|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 email@example.com.|
Applied psychologists in the NHS lobbied MPs this week with an urgent call on the government to deliver on its promise to boost mental health funding. Their union, Unite, said workers in the service are suffering from “plummeting morale” and “stress and strain.” Unite said its recent survey revealed that morale among NHS workers has hit rock bottom, with 86.9 per cent of 3,112 respondents saying that workplace morale was worse or a lot worse than it was a year ago. The union said further 87.8 per cent said that increased work-related stress is to blame. Unite national officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Applied psychologists are speaking out with a very clear message that unless this government delivers on its promised boost to mental health funding, the service and its workforce will be plunged into chaos. Our members care passionately about their patients and the service they provide, but with the rates of mental health problems escalating, especially among children and young people, time needs to be called on the erosion of higher skilled posts and the introduction of targets which has set work related stress soaring.” The Unite officer added: “MPs need to heed this warning. Public access to applied psychologist specialists is being lost… We are losing expertise in the NHS as a result.”
UNISON is calling for action plan to be put in place to help Dumfries and Galloway council staff facing work-related stress. The public sector union’s survey of nearly 2,500 workers on the Dumfries and Galloway local authority found half of them had faced issues in the past 12 months. UNISON branch secretary Grant Coltart said the council did have some measures in place but said more could be done. He said the union was regularly dealing with staff suffering difficulties. “We have got members coming into us on a day-to-day basis experiencing work-related stress,” he said. “We are hoping with our survey that the council will now adopt an action plan and take it forward. The tools are already there in the council - there are already processes and procedures in place.” He said some more work on mental health might be required, along with greater awareness of the procedures available. “Every time this council is being asked for savings it has an effect,” he said. “It has an effect on those individuals who want to leave the council now, who are looking at early retirement, who have decided they have had enough. But it also has an effect on those who are still left to deal with that workload that still needs to be done.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson called last week for a broad approach to mental health in the workplace, adding “that is best done in co-operation with the union” (Risks 841).
Ÿ BBC News Online. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, number 141, 2018. Related article in the same issue: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists.
Teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians are facing a soaring workload as staff are cut and they are increasingly expected to teach, according to a National Education Union (NEU) survey of over 1,700 support staff members. More than half (54 per cent) of respondents reported they are carrying out more tasks that used to be performed by teachers, such as marking pupils’ work and data entry. Six out of ten (60 per cent) said the number of support staff has decreased in their school. The cut in support staff places more pressure on the workload of the remaining support staff, NEU said. Figures for secondary schools for 2016 show support staff numbers have declined by nearly five thousand compared to the previous year and by almost ten thousand compared to three years previously, while teacher numbers have fallen by six thousand since 2013. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This survey shows the worrying use of support staff who are being over-worked and used as cheap labour to teach. With school budgets cut to the bone, it is easy to see why this is happening. Schools are woefully underfunded and struggling to make ends meet. But this needs to stop.”
Rail union RMT has confirmed plans for a further phase of industrial action on South Western Railway in the dispute over safety, the role of the guard and the roll out of driver only operation. The union statement came in response to management’s continued failure “to engage with the union in talks and stepped up their threats and intimidation aimed at frontline staff,” the union said. The planned action includes a ban on rest day working from 00:01 hours on Friday 30 March 2018 until 23:59 hours on Monday 2 April 2018. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is frankly disgraceful that South Western Railway continue to point-blank refuse to engage with the union in meaningful talks over their plans to run trains without a safety-critical guard on board across this franchise. Instead, they continue to resort to the crudest possible attempts to threaten, bully and harass our members fighting to put public safety before private profit. RMT has repeatedly said that South Western Railway should call off these disgraceful attacks on their frontline staff and should start talking seriously with the union around an agreement that underpins the guard guarantee and ensures safe, accessible and secure services for all.” He added: “We know that this action will have a serious impact on services and the responsibility for the disruption caused will be wholly down to South Western Railway and their pig-headed attitude. It is time for the company to get out of the bunker, stop threatening their staff and start talking.” Commenting after RMT members faced long hours in atrocious conditions keeping the transport system running after the cold snap returned, Mick Cash said: “The employers would also do well to recognise and remember the commitment and professionalism of the workforce who are the lifeblood of the transport industry next time they are looking at hacking back on jobs, safety and working conditions.”
The family of a GMB member who died as a consequence of his work for asbestos companies has received compensation. The member, whose name has not been released, was employed by Spousal (Midlands) Limited and Cape Darlington Limited as an apprentice lagger and then a lagger from 1967 through to 1976. He was exposed to considerable amounts of asbestos whilst carrying out asbestos lagging work. He was diagnosed with the lung scarring disease asbestosis, obtaining a provisional damages order in 2008. This meant that he was allowed to return to court to seek further damages in the event of any serious deterioration in his health. When his health deteriorated, he recommenced his claim in May 2016 but died in June 2016, aged 64. The death certificate and post mortem confirmed that he had died from asbestosis caused by exposure to asbestos. The GMB member’s widow was able to continue with the claim for damages, with a joint settlement meeting agreeing a £340,000 payout. Paul Maloney, regional secretary of GMB Southern Region, said: "This is a significant settlement on behalf of a member who obviously would have preferred his health than compensation. However, GMB is proud to have been able to assist him and his family throughout.” He added: “There are tens of thousands of GMB members, both current and ex-members, who have worked with asbestos and may be affected. They should contact GMB immediately if they have had any exposure to asbestos, however small. This could include anyone who works or has worked in schools, hospitals – construction workers, electricians, pipe fitters, carpenters and so on. Don’t delay, call GMB today.”
New revelations emerging during the public inquiry into undercover policing highlight the need for a separate and full public inquiry into the workplace blacklisting scandal, the union Unite has said. The ‘spycops’ inquiry is investigating how members of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) infiltrated union and campaign groups. Unite says as part of the disclosure process it has been revealed that an officer with the code number HN336 who operated under the cover name ‘Dick Epps’ went on to work in the Metropolitan Police Industrial Intelligence Section. Unite says this “is a further link to the blacklisting scandal as information on the files of some of the workers blacklisted by the Consulting Association can only have been supplied by the police or the security forces.” The construction industry backed association held an illegal blacklist of construction workers, many targeted for their workplace safety activities. It has already been established that undercover members of SDS infiltrated unions. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Once again we have unearthed more links between the police and those involved in blacklisting. It’s clear there was direct collusion between the police and the blacklisters who ruined workers’ lives, but it is going to be impossible to find out the full extent of that collusion and who knew about it until there is a full public inquiry into blacklisting.” She said: “In the meantime it is essential that there is maximum transparency in the public inquiry into undercover policing. It would be simply intolerable if SDS officers are allowed to remain in the shadows and escape having to answer for their actions.”
Exposure to lead at levels a fraction those permitted in UK workplaces puts workers at a greatly elevated and previously grossly under-estimated risk of deadly heart disease and other health effects, a study has found. The US study tracked over 14,000 people over a period of about 20 years. It found that those individuals in the top 10 per cent for their initial blood lead concentration had a 37 per cent increase in all-cause mortality and a 70 per cent increase in cardiovascular disease mortality compared to those with a blood lead concentration falling in the lowest 10 per cent. According to the study, the 20 per cent with the lowest lead levels had a blood lead concentration of 1.0 micrograms per decilitre, while in the top 10 per cent this corresponded to a concentration of 6.7 micrograms per decilitre. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets a recommended action level of 50 micrograms per decilitre for men and 25 micrograms per decilitre for women. While a link between lead exposure and high blood pressure has been known for decades, the magnitude of the effect on cardiovascular mortality - particularly at low levels of lead exposure - was much greater than anticipated, according to Dr Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and lead author of the study. “There's no safe threshold,” Lanphear said. “Once we found that there was a risk across the entire range of exposures, we could estimate the number of attributable deaths.” This indicated lead related deaths were at “about 10 times” previous estimates. “We've made tremendous progress in reducing these exposures in the past four to five decades,” Lanphear added. “But our blood levels are still 10 to 100 times higher than our pre-industrial ancestors.” According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures published in March 2017, 1,030 male workers were found in the preceding year to have blood lead levels in excess of 25 milligrams of lead per decilitre blood, suggesting they are at a massively increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure.
Ÿ BP Lanphear, S Rauch, P Auinger, RW Allen and RW Hornung. Low-level lead exposure and mortality in US adults: a population-based cohort study, The Lancet Public Health, published Online First, 12 March 2018. CNN Health. Exposure to Lead in Great Britain 2016: Medical Surveillance of Blood-Lead Levels in British Workers 2015/16, March 2017. More on the hazards of lead.
Employers and the government should examine the health risks posed by products used by cleaners, the union GMB has said. The union alert came following a study of 6,000 people by a team from Norway's University of Bergen. The study found that regular exposure to cleaning products significantly effects lung function. It also found that women appeared to be more badly affected than men. The study’s authors concluded cleaning chemicals were often ‘unnecessary’ and microfibre cloths and water were ‘enough for most purposes’. Prof Cecile Svanes, who led the Bergen team, said: “We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.” Co-author Oistein Svanes said: “The take-home message is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs. These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.” GMB said in 2016 there were 427,000 people employed as cleaners in Great Britain. Paul Maloney, GMB Southern regional secretary, said: “The health and safety of all workers is of paramount importance to GMB and we are aware that many workers face daily hazards. No worker should be risking their health when they go to work and employers have a legal duty to assess risks. There are risks associated with using any chemical in the workplace and consideration has to be given to the type of chemical, the gender of the worker - especially important for pregnant workers - the amount of time exposed, whether any training is provided or protective clothing.” He added: “There is evidence that workers are safer at work by being members of trade unions as we offer workers advice and a bigger say to their working environment as we work with employers to ensure proper safety reps and training is provided.”
Ÿ American Thoracic Society news release. Øistein Svanes, Randi J Bertelsen, Stein HL Lygre and others. Cleaning at home and at work in relation to lung function decline and airway obstruction, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published online 16 February 2018 [abstract]. GMB news releases from London, Eastern and Southern Regions. BBC News Online.
A sharp rise in convenience shop crime had spurred a renewed union call for action. The call came after latest Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) figures revealed nearly a million thefts from UK convenience stores in 2017, a 65 per cent increase on the previous year. The report concludes that challenging shop thieves is the most common trigger for violence and verbal abuse. The number of incidents of violence faced by staff working in the sector was 13,437. Out of these incidents, 3,690 involved a weapon. John Hannett, general secretary of the retail union Usdaw, said: “With four recent surveys all returning truly shocking results, it is absolutely clear that there is a growing problem which needs to be tackled. Theft from shops can often be a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, so the rising trend is extremely worrying for our members. The clear message for government is they need to act to turn around this dramatic rise in crime. Usdaw is working with employers to make shops safer for staff and customers alike, but we have to question whether the cutting of 20,000 police officers in the name of austerity is behind these survey results. A properly funded and well-resourced police service is essential.” The union leader added: “Shopworkers are on the frontline of policing the law on the sale of alcohol, knives, glue and acid. Parliament has given them the responsibility to police those laws, so parliament should provide shopworkers with the necessary protection. It is entirely reasonable that shopworkers continue to ask the government for legislation to provide stiffer sentences for the thugs that assault them.”
Seafarers’ union Nautilus has backed a call by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) for a review of emergency towing vessel (ETV) cover in the Dover Strait. The call comes in a report on a collision between the Hong Kong-flagged general cargo ship Saga Sky and a rock-carrying barge off the coast of Kent during a storm in November 2016. Attempts to locate a tug capable of providing assistance to the Saga Sky as it drifted towards the unmanned barge for 90 minutes leading up to the accident proved unsuccessful. The report noted that the Dover Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with an estimated 400 vessel transits each day. However, it said that the UK ETV introduced in the area in 1994 was withdrawn in 2011. “Given the volume of traffic using the Dover Strait and the apparent absence of local commercial salvage assets, it would be appropriate to review the availability of emergency towage provision in the Dover Strait, as has already been done for north and north-west Scottish waters,” the report said, recommending a reassessment of the need for a dedicated emergency towing capability. Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton said: “The MAIB report drives a coach and horses through the assurances that were given when the ETVs were withdrawn under the austerity cutbacks.” He added: “It is clear that the market cannot provide and any review should not just look at the threats, but also consider the opportunities that arise from the deployment of a dedicated ETV – including training, hydrographic surveying and a wide range of other tasks.”
A detailed guide for Royal Mail managers on ‘Supporting women at work through the menopause’ has been agreed with the postal union CWU. CWU national health, safety and environment officer Dave Joyce said the guide, which is the result of lengthy discussion between the union and the business assisted by expert professional advice, has sections covering what the menopause is, how it affects women, how it might affect work, what managers need to do and key points to consider, as well as signposting further sources of information and guidance. “It’s good to see that menopause is increasingly being widely recognised as a potential occupational health and work problem and is no longer considered a ‘taboo’ subject,” he said. “More awareness and some simple changes could make their working lives during this time much easier and that’s what the guide aims to do,” he continued, adding the problem had been flagged up several times in CWU conference motions in recent years. He praised his counterpart at Royal Mail, head of health Rachel Boon, for her “very positive role.”
A plastic product manufacturer has been fined £1 million after a delivery driver was fatally injured. Cambridge Crown Court heard how Gareth Wilson, a delivery driver for Mark Doel Transport Ltd, was struck by a forklift truck which had large coils suspended from the forks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Glynwed Pipe Systems Ltd failed to properly manage workplace transport in the yard area where both employees and members of the public were at risk. The investigation also found that the systems of work in place were not, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe. Glynwed Pipe Systems Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £27,942.57 HSE inspector Roxanne Barker said: “There are more than 5,000 accidents involving transport in the workplace every year and, like in this case, sadly some of which are fatal.” She added: “The HSE investigation found the yard was not organised to allow safe circulation of people and traffic as appropriate routes were not identified and therefore insufficient in number. A properly implemented Traffic Management Plan should have identified sufficient measures for the separation of vehicles and people including protected walkways, clear signage and barriers.”
A construction company has been fined after it carried out unsafe and unlicensed asbestos removal during refurbishment works at Dursley junior school. Cheltenham Magistrates Court heard how, in October 2016, RF Gardiner Limited removed asbestos despite not having the appropriate licence to carry out the work. Operatives working for the company were exposed to high levels of airborne asbestos fibres during the removal work as no water suppression was used and they had not been face-fit tested for the face masks they were wearing. An enclosure under negative pressure was not set up to contain the asbestos fibres released during the removal, so asbestos fibres were spread to the surrounding area. There were no decontamination facilities available to workers onsite, for use on completion of the work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that poor planning of the work meant that unsafe and unlicensed asbestos removal work was undertaken. RF Gardiner Limited pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £28,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,141.80. HSE inspector James Lucas said: “The company in this case should have ensured appropriate measures were identified during the planning process to include the engagement of a licensed asbestos contractor to carry out correct control measures and safe working practices for the removal of the asbestos.”
A Halifax man who suffers from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma has received a settlement that includes an agreement to cover the cost of treatments that may not currently exist or be available yet. Former service engineer James Casey, 63 was told he had developed peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen, associated with asbestos exposure, after undergoing tests to investigate symptoms including fatigue and weight loss. After identifying his exposure most likely took place during his time working for North Eastern Gas Board between 1969 and 1980, solicitors from the law firm Irwin Mitchell helped him secure a ‘landmark’ settlement that will ensure the cost of any medical treatment he needs in the future will be covered. The new agreement, known as a Tomlin Order, goes further than a recent Periodical Payments Order (PPO) that the law firm obtained for another client. This is because in addition to the client’s already identified future treatment being covered by the agreement, like the PPO, unidentified treatments are also included in the Tomlin Order. Solicitor Ian Toft, who represented the father-of-three, said: “This settlement is a hugely important step forward for victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.” He added: “The ultimate benefit of such an agreement is simply peace of mind, as it ensures that our client does not face uncertainty regarding his access to treatment. Furthermore, with new treatments constantly in development but costs also on the rise, it ensures that our client will be able to benefit from whatever is required. This is a hugely important development which ensures that those whose lives have been touched by the terrible legacy of asbestos can get the support they need at a difficult time.” Simon Kilvington QC, James’ counsel, said: “This is a flexible and comprehensive agreement that will secure for James the best available treatment in this fast-changing field.”
The Chinese government is to abolish the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), merging its functions into a new national Emergency Management Department. The new department, under the State Council, will also absorb disaster management responsibilities well as functions related to earthquake, drought and flood relief. These areas are currently spread across several government departments. The move is part of a wide-ranging reform of China’s government and administrative structure unveiled this month at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. China Labour Bulletin reports “the rationale for the new department is to provide an efficient and coordinated response to a broad range of disasters from forest fires to coal mine explosions but it appears to eliminate the role of SAWS in ensuring a safe working environment.” It adds: “The move seems to confirm the suspicion that, on the issue of work safety, the Chinese government is more concerned with disaster management and control rather than in preventing workplace accidents in the first place.” CLB says its own Work Accident Map “has clearly demonstrated that major disasters only make up a tiny proportion of work accidents in China. The vast majority of accidents involve just a handful of workers and are usually related to the failure of the employer to provide basic safety equipment and training for employees.” It concludes: “If work safety is to really improve in China, there has to be a fundamental change in labour relations in the workplace in order to prevent employers from forcing employees to work in a dangerous environment and to ensure that workers are properly cared for and compensated when accidents do occur. In particular, if SAWS really is on the way out, it is more important than ever that the trade union fills the void and plays a far more constructive role in work safety.”
A new union campaign is urging the government of Pakistan to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) mine safety convention. The action by ten IndustriALL affiliates follows a decision by the global union’s executive committee in November 2017 to pursue a global campaign to end fatalities in Pakistan’s mines. The campaign to ratify ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines aims to ensure a sustainable solution to Pakistan’s dependence on coal at the expense of the health, safety and lives of mineworkers, says IndustriALL. It is also calling on Pakistan’s government to commit to implementing the regulatory and legislative framework. According to credible sources, since January 2010, at least 275 miners have been killed in Pakistan’s mines. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan, said: “Pakistan isn’t a major mining country in terms of the volume of production and export, but it is a world champion in death and injury. We cannot accept this. We need to stand up and fight to change to protect mine workers in the country.” He added: “The government of Pakistan should immediately ratify and implement international conventions and practices on mining. Genuine tripartite initiatives should be taken with the participation of government, employers and mine workers to provide safety and health information, training and consultations and involve workers to deal with mining hazards.”
A new report has revealed that over 2,000 workers were the victims of ‘work murders’ in Turkey last year. The report from Health and Safety Labour Watch says a marked rise in insecure work and repressive laws were major contributors to a sharp rise in deaths at work. A statement from the national union federation DİSK welcoming the report notes the real toll is considerably higher. “In 2017 alone, 2,006 workers lost their lives to work-related murders. Occupational murder data that we could access mostly consists of sudden events that are labelled as ‘work accidents’ in the legislation. According to the ILO database, the ratio of ‘work accident related deaths’ to ‘deaths related to work-related illness’ is 1 to 6.” Based on this, DİSK says, “in Turkey, at least 12,000 workers may have died from diseases related to work in 2017, though work-related diseases are only the tip of the iceberg.” The union body says the epidemic is not the result of “accident, fate, destiny, nature, unsafe behaviours, lack of education and so on… The cause of these murders is the neoliberal order’s cheap and precarious employment policies and capital accumulation strategy. As long as the working class is subject to these employment conditions, death is inevitable!” DİSK concludes “we consider the increasing worker deaths not as ‘accident’ or ‘illness’ but as deliberate ‘murders’. These murders will not come to an end by calling for capital’s mercy or for state’s responsibility; so we believe that workers at different stages of production should organise and protect their lives within organised struggle.” It said this will involve “networks of families of those who lost their lives, and injured workers, labour unions, and professional associations, towards the goal of ‘humane work, humane life’.”
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