|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.
Caving into pressure from Big Tobacco to allow vaping in enclosed workspaces could put non-vaping workers in harm's way, the TUC has warned. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said while e-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, “that doesn’t mean we should allow vaping in enclosed workplaces, despite growing pressure from the vaping industry for employers and public transport providers to allow it in enclosed spaces where it is currently banned.” In a TUC blog posting, Robertson notes that Britain is now the world’s second biggest vape market after the US. “The TUC has always been clear where we stand on vaping, which is that there should be no use of e-cigarettes in workplaces where smoking is prohibited,” he noted. He said while e-cigarettes can play a role in smoking cessation programmes, “they are not without health risks – and the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on health remain unclear.” He warned that getting a nicotine dose via an e-cigarette also ‘normalises’ the use of a highly addictive drug. “In reality there is no demand from employers or workers to allow vaping in enclosed areas like offices, factories, shops, or public transport. Quite the opposite,” he added. “The main pressure seems to be coming from the vaping industry, much of which is owned by the large tobacco companies – who are not really known for their history of openness and honesty.” The blog posting notes some countries are already introducing legal restrictions on indoor vaping and concludes: “Unions should of course work with employers to support any workers who want help to quit smoking. That can include measures such as having outside vaping areas separate from any smoking area, but I find it hard to see any benefit to anyone in allowing vaping in places where smoking is already banned.”
Pilots’ union BALPA has told MPs that more needs to be done to create a workplace culture that understands, prioritises and manages fatigue, particularly in safety-critical industries like aviation. BALPA head of flight safety, Dr Rob Hunter, told a ‘sleep and health’ seminar at the Houses of Parliament this week about the problems pilots face working shifts with start times that vary dramatically from day to day, crossing time zones and staying away from home. He said a sympathetic fatigue culture in aviation, where pilots do not fear being penalised for reporting potentially compromising levels of tiredness, is vital. “In aviation, and in-fact any safety-critical industry, we must understand fatigue and create a culture that prioritises and mitigates it,” he told MPs. “Out flight safety team has been monitoring rosters and schedules that pilots fly and has highlighted numerous working arrangements that are putting strain on flight crew. There is a discrepancy in the number of official fatigue reports received by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and what pilots tell us they are experiencing. We believe that’s down to the lack of a sympathetic fatigue culture and the fear pilots have that they could face recriminations should they come forward and report it.” He added that the union was “hearing increasingly of cases of long-term sickness related to fatigue and ‘burnout’ as well as an increased demand for part-time work. These are indicators that current work levels cannot be sustained.” He concluded: “As an industry we can’t fall in to the trap of ‘sleeping on the job’ when it comes to fatigue. It is vital that across the industry we get to grips with this issue and put in place sensible fatigue management systems.”
Public sector UNISON has expressed outrage at the revelation that the police operate a blacklist that can bar staff for life from jobs in the service based on their sickness record. The police ‘barred and advisory lists’, brought in by law less than a year ago, contain the names of police staff, special constables, and officers who have been dismissed. However, UNISON’s police and justice conference heard inclusion on the lists is not limited to those fired for misconduct, but also includes workers dismissed over attendance and performance evaluations. This includes those dismissed for lack of attendance due to poor health. One member told the conference he had a colleague who was dismissed for lack of attendance due to depression, and a colleague dismissed for attendance issues related to cancer, and both are now on the lists. Delegates called on UNISON’s service group executive to co-ordinate action in branches affected by the legislation and to highlight the unfairness of the barred and advisory lists, and also to ascertain the impact they have had on retaining special constable volunteers.
A survey of over 10,000 retail workers has laid bare the issues that working people are facing as a result of low pay, short and zero hours contracts and insecure work, their union has said. Usdaw’s research found 92 per cent of respondents have seen no improvement in their financial situation over the past five years and nearly two-thirds of workers (63 per cent) say financial worries are having an impact on their mental health. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “Mental health is a trade union issue. Cuts to in-work benefits; rising living costs; wages falling in value; shorter working hours; redundancies, along with industry-wide cuts to budgets and staffing levels have left members feeling overstretched, overworked and undervalued.” He added: “Our survey results are shocking, which is why we have launched the ‘Time for Better Pay’ campaign, to tackle these deep-seated problems so many workers are facing.” He said Usdaw reps “are running campaign awareness days in their workplaces to tackle the stigma that surrounds mental health. Stigma gets in the way of members talking to the union at an early stage and this can lead to them getting caught up in disciplinary procedures that could and should have been avoided.” Usdaw’s ‘It’s good to talk’ campaign provides the union’s workplace reps with advice and resources to support members experiencing a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. The union adds its ‘Time for Better Pay’ campaign tackles the causes of in-work poverty. A June 2018 report from Hazards magazine noted higher paid, higher status work “is relatively immune to work-related health problems – occupational injuries, cancers, nervous system disorders, suicides, reproductive problems, strain injuries and cardiovascular diseases are concentrated overwhelmingly in less well remunerated work. The lower your grade, the higher your risks” (Risks 855).
Mitie Care and Custody Ltd has joined a growing list of employers from across the UK economy that have signed up to the union Community’s mental health charter. The union says its initiative sets out to get employers to make mental health a priority in their workplaces. Measures required by the charter include providing training and accessible information on mental health, auditing their own employment practices and signposting to information around the workplace on where to get help. Adrian Axtell, Communitiy’ national officer for the justice and custodial sector, said: “We are pleased that Mitie Care and Custody Ltd joins the long list of employers who have signed our charter. In so doing, they recognise the importance of tackling head on the mental health crisis in workplaces across the country.” He added: “We’ll be working with Mitie Care and Custody Ltd in the months and years ahead to ensure that the mental health of their staff is at the top of their agenda.” Danny Spencer, operations director at Mitie Care and Custody Ltd, commented: “Here at Mitie Care and Custody Ltd, we take the mental health of our staff very seriously. We recognise that the jobs that our staff do can often be stressful, and we want to support them as best we can. We are looking forward to working with Community to ensure all of our policies and procedures are the best they can be, and represent a shining example to other employers in the justice and custodial sector.”
The government and the education standards watchdog Ofsted must do much more to reduce the crippling administrative burden on teachers, the union NEU has said. The union said it has “long been concerned that unnecessary practices surrounding marking, planning, and data collection in schools, is having a significant impact on teacher workload.” NEU’s latest survey of 11,341 primary and secondary teachers working in 6,908 schools “shows that we are right to be concerned. Unnecessary accountability tasks and measures previously enforced by government and Ofsted were one of the biggest contributing factors to teachers’ excessive workload and a major reason for many teachers leaving the profession.” The survey found just a quarter of primary teachers (25 per cent) and less than one fifth of secondary teachers (18 per cent) have seen a review in policy and practice in their school on planning since the publication in 2016 of the government recommendations on reducing workload. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “So long as the main drivers of a performance-based system are still in place, schools will continue to hyper-regulate themselves, out of a fear of the consequences of failure. In the short-term, government and Ofsted have to be more forceful in their messaging; but there is also an urgent need to remove the drivers themselves from the system.” He added: “The clearest signal which government could send to schools that they are committed to a new approach, would be to announce that Ofsted will be replaced by an organisation dedicated to the support of school improvement.”
Amazon warehouse workers suffer hundreds of serious injuries each year, including fractures, contusions, head injuries and collisions with heavy equipment, a GMB investigation has found. The union’s freedom of information requests found more than 440 serious health and safety incidents at Amazon warehouses have been reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) since 2015/16. The legally required RIDDOR reports include a forklift truck crash caused by a “lapse of concentration possibly due to long working hours.” Other reports identify staff forced to work in freezing conditions and run down by heavy goods vehicles. One local authority, Central Bedfordshire Council, refused to release copies of correspondence with Amazon, indicating: “Disclosing [this] information may prejudice an ongoing investigation and/or future enforcement action.” Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Amazon bosses are burying their heads in the sand but no amount of spin or an expensive PR agency can get around that fact that these official figures give a horrifying insight into their warehouses - no one should go to work worried about being knocked unconscious or breaking bones.” He added: “This is a multi-billion pound company owned by the richest man in the world. You have to ask yourself whether it’s a deliberate decision to sacrifice safety to keep the bottom line growing, because I can’t see why else you’d tolerate these conditions.” The union leader continued: “Amazon won’t even let GMB union through their gates, despite the fact we have hundreds of members working inside. If Amazon is so confident they're doing right by their workforce, why are they worried about talking to us? We’d much prefer to be around the negotiating table, but failing that we’ll continue campaign on every possible level to make sure Amazon workers are safe at work and treated with respect.” Jack Dromey, the shadow work and pensions minister, commented: “This cannot go on because deaths in Amazon will surely follow. Jeff Bezos should hang his head in shame. His company should meet the GMB to sort what is a national scandal.” Several recent deaths have been reported at Amazon warehouses in the USA (Risks 849). Conditions in its Australian warehouses were described last month as ‘a hellscape’ (Risks 866).
A change in the law to protect workers and the public from dangerous dogs and their irresponsible owners should be introduced as a priority, the postal workers’ union CWU has said. The union was commenting after a House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report on ‘Controlling dangerous dogs’ called on the government to ‘commission a comprehensive review of existing dog control legislation and policy’, with a view to focus on prevention, early intervention, and consistently robust sanctions for offenders’. Dave Joyce, the national safety officer with CWU, which says 3,000 postal workers are attacked and injured by dogs every year whilst delivering mail and parcels, commented: “The CWU very much welcomes and commends the EFRA Select Committee report and the government must now stop ducking the issue and living in denial of the facts that confront society in the UK with dangerous dogs, which is a problem spiralling out of control. The government should now accept the EFRA Select Committee’s recommendations in full and get to work without delay in putting the report into action and into law.” Calling for stricter penalties including jail terms on irresponsible dog owners and great use of dog ownership disqualification orders, he added: “The CWU wants to see effective preventative measures introduced, one of which is ‘Dog Control Notices’ which can be served on dog owners imposing legally enforceable requirements to train and control their animals and so avoid attacks, with legal sanctions for non-compliance.”
Ÿ CWU news release and branch briefing. House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee – Report on ‘Controlling Dangerous Dogs’ and Recommendations to the UK Government, 17 October 2018 – news release and full report.
Amateur and semi-professional footballers deserve protection, as well as advice and support for their lives both in and out of football, the GMB has said. The union’s call came as it launched a ’Footballers United’ branch, which it says will protect ‘precarious’ players from ‘injury calamity.’ GMB says the Footballers United branch will provide support for individuals who have suffered horrific injuries on the pitch that mean they can’t do their day jobs. It will also provide representation for footballer members at FA hearings, as well as advice on contracts. GMB organiser Francis Duku said: “Footballers outside the professional levels of the game are in a precarious position and need a union. One bad tackle can leave you with no way to earn money, either from playing or from your day job. That means no way to pay your rent, or feed your family, for possibly months or years – just because of one nasty moment on the pitch playing the game we love. It can be a personal calamity.” He added: “GMB believes amateur and semi-professional footballers deserve protection, as well as advice and support for their lives both in and out of football.” Professional footballers are represented by the union PFA.
Brexit must not be a ‘Trojan horse’ to scrap necessary health and safety laws, campaigners have said. The call comes as a study from the manufacturers’ body EEF urged the government to avoid any “disruption” to business that would arise from replacing or abolishing current labour laws when the UK leaves European Union. Terry Woolmer, head of safety at the EEF, said: “There is a clear message from manufacturers that there should be no rapid change post-Brexit to the UK’s health and safety regulatory regime. The government’s current approach of grandfathering existing EU worker protection and product safety standards into UK law for the foreseeable future is the right one.” The Hazards Campaign, which works with unions and campaigns to defend safety rights at work, suggested that unions must also have more say in resisting deregulation of labour laws. The campaign’s Hilda Palmer said: “Brexit must not be used as a Trojan horse to reduce health and safety laws now or in the future. It is essential that all EU health and safety regulations are retained and protected as a minimum. To ensure this, the government must make a legally binding commitment that there will be no weakening at all of laws that protect workers after Brexit. We also need a commitment that the UK will remain part of the REACH regulations on chemicals, which the UK cannot match alone.” She highlighted the “vital role of trade unions and workers in a more effective tripartite HSE [Health and Safety Executive] and other bodies in setting standards and laws to prevent the unacceptable toll of injuries, illnesses and deaths in the UK.” The TUC has called for the UK to match European Union safety standards and any improvements after Brexit (Risks 869).
A newly published independent report into parliamentary bullying and harassment should be ‘the final nail in the coffin’ of the culture of abuse of parliamentary staff by MPs, the union Prospect has said. The report from Dame Laura Cox found a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” in Westminster where abuse was “tolerated and covered up”. MPs enjoy a ‘God-like status,’ knowing they would never be subject to disciplinary action, she said. She called for an “entirely independent process” for dealing with staff complaints against MPs. Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “This is a really strong report that should be the final nail in the coffin of the outdated culture in parliament that has allowed bullying and harassment of staff to go unchecked and unpunished. Dame Cox is right to back calls from the unions for a fully independent process that is able to consider historic claims against MPs.” He added: “Parliament is fundamentally a place of work, it is time for those with responsibility to reflect on this report and put in place a new policy and culture in keeping with modern workplaces that puts the safety and wellbeing of staff first.”
Ÿ The bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff: Independent Inquiry Report, Dame Laura Cox DBE, 15 October 2018. Prospect news release. BBC News Online. Morning Star. The Guardian.
A legally-required Health and Safety Executive (HSE) review has concluded the official workplace safety watchdog should reverse much-criticised changes to the workplace injury and disease reporting regulations (Risks 710). The move, to capture less common occupational health conditions and reduce the number of non-workers included in work accident figures, is recommended in a government-required post implementation review (PIR) of the effectiveness of the RIDDOR reporting regulations. The review findings, published on 3 October, proposed reversing the reduction in 2013 in the number of reportable occupational diseases, with an extension of the types of conditions required to be reported. These include conditions such as pneumoconiosis, extrinsic allergic alveolitis, decompression illness, pulmonary barotrauma and poisoning due to certain chemical exposures. The PIR report said: “With the long-term focus on work-related ill health, the exclusion of these diseases reduces the scope for research and the evidence base to improve worker health. Without investigation and enforcement where appropriate, workers could be left at risk of potentially life-threatening illnesses due to workplace exposures.” The PIR also said it found evidence of over-reporting of accidents involving non-workers – particularly within the leisure sector - and proposed measures to reduce this. Commenting on the recommendations, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) policy manager Tamara Sandoul said: “We welcome HSE’s intention to increase the number of reportable occupational diseases under RIDDOR – this is a vital move towards monitoring and dealing with high rates of work-related illness, which is part of the HSE’s strategy. We are however concerned to hear that HSE is considering reducing the reporting of injuries to members of the public within the leisure sector. Whilst this change may be justified, it has to be clearly evidenced and all potential negative impacts should be carefully assessed so that legitimate injuries are not missed. RIDDOR is a key source of intelligence to both HSE and local authorities.” The Conservative government highlighted the 2013 changes to the reporting regulation as one of its deregulation ‘success’ stories. The government’s safety deregulation strategy and the reporting changes have been criticised strongly by the TUC (Risks 710), including a detailed 2015 rebuttal of the approach in the journal Occupational Medicine (Risks 697).
Ÿ Post Implementation Review of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, HSE, 2018. Environmental Health News.
Prison officers across the country will be equipped with incapacitant spray to help keep them safe and maintain order, prisons minister Rory Stewart has announced. The news, which has been welcomed by the prison officers’ union POA, “will ensure every prison officer in the adult male estate is equipped with PAVA - a synthetic pepper spray which temporarily incapacitates those it is sprayed upon,” the government said. Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “Prison officers’ ability to keep control of prisons, and the chaotic individuals within them, is vital to ensuring everyone’s safety. Violent individuals are as much of a danger to other prisoners as they are to prison officers. Most prisoners want to keep out of trouble and see the prison authorities given the means to keep control, so that they can focus on rehabilitation.” The minister added: “Safer prisons means dealing effectively with a dangerous minority, while allowing more offenders into education and work and reducing the likelihood of them reoffending.” POA national chair Mark Fairhurst commented: “The roll out of PAVA spray to frontline staff is a massive success for the POA and vindicates the actions of our members on 14 September 2018 [Risks 867]. When violence against staff is at an unprecedented level and we are expected to work in the most hostile and violent workplace in Western Europe, we naturally welcome the introduction of a vital resource to keep staff and prisoners safe.”
British Airways Avionic Engineering Limited has been fined for failing to assess the risk to workers from vibration. Cardiff Crown Court heard how people working at the company were exposed to vibration from use of a wet blasting cabinet and vibrating hand tools. It was not until late in 2013 that action was taken by the company to assess and reduce vibration risk, despite the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations having been in force since July 2005. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company failed in their duty to recognise and properly assess the risk from hand arm vibration at their facility in Talbot Green, South Wales. British Airways Avionic Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,297.57. HSE inspector Helen Turner said: “This was a case of the company failing to identify the risk from hand arm vibration, which is a recognised health risk with potentially disabling consequences.” She added: “Unless vibration is identified and properly assessed, an employer won’t know the level of risk, and whether action is needed to protect workers. It is very important that people exposed to hand arm vibration at work are informed of the symptoms of early exposure and given opportunities to discuss their health so that they can be protected from serious hand arm vibration syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome.”
This year National Inspection Day falls on Wednesday 24 October, the middle of European Health and Safety Week. The TUC is urging union health and safety representatives to inspect their workplace on that day. This could be a general inspection, or a topic-specific inspection on issues like fire safety, shiftworking or short-and long-term health risks.
Migrant workers dying of horrific dust-related lung diseases are struggling to pay for medical treatment or to raise enough money to cover their funeral costs. More than 600 workers from Hunan province in central China are seeking money for medical care and to support their families – a reflection of the forgotten human cost of turning Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, from a sleepy fishing village into a city with a gross domestic product of US$338 billion in 2017. Migrant workers, who number about 287 million across China, were taken on to drill deep holes into the silica-rich granite under the city to prepare the foundations for its modern buildings. Since the 1990s, labourers from Hunan have flocked to cities including Shenzhen to pick up drilling work for relatively high wages, but in the 2000s many began falling ill and dying. China’s most widespread occupational illness, pneumoconiosis or dust-related lung scarring, is commonly found among coal miners but is suffered by an estimated 6 million-plus Chinese migrant workers, according to Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a Beijing-based charity dedicated to helping them. Data from the Chinese public health ministry shows that pneumoconiosis accounted for 22,701 of the 26,756 new occupational illness cases it recorded in 2017. “A lot of them got ill with pneumoconiosis simply because they had been breathing in dust all day every day with no protection,” said Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. But he said many cases went uncompensated. “A lot of these guys simply do not have any documentary evidence,” he said. “Some have work cards dating back to the 1990s, but with occupational hazard illness you are supposed to file a claim within a year after contracting the disease. So the legal procedures that are available are really not much use to them… The only option is to [petition] the very rich and developed city of Shenzhen and hope the government will do the right thing.” He added: “It’s sad to say that many [poorer] local governments are just waiting for them to die and hope the problem will be resolved that way.”
The Europe-wide trade union body ETUC has welcomed a new diesel exhaust fumes exposure standard. It says 3.6 million workers in the EU are at risk of exposures, adding the new European occupational exposure limit will prevent at least 6,000 deaths per year from lung cancer. Esther Lynch, ETUC’s confederal secretary, said the new standard was in response to a major awareness and lobbying effort by workers and their trade unions. “Exposure to diesel exhaust is a significant workplace killer. Unfortunately many employers see diesel exposure as being something they can do nothing about. This is not the case and unions will work with employers to ensure that these legally binding limits are complied with,” she said. The compromise agreed on diesel engines exhaust emission (DEEE) means exposures will be subject to the more stringent requirements of the carcinogens and mutagens directive. A binding occupational exposure limit (BOEL) will be set at 0.05 mg/m³, with a transition period of two years for most jobs and an additional five years for underground mining and tunnel construction. ETUC’s Esther Lynch said “the compromise is a victory for the European trade union movement. It is a step forward in our long-standing and on-going battle for eliminating work-related cancers but existing EU legislation still needs many improvements. One of the important challenges is to include reprotoxic substances. We urge the Commission to propose a legislative initiative in 2019”. In 2017, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) recommended a much more stringent diesel exhaust standard of 0.02mg/m3.
A gas pipeline explosion at the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) Bhilai steel plant in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh on 9 October has killed at least 12 workers, with several others suffering life-threating burns. Global union federation IndustriALL said the tragedy “is yet another fatal accident in the Bhilai steel plant, exposing the safety crisis at Indian public sector steel plants.” According to official reports, the blast occurred at around 10.30am on 9 October, as maintenance work was underway in the gas pipe line of Coke Oven Battery Complex No 11. About 23 employees were working in the area at the time of the blast. The bodies of nine employees who died on the spot were burnt beyond recognition. Employees’ families are demanding that DNA testing should be done to identify the bodies. Three employees later died in hospital. IndustriALL said the Bhilai steel plant “has a deplorable safety record - one worker died on each day in consecutive accidents on the 8, 9 and 10 May 2018. The management till this day has not implemented the safety committee’s recommendation, which was submitted after another major accident in 2014.” It added that since 2014 an estimated 31 workers have been killed in the plant. Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL’s South Asia regional secretary, said: “It is appalling that management’s negligence continues to claim workers’ lives in one of the premier steel manufacturing plants in India. This is a public sector undertaking and the government should take strong measures to ensure safety for workers.”
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