|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.|
If you are a union health and safety representative and you have not yet completed the TUC’s health and safety survey, make sure you have your say ahead of the 29 June deadline. The survey is quick and easy to complete online and provides essential intel on unions and safety in the workplace. The TUC says the information“is invaluable in helping us plan our work over the coming two years but is also useful in giving us ammunition we can use with the government and the HSE on issues such as stress, or the lack of contact with inspectors.” The TUC health and safety reps survey 2018 “is designed to provide the TUC and individual unions with information about who health and safety reps are, and what their experiences and needs are,” the national union body adds. “We need this information so that the TUC and unions can do more to help health and safety reps, and so that their views and experiences are better reflected in public policy debates and the work of the HSE. We will publish the results and use them to campaign for better safety standards at work (including more rights for health and safety reps).” It adds that the TUC wants “to know about any successes you have had in improving health and safety standards.”
Ÿ Got a great case history? Tell the TUC.
A third of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, a survey conducted by the union Prospect has found. The union said its objective was to discover how often people had seen, or personally been affected by, behaviours in the workplace that amount to bullying and harassment. The ‘disturbing’ findings indicate many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce, the union said. The survey was completed by nearly 7,000 people working in what Prospect characterised as varied highly-skilled roles across the private and public sectors. Overall, 40 per cent of respondents were female and 60 per cent male. Over a third of women (35 per cent) reported sexual harassment, with young women reporting the highest incidence at 62 per cent. Of those reporting incidents of harassment, two-thirds of women had heard suggestive remarks or jokes of a sexual nature in the past year, and a third of women experienced inappropriate touching or hugging in the past year. Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “This survey was created so that we were able to engage with our members on unacceptable behaviours that are taking place across the UK’s workplaces. Prospect is committed to tackling this behaviour and ensuring that people are equipped with the information and skills to go to work without having to deal with sexual harassment.” He added: “The findings of this survey demonstrate that sexual harassment is endemic and takes place in all parts of the economy. That can’t be taken for granted and Prospect is committed to making this a mainstream issue that remains in the public consciousness.”
An ambulance technician who suffered a harrowing sexual assault before using her experience to campaign successfully to improve the law has been given a special award. Sarah Kelly, who works for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS), was handed the Eleanor Marx special award at GMB’s annual congress in Brighton. In 2016 she was seriously assaulted by a patient she was trying to help. “I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He seized my leg, he grabbed my right breast,” she recalled. “Tears come to my eyes now just reliving the shock – and the violation I felt. It later transpired that this man was a notorious sexual predator and had breached a criminal behaviour order four times. The police and the local hospital had instructions on how to deal with him and ensure he was never left alone with a woman.” After the assault, she was terrified she would have to respond to another call from the man- the YAS system had no way of flagging predators who had no fixed abode. Through her GMB branch, with the support of Labour MPs Holly Lynch and Chris Bryant, a ‘Protect the Protectors’ campaign was launched. Its aim was to make sentencing guidelines tougher for people who assaulted emergency service workers carrying out their duties. In April, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, was passed by MPs, introducing a new offence of common assault against an emergency worker and require courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes (Risks 847). GMB said Sarah’s campaigning was also pivotal in getting sexual assaults included in the bill - after they were originally omitted. Sarah said: “I’m really quite humbled by it really. If it hadn't been for the support I received from my union GMB, from my officer Stacey Booth and Pauline Kiely, my branch secretary - I wouldn't be working in the ambulance service. Both of them and my husband Neil gave me the support to carry on going, even when things were tough, so that we could challenge this and fight for staff to be protected at work.”
A UNISON violence at work charter has been launched officially in the Houses of Parliament. In a blog posting to mark the 11 June event, which was attended by dozens of MPs, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis wrote: “The charter was explicitly designed to support our members in the community, voluntary and housing sectors, but the experiences of our members there are all too often replicated elsewhere. Every day public service workers are being abused, threatened or assaulted at work. It’s shocking and unacceptable, yet it’s the daily reality for all too many of those who work to serve and support us… it is becoming clear that lower level violence and verbal abuse is, for some, seen as a routine part of their working lives. Clearly this has to stop.” The UNISON leader added: “UNISON will continue to support all of our members who are treated so appalling in the workplace, which is why we’re launching our ‘Violence at Work Charter’ today. It’s a list of ten basic actions which employers can take to improve safety at work – including training, support for victims of violence and monitoring of incidents. Achievable, concrete steps that can make such a huge difference to those affected. I’m pleased to say that dozens of employers have already signed up and shown their commitment to improving the working lives of their staff. Together, we can end the scandal of violence at work – today’s charter is an important step in that campaign.”
Northern Rail is planning to shred the rail safety culture in the same way it has shredded train timetables, the union RMT has said. The union was speaking out as it confirmed further strike action will be taking place next week, in protest at Northern’s attacks on the role of safety critical train guards and the extension of driver only operation. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT will not stand aside while the threat to axe safety critical guards from Northern services remains central to the company plans. This company has reduced the timetable to total chaos and the union will not allow them to slash the safety culture to ribbons in the same fashion.” He added: “German-owned Northern Rail want to run half a million trains a year without a safety critical guard on board in a move that would wreck both safety and access to services and they should listen to their frontline staff and pull back from that plan immediately. RMT has agreed arrangements in Wales and Scotland that enshrine the guard guarantee. If it's good enough for Wales and Scotland to have safe rail services it should be good enough for the rest of Britain. The failure to reach a solution to this dispute to date is solely down to the company and the union remains ready for genuine and meaningful talks.”
High workloads are putting ‘severe pressures’ on teachers in Scotland, the union EIS has warned. EIS survey findings, published ahead of its annual meeting last week, revealed increasing workloads and long working hours are having an impact on the well-being of teachers. Over a third (34 per cent) of respondents said their workload had increased significantly in the last year and almost six out of ten respondents (58 per cent) said they would not recommend teaching as a career. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan described the findings as ‘worrying reading.’ He commented: “Despite statements from the Scottish government, local authorities and national education bodies that promised action to tackle excessive levels of teacher workload, the results of our survey indicate that little has improved and some difficulties actually seems to have grown worse.” He added: “These survey results confirm that teachers are seeing little improvement, and that severe pressure continues to be piled onto our overworked, undervalued and underpaid teachers. This clearly highlights the need for increased investment in education and in the pay of Scotland’s teachers.”
British pilots are reminding the public that in just a few weeks new laws will mean they could face jail if they shine a laser at an aircraft. The new laser laws (Risks 849), that come in to force on 10 July, give police more powers to catch those who shine lasers at aircraft and introduce tougher punishments for those caught. Under the new law, it is a crime to shine or direct a laser beam that dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, pilots, air traffic controllers, captains of boats and drivers of road vehicles. Offenders face up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The police will no longer have to prove there was an intention to endanger a vehicle, which will mean laser users won’t be able to hide behind claims they shone it at a vehicle by mistake. BALPA flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, said: “Laser users need to get to grips with this law change or they could soon find themselves facing time in jail. Shining a laser at an aircraft can have serious, potentially fatal, consequences and it is right that people who misuse them should face tough penalties for endangering other people’s lives.” He added: “Lasers are not toys. If you have one and don’t have a legitimate reason for owning it, or if you have bought one for your kids, we suggest you take the batteries out and throw it away. It’s not worth you, or someone close to you, getting a criminal record for the sake of what is mistakenly believed to be a toy.”
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady has paid tribute to the “bravery and professionalism” of firefighters and control room staff who “saved scores of lives” in the Grenfell Tower disaster. She told delegates to the annual conference of the firefighters’ union FBU they deserve answers as much as those who lost loved ones in the tower block blaze nearly a year ago. “We all need to know how 72 people could lose their lives like this, in London, in the 21st century,” the union leader said. “We need to know how it is that working class lives could be treated as so cheap. What we already know is that the building was clad in dangerous materials, apparently to cover up what wealthy neighbours regarded as an eyesore. And – in what is a sick irony – the colour of that cladding was called champagne.” The TUC leader insisted that the public inquiry into the fire must be “the most forensic investigation possible,” one that listens to local people and FBU members. She called on it to properly address what happens when public housing is deregulated and privatised, when corners are cut and health and safety trivialised. “We need to hold to account those who are really responsible, whether that’s corporations, regulators, the government, the landlord or the boss. So, one year on, we send our solidarity and support to the community, reaffirm our determination to secure truth and justice for everyone affected and recommit our absolute resolve: never, ever, again.”
Labour will clamp down on the ‘scourge’ of sexual harassment at work and make it easier for victims of discrimination to take their companies to an employment tribunal. Speaking at the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) conference in Southport, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party would ban the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual assault. “Sexual harassment is a scourge in our society,” Mr Corbyn said. “Without proper rights, contracts and union representation, hospitality staff are at greater risk of being harassed and abused in their workplace. Labour will bring about a workplace rights revolution, so people are free to do their jobs, in the hospitality sector and beyond, without facing unacceptable behaviour and abuses of power from colleagues, clients or customers.” Promising a “MeToo workplace revolution”, Labour cited a survey by the union Unite that found 89 per cent of workers had experienced sexual harassment, while 77 per cent said their workplace either did not have a policy to address this or they did not know about it. Labour would make it compulsory for bosses to reveal their anti-harassment policies. It also said it will double the timeframe within which employment tribunal cases can be brought and would require employers to publish their sexual harassment policy, and the steps being taken to put it into practice, on their external websites. It also intends to legislate to ban non-disclosure agreements, used to silence victims of harassment.
Having a stressful job is far more likely to kill men with heart and metabolic problems like diabetes than women, a study found. Men with heart problems are six times more likely to suffer an early death if they have a stressful job - even if they keep fit and eat a healthy diet – the research suggests. Reducing work hours, job redesign and prescribing stress management to men with these illnesses may be needed minimise the risk, the study authors say. Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimäki, from University College London, said: “Our findings give evidence for there being a link between job strain and risk of premature death in men with cardiometabolic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.” He added: “These findings suggest that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels alone are unlikely to eliminate the excess risk associated with job strain in men with cardiometabolic disease. Other interventions might be needed at least for some patients - possibly including stress management as part of cardiovascular disease rehabilitation, job redesign, or reducing working hours. However, more research will be needed to identify which specific interventions might improve health outcomes in men with coronary heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.” The research team looked at data from 100,000 people in the UK, France, Finland and Sweden, including 3,441 with these illnesses. They were given a questionnaire on their lifestyle and health at the start of the study, with their medical records tracked over 14 years. The study looked at two types of work stress – ‘job strain’, or having high work demands and low control over them - and ‘effort-reward imbalance’, defined as putting in lots of effort, but getting little reward in return. The researchers found that, among men with heart problems, those experiencing job strain had a 68 per cent greater risk of early death than those where it wasn’t a factor. However, there was no association between any type of work stress and premature death for women with or without cardiometabolic disease.
Ÿ Mika Kivimäki and others. Work stress and risk of death in men and women with and without cardiometabolic disease: a multicohort study, Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, Online First, 5 June 2018.
A “dedicated” university tutor took his own life after his increasing workload meant he was “often unable to spend time with his family”, an inquest has heard. Malcolm Anderson, 48, was deputy head of section and a personal tutor in accounting at Cardiff University’s Cardiff Business School. The father-of-three was found dead minutes after arriving at work at the university’s Aberconway Building in Cardiff on 19 February. An inquest at Pontypridd Coroner’s Court heard Mr Anderson had been struggling with his new job role but had not asked for help with certain issues. Mr Anderson joined the university after graduating in 1991 and progressed through the department after joining as a research assistant. His colleague Louis Vallis worked with him on timetabling. He said Mr Anderson was struggling with the allocated time for creating the timetables he was given by the university and would often do it in his own time. In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Vallis said: “Malcolm complained to management a number of times about the allocation,” but he “received the same response year after year.” Mr Anderson’s wife Diane said he would often take exam papers he had to mark to family events. She said: “He spent many hours with his personal tutees who would email him day and night. He had a huge pile of exam papers to mark and was often unable to spend time with his family.” Mr Anderson arrived at work at 6.36am on the morning of his death. Police said they believe he went to his office and left two notes – one for his family and one saying his workload had finally got to him. Detective Sergeant Lauren Wells said there were emails on Mr Anderson’s work computer which “refer to work expectations not being manageable and the number of students going through the roof but there’s been cuts.” Mr Anderson fell through a glass roof and was taken to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff where he later died from his injuries. Coroner Andrew Barkley recorded a conclusion of suicide. He said: “There is no suggestion that this is accidental death. I’m satisfied at that time he intended to take his own life. There was huge pressure in terms of work and other things.” Malcolm Anderson’s death was not the only recent suicide linked to work factors at Cardiff University. Eminent entomologist Dr Mark Jervis, 62, who had struggled with problems at work and a spiralling workload, killed himself in his 6th floor office of the university’s School of Biosciences on 11 March 2014 (Risks 658).
D&S Building Solutions Ltd and its director Daniel Schipor have been fined after failing to comply with legally-binding stop work notices. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how the company, under the control of its director Daniel Schipor, was issued with two prohibition notices on one if its sites, after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found serious dangers. Workers were at risk of fall and injury from the unprotected edges of an excavation and at immediate risk of injury from potential collapse of the unsupported excavation. HSE found that D&S Building Solutions Ltd and Daniel Schipor had not taken any steps to comply with its prohibition notices stopping work near the open edge of the excavation and had not taken measures to prevent dislodgement of material and collapse of the excavation. D&S Building Solutions Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,000. Daniel Schipor pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,000. HSE inspector Saif Deen said: “D&S Building Solutions Ltd and Daniel Schipor failed to comply with prohibition notices and continued to put persons at risk of serious injury.” Failure to comply with HSE enforcement notices can attract a custodial sentence.
A company that manufactures and distributes furniture has been fined £6,000 for failing to properly assess the risk from exposure to damaged asbestos containing materials in its premises. Glasgow Sheriff Court heard that, during an inspection on 6 August 2014, concerns were raised by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector about significant damage to what appeared to be asbestos containing materials that were encasing the structural columns and beams of the premises. An investigation by HSE found that Aquapac Limited failed to properly assess the risks to employees from exposure to asbestos containing materials and failed to take the measures necessary to protect employees from exposure to asbestos. The investigation also found that the company failed to ensure that anyone working on the premises was aware of the presence of the material, to make sure that it was not disturbed and to deal with any inadvertent disturbance to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres. Aquapac Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000. HSE inspector Russell Berry said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided had the company simply monitored the condition of the asbestos containing materials (ACMs) at their premises and had in place robust procedures to deal with any deterioration or damage to those ACMs.”
A labour rights group urging Amazon to improve conditions for the factory workers in China who make Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers. The call by New York-based China Labor Watch adds to recent allegations that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the world’s wealthiest man on the backs of low-paid labour and a series of deaths in its US distribution centres (Risks 849). The China Labor Watch (CLW) report following a nine-month investigation into working conditions at a factory in the city of Hengyang owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the company known as Foxconn, which manufactures products for Amazon. It paints a picture of low pay and intense working conditions. CLW report that workers were required to work more than 100 hours of monthly overtime, in violation of Chinese labour law that limits overtime to 36 hours a month. “Dispatch workers,” a form of temporary agency labour, made up around 40 per cent of the workforce - far higher than the 10 per cent permitted by Chinese law. These workers receive no sick pay, the report said. Workers at the Foxconn factory did not receive adequate safety training and staff dormitories lacked adequate fire safety precautions such as fire extinguishers. CLW’s investigation also found there was a lack of personal protective equipment and added that staff were verbally abused by managers. “As wages are low, workers must rely on overtime hours to earn enough to maintain a decent standard of living,” the report noted. Amazon said in a statement it took the reported violations “extremely seriously.” It said it has asked Foxconn for a “corrective plan” and is monitoring the situation. Foxconn is China’s largest single private employer, and in March it reported a 4.2 per cent increase in profits, with net income rising to £1.84bn in the last three quarters of 2017. Profits for the first quarter of this year were £605m and its CEO, Terry Gou, has a fortune reported to be about £5.3bn.
An international group of experts has said a ban on hazardous insecticides, now under consideration by the Indian government, would help reduce suicide deaths in the country. The UK-based Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP) has urged India’s agricultural commissioner, SK Malhotra, who heads the committee on the issue, to ban not only the 12 pesticides under review but also several others. CPSP said the move is “not only imperative for saving health and the environment but for saving lives of vulnerable populations in India.” Its submission argues that because suicides are often impulsive, removing easily available lethal means can help reduce fatalities, citing international evidence. Pesticide ingestion causes over 150,000 suicide deaths globally each year, many of them in Asia, the report noted. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 20 per cent of all suicides could be prevented through restricting access to poisons, in particular pesticides. “In comparison with developed countries, where agricultural-strength pesticides are only available to licensed workers and where few people now work in agriculture, highly hazardous pesticides are freely sold and stored in many homes,” wrote Michael Eddleston and Leah Utyasheva of the CPSP. These pesticides are typically lethal so “fatality of self-poisoning is much higher in Indian agricultural communities than in industrialised countries.” In several Asian countries, restrictions on the importation and sale of hazardous pesticides has been followed by a fall in the number of people dying from pesticide self-poisoning, CPSP said. It cites the case of Sri Lanka, were suicide rates increased after the introduction of strong chemical pesticides in the 1960s. In response, authorities began banning the most toxic pesticides in the 1980s, leading to a 70 per cent reduction in suicide rates over 20 years. There was little or no effect on agricultural output from these bans, CPSP said.
Ÿ D Gunnell and others. Prevention of suicide with regulations aimed at restricting access to highly hazardous pesticides: a systematic review of the international evidence, Lancet Global Health, volume 5, number 10, e1026-e1037, October 2017. Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention. More on work-related suicides.
Nearly 6,500 athletes from 41 countries will participate in the Pan American Games to be held in Lima, Peru, in 2019 – and the construction of hotels and sports facilities will generate around 50,000 jobs. However, the workers on these building sites are campaigning for a sharp reduction in the size of the cement bags they are required to lift during the massive construction phase. The Federation of Civil Construction Workers in Peru (FTCCP), working with the global union BWI, has launched a ‘25 Kilos…No More!’ campaign ahead of the games. “In Peru the weight of cement bags is 42.5 kilograms, which causes permanent injuries and health problems to the workers,” said Luis Villanueva, the deputy general secretary of the FTCCP. BWI global education secretary Tos Añonuevo, who was also present at the campaign launch, said: “The campaign is all about involving manufacturers, labour and health authorities, employers and workers in actions to reduce weight of cement bags and to improve workers’ life quality.” FTCCP and BWI have held meetings with public and business authorities in the sector, and with the Minister of Labour and Employment Promotion of Peru (MTPE), Christian Sánchez Reyes. BWI said the minister expressed his support to the initiative and assigned one of his main advisers to work with the union federation on this issue. The international union campaign has already secured big wins on smaller loads. In Uraguay, for example, the maximum weight of cement bags has been reduced by national decree. “The initiative of FTCCP joins and strengthens other existing campaign initiatives in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Panama and others, at different levels of progress,” said Nilton Frietas, the BWI regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
A hard-won more protective silica exposure standard is to come into effect in the US on 23 June. Government safety regulator OSHA said that for the first 30 days, no citations will be issued to employers who violate the standard as long as OSHA determines that they are making “good faith efforts to meet the new standard’s requirements.” Exposure to silica dust, which is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar, can cause cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease. In the US, more than 2 million workers are exposed to some level of silica. The new OSHA standard, issued under the Obama administration, reduces the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica over an eight-hour shift to 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air (down from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3). This is half the previous limit for general industry, and one-fifth of the old limit for the construction industry. The final part of the silica standard, affecting fracking operations in the oil and gas industry, comes into effect on 23 June 2021. In addition, a court decision which upheld the standard last year (Risks 831), ordered OSHA to determine whether or not it needs to implement work removal protection where sick workers can be temporarily removed from jobs involving silica exposure with full pay and benefits. The new US standard is half the current UK occupational exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica (Risks 744). Thousands of workers in the UK develop silica related diseases each year.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/