|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 government must recognise that enforcing strong safety regulations is a positive, protective thing to do, and not a cost to be cut, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Safety and Health found the number of health and safety inspectors employed by local authorities has almost halved since 2010, with inspections and enforcement action plummeting as a result. Publishing the report, Labour MP Jo Stevens, the chair of the all-party group, said: “We recognise the financial restraints that many local councils are working under and the many competing demands on their services, but we cannot allow the role of local authorities in important areas such as health and safety to continue to decline. Too many people are injured or made ill at work and, with a strong inspection regime, many of these cases can be prevented. I hope the government and the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] will consider and implement the recommendations of this report.” According to the TUC, the report is of crucial importance because half of all British workers have the health and safety in their workplaces enforced not by the HSE but by their local council. “The report starts by countering the argument that the local authority enforced sector is ‘low risk’, saying that, while it may have lower injury levels, it often has higher rates of occupational diseases such as back pain or work-related stress,” commented TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “It also gives a stark account of how much inspection and enforcement activity has fallen in the past decade with proactive inspections falling by 97 per cent and the overall number of inspections by 65 per cent.” He added that the report also “proves that the idea that enforcement is now done more intelligently is just not true”, with enforcement activity dropping by 64 per cent, mirroring almost exactly the inspection drop. The all-party group report recommends that local authorities inspections should have greater emphasis on health issues rather than just safety. It also calls for changes to the way the “primary authority” scheme – which the MPs warn is a barrier to local action - to ensure greater scrutiny and consistency. According the TUC’s Hugh Robertson, “of course we also need the government to provide funding for inspection and enforcement activity and, equally important, we need to change the mind-set that sees inspection activity as being something that is negative. Instead, government should view health and safety inspections as a positive way of ensuring that employers know about their legal duties and are complying with them.”
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Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has expressed dismay at the government’s determination to restrict access to justice for injured workers by pushing more cases through the small claims court. The union was commenting after justice minister Rory Stewart, responding to a Labour charge that the changes would rob injured workers of essential legal support, told MPs: “The entire purpose of the small claims court is to make sure that minor injuries are dealt with without lawyers.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “From the minister’s response I am not convinced the government has thoroughly thought through its proposals. Forcing more injured workers through the small claims court means that they cannot recover costs for legal representation. So, whilst workers with claims worth under £2,000 will in all likelihood be forced to represent themselves in court, the negligent employers and their insurers will continue to be advised and represented by expensive lawyers.” Lillis added: “The principle of equality of arms and both parties being on an equal footing is a cornerstone of our system of civil justice and we urge the government to rethink their proposals before they bring the Civil Liability Bill to parliament in the Autumn.” The union leader said if employers don’t fear the prospect of legal challenges when they harm their workers, that “will have a knock-on effect for workplace health and safety, as less scrupulous employers let standards slip because they know they’re unlikely to face the consequences in court.”
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Unite is calling on the Scottish government to launch an immediate investigation in the wake of revelations that employment agencies have been advertising for workers to operate for a potentially ‘lethal’ 15 hours a day or 80 hours a week on the highly troubled Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR). In one advert a wheeled excavator driver is sought for ‘up to 15 hours a day plus weekends for 10-15 weeks’. In a separate advert, two site plant drivers were sought to work for ‘70-80 hours a week for a six to eight week period.’ The joint venture project, which is now being built by Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try following the collapse of Carillion earlier this year, is massively behind schedule and has a very poor safety record, Unite said. Unite regional co-ordinating officer Steve Dillon has raised his concerns about the working hours abuses on the project directly with Transport Scotland. He said: “The latest revelations about the Aberdeen bypass project are disgusting, such long hours are lethal. Workers cannot work safely undertaking such long hours, this is exactly how mistakes occur and too often result in tragic accidents.” He added: “This is the latest scandal to hit the troubled Aberdeen bypass and the Scottish government and the Health and Safety Executive simply can no longer sweep these problems under the carpet. There must be an immediate investigation into what is occurring and if necessary work should be stopped to ensure that safe, legal processes are in place. The rush to finish this already delayed project must not in any way be at the expense of workers’ safety or conditions.” Gillon continued: “Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try must be held fully accountable for these adverts, it is their project and they can’t try to pass the blame onto others. To suggest they don’t know what is happening on their own site is simply not acceptable.”
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Eurostar staff based at London’s St Pancras station have announced they will go on strike over the “shocking and dangerous” working conditions they face due to repeated service failures and breakdowns. RMT members will walk out for 24 hours on 28 July. The union said the international terminal at St Pancras has been reduced to “chaos”, with staff bearing the brunt of public anger over delays to services. Around 140 staff are involved in the dispute. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The conditions at St Pancras have been simply appalling in recent weeks with dangerous levels of overcrowding on the concourse as services plunge into meltdown on the cusp of the busiest part of the year. RMT will not tolerate a position where our members are left to pick up the pieces due to corporate failures.” He added: “RMT is escalating this dispute with a ballot of train managers and it is now time for Eurostar to get their heads out of the sand, recognise the seriousness of the current situation and come forward with proposals that address the issues our members have been raising with them.” The union said workers at the French end of the Eurostar operation “have also registered their disgust at the appalling conditions and have taken action in an attempt to force the company to act.” A Eurostar spokesperson said: “We are keen to find a solution and have a meeting scheduled with the RMT to discuss this further.”
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Staff at a Glasgow health food store have gone on strike and joined a union after discovering secret cameras in rooms where staff changed, just four weeks after opening. Workers at Harvest Stores, some under 18, were horrified and alerted police after findings the lenses hidden in a network modem and air detector. The store houses nearly 70 cameras but, as they are not in a designated changing area, the police said legal lines have not been crossed by managing director Amin Din. Store manager Karen Nicholson, who led the walk out, said: “We shut the shop as soon as we found the cameras and got the police in.” Cameras were also discovered in an office which staff said they also used to get dressed. “We might have suspected this but it was still a massive shock. He monitors the cameras from home. Police said that while it was morally questionable, legally he was in the clear,” the store manager said. “I am very upset. The staff are predominantly young women, some of them are just young girls under 18. Now they are worried about what has happened to the footage.” After walking out, staff approached the bakers’ union BFAWU and the Better than Zero campaign, both of whom are now supporting them through the industrial action. A spokesperson for Better than Zero said: “It takes real courage to do what the workers at Harvest Stores are doing - standing together as union members, against a boss who has run his business with a toxic mix of control and intimidation… by speaking out and joining the BFAWU union en masse, they are lighting a beacon for everyone in Glasgow whose pay and conditions are set at the mercy of the boss. Precarious work is becoming the norm in Glasgow, and Better than Zero is ready to support all workers who are prepared to join unions and take on those who profit from low pay and insecurity.”
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Firefighters’ union FBU has erected a red plaque in memory of firefighter Ewan Williamson, who died while tackling a fire in Edinburgh in 2009. FBU’s red plaque scheme aims to honour firefighters killed in the line of duty. It is funded from proceeds of the union’s Firefighters 100 Lottery. Speaking ahead of the plaque unveiling ceremony at the site of the fatal fire, Denise Christie, regional secretary of the FBU in Scotland, said: “Ewan made the ultimate sacrifice while keeping his community safe. It will be an honour to unveil the plaque with his family there. I am sure it will bring them great comfort to know that nine years after his death that he is very much remembered. Ewan’s family and friends will be in all of our thoughts on this anniversary.” Ewan Williamson was responding to a fire at the Balmoral Bar when the floor of the burning building collapsed.
As evidence shows occupational exposures are responsible for a substantial proportion of many cancers (), studies to identify the groups at risk and the substances causing problems are drying up, top occupational cancer experts have warned. Four papers in the August 2018 issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine highlight a problem that could ‘stall’ efforts to reduce the burden of occupational cancer. A study led by Claire Marant Micallef identified 94 ‘pairings’ of occupational exposures with cancer sites, but for almost a quarter of these (21) too few studies had been to determine what proportion of the cancers are related to work. The study by Dana Loomis and his co-authors identified 23 different cancer types associated with workplace exposures, and 12 occupational agents associated with more than one cancer. James Jung and his team noted that while it was possible to identify occupational associations, analyses based on job titles and industries were often too broad to make an accurate quantification of the extent of the risk to those in the precise jobs experiencing the carcinogenic exposures. In an accompanying commentary, occupational cancer researchers Aaron Blair and Lin Fritschi warn the situation could be getting worse, noting there is already evidence “of a curtailment on occupational cancer research efforts.” They point to a survey of 15 major journals that found the number of articles on occupational cancer “declined dramatically from around 80-90 per year from 1991-2003, to about 30 in 2009.” They conclude: “It is vital that we continue to undertake high-quality epidemiological studies to provide the information necessary to identify new occupational carcinogens, to fully understand the risks from currently identified workplace hazards and to reduce the burden of work-related cancer.”
A group of 80 fashion companies who made a commitment to cut hazardous chemicals from their clothing production by 2020 have all achieved ‘significant progress’, according to a Greenpeace report. ‘Destination zero: Seven years of Detoxing the clothing industry’ comes seven years after Greenpeace launched its Detox campaign, securing industry pledges to stop polluting rivers and oceans. The environmental campaign group says it maps for the first time the major steps taken by all the companies across fashion, sportswear, luxury, retail and outdoor brands as well suppliers. Together, these companies represent 15 per cent of global clothing production. Bunny McDiarmid, executive director of Greenpeace International, said “there has been a major paradigm shift in the clothing industry triggered by the Detox campaign, which now takes responsibility for their production instead of just their products.” Supply chain chemical usage was also covered by the campaign. Greenpeace said it is also calling for local and global regulations and for the chemical industry to take more responsibility for developing safer alternatives. It added some Detox companies are now supporting the enforcement of ‘due diligence’ that will make corporations legally responsible for their supply chains, wherever they produce in the world. “While we are extremely happy to see the progress of Detox companies towards cleaning up their supply chains, 85 per cent of the textile industry is still not doing enough to eliminate hazardous chemicals and improve factory working conditions. This is unacceptable. It is time for policy-makers to step in and make Detox a worldwide standard,” said Kirsten Brodde, Greenpeace Germany project lead for the Detox-my-Fashion campaign.
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Three directors of a now-liquidated waste management company have been sentenced after a series of “appalling” criminal safety and environmental failures, exposing the public and the environment to asbestos. Stoke on Trent Combined Court heard that George Talbot and his sons, Anthony and Stephen, knew of the hazards of handling asbestos waste at sites in Staffordshire and Lancashire but ignored instructions from the authorities to rectify problems, including a May 2012 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prohibition notice banning the use of six asbestos containing or contaminated trailers. The directors of Alsager Contractors Limited were prosecuted following a joint, two-year investigation into the company’s working practices by the HSE and the Environment Agency (EA). George Thomas Talbot was disqualified as a director for a period of seven years and was fined £46,500 after pleaded guilty to a series of criminal safety and environmental offences. Anthony Thomas Talbot was disqualified as a director for a period of four years and fined £4,800. Stephen John Talbot was fined £6,000. Passing sentence, the judge described the “flagrant breach of the prohibition notice”, adding: “It is clear that the company, far from responding to earlier warnings about their handling of asbestos, continued to create risks and deliberately disregard a prohibition notice.” HSE inspector David Brassington commented: “This was an appalling breach of a prohibition notice which potentially exposed workers to asbestos. Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement against those who flout the law.”
A Manchester-based principal contractor has been sentenced for criminal safety offences after two workers fell when working at height. Leeds Crown Court heard how, on 3 October 2014, the two subcontracted joiners were working on the refurbishment and construction of new build dwellings at the former Wharfedale Hospital in Otley, West Yorkshire. They were working in the bell tower at the site on a temporary access platform when it collapsed. The men fell approximately 3.4 metres onto a lower platform which also collapsed. They then fell a further 3.4m onto the ground floor. The platforms were installed by PJ Livesey Living Space (North) Ltd to allow other contractors to access the roof structure. One of the workers injured an ankle while the other suffered permanent nerve damage to the face. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work platforms had been designed by the site manager, an employee of PJ Livesey. The site manager was not competent to carry out such a design and the design had not been reviewed by a competent person. As a consequence, the platform was unsafe and collapsed. PJ Livesey Living Space (North) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £56,000 and ordered to pay £7,262.16 costs. HSE inspector Chris Tilley commented: “The risks associated with working at height are well known. Temporary works must always be designed to meet British Standards by a competent person and in the case of more complex works such as this, be subject to a secondary overview.”
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A Scunthorpe-based roofing contractor has been fined for criminal safety breaches after a worker suffered serious injuries in a fall through a fragile roof. Grimsby Magistrates Court heard how, between 11 September 2016 and 1 October 2016, the employee of Broadley Roofing Ltd was working on a roof while the company was carrying out external refurbishment of the warehouse of a former retail store. On 30 September 2016, the worker fell six metres on to a solid concrete floor. He suffered numerous fractures to his vertebrae, shoulder, ankle, and ribs. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that while unsecured boards had been provided to cover nearby roof lights, the company failed to provide any other control measures to prevent falls through the roof while the roof sheets were being replaced. Broadley Roofing Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £53,000 and ordered to pay £2,465.15 in costs HSE inspector Alison Outhwaite commented: “Work at height, such as roof work, is a high-risk activity that accounts for a high proportion of workplace serious injuries and fatalities each year. This incident could have been avoided had the company ensured that appropriate measures were in place to prevent falls, in line with industry standards for roof work.”
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The US president’s long-time love affair with asbestos has garnered a literal stamp of approval from a Russian mining company. Uralasbest, one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of asbestos, has taken to adorning pallets of its product with a seal of Trump’s face, along with the words “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States.” The move follows the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision not to ban new asbestos products outright. The EPA said it would evaluate new uses of asbestos but environmental groups have criticised the agency for not going further by barring them on public health grounds. In a Facebook post, Uralasbest published pictures of its Trump-adorned chrysotile asbestos, writing: “Donald is on our side!” Uralasbest, which is located in the mining city of Asbest in the Ural Mountains, is reported to have close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “Vladimir Putin and Russia’s asbestos industry stand to prosper mightily as a result of the Trump administration’s failure to ban asbestos in the US,” said Ken Cook, president of the US Environmental Working Group. “Helping Putin and Russian oligarchs amass fortunes by selling a product that kills thousands each year should never be the role of a US president or the EPA, but this is the Trump administration.” Trump has been a vocal fan of asbestos for decades, calling it “100 per cent safe, once applied” in his 1997 book ‘The Art of the Comeback’. He also described the anti-asbestos campaign as a mob conspiracy. In 2012, the future president tweeted that the World Trade Center “would never have burned down” after the 11 September attacks if asbestos hadn’t been removed from the building. The Twin Towers did not burn down, they collapsed as a result of structural damage caused by a terrorist attack. “By allowing asbestos to remain legal, the Trump administration would be responsible for a flood of asbestos imports from Russia and other countries into the US, as well as the wave of illnesses and deaths that will continue for years to come,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder and president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). Russian asbestos producers now coordinate the global asbestos industry promotional campaign, using a well-resourced public relations campaign to target exports on developing nations.
Poor working conditions and pay have been linked to a spate of suicides hitting a range of industries across India. Earlier this year it was revealed that desperate textiles (Risks 838) and farm workers (Risks 853) were taking their own lives. Now diamond workers polishing gems supplied by major multinationals can be added to the suicide death roll. Enquiries spread over a year in the western Indian state of Gujarat found a pattern of suicides in the industry that cuts and polishes 90 per cent of gems sold globally, with many workers paid per stone. The Reuters Foundation investigation, involving interviews with diamond unit owners, brokers, labour groups, families and the police, revealed nine suicides since last November in the city of Surat, a hub for the trade, and the Saurashtra region where the workers are from. When asked about worker suicides, De Beers, a part of the Anglo American Plc Group, together with the world’s second biggest mining company Rio Tinto, and Russia’s Alrosa said they had not encountered any cases in firms to which they sell rough diamonds. But campaigners said while most big firms have air-conditioned workshops and fixed wages, many smaller outfits have no toilets or ventilation and workers live, eat and sleep in the workshops in slave-like conditions. The highest number of more than 5,000 suicides reported in Surat city since 2010 were in areas where diamond workers live, Surat police data shows.
A local penal court in Turkey has handed down prison sentences to the former management of the deadly Soma mine. A total of 301 mineworkers were killed in the country’s worst ever mining disaster in May 2014. The verdict was announced on 11 July following a trial lasting three years. The mine's general manager Ramazan Dogru and technical manager Ismail Adali were each sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison by the court in Akhisar. Operations manager Akin Celik and technical supervisor Ertan Ersoy were jailed for 18 years and nine months. The mine’s CEO, Can Gurkan, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Alp Gurkan, father of CEO Can Gurkan, and chair of the Soma Mines Company which owned the mine, was acquitted along with 36 other suspects. Out of 51 suspects on trial, nine other mine managers were given jail terms of six to 11 years. Prosecutors had demanded prison terms of 25 years. Families of the victims, civil society and trade unions are angry that the suspects were charged with negligence, rather than murder, which had originally been requested by prosecutors when the trial began in April 2015. “Public conscience was not relieved,” said the Turkish Trade Unions’ Confederation (Turk-Is). “When the reasons and results of the disaster in Soma are analysed, we repeatedly underlined that this was not an accident, but a massacre. All the evidences showed that there was a gross negligence at the level of intent much more than imprudence and carelessness.” A statement from the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) also expressed outrage. “Justice in Soma has been hammered,” it said, adding: “Our pains in Soma are still fresh. It is impossible for us to accept this verdict. We will not forget. We will not lie down. We will not forgive.” A damning official report into the Soma disaster showed that the mine was a death trap. Warning sensors were ignored, safety reports fabricated and ventilation systems faulty, among other severe safety breaches. Kemal Özkan, the assistant general secretary of the global mining union IndustriALL, said: “This verdict is completely unacceptable as it is far from expectations of the public opinion given the size of this disaster.” He added that IndustriALL “will continue to follow this case until there is real justice.”
Tesla boss Elon Musk promised to address workers’ safety concerns, so long as they refrained from trying to organise a union, the National Labor Relations Board has charged. Musk’s tactic came to light as a trial got underway over a complaint filed against Tesla by the NLRB, the government agency tasked with enforcing US labour laws. Last month, the NLRB sought to amend its complaint to include allegations about Musk that dated to a meeting with an unspecified group of Tesla employees held the previous year in a conference room at the automaker’s assembly plant in Fremont, California. During the 7 June 2017 meeting, Musk allegedly solicited employees complaints about safety issues, and “impliedly promised to remedy their safety complaints if they refrained from their union organisational activity,” the NLRB said. The National Labor Relations Act gives workers a legal right to organise and forbids employers from threatening workers “with adverse consequences, such as closing the workplace, loss of benefits, or more onerous working conditions, if they support a union.” The safety law OSHA gives workers a legal right to a safe workplace and protection from victimisation for exercising safety rights. According to Jordan Barab, second-in-command at the federal safety regulator OSHA under President Obama: “Employees have the right to organise a union AND to come home safe at the end of the workday. They do not have to choose between one or the other.” He added: “Telling workers you’ll only deal with their health and safety complaints if they vote against the union is essentially saying ‘Unless you vote against the union, you will continue to get hurt, sick or killed’.” A Businessweek report last week revealed that, in a bid to meet production quotas, Tesla factory workers were provided free Red Bull to stay awake and were instructed to walk through raw sewage to avoid interrupting production. The energy drinks provided to battle exhaustion had fuelled a zombie-like trance workers called the ‘Tesla stare,’ Businessweek reported.
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