|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.
Almost seven in 10 (69 per cent) trade union health and safety union representatives say stress is a top health and safety concern they deal with at work. The TUC’s biennial health and safety rep survey found stress is especially common in central government – where 90 per cent of union reps said it was a top-five concern – followed by health services (85 per cent) and education (84 per cent). Bullying and harassment rated the next most common problem, seen as a top concern by 45 per cent of the safety reps polled by the TUC. Responses indicated it has become more common in central and local government, where it was cited by 71 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Overwork was a concern for 36 per cent of the 1,073 union reps who took part in the TUC’s survey, though this proportion has fallen slightly since the survey was last conducted in 2016 when 40 per cent reported it. Concern over slips, trips and falls increased from 28 per cent in 2016’s survey to 31 per cent in 2018. Almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) were worried about violence and threats in their organisation. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s easy to make light of ‘health and safety culture’. But it’s no joke lying awake at night from stress, falling ill through working long hours, or being subjected to bullying in the office. Employers and managers need to do more to identify and reduce risks and to provide support to employees struggling to cope.” The adequacy of risk assessments was also seen as an issue. The survey found that this was a more pressing concern in education, where only 25 per cent of employers had conducted a risk assessment that the health and safety representative thought was adequate. Forty-one per cent of reps said they were not involved at all in their organisation’s risk assessment. Only 21 per cent who were involved said they were satisfied with their level of input.
The overwhelming majority of shoppers believe the government should protect shopworkers from violence and abuse when enforcing age-restricted sales laws, according to a new poll published by the Co-operative Party. The research on legal protection for retail staff found 85 per cent of voters agree that ‘the government owes a duty of care to shopworkers who enforce important laws restricting the sale of certain items like alcohol, acid and knives.’ In addition, given four options to choose from, the public believe the best way to protect shopworkers is ‘a tough new law to increase criminal sentences for anyone convicted of using threats or violence against a shopworker.’ The poll came ahead of Labour & Co-operative MP Alex Norris telling the Commons on 9 October that attacks on retail staff at work should be treated in court as ‘aggravated’ assaults. This would make offenders liable to a longer prison sentence to reflect the fact that their victim was serving the public. The MP’ call came in advance of the 15 October report stage of the Offensive Weapons Bill, which requires shopworkers to enforce new restrictions on the sale of acid and other corrosive substances. An amendment tabled by Labour MP David Hanson will create a new offence of obstructing or threatening shop staff while doing their job, with fines of up to £2,500. The amendment is supported by the shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw and employers’ organisation the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “When parliament passes laws that shopworkers have to enforce, they should also provide legal protection for shopworkers. This poll clearly shows that the shopping public agree with our position, as do the retailers, so we hope that MPs are listening.”
An estimated 1,000 former Ministry of Defence (MoD) employees, who may have been exposed to asbestos while maintaining Sea King helicopters, are now caught in a Catch 22 situation over getting tested, their union Unite has said. The union said the MoD’s advice for former workers to fill out a personal asbestos record form was ‘inadequate’, because those ex-maintenance staff servicing Sea King helicopters since 1969 would be unlikely to know of the form’s existence. In a letter to the union, the MoD has admitted it does not have a central record of those staff maintaining the Sea Kings since they came into service nearly 50 years ago. Unite is calling on the MoD to redouble its efforts to trace the former workers, including placing adverts across the UK media, so they can be tested for possible health effects of exposure to asbestos. Unite national officer for the MoD Jim Kennedy said: “We are in a classic Catch 22 situation, as how on earth would former employees know of this form’s existence - ‘MoD Form 960 Asbestos – Personal Record Annotation’ – and that it can be accessed in 2018. More importantly, unless they knew they had been exposed to asbestos, it wouldn’t be on their radar to record this exposure.” He said this “makes it imperative that the MoD steps up its efforts, including national advertising, to track down former employees so they can be screened for asbestos.” He added: “The MoD keeps records for security purposes so would have a record of those who had serviced and worked on the Sea Kings since 1969. We demand the MoD checks its records to identify all ex-employees and contact them as matter of urgency, so it can fulfil its duty of care to former staff, however long ago they worked on the Sea Kings.”
New research from the rail union RMT has revealed the vital role train guards play in delivering a safe, secure and accessible railway. The union says the crucial safety critical role of guards is demonstrated by the fact that 80 per cent of guards have prevented an emergency situation and used their safety critical training in an actual emergency situation. Over half of the guards (51 per cent) responding to the survey have prevented at least one sexual assault. Almost all (98 per cent) said they have dealt with anti-social behaviour, and 63 per cent have dealt with incidents at least 20 times. The guards also provided over 500 examples of their role protecting the safety of passengers during heightened concerns around terrorism. The RMT’s spot survey received over 800 responses in just a few hours. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “In contrast to the cost cutting plans and misleading propaganda dreamt up in Whitehall and the rail boardrooms this survey shows the reality of the vital role train guards play at the sharp end to ensure a safe, secure and accessible railway. In their own words, these dedicated rail workers are warning of the horrific consequences of there no longer being a guard to provide assistance and to help deal with emergencies, violent behaviour, sexual assaults and the terrorist threat.” He added: “Unsurprisingly 97 per cent of guards in our survey felt the main reason companies are introducing driver only trains is to increase profits with the same number saying the government is on the side of the train companies and not passengers. It’s time the government and rail bosses stopped thinking about the bottom line and listened to voices of rail workers delivering on the front line.”
Rail union RMT has called for an immediate halt to plans to axe train guards and ‘de-staff’ stations after new official figures from the British Transport Police (BTP) revealed a sharp 17 per cent increase in violent incidents on Britain's railways. The figures, which RMT says are backed up by hard evidence in its new survey of guards, show massive increases in sexual assaults, violence and robbery. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the “shocking figures” demonstrate “nothing short of criminal negligence on the part of those rail companies that have axed guards and de-staffed stations in the drive for profits. RMT has warned that they would be turning our railways into a criminals' paradise and they have ignored us. Those private rail companies should be hanging their heads in shame this morning.” The union leader added: “No one knows better the impact on passenger safety and security than front line staff and it is frankly disgusting that operators like Northern and SWR… have ignored the warnings and have ploughed ahead with their dangerous and toxic plans to axe guards on their trains. The de-staffing of Britain's violent and dangerous railways gives a green light to the muggers, sexual predators and racists and should be halted and reversed immediately."
A new dignity at work collective agreement between the postal workers’ union CWU and Post Office management pledges the organisation will be “a safe space for all, where everyone feels valued and treated with dignity, courtesy and respect.” The new agreement replaces a bullying and harassment procedure in force when the Post Office was part of Royal Mail. CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey commented: “I’m pleased that both sides in this business have jointly affirmed that there is no place for any form of discrimination, bullying, harassment, or victimisation in Post Office workplaces as any such behaviour is contrary to our core values.” He added: “We will work together to create and nurture a culture where unacceptable behaviour is swiftly challenged and addressed and this work will include creating a comprehensive manager and employee toolkit, various posters, e-learning modules and the rolling out of a bespoke Dignity at Work TeamTalk.” CWU postal executive member Lynn Simpson, who played a leading role in constructing the new policy, said: “Our members working in the Post Office are entitled to go to work knowing they are going to be treated with dignity and respect.” She added: “I’m confident the new dignity at work collective agreement will serve our members well. It sends a clear message that bullying, discrimination, intimidation or threatening behaviours are not acceptable and there are robust procedures in place to ensure a safe working environment.”
The mental health of workers in film and TV is being damaging by the sector’s long hours culture, the union BECTU has said. The union, which is running an #EyesHalfShut campaign against excessive working hours in the industry, says while many employers provide support for workers who may be affected by mental health issues via their human resources departments, this support is not readily available to freelancers working in film and TV. BECTU organising official Simon Nightingale said: “BECTU are looking to open a conversation with productions to encourage a better support structure for workers who may be experiencing mental health concerns whilst working. As part of raising awareness of mental health wellbeing within the working environment, BECTU would like to see a dedicated person on film and TV productions, who would be able to offer advice and support to anyone suffering from the stress that the long hours working culture can cause.” BECTU is calling for all parts of the industry to come together to form a commission dedicated to reducing the industry's reliance on a long hours working culture.
British Coal plotted to ‘delay’ payouts to tens of thousands of miners dying from occupational lung diseases, newly discovered memos have revealed. The firm hatched plans to make it “costly and unattractive” for miners and their families to pursue claims, the documents show. More than 450,000 ex-miners eventually won a multi-billion pound settlement, but the process, involving a lengthy High Court case, was dragged out for decades and the final claim was not settled until 2012. More than half of claims were paid to families of miners who had already died. Solicitor Gareth Morgan, of law firm Hugh James and who involved in the compensation fight from the start, said: “This memo explains their decision to fight everything.” The first British Coal memo, dated 19 May 1997, and sent to executives, admits it had probably failed to defeat the miners’ claim that coal dust caused respiratory problems. A second memo, dated 27 July 1997, for the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury, set out tactics to limit costs. These included “delay” and “making litigation costly and unattractive”. In January 1998, the High Court ruled that British Coal’s predecessor, the National Coal Board, put production before safety, leaving many miners with respiratory diseases. Gareth Morgan said: “If they had come to us before the trial and offered reasonable terms, I’m sure we would have thought very hard.” Medical consultant Dr Robin Rudd, said: “It is clear justice for injured men doesn’t even enter the thinking of The Department for Trade and Industry or the Treasury.” An editorial in The Mirror noted: “We need an urgent inquiry into what occurred to ensure it never happens again, and hold to account any officials involved who may now be in positions of public authority.” It added: “Mining trade unions fought hard and risked financial ruin to win their landmark legal battle, with the £2.4 billion settlement reflecting the industry’s failure to protect workers from known coal dust hazards. So it’s depressing to learn from recently unearthed 1997 documents that the compensation could have been paid earlier, reducing the number of miners who died without receiving a penny.”
Construction firms across Great Britain will be targeted throughout October to check their health standards. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it would be the first time its inspections had included a specific focus on respiratory risks and occupational lung disease, looking at the measures businesses have in place to protect their workers’ lungs from exposures including asbestos, silica and wood dust. Peter Baker, HSE’s chief inspector of construction, said: “Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are killed in construction accidents. Annually, work-related cancers, mainly linked to asbestos and silica, are estimated to kill 3,500 people from the industry. Thousands of others suffer life-changing illnesses from their work. Not all lung diseases take years to develop. Some, like acute silicosis or occupational asthma, can occur more quickly.” He added: “We want construction workers to be aware of the risks associated with the activities they carry out on a daily basis; be conscious of the fact their work may create hazardous dust; and consider how this could affect their health, in some cases irreversibly. We want businesses and their workers to think of the job from start to finish and avoid creating dust or disturbing asbestos by working in different ways. We want to see construction firms encouraging their workers to firstly keep the dust down and wear the right mask and clothing. Ultimately, we want construction workers’ lungs to be protected from ill health, so they can go home healthy to their families and enjoy long careers in this important industry.”
Construction benefits organisation B&CE has launched a pilot scheme involving18 companies to help develop a new approach to improving occupational health provision across the construction industry. It says each year in construction, 80,000 workers suffer from illnesses caused or made worse by their work, with few having access to occupational health services. The pilot group, made up of site firms including Skanksa, Murphy Group and Laing O’Rourke and occupational health service providers, will test versions of B&CE’s new digital product during its development phase. The new tech is intended to allow construction workers to access their site occupational health records on their mobile phones. B&CE’s Nicola Sinclair said: “Every year, tens of thousands of construction workers suffer from illnesses caused or made worse by their jobs. We shouldn’t allow this to be considered the ‘norm’ – everyone working in the industry should have the right to a healthy working life and future.”
A lack of resources has left UK doctors facing a ‘toxic’ work environment that is placing them at greater risk of work-related stress, burnout, depression and anxiety than the general population, a new study has found. The report by the Society of Occupational Medicine and The Louise Tebboth Foundation also found the incidence of suicide, especially among women doctors, GPs and trainees, is comparatively high. ‘What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? A review of the research evidence’ found that the incidence of mental health problems among doctors is increasing in tandem with the growing demands and diminishing resources experienced in the healthcare sector. GPs, trainee and junior doctors appear to be particularly vulnerable, experiencing distress and burnout early in their careers. The report, carried out by Professor Gail Kinman of the University of Bedfordshire and Dr Kevin Teoh of Birkbeck University of London, reviewed research on the mental health of doctors, the factors that increased the risk of poor mental health, and the implications for their own wellbeing and that of their patients. Professor Kinman commented: “The findings of our report are alarming. The poor mental health evident among UK doctors and the implications for themselves and their patients should be of grave concern to all healthcare stakeholders. Action is urgently required to address a working environment that can be toxic to health.” Dr Teoh added: “It is crucial to provide doctors with more support from recruitment to retirement and develop a culture that challenges the mental health stigma and encourages help seeking."
Zero emission capable taxis can halve their driver’s exposure to toxic exhaust pollutants, according to new research. The study into air quality by King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group (ERG) monitored drivers of both diesel and electric taxis, measuring particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide inside and outside of their working environments. It found that drivers of diesel taxis are exposed to pollution levels 1.8 times higher than those driving an electric model. The research programme, partly funded by electric taxi firm LEVC, also set out to understand whether there are certain behaviours professional drivers can adopt to minimise their exposure to air pollution. Ten London taxi drivers took part and provided 390 hours of air pollution data. In-vehicle concentrations were measured over a period of four full working days during summer 2018. Initial analysis found that while cab drivers face the same level of exposure to poor air quality as other commercial vehicle drivers, and experience double the exposure at work compared to outside of work, their choice of vehicle made a very significant difference. Average exposure to nitrogen dioxide and black carbon during a standard shift was 1.8 times higher for drivers of the older diesel taxis compared to those in all-new electric cabs. Lead researcher Dr Benjamin Barratt of King’s College London said: “Lowest pollutant exposures were observed – particularly in the case of the TX – when the vehicle’s ventilation settings were set to recirculate and with the vehicle’s windows closed. This combination was found to reduce exposure by up to 67 per cent, suggesting that these changes could mitigate pollutant exposures for these drivers. For the older vehicle, we believe that the vehicle’s cabin is not as air tight and therefore allows outside traffic emissions to infiltrate the cabin, even when the windows are closed.”
Swedish furniture multinational IKEA has been prosecuted after a worker lost part of two fingers while checking a faulty roof fan at its Bristol store. The maintenance engineer carrying out the work had not had any health and safety training from the retailer. An investigation by Bristol City Council found nine fans on the roof were not guarded - and there was no adequate risk assessment in place for this type of fault-finding or maintenance work. At Bristol Magistrates’ Court, IKEA Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of health and safety law. The home furnishings retailer was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,407. Senior managers from IKEA were in court and a letter from a board member was read out which expressed remorse for the incident. It said that lessons “had been shared throughout their business.” Bristol councillor Kye Dudd said: “The health and safety of employees should be a top priority for every employer. We take reports of breaches very seriously and where appropriate we will investigate claims of poor practice.” During the investigation Bristol City Council’s health and safety inspectors served an improvement notice requiring adequate safety precautions be put in place to prevent injury from fans and other machinery.
Two-thirds (65 per cent) of airline cabin crew have experienced sexual harassment, with one in five crew reporting more than 10 incidents, a union survey has found. Four out of five cabin crew experienced sexual harassment from co-workers while three out of five experienced it from passengers. Reports included serious sexual assaults, workers being pinned down and assaulted, passengers exposing themselves to crew and workers being touched on their groins and buttocks as well as highly sexualised and degrading comments targeted to crew because of their sexual orientation. The survey by the union TWU received about 400 replies, representing about five per cent of Australia’s 8,000 cabin crew workers. It found almost 70 per cent said they did not report the incident with over half (56 per cent) saying they did not think it would be handled appropriately, and others (39 per cent) saying they feared reporting it would make the situation worse. “These results are sad and shocking. They show that airlines are not taking the problem seriously and are not supporting workers when they are faced with what are daily assaults on them,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine. “It is clear that a culture exists at airlines to at best ignore the problem and at worst protect the perpetrators. Today we are lifting the lid on this widespread problem and demanding a change to the way sexual harassment of cabin crew is dealt with.” Crew experienced the incidents while working for all major airlines including Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Tigerair and Alliance Airlines, aviation operator Cobham and labour recruitment firms Maurice Alexander Management and Altara. “Our survey shows there is an endemic problem that is subjecting hundreds of men and women to the most horrendous treatment,” said TWU’s Kaine.
Those bereaved or injured in garment factory tragedies in Bangladesh are still facing “dire poverty”, despite the focus on the issue resulting from the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed over 1,100 workers. The Clean Clothes Campaign says only six months after the horrific Rana Plaza tragedy, seven workers died and over 50 were injured in a fire in the Aswad Composite Textile Mill. It says while a worldwide campaign ensured compensation for the families of the Rana Plaza workers, the families affected by the Aswad fire were left with nothing, and have yet to receive a single penny in compensation. The Aswad fire victims’ families are not alone - since the Rana Plaza collapse, over 540 workers have been killed or injured in factory incidents in Bangladesh. On the fifth anniversary of the Aswad factory fire, the Clean Clothes Campaign called upon the Bangladesh government and others involved in the industry to finally create a national employment injury insurance scheme that would cover all workers in the country. The campaign’s Ben Vanpeperstraete said: “Over 130 countries in the world cover employment injury as part of their social security system, but Bangladesh is not one of them, although the scheme is affordable.” Calling on international buying brands to factor in compensation scheme costs when setting prices with factories, he said: “Less than the price of a basic t-shirt per year could insure a worker against insecurity and the worst forms of poverty after a workplace tragedy… We believe that the establishment of a national employment injury insurance scheme and a bridging solution would be the realisation of one of the major lessons learned after the Rana Plaza collapse and end the insecurity and dire poverty of the workers that were killed and injured at the workplace in the five years since the collapse.”
A new report on the working conditions endured by non-EU professional drivers paints a picture of ‘an unappetising race to the bottom’ that must be resisted, UK union Unite has said. Unite was commenting on a research by Dutch trade unions published this month that found non-EU drivers from countries including Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine were driving for extreme hours on western European roads on wages starting as low as €0.79 an hour. Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said: “Unfortunately, the report by our Dutch colleagues only adds to what we have known about for some time – that non-EU-drivers are ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous employers across the continent. This insidious trend is an unappetising race to the bottom that must be stoutly resisted in the UK, especially as we enter a post-Brexit world where long-standing regulations could be under threat.” He added: “What the Dutch union foundation FNV-Stichting VNB has found includes fraud involving driving and rest times, and falsifying documents on salaries. These non-EU drivers work, live, eat and sleep for months in a row in their trucks. This pan-European scenario of abuse adversely affects companies in the UK where Unite has signed agreements on pay and conditions. These firms are striving to do the right thing, but their tight margins of profitability are undermined by these ‘rogue’ employers whose activities appear to be rife across Europe.” The union officer concluded: “The answer is clear – stronger enforcement of the law is required, so that decent standards, good pay and civilised working conditions are maintained for all drivers, whether they are from the EU or elsewhere.”
Already overworked poultry workers will suffer more work-related repetitive strain injuries and illnesses as a result of a shock government decision to allow much faster line speeds, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) has warned. Debbie Berkowitz, NELP’s programme director for worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project, said: “In a stunning announcement, with no notice requesting comments from the public, the Trump administration’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared that it will start a new programme to allow chicken plants to increase their line speeds, despite increasing evidence that this will endanger vulnerable workers, public health, and animal welfare.” She said the USDA “had already studied whether to increase poultry line speeds, and it adopted a rule in 2014, with enormous public input, that rejected any line speed increases in order to best protect public and worker health. Yet, with no additional evidence or data provided, the administration has now decided to bend all the rules to benefit rich corporations at the expense of the well-being and safety of workers and consumers.” According to Berkowitz: “Poultry workers suffer staggeringly high rates of work-related injury and illnesses - rates 60 per cent higher than the average worker. Overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that allowing poultry processing plants to operate with faster line speeds than allowable by law is inconsistent with the USDA’s waiver regulation, undermines the rulemaking process, violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and most of all, endangers both workers and consumers.”
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