|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.|
Many employers are shirking their responsibilities when it comes to protecting outdoor workers in hot weather, the TUC has warned. The union body says much of the available guidance targets office workers who are getting hot under the collar, and pretty much everywhere else. But it says “employers tend to say that there is nothing that they can do for outdoor workers as you can’t control temperatures outside in the same way as you can indoors. After all, fans and air conditioning don’t work on the street or in a field.” But the TUC advises there is a lot employers can do to protect outdoor workers – they are just on the whole failing to do it. In an online commentary, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson notes “every summer millions of outdoor workers face the risk of skin cancer, dehydration and heat stress as well as the increased risk of an accident happening because of the tiredness and lack of concentration that working in the heat can bring.” Despite this, “very few employers even include heat/sun exposure in their risk assessment, despite the HSE saying that 4,500 skin cancers a year are a result of outside working. Instead, employers just tell their workers to wear sunscreen or cover up.” Instead of putting the responsibility on their workers, employers “should be doing proper risk assessments that include the danger of getting skin cancer, dehydration, heat stress and sunstroke,” he notes. Additional measures recommended by the TUC include scheduling work to minimise outdoor activities in the hottest months and the hottest parts of the day, and providing canopies and shaded rest areas, as well as free sunscreen, suitable hats and clothing and cold water (Risks 855). Food union BFAWU, whose members are found in notoriously overheated bakeries and kitchens, has issued its own guidance. It notes the union “has always argued that representatives and companies should work together in their safety committees and plan well in advance how they are going to deal with the hot weather when it arrives. That way, businesses can continue to function properly and workers won't have to be put at risk. Please stay safe.”
An increase in fires as a result of the hot weather combined with the ongoing moorland fires has left resource-starved fire services ‘stretched to breaking point’, firefighters’ union FBU has warned. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The dry hot weather has created tinderbox conditions across the nation. Fire and rescue services are tackling the onslaught of fires with the professionalism we would expect but there is great concern at the lack of resources at their disposal.” He explained: “In some cases firefighters are working for more than 17 hours without a break because of a lack of relief crews. In other cases, firefighters who have yet to complete basic training are being sent to tackle blazes. Fire services are having to rely on public donations for simple supplies like sun cream and a lack of water pressure in some areas is complicating firefighting efforts.” The union leader warned: “This is a very challenging time for fire and rescue services across the UK. It is a situation compounded by years of budget cuts that have ravaged fire services of the resources they need to do their job. Central government is utterly complacent about the state of our fire and rescue service. No doubt they will yet again dodge any responsibility and claim this is purely a local matter - it is not.” The FBU this week revealed how almost 12,000 firefighter jobs have been cut across the UK since 2010 - equivalent to 20 per cent of the workforce. The union cites the example of the Home Counties, where it says firefighters have been “stretched to breaking point” by a series of major fires, including heathland fires. London Fire Brigade has sent crews to assist firefighting efforts in Surrey and Buckinghamshire leaving the capital at risk if a major incident occurred, the union warned. Richard Jones, executive council member for the FBU in the South East, said: “It is shocking that we have to rely on resources from London as we simply do not have the resources to do our jobs. Climate change experts have warned for some years that extremes in weather events are likely to become the norm but fire and rescue services are clearly not resourced to deal with these risks.”
The GMB has referred the Metropolitan Police to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after the force failed to answer a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. On 9 April, the union filed a request for the Met’s full internal investigation report into surveillance by undercover officers of individuals including union and safety activists (Risks 855), all emails relating to the report and details of overt and covert meetings between officers and members of blacklisting organisations. The statutory deadline for Scotland Yard to respond passed at the end of May. Despite a follow up letter, the union said it has still to receive a response. Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “It is shameful that the Metropolitan Police are obstructing GMB’s quest for the truth. It is bad enough the state spied on its own citizens engaged in lawful activities, but to seek to block those affected from a chance of closure compounds the crime against those they targeted.” He added: “Those spied on have a right to know who, what, where, when and why information was shared between the police, and on whose orders it was carried out. Scotland Yard has a duty to hand over this information.”
Bristol council has given its backing to a Unite construction charter that seeks to ensure conditions for workers on construction projects under local authority control in the city meet the highest standards. The charter commits the local authority to work with Unite to achieve the highest standards in respect of direct employment status, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of appropriate nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. The charter will cover important local authority construction projects. Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, said: “As we are in the process of delivering on major housing and infrastructure projects it’s great that we are moving forward with ethical construction practices and I am delighted to work with Unite to make construction sites in the city fairer and safer.” Unite regional political officer Karen Cole said: “We welcome Bristol city council’s commitment to the city’s construction workers. The charter will help local workers to operate in a safe environment on construction sites and to ensure they can raise health and safety issues without fear.” She added: “Unite has had a positive response from the leader of South Gloucestershire council to the charter and we hope the council will be following Bristol city council’s lead shortly and sign up to Unite’s construction charter.”
Only half of teachers in Scotland say they feel satisfied with their job, with a third saying they would choose a different career if they could make the choice again, according to a new report. The research, undertaken by the University of Stirling on behalf of the teaching union NASUWT, confirms that the pressures of excessive workload, cuts to pay and funding and attacks on working conditions are impacting on teachers’ morale and ability to provide the highest levels of education to children and young people. The survey, which attracted nearly 1,400 responses from teachers across Scotland, found clear concerns about excessive workload. When asked to rate their workload on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, 60 per cent of secondary school teachers and 50 per cent of primary teachers rated their workload as being at nine or above. Four out of five teachers said that cuts in education spending in Scotland have impacted on their own workload. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The year-on-year decline in teachers’ pay and working conditions since 2010 has spawned a growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis. This will only continue to deepen without urgent action to address uncompetitive pay levels and excessive workload.” NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, Jane Peckham, said: “It is clear from the research that teachers do not feel valued by employers and decision-makers in Scotland and that their morale and job satisfaction is being eroded by the impact of cuts to their pay, working conditions and funding for education.” She added: “Ministers, employers and schools must take heed and act now.”
Safety minister Sarah Newton has said the government is “certainly not ruling out” the idea of making it compulsory for employers to provide and invest in occupational health services for their employees as part of its review of workplace health. The statement prompted a sharp rebuke from the TUC, which said the government was guilty of a decade of inaction since an earlier review identified the need for immediate action. Sarah Newton’s non-committal statement came at the Society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s annual scientific conference last week. She said: “There has been legislation in other countries to put obligations on to employers. So we are certainly not ruling that out at this stage. We are very much at the stage of looking at what has worked, what does work in other countries, and how we can extend that.” But the minister said the review, which is being led by expert working group and is not expected to report until next year, would be taking a methodical and evidence-based approach. In her speech, Newton said “occupational health is at the heart of our reform programme and our whole-system approach. We know that occupational health has a vitally important role to play in supporting people to stay in employment. But unlike in some other countries where provision is much more widespread, in the UK many workers have no occupational health support in their workplace and access to other services can be patchy and confusing. So we want to change this, and that’s why last year we set out our intention to develop proposals for truly transformational change in occupational health.” Her comments came after the government this year shut its failing Fit for Work service. Responding to the minister’s comments, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson called for urgent action to protect workers from sometimes deadly diseases. “Although the emphasis must always be on prevention, trade unions have always called for proper access to occupational health services. The call for a national occupational health service was included in the report on work and health produced for the government by Carol Black 10 years ago.” He added: “What we need now is action. Until workers have early access to occupational health services we will continue to see each year hundreds of thousands of people develop long-term conditions that could have been prevented if treated early. The current lack of provision is a national disgrace.”
A bar worker on a zero hours contract has won a legal dispute over last-minute shift-cancellations that campaigners say could lead to significant changes in employers’ practices in the hospitality industry. Alasdair Thomson, from Inverness, had his shifts cancelled at the last minute on a number of occasions which left him unable to find other work to replace his lost wages. After contacting Better than Zero, the campaign against precarious work that is supported by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), Alasdair decided to pursue his case legally against SLONLO2 Ltd, the company that held the lease at Phoenix Alehouse. “I found out about Better than Zero on the Glasgow Bartenders’ Facebook page,” Alasdair noted. “They frequently have people on there talking about bad experiences. It’s not everywhere that treats you badly, but certainly it’s not the first bad experience I’ve had. When bosses cancel these shifts at the last minute is has such a huge effect on your life. Not only is it impossible to find replacement work at such short notice, it means it’s impossible to make basic plans about what you do with your life. You just feel that your daily life is held at the whim of your line manager.” Speaking after the settlement was agreed, he said: “You don’t need to accept being treated that way. You need to stand up for yourself. Get in touch with Better than Zero to get what you’re entitled to and get involved.” Claire Galloway, an organiser for Better than Zero, commented: “It can be difficult for staff affected by mistreatment to take collective action in an environment of zero hours contracts and irregular work. But Better than Zero is launching regional ‘hubs’ for workers in hospitality, restaurants, retail and other sectors to come together and take up issues like shifts and scheduling, to improve practices locally.” Lois Madden, the lawyer from law firm Thompsons who represented the bar worker, said: “Alasdair won his case before the court could hand down a judgment on the issue, because the employer decided to settle the case. Many employers think that engaging staff on a zero hours basis will allow them free reign to cancel shifts at will. Alasdair’s case has challenged the legal basis for this and argued that when a rota is scheduled and an employee notified, then bosses can’t just cancel those shifts without any notice. If they do then they can be liable to pay the worker for the shift.”
Injuries on the London Underground have risen by almost a quarter since the introduction of the Night Tube. There were just over 3,000 injuries recorded on the London Underground in 2017, a 23 per cent increase since 2015. It represents a rise from 1.83 injuries per million journeys to 2.237 - up 22 per cent. The Night Tube launched in August 2016, running on Friday and Saturday nights. There were 83 serious injuries recorded on the London underground network, a 34 per cent increase since 2015. Since 2010 there have been four recorded fatalities. Incidents believed to be suicides or attempted suicides are not included. The number of injuries has increased despite fewer passengers using the Tube. There were 13 million fewer journeys on the Tube in 2017 than in 2016, a two per cent fall. Manuel Cortes, general secretary of station staff union TSSA, said: “This just goes to show that when staffing levels are down, injury rates spike.” He told the BBC: “We've consistently argued that staff keep passengers safe, whether in the case of a terrorist attack, to evacuate passengers, ensure platforms are not overcrowded, or just to provide assistance for disabled or older passengers.”
The number of prison officers resigning from their jobs has more than doubled in the last two years amid soaring levels of violence and self-harm in UK jails. Ministers have been accused of driving a crisis in prisons after an analysis of official figures revealed the number of officers leaving the role surged from 596 in 2015/16 to 1,244 in the 12 months to March 2018 – an increase of 109 per cent. One in 16 officers resigned last year, compared with one in 33 officers two years before and just one in 100 in 2009/10. It comes after self-harm and violent attacks hit record levels in prisons across England and Wales this year, prompting campaigners to warn of a “system in crisis”. Despite a major drive by the government to recruit more officers, which has seen an overall increase of 14 per cent in staffing numbers in the past year, the surge in resignations has prompted concern around the lack of experience in the sector. Joe Simpson, deputy general secretary of the prison officers’ union POA, told The Independent it was “no surprise” more officers were resigning. “There is more and more violence and more psychoactive substances. There are murders. It’s an absolute disgrace. Officers are having to cut people down who have decided to take their own lives; they’re having to deal with prisoners who are often extremely violent and extremely strong,” he said. “They leave because they get no support from senior management. There’s no assistance for them when they do get mentally ill. Line managers aren’t trained to notice the signs of mental ill-health in their staff. Officers end up falling into a downward spiral.” He said the increase in resignations was also the result of low pay and a poor remuneration package for prison officers, which he said was “nothing short of a disgrace, so people look at it and say this job is just not worth my mental health and leave. Some people leave the job and go into other jobs on less money in order to get out.”
The number of teachers working in state-funded schools in England has fallen to its lowest level since 2013, official statistics show, with a union warning the trend is fuelling teacher ‘burnout’. Last year, 451,900 full time equivalent teachers were working in English state schools, compared with 457,000 in 2016. Teacher numbers have not been lower since 2013, according to figures published last week by the Department for Education. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said the statistics would make ‘grim reading’ for education secretary Damian Hinds. She said qualified teachers leaving the profession outnumbered new recruits. “We are losing teachers too quickly, undoubtedly because the government is burning them out with an excessive workload and they can earn more and have a better work-life balance in another profession.” She said the government must boost pay and reduce workloads to address the retention crisis. There are now 66,000 more children in England's schools, compared with last year.
New electric trains for Scotland's central belt have been approved by rail regulators. However, the go-ahead only came when an agreement was reached to fit the train cabs with replacement windscreens after the train drivers’ union ASLEF raised safety concerns. Ahead of the Hitachi Class 385 trains coming into full service, ASLEF warned the curved windscreen on the Class 385s were causing reflections of other signals at night. In February, the union told Scotrail that unless modifications were made to the ‘fish bowl’ windscreens, drivers would refuse to work them (Risks 837). New flat windscreens will now be fitted to all 70 of the trains. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has confirmed the Hitachi trains are now safe and licensed to carry passengers. The ORR approval terms also include a formal acceptance of the new flat windscreens for the trains, a change accepted by ASLEF in May. The new windscreens are being fitted on trains that are already in Scotland, with the remainder of the work carried out at Hitachi's County Durham factory.
The boss of a construction company has been banned after failing to pay fines imposed for multiple criminal health and safety breaches. Michael Allen, 64, was a director of Ashbourne-based Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Limited, a specialist company manufacturing and erecting steel-framed agricultural and industrial buildings. In July 2014, during repair work on a farm building in Buxton, a worker fell through the roof and suffered life-changing injuries. An investigation was carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which found Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Limited had breached several health and safety regulations. Michael Allen pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches of the work at heights regulations and was fined £274,671 in November 2016 (Risks 779). However, Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Limited went into liquidation in December 2016 and Michael Allen told investigators that the business closed down because it could not afford to pay the fine imposed by the court. However, further investigations by the Insolvency Service found that after the accident a new company was incorporated in October 2014. The new company carried out fabrication services, while the installation side of the business was wound down. If the fabrication contracts had remained within Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Limited, the original company, there would have been sufficient funds to pay the fine. Effective from 27 June 2018, Michael Allen is now banned from directly or indirectly becoming involved, without the permission of the court, in the promotion, formation or management of a company for six years. Dave Elliott, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service, said: “Michael Allen had a lack of regard for the workers, which unfortunately resulted in a horrific injury for one person. Directors who fail to adhere to health and safety regulations to protect their employees and then fail to pay the fine can expect to face the consequences of a period of disqualification.”
Flight attendants have a higher prevalence of several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, thyroid cancer and cervical cancer, compared with the general public, according to new research. The large scale study from Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health is the first to show that flight attendants in the US also have a higher rate of non-melanoma skin cancer than the general population. “Our findings of higher rates of several cancers among flight attendants is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in our study population, which highlights the question of what can be done to minimise the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew,” said Irina Mordukhovich, research fellow at Harvard Chan School. Over the course of their careers, flight attendants are regularly exposed to several known and probable carcinogens, including cosmic ionising radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and possible chemical contaminants in the airplane. Moreover, cabin crews are exposed to the largest effective annual ionising radiation dose relative to all other US radiation workers because of both their exposure to and lack of protection from cosmic radiation. The study authors say that despite these known risks, flight attendants have historically been excluded from the legal safety protections typically granted to most other US workers. Limited protections were instituted in 2014, but they don’t include monitoring or regulating radiation exposure. The new findings are based on a 2014-2015 survey of 5,366 US flight attendants in which they were asked about self-reported health outcomes and symptoms, work experience, personal characteristics, and aviation employment history. The findings suggest that additional efforts should be made in the US to minimise the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation dose and organising schedules to minimise radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, say the authors.
Ÿ Harvard University news release. Eileen McNeely, Irina Mordukhovich and others. Cancer prevalence among flight attendants compared to the general population, Environmental Health, volume 17, number 49, published online 25 June 2018. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0396-8
The Ban Asbestos Network Korea (BANKO) held rallies in front of the Russian, Kazakh and Chinese embassies in Seoul on 3 July, calling on the three countries to stop production of asbestos. BANKO, which is comprised of the Citizen's Center for Environment and Health and other environmental activist groups, said it sponsored the protests to mark its 10th anniversary. Asbestos disease victims and campaigners from Japan and Indonesia travelled to Seoul to join the rallies. BANKO delivered a letter to each of the three embassies, asking for their cooperation in halting the mining of the known human carcinogen. In the letters, the network said: “As of 2015, global asbestos mining reached 1.36 million tons. Russia accounted for 51 per cent of the volume, followed by Brazil with 19 per cent, China with 16 per cent and Kazakhstan with 14 per cent. Brazil last year decided to ban the use of asbestos. But China, Russia and Kazakhstan still produce asbestos for exports to foreign countries.” A report this week from the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) noted that the industry’s ‘summertime blues’ extend beyond Korea, and include high profile criticism of the asbestos industry in Australia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the United Kingdom.
Celebrating what they called a “cultural shift” for women workers’ rights, union activists and city officials gathered on 1 July to mark Chicago’s implementation of an ordinance requiring hotels to provide panic buttons for employees to report harassment. Hotels are now required to supply portable panic buttons for workers who “clean, inventory, inspect or re-stock supplies” alone in guest rooms or restrooms, allowing them to send out alerts when they feel threatened. The city council passed legislation mandating the buttons in October (Risks 827). Sarah Lyons, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 1, which championed the ‘Hands Off, Pants On’ campaign, said the button is “not just a physical device, but a symbol” of city support and the fight against sexual harassment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying the workers “deserve not just our respect, but our sustained efforts to prevent, prohibit and punish harassment whenever and wherever it occurs.” The legislation followed a Unite Here survey in 2016 that found that 58 per cent of about 500 hotel workers polled had been sexually harassed by a guest. About half responded that guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked. In addition to panic buttons, the legislation requires hotels to have a “written, anti-sexual harassment policy.” Hotels rolled out the policies, including workers’ rights to leave work if feeling endangered, in January. The legislation benefits both union members and non-members, Lyons said. Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia said the victory “is the perfect example of how unions stand up and protect those who often need it the most.”
Five newspaper workers were killed on 28 June when a gunman opened fire inside the offices of the Capital Gazette, a newspaper published in Annapolis, Maryland. Jarrod Ramos, who is reported to have a long-standing dispute with the paper, stormed into the Capital Gazette’s offices wielding a shotgun and smoke grenades, killing five workers and injured two. Journalists Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Wendi Winters and sales assistant Rebecca Smith died in the attack. Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the global journalists’ union IFJ, said: “Once again, journalism and the press have been attacked in this senseless shooting. Beyond the debate over firearms in the United States, attacking a newsroom is a serious violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This odious act also reminds us that journalists are not safe anywhere, whether in a country at war, in a conflict zone or in a democracy.” He added: “Every week since 1 January 2018, two journalists or media workers have been murdered worldwide, according to the IFJ's latest count and the large majority of them are local journalists working for local media.” The deaths come at a time of unprecedented political attacks on the media from the US president and right-wing commentators, which unions have warned is putting journalists at risk. Two days ahead of the attack Milo Yiannopoulos, a British former editor of the Trump-supporting Breitbart News, said in a text to reporters from the New York Observer and the Daily Beast he “couldn't wait for vigilantes to start shooting journalists down on sight.” After widespread condemnation of his comments, Yiannopoulos claimed the text was a “joke” and “trolling.” However, after the story broke, he sent the New York Observer reporter, Davis Richardson, an Instagram message saying “Your life is over.”
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