|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 email@example.com.
With the approach of the festive season, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) has issued a reminder about putting up Christmas decorations safely in schools. The education unions making up JUAC are asking staff to ensure that Christmas decorations, children’s artwork and other materials are safety attached to ceilings and walls and are not attached to surfaces containing asbestos using pins or staples. JUAC warns that the use of pins or staples will result in the release of asbestos fibres which may be breathed in and which may cause disease many years later. Nearly 90 per cent of schools still contain asbestos and children are known to be particularly vulnerable because of the long latency of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. The new JUAC advice to school staff says “if you do not know already whether your school contains asbestos, ask the head teacher if it does and if so where it is located.” It adds that where there is asbestos in the walls or ceilings of classrooms, corridors, halls or anywhere else accessible to pupils and staff, staff should not pierce the area with any pins or staples. “Find other ways to display decorations or artwork. If you cannot find out, you must assume that asbestos is present until you receive confirmation that it is not,” the briefing notes. “Check that this message is reflected in your school’s asbestos management plan and ask for staff to be given termly reminders about it.”
The use of body cameras is not the right response to a sharp increase in attacks on firefighters, their union FBU has said. The union was commenting after new Home Office figures revealed an 18.6 per cent increase in attacks on firefighters. But FBU is concerned that the use of ‘body cams’, which are being trialled by a number of fire authorities, could erode trust in firefighters. FBU said it “believes that when firefighters engage with communities, this sort of anti-social behaviour reduces.” Dave Green, national officer of the FBU and a former firefighter, said: “Violent attacks on firefighters are opportunistic and thankfully rare. The vast majority of attacks are not serious, and they are usually born out of a lack of education and a lack of understanding of the neutrality of the firefighter role.” He added: “We as the firefighters’ union favour a preventative rather than a punitive approach to this worrying problem. Firefighters wearing cameras to ‘catch criminals’ just isn’t how our members want to work – there is no evidence that this would reduce attacks. In fact, there is a fear that cameras could exacerbate attacks on firefighters.” Green said the union wants instead to “increase our engagement with young people through targeted community initiatives as a way of building lasting, positive relationships which have long term benefits for firefighters and the communities they serve. The fire service provides a humanitarian service, and it is not a law enforcement agency.” The union warns this preventive work is being undermined by job losses and funding cuts.
A confidential Unite survey of members employed by MPs and Lords has revealed a ‘toxic’ working environment, with many staff suffering stress and bullying. The survey undertaken by Unite’s parliamentary and constituency branch found that almost a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents had suffered bullying by either their MP or a line manager. Almost six in every 10 (58 per cent) respondents recorded they suffered from stress and said the mental health of staff was being damaged, with over a third (36 per cent) reporting that they had anxiety and 17 per cent revealing they had suffered from depression. Unite said the findings underline the urgent need for formal union recognition “to tackle the deeply dysfunctional and unhealthy workplace.” MPs’ staff are jointly employed by the individual MP and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). Unite said a further ‘disturbing development’ since the harassment bullying crisis broke was that IPSA has made no attempt to contact the union to discuss how staff can be protected. It said if IPSA voluntarily recognised the union, many of the problems experienced by staff could begin to be properly tackled. Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “The survey of members demonstrates that in some cases there can be a toxic and dysfunctional relationship between MPs and staff which can cause long-term health problems.” She added: “The prime minister and the leaders of the political parties need to understand that without formal union recognition, union reps are being hobbled in their attempts to deal with staff problems and in ensuring they are quickly resolved. Despite being the official employer of MPs’ staff, during the sexual harassment and bullying crisis, IPSA has been about as prominent as the invisible man. Yet, IPSA has the ability to swiftly recognise Unite and reduce the misery of our members.” The lack of union recognition means that Unite’s reps do not have an office or facility time - paid time off to assist and represent members - and are denied vital legal protections. Union representatives have had to negotiate unofficial time off to attend meetings of an anti-harassment working group set up in the wake of recent scandals. There is also no requirement to consult the union on changes to pay structures, terms and conditions or anti-bullying policies.
Rail union RMT has challenged the independence of the industry-funded Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) after it again came out in support of driver only operation (DOO), a system the union says dispenses with the ‘safety critical’ role of train guards. The report issued by RSSB director of system safety George Bearfield and described by the union as ‘garbage’, reiterates earlier claims from the watchdog that DOO is safe. Bearfield, a visiting professor at Huddersfield University, stated: “Industry decisions need to be logical, rational and consistent. But a decision made on robust safety arguments could be undermined by lack of public trust if the key facts are not understood by the public. This has been the case with the debate around the safety of driver dispatched trains.” Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, responded: “This report has been written by someone who is employed by the same rail bosses who stand to make huge profits by introducing driver only trains. He who pays the piper calls the tune. To try and give this garbage a veneer of academic respectability is all the more laughable when it actually contradicts previous reports by the same organisation on the safety of different methods of train despatch. And as even this latest dodgy driver only dossier admits DOO is not just about train despatch it’s also about the adverse impacts on train safety, security and accessibility.”
Government’s plans to step up the testing of driverless vehicles on Britain’s roads have been condemned by transport union RMT as a “lethal gimmick that puts safety, jobs and the economy at risk.” RMT, which represents bus, haulage and taxi drivers, said the plan, is a “desperate measure by a desperate government in advance of a budget which is expected to confirm austerity and misery way off into the future.” Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in his Autumn budget on 22 November that driverless cars would be on UK roads by 2021. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, commenting ahead of the announcement, said: “It’s clear to everyone that there is no consensus amongst the general public to plough on regardless with testing out the lethal gimmick of driverless vehicles on Britain’s roads. This government are obsessed with the notion of kicking skilled transport workers out of their jobs and it’s about time they invested in a training and skills programme to build a workforce for the future instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on this dangerous nonsense.” He added: “Politicians should not put lives, jobs and the economy at risk in their dash for the latest technology gimmick.”
Employers in film and TV production should introduce a ‘respect at work’ clause into all contracts to promote workplaces free from bullying and harassment, the union BECTU has said. The proposal is set out in a letter to several key industry bodies and highlights the problems freelancers face when they experience bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment. Accusations of rape and other serious sexual assaults levelled against film producer Harvey Weinstein led to an outpouring of new evidence, identifying a problem endemic across the industry. BECTU said it will now be working with the employers “to ensure that policies governing bullying and harassment for staff are both accessible and fit for purpose. Freelancers, however, have no security of employment and time-limited engagements, long days and work on location must present serious barriers for workers who in other circumstances would raise complaints about mistreatment in the workplace.” Gerry Morrissey, head of BECTU, has written to sections of the film and TV industry to request an urgent review and the adoption, for starters, of a 'respect at work' clause in all contracts to signal zero tolerance of bullying and harassment. The union also asks film and TV employers to consider a welfare review after each production to help to bring any issues to the attention of production management. The union has invited industry representatives to take part in a pan-industry discussion ‘without delay.’
A lack of adequate truck stops is resulting in lorry drivers being forced to take a break in industrial estates, lay-bys and even in residential roads, drivers’ union Unite has said. The union is calling for lorry drivers to be treated with dignity. It says urgent action is needed to ensure that their health is not damaged through poor and non-existent welfare facilities. The Department for Transport’s more recent study, published in 2011, found that in a given period there were 5,676 lorries parked in non-truck stop locations. Unite said the results of a DfT follow up survey of off-site lorry parking believed to be undertaken earlier this year have not been published. The union is concerned the findings have been suppressed as the problem has significantly worsened. Unite argues the lack of lorry parks with decent welfare facilities is a result of a failure in the free market. It says while the DfT establishes the overall policies, responsibility for providing the lorry parks is with local authorities. However, facing extreme financial pressures due to government cuts, Unite says local authorities are unwilling to invest in these facilities, as they are not hugely profitable. Unite wants truck stops with 24-hour access, adequate parking and manoeuvring, a cafeteria with reasonably priced hot meals, washing and toilet facilities including showers, a fuelling facility, overnight sleeping facility, maintenance facilities and a launderette to wash and dry clothing. Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, said: “The government and councils can’t pass the buck when it comes to truck stops. The lack of facilities has massive health and well-being consequences for drivers. The lack of truck stops and councils closing lay-bys means that drivers are increasingly being forced to park in entirely unsuitable locations, which is bad for them and bad for the local environment.” He added: “Drivers can be away from home for a week or more and without decent facilities they will become tired and ill. Tiredness and other health issues mean that they are at risk of becoming a danger to themselves and other road users.”
Pilots’ union BALPA has welcomed plans for a new drone safety law that would require drone users to take a safety awareness test. A government bill says drones weighing more than 250g could also be banned from flying near airports, or above 400 ft, in a crackdown on unsafe flying. Police will be given new powers to seize and ground drones which may have been used in criminal activity. BALPA said a law is necessary, and has warned of near misses involving drones and aircraft. The union said there have been 81 incidents so far this year - up from 71 in 2016 and 29 in 2015. The union's general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “These proposals are a step towards the safe integration of drones, but until the new rules are in place the threat of a serious collision remains.” He added: “It would be a tragedy if such an incident were to occur and lives were lost while we await these measures. That’s why BALPA continues to push for this programme of legislation to be adopted quickly; pilots would prefer to see it implemented in 2018 rather than at a later date.” In July a drone flew directly over the wing of a large passenger jet as it came into land at London's Gatwick Airport, an incident a report said had put 130 lives at risk. The proposed bill - to be published in spring 2018 - would ensure that owners of drones weighing more than 250g would need to register and sit a test. Alongside the new laws, the government is also keen to develop technology allowing the greater use of drones for tasks including deliveries of everything from shopping to human organs. The transport minister, Lady Sugg, said the government wanted to strike the right balance between harnessing drone potential and ensuring they are not misused. “We're bringing forward this legislation in order to ensure that drones can be used safely, whilst also addressing some of the safety and privacy concerns that people have,” she said. The government is also working with drone manufacturers on technology which produces virtual barriers, to stop the machines operating in restricted areas.
Ambulance workers are buckling under the stresses of their work in a mismanaged health trust, its workers have warned. GMB members were speaking out after paramedic Colin Bolsom, 42, was found dead in a Bideford park in a suspected suicide. Members of GMB, one of the unions representing workers at South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWAST), warned of huge staff pressures on the job and public failings. An open letter said the trust was “failing to address major issues and the toll from not doing so is having an enormous effect upon increasing numbers of staff.” The letter from the GMB members accused the trust chief executive of “managing resources so poorly that it potentially puts people at risk.” It warned that the NHS foundation trust, which covers Bath, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset as part of a patch stretching from Cornwall to Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, is ignoring its staff. The open letter addressed the public and trust management. “We’re sorry that our employer is so poor in managing their resources that they are potentially putting your family at risk,” it told service users. “We’re sorry you sometimes feel the need to verbally abuse or physically threaten us while we treat your family and friends. We’re sorry it appears that SWAST deployments and performance targets are more important than patient care. We’re sorry if we arrive at your emergency at the end of a 12-hour shift and possibly overrun, if we are so tired, we potentially fear making a wrong clinical decision.” The letter told trust management: “We’re sorry for being sick in an environment and workplace that doesn’t allow it. We’re sorry for what must be our annoying constant requests for annual leave and you having to take the time to respond and refuse them. We’re sorry for our claims of PTSD.” It added: “We’re sorry for the inconvenience when injuries at work happen. We’re sorry if we appear concerned that we will not reach retirement age as a result of physical or psychological injury.” The letter concluded: “We’re sorry for having to write this. We’re sorry for asking, but it’s time for everyone to support our call for the chief executive to stand down.”
A primary school teacher and father-of-two who killed himself had suffered pressure at work, an inquest has heard. Andrew Jones died after he set himself alight in a park in Bristol on 31 August - just ahead of the new school year. The inquest heard the 54-year-old’s mental health had deteriorated quickly after he was placed under ‘capability review’ and observed in his role at Park Primary School in Bristol, in April this year. The same month he broke down in tears in a meeting with senior staff and it was deemed evident he wasn’t in a fit state to teach, his friend Sean Cheeseman said in a statement. Flax Bourton Coroners Court heard David Chapman say his friend had become more and more anxious about work, believing he might be replaced by a younger, cheaper teacher. Dr Katy Juttner of Bedminster Family Practice told the inquest that Mr Jones had made an appointment in 2012 due to the stress of being under observation at school, as a result of a new set of targets. He returned to the practice earlier this year, with the stress of being under review in lessons once again taking its toll on his mental health. In a statement, his widow Sue Jones said: “When he found out that he would be under review he felt hopeless. He started a period of sick leave from his job. His mental health spiralled. He was a broken man, not knowing where to turn.” She added: “After 25 years of knowing Andy as a man who embraced life, I was now seeing really significant personality changes.” Mr Jones had several GP appointments over the summer where he told doctors he had suicidal thoughts and displayed symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Concluding that his death was suicide, assistant coroner Myfanwy Buckeridge said: “Work-related issues seemed to trigger a decline in his mental health. He described not being able to imagine a life outside teaching.” She added: “I am satisfied that in the moment he did intend that death would result from the steps that he took. I conclude the cause of death was suicide.” In a 2011 suicide, teacher David Charlesworth, 43, set himself alight in a school playground because he was worried about his pupils’ exam results. An Office for National Statistics report this year identified teaching as a high risk occupation for suicide (Risks 793).
Amazon warehouse workers are so exhausted by long hours and relentless targets they are falling asleep on their feet, according to a new investigation. Employees reportedly had timed toilet breaks, a claim denied by the company. Some were made to do compulsory overtime, meaning they were working a 55-hour week ahead of the Christmas period. Sunday Mirror reporter Alan Selby spent five weeks working at the online shop's warehouse in Essex and finished his last shift on Black Friday. A number of workers who could not cope with the relentless targets were attended to by ambulance crews after they collapsed on the job, the investigation found. The reporter was told to pack 120 items an hour, although that target is set to rise to 200 items. One colleague told him: “Everybody suffers here. I pulled my hamstring but I just had to carry on. My friend spent two days off after she damaged her knee ligaments.” Amazon said in a statement: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one.” It added: “We offer great jobs and a positive environment with opportunities for growth. As with most companies, we expect a certain level of performance. Targets are based on previous performance achieved by our workers. Associates are evaluated over a long period of time as we know a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour.”
A contractor has been fined for the criminal health and safety failings that led to the death of a 27-year-old tipper truck driver in his West Lothian yard. JML Road Surfacing boss Jacob Hendry was prosecuted after Viorel Vicol was killed by an 11,000 volt electric shock at his Kirknewton yard on 3 June 2015. He was electrocuted after emptying his truck under a power cable. Hendry pleaded guilty to failing to ensure visitors to his site were warned about health and safety risks. Livingston Sheriff Court heard Hendry, 45, had allowed a field next to his yard to be used for dumping top soil from a paving contract Mr Vicol was working on. Selena Brown, prosecuting, said the deceased had successful discharged a load from his tipper truck that afternoon. However, when he returned at 6pm after the yard had shut for the day he and his employer, Robert Kelbie, managing director of Capital Paving, found the yard deserted. The prosecutor said: “The deceased used a remote hand control to raise the tipper then reversed the vehicle back. He then got out and walked to the rear of the vehicle to open the rear doors. On hearing a scream, Mr Kelbie, who had been on his mobile phone, jumped over to the driver's seat side and looked out to see the deceased lying on the ground.”
A kitchen manufacturer has been fined £1.2m after a delivery driver was crushed to death at a depot. Richard Brown, 48, died when a forklift truck unloading two pallets of kitchen worktops ‘overbalanced’ at Howden Joinery's Workington site on 10 November 2014. The falling load weighed 2,160kg and crushed him against his lorry. The firm was fined at Carlisle Crown Court after admitting criminal health and safety breaches. The court heard the maximum operational capacity of the forklift truck was 1,520kg - meaning it had been 42 per cent overloaded. Although Howden Joinery was deemed to have had a proper system of risk assessments and training in place, Judge Peter Hughes QC concluded this was “not fool-proof.” A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed there had been four similar forklift truck overbalancing incidents at other Howden Joinery depots during 2014 alone. Two of those occurred in the week before the Workington tragedy. Howden Joinery - which is said to have a £1.2bn annual turnover, 600 UK depots and 7,500 staff - was fined £1.2m and ordered to pay £33,902 costs. Judge Hughes concluded the company's breach of duty was “a significant cause of death.” HSE inspector Steven Boyd said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided if Howden Joinery Ltd had implemented a safe procedure to ensure that pedestrians were kept at a safe distance during loading and unloading work.”
A Blacklisting Day of Action on Wednesday 6 December will see activities across the UK and a lobby of MPs in London. The event is supported by unions and the Blacklist Support Group. Speakers at the Westminster lobby include Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. The action day will hear calls for a full public inquiry into blacklisting, for blacklisting to be made a criminal offence and for companies involved in blacklisting to be barred from receiving public contracts.
Ÿ Unite news release and event briefing. Blacklisting Day of Action, 6 December 2016. Lobby of Westminster parliament. Assemble at Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London SW1P 3JY at 12pm. At 2pm there will be a meeting with MPs in the Boothroyd room, Portcullis House.
Urgent action is required to protect workers from cancer risks at work, a major international conference has heard. “Workplaces are not merely spaces where people work – they are spaces where people live their lives. Anything which would be prohibited on grounds of consumer health or environmental protection should also be prohibited in workplaces,” said Laurent Vogel, a researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI). His remarks came in a closing address to a ‘Work and cancer’ conference in Brussels. A study into the costs of occupational cancers in the European Union, commissioned by the ETUI and carried out by a consultancy firm, revealed that the highest levels of exposure to carcinogens are still experienced by manual workers. Taking France as an example, 36 per cent of lung cancers, 10 per cent of bladder cancers and 10 per cent of pharyngeal cancers can be traced back to occupational exposure. According to ETUI, cancers at these sites are frequently associated with exposure to the carcinogens most commonly encountered in construction and industrial settings, including asbestos, silica, hexavalent chromium, wood dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Commenting on the existing EU law on workplace carcinogens, ETUI added: “It is worth remembering that the Directive obliges employers to replace carcinogens, ‘as far as is technically possible’, by substances which are not dangerous or are less dangerous to health or safety.”
EU countries have voted to renew the licence of glyphosate, a widely used weedkiller at the centre of a major workplace health and environmental controversy. The proposal at the European Commission's Appeal Committee got 18 votes from countries in favour and nine against, with one abstention, ending months of deadlock. The UK backed the reauthorisation. The Commission says the new five-year licence will be ready before the current one expires on 15 December. Glyphosate is marketed as Roundup by the US agrochemical giant Monsanto. Its use worldwide has risen almost 15-fold since 1996, when so-called ‘Roundup Ready’ crops, genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, were introduced. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which reviewed evidence of the cancer risks to exposed workers, concluded the chemical is “probably carcinogenic” (Risks 703). A counter offensive by industry group Croplife America (Risks 776) and Monsanto (Risks 700), who said the IARC assessment was based on flawed science, is believed to have swayed some regulators. However, unions and environmental campaigners have accused the industry lobby of bankrolling ‘doubt science’ to defend their product. There have also been accusations that European and other regulatory agencies have been ‘captured’ by industry, with officials having undeclared links and many key committees being dominated by scientists working for the industry. The global food and farming union IUF (Risks 755), several plantation unions in Africa (Risks 751) and environmental groups had called for a ban. Following the meeting, France announced it plans to ban the use of glyphosate within three years.
Trade unions have reiterated their call for a strong International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention to tackle gender-based violence at work. Next year’s ILO Conference in June will discuss the development of international labour standards on violence against women and men at work. According to the global union confederation ITUC, more than one third of women around the world experience violence at work, at home or in the community. It argues action in the workplace is crucial to tackling the issue across the board. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said, “Unions are leading the way in eradicating violence against women at work, and the support of a strong international legal instrument is essential.” She added: “Women in every occupational sector are exposed to violence and harassment, on an epic scale, and where they are deprived of the protection of a union, the likelihood that they will experience rape, physical assault, intimidation and harassment is far greater.” She said it was “scandalous that sexual assault, sexual harassment and other forms of violence are not only tolerated at work, but in some cases used as a means to subjugate women in the interests of the corporate bottom line.” Unions have highlighted the positive impact of negotiating protective standards. “Trade unions and employers play a major role in making work safe for women, and helping to eliminate harassment and violence against women,” said Luca Visentini, secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). “Collective agreements have shown to be a most effective means to combat this scourge.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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