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The TUC has praised the lifesaving impact of union safety reps in Britain’s workplaces. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Our network of 100,000 safety reps work tirelessly to make sure bosses follow the law. Over the last 40 years they’ve made a huge difference to the UK’s workforce health and safety.” She added: “Trade unions have campaigned to make workplaces safe for as long as we have existed. I would urge anyone worried about health and safety at work to join a union.” The TUC leader was commenting on 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day. She gave a TUC pledge “to redouble our efforts to make sure everyone is safe from illness and injury while doing their jobs.” A new guide published by the TUC promotes ways to further enhance the role of union safety reps. The TUC says ‘roving’ safety reps “can, with agreement from bosses, represent workers in a number of different workplaces across a range of employers. This type of scheme has been successful in schools, the health service, construction and the voluntary sector.” It adds Union inspection notices (UINs) are another effective tool. It describes UINs as “a formal notice a rep can issue to an employer to officially register that they are not complying with health and safety law. It explains clearly what steps the employer should take to address the problem, usually within 28 days.” The 28 April event this year included 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. An events map produced by the global trade union confederation ITUC tracked activities in over 70 countries this year, with the global union confederation saying additional national reports are still coming in.
Firefighters’ union FBU is facing more than safety hazards; it is battling to highlight the risk of heart attacks, cancer and stress caused by heat and contaminants from fires and close proximity to tragedies. FBU officer Les Skarratts says heat exposure can cause the blood to thicken and increase the risk of heart attacks and other conditions (Risks 795), chemical exposures can lead to an increased risk of cancer (Risks 846) and horrific tragedies can cause post traumatic stress disorder. Writing in the Guardian, he noted at every turn the union faces barriers. “The FBU has campaigned for some time to raise awareness of the physiological stress of heat on firefighters and this is an important piece of the jigsaw in explaining why so many firefighters have – and die from – heart attacks,” he notes. “The incidence of cancer in firefighters is far higher than in the wider community, with unusual cancers being noticeably more common. Evidence is emerging that suggests the source of these cancers is contaminants from fires being absorbed into the body. These contaminants also settle into our fire tunics and gloves, flash hoods and leggings. We put these fire kits into the fire engines and ride with them to the station or the next incident. We absorb the contaminants while at rest and at work.” But he says “sadly, many of the firefighters who die of cancer do so after retirement, so it is hard to gather data… In many other parts of the world, including Canada, there are laws that presume some specific diseases or conditions are work-related. The FBU is pressing for similar presumptive legislation in the UK.” He says the stresses of the job are a major concern, as “massive and cruel cuts in the fire and rescue service have resulted in the loss of 11,000 firefighters’ jobs, from 60,000 in 2010, and a fall in the number of trained and skilled mental health workers. In the London Fire Brigade, the number of trained counsellors was cut from 14 to two. Following the Grenfell fire, four more counsellors have been employed on a permanent basis, but cuts are a national disgrace and should be rectified by immediate reinvestment in the country’s fire and rescue services.”
The Guardian. FBU blog. UCLAN news release. Anna A Stec and others. Occupational exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and elevated cancer incidence in firefighters, Nature’s Scientific Reports, 8, Article number: 2476, 2018.
Lorry drivers are being placed in danger from long hours and a chronic lack of adequate welfare facilities, according to new research by Unite. The union has warned that “the true scale of deaths is not being properly investigated due to legal loopholes.” Unites says its ‘highly confidential’ survey of over 4,000 HGV drivers found that 29 per cent have fallen asleep at the wheel and that tiredness and fatigue at work was in two-thirds of cases blamed on disturbed sleep (64.4 per cent) or a series of long days (62.9 per cent). Drivers also reported that they were most likely to be feeling either still drowsy, tired, sleepy or exhausted if they had slept in their vehicles at the side of the road (65 per cent of cases), in a lay-by (67 per cent) or in a service station car park (62 per cent). They reported that employers are increasingly seeking to maximise their work and minimise their rest. Drivers can legally work a 15-hour day, including 10 hours of driving with just nine hours of rest, before starting work again. This can occur for two consecutive days. But Unite’s HGV drivers reported they are left exhausted after these excessive shifts. A freedom of information request revealed that in the last five years 109 drivers or passengers of HGVs have been killed in road traffic accidents, an average of 22 a year. However, Unite says these are not recorded as workplace deaths and so the underlying and longer-term factors which could have contributed to the fatal accident are unlikely to be properly investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as the workplace safety regulator does not have the responsibility to deal with road traffic fatalities. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if drivers are regularly sleeping in their cabs tiredness will become a major hazard. Yet virtually nothing is being done to tackle this problem.” He added: “Companies are continually forcing drivers to work longer, as they are obsessed with the just-in-time delivery model. This can inevitably lead to tragic consequences; driver welfare should be a company’s first priority not just an afterthought. It is entirely wrong that if a driver is tragically killed at work it is not recorded as a workplace death. At best it is a massaging of the fatality figures. In reality it is a complete derogation of responsibility as by not allowing the HSE to investigate these tragic accidents the long-term causes are not being properly investigated and the necessary safety improvements are not being made.”
The government must take urgent action to improve safety in agriculture, Britain’s most dangerous industry, farmworkers’ union Unite has said. The union said last year there were 27 deaths in agriculture, 20 per cent of the total workplace fatality figure, despite the industry employing just one per cent of the UK’s workforce. But Unite warns the fatality figures do not include road traffic accidents. It says in the last five years there have been 122 fatal road traffic accidents involving agricultural vehicles, with 14 drivers or passengers of these work vehicles among the victims. Unite says despite this, the government “has failed to take basic steps to improve agricultural vehicle safety.” Last year, ministers caved to industry lobbying and decided against requiring tractors to have an MoT certificate to ensure their roadworthiness, the union said. It adds the rules on who can drive a tractor are lax. A 13-year-old is allowed to legally drive a tractor on private land. A 16-year-old can take a driving test and drive a tractor with a trailer attached on the open road. Unite is concerned that “formal unannounced inspections are a rarity” in the agricultural industry. A freedom of information request revealed that in 2016/17 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) made just 403 preventive inspections at agricultural workplaces. There are 218,000 agricultural holdings in the UK, meaning that just 0.2 per cent are inspected each year. In the last five years those agricultural workplaces that were inspected resulted in HSE serving an enforcement notice on 56 occasions or a notice of contravention on 72 occasions, “demonstrating high levels of non-compliance.” Yet Unite says over that period HSE prosecuted just one agricultural employer for a criminal breach of safety laws. Unite acting national officer for agriculture Joe Clarke said: “Farm safety will not be significantly improved until there is a dramatic overhaul of agricultural safety laws, backed up by an effective enforcement regime.” He added: “Farmers who are prepared to break safety laws, are highly unlikely to mend their ways, as they know they are unlikely ever to be inspected and even if they are the chances of being prosecuted are highly remote.”
The union GMB is celebrating a double victory after the 'protect the protectors' Bill won cross-party support from MPs last week – with new measures to punish sexual attacks on emergency workers added to the draft law. The union-backed Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduces a new offence of common assault against an emergency worker and requires courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor when sentencing. Initially sexual assaults were not covered by the Bill (Risks 846) – until a GMB investigation revealed reported sexual assaults and other sexually abusive incidents increased by 211 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Further GMB research released in the run up to the Commons vote showed that the number of violent attacks on ambulance workers in the UK increased by 34 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Time Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Our emergency service workers are there to save lives. In the line of duty they have to put up with being bitten, kicked, punched and even sexually assaulted. That cannot be allowed to continue.” He added: "No one should have to expect that as part of their job and thanks to this campaign, our frontline workers are one step closer to getting the protection they need and deserve at work.”
A lack of toilet facilities for postal delivery workers disproportionately affects women, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) conference has heard. The Morning Star reports that delegates at the annual gathering in Bournemouth unanimously passed a motion calling for a compulsory list of toilet facilities on every delivery route. Vicki Turner, of Leeds No 1 branch, said Royal Mail’s current system was “not fit for purpose” and that “women are going without drinking” to avoid needing to use the toilet while out making deliveries. Sally Wilson-Logue, of Glasgow and district amalgamated branch, said she had been “hospitalised with a kidney infection because I wasn’t actually drinking enough out on delivery.” CWU members also passed a resolution calling on the union to work with Royal Mail to “explore practical solutions associated with an ageing workforce.” Andrew Austin, from Warrington, pointed out that “it is a very physical job” which “can put a lot of stresses on your body.” A motion calling on the CWU to agree a severe weather policy with Royal Mail following the so-called Beast from the East cold snap received unanimous support as well. Andrew Hickerman, from Midlands No 7 branch, told the conference that a new starter who went out on delivery during the bad weather had suffered a serious injury. “She slipped and fractured her back, so she’s now got the rest of her life with possible problems with her back,” he said.
Workers at Dial-a-Ride have started a new series of walkouts after talks to resolve a dispute over the withdrawal of rest days and the imposition of new rosters failed to make progress. The dispute, which led to strike action in March, involves 120 workers who provide special needs transport for elderly people, the vulnerable and those with disabilities, on behalf of Transport for London (TfL). Unite said the workforce are concerned that management’s plan to remove 10 rest days a year and impose ‘impossible’ new rosters is ‘turning them into robots’. The union says the changes have created such high levels of stress and anxiety among members that they have been forced to contact TfL’s emergency helpline about their concerns. Unite regional officer Hugh Roberts said: “The management’s changes to rest days and rosters are causing the dedicated workforce huge stress and anxiety. They believe that management wants to turn them ‘into robots’. Members realise how many people are reliant on Dial-a-Ride to maintain their independence and do not take strike action lightly but despite extensive negotiations, management has refused to modify proposals and see reason.” The union official added: “These proposed changes will endanger the safety of our members and Dial-a-Ride users, as drivers will not have sufficient time to recover between shifts from what is often a difficult and stressful job. Unite has always believed that this dispute could have been resolved by negotiation but those hopes have been scuppered by a high-handed management that has been unable or unwilling to listen to reason and to amend the attacks on our members’ terms and conditions.”
A change to the law may be needed to prevent sexual harassment at work, Prospect’s Marion Scovell has told an influential committee of MPs. The union’s head of legal was one of the expert witnesses called to give evidence to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee as part of their inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. The Committee was examining the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and the legal advice given to those signing them. Scovell said the number of cases Prospect deals with involving confidentiality clauses in sexual harassment cases was small. One major reasons for this was because union representatives in the workplace very often resolve cases successfully before they escalated to legal claims, she said. She suggested there may be a case for a change in the law to make sure that agreements reached through the conciliation Acas have a requirement for people to get legal advice.
The stratospheric profits announced by online retailer Amazon are ‘built on treating workers like robots’, the union GMB has said. This week Amazon announced its revenues for the first quarter of 2018 jumped 43 per cent to £36.7 billion and net income more than doubled to £1.15 billion. Amazon’s shares pushed above £1,150 making it the world’s second-most valuable company, after Apple. But GMB says these results come after a former employee claimed workers at the company’s warehouse in Staffordshire have resorted to peeing in bottles because the toilets are too far away. Undercover investigator James Bloodworth said workers took the ‘toilet bottle’ option at the huge depot in Rugeley because they feared losing their job if they took too long visiting the toilet. GMB said members working at Amazon have described conditions as ‘slave labour’ – they have reported bosses have put them under so much pressure they are scared to go to the toilet. It adds that delivery drivers for Amazon report they are forced to deliver 200 parcels a day with no time for toilet breaks – forcing them to urinate into plastic bottles. GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “This is a company that makes fantastical sums of money, so why do its workers report ‘hellish’ working conditions? Why are they ending up urinating into plastic bottles? It’s inhuman, degrading and demeaning.” He added: “Amazon can more than afford to provide decent terms and conditions for their workers. Why are they being sold down the river? GMB is here to provide a voice for our members. Companies like Amazon should be treating staff with respect, not treating them like robots.” The US National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) last week put Amazon at the top of its 2018 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of companies that put workers and communities at risk. The report noted: “Amazon workers suffer injuries – and sometimes lose their lives – in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions.” NYCOSH lists seven workers who have died at Amazon facilities in the US in the last five years.
Employers are seeing more staff turning up to work while ill, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). CIPD surveyed more than 1,000 organisations this year and found that 86 per cent had observed staff attending work while ill, known as ‘presenteeism’. The rise compares with a survey in 2010 when just 26 per cent of employers observed the behaviour. The survey also found that ‘leaveism’, such as people using annual leave to work, is also a growing problem. More than two-thirds of respondents (69 per cent) reported that leaveism has occurred in their organisation over the last year. Businesses however appeared more reluctant to address the problem. Just a quarter of respondents that have experienced presenteeism (25 per cent) said their organisation had taken steps to discourage it over the last year, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48 per cent). Similarly, only 27 per cent of those who have experienced leaveism said their organisation is taking action to tackle it. CIPD’s Rachel Suff commented: “The survey shines a light on the shocking scale of presenteeism and leaveism we have in the UK, as people feel under even more pressure at work. Increasingly the threats to well-being in the modern workplace are psychological rather than physical, and yet too few organisations are discouraging unhealthy workplace practices and tackling stress, which is strongly linked to health conditions such as anxiety and depression.” She added: “In order to encourage a healthy workplace, organisations need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism. Without this evidence base, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.” The report by the CIPD was written in partnership with Simplyhealth. Official figures last year found workplace sickness was at the lowest levels on record.
Occupational health services (OHS) have a ‘clear value’ to workers, companies and the economy, a new study has found. The report from the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), the International SOS Foundation and KU Leuven University examines the value of occupational health from a global perspective and “provides a synthesis of global evidence on the effectiveness of occupational health interventions and cost effectiveness.” It notes that fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses worldwide equate to a cost of approximately €2,680 billion, equivalent to 4 per cent of the global GDP or the entire GDP of Great Britain. Commenting on publication of ‘Occupational health: The global value and evidence’, SOM chief executive Nick Pahl said: “Work related health issues are far reaching, through the impact on organisations, employees and their families and on the wider community and ultimately the economy.” He added: “This report provides comprehensive evidence of significant positive health related impact and return on investment of successful occupational health interventions.” According to SOM, the report establishes that “occupational health services have a clear value: They improve the health of the working population; contribute to the prevention of work-related illnesses; prevent avoidable sickness absence through the provision of early interventions for those who develop a health condition; and increase the efficiency and productivity of organisations. They can also play a major part in protecting and revitalising the global economy.”
SOM news release and full report, Occupational health: The global value and evidence, SOM, May 2018.
A number of major disasters in the oil and gas sector have been averted through good luck rather than good management, the offshore union RMT has warned. The union was commenting after it emerged the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had written to all offshore oil and gas production operators regarding gas releases in the North Sea. HSE said the letter was sent “because, despite recent strides being made in reducing the number of hydrocarbon releases (HCRs), they continue to occur, and the Health and Safety Executive is concerned that the industry needs to do more to tackle them.” Chris Flint, director of HSE’s energy division, said: “Every HCR is a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks. I recognise the steps the industry has taken to reduce the overall number of HCRs, however HCRs remain a concern, particularly major HCRs because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions and multiple losses of life. There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster.” He added “we often find a lack of leadership, a poor safety culture, and evidence that weaknesses have existed for some time, but haven’t been picked up through audit, assurance and review and then dealt with.” The HSE letter requires operators to respond to HSE by 20 July 2018 with a summary of their improvement activities and plans arising from their self-assessment. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We welcome this intervention by HSE as it comes at a time when the pressure on the offshore workforce is immense in terms of cuts, increased workload and increased working hours. We have come close on a few occasions and it's often been luck as opposed to good management that a disaster was avoided.” He added: “It is appropriate that HSE should issue a statement in the terms they have as it will help to focus minds and remind everyone they must remain vigilant.”
Over a quarter of senior managers in the oil and gas sector believe safety management is not effective, according to a study. The report - from the Norwegian risk management firm DNV GL - questioned more than 800 business leaders, middle managers and technical specialists in the UK and around the world. It found that more than a third – 38 per cent - felt safety management was effective, however 26 per cent of the respondents disagreed. Senior managers were much more likely than the industry’s technical specialists to believe ‘cost controls’ had not undermined safety. The 'State of Safety' report also noted almost half (46 per cent) of respondents believed there had been underinvestment in inspection and maintenance of infrastructure and equipment in recent years. Nearly twice as many engineers and technical specialists (28 per cent) as business leaders (15 per cent) believed that stringent cost control has affected safety levels in the sector. The report comes the week after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there were too many oil and gas leaks and called for companies to take action. DNV GL's oil and gas chief executive officer Liv Hovem said: “The industry's strong focus on cost control must continue in the long term for oil and gas to remain competitive and play an increasingly important role in the energy transition.” She added “our research confirms the sector's clear belief that cost control must never come at the expense of safety."
Courier company DHL has been fined £2 million over the death of a worker at one of its depots. Kryzystof Sontowski was crushed between a lorry and the wall of a docking bay as workers manoeuvred it so that the rear of the vehicle was in in the correct position. To get it into the exact position the 36-year-old had been jumping up and down on the back of the lorry in an attempt to get the dock leveller, which helps spread the weight of the vehicle, to properly line up. The company had earlier admitted to two criminal safety breaches and was fined this week by Judge Francis Sheridan, sitting at Aylesbury Crown Court. Judge Sheridan was critical of the fact that no risk assessments for what to do if the dock leveller was not in place properly. He said: “Similar problems had occurred in the past and alarm bells should have been ringing. That is the central failing in this case. There was no way to deal with situations such as this.” He added: “The accident occurred because there was no risk assessment done. It was wrong that the system had been allowed to develop. The alarm bells really should have been ringing and not left to staff jumping up and down to right the equipment.” DHL was fined £2 million and ordered to pay £100,000 costs. The prosecution was brought by Milton Keynes Borough Council’s health and safety department. A civil suit brought by the family had been settled out of court.
A Scottish haulage company has been fined £180,000 after a worker was crushed by a lorry. Graham Forsyth was working for Colin Lawson Transport on 31 May 2016 when he was sent to help repark lorries in the company’s yard in Aberdeen. He stood behind a lorry being driven by colleague Murray Duff to give him directions as he backed up the vehicle. However, the lorry shunted backwards and hit the 57-year-old, who later died in hospital. At Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Colin Lawson Transport Ltd admitted two criminal health and safety offences, including not assessing risks, not providing a safe system of work and not providing adequate instruction and training. The court heard that the firm did not permit staff to stand behind a vehicle to give directions, so did not provide training on how to do it – but that it happened “every day” as colleagues tried to help each other. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident. HSE inspector Connor Gibson said: “This incident could have been prevented if the company had put a safe system of work in place when moving vehicles.” Colin Lawson Transport is one of the biggest haulage firms in the region, with a £6.1 million turnover last year.
Unknown gunmen killed Ahmad Shah, a journalist with BBC Afghan service, on 30 April, making it the deadliest for media in the country as nine other journalists were killed earlier in the day in a suicide attack in Kabul. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joined the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) in strongly condemning the targeted killing of Shah and demanded swift action from the authorities to arrest and punish the killers. According to media reports, two unknown armed men riding on a motorcycle shot Shah dead while he was on his way home at around 4pm. It was not immediately clear the reason behind the killing and no group has taken responsibility for the attack. Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said: “The killing of journalist Ahmad Shah in Khost, Afghanistan adds more misery to an already terrible day for [the] Afghan media community. Today, we lost 10 journalists in line of duty, making it the deadliest day for journalism in the country. The IFJ strongly condemns the killing of journalist Shah and demands urgent action from the authorities to arrest and punish the killers. The reigning impunity for crimes against journalists and the government’s lack of concrete action to protect journalists are key causes of increased violence against journalists in Afghanistan. The IFJ urges Afghan government to urgently take drastic action to ensure the safety of journalists and justice to slain journalists.” IFJ affiliate AIJA also condemned the attack and urged the Afghan government to take actions to secure Afghan journalists. Last year, Reporters without Borders ranked Afghanistan as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Global union organisations have launched an urgent campaign to secure safety, justice and accountability at work. The initiative, announced on 28 April – International Workers’ Memorial Day – sets out to underline the vital role that unions play in protecting workers from work-related accidents and disease. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) says more than 2.5 million workers lost their lives to workplace injuries and illness in 2017, with many more deaths going unrecorded. “Worldwide, poor working conditions kill a worker every 11 seconds. All these deaths are avoidable, yet the body count is increasing,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Unions, and laws which are effective and enforced, provide vital protection to workers, and with labour laws being weakened and workers’ right to organise being undermined in every region of the world, it is little surprise that the death toll is so high. That is why global unions are launching a reinvigorated and urgent organising campaign to demand safety, justice and accountability.” She said in the coming year, unions will also be focusing on the scourge of occupational cancer, which is responsible for a large proportion of the 2.4 million deaths due to occupational disease annually. More than 10 per cent of cancer cases are a result of workplace exposures. “Cancer caused by work is a major killer, and where workers are not allowed to organise and governments fail to regulate effectively and ensure compliance, the risks skyrocket. There are too many examples like the case of Samsung in Korea, which has used ‘trade secrets’ as a way to hide the toxicity of chemicals which production line workers have to use,” said Burrow. The union movement is also calling for occupational health and safety to be recognised as one of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), alongside existing fundamental standards on forced labour, child labour, discrimination at work and freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain.
Global electronic giant Samsung has been targeted by safety and labour standards campaigners over its deadly record of abuse. An international day of action against Samsung on 1 May saw the company’s bad practices exposed in Asia, Europe and the United States. The company was presented with several petitions with over 200,000 signatures calling on Samsung to protect their hundreds of thousands of electronics factory workers around the world. The action comes on the heels of a Samsung lawsuit against the South Korean government which seeks to prevent public disclosure of information on its use of hazardous chemicals. The campaigners are demanding that Samsung “publicly withdraw threats against workers and civil society groups, disclose all chemicals used in its factories, desist from efforts to suppress information, use safer alternatives, and guarantee workers’ right to organise independent trade unions.” Coordinators of the day of action say electronics production is chemically intensive, with many workers developing sometimes deadly occupational diseases as a result of workplace exposures. They say at least 118 Samsung factory workers in South Korea have died from occupational illnesses since 2007. The South Korean government and courts have accepted a growing number of cases of serious occupational illnesses are the result of work in Samsung factories. The day of action was backed by organisations including the global union confederation ITUC (Risks 844), SHARPS (South Korea), CDI and CGFED (Vietnam), AMRC (Hong Kong), IPEN (Sweden), ICRT (USA), Good Electronics (Holland and Green America (USA).
Good Electronics news release. Samsung campaign facebook page.
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