|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.
Police chiefs have pledged to act over high levels of sexual harassment among police staff identified in a report by UNISON, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Surrey. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the report highlights some ‘outdated and unacceptable behaviour’. Details include some police staff (4 per cent) being pressured into having sex with colleagues, or being told that sexual favours could result in preferential treatment (8 per cent). The findings are based on a survey of 1,776 police staff in England, Wales and Scotland. In the vast majority of cases, the survey found that colleagues – either police officers or staff – had instigated the sexually harassing behaviour. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “No member of police staff should feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated at work. Employees who witness or experience this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour need reassurance that they will be listened to, and believed, and that effective action will be taken to end the harassment.” Responding to the report, National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) lead for professional ethics, Chief Constable Julian Williams, said the research revealed “outdated and unacceptable behaviour” that must be “rooted out.” He said the NPCC had committed to developing a comprehensive action plan by October to address the issue. “Some of the behaviour described is predatory and requires the strongest response from police with individuals removed from the service. Other behaviours like the repeated telling of sexualised jokes may not be malicious in intent but are misguided and damaging and our focus will be on finding effective ways of challenging them,” he added.
A campaign by transport union Unite has confirmed that mislabelled and potentially deadly inferior tyres have been sold in the UK. In July, Unite revealed that, despite the European Union introducing strict regulations in 2012 requiring all tyres to carry labels detailing fuel efficiency, grip in wet conditions and noise levels, the government had taken no enforcement action. After the union learned the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the regulations had been transferred from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), Unite submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to ascertain what enforcement activity the DVSA had taken on the issue. In what Unite described as a ‘startling admission’, the DVSA responded: “The DVSA has inspected four separate sites and found varying degrees of sites not displaying the correct labelling. Advice was provided to the site managers on what should be displayed. The MSU (Market Surveillance Unit) will be carrying out a programme of activities in 2018/19 working with trade bodies and distributors to raise the awareness of the regulations and monitor compliance. The work will include looking at ways of increasing compliance and helping consumers make informed choices.” Unite national officer for the rubber industry Tony Devlin said: “The DVSA has barely stuck its toe in the water and has already unearthed widespread non-compliance. The government needs to come clean and reveal how serious the tyre mislabelling problems are and who is responsible. Is it the manufacturer, the supplier or the retailer?” He added: “Awareness raising activities are all very well but if a company is deliberately ignoring the regulations and mislabelling tyres then there needs to be proper enforcement and prosecutions, as drivers’ lives are being placed in danger.”
Rail union RMT said its 18 August strike action in defence of ‘safety-critical’ train guards was rock solid. Commenting on the industrial action on the South Western Railway network, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union was “angry and frustrated” that its efforts to reach an agreement had been “met with the same old tired response from the company that refuses to move the process on and address the fundamental issues.” He said the strike action showed RMT members wanted the company “to put public safety before private profits and it’s about time SWR took note of what is going on elsewhere in the rail industry, and the settlements RMT has struck that underpin the guard guarantee, and started talking with us seriously around a similar package that puts safety, security and access to services top of the agenda.”
RMT news release .
Hundreds of thousands of workers are still trapped in jobs that are so insecure they can't plan childcare or budget for their weekly shop, latest official figures have confirmed. Government statistics released this month reveal the number of people working on zero hours contracts now stands at 780,000. This is a drop of over 100,000 since February, but the bad news is that two-thirds of those on zero hours contracts (66 per cent) have been stuck on them for more than a year. According to the TUC, this means hundreds of thousands are still trapped in jobs that are often so insecure they’re unable to plan childcare or budget for their weekly shop. TUC’s Anjum Klair notes: “Whether it’s shift patterns that change every week or hours being cut at the last minute, workers are clear that they’re really struggling to make ends meet on zero hours contracts. That’s why we’re calling for an outright ban on zero hours contracts and for workers to get guaranteed hours that allow them to pay bills and plan ahead. And we want to see action to reduce other forms of insecure work that are making workers’ lives a misery.” Insecure work is linked to higher injury, work-related disease and sickness levels.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has launched the latest phase of its campaign against government proposals that will restrict injured workers access to justice. Ministers want to push more cases through the small claims court in England and Wales, which would leave hundreds of thousands of workers without access to legal advice. Measures linked to the Civil Liability Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons on 4 September, will double the threshold for cases taken in the small claims court to £2,000. Usdaw is backing the cross-party Justice Select Committee recommendation of a £1,500 limit, which reflects inflation since the limit was last set in 1999. In the latest stage of its fight for justice, the union has launched a member-led campaign to seek MPs’ support. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “We are asking MPs to support our campaign to stop the government forcing more injured workers into the small claims court, where the costs of legal representation cannot be recovered from negligent employers. Over 350,000 accident victims per year who currently receive legal representation will have this essential support removed by unfair, unnecessary and unjustified legislation. While injured workers will be forced to fend for themselves, employers will still be able to pay for expensive lawyers to represent them.” The union leader added: “We urge MPs to back our campaign and persuade the government to accept the reasonable and fair compromise of raising the threshold to £1,500. Usdaw fears that an increase to £2,000 will not only restrict access to justice, but also have a damaging effect on workplace health and safety.”
Offshore union Unite has called for an investigation into claims of blacklisting threats at one of the UK’s biggest gas fields. The union has had a “considerable number of reports” of threats of workers being NRBd – not required back – from members working for contractor Bilfinger Salamis on the Culzean platform. It is understood a number of scaffolders were threatened with being NRBd and told they would not work for Bilfinger again if they raise health and safety concerns. Tommy Campbell, regional organiser with Unite, said: “We have had a considerable number of reports from different employees and on that basis we strongly believe a full investigation should be carried out. If Billfinger doesn’t do that then the client should. That would involve all employees on that platform being questioned to find out the truth.” In 2009, an agreement was reached between industry officials and union leaders to ban the practice of blacklisting – known in the sector as NRBd (not required back) – to help encourage whistleblowers with safety concerns. The Offshore Coordinating Group, made up of several unions including Unite, GMB and RMT, hosted a ‘Reflections on Piper Alpha’ conference in Aberdeen this month, marking 30 years since the 1988 tragedy in which 167 offshore workers died. RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said “all the signs” of fatal incidents such as the 2003 Brent Bravo in the North Sea and 2010’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico are resurfacing. He accused operators of hiding behind a ‘safety net’ of telling workers they should have stopped the job after a tragedy had occurred.
The pressures that come with being a self-employed courier or taxi driver may increase significantly the risk of being involved in a collision, a University College London (UCL) study has found. The majority of those surveyed – 63 per cent – are not provided with safety training on managing risks on the road. Sixty-five per cent said they are not given any safety equipment such as a high visibility vest and over 70 per cent resort to providing their own. Nicola Christie and Heather Ward of the UCL Centre for Transport Studies carried out 48 in-depth interviews with drivers, riders and their managers, and analysed 200 responses to an online survey taken by drivers and riders. The participants included self-employed couriers who delivered parcels and food, and self-employed taxi drivers who received their jobs via apps. Over two in five (42 per cent) drivers and riders reported that their vehicle had been damaged as a result of a collision while working, with a further one in ten reporting that someone had been injured. Eight per cent reported they had been injured, with two per cent saying someone else had been injured. “Our findings highlight that the emergence and rise in the popularity of gig work for couriers could lead to an increase in risk factors affecting the health and safety of people who work in the gig economy and other road users,” explained Heather Ward. Co-author Professor Nicola Christie said: “In previous years the UK had a good road safety record, but deregulation over the last few years has left self-employed couriers and taxi drivers at an increased risk of exploitation. The Health and Safety Executive has regulations on safety at work, but these don’t apply to those whose work takes place on public highways. I hope to see the recommendations in this report taken on board by the Department for Transport and incorporated into health and safety regulations as the gig economy is set to continue to increase.” Mick Rix, a national officer with the union GMB, said: “The damning conclusions of this report back up what GMB has been saying for years – gig economy employers, particularly courier companies, are exposing delivery drivers, riders and the general to unacceptable risks to their health and safety. Our members tell us every day how Amazon delivery and work schedules are so demanding drivers work through breaks and do dangerously long hours. Companies such as Amazon and their delivery firms have passed all the risk and responsibilities to drivers, and are avoiding their employer responsibilities and public safety obligations.” He added: “GMB calls on the government to bring forward legislation to enhances driver and public safety - the same laws which exist for those working in the more traditional employment models.”
UCL news release . GMB news release .Nicola Christie and Heather Ward. ' The emerging issues for management of occupational road risk in a changing economy: A survey of gig economy drivers, riders and their managers , UCL Centre for Transport Studies, 20 August 2018.
Fleet News . The Guardian . Morning Star .
Prison unions have said the decision by the government to take over running of Birmingham Prison from private company G4S ilustrates how a combination of privatisation and underfunding has put the safety of inmates and prison staff at risk. The decision to remove the prison from G4S’ control came after the chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke described it as the worst prison he had ever been to. He wrote to justice secretary David Gauke detailing “appalling” failings at the jail. It is believed to be the first time the government has taken over a privately-run UK prison in such a way, midway through a contract, since the first opened in 1992. There were 1,147 assaults, including fights, recorded at Birmingham in 2017. This was the highest figure for any prison in England and Wales that year, or on record under modern reporting standards. It represented a five-fold increase since 2012, the first full year it was run by G4S. Adrian Axtell, a national officer with the prison union Community, which is running a ‘Safer justice sector’ campaign, said: “The standards we are seeing in prisons today are a result of chronic underfunding in the justice and custodial sector, which has led to an environment where it is not uncommon to find understaffed wings, significant levels of violence and low morale amongst staff and prisoners.” Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the prison officers’ union POA, said: “The days of private companies putting profits before staff and prisoner safety must stop,” adding: “It is clear that G4S are driven by profit which has compromised the safety of our members in Birmingham.”
A nurse killed herself after being ‘bullied’ at work, an inquest has heard. Rhian Collins, 30, was verbally abused by staff at Swansea's Cefn Coed Hospital who made her life “very difficult”, the court was told. She was found hanged at home in March. A coroner ruled she had intended to take her own life. Miss Collins’ family have been invited to meet health bosses and discuss issues raised in the inquest, the health board said in a statement released after the inquest hearing. Investigating officer Sgt Nia Lambley told the inquest in Swansea that mother-of-two Rhian Collins “was having issues at work,” adding: “She was being sworn at, bullied and believed she was continually given the worst shifts on the ward.” Her family told police she had struggled to cope with “stress and unsociable hours” while working at the mental health hospital. They said she had appeared “run down and exhausted” in the weeks before she died, and had become distant from relatives. Acting senior coroner Colin Phillips said: “There was no third-party involvement and no suspicious circumstances. From the evidence, I conclude that she intended to kill herself.” Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, which runs Cefn Coed Hospital, said: “Our hearts go out to Rhian's family, and we offer our sincere condolences for their very sad loss.” Workforce director Hazel Robinson added: “We would like to make it clear that bullying behaviour of any kind is not acceptable.”
Wales Online . BBC News Online . The Sun . Daily Mail. Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists , January 2018. Work and suicide prevention checklist , Hazards, number 141, 2018. More on work-related suicide .
Staff including teachers, janitors, cleaners and other workers who were on Aberdeen’s Bridge of Don Academy premises were left at risk of asbestos exposure in the days following an incident where the cancer-causing substances was disturbed last month ( Risks 859 ). BBC Scotland says concerns were raised after a council investigation revealed there was no emergency response because a line manager “forgot” about the incident for five days. Unite’s Tommy Campbell, when told of the details in the investigation report, said it described a “catastrophic failure”. He said: “This has put workers at risk and lots of other people as well.” The report, which is redacted, says procedures failed before and after the asbestos insulation board incident. It details how, on 12 July, a worker was using a hammer and chisel to remove plasterboard facing and infill panelling above fire doors. The infill panel kept snapping and broke into three sections. Subsequent analysis revealed it contained brown asbestos. The report obtained by the BBC says the site was “not safe” as the area had “not been correctly decontaminated and isolated to prevent access by other users of the building”. It states: “Twenty-five persons comprising employees, sub-contractors, janitors, teachers and cleaners have been identified as being on the premises from 12-17 July,” adding: “Line manager did not initiate procedure because he forgot about the incident until 17 July.” A spokesperson for Aberdeen City Council said: “The incident has been the subject of an internal investigation and the council is supporting the Health and Safety Executive as it conducts its independent investigation. The matter will be the subject of a report to the audit, risk and scrutiny committee in due course and it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
A leading UK public health expert has defended a major UN agency that he says has been ‘vilified’ by industry lobbyists after it determined the pesticide glyphosate to be ‘probably carcinogenic’. Commenting on the well-resourced, high level industry attack on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Neil Pearce, a medical statistics professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this controversy has led to attacks not only on the IARC decision, but also on some of those involved in the IARC Monograph meeting which made the decision, and on IARC itself. These events are not happening in a vacuum. There have been attacks on previous IARC decisions on potential causes of cancer such as formaldehyde, diesel fumes and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. More ominously, there are moves by some governments to threaten to cut the funding of IARC, in response to these recent ‘inconvenient’ decisions.” He said his 2015 review of the agency’s approach found “IARC processes are sound, and that recent industry-funded criticisms have been unfair and unconstructive.” He concluded we “need independent scientific bodies such as IARC which can review the scientific evidence objectively, and without conflicts of interest, even if this leads to conclusions that some may find inconvenient.”
A hot metal forging company has been sentenced for a criminal safety offence following the death of a worker. Sheffield Crown Court heard how, on 17 July 2015, Billy Fairweather, 35, was in a team of four tasked with hammering down pieces of hard alloy. When dealing with one small piece of hard alley, Fairweather moved from the small hammer he had been assigned to a more powerful one. Due to the small size of the work piece and the large size of the hammer, it was necessary for Fairweather to be positioned low down and close to the hammer, down on one knee or in a kneeling position. The piece he was working on misaligned and was ejected, throwing Fairweather backwards leading to fatal injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to allocate the job to the correct hammer and crew, and failed to properly assess the risks involved with hammering small components on large hammers. The investigation also found the company failed to provide a safe system of work that considered communication and which allowed line of sight of the work piece. Abbey Forged Products Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £500,000 with £23,756.47 costs. HSE inspector Carol Downes commented: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented if the employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, put a safe system of work in place, and to ensure that the job was allocated to the appropriate equipment.”
Nordam Europe Limited has been fined after workers faced over two decades of dangerous exposures to vibration at work. Cardiff Crown Court heard how around 100 employees of the company, which maintains and repairs aircraft components, were exposed and developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) over 22 years. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found employees used a range of hand-held vibrating tools including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills. The company should have carried out a suitable assessment of work activities that exposed employees to vibration and should have implemented additional controls to reduce exposure so far as reasonably practicable. The HSE investigation found the company failed in its duty to implement a safe system of work in order to control exposure to vibration. In addition, employees should have undergone suitable health surveillance to identify symptoms at an early stage of the disease. This would have prevented it from progressing to a disabling condition. Nordam Europe Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £39,620.92. HSE inspector Janet Hensey said: “This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance. If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor worker’s health and the employee’s condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life altering stage”.
HSE news release .
A total of 19 workers have been killed after an explosion at the Sanjidi coalmine near Quetta in Baluchistan province, Pakistan. The dead in the 12 August incident were 13 coal miners and six rescue workers. The miners, who were working at a depth of 1,200 metres, were killed in a rock fall caused by a methane gas explosion. After the blast, volunteers launched rescue operations which were put on halt after several rescue workers passed out. However, six rescue workers were overcome by poisonous gases and died in the mine. Global mining union federation IndustriALL said published news reports from 2010 to August 2018 indicate over 357 workers lost their lives at work in the period. It said since January 2018 alone, 74 mineworkers died in mines. IndustriALL said as these numbers are based on published news reports, the real number of fatalities may be much higher. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “It is painful to note that mining accidents continue to claim workers’ lives in Pakistan. In March 2018 IndustriALL along with its affiliates launched campaign for health and safety in Pakistan mines, urging the government of Pakistan to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. We cannot accept continuing fatal mine accidents. Further inaction will lead to more deaths.” He added: “Both central and the provincial governments need to wake up and get their act together to stop unsafe and dangerous mining practices. It should immediately begin tripartite initiatives involving government authorities, employers and workers’ representatives to improve safety in the mines. In this process immediate ratification ILO C176 will provide much needed technical support to improve safety in mines.”
A Nepalese worker has died working on the construction of a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The country’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said in a statement that the 23-year-old worker died on 14 August at the Al Wakrah Stadium project site. It offered no cause of death, but said both Qatari and Nepali authorities had been notified. An investigation into the death is underway. Qatar has faced stern criticism for working and safety conditions as it prepares for the World Cup. A British worker, Zachary Cox, died after falling nearly 40 metres in January 2017 at the Khalifa International Stadium. A British coroner blamed dangerous working practices for his death. Following the latest fatality, global construction union BWI said it had been asked by the Supreme Committee to participate in its independent investigation of the nature and cause of the tragedy as part of a joint cooperation agreement. BWI has also been in contact with Belgian construction company BESIX, whose subsidiary SIXCO is working on the Al Wakrah stadium project. BWI has a global framework agreement with BESIX.
Many Texas cities are denying workers’ compensation to firefighters with cancer, according to union leaders and state lawmakers. Over the past six years, more than 90 per cent of the 117 workers’ compensation claims filed by Texas firefighters with cancer have been denied, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. Cities are ignoring a 2005 state law requiring the government to presume that firefighters' cancers are caused by exposure to carcinogens on the job, union officials told the Houston Chronicle. “The sky-high denial rate of cancer is the first problem,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. “Firefighters with denied claims often have fewer treatment options and face the risk of financial ruin because of lost income.” All seven of the association's members who filed workers' compensation claims since 2016 have been denied, the union said. Firefighters have said that cities use a memo by the Texas Intergovernmental Risk Pool to dodge the presumptive cancer law. The memo only presumes three types of cancer are caused by firefighting: testicular, prostate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Union leaders have said that the memo and the risk pool ignore substantial research linking firefighting to other forms of cancer. Firefighters are much more likely to win benefits on appeal, with nearly 65 per cent of cases winning workers’ compensation appeals over the past six years. But less than one-fifth of firefighters disputed their denied claims. Firefighters risk being sued by the cities that employ them, and often it’s too daunting a task to battle in court while battling cancer. Legislators based the Texas law not on the “conclusive presumption” that the cancers are caused by the job, which cannot be rebutted, but on “rebuttable presumption,” which can be.
The number and rate of lung transplants for black lung disease in the US is increasing, according to new research. A study by the US government’s occupational health research institute NIOSH reflects the rising prevalence of black lung disease among coal miners in the coal belt. Black lung disease, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhalation of coal mine dust. The scarring that results can impair breathing and, in some cases, lead to death. Black lung disease is irreversible and incurable, but it is completely preventable through control of coal mine dust exposure. For some miners with severe disease, a lung transplant is needed. In the study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, investigators used records from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, and found that at least 62 US patients with black lung disease have received a lung transplant. Most of these transplants (49) occurred in the past 10 years. An additional 27 patients with black lung disease were placed on the waiting list for a lung transplant but had not yet received one. The authors said their findings highlight the critical need for preventing black lung disease through exposure control and early disease identification through medical monitoring programmes. They point to a NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Programme that provides chest x-rays at no cost to coal miners.
David J. Blackley, Cara N Halldin and A Scott Laney. Continued increase in lung transplantation for Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis in the United States , American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 61, issue 7, pages 621-624, 2018. Inside NIOSH , volume 4, number 2, August 2018.
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