|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.
The High Court has said a judicial review can take place into a shift pattern that sees firefighters spend 96 hours straight on duty. Firefighters’ union FBU, which had sought the review now scheduled for early in 2018, wholeheartedly welcome the court’s decision. The union believes these long shifts, known as the ‘close proximity crewing’ or CPC system, pose a threat to safety due to fatigue. The case was taken to the high court after South Yorkshire Fire Authority included the problematic shift system in its three year ‘risk management plan’. CPC had been ‘vigorously’ challenged by the FBU since 2012, and the shift system had been criticised at an Employment Tribunal in December 2015. FBU says the system is also in breach of both European and UK law, something confirmed by the Health and Safety Executive (Risks 757). Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “If these duty systems continue to be utilised by Fire and Rescue Services, tragic consequences are almost inevitable. It is impossible to imagine how any fire and rescue service can reasonably argue that they can give any assurance that a firefighter on such a duty system would be in a fit state to face the strain, stress and physical demands at a highly challenging incident, an extreme example being that faced by the firefighters who responded to the Grenfell Tower fire. Or the protracted call outs we experience all too regularly when there is serious flooding, when both the physical and mental demands of the job can really take their toll.” He added: “We are relieved to know that we now have the green light to seek a high court ruling on this worrying matter. It is a source of acute frustration that, in the absence of a collective agreement, a public body has chosen to blatantly disregard a clear Employment Tribunal ruling, and to maintain a system of working which places both public and firefighters at significant risk.”
Christmas revellers in northern England could face a festive season ‘drinks drought’ as Sheffield drivers ballot for strike action in a long-running health and safety dispute. Unite, the union representing around 100 drivers and drivers’ mates working for DHL-owned Tradeteam Ltd, are being balloted for strike action over ‘unmanageable’ workloads. The union says extra investment is needed in more drivers and equipment to stop the company ‘pushing the envelope’ on contracted hours and to provide the machinery necessary to make loading lorries easier. Unite says if the drivers and their mates vote for strike action deliveries to hundreds of clubs, pubs and restaurants from Leicester to Huddersfield and Scarborough will be hit in the run-up to Christmas. The drivers based at the company’s Shepcote Lane depot in Sheffield deliver alcoholic drinks for Coors, Carlsberg, Greene King, Mitchells & Butlers and Whitbread. Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said: “The drivers and their mates are being balloted for strikes over Tradeteam’s neglect of health and safety issues and workload allocations which are unmanageable. This includes loads in excess of agreed weight limits and allocation of routes that exceed agreed hours. The bosses are pushing the envelope on contracted hours.” She added: “For over two years, our members have complained they are being made to deliver trucks that are overweight and because they have to stay out doing routes which take longer than are planned for by their managers. This dispute is not about pay, but about the welfare of our members who are fed up with being fobbed off by the management, who could solve this dispute with investment in employing more drivers to ease the pressure on delivery times and the introduction of the appropriate machinery to facilitate the loading of the vehicles.” She urged the company “to get around the table for constructive talks; otherwise there is a real prospect of a ‘beer drought’ across Yorkshire, Humberside and the north Midlands for seasonal party-goers.”
The government must stop ‘downright dangerous’ practices used by firms including delivery giant Hermes, the union GMB has said. The union, which represents drivers working for Hermes Lifestyle Couriers, has warned of a public safety risk after a leaked letter shows the company is forcing couriers to work excessive hours and up to 21 consecutive days in the run up the Christmas. Drivers working for the company, which delivers parcels for online retailers including Amazon UK, Next Directory, Cloggs Footwear, M&M Direct, JD Williams, Redcats, Wynsors Shoes and Cotton Traders, earn below the minimum wage, when unpaid worktime and other deductions are taken into account due to their ‘bogus’ self-employed status, the union says. It believes this is “a major public safety scandal and downright dangerous practice - not only for couriers but for other road users and the public at large.” GMB has written to Hermes ‘reminding them of their obligations to their employees of the Health & Safety Act 1974, and that couriers are also guided by Transport Act 1968 and the Working Time Regulations 1998.” It added that if the company bosses “continue down this route, and victimise GMB members for refusing to undertake these dangerous working conditions, GMB will take the strongest possible action in defence of our members.” GMB is urging members to write to the company informing them they will not be working 21 consecutive days - putting themselves, other road users and the general public at risk due to fatigue. GMB national officer Mick Rix dismissed the company’s claim that it provides cover for couriers. “If a lifestyle courier objects, or cannot provide their own cover, they are told by their Hermes field managers they will be penalised by having work withdrawn from them,” he said: “It’s high time the government took firms like Hermes to task and stop allowing such blatant avoidance of their obligations to provide safe services, and provide a duty of care to their workforce, other road users and the public.”
Over eighty per cent of teachers said that excessive workload has made them consider leaving teaching in the past year, according to a National Education Union (NEU) survey. Initial findings from the survey were revealed this week by NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted at a conference hosted by Nottingham Education Improvement Board. Dr Bousted said the survey showed “teacher members feel that excessive workload is blighting their lives and driving them from the profession.” She added: “Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain teachers, and school leaders tell us that teacher shortages are a threat to school standards. That is why this conference, which focuses on practical and workable solutions to teacher workload, is so important.” NEU says it has campaigned ‘tirelessly’ for change at a national level, putting pressure on the government to reduce workload.
Rail union RMT has challenged an official rail safety agency to review fundamentally its ‘conflicted’ position on driver only operation (DOO) of trains, a policy that would see ‘safety-critical’ train guards dispensed with on many trains. The union says the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) must address the increasing danger to passengers at the ‘Platform Train Interface’. RSSB has already been forced to launch a public information campaign warning the travelling public of the growing risk of ‘trap and drag’ incidents – a situation RMT says is “clearly worsened by the plans to throw the safety-critical guards off the trains on a number of English franchises.” In a letter to the RSSB, RMT general secretary Mick Cash notes: “I am aware of RSSB’s press release detailing research on passenger perceptions of door alarms and the risks that are associated with incidents of this type including the most severe instances of trap and drag. As you will know RMT has particular concerns around these events in our current campaign to retain a second safety-critical worker on-board trains.” The letter accuses the RSSB of “washing your hands of the problem by asking passengers to change their behaviour rather than by ensuring enough staff are in place to control those risks.” The letter concludes: “RMT believes that there should be a fundamental reassessment of the issue related to DOO dispatch which should look to incorporate actions of suitably trained and qualified personnel on both trains and stations. Inaction in this matter on industry’s part will be to conclude it is because RSSB are funded by the employers.” RMT general Secretary Mick Cash commented: “The RSSB can’t have it both ways. If they think that the only concern is public information rather than the operational model and the rampant de-staffing of the railway then they are simply ignoring their own evidence base which points to a growing danger of trap and drag.” He said it was time RSSB and the rail safety regulator ORR “ignored the policy objectives of both their private funders and the Tory government, showed some genuine independence and started putting the passenger first.”
Cuts to fire services and the London Underground safety budget show lessons from the deadly King’s Cross Tube station fire 30 years ago have not been learned, unions have said. The 18 November 1987 fire killed 31 people. Commenting on the anniversary of the tragedy, Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the rail union TSSA, called for an independent safety audit of all London rail stations. He said automation has increased risks, noting: “The accident toll stands at over 5,000 now for this year alone - up 11 per cent on last year and up from just 53 accidents in 2003.” He warned that ‘massive cuts’ just announced by Transport for London and London Underground included plans “to slice a further 10 per cent or £3 million from their health and safety budget.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The King’s Cross fire stands alongside the appalling disaster at Grenfell Tower as a reminder to everyone that safety and regulation must remain our watchwords regardless of what the bottom line says on a set of accounts.” He added: “RMT has pledged to continue to fight cuts to jobs and budgets across London underground, the wider rail industry and every sector that this trade union organises in. We will oppose with every tool at our disposal any moves which compromise the safety culture or water down the regulatory framework.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack warned the capital now has less capacity to respond to a disaster like King’s Cross. He highlighted the closures of Clerkenwell, Belsize, Westminster, Manchester Square, Kingsland and Silvertown fire stations, all of which sent fire engines to King’s Cross. “It is obscene that we are having to highlight this extremely concerning depletion of emergency response resources in our capital in the very same year as the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire took more lives through fire in London than any since World War II. How many more lives have to be put at risk or even taken before the government will sit up and listen?”
Shopworkers are calling on the government to introduce an additional penalty for those who assault workers in the course of their duties. John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw said: “It is entirely unacceptable that shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. The interim results of our annual survey have shown that such incidents have significantly increased this year, so it is entirely reasonable that shopworkers continue to ask the government for greater protection.” He added: “Very worryingly our survey also found that 1 in 5 shopworkers who had been assaulted didn’t report the incident to their employer. My message to shopworkers is do not suffer in silence, abuse is not a part of the job and if they report it we can help to sort it. Sometimes retail staff feel reporting an incident won’t make any difference, so stiffer sentences for those who assault workers, backed up by a properly funded police forces would give staff more confidence and be a strong response to a growing problem.” The union is urging members to ‘report it to sort it’ after its survey found that 56 per cent of shopworkers who experienced violence, threats or abuse at work did not report the incident to their employer. Over a fifth (22 per cent) of those physically attacked did not report the assault.
Global footwear retailers should create transparent leather and shoe supply chains and take action to improve shoe workers’ rights, campaigners have said. UNISON activists were joined this week by Labour MSP Neil Findlay at the head office in Livingston, Scotland, of shoe retailer Schuh to hand over a petition calling for the ethical approach, and providing Schuh with case studies of exploited workers in shoe factories in India and Bangladesh. The Labour Behind the Label campaign, supported by UNISON Scotland, aims to raise awareness of the dangerous working conditions and exploitation of garment workers producing goods sold on UK high streets. The petition calls on leading UK shoe brands and retailers to publish the names and addresses of all their suppliers, report on progress in moving away from dangerous chemicals, and to show that they are respecting human rights, paying fair wages and providing safe working conditions. Simon Macfarlane, UNISON regional organiser, said: “People across the world are waking up to the links between the shoes and clothes they buy and the exploitation of workers by well-known brands. More than 13,000 global citizens have signed a petition calling on Schuh and other retailers to act to ensure garment workers are not endangered.” Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for the Lothians, said: “We would like Schuh, a Livingston-based company, to demonstrate that they are industry leaders by standing up for the rights of working people involved throughout the manufacture of the shoes they sell. They can do this by requiring that companies in their extensive supply chain meet decent labour standards and by actively monitoring suppliers to ensure compliance.”
Union representatives for offshore workers have returned from a visit to Airbus HQ in France with a stark ‘no confidence’ in the future of the Super Puma helicopter. The meeting came after Unite’s warning in October that thousands of offshore workers were willing to strike over the issue (Risks 821). The H225LP and sister model AS332 L2 helicopters, known as Super Pumas, were both banned from flying after a fatal incident off Norway, but the ban has since been lifted leading to union concern they could be reinstated as offshore transport. On return from his visit to Airbus in France, Unite’s Tommy Campbell told STV News workers still had no confidence in the Super Pumas. “It’s the position of the offshore workers – we’re representing their views. Views, of course, that they’ve expressed to Airbus in their own surveys. Those views are borne from the fact that workers offshore have lost their lives on a number of occasions, with this particular helicopter. So, it’s clearly understandable why workers are taking that position. As a union we are supporting that position to make sure that the North Sea now stays Super Puma free.”
Ÿ Energy Voice.
A proposed law to tackle the gig economy would be “a positive first step” in ridding the UK of bogus self-employment, the union Unite said. The union was commenting on a draft bill jointly proposed on 20 November by the select committees for Work and Pensions and Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. Key recommendations include legislation to provide clearer definitions of employment status, geared towards giving more workers employment rights and equal pay and conditions to permanent staff. Unite said a proposal that workers would be deemed to have worker status unless an employer was able to prove otherwise “has the potential to transform industries such as construction which are heavily reliant on bogus self-employed workers.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The draft bill would be an initial step forward in tackling the rampant bogus self-employment which afflicts industries such as construction. Unite has always been clear that without decisive government action the rampant exploitation, casualisation and the hire and fire culture which is undermining the long-term effectiveness of the construction industry, will not be tackled.” She added: “Under these proposals not only would the bogus self-employed be given key rights such as the entitlement to take paid holidays but workers could join together to take cases to secure full employment status. The government has repeatedly expressed warm words on creating a level playing field for workers who currently get a raw deal, it now has the opportunity to turn those words into action.” Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the BEIS Committee, said: “We need new laws but also much tougher enforcement, to weed out those businesses seeking to exploit complex labour laws, and workers, for their competitive advantage.” Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said the committees were “presenting the prime minister with an opportunity to fulfil the promise she made on the steps of Downing Street on her first day in office, with a draft Bill that would end the mass exploitation of ordinary, hard-working people in the gig economy.”
Gig economy workers, temps and workers on zero-hours contracts have fewer protections for their health and well-being at work than their permanent, full-time colleagues, according to new research. Many are working when sick, working unpaid overtime and going throughout the year without a paid holiday, the Opinium survey commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found. It showed that from health advice and counselling to fire safety inductions and personal protective equipment, non-permanent workers said they come out second best. The IOSH-Opinium online survey of 500 non-permanent workers found almost two-thirds are working without sick pay, with a half of these working when sick to ensure they are paid. One respondent reported being sent into work by her employer while suffering with the norovirus. Only a third of non-permanent workers have access to occupational health support compared to more than half of their permanent colleagues. Only half receive a full induction process, including fire exits, compared to two-thirds of their full-time, permanent co-workers. IOSH director of strategic development Shelley Frost said: “There shouldn’t be discrepancies between permanent employees and non-permanent workers in employers’ measures to safeguard their safety, health and well-being. When it responds to the Taylor Review [Risks 808], we want the government to consider these findings and the very real health risks faced by workers outside of permanent, full-time employment.” She added: “We would welcome up-front agreements between employers and non-permanent workers that set out the same level of care for their health and well-being as permanent employees, and linked to their role.”
Ÿ IOSH news release. The gig is up: Trade unions tackling insecure work, TUC, June 2017.
Channelling workers to workplace wellness practitioners but not addressing the problems rooted in the job is not going to make things better, a wellness practitioner has warned. Zoë Krupka, who is also a postgraduate researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences at La Trobe University, Australia, commented: “We’re working longer hours than ever before, and as our employment conditions continue to worsen, they’re simply repackaged into a new version of normal in an effort to make the truly pathological state of many of our workplaces appear acceptable. And despite the fact that the very best evidence we have about the causes of work stress and burnout point to factors present in the workplace rather than in us, the stress reduction industry and the helping professions’ focus on individual self-care strategies is at an all-time high.” Writing in The Conversation, she commented: “Despite the endless column inches devoted to how we can find balance in our busy working lives, the solution here isn’t personal, it’s political. Those of us working in the health and well-being industries have had our skills hijacked by commercial interests. Employee Assistance Programs, corporate stress management training and the burgeoning multi-billion dollar wellness industry all trade on, support and are supported by the culture of overwork. If we are truly committed to well-being, we need to remember who our clients are meant to be and be willing to risk acting in their best interests.” Krupka concluded: “No amount of multivitamins, yoga, meditation, sweaty exercise, superfoods or extreme time management, as brilliant as all these things can be, is going to save us from the effects of too much work. This is not something we can adapt to. Not something we need to adjust the rest of our lives around. It is not possible and it’s unethical to pretend otherwise.”
A train operator and a cleaning company have been fined after a worker was electrocuted on the railway. Roger Lower, 46, had been washing down trains at a depot in East Sussex, but was found lying on a 750-volt live rail and pronounced dead at the scene. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigated London and Southeastern and Wetton Cleaning Services Limited and exposed a “culture of cutting corners.” Southeastern has conceded it could have “done more” to meet safety standards. Railways in the south-east of England use a live rail to supply electricity to trains from the tracks. Guildford Crown Court heard father-of-two Mr Lower was employed by Wettons for three months before his death on 24 May 2014 at West Marina Depot near Hastings. Both companies were charged with four criminal safety offences. Cleaners at the depot were supposed to be safeguarded from the live rail by protection boards, but ORR inspectors found the four boards at the depot were not in use. Southeastern and Wettons were fined £2.5m and £1.1m respectively, and each ordered to pay £162,000 court costs. Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, said the failings were “unacceptable and show the consequences of not abiding by health and safety.” David Statham, managing director at Southeastern, said: “We deeply regret that we did not prevent the death of Roger Lower. Our thoughts remain with his family for their tragic loss. We set ourselves high safety standards underpinned by robust procedures. We recognise that on this occasion there's more we and our contractors could have done to meet those high standards."
The board of governors at a primary school has been fined after a reception pupil’s fingers became trapped in a toilet door. Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 29 September 2016, the four-year-old pupil, who had been at St Joseph’s RC Primary School for three weeks, was allowed to use the girls’ toilet unsupervised. She was heard screaming by members of staff, who found her with her fingers trapped in the hinges of the toilet door. These injuries later resulted in partial amputation of her right middle finger. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the finger guard on the door was missing as one had not been fitted when the toilets were converted five years previously. The investigation also found there was no system in place for checking and monitoring the door guards. Staff had also highlighted to the former headteacher that the door was too heavy for young children to open. The Board of Governors at St Joseph’s RC Primary school, Mossley, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £4,000 with £1,750.90 costs. HSE inspector Lisa Bailey said: “This injury could have easily been prevented if a door guard had been fitted and a system was put in place to maintain and monitor the guards. The risk should have been identified so that reception pupils were not permitted to access the toilets alone, or they should have been allowed to share the nursery toilets.”
The French government has been forced to act after eight police officers including a high-profile former police chief killed themselves in the same week. The latest suicides brought the number of French police officers to have taken their lives this year to 45. There have also been 16 suicides by members of France's military police, the gendarmerie nationale. The most high profile death was that of Antoine Boutonnet, France's former police chief in charge of fighting hooliganism. He was found dead in his office, and is thought to have used his service weapon to shoot himself. France's interior minister Gérard Collomb has arranged to meet with police unions after the latest spate of suicides. He has also asked police chiefs to put together a list of recommendations aimed at cutting the number of suicides. The move comes after a January 2015 initiative aimed at cutting suicide numbers in the police forces. “Confronted on a daily basis by human misery, violence and the worst that you can find in humans, police can no longer put up with a lack of consideration towards them, which is a factor in these tragic acts,” said the Unité-SGP police union.
South Korea's Supreme Court has ruled that the family of a Samsung worker who died of a brain tumour is eligible for state compensation for an occupational disease. It overturned an appeal court's decision in the case of Lee Yoon-jung, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour at age 30 and died two years later. Lee worked at a Samsung chip factory for six years from 1997 to 2003, but there was no record available of the levels of chemicals she was exposed to while working there. An appeal court denied the claim filed by Lee, based on government investigations into the factory conducted after she left her job. The investigations reported that the workers' exposure to some toxins, such as benzene, formaldehyde and lead, were lower than maximum permissible limits. They did not measure exposure levels to other chemicals or investigate their health risks. The Supreme Court said such limitations in government investigations should not be held against a worker with a rare disease whose cause is unknown. The case filed by Lee's family is the second this year where South Korea's highest court has ruled in favour of a worker. In August, the Supreme Court struck down a lower court's ruling that denied compensation to a former Samsung LCD factory worker with multiple sclerosis (Risks 816). Lim Ja-woon, the lawyer representing Lee, said brain tumours are the second-most common disease, after leukaemia, among former Samsung workers seeking occupational disease compensation from the government or the company. He said 27 Samsung Electronics workers have been diagnosed with brain tumours, including eight who worked at the same factory as Lee.
About 8 per cent of full-time medical practitioners in Japan took no days off in the preceding month, while 7 per cent of night-shift doctors put in more than 80 hours of overtime, a union survey has found. One of the labour ministry’s ‘thresholds’ used to define overwork-related deaths, or karoshi, is working more than 80 hours of overtime a month. On average, the night-duty doctors worked about 64 hours of overtime for the most recent month, according to the survey conducted by Zenkoku Ishi Union and the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions. “The situation is very serious,” said Naoto Ueyama of the Zenkoku Ishi Union. “The total absence of days off poses a major problem for the doctors’ health and for medical safety.” Seventy-nine per cent of the doctors said their working hours are negatively affecting their concentration and judgment, with 27 per cent saying they have been more prone to errors, such as entering wrong data on computers.
The headline-grabbing sexual harassment cases in politics, the media and entertainment are just a small indication of the ‘rampant’ abuse of workers, with low paid workers frequently the hidden victims. Barbara Ehrenreich, the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, pointed to one particularly telling example. In an interview in Slate magazine, she noted “that one case that comes to mind was the allegations against Dominique Strauss Kahn made by a hotel housekeeper [Risks 508]. But I was also thinking about the numbers found by the hotel housekeepers’ union in Chicago, Unite Here… almost 60 per cent of hotel housekeepers, report being sexually harassed on the job. They go up to somebody’s room and there’s no one else there, and some guy tries something or is there with no clothes on while they try to do their jobs. This is routine.” She said the solution was “unions. Absolutely. Most people have no rights whatsoever in their workplace. You have a little bit more power with our current unions, but you know, we need stronger unions. We need it to be that if it happens, you report it to your lovely shop steward and they immediately come in and confront the employer about it. This is exactly why I’m for strong unions.” Chicago hotel workers this month celebrated a new ordinance it says will protect them from harassment. Their union, Unite Here Local 1, said the ‘Hands Off Pants On’ ordinance will from 1 July 2018 require all hotels in Chicago to equip employees with panic buttons if they work alone in guest rooms or bathrooms. The hotels must also develop sexual harassment policies and are banned from retaliating against whistleblowers.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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