|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.
In the run up to Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April the TUC says it has been concentrating on supporting events around the global theme of “organised workplaces are safer workplaces”. A page listing local events is on the front page of the TUC website and the national union body has been promoting all the materials produced as part of the safetyreps@40 campaign. “We are also focusing on looking forward to the future,” said TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, adding the TUC has just “published a guide to going further than the legal minimum, focusing on Roving Safety Reps and Union Improvement Notices.” The 28 April event this year includes commemorations or campaign activities in over 1,000 workplaces, as well as public events in cities and towns throughout the UK. International Workers’ Memorial Day is organised by unions and campaigners and is now the biggest safety event in world.
Ÿ Safety reps: Getting more than the minimum – A TUC guide to Roving Safety Reps and Union Improvement Notices. Safetyreps@40 campaign. Email 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 activities, use the hashtag #iwmd18Check 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.com
The union GMB is calling for tough action after shocking new figures revealed sex attacks on ambulance workers have more than tripled in the last five years. According to the results of freedom of information requests submitted by the union, there have been at least 688 sexual assaults on ambulance staff since 2012/13. That year there were 53 recorded sexual assaults; by 2016/17, the most recently available figures for a full year, the total had rocketed to 165. Ambulance workers have said their experiences have left them feeling frightened to work alone and respond to calls from male patients. Psychological effects outside of work have included struggling to go out and be around friends and family, with children upset and unable to sleep. An Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill from Labour’s Rhondda MP Chris Bryant went before the Commons this week. It would mean most types of assaults on emergency service workers would automatically be treated as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. However, the union and Mr Bryant have written to justice minister Rory Stewart, calling on him to back an amendment to the Bill. GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “The fact this is happening to our ambulance workers as they try to save lives is particularly sickening. “GMB is calling for sexual assaults to be included in this new legislation to help give our ambulance staff the reassurance they need to get on with the job. These heroes keep us safe every day, and the least they can expect is being kept safe at work.”
A UNISON campaign to tackle violence against workers in the voluntary sector is attracting wide support. The union’s community service group says 18 organisations have now signed up to the UNISON violence at work charter. Launched in March 2017, the campaign was created after a survey of members in the sector revealed almost half (48 per cent) had experienced a violent or aggressive incident at work in the preceding two years. UNISON says it wants the campaign to help end violence at work by first establishing that violence is unacceptable and not ‘just part of the job’. The most recent signatories to the campaign are Leeds-based Touchstone Support and Cymryd Rhan in Powys. National officer Gavin Edwards said: “It’s great news that Cymryd Rhan and Touchstone have signed up to UNISON’s Violence at Work Charter. It’s sends a strong message to their own staff and to the wider community that they take this issue seriously. The charter sets a basic level of risk management and support for staff in the CVS sector, and is a key part of our campaign to stop violence being seen as ‘part of the job’.” He added: “Charities and Housing Associations need to take proactive steps to protect their staff, and signing the Charter shows they are prepared to do this.”
Shopworkers told to enforce age-limits on restricted products like alcohol need better protection, their union has said. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary elect, said: “Age-related sales are a cause for concern amongst our retail membership, because they bring with them the very real risk of abuse, legal sanctions, and disciplinary action. Of course, it is vital that underage sales are prevented, and the age restrictions on sales exist for good reason.” But he added: “Companies need to stay within the law, and they have a duty to protect young people, but it is not acceptable that Usdaw members are the ones who suffer the consequences of poor policies and a lack of guidance. We know that our members care very deeply about making the right decision, following both the law and company policies, but time and time again we see our members disciplined because of ambiguous guidance from employers on this complex issue.” Lillis noted: “It is illegal to sell age-restricted products to a customer who is not old enough to purchase them. The consequences for making an underage sale are steep, including fines of up to £5,000, court appearances, and premises licences being revoked.” But said the ‘Think 25’ initiative is posing different problems to shop staff, as it is “in essence a company policy. The checks are run in-house by the employer, and no laws are broken if a staff member makes a sale to someone without asking for ID, unless they are actually underage. Judging whether someone looks under 25 is not always easy. Proper, in-depth training is needed, to give our members the knowledge and confidence to deal with age-related sales. We know that our members often do not receive adequate training or guidance, yet we still see members being disciplined for failing these checks. We believe this is unfair and will not help resolve the problem.” The retail union leader concluded: “We want to see companies taking a more practical approach and listening to the frontline staff who are offering the solution. We will continue to work with employers to educate customers around Think 25 and to provide better training and support for staff.”
Members of the rail union RMT held a national protest outside parliament on 25 April against industry driver only operation on trains. The rally coincided with the second anniversary of RMT’s strike action on Southern Rail - Britain's longest running industrial dispute - in defence of keeping the guard on the train. Since the initial dispute began on Southern, RMT members on Northern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and South Western Railways have also taken strike action in opposition to what RMT says is an “assault on jobs, safety, security and accessibility.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The sheer grit and determination of our members on Southern, Northern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and South Western Railways to put public safety before private profit over the past two years is a credit to the trade union movement and the communities they are standing up for.” He added: “RMT has successfully secured agreements in both Wales and Scotland that lock-in the guard guarantee and if it’s good enough for Wales and Scotland to put safety and the role of the guard centre stage then it should be good enough for the rest of Britain as well.”
Workers in legal aid and advice organisations are at breaking point, according to a survey undertaken by their union Unite. The union’s survey of members at over 30 advice centres, law centres and Citizen Advice at a local level found that over threequarters (77 per cent) of members reported an increase in their workload because of increased demand and cuts in staff. The survey found increased workload and constant changes have had an adverse effect on members’ health. In 78 per cent of cases members reported that they now feel more stressed at work, with 1-in-3 being forced to take time off due to work-related sickness. Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “Unite members who are dedicated to providing justice are being stretched beyond breaking point as their services have been cut to the bone. The vital services they provide are on the point of total collapse.” She added: “It is imperative that these cuts to justice are reversed in order to ensure that justice is fairly delivered and people are properly assisted and supported through the criminal and civil legal system.”
The TUC has called on the government to ban zero hours contracts after latest official figures showed the number of workers affected rose by 100,000 in 2017. The statistics published by the Office for National Statistics show that UK firms used 1.8 million zero hour contacts in the year to November 2017, up from 1.7m in 2016, and that 901,000 people had a zero hours contract as their main employment in the final quarter of 2017. Union leaders attacked the government for failing to help people in precarious jobs, where employers can cancel shifts at short notice and leave households scrambling for work. The latest figures buck a trend that has seen the use of zero hours contracts fall since they reached a peak of about 2.1m in May 2015. Tim Roache, the GMB general secretary, said: “The number of zero hours contracts should be falling but they are in fact on the rise. These scandalous figures show Theresa May’s out-of-touch government is completely and utterly failing to tackle insecure work.” A survey from the TUC found more than half of workers on zero hours contracts have had shifts cancelled less than 24 hours before they were due to begin. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Most people are not on zero hour contracts by choice. They want the same rights, security and guaranteed hours as other employees. More than half of zero hour contract workers have had jobs cancelled with less than a day’s notice. Zero hour contracts are a licence to treat people like disposable labour and the government should ban them.”
An outbreak of gastrointestinal illness linked to a Stockton-on-Tees pet store is being investigated by Public Health England’s North East team. Three workers at the Pet Mania store became unwell in the first week of April and needed hospital treatment. Local paper the Gazette reports that the PHE North East protection team has confirmed two cases of both cryptosporidium and campylobacter, plus another three cases with cryptosporidium. Staff became ill after caring for sick lambs and that were being treated in an isolation unit away from the public. Dr Peter Acheson said: “Investigations by environmental health officers from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council are on-going and management at the premises are co-operating fully.” He added: “Cryptosporidiosis and campylobacter are generally mild infections and in most cases the symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhoea settle in a few days. However, in a few cases symptoms can be unpleasant with diarrhoea lasting for several weeks.” The public health expert noted: “Many animals can carry parasites and germs that can affect people and evidence shows those cases can peak in the spring. To help avoid unnecessary illness, I would remind everyone to wash their hands thoroughly using soap and water after they have handled animals and before eating or drinking. People may be tempted to use hand gels and wipes after touching animals, but although they remove visible dirt and contamination, they may not be effective in removing the germs.”
Two firms convicted of criminal offences linked to the crushing death of a worker at a power plant went bust before a court handed each a £1 million fine. Sheffield Crown Court heard how 36-year-old David Beresford was employed by RK Civil Engineers Ltd working at the EON Renewable Energy Plant in the city. On 10 December 2015, he was one of two workers unloading large heating pipes weighing 840kg each from a trailer to place them into containers at the site. The pipes were being lifted and moved using an excavator and were incorrectly stacked above the top edge of the stillages (metal frames used to hold stacked items). During the positioning of the pipes, two of the pipes rolled off and fell into a gap between two stillages. Mr Beresford was standing in this gap and the second pipe fell onto him, causing fatal crush injuries. Manchester firm RK Civil Engineers Ltd was found guilty of criminal safety breaches and fined £1 million. RK District Heating Ltd of Sheffield was also convicted and fined £1 million. The judge also ordered that costs of £17,271 were to be repaid. Whether either of these penalties will be recovered is in doubt. Companies House records show RK Civil Engineers went into administration in June 2016 while RK District Heating went into liquidation in March 2017. Commenting after the sentencing, HSE inspector Mark Welsh said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young man. There was a lack of planning for the work carried out and, as a result, inadequate controls put in place.”
A waste management company has been fined for a criminal safety offence after a 56-year-old man was fatally injured by a runaway lorry at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. Plymouth Crown Court heard how on 8 June 2015, at approximately 7am, Viridor Waste Management Ltd employee Lee Jane had been using a lorry and trailer to remove skips of ash from the hospital incinerator. He had parked his lorry and trailer on a downward sloping road outside the incinerator building. He was in the process of coupling the lorry to the skip trailer on this road when he lost control of the vehicles. He attempted to prevent the vehicle runaway, but was drawn under the trailer, sustaining fatal injuries. The runaway vehicles continued rolling downhill and collided with a hospital building. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established the handbrake of the lorry had not been applied. HSE also found that there was no suitable and sufficient specific risk assessment to address the waste collection operation on site and as a consequence the work had not been appropriately planned. During the course of the trial, Viridor Waste Management Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. It was fined £237,500 and ordered to pay costs of £128,428.94. HSE inspector Georgina Speake said: “This was a tragic death and Viridor Waste Management Ltd should have conducted a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks posed by this operation. In particular, the company failed to properly assess the suitability of the location which drivers were using for the skip collection operation.”
BAM Nuttall and subcontractor McNealy Brown have been fined £900,000 and £65,000 respectively after a painter fell through a rail station ceiling into a passenger waiting room. Both firms admitted failing to put proper procedures and safeguards in place to prevent painter Paul Welstead falling at East Croydon railway station on 7 January 2015. Welstead, aged 31 at the time of the incident, suffered severe ligament damage and has been unable to return to work as an industrial painter since suffering the three metre fall. The companies were fined at Croydon Crown Court after admitting criminal safety offences in a prosecution brought by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The court heard that the two companies agreed the £12m contract with Network Rail to undertake the replacement of station floor surfaces, canopy roofs and cladding. BAM Nuttall started work in January 2014 and later that year a third company, DRH, was asked by the existing contractors to supply industrial painters to undertake specialist tasks. Welstead and a colleague were given a site induction when they arrived for work on 18 December, but they were not briefed on the risk assessment, which required work over the platforms to be undertaken at night, for workers to wear full body harnesses and for the waiting room below to be locked. Returning to work on 7 January following the Christmas and New Year holiday, Welstead and his colleague were not given a refresher safety briefing, nor were they warned about fragile roofs, and at 9.40am he fell through the unguarded suspended ceiling into the waiting room below. ORR’s Johnny Schute said the fines “send a powerful message to the industry that the safety of workers on the railways is absolutely paramount, and proper risk assessments and briefings must be carried out and followed.”
Manchester adhesive manufacturer Itac Ltd has appeared in court after two employees were injured in a major fire that stopped production at the site for five months. Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court heard enforcement action had been taken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prior to the incident at Bankfield Mills in Radcliffe because of concerns about poor handling, storage and management of risks from flammable liquids at Itac Ltd. HSE said it became concerned about slow progress in dealing with the issues and further enforcement action had been taken when the incident, which resulted in one employee suffering facial burns and another employee being treated with oxygen at the scene, occurred on 28 April 2015. An investigation by HSE found an untrained and unsupervised employee had tried his own method for unloading and filtering flammable glue product from a mixing machine. The resulting spark within the Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) ignited a fire, causing an explosion that spread burning glue around the factory, destroying a large section of the mixing area. Itac Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,309.74. HSE inspector Ron Griffiths commented: “This case shows the need to assess all of the risks of a process to establish a safe system of work and ensure that the system is then followed.” He added: “Employers should check they are complying with the established accepted practice and that their staff understand the hazards and risks of not following the established safe system of work.”
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is urging Hutchison Ports – the world’s largest stevedore - to address a pattern of serious health and safety incidents across its global operations, as a dockworker was left in a critical condition following workplace collision at the company’s Port Botany terminal in Australia. The 55-year-old dockworker, a member of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), fell seven metres from her cabin to the concrete below. She remains in an induced coma in hospital after undergoing emergency brain surgery at a Sydney hospital. The ITF’s executive board met in London last week and passed a resolution “strongly urging Hutchison Ports to address a pattern of serious health and safety incidents across their global operations.” The resolution added: “Hutchison Ports [must] correct its safety record and mitigate any further risk to its workforce and ensure involvement of union representatives.” Paddy Crumlin, ITF president and MUA national secretary said: “We extend our thoughts to our member, her family, and say to them, and workers in Hutchison terminals globally, this only strengthens our resolve to make sure that every dock worker comes home safely to his or her family.” He added: “This is the latest case in a pattern of serious health and safety incidents that have occurred recently in Hutchison terminals. In the past 18 months in the Asia Pacific region alone, there have been four fatal incidents at Hutchison’s JICT terminal in Jakarta. Reports that MUA officials were not allowed on site, and that Hutchison has failed its obligations under local laws due to a lack of consultation with health and safety representatives in the lead-up to this tragic accident, are highly concerning.” The union leader said: “Hutchison is the biggest stevedore in the world and has an obvious responsibility to its global workforce to meet occupational health and safety requirements.”
To mark the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,134 workers, global trade unions and labour rights organisations are calling on all brands sourcing from Bangladesh to take responsibility for workers making their products by signing the renewed Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The 2018 Transition Accord takes over the work of the current Accord when it expires in May and will ensure that work continues to improve factory safety. The remediation progress rate across all Accord-covered factories is 84 per cent. IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft, said: “Brands that don’t sign the 2018 Accord are getting a free ride from the brands that do, benefiting from being able to source from safer factories without contributing to the joint effort. Support for the Accord is critical while there is still no effective national regulatory body in place that can guarantee factory safety.” The legally-binding Accord, signed between global unions IndustriALL and UNI and 222 apparel brands, was set up in response to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in the outskirts of Dhaka on 24 April 2013. UNI’s Christy Hoffman, said: “We are concerned to hear signals from Bangladesh that there is opposition to the Accord continuing its important work after May. It is clear that for many major brands, the renewal of the Accord is essential to maintaining their business relationships in Bangladesh, until the Accord work can be taken over by a credible national body.” So far, 144 global brands have signed the new 2018 Accord, covering more than 1,300 factories and approximately two million workers. The 2018 Transition Accord recognises the importance of Freedom of Association – the right to form and participate in unions - in ensuring workers have a genuine say in protecting their own safety.
The Canadian province of Ontario is extending a system that presumes certain cancers in firefighters qualify for compensation payouts. The new system adds cervical, ovarian and penile cancers to those covered by the scheme. With the expanded ‘presumption’ that these cancers are caused by the job, firefighters diagnosed with these three types of cancer will encounter an expedited process for benefits and will not be required to prove a causal link between these cancers and a workplace exposure, according to an Ontario Ministry of Labour statement. Claims related to these three cancers “will be retroactive” to 1 January 1960, the statement said. In 2007, the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act was amended to create a statutory presumption for firefighters and fire investigators to get compensation for heart injuries and certain cancers without having to prove they are work-related. The list was expanded in 2014 to cover the following cancers; brain, bladder, ureter, kidney, colorectal, oesophageal, breast, testicular, prostate, lung, skin, leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma. A 2017 study, ‘Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario’, concluded there are ‘many opportunities’ to reduce the number of occupational cancers and found solar radiation, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and crystalline silica had the largest estimated impact on cancer burden and also the highest number of exposed workers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province (Risks 821).
California’s job safety watchdog is investigating another injury at Tesla’s factory in Fremont that left a worker hospitalised with a broken jaw. The incident follows a series of reports of serious safety failings at the plant. The injured man, a 30-year-old millwright employed by a subcontractor, had been hit by a skid carrier, a piece of equipment used to move a vehicle through the assembly process. The company argued it wasn’t responsible for the safety of subcontractors working in its premises. News of the investigation came on the heels of a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting that catalogued a series of injuries suffered by Tesla factory workers. They included back strain, repetitive stress injuries and the severe headaches one worker attributed to fumes from an adhesive. The report said that Tesla’s injury rate exceeded the industry average in 2016 and that the company had chosen not to report certain incidents as required under California labour law, a claim disputed by the company. However, Justine White, a former safety lead at Tesla, told reporters: “Everything took a back seat to production. It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed.” Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has acknowledged that the company has struggled to work the kinks out of its assembly line as it gears up its first mass-market car, the Model 3. He has described the debugging process as “production hell” and said recently that he was sleeping at the factory.
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