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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 840 - 10 March 2018
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







Unions protect workers from feeling the big chill

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) said it was inundated with reports last week of employers forcing workers to travel to work, despite severe weather warnings and clear advice from Police Scotland and the Scottish government to avoid travel. In response, STUC launched a nationwide survey to gauge the extent of these problems in workplaces across Scotland, and to give some advice to workers on how they can collectively challenge this clearly unfair behaviour through a trade union. Dave Moxham, STUC deputy general secretary, said: “It has become clear to us that many employers have chosen to put their profits over the safety of their workforce.” He added: “There is no excuse for not paying heed to these weather warnings. Requiring staff to get to work in adverse conditions is exploitation, pure and simple. It is also exploitative to cancel shifts without pay. We accept that many employers have done the right thing. Others no doubt wish to do so. However, they need to develop clear policies, consult properly with trade unions, and support the right of their workers to join a trade union.” STUC survey findings released on 6 March revealed almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of workers were not satisfied with their employer’s response: 43 per cent were required to travel during a red weather warning; and 69 per cent of those with caring responsibilities said their employer did not take any account of changing caring responsibilities as a result of the weather. “Crucially, it also found that those with a trade union rep to speak to about health and safety concerns were more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their employer’s response,” said the STUC. The Scottish government and the STUC have now agreed to develop a Fair Work Charter, focusing on the treatment of workers affected by severe weather or other emergencies and setting out principles that employers should adopt in future. The Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, said employment laws must be rewritten to stop bosses forcing workers to risk their lives by venturing out in very adverse weather conditions.

Ÿ  Joint Scottish government and STUC statement. STUC blog. Morning Star.

Strike threat over power firm’s ‘hypocritical’ worker monitoring

EDF Energy smart meter installers in London have voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for strike action over the imposition of tracker devices in vehicles and oppressive and ‘hypocritical’ monitoring of workers. Unite, which represents the 60 meter installers and fixers, called on the company ‘to step on the accelerator’ and settle a dispute over work systems that are placing excessive pressure on workers. There have already been five days of strikes. The dispute also centres on random drug and alcohol testing. What particularly irks Unite is that managers have refused to have the tracker devices in their own company cars and are not included in the drink and drug testing regime. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said in order to meet a government target of a smart meter in every household by 2020 “the energy companies will need to install 24 meters a minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.” He said an EDF promise to resolve the dispute had so far delivered nothing. “Drug and alcohol testing and installation of tracker devices will cost the company significant sums,” he said, adding “what runs through this dispute is the hypocritical ‘them and us’ culture that EDF Energy is riddled with – there is one law for the bosses and another for the workers.” An ‘overwhelming’ 92 per cent of the EDF installers voted for strike action over the excessive monitoring.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Union safety warning over privatised probation hostel staff

The government is gambling with safety by privatising night-time probation hostel staff, unions have warned. The warning came as private companies Sodexo and OCS starting night-time supervision in probation hostels accommodating high risk ex-offenders. The private firms will work alongside the National Probation Service, which previously ran the service alone. Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed that the private companies will be allowed to employ unvetted staff for the first two months of the contract. UNISON national officer for police and justice Ben Priestley said the “dangerous experiment” of privatising night-time supervision meant ministers were “gambling with public safety.” He said: “Probation hostels are meant to add to public safety, not diminish it. Until now, hostels were staffed by highly skilled and well-trained professionals. Allowing employees who are potentially neither trained nor vetted to look after high-risk ex-offenders is placing probation staff, other hostel residents and the communities in which the hostels are located at risk.” Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the probation officers’ union Napo, said it was “absolutely disgraceful” that the Ministry of Justice had gone ahead with the change despite safety issues being identified months ago. “Yet again this government is putting private profit over public safety,” he said. “Allowing staff to work with high and very high-risk-of-harm clients when they haven’t been vetted is wholly unacceptable.” Recent figures from HM Inspectorate of Probation show that more than one in ten recalls to prison nationally were from probation hostel residents, with 2,962 sent back behind bars for breaching the terms of their prison licence in 2015/2016. The National Probation Service runs 88 hostels in England and Wales, providing over 2,000 residential bed spaces for offenders in the community and housing mainly high-risk residents.

Ÿ  UNISON news release. Morning Star.

Everyone deserves a safe and secure workplace

Everyone has the right to expect a safe and secure workplace, UNISON’s community conference in Southport has heard. Workers in the community, voluntary and housing sectors should not have to accept violent or aggressive behaviour as “a normal part of their role”, the union said. The conference heard a litany of examples of violence and aggression faced by UNISON members working to support some of the most vulnerable people in society. A recent review of violence against care and support workers found that 93 per cent reported being verbally abused, 71 per cent said they had been threatened or intimidated at some point in their employment and 53 per cent had reported a physical assault. Several factors were linked to an increased risk of violence, UNISON said. Lone working, working additional hours and travelling to provide support in the community all placed workers at an elevated risk. Other factors included administering medication or handling valuables, supporting individuals with learning disabilities, working with drink or drug affected individuals who require the services of support staff and supporting people with stress-related illnesses. The UNISON community conference agreed UNISON should investigate why the prevalence of violence is rising, provide guidance and support to affected staff, and share best practice on tackling the issue.

Ÿ  UNISON news release. TUC violence at work guidance. Hit list: TUC violence and abuse reporting form, Hazards magazine.

‘Determined’ rail workers walk out again for guards

Workers at Merseyrail and Northern rail mounted a “united and determined” 24-hour strike on 3 March in RMT’s long-running battle against plans to remove safety-critical guards from trains. Southern staff are set to strike on 12 March over the same issue. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members on both Northern and Merseyrail stand united and determined in these two separate disputes, which are about putting public safety before private profit.” The union said rail staff ensured the maximum possible number of trains was kept running during last week’s Arctic weather conditions. “We will not accept a situation where guards are hailed as heroes one minute and threatened with the sack the next,” said the RMT leader. A 5 March joint statement from the British Transport Police (BTP) and the rail industry warned: “Self-evacuating from trains is never a good idea as it places you and others at significant risk. You are risking your life trespassing on live tracks. Further delays are also inevitable if people self-evacuate as power has to be turned off for safety reasons.” Under-threat train guards were widely praised throughout the bad weather for providing safety advice, support and reassurance to stranded passengers. They provide a wide-range of safety and emergency expertise.

Ÿ  RMT news release. BTP news release. Morning Star.

German embassy lobbied over Northern Rail safety

Members of the rail union RMT held a lobby outside the German Embassy in London on 13 March. The action came on the first anniversary of Northern Rail members striking to defend the role of the safety critical role of a guard, before handing over a letter to the ambassador about the dispute. The union demanded “that the German state end their profiteering on UK railways through their rail operation Arriva, which runs the Northern Rail franchise, and is helping to drive the moves to axe guards on the service.” RMT said its protest made clear the strength of passenger feeling on the questions of safety and security, as well as union members’ resolve to carry on the fight in the dispute. According to RMT, nearly half a million trains a year that currently have a guaranteed safety-trained guard on board, will be driver-only if Arriva gets its way. It adds the proposed move would have a ‘big impact on safety’ and the level of service for passengers. Guards are trained to deal with evacuations, derailments, overhead power line faults, fires on trains, signalling systems, train failures, train door failures, line blockages and more. The guard is also necessary to deal with any situation where the driver is incapacitated or trapped in an incident or accident. In addition, without a guard there is no member of staff on board to help prevent anti-social behaviour, crime or deal with security threats. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT members on Northern Rail have fought to put public safety before private profit for a year now,” adding its lobby of the German Embassy took the union message “to the doorstep of those who could very easily assist in brokering a fair and lasting solution that puts safety first.”

Ÿ  RMT news release.

Respect call on Liverpool hospital job

Workers’ rights and access for unions must be respected on the stalled Royal Liverpool Hospital development, a construction union has demanded. Unite made its call after it emerged that Laing O’Rourke is the favourite to replace collapsed construction giant Carillion as the main contractor on the stalled project. Unite said Laing O’Rourke is well known for being anti-union and has an especially poor history on Liverpool hospital projects. The company was the main contractor on the Alder Hey hospital project in Liverpool, where it refused to allow unions access to the workforce and barred the appointment of union safety representatives, the union said. It added that the Alder Hey project had “a very poor safety record. In the space of a fortnight in 2014 there were five accidents on the site including broken limbs and a worker suffering a crushed pelvis.” Unite said it will be contacting the Royal Liverpool Hospital Trust, local MPs and the local directly-elected Mayors to ensure that the union has full and free access to the workforce. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Workers on the hospital project have been in the frontline of Carillion’s collapse. It is now imperative that a new contractor ensures that workers’ rights are protected and the highest safety levels adhered to. It would be a disgrace if this flagship project was completed by a company boosting its profits by exploiting workers, ignoring workplace rights and cutting corners on safety.” She added: “We will be working with local representatives to ensure our concerns are listened to, and further delays to the project are avoided.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.


Fair managers care about sick employees

How a firm supports people returning to work from sick leave can have a big impact on whether a worker feels they are treated fairly by their organisation and their return is a positive and healthy experience. A new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Stockholm University, found there is a clear link between a person’s health and their perceptions of fairness at work over time. The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, could have implications for how managers help employees return to work following a period of absence, or how they support those struggling to manage long-term health issues while at work. According to the study, organisations should make sure they have well-designed routines for workers with health problems. However, organisations also need to take into consideration the wider work environment to ensure colleagues can offer social support while the individual settles back into work. The research team, led by UEA’s Norwich Business School, used data from a large-scale population survey that has been carried out in Sweden every two years since 2006. It found an association between three health indicators – self-rated health, depressive symptoms and sickness absence – and social support at work over time. In turn, social support was also strongly linked to perceptions of fairness in decision-making at work over time. Dr Constanze Eib, an expert in organisational behaviour at Norwich Business School, and lead author of the study, said: “Our results show a strong association between feelings of unfairness and the amount of support perceived by colleagues. It could be that when you come back to work you still feel unwell, or more unhappy and your co-workers might pick up on this and feel inclined to keep their distance. Added to that, they might have been picking up your work while you were away and all this might contribute to them showing you less concern. That can lead to feelings of being less included in workplace discussions, less valued, and a sense that you are not being treated fairly.” Dr Eib concluded: “It comes down to managers really caring about their employees. They need to make sure they understand their workforce and can foster a supportive culture between colleagues – as well as taking steps to ensure procedures and decision-making processes are unbiased, robust and transparent.”

Ÿ  UEA news release. Constanze Eib, Claudia Bernhard-Oettel, Linda L Magnusson Hanson and Constanze Leineweber. Organizational justice and health: Studying mental preoccupation with work and social support as mediators for lagged and reversed relationships, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, online first, 5 March 2018.

Harassment of staff rife in Scottish parliament

One fifth of Scottish parliament staff - including almost one in three women - have experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour while working at Holyrood. The parliament published the results of a confidential survey of MSPs and staff which received input from more than 1,000 workers. A fifth of respondents said they had experienced unacceptable behaviour, including 30 per cent of women. Presiding officer Ken Macintosh said the survey results “make difficult reading.” The survey was set up following concerns about harassment and inappropriate behaviour in politics, with claims of a “catalogue of abuse” at Holyrood. A total of 1,039 surveys were filled out, and while 78 per cent of respondents said they had not experienced harassment or sexist behaviour, 20 per cent said they had. This included 30 per cent of women, with the most common complaints noted including sexist comments and “looks, leers, comments or gestures of a sexual nature.” A total of 5 per cent reported unwanted physical contact, with this including complaints of “invasion of personal space”, hugging, kissing and groping. Of those who reported harassment or sexist behaviour, 45 per cent identified the perpetrator as an MSP - those responsible for such behaviour were found to be “predominantly male and tend to be in a position of authority over those experiencing it”. A joint working group set up to look at the problem will now consider the findings, with presiding officer Ken Macintosh saying it had already started to identity the key strands of work it will take forward to address the issues raised.

Ÿ  Scottish parliament news release. BBC News Online.

Apprentice, 16, badly injured in fall from scaffold

A scaffolding company has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a 16-year-old apprentice joiner fell approximately four metres from a scaffold platform. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 6 September 2016, the apprentice was passing roof tiles from the loading bay to a colleague on the scaffold when he caught his foot in a gap between the scaffold platform and the loading bay. The apprentice fell backwards under a single guard rail to the ground below, sustaining injuries including a fractured cheekbone, broken wrist and injuries to his ribs. He also required 13 stitches for a deep cut above his left eye. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the loading bay edge protection did not include an intermediate guard-rail or toe board. Bland Scaffolding Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £918 in costs. HSE inspector Trisha Elvy commented: “This case highlights the importance of following well-known industry guidance to design and erect scaffolding in a safe manner, a fall from this height could have easily been fatal.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Recycling plant blast left worker in coma, eight injured

A recycling company responsible for an explosion and blaze at a Lingfield industrial site, that left a worker in a coma and eight people injured, has been fined. The explosion on 3 October 2011 ripped the side out of the building and blew debris across the neighbouring field, injuring eight workers, five seriously. A 30-year-old worker was placed in an induced coma and remained in hospital for 15 weeks. In December 2017, Portsmouth Crown Court heard how the massive explosion occurred at the Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd site due to the incorrect storage of print toner on site. A joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) found that Ereco failed to ensure there was a safe system of work in place to reduce the risk posed by dangerous substances. It was not carrying out suitable fire risk assessments or following guidelines on dangerous substances and explosive atmospheres regulations. The investigation also found that Paramount Waste Extraction Ltd, the company that designed the machinery used to shred and process the toner cartridges, did not consider the likely misuse of the machine by overloading the processor with cartridges with more than a residual amount of toner powder left inside. It was found they also relied on generic data to determine whether an explosive atmosphere may arise. Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd was fined £30,000 for two criminal safety offences and ordered to pay costs of £30,000. Paramount Waste Extraction Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay £16,000 costs. HSE inspector Michelle Canning said: “All the employees involved in this incident are extremely lucky this explosion didn’t prove fatal. Ereco failed to take the required precautions before starting a process of work with dangerous substances and this failure resulted in this serious, life threatening explosion.” She added: “Both designers and suppliers must ensure that the risks of using their equipment are eliminated through safe design, and this should include taking into account foreseeable misuse.”

Surrey County Council news release. HSE news release. Get Surrey.

Air baggage handling firm in double trouble

Airport baggage and cargo handler Swissport GB Limited has been fined following two worker injuries in the space of a few weeks at Luton Airport. On 23 June 2015, a team leader for Swissport GB Limited was using a flatbed lorry and a belt loader with his team, unloaded the bags from an aircraft. Whilst standing on the back of the flatbed, the team leader directed a colleague to take the bags to the airport inbound terminal. The colleague climbed into the cab of the flatbed, checked his mirrors and drove away, not realising the team leader was still on the vehicle. The worker fell off the moving vehicle onto the ground, sustaining bruising and damage to his spine. He was off work for eight weeks. On 9 September 2015 a second team leader employed by Swissport was working at Luton Airport on a night shift loading cargo onto an aircraft using a high-loader. A high-loader has a platform that raises cargo from the ground up to the aircraft hold and extends to approximately 9 metres. The high-loader had been partially raised when the team leader began climbing the access ladder. As he was climbing the ladder, one of his feet slipped and he fell backwards to the ground, suffering an impact injury to his right foot. Luton Crown Court heard that Swissport GB Limited had not adequately assessed the risk or implemented a safe system of work to address the risk of employees falling from the rear of flatbed vehicles being driven away with workers still on the flatbed. The court heard that Swissport had also failed to ensure that work at height on high-loaders was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner. The firm pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £502,000 and ordered to pay costs of £44,444.

Ÿ  HSE news release.


Scotland gets geared up for Workers’ Memorial Day

Scottish union body STUC and safety campaign group Scottish Hazards have produced an online listing of International Workers’ Memorial Day events. With nearly two months to go before the annual 28 April event, six events are already planned, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Alexandria, Kilmarnock and Bonnyrigg. The event this year has a union organising theme, because ‘unions make work safer’.

Ÿ  Scottish Hazards/STUC listing of International Worker’s Memorial Day events in Scotland. 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 international events and campaign website and theme announcement in English, Spanish and French. Hazards Campaign 28 April 2018 resources. When tweeting details of your 28 April plans and resources, use the hashtag #iwmd18


Australia: Women report 'shocking' treatment at work

Less than a third of Australian working women feel they are being treated equally, and one in 10 report they have experienced sexual harassment, according to a landmark national survey. Researchers at the University of Sydney surveyed more than 2,000 women and 500 men across Australia aged between 16 and 40 for the Women and the Future of Work study into women's attitudes and experiences in the workplace. The study found 10 per cent of female respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment on the job. “Physical touching and harassment is certainly alive and well in our workplaces,” said report co-author Professor Rae Cooper. “Of our 2,000 women, 200 are reporting to us that presently they are experiencing sexual harassment. There's a lot of underreporting of sexual harassment, so it's probably actually higher.” The survey found 18 per cent of women with a disability, 16 per cent of women from ethnically or linguistically diverse backgrounds, and 14 per cent of women currently studying reported having experienced harassment.

Ÿ  University of Sydney news release. ABC News. Sydney Morning Herald. The Guardian.

Australia: Claim nurse’s murder not work-related is questioned

The family of Australian nurse Gayle Woodford, who was murdered while on-call in the outback, is challenging an official ruling that her death was not work-related. An ABC documentary has challenging the conclusion and says bereaved family members are “angry” and “insulted” by the decision by the South Australia safety regulator that her death was not work-related. Ms Woodford had been a remote area nurse with Nganampa Health Council, based in a small community in Fregon, for almost five years before she was killed on 23 March 2016. She was on-call on the night she was lured out of her home and raped and murdered by Dudley Davey, who is now serving life with a non-parole period of 32 years. Her family has now revealed that the regulator, SafeWork SA, the state's workplace health and safety regulator, determined her death was not linked to her night-time on-call work. In a letter to husband Keith Woodford, dated 25 November 2016, SafeWork SA said it had completed its investigation and sent its findings to the coroner's office, declaring “the death of your wife was not work-related.” SafeWork SA is now reviewing the decision in the light of questions raised by the ABC's investigative programme Australian Story. The investigation exposed the issues behind the nurse’s disappearance and the dangers for medical staff working on the outback frontline. A number of Gayle Woodford's former colleagues told the programme they had frequently raised safety concerns about being on-call alone at clinical meetings. Since Gayle Woodford's death, the health service has adopted a community escort system which stops patients going directly to nurses’ houses after hours.

Ÿ  ABC News online. Final Call, Australian Story.

Laos: Meeting does ground work for plan to end asbestos use

Unions, government officials, health agencies and campaigners have met in Laos to coordinate a plan to ban asbestos. The workshop was organised by the country’s Ministry of Health, supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Union Aid Abroad -APHEDA, to discuss the development of a National Action Plan to ban the use of chrysotile asbestos – the only remaining form of asbestos in commercial use - and to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in the country. Participants included representatives from nine Ministries, the Lao Federation of Trade Unions, the Cancer Centre of Mittaphap and Mahasot Hospitals and Health Science University. Dr Juliet Fleischl, the WHO representative to Lao PDR, told the meeting: “About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. According to global estimates, at least 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques, resulting from occupational, take-home and neighbourhood exposures.” The meeting heard the amount of asbestos imported by Laos has been increasing year-on-year, reaching over 8,000 tons in 2013. This is the highest per capital consumption among Asia-Pacific countries. A National Asbestos Profile recently developed by the Lao government with support from APHEDA, showed that there were 16 factories producing asbestos-containing roof tiles. The national consumption of asbestos fibre increased almost 240 per cent in just three years between 2010 and 2013. WHO recommended that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of chrysotile asbestos. The meeting heard there are safer substitutes for asbestos, and there was a need to adopt the safer alternatives while creating new job opportunities.

Ÿ  APHEDA news release.


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