|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.
Shopworkers’ union leader Paddy Lillis has called on the government to pull back from ‘deeply damaging’ proposals in the Civil Liability Bill. The Usdaw leader said the current plan leaves workers facing the double whammy of worsening health and safety conditions and restricted access to justice. The government is proposing to force more injured workers through the small claims court by doubling the threshold to claims valued at £2,000 before a case could be considered at a higher court. They have rejected what Usdaw describes as ‘a reasonable and fair compromise’ of raising the threshold to £1,500, which is backed by the independent cross-party Justice Select Committee. Speaking at a Labour conference fringe meeting in Liverpool, Paddy Lillis said: “Reducing the ability of workers to take legal action will inevitably lead to an erosion of health and safety in the workplace. We know that the fear of legal action is one of the primary drivers for health and safety being a priority in the workplace. The projected massive fall off in the number of claims as a result of these changes will inevitably lead to a reduction in health and safety measures, as employers will let standards slip because they know they’re unlikely to face the consequences in court.” He said the proposal was “a double whammy for injured workers”, adding: “It is clear that the proposed reforms are unfair, unnecessary and an assault on workers access to justice. The only beneficiaries of this unfair legislation will be unscrupulous employers. Usdaw will continue to campaign loudly and effectively to stop this attack on access to justice for injured workers.”
The government has been urged to stem a rising tide of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The call from retail union Usdaw came in the wake of its latest survey results, which reveal two-thirds of shopworkers were verbally abused last year, 42 per cent were threatened and there were over 265 assaults every day. The union said this represents a 25 per cent increase in abuse and assaults on last year’s findings. Threats are up by 38 per cent year-on-year. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “Usdaw is bringing the everyday accounts of shopworkers who experience abuse, threats and violence to the attention of MPs and policymakers. We need the government to listen and we need action. We need a specific offence introduced for assaulting a shopworker who is simply enforcing the legal rules and regulations and we need employers to take safety and security improvements seriously. Even in this age of austerity, it is unacceptable for police forces to be asking shopworkers to detain thieves.” Usdaw is also urging MPs to vote for an amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill that will make it a specific offence to obstruct a shopworker in their duty to enforce the law on the sale of offensive weapons (Risks 867).
A safety rep with the retailer Wilko who won a prestigious national award for health and safety has been fired by the company. GMB rep Teresa Farmer picked up the safety rep of the year gong at the TUC’s 150th congress in Manchester this month. She was commended for her ‘astounding’ work improving conditions in Wilko in Birmingham. He sacking came after she raised a series of serious safety issues. He manager had blocked her moves to make the store safer for workers she escalated her complaints, which including lone working, providing first aid boxes and safely disposing of bodily fluids. However regional management ruled in her favour. She was later sacked following an argument with a supervisor, with GMB saying her dismissal was because of her trade union activities. The union is taking the case to appeal. Ian Edwards, GMB organiser, said: “I am so proud of Teresa for what he has achieved in her workplace, in improving working conditions for herself and her colleagues. I am immensely proud of her achievement – but it’s of grave concern to me and GMB how she has since been treated by her employer for fighting for such a cause.” Award-winning safety rep Teresa Farmer said: “I’ve never won anything before in my life and to win the award for health and safety is a very proud moment for me.” She added: “I’m a mum with four grown up kids so common sense is a great big part of health and safety awareness and I just knew that things were missing that should have been there. But despite working hard to make conditions better for my colleagues, to find the company has sacked me is incredibly upsetting.”
Public services support staff – including teaching assistants, hospital porters and police community support offers (PCSOs) – are doing more than 40 million hours of unpaid overtime a year and facing ‘intolerable pressures’, according to a report from UNISON. The union says the figure is the equivalent of 25,000 extra public service staff working full-time. It highlights how far workers are prepared to go to keep services running efficiently and the impact of years of job cuts, UNISON says. This is despite the intolerable pressures they face as a result of government-led cutbacks. The report, ‘We can’t go on like this’, is based on a UNISON-commissioned analysis of employment data by the Smith Institute. It warns that staff have reached a ‘tipping point’, which could have a knock-on impact on services and local communities. A survey for the report found more than two in five (44 per cent) of the survey respondents, who include auxiliary nurses, cleaners and caretakers, say they are doing unpaid overtime most weeks. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Support staff such as healthcare assistants and catering workers are among the lowest paid in public services. All too often they’re overlooked by politicians, despite the vital jobs they do.” He added: “It’s no wonder they feel overworked and undervalued. Many are facing intolerable pressures because of cutbacks, which have triggered staff shortages. The government must commit to funding the jobs needed to guarantee safe, high quality services. A failure to act will undermine standards further and weaken public confidence further still.”
A plan published by a right-wing thinktank and backed by prominent Tories is calling for key safety and environmental laws to be ditched as part of a ‘hard’ Brexit. The Institute of Economic Affairs report, ‘Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK’, was unveiled this week by former Brexit secretary David Davis and leading Tory Leave campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg, and has been backed by ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson. The report sidesteps the necessary role of EU regulation in protecting workers and consumers, instead saying it “saddles the UK with regulations that protect large incumbent businesses from competition, harming innovation and reducing efficiency.” The IEA singles out environmental laws and the REACH chemicals regulations for criticism, with Davis claiming at the launch: “There is a tremendous case study in here of the reach the chemical negotiators, the chemical standards, and how even the Commission recognises that it is ineffective and bad.” But the IEA report reserves some of its most scathing attacks for working time rules. “The UK has since embraced a number of labour policies which go well beyond what can be seen to be reasonable protections of workers,” it claims, identifying the working time rules as an example of “overly prescriptive regulation that goes beyond what are necessary for worker protection.” The union GMB said removing this law would mean 7 million workers could lose rights to paid holidays, with even more workers in a position where they could “be forced by bosses to work weeks longer than 48 hours.” Others could lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, GMB added, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, commented: “The prime minister needs to come our clearly rebuking this report. She promised that people’s working rights would be protected after Brexit but she has become a hostage to the extremists in her own party.”
Ÿ IEA news release and report, Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK, Institute of Economic Affairs, September 2018. GMB news release. DeSmog. The Express.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are planning to visit construction sites across Great Britain to see if businesses have measures in place to protect their workers’ lungs from the likes of asbestos, silica and wood dust. The watchdog, though, says it doesn’t want to be tackling these hazards on its own. “We will specifically be looking for evidence of construction workers knowing the risk, planning their work and using the right controls,” it says. HSE adds that it wants workplace ‘#DustBusters’ to show their support for the campaign “by downloading our free selfie cards and sending us your photos via the #DustBuster and #WorkRight hashtags on Twitter at @H_S_E, or on Facebook via @hsegovuk and @SaferSites. We will retweet and repost the best ones so get involved!” Workplace dusts can cause a range of cancers, allergic and irritant asthmas, other obstructive lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis and a range of restrictive lung conditions, like silicosis, asbestosis and other lung scarring diseases.
A popular Essex garden centre that failed to undertake adequate checks to protect staff from hazardous chemicals has been fined over £100,000. In a prosecution brought by Colchester Borough Council, Perrywood Garden Centre and Nurseries Ltd admitted to three criminal safety offences. The enforcement action came after a member of staff developed breathing difficulties after clearing up a spill of garden chemicals in April 2017. The incident was investigated after the worker complained to environmental health officers in September 2017. Basildon Magistrates Court was told Perrywood had a health and safety policy and arrangements in place, but these had not been reviewed nor updated to reflect the changes in the directorship of the company. Magistrates heard how the company had not implemented the safety management system described in its own policy manual. Even though annual audits were conducted by a health and safety consultancy, Perrywood management had failed to implement the recommendations of its most recent report, dated January 2017. This included a requirement to undertake COSHH assessments for chemical products on sale as well as additional risk assessments. The garden centre was fined £104,000 in fines and ordered to pay costs of £3,691.16. Colchester councillor Tina Bourne said: “I hope this case serves as a reminder that we take a dim view of any business that fails to put safety first and whose actions or inaction leads to personal injury.”
Yorkshire Water has been fined £733,000 after a worker suffered fatal burns at a water treatment plant. Mick Jennings’ clothes caught fire while removing valve bolts at the Tadcaster sewage works in July 2015. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the valve was half open and sparks reacted with high oxygen levels. The 55-year-old suffered 90 per cent burns. The only part of his body not burned was where his boots and belt had been, his partner told Leeds Crown Court. Mr Jennings, who had been with the firm eight years, died in hospital two days later. Yorkshire Water pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. An HSE investigation found a near miss report had been recorded at the same location in September 2014 but no action had been taken to reduce the risks. HSE inspector John Micklethwaite described it as “a tragic and wholly avoidable incident,” adding: “Those in control of work activities have a duty to identify hazards that could arise, to eliminate or to mitigate them, and to devise suitable safe systems of work.” In a victim impact statement, Mick Jennings’ partner Sharon Bancroft said her life had been destroyed. “If people had done their job properly, Mick would still be here,” she said. Yorkshire Water's chief executive Richard Flint said: “The tragic events of 20 July 2015 have had a profound effect on all of us at Yorkshire Water, both personally and professionally. Whilst we cannot change what happened to Mick, we must ensure this terrible accident leaves a permanent legacy on the business and that we do everything possible to prevent something like this happening again.”
Timberline DIY Limited has been fined after an employee seriously injured three of his fingers while cleaning a band saw. South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 30 June 2016, the worker was cleaning the saw at the premises in Jarrow, when he made contact with a moving blade. As a result of his injuries, the worker was rushed to hospital where he had to have three of his fingers partially amputated. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the machine was not effectively braked and therefore the cutting blade took an excessive time to stop. There were also failings in the guarding of the machine. Adequate training had not been provided to the worker. Timberline DIY Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £40,000 with £8,000 costs. HSE inspector Fiona McGarry said: “Woodworking machines run at very high speeds and workers are at risk during machine rundown. Fitting effective braking devices reduces the rundown time, making them safer for workers and this could have prevented this incident occurring.” She added: “New machines should come with braking where necessary but older machines may require it to be retrofitted.’’
Two construction companies have been convicted of criminal health and safety offences after a worker’s foot was trapped in a rotating screw. Liverpool Crown Court heard how, on 5 March 2015, Costain Limited and Galliford Try Building Limited were upgrading water treatment works in Cheshire. During commissioning work, a worker’s foot became trapped in a large rotating screw, which led to the amputation of three toes. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that both companies had failed to properly plan and manage the commissioning work. Costain Ltd and Galliford Try Limited were found guilty of a criminal breach of safety law. Both companies were fined £1,400,000 and ordered to pay a total of £101,046.20 costs. HSE inspector David Argument said: “This injury was easily preventable. The commissioning work should have been properly planned and managed. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk posed by dangerous parts of machinery.”
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.
Workers from around the world will be holding activities to mark the 11th World Day for Decent Work on 7 October. International trade union confederation ITUC, which coordinates the event, says year’s global theme, ‘Change the Rules’, highlights the deeply entrenched injustice of the global economic system alongside shrinking democratic space and deteriorating labour rights in many countries, documented in the ITUC Global Rights Index. “The rules are stacked against working people, and that is why we have unprecedented and destructive levels of economic inequality and insecurity while a small number of global conglomerates like Amazon amass incalculable riches for a very few,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “There is enough wealth in the world to meet the challenges of our time – creating decent work for all, ensuring universal social protection, tackling climate change and all the other things that need to be done to ensure that people can live in dignity on a sustainable planet. But the rules need to change. And to achieve that, we need to build workers’ power.”
Ÿ ITUC news release and World Day for Decent Work webpage. ITUC Global Rights Index. For more information on the World Day for Decent Work, and to obtain examples of the logos, infographics and social media messages, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organisations representing governments, employers and trade unions have agreed to extend a collaboration to fight work-related cancers in Europe. The commitment, agreed at a Vienna conference last week organised by the EU’s Austrian Presidency, extends the initiative launched in Amsterdam in May 2016 by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope, the European Commission, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and two EU countries, the Netherlands and Austria. Their work of the ‘Roadmap on Carcinogens’ is now being extended until the Finnish Presidency of the EU in 2019 and will allow trade unions, labour inspectors, businesses, occupational health and safety professionals and others to continue exchanging good safety practices to prevent occupational cancers, such as substitution of harmful substances and to implement new exposure limits and prevent occupational cancers. “It is essential that all our partners put in place actions and keep up the fight against the main cause of death by working conditions in the European Union,” said ETUC confederal secretary Esther Lynch. ETUC is backing tighter controls on cancer-causing substances. As an example, it says a new binding occupational exposure limit on diesel exhaust fumes “could help avoid 230,000 deaths by occupational cancers in the coming 60 years.”
Progress this year towards an International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on harassment and violence in the workplace has focused attention in Japan on an issue often ignored or downplayed in the country. On 19 September, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's Labour Policy Council began serious talks on the subject. However, while industry workers and experts see the council discussion as a rare chance to put anti-harassment laws on the books, it remains unclear whether the government will act. Under Japanese law, there is nothing that prohibits harassment. Only company-led measures to prevent sexual harassment are required under equal opportunities law. Even then, the law does not have provisions on how to recognise and punish damage caused by harassers. This is seen as problematic as it does not aid victims seeking redress. “There are several thousand cases of people seeking consultations about workplace sexual harassment at labour bureaus every year. But efforts to set up a legal framework (to handle the cases) are not progressing. It is because Japan is lacking in awareness of human rights,” said Shino Naito, a vice senior researcher at the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, who specialises in workplace harassment, both domestically and internationally. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which attended the ILO meeting in June considering a violence and harassment convention, believes the growing international discussion about the issue may nudge the government to get anti-harassment laws on the books.
A South African union has expressed dismay at the inaction on stress and bullying that drove a parliamentary worker into a ‘protest suicide’. Section manager Lennox Garane shot himself dead in his office, leaving a note saying his suicide was a protest at 20 months of bullying. The note from the 57-year-old, who worked in the parliament’s international relations and protocol division‚ was handed to mourners at a memorial service. Headed ‘It’s A Protest Suicide’‚ it described how his life became a misery after the appointment of a new manager who was a former MP. Garane said he submitted a grievance‚ but the person to whom the “unrepentant bully” reportedly refused to consider it‚ “saying parliament is a political environment‚ which I interpreted as meaning political appointees... were free to do as they wished with lives of those below them.” Garane said a series of pleas for support went ignored. “Twenty months on‚ I could not take it any more — I had to resort to this protest action to get the message across to the perpetrators and protectors of unfairness,” his note said. Garane shot himself on 14 September‚ and last week Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli apologised to his family at the memorial service and said an inquiry was planned into events leading to his suicide. The National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu)‚ which represents parliamentary workers‚ said Garane’s suicide did not come as a shock “to those of us who regularly deal with cases of victimisation‚ bullying and abuse of power by some members of senior management at the national legislature.” The union added: “Something like this was bound to happen‚ especially when you consider the amount of ill-treatment that ordinary workers‚ junior and middle managers have to endure from some members of senior management. Some of these senior managers are so incorrigible because no decisive action is ever taken against their intransigent behaviour. The union and other workers continue to lodge grievances against these managers‚ but no one ever acts on those complaints."
A Turkish court last week jailed 24 workers, including four union leaders, pending formal charges for their alleged roles in a safety protest at Istanbul’s new $13 billion (£9.9bn) airport. The workers complain of deadly pressure to complete the airport, a flagship project for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in time for the 29 October anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Security officers raided the airport’s construction site and detained 400 people after workers demonstrated on 14 September over a shuttle bus crash that injured 17 employees, with four reported dead. Conditions have worsened in recent months as contractors raced to finish the facility in time for its slated opening, with workers spending up to 70 days on the job without a break, according to media reports. The Transportation ministry said in February that 27 workers, out of a total 36,000 employees, had lost their lives since construction began in 2014. The ministry denied a report by the Cumhuriyet newspaper that quoted unnamed labourers who estimated that 400 people had died and that 500 or more workplace injuries occurred each week. A consortium of five Turkish companies — Cengiz, Kolin, Limak, Mapa and Kalyon — are building the airport and will pay the government about $26 billion (£19.8bn) annually to operate it for 25 years. “What we call as demands are simply to correct the working conditions that belong to the middle ages,” said Ozgur Karabulut, general manager of the Dev IS trade union. “Workers can't sleep because of cockroaches in the dormitories, they can't eat the food as there are worms inside.” He added: “Because the costs are growing for the subcontractors, to make profit [they] cut from everything, from helmets to safety shoes.” Karabulut said the problem was not unique to this site. “Any of the state's mega-projects all have the same conditions and problems, and because the workers are asking for the rights they are getting beaten, gassed and detained.”
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