|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 new government work, health and disability strategy aimed at ‘improving lives’ will do nothing to reduce the enormous toll from work-related ill-health, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said it is an important area to get right, with only 1 in 8 UK workers having access to an occupational physician and 2 million people suffering from a work-related condition. The strategy, ‘Improving lives: The future of work, health and disability’, is billed as the government’s vision for a ten-year programme of reform. But, says Robertson, it falls way short and is just “a rehash of existing policies, a few general promises and virtually no practical concrete proposals.” He said there is nothing there to end the “dreadful experiences” that have seen people with disabilities hounded off benefits. Nor is there a single measure to improve access to occupational health services. “Meanwhile the government’s last big idea, the Fit for Work Service, which they hoped would help employers to access services when a person was ill for over a month, is to close after less than three years of operation,” says Robertson. “This is hardly surprising given how little was done to promote and support the service.” He adds: “Despite the claim that prevention is a priority, there are no new proposals on preventing people becoming ill through work. Instead we have a mention of the role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on dealing with stress through the Stress Management Standards. Yet everything it says that it is going to do is already part of the HSE’s work programme. So once again we have nothing at all new on stopping people becoming ill through work.” Robertson concludes the strategy “is, to say the least, very disappointing, and does not really address any of the practical problems around occupational health provision or access to rehabilitation… To stop work making people ill we need better, safer jobs that give us good working conditions, decent pay, security and respect. Also, when we get ill we need access to good quality healthcare and support to get us back to work. This ’10-year vision” does nothing to help prevent the 27 million sick days that people have to take because their work makes them ill, or help them get better once they are ill.”
Most people on zero hours contracts are not on them by choice, new TUC polling has revealed. The poll shows that two-thirds (66 per cent) of zero hours workers would rather have a contract with guaranteed hours. And just one in four zero hours workers (25 per cent) say they prefer being on zero hours contracts. The survey shows that the main reason people are on these contracts is because it is the only type of work available to them. More than half of zero hours workers (53 per cent) are thinking about quitting their job over the coming year. The polling found that many zero hours workers are missing out on basic rights at work, with only 1 in 8 (12 per cent) saying they get sick pay. Over two-fifths (43 per cent) say they don’t get holiday pay and just 1 in 20 (5 per cent) say they have the right to a permanent contract after working the same hours consistently. More than half (51 per cent) of zero hours workers have had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours' notice. And nearly threequarters (73 per cent) have been offered work at less than 24 hours' notice. The TUC says the government should clamp down on zero hours working in its forthcoming response to the Taylor Review (Risks 808). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Most people on zero hours contracts are not on them by choice. They’d much rather have the security of guaranteed hours and the same rights as employees.” She added: “Now’s the time for the government to ban zero hours contracts, as they have done in other countries like New Zealand. Every job should be a great job – but far too many workers in the UK are being treated like disposable labour.” The TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda is calling on employers to ensure workers have rights including the ability to have their voice heard at work, regular hours and a safe and healthy workplace. A report in Hazards magazine this year warned that insecure work is “more likely to damage your health than secure, permanent work.”
Unite has issued high court proceedings to bring the ‘controlling minds’ behind the systematic blacklisting of workers to justice and force them to give evidence in court for the first time. The construction union high court case for unlawful conspiracy is against David Cochrane, Cullum McAlpine, Danny O’Sullivan and Stephen Quant. Each of them has served as chair of the covert blacklisting outfit, the Consulting Association. McAlpine and Cochrane were the first and last chairs of the Consulting Association – it was shut down by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009 - and were both employed by Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd. O’Sullivan was employed by Kier Ltd and Quant was an employee of Skanska UK PLC. Unite says its action against ‘the four leading blacklisters’, which commenced on 4 December 2017, is part of a wider case being brought by the union on behalf of over 70 construction workers who were blacklisted by the Consulting Association. The cases are for breach of privacy, defamation and for Data Protection Act offences. As part of the legal action, proceedings have also been issued against 12 construction firms. The union is calling for a full public inquiry into blacklisting, new laws to make blacklisting a criminal offence and the introduction of public procurement rules to bar companies found to have blacklisted workers from bidding for public sector contracts. Unite’s head of legal affairs Howard Beckett said: “Since 2009 the individuals who were the controlling minds behind the systematic blacklisting of workers have sought to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. The workers who had their lives ruined deserve to see the leading blacklisters in court.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Unite is seeking justice for blacklisted workers through every avenue open to us whether that is legal, political or industrial. Whenever Unite uncovers blacklisting we will stamp out the practice and name and shame the guilty parties.”
Workload is the biggest barrier to young teachers making the profession their career, a conference organised by the teaching union NASUWT has heard. A real-time electronic poll of members attending last week’s NASUWT young teachers’ consultation conference found more than four in ten (43 per cent) teachers say workload gets in the way of teaching being considered a career for life. More than one in ten teachers (12 per cent) say they will be leaving teaching within one year. And only one in five (21 per cent) say they would recommend teaching as a career to family or friends. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “It was clear that the young teachers at the conference are absolutely and fully committed to being great teachers and to serving the children and young people they teach. However, it is deeply worrying that many do not feel confident of being able to remain in teaching in the longer term and would not recommend a career in teaching to others.” She added: “Spiralling workloads, unsustainable working hours and worsening pay and conditions of service are the main factors impacting on young teachers’ morale and job satisfaction. The deepening recruitment and retention crisis gripping our schools will not be solved unless government acts on the concerns of young teachers.”
DPD delivery drivers in Scotland have protested over pay cuts and enforced working hours. The 150 owner-driver franchisees (ODFs), members of GMB Scotland, staged the 5 December demonstrations at the firm’s depots in Glasgow, Uddingston, Edinburgh and Dundee. The ODFs are angry about “arbitrary and detrimental changes made to their contracts by DPD,” says GMB. These changes involve a reduction of delivery rates on a sliding scale and additional forced weekend working, which GMB says is a breach of working time regulations. The union says the changes have been imposed on a “take it or leave it” basis. It adds there is “strong evidence” drivers being forced to drive overloaded vehicles. Members are also concerned that servicing and repairs to leased vehicles is sometimes inadequate. Others claim they have been overcharged for work, charged for work which was unnecessary, or even charged for work which was not done. DPD claims ODFs as self-employed, even though they have no control over changes to their contracts cannot determine what days, hours, or routes they work and can only take two non-consecutive, unpaid, weeks off per year. They are also subject to a £150 “breach” charge if they take an unauthorised day off due to sickness or bereavement, which the company views as a breach of contract. Calne Waterson, GMB Scotland organiser, said: “Our members driving for DPD have been backed into a corner by these arbitrary and detrimental changes to their contracts. Their delivery rates have been slashed, which amounts to a pay cut, while they are now subject to enforced hours which GMB believes is in breach of the working time directive.” He added: “On top of all this, the company has either ignored or refused GMB’s attempts to meet and discuss the drivers’ concerns. Drivers feel they have no option left but to make this protest.”
The first of a series of memorial plaques to honour the lives of firefighters who were killed in the line of duty has been unveiled in East London. The memorial, which honours the lives of firefighters Billy Faust and Adam Meere who died while working in 2004, is part of a series to be funded by the FBU’s Firefighters 100 Lottery. The firefighters’ union says the Red Plaque Scheme is its version of the familiar Blue Plaque Scheme that marks where famous people have resided. FBU says its good causes lottery, launched one year ago, will fund a number of other memorial plaques around the UK in the coming months. Billy and Adam lost their lives tackling a fire in the basement of a three-storey building on Bethnal Green Road in 2004. The red plaque was unveiled on a plinth at Museum Gardens, a short distance from the scene of the fire. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The FBU started the Firefighters 100 Lottery in part so that we could fund important initiatives like this that help to commemorate and honour our fallen firefighters. We hope our Red Plaque Scheme will become instantly recognisable as we unveil further memorials across the country over the coming years.”
Christmas music is part and parcel of the festive season for most of us, but there is evidence that over-exposed shop workers find it ho ho horrible. A survey last month of retail employees in the US and UK for Soundtrack Your Brand, part owned by Spotify, found one in six said Christmas tunes “dampen their emotional well-being.” The study reports that 25 per cent of retail staff say too much Christmas music kills their holiday spirit, while 16 per cent say it negatively impacts their work environment. Soundtrack Your Brand founder and CEO Ola Sars said: “It's crucial that not only shoppers are taken into account when putting together the right holiday soundtrack - the well-being of those behind the cash registers and on the shopfloor should be a huge priority for businesses during the busy festive season.” In New Zealand, Tali Williams, the retail secretary of the First Union, slammed the ‘irritating earworms’ many stores play at Christmas. “We've got a lot of members that work in retail that I think find those Christmas albums on loop pretty irritating,” she said. However, First Union members are more concerned about facing a torrent of stressed-out and sometimes abusive shoppers than their shops' soundtracks. “The thing is that the knee-jerk reaction of the customer is to be angry with the person in uniform that they see in front of them, but often that person is the person with the least amount of power when it comes to deciding staffing.” UK retail union Usdaw has also raised concerns about shopper rage and for some years has run a highly successful ‘Freedom from fear’ campaign. Usdaw is also pressing for better legal protection for shopworkers from violence at work (Risks 827).
Taxi firm Uber could be putting passengers and the public at risk by letting its employees work more than 80 hours a week, Labour’s Rachel Reeves has said. The Commons business select committee, which Reeves chairs, asked the company to supply information about how long drivers spend on duty. While Uber said that only 6 per cent of drivers worked more than 60 hours a week, it dodged questions as to how many worked more than 70 and 80 hours. In March, the company said it would limit the number of hours drivers can work after concerns were raised about drivers becoming exhausted on the job. The Labour MP has written to Uber demanding to know when such curbs will be enforced and what the limits will be. She said: “Uber needs to provide reassurance on these issues by setting out when it will introduce driver hour limits for its workforce and spell out what these limits will be.” She added: “Drivers working long hours risk compromising the safety of both themselves and their passengers. It is strange that a data-driven business like Uber appears unable to answer our question on how many of its drivers are working more than 70 and 80 hours a week. We expect them to now respond with the missing figures.” Transport for London revoked Uber’s licence to operate in the capital in September, saying its bosses had shown a “lack of corporate responsibility” towards safety issues, but Uber has continued to operate pending a court challenge. The company also recently lost an appeal against a GMB-backed employment tribunal, which ruled that drivers were entitled to basic employment rights. GMB legal director Maria Ludkin accused Uber of “dodging and weaving” over “excessive” hours. She told the Morning Star: “They also need to address the issue of the incentives built into their technology to encourage drivers to keep driving during surge periods, even when the drivers themselves have decided that they have worked long enough that day,” she said.
A London-based shipping company is facing legal action after a worker was seriously injured in Bangladesh while dismantling a ship it managed. The 38-year-old Bangladeshi man lost a leg and some of the sight in one eye in a Chittagong shipbreaking yard while working on the Zodiac Maritime vessel. Metal cutter Mohamed Edris was working alongside 100 others on the 19,600-tonne container ship Eurus London, managed by Zodiac Maritime before being sold for scrap, at the Ferdous Steel Corporation yard. His job had been to cut away the 40-tonne propeller with a blow torch. A large metal platform had been placed below the propeller to stop it falling into the mud on the beach. Edris had warned a supervisor the method was dangerous, but was instructed to continue. The propeller broke free and sprung back as he had predicted, slicing off his left leg below the knee, damaging one of his eyes and nearly breaking his back. Leigh Day, the law firm acting for the injured worker, argues that Zodiac should have known how dangerous the Chittagong breaking yards were when the vessel was sold for scrap to Rayna Investments, a “cash buyer” or middle man. According to Leigh Day, the legal case could see British, American and European shipowners and managers being made liable for the many deaths and accidents that take place every year in Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani shipbreaking yards. Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, said: “It is the claimant’s case that Zodiac knew, or ought to have known, that there was a foreseeable risk of physical harm to workers when they allowed their vessel to be sold to a Chittagong yard through a cash buyer.” He added: “Mr Edris’ case is that they had a duty not to sell vessels to Bangladesh shipyards via their contractors or cash buyers. Zodiac sold it to a cash buyer in the knowledge it would be dismantled in unsafe conditions.” The company denies liability. According to the Observer, British-based companies sent 28 ships to be recycled on Asian beaches in the past two years, including six to Chittagong.
South West Highways Limited has been fined £500,000 after the death of a worker who was struck by a vehicle. Exeter Crown Court heard employee Steven Tolly, 48, was working with colleagues to repair roads in Tiverton, Devon on 29 January 2013 when he sustained fatal injuries after being struck by a vehicle being driven by a member of the public. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company failed to adequately identify the risks associated with the road repair work and moving traffic, and as a result the appropriate control measures were not implemented. The incident could have been prevented had the firm implemented the correct safety measures including signage, temporary speed limits, temporary traffic management and even closure of the road for a short period of time. HSE found the planning for this work activity had failed to consider the most appropriate way to manage traffic while carrying out the road repairs. South West Highways Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,924.46. HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said: “The failures exposed in this case are alarming, given the clear and obvious risks associated with roadside work and highlight the importance of managing short term works on a high speed road. This incident could have been prevented had South West Highways implemented suitable traffic management for this work.” Construction union Unite has expressed dismay at Department for Transport plans to raise the maximum speed around motorway roadworks (Risks 826).
A Spanish construction company has been fined £3 million over the death of a worker at a plant near Whitchurch in what was described as a “Russian Roulette” tragedy. Judge Huw Rees at Caernarfon Crown Court said: “This was a cost-cutting exercise at the expense of the safety of employees and other people.” The tragedy happened on 14 July 2015 at Fenns Bank near Whitchurch, just inside the Welsh border, during demolition work at an aluminium recycling plant. Jose Canal, 32, was killed when a hopper collapsed. The company, Porvi Construcciones y Contratas of Valladolid in northern Spain, was convicted of criminal safety breaches by a jury after failing to participate in the proceedings. “Given one of their own employees perished in this accident, it’s difficult to understand the attitude taken by the company,” Judge Rees remarked. The company had denied charges of failing to ensure that employees and non-employees were exposed to risk. Jose Canal had been involved in demolishing the hopper in a crushing shed and was on a platform cutting through a steel beam when the unsupported hopper collapsed. Nigel Lawrence QC, prosecuting, said: “They just about broke every rule in the book when they came to dismantle this hopper. They failed to apply any of the guidelines. In many ways it’s an astonishing case, little more than a game of Russian Roulette. Someone was going to be hurt or killed – the only question was who and when. Virtually everything that should be done was not done. Workers were allowed to work at height on the hopper while people stood on the part that was to be cut.” In addition to the £3m fine, the firm must pay £75,000 costs. Befesa Salt Slags, which awarded the demolition contract to Porvi, was fined £225,000 with £65,000 costs after admitting criminal safety offences involving the fatality and other health and safety concerns.
A local authority has been fined after two of its social workers were assaulted on a home visit by the mother of a vulnerable child. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 3 July 2015, two social workers employed by the London Borough of Brent visited the home of a vulnerable child to carry out a child safety plan assessment. While note-taking, both social workers were struck over the head with a metal object by the mother, resulting in one of them being knocked unconscious. Both received serious wounds to the head, with the social worker knocked unconscious later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the local authority failed to follow policies including its violence and aggression guidance. No risk assessment was completed and staff did not have the necessary training. London Borough of Brent also failed to add an aggression marker to make the social workers aware of the hazards posed by the mother, who was known to have a history of violence. The council pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,918.88 HSE inspector Neil Fry commented: “Violent and aggressive incidents are the third biggest cause of injuries reported to HSE from the health and social care sector.” He added: “The local authority in this case failed to adhere to and implement its own systems and procedure for the management of lone working and violence and aggression against social workers. This risk could have been reduced in a number of ways including carrying out the visit in a controlled environment, such as the local social workers’ office.”
A plasterboard recycling company has been fined for exposing workers to dust levels up to 20 times the legal limit. The criminal safety breaches were identified at Plasterboard Recycling Solutions Ltd during a routine Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection of their premises in Bedfordshire. Luton Magistrates’ Court heard the on 22 September 2015 inspection found health and safety standards at the site were generally poor. There were no measures on site to prevent pedestrians from coming into contact with moving vehicles, machinery on site was inadequately guarded and unsupported plasterboard stockpiles were leaning against buildings. The unannounced HSE inspection found the firm had failed to ensure the buildings on site were safe for workers to use because one of the walls of the process building was bowing and the internal roof trusses were bent and damaged. The company failed to adequately control exposure to plasterboard dust, which covered the floors, walls, machinery and ledges of the premises. Subsequent occupational hygiene surveys carried out after the inspection identified exposures to dust on the premises were up to twenty times the legal limit. Plasterboard Recycling Solutions Ltd pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,327.60.
A South Wales housing association has been fined after workers developed a debilitating vibration-related occupational disease. Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how Charter Housing Association Ltd reported six cases of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) following a health surveillance programme launched in June 2015. The affected employees were all part of the maintenance team. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the six workers’ conditions were likely to have been caused or worsened by the use of power tools while in the association’s employment. Staff in the maintenance and refurbishment departments at Charter Housing experienced significant exposure to hand arm vibration in their daily work which put them at risk of developing or exacerbating existing HAVS, HSE said. The company neither adequately planned its working methods nor trained or informed employees on the risks to their health. HSE also found Charter Housing did not limit the duration and magnitude of exposure to vibration and failed to put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at an early stage. Charter Housing Association Ltd, now part of Pobl Group Ltd, pleaded guilty to four criminal breaches of the Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £9,896.88. HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: “How people work today can affect their health and well-being tomorrow. This case serves as an important reminder of the necessity of task based risk assessments to establish the level of exposure, control measures to reduce that exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable and effective health surveillance systems. In the case of Charter Housing this realisation came too late. All employers need to do the right thing to protect workers’ health.”
Sexual harassment has dominated headlines over the past few months as more and more high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and the entertainment industry came to light. According to the TUC: “We're well aware this isn't an issue limited to Hollywood; it's happening in workplaces across the UK too.” In the latest in its series of webinars, TUC's Kathryn Mackridge, is hosting a live session on 14 December at 2:30pm to discuss what we can do to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. The webinar will consider how to support victims and what can be done to ensure employers put policies in place for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment at work.
Ÿ Register for the free sexual harassment in the workplace webinar, 2:30pm-3:30pm, 14 December 2017.
Have you been injured at work? If you are in West Australia and your job has harmed you, you might be in for a shock – employer are increasingly sitting in on the medicals that follow. Owen Whittle, the assistant secretary of Unions WA said there had been an upturn in the number of workers complaining about being sent to company doctors, and of company representatives attending medical appointments with injured workers. “This is something that should never be occurring,” he said. “There is no good reason for an employer representative to be in attendance during a medical appointment. The only reason someone will be inside a medical appointment taking notes is to potentially use that information later down the track against the worker.” He added: “The kind of privacy breaches that could occur and the compromising of care in these situations is just too great.” Unions WA recently put out a survey to its members, asking about their experiences in the workers' compensation system. Of the 1,052 respondents, almost one in eight had made a claim for compensation. Of those, 11 per cent reported that their employer had sought to be at, or was represented at, a medical assessment for a claim. A total of 16 per cent reported feeling pressured by their employer or their insurer, 12 per cent described the experience as stressful and not worth it, and 10 per cent claimed they felt bullied and stigmatised after lodging a claim. Unions WA said the survey results strengthened its argument for greater protections to be written into legislation, including ending the practice of employer and insurance representatives attending medical appointments with injured workers.
Ÿ ABC News.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled that all extraction, marketing and distribution of chrysotile asbestos must end. The decision to ban asbestos came a day after building products multinational Eternit announced it would end the production of asbestos products in Brazil in 2019. Brazil is a major exporter and consumer of chrysotile, the last type of asbestos in commercial use. Asbestos is banned in over 60 countries. The court ruled the law that regulates mineral exploration in the country and allows the use of asbestos in a ‘controlled’ fashion was unconstitutional. Prior to the Supreme Court action in Brazil, eight federal states out of 27 had voted to ban chrysotile and adopted measures to protect public health. In recent years, Brazil has been viewed as a key opponent of the campaign for a global ban on asbestos. This decision is likely to be seen as significant blow to the international asbestos lobby, already damaged by Canada’s earlier decision to stop asbestos production and ban asbestos use.
Hundreds of former Gabonese workers for La Comuf, an affiliate of the French group Areva, have been unsuccessfully demanding compensation for illnesses they believe are related to working in a uranium mine. The miners worked for an Areva subsidiary - the Compagnie des mines d'uranium de Franceville, better known by its abbreviation of COMUF. Over 38 years, the mine extracted some 26,000 tonnes of uranium near Mounana, southeastern Gabon, before closing in 1999 after the global price of uranium fell and the seam of ore began to thin. By the end of 2016, 367 former workers had died from “pulmonary respiratory infections” linked to working in the mine, according to MATRAC, a campaign group representing 1,618 former employees. The surviving miners, many of them old and sick, have unsuccessfully demanded compensation for 12 years. Areva, a multi-billion-dollar business majority-owned by the French state, has repeatedly denied that it has any case to answer. “No occupational disease related to exposure to ionising radiation” has ever been detected, it says. However, an internal communication from Areva's health director, Pierre Laroche, noted that “many serious diseases have been detected among former employees, for example contagious tuberculosis.” TB is commonly associated with dusty mining jobs. However, the firm has refused to give payouts to the vast majority of its employees, apart from compensation payments in 2011 to the families in France of two French former mine workers who died of lung cancer. A decade ago, French NGOs Sherpa and Medecins du Monde carried out field surveys in Mounana and in Niger, another Areva uranium mining site. They published a report denouncing what they described as high rates of cancer among former employees.
Ÿ Daily Mail.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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