|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A poll for the TUC has provided damning evidence of how far most people’s work is from being a ‘great’ job. The TUC commissioned the nationally representative poll of over 3,000 people to explore the UK experience of work. It found just one in six workers said they have a great job overall. One in ten respondents said their management doesn’t take health and safety seriously in the workplace. Over one in ten said that bullying, harassment and discrimination happen at their workplace without management dealing with it. And four in ten workers said management didn’t consult them on major changes in the workplace. According to the TUC: “We think every job should be a great job. Great jobs don’t just matter for working people – they matter to employers too. People with great jobs were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, more likely to say they had a good manager, and be less likely to be planning to leave. That’s why the TUC has set up the Great Jobs Agenda, which shows what needs to happen to make every job a great job.” The TUC added: “We’ve set out the changes we need to see at a political level, alongside what union activists can do now to make a change in their workplace.”
Transport union Unite has won a long–running campaign giving delivery drivers the right to use the toilets at a business where they are making deliveries. Thanks to the union-secured deal, employers in control of non-domestic premises are now obliged to allow people who are not their employees but use their premises to access toilets and washing facilities. Unite says the change in the regulations is a result of its campaign to end the problem of drivers having to go to the toilet behind bushes, or needing to continually ‘hold on’ due to being denied access to toilet facilities. Unite argued this has wide-ranging health implications, including urinary tract infections, damage to the bladder and the bowel, and a build-up of toxins in the body. Women drivers have additional requirements to have access to toilets and face the a risk of developing infections if they are denied such access. Access to washrooms is doubly important where delivery workers are handling food or might be exposed to hazardous materials. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Finally drivers have won the right to access toilet facilities when making deliveries. This reform would not have occurred without Unite’s continued campaigning on this matter. This change in the application of the regulations is highly significant as it restores the dignity of drivers by giving them the right to use an employer’s toilet and hand washing facilities.” He added: “If employers continue to refuse our members access to toilets we will pursue them through all avenues open to us and that will include naming and shaming companies that deny drivers the right to spend a penny.”
Unite has warned that government proposals to water down ‘vital life-saving’ asbestos regulations could risk the health of asbestos workers. The union was commenting on Health and Safety Executive (HSE) proposals to reduce the frequency of medical checks on workers doing the highest risk asbestos work. The proposed changes, which have been the subject of a rushed consultation, would see those undertaking licensed asbestos work required to have a medical assessment every three years. Under current rules, these workers are required to have a medical examination every two years, compared to every three years for those doing Notifiable Non-Licensed Work (NNLW). The proposal put forward by HSE would ‘water down’ the frequency of checks on workers facing the highest risk, Unite said. The consultation period lasted for just four weeks, which Unite argues “was insufficient time for the union to consult the workers directly affected by the proposed changes.” Unite’s health and safety adviser Susan Murray said: “Workers who are regularly coming into contact with potentially lethal asbestos are having their long-term health jeopardised because of the government’s obsession with cutting so-called red tape. If the government was at all interested in ensuring the safety and health of all workers required to work with asbestos it would be requiring that all such workers had medical examinations at least every two years.” She added: “The fact that the consultation period was so short demonstrates that these changes are in effect a fait accompli. We trust that this is not a sham consultation and that our responses and concerns will be properly addressed.”
Tram drivers are to stage two 24-hour strikes in a dispute over the introduction of a device to detect if a driver has fallen asleep. The ASLEF members working in Croydon, south London, will walk out on 13 November and 6 December. ASLEF says the detector shines a constant infra-red beam on drivers’ faces, causing headaches and blurred vision. Transport for London said the device will improve safety following last November's fatal crash in Croydon. Seven people were killed and 51 injured when a tram overturned after travelling at 46mph as it entered a sharp bend at Sandilands Junction, which had a 13mph limit. However ASLEF official Finn Brennan said the device, which was rolled out on 23 October, was causing health and safety concerns. “Drivers have reported symptoms from headaches and dry eyes to blurred vision and potentially serious eye damage as a result of exposure to this device,” he said. “ASLEF wants to see a modern automatic tram protection system installed that would stop a vehicle if it was speeding or if the driver became incapacitated. This system does neither. Instead of making the tram network safer, it puts the health of drivers at risk and does nothing to prevent accidents in the future.” He said he wanted use of the system halted until all the safety concerns of ASLEF members had been addressed.
The derailment of a South Western Railway (SWR) train this week reinforces the need for guards on all rail services, rail union RMT has said. The commuter service from Basingstoke derailed near Wimbledon station in south-west London shortly before 6.00am on 6 November. The rear axle of the last coach derailed at low speed as it left the station. One person was injured in the incident, which caused extensive disruption through the day to transport services on main line and local services. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Yet again this incident shows the importance of having guards on our trains to manage these emergency situations and exposes South Western Railway's dangerous gamble of axing the guard from their services.” He said maintaining the safety critical guard was “the very issue that our members will be fighting over” in the union’s ongoing industrial action. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is investigating the cause of the incident.
Rail union RMT has warned that contingency plans put in place by train operator Greater Anglia for RMT strike days over rail safety have collapsed into “dangerous chaos.” The union was commenting after what it described as “an extraordinary row” developed last week between the rail regulator and Greater Anglia’s owner, Abellio. RMT said the row started after Abellio issued a press statement on 3 November where the company claimed its plan to replace striking workers with managers acting up as guards, had been approved by the regulator, the Office of Road and Rail. RMT immediately hit back, revealing the plans were exactly the same as the ‘PUGS’ operational model that had been put in place during the last strike action and which had been found to be high risk by the ORR (Risks 823). RMT says as a result of the misrepresentation, a row broke out between the ORR and Greater Anglia which led to the company press statement being withdrawn, described by RMT as “an unprecedented move by a rail company in recent times.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The situation on Greater Anglia has descended into dangerous chaos and the company must not be allowed to get away with this cavalier attitude to passenger and staff safety. We have very similar issues in the other disputes over the guards and rail safety and it is time for the regulator to step up to the plate, prove their independence and call a halt to these high-risk strike breaking plans.” He added: “If these companies spent a fraction of the time they are deploying on cooking up strike-breaking operations sitting down with the union in genuine talks aimed at settling these disputes we could reach agreements that protect safety and underpin the guard guarantee. RMT will continue with our campaign that puts public safety before private profit.”
London’s bus drivers face shocking levels of abuse, spitting and physical assaults as they go about their job, a Unite survey has revealed. The union announced the survey findings as it launched a new London-wide campaign against assaults on the capital’s 25,000 bus drivers. According to the survey of around 6,000 London bus drivers, 12 per cent had been subject to a spitting assault in the past year, with a ‘massive’ 86 per cent on the receiving end of a verbal assault, while two per cent said they had been the victim of physical assault. The survey also found that at least 50 per cent of the incidents were not reported by the driver to their employer. Reasons given by bus drivers included a fear of being blamed or disciplined and a lack of faith in their employer or the police doing anything about the incident. Surveyed drivers also said that when they reported spitting assaults, their employers would not give them paid time off to go to the police to report it, with many bus operators expecting drivers to stay behind the wheel. Unite’s ‘Reported, Supported, No Pressure, Sorted’ campaign against assaults on bus drivers aims to increase reporting and reduce the number of incidents and assaults. The union is calling on all of London’s bus operators to follow through on Transport for London’s commitment to install spit kits on all London buses. These are used by drivers to swab the saliva so that it can be DNA-tested in a bid to catch the culprit. Unite is also calling on operators to give drivers the time they need to take samples to the police and for special spit kit freezers to be installed in bus depots to preserve samples. Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “This survey reveals the shocking levels of abuse and variety of assaults London’s bus drivers face as part of their job in keeping London moving. No one should have to put up with being spat at, verbally abused or physically assaulted. The job of a London bus driver is stressful enough.” He added: “The common expectation that drivers should carry on with driving duties with spit either on these screens or within the bus is unacceptable and a serious health concern for bus drivers and passengers alike.” He said drivers need “paid time off to report assaults, spit kits in every bus and a zero tolerance approach to any form of assault.”
The latest annual injury and ill-health statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 1.3 million workers were suffering from work-related ill-health in 2016/17 and 609,000 more suffered workplace injuries. The safety regulator says workplace injuries and new cases of work-related ill-health cost Britain £14.9bn a year with 31.2 million working days lost. These figures however exclude much of the costs of ‘long-tail’ occupational diseases, which can develop years after a person was exposed to the cause at work. The annual statistics, compiled by HSE from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and other sources, cover work-related ill-health, workplace injuries, working days lost, costs to Britain and enforcement action taken. Top line statistics show that in 2016/17 there were 137 fatal injuries in Britain’s workplaces, 70,116 other injuries reported by employers, 12,000 lung disease deaths linked to past work exposures and 554 cases prosecuted, with fines from convictions totalling £69.9 million. There were fewer prosecutions taken in 2016/17, but new sentencing rules introduced in England and Wales 2016 led to an increase in the total fines levied, up sharply from the 2015/16 total of £38.8 million. Twenty large fines accounted for £30.7 million of the new figure. Dave Joyce, national safety officer with the communications union CWU, said the new figures “should encourage companies in the UK to redouble their efforts to work with unions to bring incidents of accident, injury and work-related illnesses down as low as possible.” He added: “There will be long-term improvement by investment in safety and health at work and a collective approach by employers working with unions and their health and safety reps to improve workplace standards.”
There is strong evidence that certain carbon nanotubes used in manufacturing could pose the same cancer risk as asbestos, a study by the Medical Research Council (MRC) has concluded. Commercial uses of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) including special paints, sports equipment such as bicycle frames and tennis racquet handles, boat hulls, aircraft, sports cars and computer motherboards. However, some CNTs are similar in size and shape to asbestos fibres, leading researchers to question whether they might have the same harmful effect on our lungs. In a study involving mice, the researchers from MRC’s Toxicology Unit studied the changes asbestos fibres and CNTs caused in the cells lining the pleura – a key site for the development of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma - over a number of months. The mesothelioma that developed in the mice after asbestos or CNT exposure was similar to mesothelioma samples from patients exposed to asbestos. They found for both substances changes to cells occurred that are also seen in mesothelioma sufferers. “Unlike previously reported short-term studies, this is the first time the mesothelioma-causing effects of long and thin carbon nanotubes have been monitored in mice over many months,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Marion MacFarlane. “Because it is diagnosed in humans when it’s quite advanced, we don’t know much about how or why it forms. This research could help us define key indicators for early detection as well as provide information for developing targeted therapies for this devastating disease.”
Ÿ MRC news release. Tatyana Chernova and others. Long-Fiber Carbon Nanotubes Replicate Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma with Disruption of the Tumor Suppressor Gene Cdkn2a (Ink4a/Arf), Current Biology, Volume 27, Issue 21, p3302–3314.e6, 6 November 2017.
A night Tube driver was attacked this week after returning his train to the depot sidings in the early hours after duty. The Evening Standard reports this was the latest in a series of incidents involving drivers returning trains to depots while working alone. The Jubilee line driver is believed to have disturbed a gang of graffiti vandals who sprayed him with paint, tripped and kicked him before stealing his radio. The attack at the Stanmore depot is being investigated by the British Transport Police. Transport for London’s director of enforcement Steve Burton, said: “This was a senseless and cowardly attack on one of our drivers and we will not tolerate it. We are now doing everything in our power to work with the police to bring the attackers to justice.” He said security at Stanmore is now being reviewed. Finn Brennan, district organiser for the rail union ASLEF, called for greater security at depots where trains are left overnight, saying the latest incident follows others on the Victoria line. When the roll out of the night service began in August last year, the union said: “ASLEF will be watching closely to ensure that staffing and policing levels are adequate to ensure a safe environment for the travelling public and all those working hard to deliver the service.” At that time, Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said his union would be operating “a policy of ‘extreme vigilance’ with our reps monitoring issues like safety, security and the impact on staff of running services round the clock” (Risks 765).
An ambulance service is challenging an ‘extremely lenient’ sentence given to a man who attacked two paramedics. Amy Holtom, a paramedic with West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS), suffered a broken wrist while treating a man in Birmingham city centre. Adam George James, 23, was given a suspended sentence after admitting actual bodily harm and common assault. The WMAS Trust has written to the attorney general asking for the sentence to be reviewed. Ms Holtom, who was called to help James after he was found unconscious on 12 July 2016, said the sentence was ‘appalling’. James came round while treatment was being given and according to paramedics, started using “foul language”. He kicked out and struck both paramedics with his steel toe-capped footwear, resulting in hospital treatment for both members of staff and a period of sick leave. James was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court to a 14-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to carry out 150 hours community service and pay a victim surcharge of £140. Amy Holtom said: “I think this is appalling and shows how little the courts think of us. Anyone else would have been looking at time in jail, but yet again ambulance staff have been let down by the legal system.” WMAS Trust chief executive officer, Anthony Marsh, who requested the sentence review, said: “The sentence is extremely lenient given the traumatic injuries sustained and emotional upset experienced. I find it hugely frustrating that so many of my staff have been let down by the sentences given. There is no question in my mind this warranted a custodial sentence.”
Company director Jagbir Singh has escaped jail after the corporate manslaughter of an employee at his firm, who fell into machinery at a recycling yard. Safi Qais Khan, 29, died at Master Construction Products (Skips) Ltd (MCPS) after he became entangled in a machine called a trommel, used to sort waste material. MCPS admitted the corporate manslaughter of Mr Khan, after an investigation found there was no safe system of work for the trommel and it was in a dangerous state. Essential guards to prevent entrapment were missing, there was no emergency stop button on the machine and it was surrounded by uneven and waste strewn ground. The company also admitted a criminal health and safety breach in failing to ensure measures were in place to minimise risks of entrapment, crushing or falls whilst working at the trommel. Jagbir Singh, director of MCPS, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and admitted he was aware of the way the company operated the trommel. At Birmingham Crown Court, the company was given a fine of £255,000 for corporate manslaughter. Singh was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and 300 hours of community service. He was also disqualified from serving as a company director for eight years and ordered to pay £11,500 in prosecution costs. Michael Gregory, a senior specialist prosecutor in the Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division of the CPS, said: “MCPS Ltd let the trommel and the area around it fall into a dilapidated and dangerous state. Little thought was given by the company to the safety of its employees when working at the machine. This failure caused the death of Mr Khan.” He added: “Singh admitted the offence after the CPS successfully showed how senior leaders’ management of the machinery played a substantial part in Mr Khan’s death. Our thoughts are with Mr Khan’s family.”
The director of a London-based waste contractor has been fined, handed a suspended sentence and been barred from running a company for seven years after a lorry contacted 132kV overhead power lines (OHLs) in north London. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 10 June 2013, Hanly Waste Services Limited had been contracted to construct a bund - an earth hill - on a farm, directly underneath overhead power lines. A lorry tipping on top of the bund came into contact with the overhead power lines, causing arcing which damaged both the wires and the lorry. The driver was unhurt, although the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says contact with power lines can result in death. An investigation by HSE into the incident found that the company had put no controls in place to prevent vehicles coming into contact with overhead power lines. Hanly Waste Services Limited had received advice from UK Power Networks about working near overhead power lines on a number of occasions, both before and after the incident. However, the company failed continually to implement controls and reduce the bund level to achieve minimum statutory clearances. Company director Donal Hanly pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,068.34. The judge also imposed a six-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months and a director disqualification order for a period of seven years. HSE inspector Gabriella Dimitrov said: “This was a very serious incident and it is fortunate nobody was injured. The incident could easily have been avoided by introducing control measures and safe working practices.”
The company running a Bristol hostel has been fined after a retired builder fell 25ft from a ladder and died. John Switalski suffered unsurvivable head injuries after the incident at Park Hostel in October 2015. The 67-year-old is believed to have been clearing leaves from the guttering of his home when he slipped. No one saw the fall, and an inquest delivered a verdict of accidental death. Hostel owners Park House Hostel Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal health and safety offences at Bristol Magistrates Court and was ordered to pay a fine of £15,000 and £4,187 prosecution costs. A Bristol City Council regulatory services investigation found Park House Hostel Ltd had failed to ensure that people who worked on the roof – including Mr Switalski - did so safely. Local residents told health and safety inspectors they had been concerned for several months about the way in which work was being carried out on the roof. Inspectors found a number of health and safety breaches, including a lack of edge protection on the flat roof, rusty scaffolding, no ‘fragile roof’ signs warning workers that the roof was unsafe to stand on and an inadequately completed risk assessment. A council inspector served a prohibition notice on the company requiring it to ensure that all work at height was carried out safely. Council cabinet member for regulatory services Fi Hance said: “Our health and safety inspectors target high risk premises and activities to ensure that people at work and people visiting workplaces have their health and safety protected. They endeavour to work with business to offer advice, but will also take appropriate action where there have been serious breaches of health and safety law.”
The National Work Stress Network’s annual conference will be on the theme ‘Challenging poor employment practices - issues around work-stress in an increasingly demanding work environment.’ The organisers say the conference is aimed at union health safety representatives, trades union officials and shop stewards, human resources and health and safety specialists, and stress management consultants.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an information sheet on mental health in the workplace. In a list of ‘good interventions’, it highlights the importance of workforce participation, noting the necessity for “involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organisational practices that support a healthy work-life balance.” The WHO guide also cites the World Economic Forum’s three-pronged approach to interventions, including: “Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.” A recent WHO-led study estimated that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion (£0.76 trillion) each year in lost productivity.
Ÿ Mental health in the workplace: Information sheet, WHO, 2017.
The ‘most efficient’ way to eliminate asbestos diseases is to ban all use of asbestos, a new study has concluded. The research paper, which looked at ‘Barriers and facilitators to the elimination of asbestos related diseases’, was co-authored by experts from the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO). The paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, notes: “Evidence-based strategies for the elimination of asbestos related diseases (ARDs) exist. Banning the production and use of all forms of asbestos as recommended by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and WHO, has been proven as the most efficient evidence-based strategy to eliminate ARDs.” It cites another recent WHO report on the economic impact of asbestos bans which concluded: “There are no observable mid- or long-term negative economic impacts from bans or a decline in asbestos production or consumption at the country-level, and no observable persistent negative effects at the regional level,” adding: “There are substantial and increasing costs associated with the continuing production and use of asbestos, with the potential to far outweigh the short-term economic benefits…” The paper concludes that “banning the production and use of all forms of asbestos, as recommended by the International Labour Organisation and WHO, continues to be the most efficient and proven evidence-based strategy to eliminate ARDs.”
Ÿ Joanne Vincenten, Frank George, Marco Martuzzi, Peter Schröder-Bäck and Elizabet Paunovic. Barriers and Facilitators to the Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases—Stakeholders’ Perspectives, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, volume 14, number 10, 2017. Lucy P Allen, Jorge Baez, Mary Elizabeth C Stern and Frank George. Asbestos-Economic Assessment of Bans and Declining Production and Consumption, World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2017.
India’s Power Ministry has established a committee to investigate a deadly 1 November explosion at NTPC’s thermal power plant in Unchahar in Uttar Pradesh state. Estimates of the death toll from the blast have risen steadily, reaching 36 on 7 November. Dozens more workers at the plant were injured when flue gases and steam were released from a 500MW coal-fired unit at the plant. Several workers remain hospitalised with severe burns. The investigative panel was created on 6 November by the Power Ministry. The ministry said it wants a report from the committee within a month, and would like a report on the cause of the blast within days. It also asked the committee “to suggest remedial measures to avoid recurrence of such incidents in future.” NTPC, India’s largest utility company, has its own group investigating the incident, led by its executive director of operations. The explosion occurred in a unit commissioned in March and that had been operating on a trial basis since September. On 3 November, an investigative group from the Uttar Pradesh labour department said “gross negligence” on the part of NTPC led to the blast, although that charge has since been challenged by government officials. India’s NDTV reported the same day that NTPC officials have admitted that engineers were aware of an ash problem and were trying to clean the unit without shutting it down.
The World Bank should fulfil its commitment to protect workers in tea plantations in Assam, India, human rights campaigns have said. The groups say in November 2016, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) - the accountability office of the World Bank Group’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) - released an investigation report that found low wages, abysmal sanitation, lack of pesticide safety equipment, and inadequate housing on India’s tea plantations – but the bank has since done little to address the problems. “The World Bank Group is not honouring its commitment to improve the lives of tea workers in Assam,” said Anirudha Nagar, South Asia director at Accountability Counsel, which supports communities harmed by internationally financed projects. “The bank should urgently disclose the audits it is relying on, address the findings of its independent accountability office, and make good on its promise to ensure workers are consulted in a process moderated by an independent third party.” In 2009, the IFC invested in the tea producer Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL) with the goal of creating a sustainable worker shareholder programme. With more than 155,000 people living on APPL plantations, including 30,000 tea workers, the investment has the potential to achieve a significant development impact. However, the human rights groups say IFC failed to live up to its own goals, including to “support jobs that ‘protect and promote the health’ of workers, and thus provide a way out of poverty.” Komala Ramachandra, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, commented: “The IFC still invests in tea but has done little to stop the labour and human rights abuses on APPL’s plantations more than a year after the investigation. The IFC should consult with workers and promptly create a meaningful response and action plan.”
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