|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.
Every year between 5,500 and 6,000 people in Britain end their own lives - well over three times the number of people who die on our roads. the TUC has said. The TUC notes that there can be few more tragic issues that a union representative has to deal with than the suicide of a fellow worker. But, it says, the suicide of a worker is a union concern for a range of reasons and has produced new guidance for reps. “Fortunately, this is something that most union representatives will never encounter but the issue of suicide is an important one and can often be linked to issues such as workplace stress, bullying or harassment,” writes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “Recently, a number of unions have started looking at what they can do to try to support anyone who may have suicidal thoughts and also to try to prevent people from having these thoughts. To support this work, the TUC has now produced a short guide on suicide prevention. This stresses that there are a number of things that employers can do to try to ensure that no employee feels that they need to end their own lives.” The guide advises union reps to ensure employers are aware of the issue of suicide and suicide prevention as a workplace issue and that they have accessed appropriate advice and support. It adds that there should be a joint union-management review of existing policies on stress management, bullying and harassment, mental health and employee assistance. According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson: “Unions do not expect their stewards and health and safety representatives to be trained counsellors but we often find that workers confide in their union representative when they have problems and just talking can be a great help. Also, by knowing what warning signs to look out for, sometimes you can make sure that they know where to get help. Finally, let’s not forget that the work that unions do to help prevent stress, long hours, low pay, bullying, harassment and job insecurity already goes a long way towards helping prevent workers from feeling depressed (Risks 793) and that is a major part of our ‘Great Jobs Agenda’.”
Casual workers experience more job dissatisfaction and anxiety than their permanent counterparts, a TUC study has concluded. The research also found casual staff were five times more likely to drop out of the labour market than those on permanent contracts. The study, undertaken for the TUC by the University of Sheffield and the University of Greenwich, found that people who had been in casual employment for a year or more were at much greater risk of becoming jobless than permanent staff. It discovered that casual work was rarely a stepping stone to finding a better job. The study also revealed workers without regular shift patterns are more likely to experience anxiety than those who have regular shifts. Those without regular working hours are much more likely to be unsatisfied with their jobs than those who have regular work hours. Workers in casual employment are also less likely to experience job satisfaction than those in permanent jobs. And disadvantaged groups, such as young and black and minority ethnic workers, are more likely to be in casual work. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People are often told that casual contracts are a stepping stone to finding better work. But for many this isn’t the case. lnstead of improving their career prospects, lots of casual workers find themselves dropping out of work altogether. Or they’re at the mercy of bad bosses who treat them like disposable labour.” She added: “Every job should be a great job – but far too many workers in the UK feel insecure at work.”
Ÿ Living on the edge: Experiencing workplace insecurity in the UK, written by the Work, Organisation and Employment Relations Research Centre at the University of Sheffield and by the University of Greenwich, TUC, January 2018 [full report]. TUC blog, related blog posting and Great Jobs Agenda. The Independent.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has abandoned plans to reduce the period between medical examinations for asbestos workers after pressure from the TUC and unions including Unite (Risks 825) and HSE inspectors’ union Prospect. Following a review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations published in 2017, the HSE decided to launch a consultation on reducing the frequency of asbestos medical examinations for licensed contractors from two years to three years, a move the TUC condemned as ‘totally irresponsible’ (Risks 779). An analysis by the HSE of the responses to the consultation found that over 60 per cent did not support the proposed amendment. The regulator has now dropped the idea. Garry Graham, Prospect’s deputy general secretary commented: “Asbestos is a silent killer of thousands of workers every year. Frequent medical checks for those engaged in the dangerous removal of asbestos from old buildings is vital to pick up any symptoms as early as possible. We welcome the HSE seeing sense on this issue.”
A member of the Scottish parliament has launched a consultation on his plan for a new law to protect shop and bar workers from violence. Labour MSP Daniel Johnson is seeking views on a member’s bill to create new offences around the assault and abuse of workers who sell age-restricted items such as alcohol and cigarettes. He said retail violence and abuse is at a 10-year high. Retail union Usdaw, the Scottish Grocers' Federation and retailer Scotmid are backing the plan. The Edinburgh MSP said: “The issue of violence and abuse against workers continues to grow, and many workers have told me that they now see it as just part of the job. My bill aims to provide legislative solutions, by creating new offences for those who assault or abuse workers. I would encourage anyone who can to contribute to the consultation at www.notpartofthejob.com and have their say on how we can protect workers.” Usdaw said its analysis showed that 70 per cent of shop workers in Scotland were verbally abused and 42 per cent were threatened over the past year. The union’s general secretary, John Hannett, said “our members very much welcome Daniel Johnson’s bid to provide stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. We hope that MSPs from all parties and the Scottish government will give this Bill their full support.” Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer, said: “Many Scottish shopworkers are on the frontline of dealing with the public and that can mean they end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault. Violence, threats and abuse against workers is one of the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required.”
Lives are being put at risk in Merseyside because it will take firefighters far longer to arrive at emergencies due to a cut in the hours that fire engines are crewed, firefighters’ union FBU has said. The warning came after Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service announced that fire engines at Eccleston and Crosby fire stations will no longer be staffed by wholetime fire crews between 8.30pm and 8.30am. Instead, the engines will be transferred to a Retained Duty System, where firefighters are called in from home to respond to emergencies within 30 minutes. Kevin Hughes, brigade secretary of the FBU in Merseyside, said: “These dangerous cuts could cost lives,” adding: “If two incidents are called in at the same time or if there is a major emergency requiring multi-engine response, it will inevitably cause delays in getting firefighters to the scene of the incident… If we don’t get this right it means the work the firefighters can do to save lives is severely curtailed. It puts the public, as well as the firefighters themselves, at greater risk of serious injury or even worse.” The union secretary warned: “For the sake of public safety, the government need to reverse the damaging cuts to the fire service which are putting Merseyside communities at risk.” Fire service cuts in London were linked this month to a sharp rise in fire deaths in the capital (Risks 833).
Pilots’ union BALPA has welcomed an announcement from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that will mean applicants with HIV who want to become a commercial pilot will no longer be barred from obtaining a licence. The union says this addresses an inconsistency in the rules that meant those who develop the condition after getting a medical certificate or their licence, are allowed to continue their career, whereas new applicants with HIV were turned away. BALPA wrote recently to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), who enforce these restrictions, asking it to undertake a thorough review of the rules (Risks 831). The CAA has now announced it too has contacted EASA and asked it to ‘undertake the necessary rulemaking activity and associated research without delay’. The CAA confirmed that while it awaits permanent changes to the rules, it will issue HIV positive applicants a Class 1 Medical certificate, with a restriction to multi-pilot operations, subject to the applicants passing their Class 1 Medical assessment. BALPA head of flight safety, Dr Rob Hunter, said: “This rule change is a step in the right direction and will help correct nonsensical and outdated rules which are needlessly preventing potential pilots from achieving their dreams.” He added: “We hope that EASA will now follow the example of the CAA and make permanent changes to the rules. At the same time we believe all medical conditions for which a multi crew limitation is applied should similarly be eligible for initial class one certification. Essentially pilots should not be barred on administrative or bureaucratic grounds as the only thing that matters in becoming a pilot is ability to fly.”
Staff at Wrexham's £250m super-prison have claimed it is unsafe, less than 12 months after it opened. The Prison Officers Association (POA) told BBC Wales a “culture of fear” existed among staff at HMP Berwyn. POA national chair Mark Fairhurst said security was being compromised at the prison as officers had been told not to intervene straight away if they witnessed a package being passed between visitors and inmates. He said officers had been told instead to “allow that visit to continue and then to search the prisoner once the visit is complete, by which time of course the substance will be secreted or passed on. It might not be drugs that's getting passed on during visits, it could be something more serious.” He also told the BBC of occasions where dog handlers had been stood down because they did not want visitors being turned away, managers allowing inmates to stay out of cells during an alarm and evidence going missing when inappropriate behaviour by prisoners is reported. He said he had raised his concerns “at the very top of the tree” but “nothing has changed”. BBC Wales reported it had seen a resignation letter from an experienced prison officer that claimed there was a “complete disregard for the safety of staff” at HMP Berwyn. POA national chair Mark Fairhurst said according to staff he had spoken to, HMP Berwyn “is an unsafe prison”. He added: "You have to have staff supported and prisoners buying into the idea. But at the moment they are struggling and it will escalate if they don't tackle that situation.” The POA said last week there is “chaos and crisis” and a lack of effective leadership across the prison service.
Hopes that drones will become an important safety inspection tool capable of scrutinising otherwise inaccessible locations suffered a setback this week. A newly published report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) gave details of an incident last summer when a drone fitted with a Go Pro camera hit a crane on a site in Kent. The report said the drone pilot “had not taken into account the addition of a new crane.” The pilot had flown a profile at the site pre-programmed before the tower crane was erected. But the investigators found the last flight came to a premature end when the drone struck the jib of the recently erected machine. The report stated: “The crane had not been at the site during the previous flight, and from where the pilot was situated in the car park it was difficult for him or his observer to tell that it was about to strike the crane because of a lack of perspective. The unmanned aircraft fell to the ground and was damaged but there was no damage to the construction site.”
Failed construction giant Carillion was a major supporter of an illegal blacklisting outfit that targeted safety activists and trade union reps, leaked documents have confirmed. The firm has been linked to blacklisting for years, with the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in 2013 publishing evidence about how Carillion liaised with the blacklisting agency, the Consulting Association, either directly or via its subsidiaries. Six managers directly involved with the association were named in the document. Subsequently, the GMB union estimated that from October 1999 to April 2004 Carillion checked at least 14,724 names against files illegally held by the covert blacklister. Invoices and sales book records, seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office during a raid in 2009, showed that Carillion paid £37,814.72 to the Consulting Association between 1999 and 2006. This month the Canary obtained the Consulting Association’s entire set of ledgers, which confirmed Carillion’s routine payments for data from the Consulting Association files. Dave Smith, joint secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said: “Carillion blacklisted me after I raised concerns about safety on their building sites; it ended up in the European Court of Human Rights. At the very same time the company were milking public sector contracts including in the NHS. Not another penny of taxpayers’ money should be given to these wretches.” In May 2015, Carillion, together with several other construction companies, agreed on a payout of around £80m in compensation to almost 800 blacklisted workers.
A construction company has been fined after an employee died after falling over six metres. Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of C&R Construction (SW) Ltd suffered fatal injuries in the preventable incident after falling while installing roof sheets on a new agricultural building. The victim is identified in the HSE fatalities listing as Neil Phillips, 45. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 11 May 2016, found that the company failed to provide suitable edge protection, failed to ensure there was a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks from the use of the edge protection and failed to ensure those installing the edge protection and supervising the work had received adequate training. C&R Construction (SW) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,060.40. HSE inspector Kate Leftly said: “Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in this country and the risks associated with working at height are well known. If suitable edge protection had been installed, the tragic death of this employee could have been prevented.” HSE last week reminded farmers to take simple steps to avoid or manage risk when carrying out building maintenance. As part of an inspection blitz, HSE inspectors are visiting farms across the country to ensure risks during building maintenance, such as falling from a roof or ladder, are being controlled and measures are in place to protect farmers, their workers and contractors.
The operator of a natural gas storage facility has been sentenced after 13 employees and contractors were exposed to asbestos fibres. Beverley Magistrates’ Court heard three maintenance workers were tasked by SSE Hornsea Ltd, the operator of the facility near Atwick on the East Yorkshire coast, with the removal of a non-return valve from a compressed air distribution system. Some of the sealing gasket material was difficult to remove so the maintenance team used a wire brush mounted on an electric drill to remove it. This spread fibres from the gasket around the maintenance workshop onto floors, work benches and clothing. Two days later, another employee of SSE Hornsea Ltd reported concerns the dust may contain asbestos. It was subsequently confirmed the dust did contain chrysotile asbestos fibres. The maintenance workshop was later closed to prevent access by employees and contractors. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the court that the company had failed to identify in the job’s risk assessment that there were asbestos gaskets attached to the non-return valve. HSE also told the court that records held on site, which could have helped identify the presence of asbestos, were not adequate and that the maintenance team leader involved in this task had not undertaken asbestos awareness training. SSE Hornsea Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,731. HSE inspector Paul Miller commented: “In this case SSE Hornsea Ltd substantially failed to manage the risks associated with asbestos found within their process plant and have needlessly risked the future health of 13 people. Employers should ensure that they have in place adequate arrangements for both the identification and management of asbestos which may be found in buildings or process plant.”
The principal contractor and site manager of a construction site in Derby city centre have been sentenced after workers were exposed to asbestos during refurbishment work. Derby Magistrates’ Court heard how, on or before 5 January 2017 at the St Peters Churchyard site, labourers removed asbestos insulating board (AIB) ceiling panels from a store room, work that should have been completed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor under fully controlled conditions. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that M&S Developments (Bemrose Court) Limited was the principal contractor for the site and Adam Campbell, operating as Kynersley Management Services Limited, was the site manager. Work was taking place to convert the former office buildings into apartments. An asbestos refurbishment survey completed prior to the construction work starting indicated clearly that the lower ground floor store room contained an asbestos insulating board (AIB) ceiling. During construction work this AIB ceiling was accidentally damaged and the site manager instructed two young labourers to remove approximately 4-6 square metres of it. Suitable asbestos control measures were not in place and the workers involved were not trained in asbestos removal. Following the involvement of HSE in January 2017, a licensed asbestos removal contractor was brought in to clean the area. Asbestos containing floor tiles located around the site were also identified as at risk of damage from the construction work and arrangements were made with the principal contractor for these to be removed under controlled conditions by trained staff. An HSE investigation found that the principal contractor and its site manager failed to suitably manage the asbestos containing materials. M&S Developments (Bemrose Court) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,336. Kynersley Management Services Limited also pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £20,000 plus costs of £1,531.66. Site manager Adam Campbell pleaded guilty in his role as a director of Kynersley Management Services Limited. He was given a community order to carry out 120 hours unpaid work and was also ordered to pay costs of £1,531.66.
Global union confederation ITUC has announced its worldwide theme for International Workers' Memorial Day, 28 April 2018. The ‘Organised workplaces are safer workplaces’ theme echoes the UK and ETUC themes announced earlier (Risks 833). ITUC says variants on the tagline could include ‘Unions make workplaces safer and healthier’ and ‘Union organisation saves lives’. An alert from ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow notes: “The ITUC will developing resources in the coming weeks to support preparation of campaign materials… Updates to the dedicated www.28april.org webpages will start as materials, activities and events are confirmed.” ITUC is asking tweeters to use the hashtag #iwmd18 for their 28 April 2018 tweets.
Ÿ ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2018 campaign website and theme announcement in English, Spanish and French. TUC 28 April 2018 webpages. Email details of UK events to the TUC health and safety office to be included in the TUC listing.
The roads minister in the Australian state of New South Wales has been slammed after suggesting truck drivers could be zapped with electric shocks to reduce the carnage on the roads. Melinda Pavey brought up automated driving technology after five people died in truck-related crashes across the state in just 24 hours. “The technology is now so advanced, a driver can be driving and get an electric shock if they look away from the windscreen for more than two seconds,” she said on ABC radio. The Transport Workers Union slammed her “offensive” suggestion as “heartless, arrogant and completely incompetent”. The union’s state secretary Richard Olsen said truck drivers were victims themselves, and were put under unreasonable pressure to make deadlines. “A lot of problems on our roads actually are born in the boardroom by big bosses and people like retailers and others who control our industry through pricing of contracts,” Mr Olsen told The New Daily. A union spokesperson added that drivers were under pressure to speed and drive “gruelling hours”, “all the while they are being ripped off”. Last year, Macquarie University found 80 per cent of truck drivers worked more than 50 hours a week, while 10 per cent did more than 80 hours each week. The TWU Victorian and Tasmanian branches last year found one in five members had experienced mental health issues. Analysis by the Victorian coroner’s court found truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their lives between 2008 to 2014.
A Canadian jury has found three former rail workers not guilty of criminal negligence for their connection to the Lac-Megantic disaster five years ago (Risks 820). On 6 July 2013, a runaway train filled with petroleum crude oil derailed in the small eastern Quebec town. Forty-seven people were killed in the tragedy and much of Lac-Megantic's downtown was destroyed. Locomotive engineer Tom Harding, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre were charged in 2014 with criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people. Under Canada's criminal code, the charge carries a potential life sentence. All three pleaded not guilty. The tragedy began when a fire broke out in the main locomotive after Mr Harding had parked the train in the village of Nantes and left for the night to sleep. Firefighters extinguished the flames and turned off the engine, which cut the air brakes. An hour later, the train rolled into downtown Lac-Megantic and derailed, exploding in a huge fireball. Lawyers for the accused argued successfully that many factors out of their control contributed to the disaster, including a culture at Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway (MMA) of relaxed standards and insufficient training. MMA also failed to heed a Transportation Safety Board's report that said the rail line running from Nantes to Lac-Megantic was the second steepest of any stretch of track in Canada. The Canadian Transportation Agency suspended MMA's licence after the accident. Julie Morin, mayor of Lac-Megantic, said neither she nor the citizens of town thought the three people accused were solely responsible for the tragedy. “The company, MMA, had a big role to play in this,” she said.
Trade unions representing Bangladeshi textile workers have reached a US$2.3m (£1.6m) settlement with a multinational fashion brand accused of postponing the process of fixing life-threatening hazards in factories. The fashion brand, which cannot be named under the terms of the agreement, will pay $2m to fix safety issues in more than 150 textile factories in Bangladesh and a further $300,000 towards improving pay and conditions for workers in global clothing supply chains. Global unions UNI and IndustriALL took two leading fashion brands to court in 2016 following the introduction of Bangladesh’s Accord on Fire and Building Safety in 2013, a legally binding agreement under which the world’s largest fashion brands must shoulder the costs for improving health and safety in Bangladeshi factories. The Accord came into effect after the fatal Rana Plaza factory collapse killed an estimated 1,135 people in April 2013. Marks & Spencer, Primark, Adidas, H&M, Top Shop and John Lewis are among 200 signatories of the accord. The two global unions settled another case relating to factory conditions in Bangladesh at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in December, with another unnamed global brand. Commenting on the latest deal, UNI deputy general secretary Christy Hoffman said: “The settlement makes real resources available to over 150 factories so they can finally make the necessary repairs that were needed years ago.” She added: “We will continue pushing to make sure that all brands contribute their fair share to make work safer in Bangladesh.” IndustriALL’s general secretary Valter Sanches said the settlement is “proof that legally-binding mechanisms can hold multinational companies to account”. He added: “We are glad that the brand in question is now taking seriously its responsibility for the safety of its supplier factories in Bangladesh.” A second accord with greater investment in health and safety checks will come into effect this year as the original one is due to expire in May 2018.
Criminal negligence by government watchdogs and the refusal of employers to provide health and safety measures are killing workers, labour rights campaigners in Pakistan have said. Addressing a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club, Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), said: “According to the International Labour Organisation, around 2.3 million workers are killed annually at workplaces across the world. If the situation here is not improved then it would be no wonder that Pakistan may top that list.” Referring to the 2012 Ali Enterprises factory fire in Baldia which 260 workers were killed and the 2016 Gadani oil tanker inferno in which 30 workers died, Mansoor said that the government, employers and other relevant bodies seem unaffected by these incidents as working conditions have not improved. Bashir Mehmoodani, president of Gadani shipbreaking workers’ union, said that 10 workers have been killed and dozens more injured in similar incidents since the oil tanker fire two years ago. “The workers’ lives are still in danger,” he said. Zehra Khan, general secretary of Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that regular fires at textile and garment factories could lead to more deaths, but she said employers and the government seemed more concerned about profits than saving the lives of workers.
California’s workplace health and safety regulator has voted unanimously to introduce new rules to reduce the injuries commonly experienced by hotel housekeepers. Cal/OSHA approved the ‘Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention’ standard at a meeting attended by hotel housekeepers from across the state. The move is part of a wave of efforts to protect housekeepers from workplace dangers including injuries, heavy workloads, sexual harassment and assault. “Hotel housekeepers are the invisible backbone of the hospitality industry. Overwhelmingly women, immigrants, and people of colour, housekeepers face high rates of workplace injury,” said Pamela Vossenas, the director of worker safety and health for the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE. “The state of California has recognised the seriousness of the dangers housekeepers face and took an important step to protect these workers.” Lifting 100-pound mattresses dozens of times each day and pushing heavy carts and vacuums across miles of carpet can lead housekeepers to suffer strains, sprains and tear injuries that can require physical therapy or even lead to permanent disability. UNITE HERE first petitioned Cal/OSHA to develop a standard to protect hospitality workers from injury in 2012, and nearly 300 UNITE HERE member housekeepers from seven metropolitan areas across the state have been part of Cal/OSHA’s process over the past six years. Under the new standard, hotels will be required to reduce injury risks for housekeepers and offer them proper tools, such as long-handled mops or devices to help make beds. Housekeepers will get training on injury risks and have the right to suggest solutions to those risks.
Ÿ Unite Here news release and new California standard on Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention. IUF news release.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).