtime in one month before killing himself in March. The amount of overtime was way more than 80 hours, a threshold for karoshi, or death from overwork. Labour officials in Tokyo found the victim, who was not identified by name, also recorded 160 hours of overtime in January. The body of the man was found in the central Japan mountains in April, weeks after he disappeared, with a suicide note saying he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.” Karojisatsu, suicide linked to overwork, is also government compensated in Japan. Work at the new stadium has been intense because of its delayed start. An earlier stadium plan was scrapped due to spiralling costs and an unpopular design. On an average day, about 1,000 workers are at the project led by Taisei Corp, Japan's construction giant. In late September, Tokyo labour officials who investigated nearly 800 subcontractors of Taisei found illegal overwork at nearly 40 companies. Workers at 18 companies did overtime exceeding 80 hours per month, and several exceeded 150 hours.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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