|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.|
Retail union Usdaw has said it is ‘extremely concerned’ by news some police forces are advising shopworkers to detain shoplifters by using a citizen’s arrest. The union said the ‘worrying’ idea is neither safe nor practical. “Most shopworkers are not trained to deal with this type of incident and stores do not have the facilities where a perpetrator could be held securely and safely,” the union said. The union’s concerns about violence directed at retail staff have been amplified by a series of recent surveys. “Usdaw’s annual survey of shopworkers shows a 25 per cent increase in violence, the British Retail Consortium reported a doubling of violence in their annual retail crime survey and the Office for National Statistics reported a 10 per cent increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting during the year to September 2017,” the union noted. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, commented: “The evidence shows that this is a growing problem which needs to be tackled. Theft from shops can often be a trigger for violence, threats and abuse therefore the advice from the police to detain thieves themselves is extremely worrying.” He added: “There are far better and more practical ways of dealing with this issue. Other police forces are working with the employers and their staff to develop safer ways of dealing with shop theft. The National Retail Crime Strategy Group is developing national guidelines which should be used by retailers and local police forces. Usdaw is working with employers to make shops safer but we believe that cutting 20,000 police officers in the name of austerity is behind this problem. Shopworkers are already on the frontline of policing the law on the sales of alcohol, knives, glue and acid. Yet, they are offered no additional protection under the law and are treated like criminals if they make a mistake.” He concluded: “Shopworkers deserve the protection of the law, they shouldn’t have to fill in for the missing thousands of police officers.”
Britain’s refuse workers should be treated with respect but are instead facing a sharp increase in fatal injuries while doing their essential job, the union GMB has said. Pointing to official figures showing a sharp increase in refuse worker deaths, the union said refuse workers report 1,000 instances of dangerous driving every day that place their lives in jeopardy, when they’re “just trying to do their jobs”. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “We all rely on refuse collections to keep our cities, towns and villages clean and safe. But refuse workers are literally risking their lives coming into work each day – it’s one of the most dangerous jobs you can do. In this sweltering heat, it doesn’t get any easier. It’s an incredibly tough job, but despite the graft they put in, refuse workers have seen their pay plummet in real terms since 2011.” The GMB leader added: “The law of the land should come down hard on anyone putting our members’ lives at risk or threatening their safety. They’re just trying to do a job and look after the rest of us.” Latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show 12 people died in the waste sector last year, up 50 per cent from the eight deaths the preceding year. Workers in the industry face the twin perils of low pay and high risks, GMB said. The average earnings of the UK’s refuse workers is just over £19,000 a year - and has plummeted 7.4 per cent in real terms since 2011. “Our refuse workers desperately need a pay rise, but alongside that they need the police, courts and general public to treat them with the respect they deserve,” said Tim Roache.
Film and theatre craft union BECTU is asking workers in film and TV to make their views known about the dangers of driving to and from work on long hours productions. The union is highlighting the issue of ‘drowsy driving’ as part of its Eyes Half Shut campaign. It says fatigue is a major contributory factor to crashes in the UK, with too little sleep radically affecting driver attention, awareness, reaction time and ability to control a vehicle. One in six crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related, according to one study cited by Brake, the road safety charity. Amongst BECTU’s members, 77 per cent of respondents to an Eyes Half Shut survey said they felt unsafe at work, or travelling to and from work, because of fatigue. According to the union: “'Drowsy driving' is not only life threatening, it’s also bad for business. In the US alone, it is estimated that the effects of sleep loss on work performance may be costing employers some $18 billion in lost productivity.” BECTU said it is campaigning to establish a formal commission with representatives from all of the industry’s main employers to address the long hours culture in UK film and TV. BECTU organiser Nia Hughes said: “The long hours culture within the film and TV industry which leads to dangerous driving is treated as ‘industry standard’ by employers. The reality of working in film or TV is that once you leave set or unit base, it is not uncommon for workers to be travelling for an hour or more.” She added: “We want to build on our agreements, but it is also important that employers recognise that the problem of dangerous driving needs urgent attention. Employers need to start working with us to reduce the risks.”
Rail union RMT has accused South Western Railway of ‘potentially lethal’ safety failures during recent strike days. In a letter to the safety regulator ORR this week, the union sets out “a catalogue of fundamental and dangerous safety abuses throughout the recent strike days as a result of the company paying volunteers to act up as guards regardless of the risks to the travelling public.” The union complaints include an incident where “unskilled, inexperienced and poorly trained volunteers triggering the start signal to drivers on red signals” outside Raynes Park station. Train doors were opened incorrectly at Swaythling and Clapham Junction stations “creating a serious risk of passengers falling on the tracks” and doors were again opened unsafely when a train stopped short at Overton station, the union said, “again creating a real danger of passengers falling onto the tracks.” The union raised its safety concerns as talks aimed at resolving the dispute over the axing of ‘safety-critical’ guards got underway at the conciliation service Acas this week. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union hoped the talks would secure “the objective of reaching a solution that underpins the guard guarantee on South Western Railway in the same way that we have negotiated settlements with other train operating companies.” But he added: “The catalogue of failures we have raised with the safety regulator today show just how dangerous it is to run a railway on a wing and a prayer without competent, trained and experienced staff. No one should be playing Russian roulette with passenger safety on our railways in this cavalier fashion. These potentially lethal failures can be avoided in the future if we secure an agreement that puts safety and access first.”
The government’s own advisers warned two years ago of the ‘toxic’ and potentially illegal impact driver-only trains would have on disabled and older people, rail union RMT has revealed. In a 2016 letter obtained in a response to a freedom of information request from the Association of British Commuters, the chair of the government’s own Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) issued a clear warning to Peter Wilkinson, the Department for Transport’s managing director of passenger services. “We question how older and disabled people, and particularly those who suffer from acute anxiety and mental health issues, can travel when there are effectively no customer service staff on the train or on the station.” The letter added: “On this point we know that the toxic combination of driver-only operated trains and unstaffed stations fails to deliver a service that meets the needs of many disabled passengers. As a result DPTAC is seeking a guarantee that such policies cannot undermine the fundamental principle of accessibility – which would in any event be illegal.” RMT said that despite this April 2016 letter, “the government and train companies have continued with their policy of seeking to expand driver only trains.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These documents obtained under freedom of information show that the government’s own advisers warned over two years ago that driver-only trains are toxic for disabled and older passengers. This is a problem that will be exacerbated on companies like South Western where 70 per cent of stations are unstaffed.” He added: “This revelation follows similar warnings contained in other documents that have been leaked from the industry. They are a massive concern, especially when we have an ageing population and one in five of the population reporting a disability.”
Firefighters are warning that homes are at far higher risk from fire because of budget cuts. Speaking to the Morning Star, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We simply do not have enough firefighters left to keep people safe. The service has been cut to ribbons. Fire deaths have increased, as has the amount of time it takes fire crews to respond to an emergency. This is what happens when you cut firefighter jobs and close stations.” He said that successive Tory governments have devastated fire services. Since the Conservatives took power in 2010, nearly 12,000 frontline firefighter jobs have been cut. In the same period some 40 fire stations have closed due to low staffing and underfunding. The FBU leader said: “The Tories have led the longest, most sustained assault on the fire service in its entire history. They heap praise on firefighters after every major incident, yet they do not listen one iota to our professional concerns about the state of an overstretched and underfunded service.”
Stressed out hospital staff say they need system change and leadership support, not resilience training, to protect their health. In interviews with NHS staff in Bristol, journalist Hannah Vickers found ‘resilience programmes’ involving mindfulness, yoga, wellness and other noticeboard offerings, were even appearing more in personal specifications for jobs in NHS leadership roles. However, with impossible workloads and a constant squeezing of resources, NHS staff are suffering from unsustainable levels of stress, with stress-related absences soaring in the NHS over the last few years. Vickers reports that against this backdrop, resilience has become something of a buzzword, despite, as the psychiatrist, academic and writer Professor Linda Gask has written, research into its effectiveness being “patchy at best.” This echoes concerns raised by the TUC for years, with head of safety Hugh Robertson warning in 2013: “It is becoming increasingly difficult for trade unionists to keep the attention of employers focused on prevention when these employers are being bombarded with ‘experts’ who are telling them that their problem is the lack of resilience in their workers and that this can be fixed by training managers, or their workers.” The union body added that the current fashion for resilience training follows other fads to ‘deal’ with workplace stress, including neuro-linguistic programming in the 1990s, that were just ‘hokum’. Others agree it is the wrong solution to a real problem. Trying to fix these with resilience training sessions is like trying to cure influenza with a sticking plaster, Chris Lake, managing director of Integrated Development Ltd and former head of professional development at the NHS Leadership Academy, told Vickers. “The thing that’s making a patient feel very poorly isn’t a small cut, it’s a systemic infestation infecting the whole organism of the human body.”
Ÿ Hannah Vickers, The Bristol Cable, 1 August 2018.
A court judgment in a group action brought on behalf of 260 British Coal coke oven workers and their families, has seen another former miner awarded compensation, opening the way for many more settlements. Workers who contracted respiratory diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer, as well as skin cancer, they believe were caused by exposure to harmful fumes at coking plants in England and Wales are seeking compensation. British Coal admitted a breach of duty by failing to protect its employees from exposure to dust and fumes present at the coking plants. Eight test cases were chosen to proceed to trial. While most of these test cases were settled out of court, two involving workers with chronic bronchitis went before a judge. Judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Turner at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, on 31 July 2018. The judge found there was sufficient evidence to prove that one worker suffered from chronic bronchitis caused by his job, but ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the claim on behalf of the second worker. The successful claim concerned a deceased worker who was employed on the coke ovens at Nantgarw coke works between the 1960s and 1980s. According to Kathryn Singh of law firm Hugh James, who is handling cases in Wales: “The resolution of the lead cases and successful conclusion of the lead claims is a pivotal milestone in this litigation, and one in which the claimants have had to fight for. Focus can now be given to a swift resolution we hope of the remaining cases in the group.” The judgment on behalf of British Coal coke oven workers closely follows the Phurnacite Workers Group Litigation which was brought by Hugh James on behalf of 183 ex-workers of the Phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi, Wales. Judgment was handed down by the High Court in 2012, which found that British Coal failed to protect Phurnacite workers from dust and fume causing them to suffer from respiratory diseases including lung cancer. A separate group litigation is also being brought by Hugh James and law firm Irwin Mitchell on behalf of former British Steel coke oven workers. This case is expected to reach trial in 2020.
Ÿ Irwin Mitchell Solicitors news release. Hugh James Solicitors news release. Devereux Chambers statement. Background: Relative risk - In the courts, it is relatively easy to evade work cancer justice, Hazards online report, June 2015.
Shell UK Limited has been fined for a criminal health and safety offices after a technician was struck by a cylinder and left severely injured on the Brent Delta offshore installation. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard how, on 10 November 2014, technicians were required to replace a gas cylinder within a system used to extinguish fires. When one of the technicians rolled what he thought was an empty cylinder along the floor and took off the protective cap, he realised it was a fully charged cylinder. The trigger mechanism on the cylinder was activated causing a loud bang and the instantaneous release of a white cloud. The force of the gas release caused the technician to drop the cylinder to the floor, causing a valve to shear. This resulted in both the cylinder and valve becoming projectiles which struck and severely injured a second technician. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to take suitable and sufficient steps to ensure risks associated with handling of pressurised cylinders were eliminated. The company also failed to remove pressurised cylinders that were not suitable for use in a safe and secure manner and failed to ensure the provision of appropriate information and instruction on the handling and use of energised gas cylinders. Shell UK Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000. Duncan Manning, Brent Asset Manager at Shell, insisted safety was “a top priority.” He said: “Shell deeply regrets the accident and the injuries sustained by the individuals involved,” adding: “Shell is determined to deliver safe operations in all phases from production through to decommissioning to ensure that everyone returns home safely at the end of the day. To do this we recognise we must continue to invest and learn lessons at every opportunity.” HSE inspector David Josiah commented: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.”
A company and its director that ignored an official order to stop dangerous work have both been fined. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 31 March 2016, Awad (UK) Ltd, under the control of its director Andrzej Wilk, was issued with a prohibition notice on a site where it was found there was a serious risk of falls from the unprotected edges. The court also heard that the company was issued with an improvement notice on 4 April 2016 for failure to provide adequate welfare facilities at the site. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Awad (UK) Ltd and Andrzej Wilk had not taken steps to comply with the prohibition notice preventing any work near the open edges where there was a risk of falls. The investigation also found that Awad (UK) Ltd and Andrzej Wilk had not complied with the welfare facilities improvement notice. Awad (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £37,500 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. Company director Andrzej Wilk pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. HSE inspector Saif Deen said: “The risks associated with working at height and the requirement to provide adequate welfare facilities are well-known throughout the construction industry. In this case, the company and its director failed to comply with HSE’s enforcement action and continued to put persons at risk of serious injury.” Failure to comply with an enforcement notice can result in a jail term.
A children's clothing company has been fined almost £40,000 after two staff fell and broke their backs at the firm’s Manchester warehouse within months of each other. Ardwick-based Roco Clothing Limited pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety failures following an investigation by Manchester council. Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard that in June 2016 an employee was working up a wooden ladder when he fell and fractured vertebrae in his lower back. Then in August that year, another member of staff was on a ladder putting boxes away when the horizontal beam of the racking came away as they stepped onto it, causing the worker to fall and suffer the same injury. The racking had not been correctly installed and had never been inspected, the council said. Bosses at Roco Clothing Limited pleaded guilty to three health and safety offences at Manchester Magistrates’ Court. The company admitted that the member of staff injured in June had not received any health and safety training for working at height, and agreed that in both incidents the ladders provided were not suitable and should not have been used. It also accepted that risk assessments in place in June 2016 should have been reviewed and updated. Roco Clothing Limited was fined £29,800 plus costs of £10,032. Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, Manchester council’s executive member for neighbourhoods, said: “The judgment reflects the seriousness of this issue and the case should serve as a reminder to all businesses of the importance of implementing suitable health and safety systems - and the potential consequences if they are not in place.”
Unions in Europe are demanding new legal protection from workplace stress and ‘psychosocial risks’ (PSR). The call comes in a resolution from the Europe-wide trade union confederation ETUC. The union body notes: “The prevention of PSR must be both distinguished from, and prioritised over, resilience narratives that become so prominent in recent years with the rise of ideas such as ‘mindfulness at work’ and so-called ‘wellness at work’ initiatives. The ETUC opposes employer attempts to focus on blaming the worker or ideas built on the resilience culture. Employers’ strategies must be based on the principle that you change the workplace and have a safe organisation of work; not ‘toughen up’ the worker.” It adds there are three central objectives prioritised in the trade union strategy. “Firstly, it must strengthen workers and their unions’ ability to address work related stress, secondly it must strengthen the employers’ obligations to do proper risk management, with meaningful action plans negotiated with unions and help from professional occupational health professionals when necessary, thirdly it must ensure that employers’ legal obligations in relation to preventing stress and psychosocial risks are properly recognised and enforced including by a dedicated EU Directive and enhancing the role of OSH [occupational safety and health] and labour inspectorates to enforce existing and new standards.” ETUC points to provisions on ‘organisational and social working environment’ developed in Sweden that “go well beyond the boundaries of a traditional risk assessment,” requiring that managers “know how to deal with unhealthy workloads and how to handle victimisation”, that assessment of workloads and action to address problems are identified; and “that employees know 1) tasks, 2) results to be achieved, 3) work methods, 4) which work to prioritise, and 5) who can support and which authority they have on these five points.”
Japan’s government is to urge companies to give employees some Monday mornings off work in its latest attempt to improve the country’s overwork crisis. The economy, trade and industry ministry’s ‘Shining Mondays’ plan will help address the punishingly long hours many Japanese are expected to work, although similar voluntary schemes aimed at reducing people’s workload have been largely unsuccessful. The idea is linked to the introduction last February of ‘Premium Fridays’, where firms are encouraged to allow employees to clock off early. The latest scheme envisages allowing employees to take the morning off on the Monday following the last Friday of the month. The ministry road tested the idea on 27 July, allowing 30 per cent of its staff to arrive at the office after lunch. Officials said the absence of hundreds of employees throughout the morning had not negatively affected the ministry’s work. However, companies in Japan have so far proved resistant to changing their practices voluntarily. A survey conducted a year after Premium Fridays were introduced found that just 11.2 per cent of employees had left work early on the designated day, with companies complaining they were too busy at the end of the month to give people extra time off. Japan was forced to confront its work culture after Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old employee at the advertising giant Dentsu, killed herself in 2015. Takahashi put in more than 100 hours’ overtime in the months before her death. In 2016, the Tokyo labour inspection office ruled her death was a work-related suicide eligible for state compensation (Risks 772). The resulting media coverage led to the resignation of Tadashi Ishii, the president and chief executive of the advertising agency (Risks 782).
In the wake of Harvard university research that this year found US states introducing anti-union right-to-work laws had considerably higher fatality rates (Risks 854), more evidence of the union protective effect is emerging. “We’ve known for years that so-called right-to-work laws are a bad deal for workers’ pay cheques, their safety on the job and the communities they call home,” noted Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the construction labourers’ union LIUNA. “Right-to-work laws are a direct assault on the power of collective bargaining, which remains one of the best ways to improve the safety and health risks workers face on a daily basis.” He said the Harvard study “isn’t the only new research showing the union advantage when it comes to worker safety and health”, pointing to the findings of a recent survey of more than 3,000 union and non-union construction firms by the CPWR (the Center for Construction Research and Training). This found union contractors were 20 per cent more likely to engage in prevention-through-design practices. Almost 80 per cent of union contractors said they conduct hazard analysis before projects begin; only 56 per cent of non-union contractors said the same. And the survey found union contractors designated competent persons more often (76 per cent versus 62 per cent), investigated near misses and other incidents more often (67 per cent versus 50 per cent) and implemented site-specific safety and health plans more often (87 per cent versus 69 per cent). CPWR found 83 per cent of union contractors considered worker involvement to be the most essential aspect of a world-class safety programme; only 66 per cent of non-union contractors said the same. “If you were a construction labourer, would you rather work for a company that valued your opinion when it came to keeping you safe, or one that didn’t?”, noted O’Sullivan.
Ÿ Laborers Health and Safety Fund newsletter, August 2018.
Ÿ Michael Zoorob. Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First: 13 June 2018. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2017-104747
Hazards pin-up-at-work poster: Unions make work safer: Fighting for your life at work.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).