|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 UK’s health and safety laws are ‘not in conformity’ with its international legal obligations, a major review has concluded. The findings are particularly critical of the impact of a UK government move in 2015 that exempted many self-employed workers from the Health and Safety at Work Act. “At the time the TUC ran a strong campaign to try to stop it. We pointed out that it would be confusing, and down-right dangerous,” says TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. The TUC was not alone; safety and employers’ organisations were highly critical. “Well this week, two and a half years later, the UK decision has been looked at by the European Committee of Social Rights, the monitoring body of the 47-nation Council of Europe and it is pretty damning,” notes Robertson. The report concludes “the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity” with the European Social Charter “on the ground that all self-employed and domestic workers are not covered by the occupational health and safety regulations.” The charter states: “All workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions,” and spells out how there must be regulations and enforcement to ensure that. According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson, despite “a clear ruling that the government is not in compliance with a legally binding charter that they have signed up to,” in the absence of any charter enforcement mechanism it is unlikely anything will change for the better. He warns that post-Brexit “the only protection we are likely to have is that afforded by International regulations like those of the Council of Europe and the ILO [International Labour Organisation]. However, they already made it clear that they are not going to make the Charter of Social Rights enforceable and, of the 13 ILO conventions on health and safety, Britain has ratified 3, and even they are not directly enforceable in the UK courts.”
A union survey has found many construction workers are enduring ‘entirely inadequate’ toilets and washing facilities. The survey of over 3,500 Unite members working in the sector found that on nearly one in five sites (17 per cent) of men and women were forced to share toilet as there were no separate facilities for women workers. In total, 18 per cent of respondents’ workplaces did not have adequate toilet facilities. Ten per cent of sites did not supply toilet paper. Over half of site workers (51 per cent) - in jobs that Unite says ‘invariably’ involve dirty, hot and physical work – worked on sites without showers. Even when showers were provided, in 16 per cent of cases there were no separate showers for women, the survey found. In 3 per cent of cases, respondents said that showers and toilets were never cleaned while in 8 per cent of cases they were only cleaned weekly. Respondents also expressed concern about the cleanliness of canteen or mess facilities. In 4 per cent of cases they were never cleaned, while in 6 per cent of cases these facilities were only cleaned on a weekly basis. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Providing toilets and washing facilities is not a luxury, they are a basic human right. This survey must act as a wake-up call to the construction industry. In the 21st century there is no excuse for any workplace not to provide clean and decent welfare facilities. Companies that fail to provide decent welfare facilities can and should be prosecuted and this is an area where Unite is working with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure standards are improved.” She added: “Where Unite is organised on a site we will always ensure that decent welfare facilities are provided and will ensure our members take the necessary measures to ensure they are in place.”
Retail union Usdaw has questioned whether police cuts are contributing to an increasing in crimes, including shoplifting. The union’s general secretary John Hannett was commenting after the Office for National Statistics revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents of shoplifting recorded by the police in the year to September 2017. Usdaw says this continues a trend that has seen a 30 per cent increase over the last decade. John Hannett said: “Theft from shops can often be a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, so the rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying for our members. Is this a consequence of the Conservative seven-year record on retail crime? Since 2010 there are 20,000 fewer police, shoplifting is rising, but fewer shop thieves going to court.” The union leader added: “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers, there needs to be government action to protect them. The police must have the resources from government to respond to incidents and investigate shop thefts. We want the government to legislate for stiffer sentences for the thugs that attack shopworkers.” Hannett warned: “Around 265 shopworkers are assaulted every day and it is time to say enough is enough. We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shopworkers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.”
Ÿ Usdaw news release. Police recorded crimes in England and Wales for year ending September 2017, ONS, January 2018.
The number of retail workers receiving criminal injury compensation after a violent crime at work has almost halved since the government introduced cost-cutting changes, research by Usdaw has found. The retail union said its analysis of the impact of restrictive changes in November 2012 to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) “show that applications for compensation by the union on behalf of members injured by a criminal have almost halved, down by 47.4 per cent.” The union said this had happened in a time when attacks on shopworkers have been increasing, with last year’s total up 25 per cent on the 2016 figure. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The government claimed they were reforming the scheme to better focus support for victims, but the truth is they have effectively closed the scheme to many, leaving thousands of innocent victims of violent crime without the opportunity of fair compensation.” He added: “The effects have gone way beyond what we predicted when we campaigned against the government proposals in 2011. Those cuts meant that victims of violent crime who suffer injuries such as permanent speech impairment, multiple broken ribs, post traumatic epileptic fits or burns and scarring that cause minor facial disfigurement are no longer eligible for any compensation.” He said he had “written to the Justice Secretary urging a review, now that the changes have been in place for over 5 years.” In 2010 there were 253 Usdaw claims via CICS, 267 in 2011 and 213 in 2012. This feel to 100 claims submitted by Usdaw in 2016 and 102 in 2017.
Teaching assistances are facing daily verbal and physical abuse from pupils, GMB has said. The union, which represents more than a third of support staff, told the BBC Radio 5 Live programme it wants schools to adopt a code of conduct on handling pupil violence against staff. “Our school staff members are being attacked at work on a daily basis, from verbal abuse, to being spat at, kicked and punched,” said national officer Karen Leonard. “The effects of this are obvious, trauma, stress - fear. But they love their jobs, and they love the kids. They understand these things can and do happen. All they ask is their school backs them up when it does happen and takes the common-sense steps needed to make sure attacks happen as little as possible.” The union says a code of conduct should require schools to have a clear policy on violence, to record all incidents consistently, and treat all victims equally. In a statement, the Department for Education told the BBC: “Teachers and school staff have a right to feel safe while doing their jobs and violence towards them is completely unacceptable. The department has not prescribed which sanctions teachers must use to tackle misbehaviour. It is for teachers to use their professional judgement to apply appropriate and proportionate sanctions.”
Nine out of 10 hospitality workers have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to the preliminary finding of a new survey by Unite. The initial findings of the union’s #NotOnTheMenu survey reveal that of those respondents who had experienced sexual harassment, 56.3 per cent said that they had been targeted by a member of the public and 22.7 per cent said that they had been harassed by a manager. Around half of workers who had been harassed said that the experience made them want to leave their job and made them feel unsafe and less confident at work. The preliminary results indicate 84.7 per cent of hospitality workers had witnessed sexual harassment of other people. Over threequarters (77 per cent) did not know if their workplace had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place and 60 per cent were unsure or lacked faith in their management to deal with a complaint of sexual harassment. Unite said its survey, which has attracted hundreds of responses to date, is running until mid-February. Unite is hopeful that the recent media coverage of the issue inspired by the FT’s undercover Presidents Club investigation will encourage workers in hospitality from across the UK to participate in order to expose and tackle such abuses. Charlotte Bence, Unite hospitality coordinator, said: “Employers should be ashamed; these are young women in low paying jobs, reporting that the behaviour they’ve experienced has made them feel unsafe. But instead of feeling supported 60 per cent of those that responded were unsure or lacked faith in their management to deal with a complaint of sexual harassment.” She added: “The hospitality industry needs to sort itself out - adopt a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and treat complaints seriously. Workers worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure that they are protected. Everyone has a voice and through a union you can be heard. We urge hospitality workers, take our survey so that we can start tackling this unacceptable behaviour head on.”
The abuse of women hospitality workers at a glitzy men-only London charity dinner shows the need for stronger laws to protect workers from sexual harassment, unions have said. They were speaking out after the Presidents Club, which counted billionaires, celebrities and politicians among its high-society patrons, was forced to close down. The move came after Madison Marriage, working undercover for the Financial Times, reported how hostesses recruited by an agency were routinely groped and sexually harassed at the charity’s fundraising event. Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “The sleazy and disgraceful events that occurred at the Presidents Club charity dinner at the Dorchester Hotel will be all too familiar to people working throughout the hospitality industry.” She added: “The events at the Dorchester once again underline why it is imperative that the third party harassment provisions which were axed by the Conservatives from the Equality Act must be immediately reinstated. The third party provisions placed a legal duty on employers to protect employees from harassment by customers. Their axing has allowed employers to ignore this form of harassment and effectively gives customers a free pass to sexually harass hospitality workers.” Marion Scovell, head of legal and the union Prospect, noted: “Hopefully the shock and outrage from this situation will be a rallying call for stronger laws to protect women at work.” She added the union would continue to press for stronger legal protections against sexual harassment at work, including the outlawing of third party harassment. Prospect would also be seeking restrictions on the use of non-disclosure agreements, she noted. The first task required of the women working at the Presidents Club event was to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement.
Almost a third of theatre professionals in the UK have been sexually harassed at work, according to a survey. The Stage magazine asked over 1,000 people working in the industry for their experiences, with 31 per cent saying they had suffered sexual harassment. Over 40 per cent of respondents said they had been bullied and almost 8 per cent said they had been sexually assaulted at work. Professionals interviewed by the magazine included performers, backstage workers, front of house staff and management. It found two-thirds (67 per cent) of people who had suffered did not report incidents. When sexual assault was reported, no action was taken in four out of five cases. Responding to the survey findings, theatre union BECTU said in a statement: “A lot of theatre work may take place in the shadows but responses to this necessary survey point to a pressing need to shine a modern light on employment practice within theatre. Whether you're working as staff or freelance, and whatever your job, dignity at work should be yours and everyone has a role to play in delivering that.” The statement added: “That message, backed by sound policies and investment in staff should be alive in all theatres. All theatre employers have a legal duty here and they also need to create the right environment to support those who suffer mistreatment. We in BECTU are ready to play our part.” Helen Ryan, BECTU’s assistant national secretary, said: “We hope that all of our members know that if they have an issue with bullying and harassment at work that they can speak to an official in confidence to take advice on the best ways forward.”
Workers should be given places to rest at work to help boost productivity, according to new official guidance. Downtime at work can help employees switch off and get better quality sleep at night, says Public Health England (PHE), adding better sleep maintains cognitive function in employees, as well as cutting health risks. Companies should encourage better “sleep hygiene”, the public health body adds. Central to ‘Sleep and recovery: A toolkit for employers’, produced by Business in the Community in association with PHE, “is the recommendation that businesses create an understanding environment, where employees can be open with their managers about any sleep-related issues that are hampering them at work,” notes PHE in a blog post. “That way line managers and employees can identify the risks to health and wellbeing in your workplace together and gather the right information to help you put plans in place to manage risks. This can be especially important when changes to your work schedule or significant changes like organisational restructuring are planned. The new sleep toolkit takes businesses through this process, with information on the importance of sleep, the business case for good sleep and actions which address the causes of sleep deprivation in employees.” Worker fatigue has been the major contributory factor in a number of major disasters, including the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry loss, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the Texas City refinery explosion, the Clapham Junction train crash, the Challenger explosion and the Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill. It is also linked to higher accident rates and a range of short term and chronic health problems in workers. A TUC guide for safety reps published in 2016 (Risks 759) notes “fatigue caused by too demanding work hours and patterns can increase the risk of health conditions including heart, digestive and mental health problems.”
Ÿ BBC News Online. Sleep and recovery: A toolkit for employers, Business in the Community in association with PHE, January 2018. Public Health England blog. HSE workplace fatigue webpage. Fatigue - a guide for health and safety representatives, TUC, July 2016. Tired out: don’t take fatigue risks lying down, a Hazards guide, 2016.
A catalogue of health and safety infringements has been revealed at Third Energy’s contentious fracking site in rural North Yorkshire. The company involved has admitted most of the drilling equipment in use is out of date and does not meet modern-day standards. Anti-fracking group Frack Free Ryedale obtained the damning safety report from the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) using Freedom of Information legislation. The report was prepared following an HSE inspection last year at Third Energy’s drilling site at Kirby Misperton near Pickering. The report’s revelations included inadequate provision of accident and emergency back-up, missing safety documents and lack of provision to deal with gas leaks. The campaigners also had sight of Third Energy’s response to the report, in which the company admitted: “It needs to be recognised that the land-rig market in the UK does not have much to choose from. Those rigs that are in the UK tend to be old and functional but without today’s ergonomic standards.” Russell Scott of Frack Free Ryedale told the Morning Star: “The news that Third Energy have yet again fallen short on their safety requirements should set alarm bells ringing across Yorkshire.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A Cornish gangmaster who systematically exploited her workers through skimming off their pay, sending them to work double shifts with insufficient breaks and charging them to live in unhygienic and unsafe caravans has been shut down by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). Neringa Butkeviciute, 29, operated her business DNK Recruitment out of the Bosparva Caravan Park in Leedstown, Hayle, where she provided workers for jobs in the GLAA regulated sector. A GLAA inspection was carried out to check on how the licence holder was running her business after DNK was reported to the authority. The GLAA found Butkeviciute sent her workers out with insufficient breaks to boost her own profits, failed to pay them all they were due and also charged for accommodation in caravans that were deemed both unsanitary and unsafe. Human waste was discovered leaking from sewage pipes under one caravan. Her company failed eight of the authority’s Licensing Standards – four of them ‘critical’. A licence can be revoked after the discovery of just one critical failure. The GLAA’s head of licensing Charlotte Woodliffe said Butkeviciute had shown a flagrant disregard for the safety and welfare of her employees. “Having read through the evidence we uncovered in this case it was clear that the profits of the company appeared to be the only concern for DNK Recruitment,” Woodliffe said. “No care or concern was shown about whether the workers were being treated fairly, receiving the correct amounts of time off and wages or were housed in safe and sanitary living accommodation.” She added: “The GLAA licensing scheme exists to protect vulnerable workers. In cases like this, where the bottom line appears to be the only thing that matters at the cost of the health and safety of its employees then we have no hesitation in taking away a gangmaster’s licence.”
The mother of a young man who was killed in a faulty lift while working in a Swansea pub says she is “totally disillusioned” with the inquest system after a verdict of “accidental death” was recorded. Campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) called for the swift prosecution of bosses who failed to have the lift repaired. Bar worker Cyran Stewart, 20, was injured while working at a Walkabout pub in Swansea on 24 February 2014, dying in hospital four days later. He was moving heavy furniture at closing time when he was pinned against the inside wall of the lift by a bar stool weighing 44lb. The inquest heard he was trapped for more than 31 minutes before firefighters could reach him. An emergency door release mechanism was missing, which may have delayed his rescue, the jury heard. Other members of staff had been trapped earlier in unreported “near-miss” incidents but not injured. However, management took no action to correct the fault. Police launched a criminal inquiry, but Walkabout owners Intertain were never charged. Responding to the inquest verdict, Cyran Stewart’s mother Elizabeth Galbraith said: “I feel totally disillusioned by the inquest system. My son Cyran did not die in a freak accident that could not be foreseen or prevented but in an incident similar to several others that had previously occurred and about which I believe management and supervisors were aware.” She added: “I believe that action could have been taken to prevent my son from being in that situation in the first place and prevented his death. Following the death of my son, that action has now been taken. It will prevent further deaths, but it will never bring Cyran back.” FACK’s Hilda Palmer said: “The legal duty is clear and we call on all employers everywhere to face up to, and review, your health and safety management and take urgent action to stop your work from killing or hurting anyone.”
A 74-year-old man has died after he became stranded in heavy snow while working on a wind farm in East Ayrshire, Scotland. The worker and a younger colleague were left without heat or power at Craigdarroch Farm in New Cumnock when power failed on Sunday 21 January. Police Scotland's Mountain Rescue Team traced the pair after the alarm was raised some hours later. The elderly man was airlifted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary but died a short time later. A police spokesperson said: “Around 20:50 hours on Sunday 21 January 2018 police officers received a report of two men having become stranded without heat or power at a wind farm near Craigdarroch Farm, New Cumnock. Police Scotland Mountain Rescue Team attended and located two men aged 74 and 42. A 74-year-old man was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by helicopter where he later died.” She added: “A joint investigation between Police Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive is being carried out. A report will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal.” An HSE spokesperson told the BBC: “HSE is aware and making initial inquiries alongside police.”
A farmer has been given a conditional discharge after a man was electrocuted when the arm of his lorry-mounted crane contacted overhead power lines. Manchester Crown Court heard how on 8 April 2016 self-employed tipper wagon driver Matthew Drummond had been in the process of unloading sand at Heaton Farm near Rochdale, when the incident took place. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the 29-year-old had been looking for a site where he could dispose of some waste sand. An arrangement was subsequently made at short notice with a farmer, David Heywood, to dump it on his land at Heaton Farm. The farmer met Mr Drummond at the entrance to the farm, and directed him to the site where the sand was to be tipped. Although overhead power lines (OHPLs) carrying 6,600 volts ran across the site, the farmer did not alert Matthew Drummond to their presence or to the risks. In order to tip the load onto the field, Drummond first had to raise the tipper wagon’s crane. The boom of the crane came into contact with the OHPLs, electrocuting him. David Heywood pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay partial costs of £3,000. HSE principal inspector Mike Sebastian said: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented if the farmer had identified and managed the risks involved with overhead power lines on his land, and put a safe system of work in place.”
More than two out of five Irish workers have experienced mistreatment at work, despite most organisations having policies to prevent it, a study has found. Overall, 43 per cent said they have experienced ill-treatment, 47 per cent had witnessed it, and 6 per cent had experienced physical violence. The Irish Workplace Behaviour Survey was carried out by researchers from NUI Galway, together with the University of Limerick and Plymouth University. The study, based on the responses of 1,500 employees interviewed in their homes, was led by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway. It found widespread concerns about management behaviour. Over a third of respondents (37 per cent) said they had experienced unreasonable management behaviour while 42 per cent had witnessed it. The study found that public sector employees were five times more likely to experience violence than employees in other sectors. The study also found “a correlation between ethnicity and ill treatment: workers of black, mixed or Asian ethnicity have the highest levels of experiencing and/or witnessing violence.” Women were significantly more likely to experience mistreatment on two or more occasions per day. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned the study. IOSH vice-president, Louise Hosking, commented: “It is alarming to see the amount of people who felt there was nothing to be done, even if they reported an issue. Everyone has the right to be respected at work.” Dr Margaret Hodgins, lead researcher from NUI, said: “Ill-treatment increases stress levels resulting in illness and presenteeism, and this in turn can affect the productivity of the organisation. Employers need to take negative behaviour seriously, and look to see how they address it through creating a work environment that is positive and respectful of staff and their work.”
The US food union has warned an official move to speed up pork processing lines puts greed before the health of workers. The union UFCW was speaking out after the US department of agriculture (USDA) announced a proposal to allow pork producers to run their slaughtering lines as fast as they want, in exchange for conducting their own food safety inspections. Under the plan, the cost to companies of self-inspecting will be offset by higher production and the resulting higher profits. UFCW president Marc Perrone commented: “This desire to increase line speeds is being driven entirely by corporate greed and defies common-sense. Jobs inside pork plants are some of the most dangerous and difficult in America. We’re only putting workers at greater risk of injury and consumers at greater risk of consuming unsafe meat by asking everyone who labours inside one to work faster. For the sake of keeping millions of hard-working families safe, this decision deserves immediate reconsideration.” George Washington University lecturer Celeste Monforton said USDA’s inspection privatisation cost “calculations fail to include the cost of injuries to the pork-processing workers that will result from increased line speeds. Pork-processing plants operate currently at about 1,100 swine head per hour. The proposal would remove the cap on line speeds. The animal slaughtering industry already has the highest incidence rate of occupational illnesses than any other US industry. Those numbers include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other musculoskeletal injuries.” Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) noted: “Speeding up the number of hogs processed each hour in a plant will result in an already dangerous industry becoming even more dangerous, further jeopardising the safety of all its workers. The only beneficiaries to this rule are the huge meatpacking companies like JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride - companies that already make millions in profits yet report among the highest numbers of severe worker injuries.”
The union representing tens of thousands of hotel workers in Las Vegas is to ask casino-resort operators to give every housekeeper a “panic button” as it begins negotiating new contracts amid the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. Leaders of the Culinary Union will bring the request to the bargaining table this month, on behalf of the more than 14,000 housekeepers who work on the Las Vegas Strip and the destination’s downtown area. The push is in line with ordinances recently approved in other cities that provide hotel workers with some protections. “We want safety for all the workers,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the local union’s secretary-treasurer. “We want to have some language in the contract to protect more the people who work inside the hotels… We know what’s going on with sexual harassment. No woman should have to go through that.” In New York City, housekeepers at unionised hotels have been carrying panic buttons - wireless devices that alert managers if they are attacked — since 2013. The move was in response to a union effort after a maid accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-leader of the International Monetary Fund, of sexual assault. Following the lead of voters in Seattle in 2016, Chicago City Council passed a ‘Hands Off Pants On’ ordinance in October 2017 requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to workers by next summer if they work alone in guest rooms (Risks 827). Arguello-Kline said the union will negotiate with Las Vegas companies to protect existing benefits, increase wages, protect job security against the increasing adoption of technology at hotel-casinos, and strengthen language against sexual harassment.
Ÿ Culinary Workers Union Local 226. National Post. Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, TUC, July 2016. Protection from sexual harassment, TUC, November 2017. It’s not OK: Sexual harassment at work is more blue collar than red carpet, special report, Hazards, December 2017.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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