|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.
As an icy blast and heavy snow hit Britain this week, the TUC called on employers not to force staff to make dangerous journeys into work. The TUC said that while workers should make every effort to get in where they can, bosses shouldn’t force their staff to travel if it’s not safe to do so. The union body is urging employers draw up bad weather plans so staff know what is expected up them. It says employers should not withhold pay from staff or make them take holiday, as this is not fair and could be unlawful. Workplaces should be warm enough too, it adds, pointing to the absolute legal minimum of 16° Celsius, or 13°C if much of the work indoors involves severe physical effort. Employers also have to ensure that workers are not working outdoors in very cold weather unless absolutely necessary, and even then, only if they have suitable clothing and welfare facilities. The TUC is also urging employers to take commonsense measures, including ensuring entrances to workplaces are thoroughly gritted and not slippery. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should be made to put their health at risk to get to work or be punished by losing pay or holiday when they can’t get in because of the weather.” She added: “Many good employers now have ‘bad weather’ policies in place so staff know what to do. But bosses must also be aware of the difficulties faced by staff whose children’s schools are closed due to the weather. Some may be able to take their children to work or work from home. But those who can’t need support and understanding from their employers.”
UK workers gave their employers £31.2 billion in free labour last year by doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis of official statistics published by the TUC. The figures were released on 23 February, the TUC’s 14th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. It marks the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime finishes the unpaid days they do every year and starts earning for themselves. The analysis showed that nearly 5 million people put in an average of 7.4 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2017. This is equivalent to missing out on pay averaging £6,265 each. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Lots of us are willing to put in a bit of extra time when it’s needed. But it’s a problem if it happens all the time.” She added: “If you’re worried about the long-hours culture where you work, get together with workmates and join a union. That’s the best way to get your voice heard, and stop your boss breaking the rules.” The TUC analysis found that while public sector employees make up a quarter (25 per cent) of all employees, they account for more than a third (39 per cent) of all unpaid overtime. Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of the public sector union UNISON, commented: “Over-stretched and under-appreciated staff are at risk of burning out or giving up on a career in the public sector altogether. While managers need to ensure that staff work their proper hours, the government needs to give public sector workers the decent pay rise they all deserve.”
Thousands of former miners say they are being denied compensation for a debilitating hand condition caused by their jobs, despite an official recommendation backing payouts. The Department of Work and Pensions has refused to recognise Dupuytren’s contracture as a prescribed disease qualifying for industrial injuries benefits, a decision described by mining union NUM as ‘grotesque’. Dupuytren’s is a condition in which the fingers gradually curl over towards to palm, and which in extreme cases can lead to amputation. It occurs in workers using tools like spades and shovels, or hand-held vibrating tools. Four years ago, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) submitted a report to the work and pensions secretary recommending the condition should be recognised as an industrial disease. However, in late February ministers finally rejected this advice, noting: “Only after full consideration of the impact is the Secretary of State in a position to decide whether to accept or reject a recommendation from IIAC and to agree to amend the prescribed diseases legislation. The recommendation has been carefully considered but it has been decided not to add Dupuytren’s contracture to the list of prescribed diseases.” It added the government wanted to “ensure that it is targeting support to those with the greatest needs.” NUM secretary Chris Kitchen commented: “The NUM have always demanded that the IIAC report be accepted but now after almost four years since the report was published and despite the many requests, the government have finally decided to let people know that those suffering from a condition clearly caused by their employment cannot claim for it as an industrial disease, despite evidence to say it is. This once again shows contempt for the working person.” He said the government’s claim it is targeting those with the greatest needs “is as grotesque as it is insulting. The NUM will continue to campaign for this condition to be prescribed as an industrial disease.”
A decision by the Scottish government to put on hold the controversial decision to merge the British Transport Police (BTP) with Police Scotland has been welcomed by train drivers’ union ASLEF. The plan has been bitterly fought by transport unions and opposition politicians, who say it would compromise morale as well as safety. Rail unions have argued a specialist police force is necessary to address the unique safety and security threats facing staff and passengers on the rail system. Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: “We welcome the decision to put the merger on hold. But the SNP government should listen to the rail companies, to the rail trade unions, to passengers, and to the Police Federation, and call off this disastrous merger for good.” He added: “The proposals to merge the BTP with Police Scotland are opposed by everyone who knows anything about the way the railway works. BTP in Scotland understands the way the railway works and has the special expertise needed to deal with the special problems encountered on the railway every day.” The BTP was due to be absorbed into Police Scotland on 1 April 2019 – a date and a decision condemned by ASLEF as “a savage April fool’s joke”. But Police Scotland has admitted that date cannot be met “without compromising public safety”. Manuel Cortes, leader of the rail union TSSA, said the merger should be called off. “They got it badly wrong and should now bin their reckless and wrecking proposals,” he said. His union criticised the merger proposal in August 2017, when it emerged the railway system had been identified as a terrorist target (Risks 814).
Rail union RMT has confirmed that guards and drivers on Southern Rail will take further strike action in the on-going dispute in defence of the role of the guard, the extension of driver only operation and the guarantee of a second safety-critical member of staff on Southern services. RMT’s national executive decided that because neither the company nor the government had made “any serious efforts to resolve the dispute”, further strike action will take place on Monday 12 March 2018. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “RMT is bitterly disappointed that Southern Rail and the DfT [Department for Transport] continue to reject our call for round table discussions involving all parties with an interest in resolving this dispute.” He added: “RMT pays tribute to our Southern Rail guards and drivers who have stood firm for nearly two years now in the fight for rail safety despite outrageous abuse and intimidation from the company. They are a credit to their communities and to the whole trade union movement as they continue to take action for safety in Britain’s longest running industrial dispute. The union remains ready and waiting for genuine and meaningful talks with all parties.”
Following a ‘robust campaign’ sustained over two years, the firefighters’ union FBU has succeeded in overturning a decision to downgrade fire appliances at Crewe and Ellesmere Port from full-time to on call, protecting 40 firefighter posts. Following the Cheshire Fire Authority’s initial backing for a proposal to downgrade both stations’ appliances, the union pressed successfully for the decision to be reviewed. The February review resulted in cross party authority members rejecting the fire service’s proposals. They voted instead to keep two full-time appliances at Crewe and to maintain the full-time appliance at Ellesmere Port, whilst commissioning a review to look at relocating it. FBU secretary Andrew Fox-Hewitt said the union had conducted a “vigorous 12-month campaign.” He added: “Our efforts paid off. The decision has saved 40 posts, all of whom are FBU members. It was a joyous moment in the meeting as the vote came in, and FBU members all across the county have been in touch to say they are proud of their officials and union.” He added: “We know the fight isn’t over. We need to bring about a fit for purpose funding settlement from central government, and we have to put an end to the stockpiling of reserves by fire and rescue authorities. But this was a significant victory, and one we felt worth sharing because it proves that campaigning really can work, and that it’s worth keeping going even when the odds seem stacked against you. Bottom line is that FBU members refused to allow firefighter and public safety to be put at risk.”
Twenty British brands have still not signed up to a new safety accord for garment workers, originally introduced following the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, campaigners have revealed. The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which is due for renewal in less than 100 days, is to be replaced by a new accord covering two million workers. So far, 109 garment companies across the world have signed the new agreement, but 20 British companies, including Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Next, Morrisons and Sainsbury's, are among those that have not. Clean Clothes Campaign international co-ordinator Ineke Zeldenrust said: “Not signing the 2018 accord means that, 100 days from now, workers will be left in unmonitored factories. As a consequence, garment brands will fall short on their due diligence obligations to keep the workers in their supply chain safe.” Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary at IndustriALL, the global union for the garment sector, said: “There is still no credible alternative to the Accord to protect worker safety in Bangladesh. It is simply not an option for brands to go back to the company-led programmes that so clearly failed to prevent large-scale factory tragedies before. Signing the 2018 Accord is the only way for companies to meet their due diligence obligations to ensure that Bangladeshi garment workers can work in safe factories.” Over 1,100 garment workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse.
The Court of Appeal has reset the threshold for asbestos-related cases, which could pave the way for thousands of potential claims. Lord Justice Jackson said the High Court judge in Bussey v Anglia Heating Ltd had felt ‘constrained’ by relying on data that was never intended to be used as a yardstick for making claims. Veronica Bussey, whose husband David died in 2016 of an asbestos cancer, appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal has now found in her favour, allowing her to seek damages from her husband’s former employer - even though the asbestos exposure he endured was below the legal limits for a claim. Guidelines produced 40 years ago about acceptable levels of asbestos fibres in the air have been used as the test for assessing the claims of victims since the ruling in a 2011 legal case, Williams v the University of Birmingham. This latest ruling is being hailed by claimant lawyers as an acknowledgment the application of historic data is wrong, and that the courts have wrongly applied the measurements as a guide to employers of a so-called ‘safe’ level of asbestos in which people could work. Caroline Pinfold, an industrial disease solicitor at London firm Fieldfisher, who represented Veronica Bussey, said: “These data that measured levels of asbestos fibres in the air have been wrongly applied by employers and their lawyers to deny or delay claimants the compensation they deserved. I know the ruling will come as a huge relief for mesothelioma sufferers and their families who have had their cases put on hold waiting for this decision.” Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos-related disease team at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “We very much welcome the findings of the Court of Appeal, that once a risk of injury was identified, employers ought to have taken steps to minimise risks of injury to employees. The judgment now means that many other victims of asbestos disease who find themselves in a similar position to David Bussey may now be able to access the justice they deserve.”
A construction worker was killed in a fall at a Qatar 2022 World Cup stadium building site while using “potentially lethal equipment”, an inquest has heard. Zachary Cox, 40, plummeted 130ft (40m) at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on 19 January 2017. He sustained brain injuries and a broken neck in the fall, Brighton and Hove Coroner's Court heard. Mr Cox, who was born in Johannesburg but later lived in Hove and London, fell when a faulty hoist he was using to put a suspended walkway in place broke. His safety harness also snapped under the weight and he dropped head first. He was pronounced dead in hospital. Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley found he died from multiple injuries after a fall from height after new work practices, which she branded "inherently unsafe", were introduced. The inquest heard extra hoists were brought in to speed up the construction after problems with some of the 1.8 tonne metal platforms had to be fixed, putting the project behind schedule. But the extra hoists were in a poor state of care and not fit for purpose. Safety certificates were not presented before use, but the hoists were still marked as safe. The coroner said there was no evidence of a risk assessment being carried out but if there was one, it had been “deeply flawed.” Recording a narrative conclusion, the coroner said: “The site managers at the stadium knew or should have known that they were effectively requiring a group of their workers to rely on potentially lethal equipment.” The verdict noted the new system “was chaotic, unprofessional, unthinking and downright dangerous.” Commenting after the inquest, Zachary Cox's sisters-in-law Ella Joseph and Hazel Mayes said: “We demand reassurance that those responsible for making the decisions that ultimately led to Zac's death will be held to account and justice will be served.” Mr Cox was employed by a South African subcontractor, which was working for a German firm.
An ejection seat manufacturer prosecuted over the death of a Red Arrows pilot thrown from his jet has been fined £1.1m, in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution. Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, 35, was ejected while conducting pre-flight safety checks at RAF Scampton in 2011. The parachute on the seat did not then deploy and the airman was fatally injured. Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd previously admitted criminal breaches of safety laws at Lincoln Crown Court. Sentencing the company, Mrs Justice Carr said it was “an entirely preventable tragedy. A significant number of pilots, and also potential passengers, were exposed to the risk of harm over a lengthy period.” She added: “Here the risk of harm was of the highest level - death.” In addition to the fine, Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd had already agreed to pay £550,000 in prosecution costs. The firm admitted the criminal health and safety breach on the basis it had failed to provide a written warning to the RAF about over-tightening a bolt on the aircraft. HSE operations manager Harvey Wild said: “We understand that a great deal of time has passed since this tragic event. However, this was an extremely complex investigation and no prosecution could be initiated until after the Inquest and other inquiries had concluded. We would like to publicly thank Sean’s family for their patience and support throughout.”
A Rochdale recycling company been fined after an employee’s arm was dragged into unguarded machinery - despite the worker having previously alerted management to the safety breach. Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 23 March 2016, the Anglo Recycling Ltd worker suffered a compound fracture whilst working on a carpet recycling line, when his arm was drawn into machinery and trapped between a conveyor and roller. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to assess the risk and guard the rear access point on the machine. The injured worker had previously alerted the company to the missing rear guard, but no action was taken. Anglo Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,500. HSE Inspector Sharon Butler said: “This case is a stark reminder of the consequences of a failure to adequately guard machinery and implement safe systems of work.”
A construction firm has been prosecuted after a worker was seriously injured when he fell through the fragile roof of a farm building that was due to be demolished. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 4 February 2016, an inexperienced labourer working for Fine Dimensions Limited was asked to assist in minor roof work. He stood on a fragile skylight panel and fell to the concrete floor below, sustaining head and chest injuries. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation established that the roof work was not properly planned and, as a result, insufficient precautions were taken including a failure to provide the necessary edge and fall protection. The investigation also found that the company failed to provide sufficient instruction and training for the inexperienced worker. Fine Dimensions Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,256.45. HSE inspector Grayam Barnes said: “Work at height, and in the vicinity of fragile surfaces remains a major problem in the construction sector and must be properly controlled to avoid unnecessary injuries to workers.”
A global union fact-finding mission to Glencore’s copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has uncovered alarming mistreatment of workers, directly contradicting Glencore’s claims. At a meeting with about 80 workers from the mines, IndustriALL heard of “systemic human and workers’ rights abuses ranging from constant threats of dismissal, poor health and safety practices, occupational diseases, racism and discrimination, unfair and unjust job classifications, low remuneration, and inferior salaries for local workers compared to foreign workers.” Glencore, which has just posted record profits, is facing increasing demand for cobalt from companies like Renault, Volkswagen and Volvo, who use the metal in electric batteries. Cobalt from Glencore’s DRC mines is also used in the batteries powering Apple and Samsung phones. Members of IndustriALL affiliate TUMEC described their conditions of employment as “no less than slavery.” Workers reported that their families are exposed to occupational diseases because they bring their work clothing home, as there are no laundry or washing facilities provided at work. They are limited to a ration of 750 ml of drinking water per shift. IndustriALL mining director Glen Mpufane, who led the mission, said: “Glencore’s rampant violations of the basic human rights of DRC workers present a serious supply chain risk in the global cobalt market.”
Global building union BWI is urging union members working for multinational building materials company LafargeHolcim (LH) to use 28 April to highlight the firm’s deadly record and to call for improvements. Calling for action on International Workers’ Memorial Day, the global union said: “It is time to send a strong signal toward LH management in order to improve health and safety and respect workers’ lives! We call upon you to take action on 28 April, the International commemoration day for dead and injured workers.” BWI said its demands include a call for LH to keep a promise to “respect workers’ lives.” It wants the firm to work with unions to improve health and safety practices and to “involve workers and their trade unions in the health and safety dialogue”. It adds there should be an end to “top-down approaches in health and safety.” BWI said a “breakdown in social dialogue is happening in front of an extremely poor health and safety record of the company. While 65 people were killed on the job at LafargeHolcim last year, not a single joint health and safety meeting on global level took place so far despite several prior announcements.” It added: “Let us stand shoulder to shoulder to make change and save workers’ lives in LafargeHolcim. And the very first condition is the establishment of a fair global social dialogue at all levels.”
Ÿ BWI news release. TUC 28 April 2018 webpages. Email details of UK events to the TUC health and safety office to be included in the TUC listing. ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2018 campaign website and theme announcement in English, Spanish and French. Hazards Campaign 28 April 2018 resources.
When wages go up, workplace sickness absence goes down, a new study has found. Research by the University of California Davis, published in the current issue of BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, concluded better wages led to improved worker health, with improved job satisfaction and better safety programmes coming as part of the better pay package. The study found lower wage workers who received a US$1 raise called in sick less and considered themselves healthier than those who did not get a raise. “The minimum wage generates contentious debates, virtually all of them focused on economics,” said study co-author Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences and a researcher with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis. “Our results support raising minimum wages because it can lead to previously unmeasured reductions in job absences and improvements in worker health.” The study calculated that a US$1 wage increase translated into approximately four to 10 fewer absentee hours per worker, per year. Additional analyses revealed that a US$1 raise in the minimum wage resulted in a 2.1 per cent increase in the probability that workers would report themselves to be in good or excellent health. “It is uncommon to see minimum wage effects research that focuses on difficult-to-measure factors such as worker health, even though a less healthy workforce can be a significant drain on productivity and finances,” said Leigh. “Our study shows that it is possible to do.” The number of low wage workers has grown steadily in the US over the past 15 years.
Ÿ UC Davis news release. Juan Du and J Paul Leigh. Effects of Minimum Wages on Absence from Work Due to Illness, BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, volume 18, issue 1, January 2018. The Pump Handle blog.
Not only does a combination of better rights and better regulations save lives, they are good for the economy, an official US government report has concluded. A draft report to the US Congress prepared by the US Office of Management and Budget estimates that for workplace health and safety, costs from regulations in 2015 were US$0.5bn to US$0.6bn, but these were dwarfed by the benefits, calculated at US$1.2 to US$3.1bn. The report, published quietly late on a Friday evening after lengthy delays, blows a hole in the Trump adminstration’s argument for deregulation of workplace health, safety and environmental laws, said Public Citizen. Amit Narang, from the consumer rights thinktank’s Congress Watch Division, said: “This report fundamentally undercuts the justification for President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda by showing that the benefits of federal regulation in protecting public health and safety as well as our environment and economy significantly outweigh the costs to corporations.” He added: “Every year that the government has calculated the costs and benefits of federal regulations, it always has shown that health, safety and environmental protections are one of the best investments we can make – with returns on investment that would make Fortune 500 companies jealous. These results are even more compelling given that the cost-benefit methodology used in this report habitually overstates compliance costs and understates the less tangible but very real benefits of regulatory safeguards.” Narang warned: “Despite the administration’s attempts to muddy the waters, the public will not be fooled and the data is clear: Americans will pay a steep price for Trump’s deregulatory agenda.”
Ÿ Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Agency Compliance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, US Office of Management and Budget, published February 2018. Public Citizen news release.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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