- Toxic cabin air warning should trigger public inquiry
- One-in-nine workers are in insecure jobs, says TUC
- GMB takes on Hermes over workers’ rights
- TUC hails Scottish campaign against zero hours
- ‘Climate of fear’ at Lidl, claim Scottish workers
- Exploitation rife in nail bars, recycling, on sites and in car washes
- GLAA report ‘hits nail on the head’ on site exploitation
- Furniture firm exposed workers to carcinogenic wood dust
- Contractor fined £200,000 after dumper death
- Trainee scaffolder seriously hurt in fall through roof
- Food firm fined after worker loses his leg
- Boss fined after gardener is slashed to the bone
- TUC 150th anniversary safety conference, 8 June, Manchester
- Global: How your workplace is killing you
- Global: Dramatic fall in asbestos production worldwide
- New Zealand: Work diseases a ‘significant’ workplace problem
- Pakistan: Union concern at deadly spike in mine deaths
TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS
The recommendations from an inquest into the death of a cabin crew member should be the ‘catalyst’ for a public enquiry, the union Unite has said. The union call came after Berkshire’s senior coroner in the inquest into the death of Matthew Bass, a Unite member and British Airways’ cabin crew, said he would write to the chief coroner asking him to warn all coroners in England and Wales of the need for additional tests where the cause of death could be toxic cabin air on board aircraft. Unite says the ‘unprecedented’ letter of concern, which recognises that exposure to toxic cabin air does lead to a clinical impact on the body, came on 30 April as the coroner recorded a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ at the conclusion of the inquest. Unite is currently taking over 100 legal cases on behalf of cabin crew who have been involved in fume events and suffered ill-health from toxic cabin air. Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This significant step by a senior coroner recognises that exposure to toxic cabin air does have an impact on the body and can lead to ill-health. All coroners will now be made aware of toxic cabin air and should commit to additional testing so we can get a greater understanding of its effects on cabin crew.” He added: “The senior coroner’s letter of concern should act as a catalyst for a public inquiry into an issue the airline industry has consistently tried to brush under the carpet. Toxic cabin air is real and is damaging lives. The airline industry needs to face up to its responsibilities and deal with it.” He credited the ‘dignified determination’ of Matthew’s family, without which “we would not have established that Matthew had been exposed to organophosphates and secured the warning from the senior coroner on toxic cabin air.”
Unite news release and cabin air campaign. Why Matt died website.
Over 3.8 million people are in insecure work, such as agency work, zero hour contracts and low-paid self-employment, an analysis by the TUC has found. The union body found that 1-in-9 workers, or 11.9 per cent of the workforce, is in insecure forms of employment. This amounts to 3,820,000 UK workers overall. As well as economic hardship and disruption to family life, the TUC says many workers in the ‘gig economy’ are denied key workplace rights, including protection from unfair dismissal and rights to be represented by a trade union. Bosses are falsely labelling staff as self-employed, outsourcing work to agencies or using zero hours contracts to drive down costs and dodge their employment and tax responsibilities, says the TUC. It adds that agency and zero hours staff can he hired and fired at will and have no right to return to their job after having a baby. And ‘gig economy’ workers forced into bogus ‘self-employment’ by their boss are not guaranteed the national minimum wage, paid holidays or sick pay. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every worker deserves fair pay, decent rights, and a voice at work. But millions are stuck in jobs with bosses who treat them like disposable labour. We need a new deal for working people so that every worker gets respect, and every job is a good job.” She added: “The government must crack down on shady business models that exploit workers. No more zero hour contracts. No more bogus self-employment. And no more using agency workers to undercut permanent staff.” She said tens of thousands of people will join the TUC’s 12 May ‘A New Deal for Working People’ demonstration in London.
TUC news release and new deal facebook page. More on the hazards of insecure work.
The delivery company Hermes is facing a union-backed challenge from its drivers. The legal action, which started on 30 April at a Leeds employment tribunal, has been brought by eight couriers at Hermes, which delivers packages for retailers such as Next, Asos, John Lewis, Topshop and River Island. The union GMB says the drivers are being denied basic workers’ rights by being forced to declare themselves self-employed, meaning they are not entitled to holiday or sick pay or to be paid the legal minimum hourly rate under the national living wage. The union says this together with ‘unrealistic’ targets leaves them vulnerable to working long and potentially dangerous hours. The Hermes claim mirrors several other similar tribunal hearings – including verdicts in cases brought against Uber, Addison Lee, City Sprint, Excel and eCourier – where judges have ruled that the staff should be given the legal classification of “workers”, entitling them to the minimum wage and holiday pay rights. In 2016, in another GMB-backed case, the ride-hailing firm Uber was told its drivers should be classed as “workers”. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “GMB’s courier members do a tough job – working long hours with unrealistic targets. They make a fortune for companies like Hermes, the least they should be able to expect in return is the minimum wage and their hard fought rights at work.” He added: “Companies like Hermes and Uber hide behind terms like ‘flexibility’ to wriggle out of treating the people who make them their money with the respect they deserve. Guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions are not privileges companies can dish out when they fancy. They are the legal right of all UK workers, and that's what we're asking the courts to rule on."
GMB news release. The Guardian and story update.
The leader of the UK's trade union movement has praised “brilliant” campaigns against zero hours contracts by young Scottish workers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the Better Than Zero campaign had revitalised unions in Scotland. The group campaigns against zero hours contracts, particularly in sectors overrepresented by young people. The TUC leader said the campaign, backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), gave a voice to “isolated” and exploited young workers. “The STUC’s Better than Zero campaign has brilliantly exposed the insecurity faced by so many young workers in Scotland, namely being at the sharp end of low pay and modern insecure work patterns. Using practical support for young workers, the campaign has engaged many who would otherwise have been isolated in today’s fragmented world of work.” Low pay frequently goes hand in hand with low health and safety standards at work. Last year, Hazards magazine reported that occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer can accompany low paid, insecure jobs. A study last year by University College London’s Institute of Education confirmed that ‘precarious workers’ are less likely to be in good health and are at higher risk of poor mental health than workers with stable jobs.
The Herald. Better than Zero facebook page.
Workers at supermarket giant Lidl's Scottish distribution depot “operate in a climate of fear”, retail union Usdaw has warned. Hundreds of staff at the site in Livingston load groceries for transportation to Lidl's 94 stores across Scotland. But random employee theft checks are held without reasonable grounds for suspicion, reports Usdaw. The union adds that employees suffering extreme back pain from heavy lifting are afraid to take time off sick. Workers are also timed on how quickly they can complete tasks like stacking a pallet for delivery. A Lidl distribution staff member told the Sunday Herald workers are “always pressured to produce more than is capable in a tight time frame.” Another told the paper: “People get injured due to pick rates being hard to achieve.” Rafal Kowalski, an Usdaw official, says company checks on cars and lockers “happen a lot”. The union officer added: “People are afraid to take time off sick because they get disciplined for it.” Usdaw is involved in a long-running dispute with Lidl over the company's refusal to recognise unions and let union officials onto the premises. Labour MSP Neil Findlay is backing the Usdaw recognition campaign. “Lidl’s refusal to recognise Usdaw at Livingston is a message to the public that they do not want that kind of positive relationship with their staff,” he said. He added: “We know that unionised workplaces are safer, more productive and happy – this is good for employees and the well-being of the company they work for.”
Usdaw news release. The Herald.
Exploitation and abuse of workers is widespread across the UK economy, according to a new report, which found that 17 sectors are high-risk for mistreatment ranging from wages theft to slavery. Construction, recycling, nail bars and car washes were among the top sectors where the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) said there was slavery. Agriculture, food packing, fishing, shellfish gathering, warehouse and distribution, garment manufacturing, taxi driving, retail, domestic work, and social care were also highlighted in the report. “It’s not until now that we’ve had the ability to look, but it’s a case of the more you look, the more you find,” said Ian Waterfield, the GLAA operations director. The authority says measuring the prevalence of labour exploitation is difficult, but an increasing number of suspected cases are being reported. Reported cases of slavery have increased 35 per cent year on year, with the UK being one of the biggest destinations in Europe for trafficking of workers for labour exploitation. Bogus self-employment contracts are also regularly used to disguise abuse, with intelligence suggesting this is a growing problem in sectors such as cleaning, construction and flower picking. Zero hours contracts linked to abuses are highlighted in agriculture, construction, food packing and security services, despite many workers effectively being permanent staff. Long shifts of 12-15 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, wages below the legal minimum or not paid at all, and dangerous working and living environments were issues common to several sectors. GLAA found that in agriculture, ‘serious safety incidents’ were commonplace. Conditions in some car washes were found to be ‘unsafe and dangerous’. In recycling workers were found to be living in shipping containers, in breach of safety law. In construction, the report says: “Intelligence indicates that serious accidents have befallen exploited workers and in some cases compensation has been offered to stop victims presenting a case to authorities, however this is not always paid.” In food packaging, the GLAA report says the majority of temporary workers do not understand English, including health and safety instructions.
GLAA news release and full report, The nature and scale of labour exploitation across all sectors within the United Kingdom, GLAA, May 2018. The Guardian.
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) on workplace exploitation ‘is entirely right’ in its criticism of the exploitation and modern slavery so prevalent in the construction industry, the union Unite has said. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This important and authoritative report from the GLAA ‘hits the nail on the head’ when it comes to identifying how and why exploitation occurs in the construction industry. The report is entirely right to identify that not only does false self-employment deny workers basic employment rights but by barring them from receiving holiday and sick pay, these workers are automatically being exploited and further abuses are likely.” She added: “The report is also right to highlight that the extended and convoluted supply chains, makes identifying who a worker’s real employer is very difficult, while the use of exploitative payment methods such as umbrella companies makes these matters even more confusing.” Cartmail called on the industry and government to examine carefully the report “as the current status quo is clearly not acceptable. Employers must reform working practices to ensure that the unscrupulous cannot exploit workers and the government should be forcing employers to take such appropriate action. Unite is committed to tackling exploitation in any form whenever it is identified. We will be stepping up our activities in the coming months and naming and shaming companies that are allowing exploitation on their sites. The conspiracy of silence must end.”
Unite news release.
Furniture firm exposed workers to carcinogenic wood dust
A Hertfordshire furniture manufacturer has been fined after exposing its employees to significant quantities of hardwood dust, a hazardous substance known to cause occupational asthma, nasal cancer and which has been linked to lung cancer. Luton Magistrates’ Court heard how employees in Andrena Furniture Ltd’s workshop were exposed to hardwood dust on a daily basis. One of the reasons for high levels of the hazardous substance was found to be the company’s extraction system, which when tested during a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection in 2016 was found to be inefficient. The HSE also found that following previous visits, and provision of verbal and written advice, the company failed to ensure improvements were maintained. The investigation also found the company should have identified its workshop contained significant quantities of hardwood dust and then do all that it could to reduce exposure to its employees, including ensuring extraction was working efficiently and implementing a robust cleaning regime. Hoddeston-based Andrena Furniture Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and was fined £8,000. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £1,081.40. HSE inspector Sandra Dias commented: “Andrena Furniture Ltd was fully aware of the health and safety standards it needed to maintain. Breathing in dust can cause life-changing lung disease or make existing conditions worse. Thousands of people die from work-related lung diseases every year, often due to continued exposure over a long period of time.”
HSE news release. ITUC/Hazards work cancer hazards website.
Civil engineering contractor Tonic Construction Ltd has been fined £200,000 following the death of Shaun Carter, who was hit by a toppling dumper. Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court heard how the 29-year-old employee was driving a forward tipping dumper on 31 May 2016 onto the top of a spoil heap. The dumper became stuck on the edge of the spoil heap, and when Carter jumped off the vehicle, it flipped over striking him. He suffered serious head injuries, dying at the scene. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that it was the usual practice on this and other sites for dumpers to access spoil heaps with no barriers to prevent over-running. The danger was compounded in this case as an excavator had removed some of the spoil heap creating a sheer face. Tonic Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety regulations and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,565.80. HSE inspector Sue Adsett said: “Risks associated with the creation of spoil heaps had not been suitably and sufficiently assessed. Either the company should have decided on a safer method which avoided the need for the dumper to access spoil heaps (as they have done after the accident), or they should have introduced stricter management arrangements which would have included bunds at a safe distance from the edge.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.
A company has been fined nearly £35,000 after a trainee scaffolder was seriously injured when he fell through a fragile asbestos roof in a ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ accident. The victim had worked for Acorn Scaffolding (Yorkshire) Ltd for less than three weeks when he plunged about 13 feet through a roof onto a concrete floor at Lockington Grange Farm, East Riding, on 31 May 2013. All the bones in his left wrist were broken, and he suffered crushed nerves in his left wrist, a broken right wrist, a broken nose, a sprained left ankle and shoulder, as well as grazes, cuts and bruises all over his body, Hull Crown Court heard. Acorn Scaffolding, which settled a personal injury claim in October 2014, admitted failing to ensure the safety of an employee. Lee Fish, prosecuting for Health and Safety Executive, said the man, as an untrained scaffolder, should not even have been on the asbestos roof, was not wearing a harness, and no safety measures such as a safety net or ‘crash deck’ had been fitted. Nor, it appeared, had any of the Acorn employees been trained on how to work on fragile roofs. Recorder Richard Woolfall said the fine would have been £50,000 but for the guilty plea, which reduced that by a third to £33,333.33. Acorn was also ordered to pay £14,638.40 costs.
HSE news release. Hull Daily Mail.
A Crewe company has been fined after an incident where a contractor lost his leg when he was hit by a forklift truck. Morning Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £35,000. Prosecutor David Temkin said that the charge related to an incident in September 2015, when Mark Johnson, who had worked as a contractor at the company since 2003, was working with a colleague to clear items from a property that had been recently acquired by Morning Foods and earmarked for redevelopment. Towards the end of the six-week project on 1 September 2015, Johnson was hit by a forklift truck which trapped his right leg, which later had to be amputated. The prosecutor said that although the company had carried out a risk assessment ahead of the work, and had employed several conditions for the operation, such as ensuring there was adequate signage and making sure only essential staff were in the area at the time and all wearing high-vis clothing, there had been no provision to make sure that vehicles and pedestrians would be segregated. Judge Nicholas Woodward said: “If the additional precaution that the defendant company now accepts should have been taken had been taken, then what occurred on the first of September and the tragedy that resulted for Mr Johnson simply would not have happened. Fortunately this injury did not result in a death. The harm is substantial, it is life-changing, it is permanent.” The judge added: “I also take into account that the company is reflected by its directors and the management, who are genuinely remorseful for what occurred that day. They have a genuine desire to make sure there is no repetition of the sort of accident as what occurred that day.”
HSE news release. Crewe Chronicle.
The owner of a Jersey gardening business has been fined £10,000 after an employee suffered serious facial injuries. Jose Romao Gouveia De Castro was also ordered to pay £2,500 costs after the Royal Court found him guilty of working “substantially short” of required procedures. The 69-year-old ended up in court after carrying out “dangerous” work that left his employee with “serious facial injuries,” according to Crown Advocate Richard Pedley. Employee Jose Luis da Costa Camara had worked at Special Deal Gardening business for six years. On 31 March 2017, the firm went to cut back a large chestnut tree in a garden in St Brelade. De Castro went up the tree, which police estimated to be standing around 30 metres high, with a chainsaw to cut some branches off, while the employee footed the ladder and cleared the debris beneath the tree. However, a branch cut by the company boss fell “in an uncontrolled manner from a considerable height” striking Camara on his face, causing a deep 6cm cut from the base of his right eye vertically down his cheek, creating a flap which exposed bone underneath. A medical report confirmed that the injury has left him with “reduced sensation to the right lower lid, cheek and upper lip” which is not expected to improve over time, and “reduced tear drainage to his right eye.” Sentencing, the Deputy Bailiff said the tree work was “inherently dangerous” and De Castro’s working practices “fell substantially short” of health and safety regulations. He told De Castro that he was “doing work you were not qualified to do, but agreed to do for financial gain.”
A health and safety conference celebrating the 150th anniversary of the TUC is to be held at the Mechanics Institute, Manchester on Friday 8 June. The event – staged in the birthplace of the TUC - has the theme 'You gotta fight for your right to safety'. Speakers include TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady - who will open the conference - and Kevin Rowan, the TUC’s head of organising and a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) board member. Delegates will have the opportunity to “learn how to produce podcasts, and innovative and creative ways of organising.”
Register for the free event: You gotta fight for your right to safety, Friday 8 June 2018, 10:00am-3:00pm, Mechanics Institute, Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6DD.
Email Janet Newsham or telephone Greater Manchester Hazards Centre on 0161 636 7558 for more information.
The modern workplace can inflict potentially fatal levels of stress on employees, a succession of studies have shown. Stanford University Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of ‘Dying for a Paycheck’, argues that these practices don’t help companies – and warns governments are ignoring an emerging public health crisis. In an online opinion piece for BBC Capital, the professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, links poor management practices to suicides, heart attacks and rampant work-related ill-health. “A paper I co-authored in a leading peer-reviewed journal estimated that there were 120,000 extra deaths annually in the US from harmful management practices, and that extra health-care costs were $190bn each year. That would make the workplace the fifth leading cause of death, worse than kidney disease or Alzheimer’s,” Pfeffer notes. “The workplace is making people sick and even killing them – and people should care. With rising health-care costs all over the world, the workplace has become an important public health problem.” The business professor concludes: “Few leaders seem to understand that when people come to work for them, those individuals have placed their physical and psychological well-being in the leaders’ hands… People need to choose their employer not just for salary and promotion opportunities but on the basis of whether the job will be good for their psychological and physical health. Business leaders should measure the health of their workforce, not just profits. And governments concerned about the health-care cost crisis need to focus on the workplace, because workplace stress is clearly making people sick. None of this necessary – no one should be dying for a pay cheque.”
BBC Capital. Dying for a Paycheck: How modern management harms employee health and company performance—and What We Can Do About It, HarperBusiness, March 2018.
Joel Goh, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stefanos Zenios. The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States, Management Science, volume 62, issue 2, pages 608-628, 13 March 2016.
There has been a dramatic drop in asbestos production worldwide, with just three countries continuing to mine the deadly fibre. Brazil’s 2017 ban on asbestos production and use means only Russia, China and Kazakhstan are now mining asbestos. The new figures from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) revealed the sharp drop in asbestos production – from around 2.1 million tonnes in 2012 to approximately 1.4 million tonnes in 2015. While Russia has been accused of promoting asbestos sales, particularly in Asia, its home consumption has been falling. The same trend has been seen in China. Production figures for both countries for 2016 and provisional figures for 2017 suggest production has ‘flatlined’, according to an analysis by the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.
International Ban Asbestos Secretariat analysis.
A concern over unacceptable levels of highly visible work fatalities should not distract attention from the much greater toll of work-related diseases, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) has said. The union body’s president, Richard Wagstaff, said an estimated 600 to 900 workers in the country died each year due to work-related diseases, with many others suffering from non-terminal illnesses caused by work. “This has been a long-standing issue. Many work-related illnesses and diseases have a long latency period,” he said. “Others illnesses, such as work-related asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, have been an issue for a very long time despite personal protective equipment being available and relatively inexpensive.” The National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee (NOHSAC) estimated there were 17,000-20,000 new cases of work-related disease in New Zealand every year. Wagstaff said cancer, respiratory disease, noise related hearing loss, and ischaemic heart disease were some of the most common work-related chronic illnesses. “Many of these diseases are as long-lasting in consequence as physical injuries that occur. Many are terminal.” The union leader said addressing the problem requires “involvement of workers and their unions in assessing how to manage these risks. Workers are typically excluded from this assessment despite often having a wealth of knowledge of how to best manage the risks they are exposed to.” Training workers and health safety representatives and promoting their ability to stop work if they feel unsafe was also an important step, he said.
New Zealand Herald.
In separate incidents on 5 May, a ‘staggering’ 23 mine workers were killed and 11 injured in horrific mine accidents in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, the global union IndustriALL has said. According to reports, 16 workers were killed in a mine in the Marwar area when the mine collapsed at the exit point following a methane gas explosion. A private company called Pir Ismael was operating the coal mine, where 25 to 30 workers were believed to be working at the time. In another incident on the same day, seven workers in a state-owned mine run by the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) in the Sur-range area were killed by a mudslide. Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said: “This massacre could have been avoided. During a mission to Pakistan in March, IndustriALL met with the government and urged them to ratify ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. At the same time, we launched a campaign for health and safety in Pakistani mines. The government must take immediate action to improve mine safety and stop fatal accidents.” Condemning the deaths and protesting against what they described as the negligence and apathy of the mine owners and the government, Pakistani trade unions, including IndustriALL affiliate PCMLF, organised protest actions in Quetta the following day. The unions are calling for immediate action to hold those responsible to account and for compensation for the victims. The unions also called for strict implementation of mines safety laws and immediate ratification of the ILO mine safety convention.
IndustriALL news release.
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