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As part of the TUC’s work celebrating 40 years of union health and safety representatives, the union body is planning a resource on how to expand the existing legal role of these life-saving union reps. The TUC says it is pulling together examples of health and safety representatives reaching agreements with their employers that they can cover a range of workplaces or workers employed by other employers, such as contractors. It is also keen to hear of practical examples where unions have negotiated the right to issue Union Improvement Notices, or something similar, and they have been used successfully. These notices mean if an issue is not dealt with by a line manager or the health and safety officer, there is a way of progressing it, with set time limits for getting the issue sorted. The TUC would also like to hear of any other agreements that go beyond the requirements on employers under the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, such as the right to stop the job. If you’ve done something brilliant, and you think others might benefit, tell the TUC.
Email your examples to the TUC health and safety
Unite’s parliamentary branch has expressed ‘deep concern’ over the lack of staff ‘voice’ in a working group proposed by the leader of the House of Commons to tackle harassment, bullying and abuses of power in parliament and the constituencies. Replying to a letter dated 9 November from MP Andrea Leadsom that outlined the process and composition of the working group, the branch warned that the make-up of group, comprising 10 parliamentarians and two staff representatives, would lead to staff having ‘no confidence’ in the group’s results. The branch, replying in a letter sent to the leader of the house, also expressed alarm at the unrealistic timeframe given for the submission of ideas on how an independent grievance system might work. In her letter, the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom requested ‘ideas’ before the end of the working week. The union’s response notes: “Unite’s parliamentary branch is clear that this must be a staff-led process, and either the numbers of staff be balanced on the group or an outside expert body such as Acas be asked to review the whole system and make independent recommendations for a new system.” The letter adds: “Staff need this system to be fixed to ensure a safe, decent and respectful workplace. Unite is committed to working to ensure this. We have no faith that the working group as currently constituted can achieve this vital change and would respectfully ask that you reconsider its composition.” The exchange of letters coincided with the Unite parliamentary branch launching a petition calling for trade union recognition for parliamentary and constituency staff.
Performers’ union Equity is launching an investigation into practical ways to combat sexual harassment and the fear of disclosure in the theatre, film, TV, audio and new media industries. The union, which has existing agreements with all the major employers in the industry, says it is uniquely placed to create meaningful change. Actor and Equity vice president Maureen Beattie said: “This is a key moment for the industry to harness the energy generated by those courageous enough to speak out about their appalling treatment. We will do all that we can to ensure that the supportive statements made by those with power in our industry are followed up with concrete and real action that will bring about the radical change needed to make our industry safer for all creative workers.” Equity’s general secretary Christine Payne said: “The sexual harassment of women and men has to stop. It cannot be excused as part of any creative process. Influential figures cannot be above the decent and legal standards we demand in workplaces throughout the UK. We will work with employers to make meaningful change and empower our members to combat the culture of fear that is preventing them reporting abuse.”
Journalists’ union NUJ has said it is crucial that the workplace cultures that allow predatory behaviour and sexual harassment to flourish are dismantled. Michelle Stanistreet, the union’s general secretary, said: “Journalists should be able to do their jobs without being sexually harassed by their work superiors or contacts they are expected to interact with. Such abuse of power needs to be stamped out.” In a statement, she added: “Newspaper and broadcasting organisations have a duty of care for their employees and people who work for them and it’s time they took that seriously. The latest revelations in Westminster of MPs and ministers sexually harassing journalists are not new. Many journalists have felt they’ve had no option but to put up with it for fear their experiences would not be believed, that it somehow reflects upon them, or that their employers would belittle what had happened. Women in the male-dominated lobby have been reluctant to speak out because ‘it all comes with the territory’, they are told.” The statement concludes: “There needs to be a radical change of culture in the media world. Men still dominate the positions of power in management and on the boards. Journalists – men and women – must act collectively with their union to make it clear that this behaviour must stop.” She said the union was ready to assist anyone who has experienced sexual harassment.
A confidential survey of workers employed by Mears in Manchester and the Mears-run joint venture Manchester Working has revealed ‘truly shocking’ levels of mental health problems and stress among its workforce. The findings of the survey undertaken by the members’ union Unite, were released on 13 November to coincide with the resumption of industrial action in a long-running dispute. The Unite survey found 37 per cent of workers said they had been ill, most complaining of depression and anxiety. A ‘staggering’ 89 per cent believed that work had contributed to their illness and in threequarters of cases the illness was so severe that time off work was necessary. Over nine out of ten respondents (91 per cent) complained of stress, with 98 per cent of these sufferers believing that work was a contributory factor. A third of these workers were so severely affected they had to take time off work. In what Unite described as a ‘damning indictment of Mears’ management’, 79 per cent of the workforce said that their health had deteriorated in the last 12 months, with 70 per cent recording that both their physical and mental health had been affected. The union said it was disturbing that 92 per cent of workers said that Mears’ management took neither their physical nor mental health seriously. Unite regional co-ordinating officer Andy Fisher said: “The findings of this survey are truly shocking and demonstrate that bad management by Mears is making workers ill. It is imperative that if Mears has any regard for their workforce they will act on these findings immediately.” A series of strike days is set to run through til February 2018.
Rail union RMT has written to the rail safety regulator itemising a series of serious safety lapses during last week’s strike action on South Western Railway (SWR). The union said the incidents, which occurred on 8 November, all involved the use of poorly trained ‘contingency guards’ deployed in a bid to break the RMT strike action. RMT said its dossier highlighted again how the safety regulator, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) - which is funded to the tune of £2.3 million by SWR co-owner, First Group - is failing in its statutory duty to maintain public safety during industrial action. In one case, train doors were opened on both sides of the train. In another, the doors were opened before the train pulled into the station. Other trains were given the signal to proceed, despite lights being at red. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Once again this union is forced to raise a catalogue of serious safety breaches resulting from the dangerous use of fake guards during industrial action with the official safety regulator.” He added: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the use of these ill-equipped individuals is a disaster waiting to happen and yet again the supposedly independent safety inspectorate has failed to act on those warnings. We now expect them to take this latest catalogue of incidents seriously and to act accordingly.”
In a landmark victory for the union GMB, taxi firm Uber has lost an appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be treated as workers rather than self-employed (Risks 775). In October 2016, a tribunal ruled drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam were Uber staff and entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the minimum wage. Uber appealed, arguing its drivers were self-employed and were under no obligation to use its booking app. This week’s Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruling, upholding the original tribunal’s findings, is the latest blow for Uber after Transport for London refused to renew its licence to operate in in the capital (Risks 819). Maria Ludkin, GMB legal director, said: “This landmark decision is yet more vindication of GMB’s campaign to ensure drivers are given the rights they are entitled to - and that the public, drivers and passengers are kept safe. GMB is delighted the EAT made the correct decision to uphold the original employment tribunal ruling. Uber must now face up to its responsibilities and give its workers the rights to which they are entitled.” She added: “GMB urges the company not to waste everyone’s time and money dragging their lost cause to the Supreme Court.” Nigel Mackay, from the firm Leigh Day which acted for the union, said: “We now hope that Uber will accept this decision, rather than seeking pursuing appeals, so that we can swiftly return to the Employment Tribunal on behalf of our GMB member clients, for the Tribunal to decide the compensation that they are entitled to.” The GMB said it is now supporting 68 claimants.
Construction union Unite has expressed deep concern at a new health and safety ‘passport’ introduced unilaterally by Highways England. The union says the lack of consultation and secrecy concerning the new card scheme has created confusion and could doom the scheme to failure. All 50,000 workers undertaking work on Highways England sites will be expected to have the new card, despite being signed up already to existing safety accreditisation schemes. The new card scheme will be run by outsourcing specialists Mitie and the training associated with the card undertaken by Lantra. But Unite, which represents workers who will be expected to possess the card, has not been consulted about its introduction and said it believed other key sections of industry have also not been consulted. Unite said under the new scheme, all 50,000 workers will be expected to have the new card within 12 months. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said “to be successful the new scheme must have the support of the workforce and the lack of consultation with unions and industry bodies, dramatically undermines this initiative. Workers will be concerned that employers will require them to pay for the cost of the new card and any additional training and the lack of communication has meant that agreements to ensure that employers pay the cost are not in place.” She added: “The involvement of Mitie is very alarming. Other card schemes are being run by not for profit organisations. Are Mitie and Highways England looking to profit out of a safety initiative?” The union official noted: “If Highways England is so concerned about the safety of highways workers why on earth are they planning to increase the speed limit around motorway roadworks which will place already vulnerable workers in even greater danger.”
Transport for London (TfL) has swept concerns about the health and welfare of bus drivers under the carpet, Unite has said. The union was commenting on the publication of TfL’s official response to a London Assembly report, ‘Driven to Distraction’ (Risks 810). This found that London bus drivers suffered considerable stress, had shortened rest breaks, were denied toilet facilities and had to endure enforced overtime. The report set out a large number of recommendations and urged TfL to respond positively. However, Unite says the long awaited response from TfL to the report fails to address bus workers’ concerns. It said of particular concern is TfL’s rejection of the recommendation that it should set specific safety targets for bus operators. Without specific safety measures as part of the ‘Quality Incentive Contracts’ bus operators are required to meet, the union said operators cut rest periods ‘to maximise running time and profits.’ Unite regional officer John Murphy commented: “TfL’s decidedly lukewarm response to the excellent ‘Driven to Distraction’ report demonstrates that it is attempting to sweep these issues under the carpet.” He added: “In the coming weeks Unite will be stepping up its campaign to ensure our members are treated fairly and decently and we will be ensuring that the working conditions of bus drivers are improved with or without the assistance of TfL.” This month, Unite launched a ‘Reported, Supported, No pressure, Sorted’ campaign aimed at reducing assaults and abuse on bus drivers in London (Risks 825).
New statistics have revealed a ‘shocking’ jump in incidents of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Retail union Usdaw launched its interim survey findings to mark its annual Respect for Shopworkers Week. The union’s 2017 Freedom From Fear Survey shows in the past year nearly two-thirds of shopworkers were verbally abused, 40 per cent were threatened and around 250 were assaulted every day. The union says these figures are significantly up on last year’s survey, with abuse and assaults up by 25 per cent and threats by 38 per cent. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said “there needs to be action to help protect staff. It is time for the government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.” He added: “This week our members are out campaigning on high streets, in shopping centres and stores; talking to the public and asking them to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”
Conservative MP Sarah Newton has been appointed Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work. She replaces Penny Mordaunt, who was promoted to the cabinet post of Secretary of State for International Development after Priti Patel’s fall from grace. Newton, a former marketing executive, now has a brief that includes: Cross-government disability issues; work and health strategy, including sponsorship of the Joint Work and Health Unit; disability employment, including Disability Confident, Work Choice, Access to Work, the Work and Health Programme and mental health in the workplace; support for those at risk of falling out of work, including occupational health and Statutory Sick Pay; and financial support for sick and disabled claimants. She is also charged with oversight of the workplace safety regulators the Health and Safety Executive and the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
Britain is in the grip of a stress epidemic, with 82 per cent of Britons feeling stressed at least some of the time during a typical week, new research from AXA has revealed. The findings, which form part of AXA’s Stress Index, are based on a survey of 4,000 UK adults. They reveal that pressure at work, financial worries and concerns about health are the most common causes of stress. According to the insurance giant’s Index, stress in the workplace is strongly linked to the ‘always on’ culture, with almost three in every five workers (59 per cent) admitting to taking calls outside of working hours, while more than half (55 per cent) check their emails. Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA, commented: “These findings illustrate the worrying scale of the UK’s stress epidemic, occurring both in the workplace and at home, impacting people up and down the country.”
Workplace bullying and violence may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, for both men and women, according to new research published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The study, carried out by Tianwei Xu of the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen and collaborators, used official Swedish, Finnish and Danish data sources. Nine per cent of the participants reported exposure to workplace bullying. The study found being bullied at work was associated with a 46 per cent higher risk of type 2 diabetes (61 per cent for men and 36 per cent for women). Adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health difficulties did not affect this association. Adjustment for BMI removed one-third of the risk increase. Some 12 per cent of participants had experienced violence or threats of violence in the preceding 12 months. After adjusting for confounders, workplace violence was associated with a 26 per cent higher risk of diabetes, for both men and women. Again, adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health problems did not affect this result. The authors say: “There is a moderate and robust association between workplace bullying, violence and the development of type 2 diabetes. As both bullying and violence or threats of violence are common in the workplace we suggest that prevention policies should be investigated as a possible means to reduce this risk.” They add: “Further study of possible causal pathways, for example weight gain, negative emotions and the psychological stress response, would help to provide an understanding of the causal mechanisms and to develop cost effective interventions.”
Tianwei Xu and others. Workplace bullying and violence as risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a multicohort study and meta-analysis, Diabetologia, pages 1–9, published online 13 November 2017.
Two company directors have been given suspended prison sentences after the death of an agency worker who was drawn into machinery while cleaning in the area. Nottingham Crown Court heard how Karlis Pavasars, 55, lost his life whilst cleaning near a conveyor at Mid-UK Recycling Limited. The recycling line was started up and the worker was drawn onto the conveyor, through a trommel and into an industrial waste shredder. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 19 July 2013 incident found that the fixed gate that fenced the area off and prevented access to the conveyor had been removed a number of weeks earlier, which meant that workers could freely gain access to the area. Management were aware that the gate was not in place. Managing director Christopher Mountain pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was given a 20-week prison sentence suspended for two years and fined £50,000. Former operations manager Alan Munson also pleaded guilty and was given a 20-week prison sentence, suspended for two years. Mid-UK Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £880,000 and ordered to pay costs of £100,000. HSE inspector Dr Richenda Dixon commented: “This horrific fatality could so easily have been avoided by simply installing and maintaining physical guards around conveyors and ensuring that safe working practices were in place. Employers should make sure they properly assess, apply and maintain effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”
A wood waste company has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a worker was killed when he fell four metres from a walking floor trailer – a lorry trailer with a moving floor - while manually un-sheeting the unit. Paul Littlewood, 48, died from his injuries following the incident at R Plevin & Sons’ site in Hazlehead. The trailer access to the work platform located at the front was protected by a single manually fastened wire rope. The rope is normally fastened to a vertical post with a carabiner. At the time of the incident on 30 June 2014, the wire rope was hanging loose and the access point was unprotected. Sheffield Crown Court heard that R Plevin & Sons Ltd had not carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment for sheeting and un-sheeting trailers. No automatic sheeting was used and the protection provided was inadequate to protect workers from the risk of falls. The firm pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £216,000 and ordered to pay costs of £31,266.54. HSE inspector Tim Johnson commented: “The incident could have easily been prevented by providing either automatic sheeting or self-closing gates similar to those at the access point on Mobile Elevated Work Platforms, coupled with a double guard rail along the length of the work platform.” He added: “It is a requirement to carry out suitable planning for significant risks such as working at height. The sheeting and un-sheeting of lorry trailers is clearly working at height and the company should have identified the risks and control measures necessary to prevent this fatal accident.”
A vehicle recovery company and a recovery vehicles manufacturer have been fined after a worker died of crush injuries. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 31 May 2013, John Wallace, an employee of Ontime Automotive Ltd, was jet washing a twin deck recovery vehicle at the company’s base in Hayes, Middlesex when the upper deck collapsed spontaneously, trapping him between the upper and lower deck. The 49-year-old died of his injuries at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the vehicle recovery equipment was poorly designed by a company called J&J Conversions Ltd. The upper deck, which was designed to fold down onto the lower deck, was only stable in its raised position if it was secured by two powered locking pins. Ontime failed to control the unsafe use of this system, as a limited number of employees within the company knew how to operate this device. J&J Conversions failed to take appropriate measures to remedy the problem that lead to the tragedy, even after the upper deck had violently collapsed on a previous occasion when the vehicle was owned by a third party. J&J Conversions Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £9,490. Ontime Automotive Ltd was convicted of a criminal offence and fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000. HSE inspector Stephen Kirton said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident caused by poor design and the failure to control unsafe practices. Any company designing, manufacturing or supplying equipment for use at work must ensure that its safe operation is correctly considered and engineered in, and that foreseeable issues are properly considered. Companies should also ensure that employees are correctly trained to use workplace machinery.”
A Glasgow-based demolition contractor has been fined after a worker fell to his death from a mezzanine deck during a demolition project in Edinburgh. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard how Peter Millar, a 57-year-old employee of Walker Demo Limited, died 10 days after he fell on 15 January 2015, while dismantling a mezzanine deck at the Fort Kinnaird Retail Park south of Edinburgh. He had gained access onto the mezzanine level to remove wooden boards and lost his balance. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the demolition activity had not been adequately planned to prevent danger, as there were no measures in place to prevent access onto the mezzanine floor and no measures in place to prevent a person falling from the mezzanine deck. Walker Demo Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £40,000. HSE inspector Gerry Muir said: “The failure of Walker Demo Limited to properly plan the dismantling of the mezzanine deck led to an uncontrolled risk of a fall from height which was sadly realised when Mr Millar gained access to the deck and fell.” There was a second worker fall at Fort Kinnaird four months later. Steven Stewart, 57, was left with “life-changing” injuries after falling nearly 15ft through a hole in a floor. He was working for Technic Concrete Floors on a new cinema complex at the retail park when the incident happened.
Canada’s unions have welcomed a proposed law to address harassment and violence at work. The Canadian federal government said the ‘three pillars’ of the proposed legislation, which would cover federally-regulated staff, are prevention, responding to incidents and providing support to those affected. Welcoming the initiative, Hassan Yussuff, president of the national union federation CLC, said violence and harassment at work had reached “epidemic proportions”. He added: “We are pleased to see the government addressing some of the gaps and inconsistencies in current legislation meant to address this issue.” The proposed law came after a lengthy campaign by unions, who had urged the federal government to introduce comprehensive workplace violence legislation requiring employers to develop policies and programmes to help prevent workplace violence and harassment, as well as take precautions to protect workers from domestic violence in the workplace. “We are pleased that the labour minister has committed to a stakeholders’ working group to develop regulations and guidance documents and hope that many outstanding issues can be addressed there,” said Yussuff. Lisa Kelly, women’s department director with the union Unifor, said: “Facing violence and harassment at work is a painful and isolating experience. Too often, those who report and seek assistance still face retaliation.” She added: “We are looking forward to working with the federal government to ensure that this legislation, and the associated regulations, effectively provides both tools for prevention and remedies where that prevention fails.”
The annual financial cost arising from occupational cancers across the European Union is ‘immense’, a new study has indicated. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), which released the findings at a Work and Cancer conference in Brussels this week, said the total cost ran to between €270 billion (£241bn) and €610 billion (£545bn) each year, which represents between 1.8 per cent and 4.1 per cent of the gross domestic product of the European Union. ETUI says the calculation takes all the related costs into account. These include: Direct costs for Member States’ health systems, related to medical treatment; indirect costs for workers and employers, associated with monetary losses due to the cessation of work; and human costs for the victims, namely the impact on the quality of life of workers and their families. “With more than 100 000 deaths per year, occupational cancers are the leading cause of death in the EU. This study shows that the societal cost of work-related cancers is tremendous,” said Tony Musu, an expert in chemical risks at the ETUI. “It is the workers and their families who shoulder the largest share of the costs. This unjust situation is socially and economically unacceptable, and the EU must take action to put an end to these preventable cancers.” The difference between the high and low estimates is because the costs have been calculated based on various projections on the percentage of all cases of cancer attributable to work.
In a changing world, how do workers get their employers to raise wages and assure safe conditions? That’s the question some of the world’s most innovative worker groups are asking. And they’re hopeful they have found a solution. Several of those groups gathered in the US this month to launch the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, an ambitious effort to improve the lives of millions of workers in the corporate supply chains. Meeting at the Ford Foundation to kick off the new effort, the worker advocacy groups maintained that corporate self-regulation was not doing nearly enough to assure safety and adequate conditions for the tens of millions of workers in apparel, electronics and agricultural supply chains worldwide. They are pinning their hopes on a new effort that aims to have workers play a central role in developing workplace codes of conduct and in overseeing enforcement of these codes. “We want to go from a culture of audit-and-ignore to a culture of inspect-and-remedy,” said Ineke Zeldenrust director of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group sponsored by 180 American universities, said: “We know that companies don’t regulate themselves. If we substitute voluntary corporate self-regulation with enforceable agreements between corporations and worker representatives, we can have a real world impact in terms of protecting workers’ rights. We have to hold corporations accountable as a matter of contract and not rely on their good graces.” This approach has union backing. “We are strong supporters,” said Cathy Feingold, director of the international department of the US national union federation AFL-CIO. “The labour movement has been about finding worker-driven solutions.” She noted that the new network, much like traditional unions, is insisting on contractually enforceable agreements, in the form of codes of conduct, and real enforcement and real penalties when those agreements are violated. “The reality is that far too few workers are able to bargain collectively,” Feingold said. “Plain and simple, unions cannot do this alone. We have to build what we see here.” She added: “We have to have innovative models. We need to be experimenting.”
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