|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.|
The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into effect this week and some employers are ‘worryingly’ – and wrongly – using them to restrict the information going to union safety reps. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “Some employers are using the regulations to try to stop union health and safety representatives from getting access to information they are legally entitled to.” This is despite a very clear legal right for safety reps to obtain all the information ‘necessary to enable them to fulfil their functions.’ The only exception is information about an identifiable individual, for which their consent is required. But Robertson, writing in a TUC blog posting, notes: “Now we find that a lot of employers are saying that the GDPR restricts what information they can supply. Examples of this include refusing to hand over information from accident report forms, instead saying they will just give quarterly reports, or instructing their auditor to stop sharing their safety audits with safety representatives on the grounds they contain some personal data. This is nonsense. These employers are making no attempt to gain consent for sharing the information or, if consent is withheld, anonymising the information.” According to Robertson: “This seems a deliberate attempt to try to stop union representatives getting information they need. Just giving general information with no detail makes these reports utterly useless as the health and safety representative can't properly investigate unless they know who the member is. The GDPR does not change the information that can be given to union health and safety representatives in the least.” The TUC has already obtained advice from the government legal department, via the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which said GDPR “should not adversely impact safety representatives carrying out their functions within the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC). Employers are required to provide documents and information requested by safety representatives under Regulation 7 as before.” According to Robertson: “If your employer does try it on and says that the GDPR somehow trumps the SRSC Regs then ask them where in the GDRP it says that they should not provide the information covered in Regulation 7 of the SRSC Regulations.” He adds that in order for union reps to keep any personal records they hold secure in the workplace, “at the very least, health and safety representatives can demand a locked filing cabinet and any other secure facilities they need to keep data secure.”
The final report by Dame Judith Hackitt into the adequacy of the current building regulations and fire safety was published this week. The report was commissioned by the government after last year's fire at Grenfell Tower in West London, that led to the loss of 71 lives. According to the TUC, while the report makes a number of good recommendations, “it falls short of providing the kind of safety regime that is needed.” Commenting on the report’s publication, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “At the time of the fire, I said that fire safety had suffered massively because of the government’s obsession with deregulation and we need to make sure that the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire are learned and that we can be confident that tower blocks are safe places to live and work in.” He said the final report “makes some positive recommendations, including toughening up fire testing and the improving the way buildings are certified as safe. It also looks at issues of competency and the need for more involvement of residents, although many of the problems relate to the initial construction, before there are any tenants to involve. Although the proposals will simplify the system they do not fully tackle many of the real problems around the need for a strong statutory approach to regulation.” He said the call for a new 'Joint Competent Authority' involving the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), local government building control and the fire service “must be welcome, but the question of who the regulator is has hardly been the main issue. Instead it is the cuts in their numbers… we have already seen big cuts in levels of both inspection and enforcement action from all three of the regulators over the past eight years.” He said there will be disappointment that the report doesn’t call for a ban on flammable cladding or call for sprinkler systems and a second means of escape in high-rise blocks. “But the biggest question is over resources. The recommendations will be of little help unless the government ensures that there is a strong enforcement regime of inspections and, where necessary, prosecutions, and that means giving the three joint regulators sufficient resources to ensure that all new and existing high-rise buildings are safe.”
TUC blog and TUC advice for union representatives on fire safety. Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report, 17 May 2018. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government report webpage. Hazards Campaign news release.
The failure of a major review to recommend a ban on flammable insulation linked to the Grenfell fire tragedy and news that this cladding had never passed fire safety tests have been condemned as ‘perverse’ and ‘beyond shocking’ by the firefighters’ union FBU. The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “It is perverse that the Hackitt review does not recommend an outright ban on flammable cladding despite claiming that a new regulatory framework would stop the use of these materials. The safest course of action for the public and for firefighters is for these dangerous materials to be taken out of the equation entirely.” He added: “Although we welcome Hackitt’s recognition that systemic change is necessary to improve safety, we are deeply concerned that the report seems to prioritise business concerns over public safety.” Commenting on a 21 May BBC Panorama revelation that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower had never passed fire safety tests and should not have been allowed on the building, Wrack said: “The findings outlined in the Panorama investigation are beyond shocking. The issues identified in the programme are matters for the police to urgently investigate. Those responsible for any criminal behaviour in relation to Grenfell should be held accountable and feel the full force of the law. But we must look at how a lax regulatory system created an environment where the Grenfell Tower disaster was allowed to happen.”
The union Unite has warned Qantas airlines against employing ‘anti-union’ tactics to try and suppress legitimate health and safety concerns. The union was speaking out after the introduction of the airline’s new 17-hour ultra-long haul flight between London Heathrow and Perth in Australia. The new direct route, launched by Qantas in March this year, means an average duty period of 19 hours for the ten cabin crew on board each 787 Dreamliner aircraft serving the route. Unite has raised concerns with Qantas that the cabin crew, who are all UK based, can only expect to receive an average rest period of 25 hours in their hotel before commencing their duty on the flight home. The union also said ‘open and transparent conversations’ between Unite and its members on legitimate health and safety concerns have been described by the UK base manager for Qantas, Danielle Morgan, as ‘unreasonable union activity’. Unite regional officer Lindsey Olliver commented: “While the future of flying is likely to centre on ultra-long haul operations, Qantas has a responsibility to ensure that the safety and well-being of its passengers and cabin crew continues to be of paramount importance.” She added: “Qantas cabin crew must be provided with adequate rest down route between sectors to ensure they are fully able to complete their safety critical functions without impairment whilst operating on-board an aircraft… I urge Qantas in the UK to engage with Unite and listen to its workforce rather than resorting to bullying anti-union threats when dealing with legitimate safety concerns.” Unite is calling for Qantas to implement more sensible rostering practices by abandoning its current trip length ‘trial’ in favour of a more humane 5-6 day trip pattern.
A health board in Wales has been urged to support its staff better after figures obtained by UNISON showed a spike in stress-related sick days. New statistics obtained by the union show Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) lost almost 77,000 days due to stress and anxiety last year - costing more than £5.4m. UNISON’s Freedom of Information request to BCUHB revealed that in 2017 the total number of days lost to stress-related sickness was 76,919, which cost an estimated £5,428,479. In 2016, the number of sickness days was 65,786 at a cost of £4,932,456. The figures also show a 17.3 per cent increase in absences in the six years from 2012. Jan Tomlinson, chair of UNISON Cymru's health committee, said both staff and patients lost out when healthcare employees were off sick. “UNISON’s annual survey of Betsi staff reported low morale, frustration at being associated with poor service and a sense of powerlessness because managers did not consult or listen to them. Sickness absence can be reduced by improved employer procedures and welfare support.” She added: “I want to salute the professionalism of Betsi Cadwaladr staff in keeping healthcare services running in very difficult conditions and I urge the authority to make staff welfare a priority.”
The appointment of staff with no experience of firefighting to key operational positions at East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) is ‘a potentially lethal experiment’, firefighters’ union FBU has warned. The union said it believes the safety of firefighters and the public is being jeopardised by the practice. ESFRS has advertised two area manager roles that would see the post holders direct fire crews in an emergency where life is at risk. But FBU said the service is ‘actively pushing’ for people who have no operational experience in the fire service to apply. It comes after the service appointed Dawn Whittaker as its chief fire officer last year despite her having no experience as an operational firefighter. Richard Jones, from the FBU in the South East, said: “Opening senior operational positions to people who have no firefighting experience is a dangerous and potentially lethal experiment. It is unacceptable that firefighters will be responding to emergency incidents while being directed by people who have far less experience fighting fires.” Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “Firefighters are professionals who dedicate their working lives to keeping people safe. It is unthinkable for a fire service to seek to bypass them altogether for roles that are vital to ensuring the safety of fire crews and the public.”
An English teacher with cystic fibrosis who was discriminated against by his employer has won at the Court of Appeal the final round of a long-running legal battle. The Morning Star reports that NEU member Philip Grosset became head of English at the Joseph Rowntree School in New Earswick, outside York, and “succeeded in turning around the fortunes of the department,” which achieved its best-ever GCSE results in 2013. But a new headteacher who “had not been briefed” about the 47-year-old’s disability increased his workload. He also introduced a “focus fortnight” designed to encourage “greater reflection” within the department. The Court of Appeal said that the measure was “intended to be supportive” to Mr Grosset but in fact “added to the work pressures upon him.” Lord Justice Sales said Mr Grosset was unable to absorb the increased workload due to a “time-consuming exercise regime he has to pursue to keep his disease under control.” Mr Grosset asked the school to consider “a reduction or prioritisation of his workload,” but the school would not offer a regular reduction. In October 2013, Mr Grosset’s “lung function had dropped to an all-time low,” leaving him facing “the frightening prospect of needing to have a double lung transplant.” He was sacked after it was discovered that he had shown the 18-rated horror film Halloween to a class of 15- and 16-year-olds, which he said was a mistake made under considerable stress caused by his poor health. Mr Grosset was awarded £180,000 compensation and £208,000 in pension entitlements after the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld an earlier ruling that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his disability. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by City of York Council. The council confirmed it would not be taking the case any further. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union’s lawyers had “represented a hardworking and dedicated disabled teacher who, due to a one-off act of misjudgement, lost his job. His condition was exacerbated by huge workload and stress. The school did nothing to address these issues despite our member’s repeated requests.” The teaching union leader said the case was “important in establishing the law on disability discrimination” and meant that schools “need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled teachers.”
Government plans to change the personal injury compensation system could deny some workers access to justice, the Justice Select Committee has warned. The committee examined the impact of raising the personal injury (PI) small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 and to £5,000 for Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) related claims, part of a package of government reforms. Chair of the justice committee, Bob Neill MP, said: “Access to justice, including the right of access to the courts, is a cornerstone of the rule of law but these reforms risk putting that right in doubt. We share strong concerns that were raised during our inquiry on this issue, including concerns about the financial and procedural barriers that claimants might face.” Shopworkers’ union Usdaw welcomed the committee’s report. General secretary John Hannett said: “We are delighted that the select committee has listened to our evidence-based campaign opposing employer and public liability claims under £2,000 being pushed into the small claims courts. The complexity of workplace injury cases make them entirely unsuitable for a small claims court, where the costs of taking a case cannot be recovered.” He added: “The government needs to think very carefully about how they proceed, to ensure that there aren’t unintended consequences for workers’ health and safety. The report from the Justice Select Committee should prompt a government reconsideration of this unjust and unnecessary legislation.”
The partners running a Suffolk farm have been sentenced after a haulage contractor was killed by an overhead power line strike. Basildon Magistrates’ Court heard how on 30 August 2016, haulage driver Christopher Wilson, 36, was killed when his tipping trailer was raised and made contact with overhead power lines that ran across part of the yard hard standing at the Airfield Grain store in Parham. The site was managed by Nicholas and Roger Watts, partners in FS Watts & Sons. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that FS Watts and Sons had failed to take suitable precautions for work near to the overhead electric power lines, despite recommendations given to them previously by NFU Mutual Risk Management Services (NFU RMS). Nicholas Watts and Roger Watts each pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and were each fined 9,500 and ordered to pay costs of £4,700. HSE inspector Saffron Turnell said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young father. This death could easily have been prevented if those in control of operations at the grain store had acted to identify and manage the risks involved and put a safe system of work in place.”
A demolition company has been fined after a worker suffered multiple injuries when he was struck by a concrete spandrel panel. Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how Vale Park Demolition Services Limited was contracted to demolish a link bridge structure at Littleborough Primary School, Rochdale. On 29 October 2015, an employee of GT Scaffolding North West Limited was struck by a concrete panel weighing approximately 500kg when he was removing scaffolding that was placed in front of the final part of the link bridge that was due to be demolished. He suffered a broken right shoulder, five broken ribs, three fractures to the spine, a punctured lung and a broken left foot. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work was not suitably planned and the stability of the panel was not appropriately considered when removing the scaffolding. Vale Park Demolition Services Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,397.64. HSE inspector David Norton said “The incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards”.
A sawmill has been fined after a worker’s leg was cut off by a saw. Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard that, in July 2016, the employee of A&J Scott Limited attempted to clear a blockage on the conveyor feed and edger machine. As he climbed onto the machine he was caught by the moving parts, pushed forward and his trailing leg was amputated below the knee by the saw blade. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had not ensured measures were taken to prevent access to the dangerous moving parts of the sawmilling equipment. The sawmill also failed to safeguard employees who would be working at height on the machine and take steps to prevent employees standing on the machinery when it was live, and in a state that it could be turned on at any time. A&J Scott Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,392. HSE inspector Paul Wilson said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers. Had this been done then this worker would not have received life changing injuries”.
The 2018 National Hazards Conference will take place at Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent, from 27-29 July. The theme is ‘Safety reps@40 – Still vital to the future of safe and healthy work!’ The conference will feature contributions from international and national trade union leaders, academics and campaigners who will address the current health and safety issues facing workers. The keynote international speaker is Asli Odman from the Istanbul Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly. The conference includes a choice of 18 workshops to support health and safety reps in their role.
A global network of 30 trade union, labour, environmental, academic and occupational disease victims’ advocacy organisations have told the asbestos industry its days are numbered. In an open letter headed ‘the end is nigh!’, groups including the global building unions’ federation BWI, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and the Asia Monitor Resource Centre note “there has been a dramatic fall in asbestos demand and a considerable diminution of this toxic industry’s influence.” It notes that only Russia and Kazahkstan are now exporting asbestos. “These countries are holding the rest of the world to ransom and in doing so, could be responsible for millions of asbestos deaths.” The letter concludes: “The asbestos industry, an industry of death and destruction, is itself dying. As this toxic technology is consigned to the history books, a ‘just transition policy’ for redundant asbestos miners and affected communities should be implemented as a matter of urgency. They do deserve the human right to work and live in a healthy environment; for them, and for us, the future is now asbestos-free.”
Many air traffic controllers in New Zealand have no guarantee they will get any toilet breaks while carrying out safety-critical roles controlling planes, their union has told a select committee. The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA), told the education and workforce select committee that the change it was seeking to the proposed Employment Relations Amendment Bill (ERA Bill) were “safety-critical”, to allow controllers to take a break during each shift. In a statement, the association said proposed legislation could require controllers (ATCs) to work continuously for up to nine-and-a-half hours without any rest or meal break. NZALPA president Tim Robinson said that, given air traffic control was a highly stressful occupation with the highest need for mental alertness, restricting the ability to have normal breaks like other workers was irresponsible and unsafe, and could potentially lead to a serious incident or accident. “Many ATCs, particularly those based at regional airports, are often solo controllers working the shift by themselves. This means that they have the sole duty to ensure that the aerodrome and surrounding airspace remains safe,” Robinson said. He added: “In many comparable jurisdictions such as Canada, every control tower is routinely staffed by more than one person. In many countries in the European Union it is a legal requirement to have more than one person on duty following fatal accidents in the past.” Robinson asked whether New Zealand had to wait for a major accident to occur in order before it accepted the need for legislation. “What we have is proposed legislation which provides mandatory breaks for relatively low-risk retail and hospitality workers, and doesn’t provide mandatory breaks in a stressful and challenging role like air traffic control. It’s absurd,” said Robinson.
The survivors and families bereaved by the Ali Enterprises fire in 2012 are to receive life-long pensions out of a fund financed by the factory’s main buyer, German retailer KiK. The beneficiaries all lost family members or were injured themselves at the deadly fire in the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, Pakistan, on 11 September 2012, which killed over 250 garment workers. The factory produced clothes for German garment company KiK, which paid US$1m in immediate relief shortly after the fire. It took four more years of campaigning and negotiation before KiK signed an agreement on long-term compensation. In September 2016, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the fire, KiK agreed to pay US$5.15m into a fund that would provide for pensions for the affected families. Garment workers’ rights group the Clean Clothes Campaign said the agreement, which has now come into effect, ‘is ground-breaking in many respects.’ It was designed to pay life-long pensions in full alignment with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 121 on employment injury benefits. Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF), commented: “This is a historic moment. The families affected by the Ali Enterprises fire are compensated in line with ILO compensation standards. This will set a precedent to be followed in the future. International support from the ILO, IndustriALL Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign were instrumental to make this agreement on long-term compensation possible. Now, it is high time to start recognising the fundamental right to a safe and healthy workplace in Pakistan, to prevent any future factory incidents.”
The US Labor Department (DoL) plans to unwind decades-old youth labour protections by allowing teenagers to work longer hours in some of the nation’s most hazardous workplace conditions. The DoL will propose relaxing current rules - known as Hazardous Occupations Orders (HOs) - that prohibit 16- and 17-year-old apprentices and student learners from receiving extended, supervised training in certain dangerous jobs, according to two well-placed two sources, said Bloomberg Law. That includes roofing work, as well as operating chainsaws, and various other power-driven machines that federal law recognises as too dangerous for those younger than 18. The sources’ accounts were corroborated by a summary of a draft regulation obtained by Bloomberg Law, the publication said. “The Department proposes to safely launch more family-sustaining careers by removing current regulatory restrictions on the amount of time that apprentices and student learners may perform HO-governed work,” the DoL states in the summary. One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations, confirmed the details of the summary. A second source - who also requested anonymity - verified that the general outline of the proposed rulemaking language was consistent with the department’s intentions. Bloomberg Law reported that the effort will attract sharp criticism among child labour advocates and former government officials, who say the rule would erase decades of progress in reducing youth occupational fatalities and injuries. “When I started doing this kind of work 20 years ago, we were losing 70 kids a year at work, and now we are losing usually 20 or less,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “We’ve made substantial progress, and I think that the tightened hazardous occupations rules have played a role in the lowered death tolls for teenage workers. So I would not be in favour of relaxing any of these standards; I think it would be a tragic mistake and would lead to the death of teenage workers.”
Find the latest TUC union rep courses at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/