|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 email@example.com.
The union GMB has scored a hard-fought victory after cab hailing company Uber agreed to give drivers a range of employment benefits. The company said it will now give its drivers access to medical cover, compensation for work-related injuries, sick pay, parental leave and bereavement payments. It marks a big shift from October 2016, when the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled in GMB's favour and determined that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but workers entitled to basic workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. The Employment Appeal Tribunal then upheld the ruling in November 2017. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “This is a well-deserved victory for GMB’s hard fought campaign. GMB has fought Uber tooth and nail in the courts, the workplace and on the international stage to bring about this change. At long last it seems Uber are starting to listen to GMB members complaints regards the company’s treatment of drivers and denying them their rights.” He added the announcement “is an acknowledgment that if you work in the gig economy, for companies like Uber, GMB is the union that will fight for your rights.” Announcing the changes on 23 May, Uber admitted it had “focused too much on growth and not enough on the people who made that growth possible. We called drivers ‘partners,’ but didn’t always act like it.”
The firefighters’ union FBU has won a High Court case confirming a duty system requiring firefighters to work 96-hour shifts is unlawful (Risks 837). The case centred on a duty system operated by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service known as close proximity crewing (CPC) (Risks 827). The judgment could affect dozens of fire and rescue services that operate similar shift systems. The ruling by the Honourable Justice Kerr was handed down at Manchester High Court and stated: “CPC in the form used in South Yorkshire does not and cannot operate in accordance with (Working Time) Regulations.” Justice Kerr concluded: “I do not see how the CPC system as it exists at the four fire stations in South Yorkshire, can operate lawfully in compliance with regulation 10.” The judge added: “I am troubled that the stance of the Authority and the Service offers an affront to the rule of law.” Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the FBU, said: “This was an important ruling and a tremendous success for the FBU. A number of fire and rescue authorities have been operating this duty system at a small number of fire stations around England and Wales. It is inconceivable that any Chief Officer or fire and rescue authority would have in place arrangements which mean that firefighters could be mobilised to deal with incidents having already spent up to 96 hours on duty.” He added: “We expect the fire and rescue service to return the affected personnel to the negotiated 2-2-4 duty system as soon as possible. We have little doubt that the fire and rescue authority will threaten to reduce fire cover across South Yorkshire as a result of this ruling. The fire and rescue authority is sitting on a mountain of cash reserves and there is no reason to make further cuts to the emergency fire cover for the people of South Yorkshire.”
Firefighters’ union FBU has warned that swingeing fire service budget cuts and the threat of job losses in North Wales would lead to a loss of lives. Fire stations could also be shut or downgraded as well as appliances being up for the chop, it warned. Expressing anger at the planned £2m budget cut, the union vowed to fight the plans ‘tooth and nail’. Cerith Griffith, regional secretary of the FBU in Wales, said: “The cuts being considered are nothing short of apocalyptic for the fire service in North Wales. Even the chief fire officer has warned that any further cuts would put firefighters and public safety at risk.” He added: “Last August a person was killed in a house fire because crews had to travel further than normal to respond to the incident. This is exactly the scenario that will become more common if these cuts are given the go ahead. The FBU does not want this to become the new normal in Wales. We will fight every single of these dangerous proposals.”
Workers at Royal Museums Greenwich have walked out for the third time in protest at cuts in paid breaks. The changes affect staff working at both the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The Prospect members calculated that by reducing breaks by 40 minutes a day, they will be working three extra weeks a year. Prospect negotiations executive Sharon Brown said: “Prospect has been working hard to ensure that our members concerns are addressed. We have achieved some changes which have been beneficial to workers at the museum. However, members are still hopeful that management will be able to change their policy on breaks and make real progress towards achieving the London Living Wage.” She added: “This action is not an attempt to stop people going to the museum. The aim is to highlight how staff have been affected by these changes and to try to find a resolution.”
Rail union RMT has demanded urgent action after staff reported they had faced the full force of passenger anger for rail timetable chaos on Monday 21 May. The new timetables led to wholesale cancellations and delays on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The vast majority of passengers know that the ongoing timetable problems in the wake of Meltdown Monday are down to the train companies and not the staff. But some lash out from sheer frustration. There is no excuse for that whatsoever and the union will not tolerate a situation where our members at the sharp end are effectively being deployed as human shields by a remote and incompetent management.” The union leader added: “It’s time to sack these spivs who just see the railway as a one way ticket to the bank without a thought for passengers and staff.” He said the “disastrous new timetable rollout just further proves that GTR and Northern are not fit to run a railway and need to be taken out of the hands of the profiteers and be brought under public control.”
Communication workers’ union CWU is to upgrade its approach to dealing with mental health issues at work. It says the growing prevalence of serious mental health issues affecting members in “an ever more stressful and demanding world of work” means a comprehensive strategy is now required to ensure the union can provide the best possible support for members and reps experiencing problems. The union’s annual conference agreed the new approach will include building on the relationships the union has already forged with mental health charities and organisations. The union will also develop a ‘joined-up’ training programme for reps to help them identify mental health problems affecting members and provide the best possible support. The union will also provide “support for reps dealing with members with mental health issues and the increasing stress of the job.” Delegate Scott Barter told the conference said mental ill-health was the “industrial injury of the 21st Century.” He added: “This is the result of complex reasons, but a massive contributor is that this is a by-product of the working culture in this country. We face an endless onslaught of pressure from every angle – working more for less in precarious jobs in a society that constantly undermines the value of workers.” The TUC has produced a workbook on mental health in the workplace, and a checklist for union safety reps (Risks 841). The union body also offers mental health awareness training for union reps.
Ÿ CWU news release. TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace. TUC mental health awareness training. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, number 141, 2018. Related article in the same issue: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists.
Seafarer unions Nautilus and RMT have agreed guidelines with the UK industry’s group to help shipping companies develop policies on the mental well-being of their seafarers. The advice agreed with the UK Chamber of Shipping comes as evidence suggests the suicide rate among seafarers is one of the highest of all occupations. The agreement aims to increase awareness among management of the importance of good mental health in the maritime profession, and to support companies in fostering a culture that is conducive to improving the mental well-being of seafarers. The Chamber and the unions recommend jointly that shipping companies draw up, agree and adopt policies on mental health awareness that are in line with the guidelines. If companies already have a mental health policy in place, such a policy should be reviewed against the new guidelines, they say.
Occupational cancer is a big killer, but studies to assess the risks to workers from tens of thousands of chemicals at work are either inadequate or just have not been done, top experts have warned. Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) note the “recognition of occupational carcinogens is important for primary prevention, compensation and surveillance of exposed workers, as well as identifying causes of cancer in the general population.” Occupational exposure to carcinogens is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, with an estimated occurrence of 666,000 fatal work-related cancers annually, they indicate. Writing in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they say their review found the number of known, top ranked ‘group 1’ “occupational carcinogens has increased over time: 47 agents were identified as known occupational carcinogens in 2017 compared with 28 in 2004. These estimates are conservative and likely underestimate the number of carcinogenic agents present in workplaces.” They add: “The number of carcinogens in the workplace may be substantially larger for additional reasons. New substances are introduced into workplace and environmental settings faster than information on potential health effects can be generated. For example, over 80,000 chemicals are currently registered for use in the USA alone, but only a small fraction have ever been evaluated for carcinogenicity.” Even where IARC has investigated a substance, the risks to workers has rarely been properly considered. The IARC experts conclude: “Despite notable progress, there continues to be a need for research on the causes of work-related cancer. Epidemiologic evidence is inadequate or entirely lacking for the majority of the over 1,000 agents evaluated by IARC; many more agents present in workplaces have never been evaluated for carcinogenicity. There is also a need to identify the numbers of exposed workers by geographic location and to produce quantitative exposure data as a basis for hazard identification, exposure-response estimation and risk assessment.”
Ÿ Dana Loomis, Neela Guha, Amy L Hall and Kurt Straif. Review: Identifying occupational carcinogens: an update from the IARC Monographs, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online First, 16 May 2018. ITUC/Hazards Work Cancer Hazards blog.
Life on board a luxury yacht can be pretty wonderful for the super rich and their friends. But for the crews staffing them, superyachts can be among the deadliest workplace around, seafarers’ union Nautilus has warned. As the rich become even richer – 145 more dollar billionaires were minted last year, according to a report in the Guardian – orders for new superyachts have hit a record high. More than 500 are being built in shipyards around the world, and with many requiring at least 100 staff, superyachts now employ more than 37,000 people. Britain’s seafaring history has made it the biggest source of employees. “Life on board is perfect for owners – they receive a seven-star service. But for officers and crew it can be a lot more difficult,” says Danny McGowan, the strategic organiser with the seafarers’ union Nautilus International. “They will often be working very long hours, right around the clock, looking after guests.” According to the Guardian report, accidents, injuries and deaths are also commonplace, with union leaders believing working on superyachts to be more dangerous than life on oil rigs; over the past few years at least three young British crew members have died while serving their billionaire bosses. “These are tragic situations where young people have lost their lives, and there are hundreds of other injuries and complaints that aren’t reported,” says McGowan. He adds that staff have had their passports confiscated and wages withheld; they talk of being sent home for the slightest uniform infraction. Superyacht owners can view crew as “dispensable and replaceable” and don’t consider the impact on their families. “Often an owner feels they can just get a new third engineer, rather than thinking of the consequences for the individual,” he says. “We’re not here to be up against these billionaires. We want to work with them to make employment in this industry better.” In April, the union called for ‘a socially responsible superyacht industry’.
A main contractor and a building’s architect have been fined for “a total disregard for health and safety and site management” on a care home extension in Devon. Exeter Magistrates’ Court heard that, in early 2016, a concern was raised about the lack of health and safety controls at a large timber frame extension being built onto Manor Lodge Residential Home in Exmouth. On 1 March 2016, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors visited the site and found numerous health and safety breaches. During the site inspection, uncontrolled high-risk activities were witnessed that put workers at risk of death, serious injuries or ill health. The risks included falls from height, fire, slips and trips and poorly controlled wood dust. The inspection found there was a total disregard for health and safety and site management - in particular, the risk of fire spread associated with the construction of a timber frame extension adjoining an existing building. Around 80 physically or mentally impaired residents of the home were put at risk of injury or death due to the possibility of fire spreading into the home. Principal contractor Coast & Country Construction Limited, formerly known as Make a Loft a Home had a duty to control how the work was carried out and to ensure that the work would be completed safely. The timber frame extension work was designed by Paul Humphries Architects Ltd who failed to perform their duties as the principal designer and failed to consider the risk of fire spread to the vulnerable residents. Coast & Country Construction Limited did not attend court but was convicted of safety breaches in its absence and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,039. Companies House records show Coast & Country went into voluntary liquidation in April. Paul Humphries Architects Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety regulations and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,039.
A company that produces metal sheet components has been fined after a worker suffered serious burns to his, face, ears and head. Hereford Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 12 September 2016, an employee of Mettech (Hereford) Limited sustained burns when attempting to light a gas burner in a powder coating oven. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the gas oven did not meet current health and safety standards as it did not have a flame failure device to prevent the accumulation of unlit gas within the oven. The oven had not been adequately maintained or inspected by a person competent in gas safety. The company also failed to ensure their employees followed a safe system of work. Mettech (Hereford) Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2685.45. HSE inspector Sarah Reilly commented: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. Companies need to be made aware that they employ people who are competent in gas safety matters to inspect and maintain their gas oven appliances and to ensure that employees are properly trained to light gas ovens.”
A construction company has been fined after a tipper vehicle driven by one of its employees came into contact with overhead power lines during the construction of a waste transfer station. Northampton Crown Court heard that on 9 March 2016 a driver employed by Mick George Ltd was emptying a load of soil from his tipper vehicle at a site in Northampton. The firm had already identified the need for ‘permanent protection structures’ – known as ‘goalposts’ - but after an initial delay only one was installed. In order to empty the last of the load from his vehicle, the driver pulled forward with the vehicle’s body raised and the vehicle touched, or came close to touching, the 33kV overhead power lines (OPLs). The tipper vehicle suffered minor damage but the driver was unhurt. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that Mick George Ltd should have assessed the risks from OPLs more rigorously and realised its system of work was inadequate to reduce the risk of tipper vehicles striking an OPL. Mick George Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) and was fined £566,670 and ordered to pay costs of £9,000. HSE inspector Stuart Parry commented: “Every year in the UK, two people are killed and many more injured when mechanical plant and machinery comes into contact or close proximity to OPLs. This was a very serious incident and it is fortunate nobody was injured as a result.”
A residential property management company and a specialist contractor have been fined after a resident raised concerns about soffit replacement work carried out on the guttering on three blocks of flats in London. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that in July 2016, Squaredeal UPVC & Renewables Limited was contracted by Wildheart Residential Management Limited to replace the soffits on the blocks in a housing estate in Sutton, London. Wildheart instructed Squaredeal to carry out the work, but failed to check whether the soffits contained asbestos. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although Squaredeal had the soffits analysed and was aware they contained asbestos, it started to remove them without adequate precautions to ensure workers and residents were protected. Squaredeal UPVC & Renewables Limited was fined £18,500 and ordered to pay £5,607.90 in costs after pleading guilty to three criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Wildheart Residential Management Limited was fined £8,000 with £3,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a single criminal breach of the same regulations. HSE inspector Fu Lee commented: “The work risked not only the workers, but also the residents of the flats being exposed to disturbed asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of diseases, including asbestosis or fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs; lung cancer and mesothelioma. These diseases are irreversible, disabling and in most cases eventually fatal.”
Mineowners in Pakistan should be stripped of their mine leases if they ignore safety standards, the chair of a human rights commission has said. The call came after the All Pakistan Labour Foundation told a Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights meeting on 23 May that nearly 50 miners have died in Pakistan’s mines in two months. Foundation president Sultan Mohammad Khan was giving evidence to a committee briefing considering two recent mining accidents in Balochistan in which there were multiple fatalities (Risks 848). The Senate meeting was told more workers are dying today in the country’s mines than 100 years ago. There are no safety measures being practised inside mines, in complete disregard of workers’ lives, committee members were told. The foundation president said mineowners subcontracted operation of their mines, with subcontractors some then selling on the contract again. “Neither party invests in safety measures such as strengthening the basic structure inside the mines, emergency exits, escape ducts for gases and other health precautions,” Khan said. He added that rescue workers lack the skills and training to perform emergency operations after mining accidents. The National Commission on Human Rights chair, retired Justice Ali Chohan, recommended cancelling leases to mineowners who fail to ensure health and safety standards are maintained. Balochistan Home Secretary Ghulam Ali Baloch echoed the suggestion: “Ownership should be cancelled if there are deaths due to negligence of mineowners,” he said, adding this was “the only way to ensure the precious lives of workers are not lost.”
Cooks and cashiers at McDonald’s fast food restaurants in eight US states have filed 10 complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging they have faced sexual harassment, assault and retaliation for raising concerns at work. Workers in food services and retail file more than three times as many harassment complaints as those in higher-paying fields, according to a recent analysis of government data from the Center for American Progress, a Washington DC think tank. Complaints from the McDonald’s workers were filed with financial support from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a $21 million charity launched in January to support low-income workers who want to report sexual harassment. About 20,000 people have donated to the effort in the past five months. The National Women’s Law Center, the advocacy group running the fund, said it has received more than 2,700 requests for the assistance. “Sexual harassment is pervasive across the fast food industry, where over a million workers - especially women of colour - face abuse as a routine part of their job,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the center. “This sort of harassment puts working people in a no win situation - forced to choose between a pay cheque and speaking up about the abuse. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was created to enable those facing workplace harassment to reclaim their power. We are proud to fund legal assistance for these brave women who have come forward at great risk to call out their harassers and demand accountability from the world’s largest restaurant chain.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to roll back chemical plant safety reforms that the Obama administration proposed after 15 volunteer firefighters died in a fertiliser plant explosion that destroyed large swathes of the city of West, Texas, five years ago. The proposed rollback means the disaster, which exposed wide safety gaps in the industry and its oversight, will result in no significant federal regulatory changes. Industry groups applauded the retreat from the Obama-era reforms, with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge calling the scaled-back rules “another victory for common sense over environmental radicalism” - a comment the EPA included in a press release. Texas was among the states that asked the EPA to stop the reforms, arguing that a proposal to make chemical information more readily available to the public could help terrorists. Among the problems and investigation by the US Chemical Safety Board identified in the West explosion was that locals weren't sufficiently aware of the fertiliser ammonium nitrate's ability to explode. The volunteer firefighters who rushed in may have taken a different approach if they had been fully aware of the risks, and city officials could have curbed residential development near the plant. West mayor Tommy Muska said the rollback of regulations was unwarranted and dangerous. “With all due respect to [EPA director] Scott Pruitt, he’s never lost 15 firefighter friends,” Muska told the American-Statesman. “I’m as pro-business as anyone, but some things are way, way, way more important than too much regulation, and that includes the safety of these chemical plants.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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