|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.|
Actors’ union Equity has launched a ‘safe spaces’ campaign to tackle what it says is an entertainment industry sexual harassment ‘crisis’. The union says its campaign aims to give members “the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour and to report it knowing that the union is always there for them.” The initiative will promote Equity’s harassment helpline, where members can report any incidents or concerns regarding themselves or others, through posters which will be put up in members’ workplaces – including rehearsal spaces, casting suites and green rooms. A union has also prepared a statement to be read out to cast and crew at the beginning of a production’s rehearsal period, which will demonstrate a company’s commitment to creating safe spaces “free of bullying and harassment.” The statement reads: “Every single one of us working on this project is entitled to work in a safe space: a space free of fear, a space free of bullying and harassment of any kind. We will work together honouring our differences and celebrating the gifts we each bring to the table.” It continues: “We will treat one another with politeness and respect at all times and, if we are subjected to or witness bullying and harassment, we will speak out knowing that our voices will be heard and we will be taken seriously. Together we can create a safe space.” Equity says the need for its campaign was first discussed in the union’s Agenda for Change, which was produced following research from Equity’s Sexual Harassment Working Group. The agenda explains how the union, engagers, agents, casting directors, boards, educators and workplaces must work together to create the culture shift “that is the proper response to the tide of horrifying revelations of sexual harassment.”
Construction union GMB has called on Scotland Yard to release its internal investigation into the secret blacklisting of thousands of construction safety activists by household name companies including Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Costain, Kier, Laing O'Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci. Lawyers Leigh Day, acting for GMB, have filed a Freedom of Information request for the Metropolitan Police’s full internal investigation report, all emails relating to the report and details of overt and covert meetings between officers and members of blacklisting organisations. In a letter last month, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met, Richard Martin, admitted: “Police, including Special Branches, supplied information that appeared on the Blacklist, funded by the country's major construction firms. The report concludes that, on the balance of probabilities, the allegation that the police or Special Branches supplied information is 'proven'. Material revealed a potentially improper flow of information from Special Branch to external organisations, which ultimately appeared on the blacklist” (Risks 843). However, the Metropolitan Police sat on the findings of this investigation for two years. Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said blacklisted workers “have a right to know who, what, where, when and why information was shared between the police and the construction companies. There is a clear public interest in this information being provided.” He added: “It is now time for Scotland Yard to make public everything that they did and come clean about their part in the greatest employment scandal of the past 50 years.”
Pupils and school staff are being put at risk as a result of the failure of some schools to share information about violent and disruptive pupils, teaching union NASUWT has said. The union said “in too many cases adequate risk assessments are not undertaken of pupils who persistently display high levels of aggression and violence in school. Even where such assessments are made, the details are often not shared or passed on to staff, particularly when pupils move schools. Eleven per cent of teachers surveyed by the NASUWT say they have been subjected to physical violence by pupils in the last year. The union survey also found 15 per cent report having received threats of physical violence by pupils. Over half (52 per cent) have been subjected to verbal abuse from those they teach. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Pupil behaviour is one of the top concerns that teachers raise about their job. Yet evidence shows that teachers are not receiving the support to tackle these issues.” She added: “Where a pupil is known to exhibit violent and disruptive behaviour, a risk assessment should be undertaken and action taken to support the pupil to address their behaviour and to protect other pupils and staff. In too many cases no effective assessment is ever undertaken. Even if it is, all too often this is not always shared with all staff or is not passed on to receiving schools if the pupil is moved.” The union leader warned: “Employers who fail to disclose safety information leave themselves vulnerable to legal challenge and industrial action, but more importantly they are behaving recklessly with the health and well-being of staff and other pupils and this simply cannot be justified.”
A ‘staggering’ 81 per cent of teachers have considered leaving teaching in the last year because of escalating workloads, teaching union NEU has said. Initial findings from the union’s latest workload survey of 8,173 members reveal the continuing scale of the workload problem facing teachers and the impact this is having on their willingness to stay in the profession. Four out of ten (40 per cent) respondents said they are spending more than 21 hours a week working at home at evenings and weekends. One-third of teachers responding to the NEU survey said that their workload had never been manageable during the past year. Just over half said that it was only sometimes manageable, with only 15 per cent saying that it was manageable all or most of the time. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The government cannot keep burying its head in the sand about the issue of workload. It is clearly driving the majority of teachers to despair or out of the profession all together.” He added: “The continual long hours spent on unnecessary work such as data collection for arbitrary government targets is not only demoralising but is unsustainable mentally and physically. If the government does not act decisively and soon, the recruitment and retention crisis will seriously damage our children and young people’s education.”
Teaching assistants, school administrators and other support staff are being made ill by increasing workloads as schools cut staffing to cope with budget cuts, according the union NEU. Its survey of over 1,700 teaching assistants, cover supervisors, administrators and lab technicians revealed that nearly eight in ten (78 per cent) are regularly doing overtime every week. A third (33 per cent) rarely or never take their full lunch break and 40 per cent rarely or never take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break. Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “Support staff are feeling the brunt of school cuts as schools struggle to make ends meet. Many are being made redundant, and those remaining are being expected to do more for the same pay. Not only is this blatantly unfair, it is also putting support staff under considerable pressure and making many ill. If the government fails to find any more money for schools, children will start suffering as more staff go off sick with stress.” The union said in secondary schools the number of support staff declined by nearly 5,000 between 2015 and 2016 and by almost 10,000 compared to 2013, while teacher numbers have fallen by 6,000 since 2013.
The continuing presence of asbestos in the majority of schools and academies is a national scandal - putting the lives of pupils and staff at risk, unions have warned. Figures released by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) in conjunction with the campaigner Lucie Stephens and Rachel Reeves MP, reveal a ‘shocking disparity’ in asbestos management across Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). JUAC says this reinforces “the need for the government to take urgent action.” The data, gathered in Freedom of Information requests, included 54 reported asbestos exposure incidents in academies. But JUAC says despite “the many exposure incidents reported, the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] had only taken enforcement action in five MATs.” JUAC says its findings are likely to be a significant under-estimate as not all MATs responded to the request, while some refused to provide the information or provided incomplete responses. Despite it being a legal requirement, some MATs did not have asbestos management plans for their academies, and many were not auditing the plans on a routine basis. Some MATs were unable to gather information about PFI schools – with JUAC says this highlighted the lack of accountability in these arrangements. Commenting on the findings, Asbestos in Schools Group chair Rachel Reeves said: “The government's failure to get a grip of this issue is putting children and teaching staff at needless risk. These latest findings show that many schools are unaware of the risk or the extent of asbestos in our schools.” The Labour MP added: “The government needs to come up with a clear strategy to ensure any potential exposure to asbestos is minimised and that staff and pupils are kept safe. Parents and teachers have been left in the dark for too long about the extent of the problem. Labour committed to a phased removal of asbestos in schools in our 2017 manifesto. How many more teachers and pupils' lives have to be put in jeopardy before the government commits to tackling this ticking time bomb?” the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee last week called on the government to compile a central database of the location and condition of all asbestos in schools.
Recycling workers working for FCC Environment in Hull have taken industrial action for decent pay sick pay. This is the workers second round of action, following a week-long strike at the beginning of the March. FCC Environmental is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas, a Spanish company that describes itself as “a worldwide leader in citizen services, specialised in environment, water and infrastructure.” The multinational reported a 12.7 per cent increase in earnings in the first quarter of 2017, totalling $188m globally. But UNISON Hull City branch secretary Adrian Kennett said that “despite the company’s significant profits, it refuses to pay the workers who make them the profits decent pay and conditions.” The branch has been involved in a lengthy campaign for a better sick scheme. It says last year a member diagnosed with cancer was denied sick pay. “We asked for this to be included in pay talks,” said Adrian Kennett, but the company refused.
A group of union safety reps from the north-west of England has launched an online petition calling for a high-profile union campaign to protect workplace safety rights as Brexit looms. The union reps, members of the union CWU who run the ‘Union Safety’ website, want the TUC “to strengthen trade union partnerships and put prime focus on individual unions to prioritise and increase focus on their individual health and safety departments and structures, this is in readiness for post-Brexit Britain and its workforce.” The petition says this union campaign is important because “health and safety was the main reason for the birth of the trade union movement.” It adds that trade unions should “immediately prioritise health and safety now and strengthen links with other unions. Every individual worker has the right to a safe and healthy working environment. Workers are better protected with a strong and robust union that adopt a prime focus on health and safety at work.” In a report nearly a year ago, the TUC exposed the potential threat to safety from Brexit (Risks 800) and has demanded repeatedly that the government maintain and improve existing employment and safety standards (Risks 841). In a speech in Brussels this week, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Theresa May promises that workers’ rights will be ‘protected and enhanced’ after Brexit. But unions are sceptical – with good reason. We know that there are many Conservatives who would like nothing better than a bonfire of working rights, environmental regulations and safety standards. The cliff-edge Brexiteers have key rights in their sights – including protections for agency workers, action against discrimination, and health and safety.” She urged prime minister Theresa May to “stand up to the hardliners in your party and give working people the guarantee they need. The EU has said that workers’ rights should be part of the final agreement – now the UK government should do the same. Commit to ensuring that no matter what kind of Brexit we get, workers’ rights in the UK will keep pace with those across Europe.” Employers’ body the CBI took a similar line this week, noting “opportunities for divergence are vastly outweighed by the costs of deviating from rules necessary to ensure smooth access to the EU, the UK's largest trading partner.” CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said most businesses believed diverging from EU rules and regulations “will make them less globally competitive.”
More than half (53 per cent) of employees living with cancer do not know that their employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for them to return to work, according to Macmillan Cancer Support. The charity’s latest estimates say the number of working age people living with cancer in the UK increased by almost 10 per cent between 2010 and 2015. The overall number of working age people with cancer in 2015 was estimated at 890,000. This represents a sharp rise from the previous estimate of 810,000 for 2010. The charity says working age people now make up over a third (36 per cent) of people living with a cancer diagnosis. Macmillan’s ongoing campaign, ‘Cancer isn’t fair but your boss has to be’, aims to raise awareness amongst people with cancer of their rights at work. It says around one fifth (18 per cent) of people living with cancer who returned to work report facing discrimination in the workplace due to their illness. Macmillan’s Liz Egan said: “Such a significant rise means more people than ever are facing the gruelling task of juggling their cancer, their jobs, and their financial commitments.” She added: “Employers must be aware of their legal obligations under the Equality Act and ensure that there are appropriate policies and processes in place to best support their staff. We know, however, that employers cannot face this challenge alone, and the government must include the needs of people with cancer in their policies on health and work.”
A Rotherham civil engineering contractor has been fined for criminal safety offences after a worker suffered life-threatening injuries. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard that, in September 2016, a 48-year-old employee of KDS Construction Company Ltd was working in a 2-metre-deep excavation when he was struck on the head and pinned down by a large segment of concrete. He suffered multiple injuries, including fractures to his skull, ribs, left arm and vertebrae. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the firm had been contracted by Abbey Forged Products Limited to carry out groundworks for the installation of a new underground water drainage system at a company site in Sheffield. After one tank had been installed, work started on another excavation for a second tank adjacent to the first. While this was being dug, one of the groundworkers was asked to cover over some pipework that was sticking out of the first tank to protect it from being damaged by backfill. When he descended into the excavation to do this, a section of unsupported concrete which was overhanging the excavation broke off and fell onto him. KDS Construction Company Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,016.15. HSE inspector Alison Outhwaite said: “The employee’s injuries were life changing and he could have easily been killed.” She added: “The groundwork industry need to appreciate the risks even where excavations are thought to be ‘shallow’ or the ground considered to be stable… If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life changing injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”
Nearly one in four UK construction workers believe they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres, placing them at higher risk of contracting deadly cancers later in life, a major safety organisation has warned. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the organisation for safety professionals, says with potentially half a million buildings containing this lethal mineral, employees across many sectors risk being exposed every day. It says this could continue “the trend of Britons having the world’s highest chances of dying from mesothelioma, the deadliest asbestos-related cancer.” The organisation was commenting after a survey it commissioned found a third of respondents had never checked the asbestos register before starting work on a new site – with nearly half unaware of the existence of a register. Almost one in five respondents said if they discovered asbestos they wouldn’t be sure what to do. Dr Lesley Rushton, the new chair of the UK’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), said: “What these new survey results confirm is that, while people have heard of asbestos and know what the effects of being exposed to it are, they’re not sure how to check if it’s present and they may not know what to do if they find asbestos. Uncertainty and ignorance surrounding how to prevent workers from breathing in the fibres is deeply worrying.” IOSH president Craig Foyle said the survey demonstrated that not enough is being done to protect workers. “We are calling on everyone, including employers, to do the right thing; to protect the people who work for them,” he said.
A Nottinghamshire foundry has been fined after two employees suffered serious burns from an electrical flashover. Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 2 September 2016, two employees at BAS Castings Ltd were working to reinstate the power supply to one of the furnaces after repair work had been completed by contractors. After replacing the fuses, they shut the door to the fuse panel which engaged the interlock and tried to close the main switch. As this would not operate, they opened the panel door and decided to bypass the interlock using a screwdriver to try the main switch again. At this point an electrical flashover occurred. Both employees suffered serious skin burns requiring surgery, followed by a two week stay in hospital. An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that at the time of the incident, BAS Castings Ltd did not have any electrical safety rules, safe systems of work or a permit system in place, and there were no recorded systems or rules for working with electricity. There was no assessment of risk and the injured employees were not provided with any specific instructions on how to undertake the work safely. The company also allowed employees to work on live conductors without consideration of the legal safe work requirements. Pinxton-based BAS Castings Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. It was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,353.90. HSE inspector Leigh Stanley said: “If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the injuries sustained by the employees could have been prevented.”
Figures establishing a sharp rise in work-related deaths worldwide show why unions worldwide are to renew and reinvigorate their campaign for safer, healthier, decent work, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has said. A briefing from the global union body, published ahead of the 28 April International Workers’ Memorial Day, points to latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) figures which revise their global estimate of the annual toll of work-related fatalities and occupational disease deaths from 2.3 million to 2.78 million. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, said this figure “is an under-estimate. Work associations with diseases are missed, either by accident or design, and for whole categories of conditions no-one is counting the bodies.” In the new briefing, Burrow writes that ITUC will on 28 April ‘reinvigorate’ its global health and safety campaign. “It is not just about asking for improvements. It is about having the collective voice and industrial power to demand them,” she notes. “Early priorities are escalating the drive for a global ban on asbestos and renewing the zero occupational cancers campaign. Addressing the diseases of despair, including work-related suicide and mental illness, are high on the priority list.” She adds that unions will be pressing for the issue of occupational health and safety to be taken more seriously globally, with ITUC campaigning for its recognition “as one of the ILO’s core labour standards, alongside existing ‘fundamental’ standards on forced labour, child labour, discrimination at work and union rights, including the right to form, join and bargain in a union.”
Ÿ Sharan Burrow. Unions are organising for safer, healthier decent work, ITUC, April 2018 [also available in French, German and Spanish translations]. ITUC 28 April 2018 poster in English, Spanish and French. ITUC/Hazards 28 April 2018 international events and campaign website.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has urged South Korean president Moon Jae-in to challenge labour abuses by Samsung in its factories in Vietnam. In a letter to the Korean leader, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow highlighted the risks to human and labour rights in the Korean multinational’s operations. She urged Moon Jae-in to engage Samsung management both in Korea and in Vietnam to address grievances and ensure that the company carries out human rights due diligence with respect to Samsung subsidiaries and suppliers. “Samsung’s track record of human and labour rights abuses has been exposed in nearly every country where they operate. From covering up the name of industrial chemicals that induce workers’ deaths and illness in the interests of ‘trade secrets’, to a no-union policy across its Asian electronics industry, Samsung relies on a business model that has lost its moral compass,” said Sharan Burrow. Pressure on Samsung’s operations in Vietnam has been growing since evidence emerged from the Hanoi-based Research Centre for Gender, Family, Environment and Development (CGFED) and IPEN, a global network of environment and health NGOs working to reduce and eliminate harmful chemicals, which showed workers were not protected from toxic chemicals used to manufactured the latest Samsung mobile phones. Young women working at Samsung factories have reported symptoms of fainting, fatigue and miscarriage associated with toxic chemicals. UN human rights experts expressed their concern last month about the harassment and intimidation of Samsung workers who spoke about their conditions at work. Those raising concerns have been asked to present themselves to government authorities and threatened with lawsuits. “President Moon’s leadership and commitment to human and labour rights is critical to ensuring respect for the rights of millions of workers in the region producing goods and providing services to multinational companies,” said ITUC’s Sharan Burrow.
Ÿ ITUC news release, letter to President Moon and Modern Technology, Medieval Conditions, a report on Samsung’s operations worldwide. ITUC multimedia documentary: www.samsungexposed.org. IPEN news release. UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner news release. Stories of Women Workers in Vietnam’s Electronics Industry, report by CGFED and IPEN. Good Electronics news report.
A global union has condemned the ‘apathy and negligence’ behind a spate of worker deaths in Pakistan mines. IndustriALL was commenting after six workers were reported killed on the night of 4 and 5 April after an explosion at a coal mine in the Sorab area of Kalat released poisonous gas, suffocating the miners. Quoting the chief inspector of mines in the Balochistan provincial government, a news report stated that the mine was operated illegally without the required licence from the government. On 1 April, an explosion at the Ali Mines in Jhelum District triggered a roof collapse, trapping six workers under the debris. According to reports from the All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions, two workers were rescued but the other four workers died in the incident. The Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation reported that on 27 March 2018 a miner was killed and another was rescued with serious injuries in a mine accident at the Sharigh Coal Mine area. Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for the mining sector, said: “We are shocked at the apathy and negligence towards safety in Pakistan’s mining sector. Within a span of ten days, the deaths of 11 mineworkers shows that neither the government nor the mine owners are serious about safety. To stop the recurrence of fatal accidents, Pakistan must act swiftly to improve safety in mines, strengthen supervisory mechanisms and punish those responsible for the accidents. The government should also work together with workers’ representatives to improve the situation.” On 15 March 2018, IndustriALL and its union affiliates in Pakistan launched a campaign for health and safety in Pakistan mines. Their campaign is calling on the government of Pakistan to immediately ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 176 on safety and health in mines.
When Thomas Phelan and Keith Young died within a day of each other last month, in both cases it was as a result of cancer. But the underlying cause of the firefighters' deaths, aged 45 and 53, was the event they both witnessed up close 17 years earlier: the 11 September 2001 attack on New York. The names of Phelan and Young will not be added to the official tally of nearly 3,000 people killed in the attack. Their deaths were, however, a every bit as much the result of what happened at the World Trade Center that September morning. According to records maintained by the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York (UFANYC) union, theirs were the 172nd and 173rd deaths of firefighters to have occurred because of 9/11-related illnesses, and the sixth and seventh so far this year. Another former New York firefighter, Paul Tokarski, died of what was called a ‘WTC-related illness’ on 10 March. About 400,000 people are believed to have been exposed to toxic contaminants or suffered injury or trauma in lower Manhattan that day, according to the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The president of the UFANYC told the BBC that roughly one in eight firefighters who were at Ground Zero have since come down with cancer. According to the CDC, just under 70,000 people who helped during 9/11 have applied for medical aid after the disaster, as have about 14,300 people who were in New York City at the time. Among the main illnesses treated are chronic coughs, asthma, cancers and depression. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) says that about 6,000 of the 9/11 first responders are now living with cancer, with thousands more suffering breathing problems or mental health issues. Many, it said, had “suffered severe exposure to numerous WTC-derived contaminants.”
Children and adults who work on Zimbabwe’s tobacco farms are facing serious risks to their health, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned. A new report from the organisation says child labour and other human rights abuses on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe tarnish the tobacco industry. The comprehensive report details how children work in hazardous conditions, performing tasks that threaten their health and safety or interfere with their education. Child workers are exposed to nicotine and toxic pesticides, and many suffer symptoms consistent with ‘Green Tobacco Sickness’, nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco leaves. Adults working on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe also face these serious risks. “Zimbabwe’s government needs to take urgent steps to protect tobacco workers,” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Companies sourcing tobacco from Zimbabwe should ensure that they are not buying a crop produced by child workers sacrificing their health and education.” The report is based on interviews with 125 small-scale tobacco farmers and hired workers, including children or former child workers, in late 2016 and early 2017. Human Rights Watch also analysed laws and policies and reviewed other sources, including public health studies and government reports. It found that the government and companies have generally not provided workers with enough information, training, and equipment to protect themselves from nicotine poisoning and pesticide exposure. Some of the world’s largest multinational tobacco companies purchase tobacco grown in Zimbabwe, either directly or at auction, including British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco Group, and Imperial Brands. HRW says under human rights norms, companies buying tobacco from Zimbabwe have a responsibility to ensure that their business operations do not contribute to child labour and other human rights abuses.
Ÿ HRW news release and report, A bitter harvest: Child labor and human rights abuses on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe, April 2018.
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