|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.
Physical assaults on NHS staff in England rose by nearly 10 per cent last year compared to 2015/16, according to new research by UNISON and Health Service Journal (HSJ). The figures were obtained following Freedom of Information (FoI) requests – submitted by HSJ on behalf of UNISON – to all the 244 NHS trusts in England. Responses were received from 181 organisations. The biggest increase was in the acute sector, with reported attacks on health workers in hospitals with an A&E department up a ‘staggering’ 21 per cent, said UNISON. There were 18,720 assaults in 2016/17 in the acute trusts who responded, compared to 15,469 the previous year. NHS trusts struggling to meet their performance targets were likely to fare particularly badly. Trusts who treated 90 per cent or fewer of their patients within 18 weeks of referral saw an average increase in reported assaults of 36.2 per cent on the previous year. Similarly, NHS trusts struggling with huge financial deficits were also likely to have witnessed a big rise in the number of reported attacks on staff. When measured per 1,000 staff, to take account of increases in the NHS workforce, the rise in reported assaults was 6 per cent up on the 2015/16 figures. UNISON commissioned the research as it is concerned that since the abolition of NHS Protect last year, there is no meaningful collation or comparison being made of data on assaults. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Across the entire NHS, staff shortages are harming patient care and helping to create a hostile environment where health workers are increasingly at risk of being assaulted. It’s no accident that trusts where the pressures seem the most extreme – where there are huge financial deficits or where it’s a struggle to meet growing demands on services – have seen the steepest rise in the number of attacks. This desperate situation is only set to worsen as the squeeze on resources gets tighter.” She added: “Now that there is no NHS or government organisation collecting data on assaults nationally, the picture is growing increasingly unclear. The safety of staff, who care for us when we are sick or injured, and their patients should be paramount. The government should reverse its ill-thought out decision to axe NHS Protect immediately.”
London transport workers have faced a wave of racist abuse and threats after a government minister suggested the workforce had been infiltrated by terrorists. Security minister Ben Wallace told the Evening Standard that the government has purged potential terrorists working on the Tube, also claiming that London Underground staff who have autism were being “groomed” by extremists. But transport union RMT said the related media coverage led to a surge in racist abuse and threats against staff on London Underground. In a letter to the minister, RMT general secretary Mick Cash wrote “I have received a number of urgent calls from staff working over the weekend who have been racially abused and threatened by passengers. The inference from the passengers involved being that the staff are all part of a terrorist cell operating in London Transport.” The letter continued: “The headlines do not reflect all the good work that takes place with the RMT through consultation on safety and security matters. RMT regional organiser for London Transport, John Leach, was at a meeting with director of health and safety and Transport for London head of security last Friday and none of this was mentioned. The headline was the first that RMT had heard of it. John also spoke to London Underground managing director, Mark Wild, on Sunday and he told John that the whole subject as a news story came out the blue and the Standard did not use London Underground’s quote backing their staff.” The letter concluded: “Staff do not need to be the focus of smears, abuse or threats given the crucial jobs they have to perform on the transport network in London keeping people safe. I hope you will therefore join with me to support responsible reporting of such sensitive matters which is in the best interests of staff and passengers alike.” RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, commented: “The union understands that the first senior London Underground managers knew of this story was when they were contacted by reporters and we hope that Tube managers and the Mayor will support and protect staff facing threats and abuse as a result of the coverage.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw and businesses are supporting a new law to protect workers in Scotland. Labour MSP Daniel Johnson is promoting a Bill that would create new offences regarding assaults on shopworkers and others, like bar and pub staff, who are involved in the sale and supply of age-restricted good and services. The consultation period on the Bill closed on 20 April. Welcoming the initiative, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender isn’t even charged, victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted.” Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer, said: “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. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.” He added: “The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required. Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey shows that in Scotland 70 per cent of shopworkers were verbally abused and 42 per cent were threatened over the last 12 months. Five per cent were assaulted over the last year, which is around 34 Scottish shopworkers physically attacked every day.”
A protest at the £800 million energy to waste construction site at Parc Adfer in Deeside, north Wales on 17 April was intended to stop a ‘race to the bottom’ in pay, conditions and safety at the site, unions have said. Construction unions are demanding that the French contractor CNIM adheres to national construction sector agreements covering pay, terms and conditions. CNIM has been appointed to deliver the Parc Adfer project by its client, the American firm Wheelabrator, for the North Wales Residual Waste Treatment Partnership which is led by Flintshire County Council. The unions say as well as ignoring national agreements, CNIM is undermining health and safety, welfare provisions, training and limiting the amount of local labour it employs. Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “The ‘race to the bottom’ and undermining of national agreements by CNIM on this public private partnership construction project is shameful. Workers are short changed out of the proper rate for job while industry agreements and health and safety and welfare provisions are being undermined.” He added: “National agreements work for both workers and employers. Workers receive a fair rate of pay and operate in a safe environment, while projects are delivered promptly to high standard on budget. The local councils involved in the project and Wheelabrator need to take responsibility and tell CNIM to end the ‘race to the bottom’ and start honouring national construction agreements.”
Health and safety tops the list of concerns raise by staff in distribution centres for the discount chain Lidl, retail union Usdaw has said. As the union embarked on the latest stage of its campaign for formal recognition in the centres, Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary elect, said these workers need union representation. “Topping the list of staff concerns are significant issues around health and safety, often made worse by an unreasonable volume of work and difficult to achieve performance targets. Lidl staff do not feel they are able to raise these issues with managers and need an independent trade union to help prevent accidents and serious injuries.” Lillis noted: “We remain very disappointed that the company continues to refuse to allow our union officials on site to talk to staff. It is clear from conversations with Lidl staff that managers are briefing against Usdaw. The staff are keen to talk to us, but often not within sight of the distribution centre where they can be seen by managers.” The union leader added that Usdaw “has a wealth of experience in promoting good health and safety at work. We train reps to look for problems and resolve them with managers. That is not only good for the staff, but good for the business. Health and safety at work is a right not a privilege. Good industrial relations are important for business and that requires the staff having a voice, through an independent trade union, so that they get a proper say in their working lives. We urge the company to end their continued opposition to trade unions and meet with Usdaw to talk about recognising us as the trade union for Lidl staff.”
A man who worked at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and who was given a written warning after ‘nearly dying’ at work has been awarded £26,000 in compensation. PCS member Barrie Caulcutt, who suffers from anxiety, chronic asthma and eczema, had worked for the DWP for 35 years with an “exemplary” attendance record. The problems started after he was moved from a backroom finance office to work on the frontline in Caernarfon, facing claimants who were angry because their benefits were being sanctioned. The written warning for taking 2.5 days sick leave came after he suffered a serious asthma attack he believes was triggered by work-related anxiety. “I thought I was dead,” he said. He was rushed to hospital as a result of the attack. The 55-year-old took his case to an employment tribunal. This found Barrie had been unfairly treated by his bosses at the government department. He said he felt “relieved and pleased” after the tribunal unanimously found the DWP had discriminated against him by failing to make reasonable adjustments for his disability. Barrie told the Daily Post he felt his treatment had been “merciless”, adding: “My life was made hell.” He was awarded more than £26,000 for disability discrimination but claims of harassment and victimisation were dismissed. Barrie, who still works for the DWP, said he was asked to deal with customers despite his deteriorating health and against the advice of his GP and the DWP’s occupational health assessors. His PCS representative Peter Doughty said: “It was callous and cruel to give a written warning to someone who nearly lost his life. I’m pleased for Barrie that he has stood up for his rights and that the tribunal found in his favour. It is, however, a sad reflection on the DWP that this case ever went all the way to a tribunal. The costs are a huge amount in comparison to the award. This is taxpayers' money.”
A midwife sacked from Wakefield’s Pinderfields Hospital has won an appeal against her dismissal after more than 40,000 people signed an online petition calling for her to be reinstated. UNISON member Jane Greaves said she felt ‘relief’ after a panel of senior managers at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust overturned last month’s decision to fire her. The 46-year-old said she was last off work with a kidney infection she believed she contracted at Pinderfields Hospital’s birth centre - which doesn’t have a staff toilet. She said low staffing levels meant she was unable to leave the unit to go to the toilet during 12-hour shifts. She told the Yorkshire Evening Post she had informed management at least 49 times about problems of high workload and not enough staff at the unit. She became ill after working on 31 December 2017 and went to A&E at Pinderfields. She was sent to see a urologist, who said she was not emptying her bladder often enough and had contracted a kidney infection. She was given a seven-day sick note. On 15 March this year she was told she was being dismissed immediately due to her sickness record. After the local paper covered the story, an online petition launched by a colleague calling for her to be reinstated attracted more than 40,000 signatures. After the successful appeal, the midwife said: “I was relieved. I didn’t do anything wrong. It has been harrowing and life-changing.” UNISON’s Adrian O’Malley had branded the trust’s decision to sack Miss Greaves as “outrageous.” After she was reinstated, he commented: “UNISON welcomes the trust’s decision and will be working with the trust to address the issues raised on the birth centre.”
Rail union RMT has accused the railway safety watchdog of political bias following the publication of its business plan for the year ahead. The Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) business plan for 2018-19 lays out the priorities of the railway industry. RSSB chief executive Mark Phillips emphasised that “constant vigilance” will be maintained in three areas — ecological sustainability, the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and raising workplace awareness of mental health issues. However, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said there was nothing vigilant about the RSSB plans and disputed its independence. “Once again the RSSB peddle the myth of their role as an independent safety organisation,” he said. “The RSSB is financed by their members and associates from Network Rail, the train operating companies and the freight operating companies. There is nothing independent in the way they operate – they are sucking finances from the rail industry to deliver answers that the employers desire to suit their own agendas and which maximise profit for their shareholders by watering down safety procedures and standards. It’s a gravy train of greed as we have seen from their continued support for the removal of safety critical guards from our trains” (Risks 828). The union leader said the RSSB and the Office for Road and Rail “are now merely a mouthpiece of the government cheerleaders the Rail Delivery Group – all jamming their noses in the corporate trough and supporting a safety programme that suits the speculators and not the passengers or railway workers.”
More than one in every ten workers (11 per cent) report regularly feeling miserable at work and one in four workers (25 per cent) feel their job negatively affects their mental health, a study by the human resources professionals’ organisation CIPD has found. CIPD also found nearly a third of workers (30 per cent) say their workload is too much. It says its UK Working Lives survey is the first comprehensive measure of job quality in the UK, across the workforce at all levels, sectors and regions. CIPD questioned a 6,000-strong representative sample of the UK workforce. It found those at the top of the workforce, in senior manager roles, are the most satisfied with their jobs. Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD, said: “In terms of overall solutions, the message is clear: Healthy workers are happy and productive workers. If there’s one ultimate aim in job quality it should be to improve the well-being of our workers.” He added: “We also need to look closely at the main factors that facilitate or get in the way of better quality jobs. More extensive training and development must be part of the solution, so workers can develop in their careers and feel more fulfilled in their work. There are also many things employers can do that make a real difference – in particular, fostering better workplace relationships and giving employees voice and choice on aspects of their working lives.” Among a series of recommendations, CIPD calls on the government to “ensure the Health and Safety Executive has sufficient resources to encourage all employers to meet their existing legal duty to identify and manage the causes of work-related stress.”
The bosses of an asbestos removal company who forged documents to fraudulently obtain an asbestos licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have escaped jail. Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how Excavation and Contracting (UK) Ltd used both forged medical certificates and forged asbestos training certificates for their asbestos removal operatives. These forged documents had been made by their asbestos operations manager, David Lloyd, and included medicals in the name of the company operations manager, Lee Cooper, and forged training certificates for Lee Cooper and the managing director, Brendan O’Halloran. The doctor believed to have issued these medical certificates had retired some time earlier to live outside the UK. An HSE investigation found the defendants had used forged documents to obtain an asbestos licence in order to trade. The investigation also found the company could not show that they had properly trained or adequately monitored workers who were exposed to asbestos. David Lloyd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. He was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay costs of £1,000. Lee Cooper also pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the asbestos regulations and was ordered to undertake 80 hours of community service and pay costs of £1,000. Excavation and Contracting (UK) Ltd was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Taking deliberate shortcuts by creating forged documents will not be tolerated by HSE and we will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
A specialist asbestos surveying company has been fined after failing to spot asbestos at a demolition site. Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how EAS Asbestos Limited was commissioned to conduct refurbishment and demolition surveys by Mercer Brother Limited. The construction company had been contracted to demolish garages for Hyndburn Homes. EAS Asbestos stated in their surveys that asbestos was only present in the cement roof sheets, there were no areas that could not be accessed, and that there was no asbestos insulation board present in the garages. On 1 February 2017, the demolition of the garages went ahead but work was stopped when suspect material was found. Another surveying company was brought in and confirmed the presence of large amounts of asbestos insulation board in the demolition rubble. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the survey carried out by EAS Asbestos Limited was incorrect and misleading. EAS Asbestos Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,700 and ordered to pay costs of £1,000.
A contractor carrying out refurbishment and basement extension work has been prosecuted for repeated criminal safety offences and providing site workers a non-flushing toilet without a cistern and a bucket and cold water to wash in. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that PVAD Limited was the contractor controlling work at a construction site in London when it was inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in March 2017. The inspection found numerous areas of the site had no edge protection to prevent falls, including a location at the site entrance where workers could fall four metres into the basement. Unsafe ‘homemade’ ramps were being used to allow access to some parts of the site. Welfare facilities fell far below the legally required standard, found HSE, with the WC having no cistern to allow flushing and the washing arrangements on site consisting of a cold water outdoor tap and bucket, with no soap or towel. A prohibition notice was served on PVAD Limited, but further inspections in April and May 2017 found new work at height issues that were so serious that all work had to be halted on both occasions until the site was made safe. An improvement notice was also served requiring PVAD Limited concerning the inadequate welfare facilities. The company breached the notice as the improvements made were insufficient. The HSE had previously inspected other PVAD Limited sites several times in 2015 and 2016. As a result of these inspections, the company had been served with three improvement notices relating to welfare facilities and two formal letters highlighting work at height risks and giving advice. PVAD Limited pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of three safety laws and was fined £51,334 and ordered to pay £1,525.50 in costs. HSE inspector Adam Thompson said: “The standards were particularly inexcusable as the company had received clear warnings in the past. It speaks volumes that, even after being issued with three welfare improvement notices at other sites, they provided their workers at the new site with a non-flushing WC and an outside cold water tap and a bucket as washing facilities.”
With just a week to go until International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, unions worldwide have been listing their activities on an online map. The ITUC/Hazards map already includes entries from Argentina to Zimbabwe. There’s also links to events closer to home, with pins on the map highlighting England, Scotland and Wales, where a plethora of national and local events are planned.
Ÿ Check out the 28 April global events map. Unions are organising for safer, healthier decent work, ITUC briefing, 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 campaign website. Hazards Campaign Unions make work safer poster (printed A4 and A3 versions available in single or multiple orders, for the price of postage only) and other 28 April 2018 resources. To order, telephone: 0161 636 7557 or email: email@example.comEmail details of UK events to the TUC health and safety office to be included in the TUC listing. When tweeting details of your 28 April plans and resources, use the hashtag #iwmd18
Criminal charges have been dropped against Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), according to Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP). The firm had been accused of causing the deaths of 47 people when 73 train cars of highly combustible crude oil derailed in the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic in 2013, turning the downtown into a raging inferno. MMA locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, were tried on 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death — one count for each of the victims of the rail disaster (Risks 820). In January this year, a jury acquitted the three MMA employees after the defence argued successfully that the rail workers were being blamed for the consequences of poor regulatory oversight and a clear failure of the rail firm to establish and enforce safe procedures. Much of the case was based on a 2014 Canada Transportation Safety Board report that documented MMA’s “weak safety culture” and faulted Transport Canada for lax oversight of the carrier. MMA has since declared bankruptcy. DPCP said it no longer believes there is enough evidence to obtain a guilty verdict against MMA, which operated the train. Prosecutor Marie-Ève Phaneuf said: “With their verdict, the jurors sent a message that, by their assessment, the company’s agents had not behaved in a manner that markedly deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have adopted under the same circumstances.” But a former top US safety official, Jordan Barab, disagrees. “The workers were acquitted precisely for the reason that the company’s safety culture was guilty of causing the catastrophe,” he wrote in his Confined Space blog. “The main successful charge against the company was a $1 million fine for polluting Rivière Chaudière and Lac Mégantic under the Canadian Fisheries Act. The money will go toward cleaning up the lake and river. The 47 human victims were not as lucky as the fish.”
Workers at the logistics giant XPO and union activists from Belgium, France, Spain, the UK and USA have revealed further evidence of worker abuse at the global company. Their concerns are wide-ranging - XPO has been charged by unions with sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions, a death at an XPO site, gender pay discrimination, exploitative employment arrangements and anti-union activity. Elizabeth Howley, who works at an XPO warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, where a worker recently died, describes the conditions workers face. “XPO management forces workers to remove their bras at the security checkpoint, we see snakes, rats, lizards and bugs. We don't have any nurses or defibrillators, and no one is allowed to do CPR, even if certified. A co-worker died and we had to work around her body. We don't deserve to be treated like this. No one does.” US media has also highlighted concerns about sexual harassment and dangerous working conditions at the firm. Global transport workers’ union federation ITF said the France-based multinational XPO is growing aggressively all over Europe, often by buying up local companies, and replicating the abusive employment practices reported in the US. And a spokesperson for the French union Force Ouvrière (FO) said: “It is now clear that the problems in XPO are not limited to the American workforce. XPO Logistics is a rotten employer all over Europe, and this is a priority for unions in France, Spain, Belgium, the UK and across the EU. By standing together, we can stop the rot at XPO in Europe, and make the company change its ways in the USA.”
A comprehensive new index, ranking large-scale mining companies in six different performance areas, has found that companies are scoring lowest on working conditions. The Responsible Mining Index (RMI) 2018, launched in Geneva on 11 April, assesses 30 global mining companies on several economic, environmental, social and governance issues, including working conditions. “While there is no winner in this ranking, the loser is clear – workers,” said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan, speaking at the launch. “The Index shows what we have known all along - that while there is often the commitment from mining companies to do better, this does not turn into action.” The Index, which is independent of the industry, ranks the mining companies on six thematic areas: Working conditions; economic development; business conduct; lifecycle management; community well-being; and environmental responsibility. It notes that “while many companies have clearly developed systematic approaches to address occupational health and safety and environmental impact management, the most frequent adverse impacts found in the RMI analysis relate to worker fatalities and environmental pollution.” The Index warns that “the number of workplace fatalities noted in the research on adverse impacts (331 were reported for 2015 and 2016), offers pause for thought in the face of the nearly universal commitments on this matter. And many companies show little action on other issues, beyond this core responsibility on occupational health and safety.” The 30 mining companies on the Index operate over 700 mines in more than 40 countries, representing a quarter of the global production of mined commodities. IndustriALL’s Kemal Özkan said: “We welcome the Responsible Mining Index as an additional instrument in our toolbox to improve the working conditions of mineworkers around the world and we regard it as an important initiative to promote much-needed dialogue in the industry.”
Acting auditions should no longer take place in hotel rooms or homes, the leading US actors' union has said. SAG-AFTRA, which organises the Screen Actors Guild Awards, has called for an end to the practice “to help protect members from potential harassment.” This practice has “allowed predators to exploit performers behind closed doors,” SAG president Gabrielle Carteris said. The announcement comes in the wake of a slew of sexual harassment allegations against high-profile Hollywood figures. Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused of harassing and abusing dozens of young actresses, models and employees. Many of the alleged incidents are said to have taken place in hotel rooms. Weinstein has denied all allegations of “non-consensual sexual conduct.” SAG-AFTRA’s new Guideline No 1 forms part of a ‘Four Pillars of Change initiative’ to tackle harassment in the workplace. UK actors' union Equity released a report into sexual harassment last month (Risks 841) and has launched its own ‘Safe Spaces’ campaign (Risks 844).
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