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Government guidance on employment rights after Brexit should no deal be reached “says pretty much nothing”, the TUC has said. “It basically says that nothing will change, which may of course be true on day one but after then all the coming changes to EU regulation, including proposed improvements to chemical safety limits will not apply to Britain,” commented TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “Also of course there is nothing to stop the UK removing a lot of the protections on day two after Brexit. That is why we need a deal that ensures that Britain will continue to apply all EU rights post Brexit as a minimum.” The guide, ‘Workplace rights if there’s no Brexit deal’ is one of the 25 ‘no deal’ Brexit advice papers published by the government on 23 August. The workplace rights guide says any amendments to existing regulations “will not change existing policy”. Commenting on the first batch of technical notices on plans for a no-deal Brexit, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These papers confirm that a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option. It would be devastating for working people. Jobs and rights at work would be under threat, and price increases would hit already-struggling families hard.” She added: “The government cannot allow us to crash out. The prime minister must throw out her red lines, face down the extremists in her party, and negotiate a deal that works for the whole of the UK.” A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statement flagged up on the front page of the safety regulator’s website this week noted: “The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is contributing to cross-government work being coordinated by the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) to prepare the United Kingdom (UK) for exit from the European Union (EU). This includes work to support the government's commitment to protect workers' rights as the UK leaves the EU by ensuring that health and safety regulation continues to provide a high level of protection in the workplace.” It added: “HSE is working to help with the government's preparations for both Day One and the longer term, subject to the outcome of the negotiations with the EU. We will aim to publish further details on the role of health and safety when possible.”
Ÿ TUC safety blog. TUC news release. Workplace rights if there’s no Brexit deal, BEIS, 23 August 2018. Prospect news release. Personnel Today. Department for Exiting the European Union webpages. HSE EU Exit web community.
Sickness levels among overworked paramedics demonstrate how close the system in Wales is to breaking point, a union has warned. The GMB said staff were fatigued due to increasing workload, a lack of breaks and working over their hours. Figures show staff sickness is at its highest level since 2014 – hitting 8.8 per cent - and the highest for the first three months of the year since records began in 2010. The Welsh Ambulance Service said the winter was “one of the most difficult” and sickness was “particularly prevalent.” Over the same period in five of the last eight years, sickness levels were higher in ambulance staff than other healthcare groups. Nathan Holman, GMB branch secretary for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We've been under-resourced plus the workload is increasing, people are not getting their breaks on time and are finishing late. Staff have started to become fatigued. A lot of work we do is very emotional - deaths, births - and we don't get a chance to take a step back. At some point the system is going to break and it's getting very close to that. The sickness levels are showing how close it is.” He said staff were only human but sometimes felt an expectation for them to be “machines.” He added that the root causes of the problem were not being addressed. Hywel Daniel, deputy director of workforce and organisational development at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “As much as we like to think of our staff as superhuman, they sometimes become unwell and are unable to work.” He added “there were all sorts of reasons for absence including physical injury, stress and anxiety, but significant investment was being made to offer more support services.” But he admitted: “We recognise, however, there is still more to do and we continue to work with our trade union partners to make further improvements.”
Union members have accused Aberdeen City Council of withholding information on asbestos risks in the city’s schools (Risks 859). The union statement is the latest development in a growing asbestos exposure scandal, that last week saw education authorities admit 25 people were allowed into Bridge of Don Academy after asbestos was disturbed during maintenance last month. Members of Unite this week agreed to enter into a collective dispute procedure over concerns that management failed to answer questions on this incident and another at Hazlehead Academy last week. Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said the refusal to reply quickly to concerns is “alarming” and said the union needs “immediate, open and transparent answers”. He said: “It leaves Unite wondering if the council are withholding answers to avoid any further criticism of the council failing to follow their own asbestos health and safety procedures in other work areas, either before or after the incidents at Bridge of Don and Hazlehead academies.” An investigation report into the Bridge of Don incident revealed no emergency response took place because the line manager “forgot” about the incident for five days. The union last week raised concerns about work at Hazlehead academy, including whether the existence of asbestos was identified before the job was started, and whether anyone was potentially exposed to the asbestos at that time. A council spokesperson said it takes matters relating to health and safety “very seriously and is dealing with Unite the Union’s concerns internally at management level and externally via the Health and Safety Executive”. An August 2018 briefing from the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) states that 363 school teaching professionals have died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in Britain since 1980; 249 of these have died of mesothelioma since 2001. The report also shows that at least 165 higher and further education teaching professionals have died from mesothelioma since 1980. Between 2003 and 2016, statistics record that eight school secretaries, eight nursery nurses, 29 teaching assistants and 21 school midday assistants also died of mesothelioma.
Ÿ Evening Express. Mesothelioma deaths amongst school staff 1980-2016, JUAC, August 2018.
Civil service unions in Scotland have said all workers must be safe from harassment at work. Unions PCS, Prospect and the FDA provided the statement to members employed by Scottish ministers, Scottish public bodies and in the Scottish parliament in the wake of media coverage of harassment allegations by two civil servants against former first minister Alex Salmond. Commenting on behalf of all three unions, PCS national officer and STUC president Lynn Henderson said: “Whilst we can’t comment on the detail because there’s a legal process underway, I want to reiterate that all workers have the right to go to work without fear of harassment be it sexual, or otherwise. Any kind of behaviour that undermines these basic rights of working people will not be tolerated by our unions, or the trade union movement as a whole.” She added: “Regardless if it’s in Hollywood or in Holyrood, harassment at work is an epidemic. Over 50 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, four out of five do not report it to the employer. If you’ve experienced harassment of any kind, I urge you to speak to a union representative. If you’re worried about speaking up, your union will protect you. The confidentiality and strength in numbers a trade union can provide offers protection for any member.” After a 28 August meeting with the permanent secretary to the Scottish administration, the unions said in a statement they “have confidence that the Scottish government will continue to take seriously and handle sensitively all complaints of harassment. The unions are confident that the Scottish government processes which we negotiated are valid and robust and if any member wishes to make a complaint then they will receive the full support of their trade union. We also indicated our full support to the Permanent Secretary personally in leading the process and would encourage any worker with any concerns to come forward.”
TUC South West is to host its health, safety and well-being conference in Salisbury “in a show of solidarity following recent chemical attacks in the city.” Announcing the on 3 September event, TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley said: “As we promote the benefits of good health and safety practices in workplaces, we have the opportunity to acknowledge all the brave workers in Salisbury who responded and dealt with the chemical attack to keep the city safe.” He added: “The job of unions is to remain alert to all dangers and argue for better protection for workers. Being concerned about working people’s health and safety benefits us all. We spend a significant amount of our lives in the workplace and many injuries, conditions and ill-health can be linked back to whether we have had good or bad jobs.” The union regional secretary said unions make work safer, but added “the current issue on the use of Round-up weed killer that will be tested in the courts around the world just goes to show how the effect of much used chemicals is still contested” (Risks 863). Conference speakers will include TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, Mind’s head of workplace well-being programmes Faye McGuinness, giving the keynote speech on the importance of good mental health and wellbeing at work and TUC education officer Marie Hughes, on how to support women with the menopause at work. Workers from the Porton Down Science Centre will also participate, as well as members of the firefighters’ union FBU who will explain the difficulties of dealing with hazardous waste whilst keeping safe.
Ÿ TUC South West Health, Safety and Wellbeing Conference, Salisbury, 10:30am to 3:30pm, Monday 3 September 2018. Further details: TUC South West event page.
Lloyds Banking Group has added its name to a charter aimed at helping employees living with terminal illnesses. The firm is the latest to follow in the footsteps of employers including Rolls Royce, Royal Mail and the Co-op in signing up to the Dying to Work Voluntary Charter. The charter is part of the TUC’s wider Dying to Work campaign which is seeking greater security for employees living with a terminal illness. TUC deputy general secretary, Paul Nowak, said: “Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis. I’m delighted that Lloyds Banking Group have shown real leadership in this area, working with unions to guarantee fair treatment for terminally-ill workers.” He added: “Millions of workers are now covered by the Dying to Work charter across the country, which is a real success and we expect more employers to follow Lloyds and sign up in the coming months.” Ged Nichols, general secretary of the banking union Accord, said: “We’re very pleased that Lloyds Banking Group agreed to join us in signing this significant Charter.”
While there is growing enthusiasm and government support for mental health first aid (MHFA) in the workplace, there is ‘no evidence’ it actually leads to any improvements, a new ‘summary of the evidence’ by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has concluded. The research report from the government safety watchdog notes “it is not possible to state whether MHFA training is effective in a workplace setting,” adding: “There is a lack of published occupationally-based studies, with limited evidence that the content of MHFA training has been considered for workplace settings.” The report concludes: “There is consistent evidence that MHFA training raises employees’ awareness of mental ill health conditions. There is no evidence that the introduction of MHFA training in workplaces has resulted in sustained actions in those trained, or that it has improved the wider management of mental ill-health.” The HSE report comes after the TUC this year said that while support for workers is a good thing, “mental health first aiders are not the only option and for union reps usually are not the best option” (Risks 841). In March this year, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said MHFA should not be a substitute for prevention. He said: “Unions clearly must be involved both in working with their employer around mental health and supporting members with mental health problems, but MHFA is unlikely to be the most suitable training for trade union representatives.” Writing in Hazards magazine, he added: “That is why Mental Health Awareness training is often more appropriate as there is much more emphasis on prevention.” Responding to the HSE review, a statement from the national Hazards Campaign warned against “employers adopting MHFA as a sticking plaster solution to the suppurating sore of anxiety, depression and worse caused by insecure work, low pay, excessive workloads, impossible targets, long hours, bullying, harassment and lack of support and respect at work.”
Ÿ HSE publication alert. RR1135 - Summary of the evidence on the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training in the workplace, HSE, 2018. Hazards Campaign statement.
Seafarers’ union Nautilus is backing a new industry initiative to combat crew fatigue in the offshore energy support vessel (OESV) sector. Following a year of research, the National Workboat Association (NWA) has launched its campaign to tackle the problem “in direct response to widespread concerns about the occurrence of fatigue among workboat crew members.” The NWA said it was aware that the increasing size of offshore windfarms means OESVs are operating further away from shore, with longer journey times and the potential for extended shift patterns. “With project developers aiming to maximise the ‘uptime' of their contracted offshore workers, working hours can increase beyond advisable and on occasion legal limits, leaving crews overtired and vulnerable to making errors,” it noted. NWA secretary Mark Ranson said fatigue is “obviously a challenge for vessel operators, and it's potentially dangerous for crews, so we wanted to research the reasons behind over-running working hours, and to empower the offshore wind and workboat industries to do something about it.” Nautilus industrial organiser Gary Leech commented: “We welcome the efforts that the NWA is putting in to recognise the dangerous effects of fatigue within the windfarm industry. Moving forward, Nautilus hopes to work with all stakeholders within the sector to ensure as much as possible the safety of the seafarers and also the technicians onboard the OESVs.”
Thousands of engineers may have inhaled asbestos while working on Britain’s Sea King helicopters, the government has admitted. Defence chiefs last week confirmed they had issued an alert to Royal Navy and RAF personnel who have maintained the Sea King since it entered service in 1969. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also contacted foreign governments that bought the helicopter and civilian contractors flying ex-British military Sea Kings. It also confirmed it had launched an urgent operation to remove parts containing asbestos from its Sea Kings and military stores. The MoD said: “The safety of our personnel and our partners is always our highest priority. All Sea King items suspected to contain asbestos have been removed from stores.” Ian Cohen, head of personal injury law at Simpson Millar Solicitors, commented: “Whilst we welcome steps being taken by the MoD to remove the parts of Sea King helicopters suspected of containing harmful material, the fact remains that the aircraft has been in service since 1969. Why has it taken so long for this matter to come to light?” He added: “Like any employer, the MoD has a duty of care to protect its workforce to the best of its ability, and yet reports suggest that potentially thousands of military engineers have been exposed.”
A wood processing company whose factory exploded killing four workers in 2015 (Risks 717) has been fined after subsequent unsafe asbestos work was carried out at the premises in Macclesfield. Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 20 October 2016, in the aftermath of the large explosion at the Bosley site, Wood Treatment Ltd was directed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to fit new explosion relief panels to an asbestos cement-clad warehouse. During an inspection by two HSE inspectors to assess progress, it was noticed that asbestos cement panels of the warehouse had been removed, cut to shape with power tools and replaced, breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The HSE investigation found that while an external company had been contracted to fit the explosion relief panels, they did not work with asbestos containing materials. Instead, employees of Wood Treatment Limited removed the cladding. Following installation of the panels, some remedial work was necessary to repair holes left in the wall. The old asbestos sheets were cut to size and refitted. Although the company was fully aware of the presence of asbestos and had an Asbestos Survey and Action Plan, this information was not shared with employees and measures were not put in place to contain the risks involved. Wood Treatment Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,000. Jason Shingler, 38, Dorothy Bailey and Derek Moore, both 62, and 51-year-old William Barks were killed in the 17 July 2015 explosion and fire that destroyed the Wood Treatment Ltd wood flour mill in Bosley. The company has received seven HSE prohibition notices stopping imminently dangerous work practices since the explosion.
Should inspections be a core element of a health and safety reps’ work? What should the focus of an inspection be? Are your workplace inspection procedures working or is there room for improvement? Hugh Robertson, TUC's head of health and safety, is hosting a live webinar to discuss in detail how workplace inspections should be carried out. If you can't join live, you can catch up on TUC Education’s YouTube channel afterwards.
Ÿ Register for the TUC health and safety inspections webinar, 2:30pm, 3 October 2018. TUC Education YouTube channel – see earlier health and safety webinars on workplace mapping, campaigning, sexual harassment, well-being in the workplace, occupational cancer and workplace stress.
The UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been criticised by unions after welcoming fast food giant McDonald’s as a partner in its Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth. In a 22 August news release that has since been removed from the ILO newsroom webpages, the ILO noted: “McDonald’s ties up with the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth,” adding: “Leading quick-service restaurant brand joins 43 partners who have pledged to reduce barriers to decent employment for youth while boosting access to decent work around the globe.” The ILO received stern criticism from unions, who say the global fast food firm is guilty of routine safety and employment rights abuses (Risks 859). Ian Hodson, president of the food union BFAWU which is organising young workers in UK branches of McDonald’s, commented: “We are disappointed to read of the tie up between the ILO and McDonald’s who are global exploiters.” BFAWU is also organising a ‘McBurned’ safety campaign with the fast food company’s frequently injured workers. Urging the ILO to distance itself from McDonald’s, Hodson said: “In one instance they sacked workers for raising genuine concerns for health and safety which we believe are contrary to the principles the ILO claims to champion on its website ‘Promoting Jobs Protecting People’.” The global union confederation ITUC and the international food union IUF have requested an urgent meeting with the ILO director general to discuss the labour standards body’s corporate partnerships. In a statement, IUF general secretary Sue Longley said: “McDonald’s is openly hostile to trade unions around the world. There are very few places in the company's global operations where the rights to Freedom of Association and collective bargaining are respected.” The global union bodies said the fight against rights abuses committed by McDonald’s has included union campaigns in the US, the UK, the Philippines, Korea, New Zealand and Brazil. McDonald’s is still listed as a partner on the ILO’s dedicated Decent Jobs for Youth website.
Truck drivers are demanding urgent action after a major study exposed the massive toll claimed by Australia’s deadliest job. Truck drivers are 13 times more likely to die at work than any other profession, while the long hours, social isolation, time pressure and lack of job control also make it one of the unhealthiest jobs, according to the Monash University study. The study launched at Parliament House in Canberra last week is based on an analysis of compensation claims over a 12-year period, “Truck drivers are being utterly failed. They are being bashed, broken and killed because of their jobs. These are alarming findings which require serious action, not platitudes, voluntary codes or misguided regulation which don’t tackle the real cause of the problems: the economics of the industry,” said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine. “When wealthy retailers and manufacturers at the top of the transport supply chain continually demand low cost contracts this results in financial pressure on transport operators and drivers. In this climate transport operators are not able to maintain their trucks and drivers are forced to work chronically fatigued and stressed out for long hours away from their families. They are constantly under pressure which results in crashes, deadly incidents at yards and poor mental health.” He said the union is demanding the federal government “addresses the causes behind the problems highlighted in this report. Wealthy retailers and manufacturers at the top must be held to account for their low cost contracts. Pressure must be taken off transport so that drivers can go to work and be safe and healthy.” The research notes: “Long‐haul truck drivers may be exposed to multiple risk factors in their workplace including long working hours, sedentary roles, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, and fatigue.” It adds: “Truck drivers are exposed to a variety of occupational stressors such as constant time pressures, social isolation, disrespectful treatment from others, driving hazards and violence or fear of violence.”
The New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA) has won a groundbreaking cap on new ride-hailing vehicles in the city and says other unions can learn from its victory. New York became the first city in the United States to limit services such as Uber and Lyft and set a minimum rate of fares that will apply to all taxis and private hires. Mac Urata, future of work coordinator at the global transport unions’ federation ITF, congratulated its affiliate on its success, adding: “We can all learn from the way they have built alliances across the city, and brought people together to tackle the scourge of unregulated ride-hailing services. From cab drivers, to environmentalists, to drivers for ride-hailing services, to everyday New Yorkers – the NYTWA united everyone who cares about making New York a better place to live and work.” The new law followed six suicides by yellow cab and black car drivers forced into poverty by the over-supply of ride-hailing vehicles (Risks 837), as well as increased road congestion. Bhairavi Desai from the NYTWA said: “This is an important message to the ride-hailing companies: we will organise, we will fight and we will win. In the last six months, we held 12 demonstrations and vigils. In the end the politicians could not ignore us. It signals the dawning of a new day for a workforce of hundreds of thousands of men and women.” But he added: “Tragically, this victory comes too late for our brothers who have died by suicide in recent months, but this fight was so that no other families suffer like they have.” Under the new law, no new licences will be issued for a year, except to vehicles with wheelchair access, and the city will investigate the effects on road congestion during the period.
Ÿ ITF news release. Resources: 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.
Workers used to decontaminate the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan are at grave risk of exploitation, independent UN experts have warned. Tens of thousands, reportedly including migrants and homeless people, may be being deceived about the risks of exposure to radiation, according to the experts, who in August urged the Japanese government to act to protect them. The UN’s ‘special rapporteurs’ said they were also concerned that workers might be being coerced into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardship and were being given inadequate training and protection. “We are equally concerned about the impact that exposure to radiation may have on their physical and mental health,” they added. Tens of thousands of workers have been recruited under the decontamination programme. However, the UN said it was concerned by reports that big contractors had used hundreds of inexperienced smaller subcontractors and brokers to recruit a considerable number of the workers. This may have “created favourable conditions for the abuse and violation of workers' rights,” the UN experts said. Workers are “often exposed to a myriad of human rights abuses, forced to make the abhorrent choice between their health and income, and their plight is invisible to most consumers and policymakers with the power to change it,” they said. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare says 46,386 workers were employed in 2016 and the Radiation Worker Central Registration Centre of Japan says as many as 76,951 decontamination workers were hired in the five-year period up to 2016, the UN said. The 2011 Fukushima disaster saw three reactors of the nuclear power plant fail after it was damaged and flooded in the tsunami, leading to a meltdown.
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