|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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a new accident book – and it includes changes of crucial importance for the work of safety reps. The new version confirms safety representatives must have access to information on work injuries, regardless the requirements of the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). In May this year, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson warned that some employers were ‘worryingly’ – and wrongly – misinterpreting the law to restrict the information going to union safety reps. He said the new data protection rules did not affect the employers’ existing duties to provide information to union representatives under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations (Risks 850). Now the 2018 GDPR-compliant edition of the HSE Accident Book has been published by TSO and emphasises the rights of safety reps to access relevant information. It states: “Employers must disclose the personal information and details of the accident to safety representatives and/or representatives of employee safety, if the person ticks the tick box and signs. If the injured person does not consent to the disclosure of this personal information, you must anonymise the information before disclosing it to safety representatives and/or representatives of employee safety. The arrangements to pass on this information should be discussed between employers, employees and/or their representatives. The aim should be to make the best use of this (and other information) to meet health and safety objectives.” According to Hugh Robertson, the updated accident book “shows that there is no doubt that union health and safety representatives are entitled to details of any accidents recorded in the accident book, and that employees should be asked to consent to the information being passed on (although they have the right to ask that their personal information is not revealed).” But he warns that generic and often cheaper versions of the accident book are used by many employers. He advises that safety reps should not allow employers to use GDPR to stop them “getting the information they need,” adding that reps should immediately “check your accident book and make sure that, whoever has published it, there is a tick box asking for consent to give the information to safety representatives.”
Almost two-thirds of workers who claim compensation successfully for needlestick injuries are cleaners – mainly because the needles weren’t correctly disposed of, the health service union UNISON has revealed. “These figures are a timely reminder of the risks to health and safety posed by used needlesticks, and how they can affect staff in all sectors, and not just clinical staff,” said the union’s assistant national safety officer Robert Baughan. A UNISON analysis of nearly 100 successful compensation claims for needlestick injuries lodged by union members over a five year period showed that 62 per cent came from cleaning staff across all sectors, including health, social care, education and local government. Threequarters of the injuries came from incorrectly sorted needlesticks, or ones that weren’t disposed of correctly. The rest came from discarded needles. None of the needlesticks concerned were safety devices. Injuries from used needlesticks and other ‘sharps’ like scalpels can lead to infection by blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. Post-exposure treatments have improved over the years, which has reduced the risk of exposure to these viruses becoming life-threatening - but they have not eliminated it. And the treatments, normally lasting 28 days, are stressful and often have unpleasant side effects such as tiredness, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. UNISON’s Robert Baughan said the figures also “show the importance of employers adopting safe working practices, particularly the use and disposal of safety needlestick devices.”
Public services union UNISON has called for action from the Scottish government to “end the aggro” faced by council and NHS workers. The union’s 2018 survey of violence at work revealed assaults on public service workers are running at more than 40,000 incidents for the third successive year. There were 40,568 violent incidents in total reported by Scottish councils, NHS boards and other public services in the most recent year – on top of 42,241 last year and 41,166 in the 2016 survey. The figures are double the number reported in UNISON’s first survey of violence on public workers in 2006. Scott Donohoe, UNISON health and safety committee chair, said: “The massive scale of violence against public service workers – and those in the community and voluntary sector – has been at least partially revealed, with more than 40,000 reported assaults each year for the last three years.” He added: “Community and voluntary sector employers should sign up to the UNISON Violence at Work Charter which aims to support staff who often face violence when providing essential and undervalued caring services. We support the extension of legislation covering violence at work to cover all workers engaged in delivering public services – and not just the emergency services. The Scottish government must move to address this issue. We now need action by employers and stronger legislation, regulation and oversight by government to end the aggro. It really isn’t ‘part of the job’.”
Civil service union PCS is to launch a one-day sexual harassment awareness course in the wake of ‘shocking’ reports exposing the culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation across the civil service. In conjunction with TUC Education, the union has designed the workshop to “raise awareness among all union reps, and give them the confidence and tools to challenge management where change is not forthcoming.” It says the courses, most of which will run in the union’s regional offices, may also be offered to union branches. The union says workplace bullying and harassment “is a divisive issue and is a culture which mainly comes from the top. Well-organised workplaces can expose the problem and collectively work towards finding a solution to this problem by challenging bad management working practices, campaign for proper child and carer friendly policies and proper career and promotion opportunities.” PCS says it has been raising at Cabinet Office level the need for a “robust framework policy” on dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, and “will continue to argue for full trade union involvement in challenging this issue.”
Union members working in the Houses of Parliament may have “little other choice” but to resort to action unless there is a tough response to the widespread bullying and sexual harassment revealed by a just-published probe, the union representing senior civil servants has warned. Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary of the FDA, which represents top civil servants, said staff had been “pushed to breaking point.” An independent report from High Court judge Dame Laura Cox lifted the lid on a toxic environment in Westminster earlier this month (Risks 871). Calling for immediate action on the report’s recommendations, Leversidge said: “Industrial action is always a last resort and nobody would take the decision lightly, especially Commons staff, who are immensely loyal to parliament.” Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham, whose union also represents parliamentary staff, has written to the leaders of all parties at Westminster about bullying and harassment of staff. The letter stressed the need for effective leadership to put the wellbeing of staff ahead of political interests or personal agendas. “Our members are proud of the work that they do - but feel deeply let down by the institution they work for and contribute so much to,” the letter notes. “Most MPs are honourable people and treat our members with the dignity and respect that they deserve. However there are deep seated cultural and systemic matters which need to be addressed if the intolerable behaviours some of our members have been subject to are to be exposed and eradicated.” Prospect said it will share all responses with members.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is warning ministers that their proposals to force more injured workers through the small claims court could overwhelm the compensation system. Government proposals in the Civil Liability Bill would force more injured workers through the small claims court, by doubling to £2,000 the value of claims referred by this route. Usdaw says ministers have rejected a “reasonable and fair compromise of raising the threshold to £1,500, which is backed the independent cross-party Justice Select Committee.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “The small claims court is designed to settle relatively straightforward disputes like poor service, faulty products and landlord repair. The problem with most employer liability cases is that they often involve complex legal arguments or multiple defendants, which the small claims courts were just simply not designed to deal with. Our fear is that the courts will be clogged up with cases where the claimant applies for the case to be reallocated.” He added: “We have real concerns about the impact of the government’s proposals on injured workers being unrepresented in the small claims court because the costs cannot be recovered from negligent employers.”
The government must act in light of new Office for National Statistics (OHS) figures revealing a further increase in shoplifting in England and Wales in the year to June 2018. The union says these police-recorded reports confirm an upward trend that has seen a 32 per cent increase over the last decade. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, so the rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying for our members. The evidence from retailers, police and our own survey of shopworkers all show a disturbing increase in retail crime. This cannot be allowed to continue, action must be taken.” He added: “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers, there needs to be government action to protect them. The police must have the resources from government to respond to incidents and investigate shop thefts. We want the government to legislate for stiffer sentences for the thugs that attack shopworkers. We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shopworkers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.”
Civil service, science and specialists’ union Prospect has warned that a combination of workplace hazards, inadequate enforcement and difficulty getting time off for union safety training are worrying commonplace. The union’s analysis of aggregated data provided by Prospect reps to the TUC’s latest biennial survey “reveals that stress is of particular concern and, despite the considerable expertise of our health and safety reps, many employers fail to effectively engage with them when making decisions about health and safety.” The union analysis found almost one in 10 (9 per cent) Prospect respondents said their employer had not carried out a risk assessment to cover the workers they represent. Of the 83 per cent who said their employer had carried out an assessment - the remaining 8 per cent were unsure – less than a third were satisfied with the level of involvement either they or other health and safety reps had in the process. When it came to enforcement, 38 per cent of Prospect reps said their workplace had been visited by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, environmental health officer or other official safety inspectorate in the last 12 months. But nearly half (47 per cent) said that, as far as they knew, an inspector had never called at their workplace. The survey also revealed worrying trends on union safety reps’ rights. “Nearly half of Prospect respondents said that at some point they had been unable to attend health and safety rep training for various reasons,” the union notes. “Worryingly, 25 per cent of these people said that this was because management had refused time-off. This is despite health and safety reps being entitled to as much time off with pay as is necessary to fulfil their functions. A further 56 per cent said could not attend a course because they were too busy, yet employers need to take account of a health and safety reps’ functions when considering their usual workload.”
The government has continued to cut firefighter jobs in England, the firefighters’ union FBU has said, despite the service dealing with more incidents, more fires, and more fire deaths. Official Home Office figures show since 2009, the number of firefighters in England has decreased by 23 per cent. As of 31 March 2018, there were 32,340 full-time equivalent firefighters, with 421 firefighter jobs having been lost over the past year. The FBU said this 1 per cent decrease continues the downward trend in the number of firefighters on the front line. The worst cuts have been in emergency fire controls, which have seen 30 per cent of jobs go in a decade. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This Tory government needs to change course and stop the callous cuts, not just in the fire service, but in all areas of public life. It is appalling that, despite fine words about public safety, ministers continue to slash funding to our fire and rescue services. The public has heard recently how essential is the work undertaken by our emergency fire controls. These are life-saving jobs but they require adequate levels of staffing, support and supervision. It is utterly disgusting that they are seen by some as an easy target for making job cuts.” He warned: “There is a deep complacency at the heart of government about the fire service and about public safety.”
A coroner’s warning on the deadly risk posed by toxic cabin air on board aircraft should be a catalyst for a public inquiry, the union Unite has said. The union was speaking out after finding new guidance was issued to coroners in England and Wales, following the unprecedented letter of concern in April this year from the senior coroner in the inquest into the death of Unite member and British Airways cabin crew Matthew Bass (Risks 848). Unite, which is currently taking over 100 legal cases on behalf of cabin crew who have been involved in fume events or suffered ill-health from suspected toxic cabin air, said it understands the guidance has now been issued to coroners. Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This is unprecedented guidance to all coroners in England and Wales and follows the recognition that toxic cabin air may have an impact on the body which leads to ill-health. It now means that all coroners are aware of toxic cabin air and should commit to additional testing when faced with a death involving a frequent flyer who dies in unexplained or complex circumstances. Toxic cabin air is real and is damaging lives. Additional testing will provide a greater understanding of its harmful effects on cabin crew and other frequent flyers, while giving a deceased’s loved ones the answers that they need.” He added: “The new guidance should act as a catalyst for a public inquiry into toxic cabin air which is an issue the airline industry has consistently sought to brush under the carpet. It’s time the airline industry faced up to its responsibilities and dealt with toxic cabin air.”
The use of bodycams by frontline workers on Virgin Trains has resulted in assaults on staff falling by more than half, in what the union RMT has described as a campaign ‘victory’. Following a pilot scheme, Virgin Trains rolled out 275 cameras across the entire network. It said since the roll-out was completed in February 2018, assaults on Virgin Trains staff have fallen month by month, from 20 in March 2018 to 6 in September. Results from a survey revealed that more than 80 per cent of staff felt safer at work while wearing bodycams and nearly 90 per cent would recommend them to colleagues. Research across the rail industry showed that when rail employees at station barriers wore bodycams as part of a trial last year, physical assaults against those wearing the technology fell by almost half (47 per cent) and assaults against all employees fell by 26 per cent. The trial was conducted by the University of Cambridge with five train operators, including Virgin Trains, the British Transport Police (BTP) and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the rail industry. RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “There must be zero tolerance of assaults on rail staff and this is a victory for RMT's campaign to reduce attacks on our members. However, there is still much more to be done and the use of devices such as body worn cameras must be accompanied by proper safeguards to protect staff which don't leave them singled them out for disciplinary action.” But he added: “There is no point bringing in bodycams if there is no one to wear them and that fact alone highlights the dangerous stupidity of companies like Northern and South Western Railway and their plans to axe guards.”
Soaring trading that saw Asos post a £500m rise in sales last year should be reflected in much better conditions for its under pressure warehouse staff, the union GMB has said. The online fashion retailer reported revenue of £2.4bn for the year to 31 August, with profits jumping 28 per cent to a better than expected £102m. Asos chief executive Nick Beighton said: “The potential for our business is huge and we remain focussed on building Asos into the world's number one destination for fashion-loving twenty-somethings.” But the GMB said while the blockbuster sales figures are great for the Asos owners, workers at its giant Barnsley warehouse still face ‘draconian’ working practices and unsatisfactory pay, terms and conditions (Risks 781). GMB organiser Deanne Ferguson said: “This is a real opportunity for Asos to give something back to the local community and the people of Barnsley. We have had a longstanding campaign at the site, calling for Asos to respect their workers and stop the draconian style working practices which seriously affect workers physical and mental health” (Risks 771). She added: “GMB has been present outside Asos in Barnsley for the past three weeks and workers are still complaining of attacks to their terms and conditions, reductions to sick pay, on-site bullying by management and unrealistic targets which shamefully dehumanise the workforce.” She said working conditions desperately need to improve, noting: “We have previously highlighted how an ambulance is called out to the Asos warehouse on average once every nine days. Asos surely don’t want to end up as another Amazon where workers are treated like robots and not people. So over to you Asos, let’s see how much you value your workers whilst we, the GMB union continue to be the true voice for your workers, here in Barnsley.”
Relatives of five African men killed in a Birmingham scrap metal plant in July 2016 have expressed dismay at a lack of answers to questions about how their loved ones died. All five, from The Gambia and Senegal, died when a 15ft concrete wall fell on them at Hawkeswood Metal in the city’s Nechells district (Risks 759). A spokesperson for their families said the two-year plus wait for an inquest, due to commence on 7 November, had ‘taken a toll’ on those left behind. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation is ongoing. West Midlands Police handed over control of the case to HSE on 14 December 2017, suggesting no corporate manslaughter charges would be forthcoming. Alimamo Kinteh Jammeh, 45, Bangally Tunkara Dukureh, 55, Saibo Sumbundu Sillah, 42, and Muhamadou Jagana Jagana, 49, died in the 7 July 2016 incident. The men were all Spanish citizens with dual Gambian nationality. Co-worker Ousmane Kaba Diabi, 39, who was from Senegal, was also killed. The site was closed for six weeks after the incident. Lamin Yaffa, chair of the Gambian Islamic Community Centre, said relatives are frustrated and upset at not knowing what happened to their loved ones. He told the BBC: “It is really hard to say, but sometimes it might be that you feel okay, this is me, I'm a foreigner in this country, is it going to be the same thing as a British man, born and bred in this country...? How long will it take for them to come to a conclusion, to tell the families how their loved ones died? It has taken a toll.” In August, the HSE confirmed its investigation would not be concluded until after the inquest and “any directions from the coroner, and any other relevant information from the inquest, can be taken into account.”
Australia’s national union body ACTU has welcomed a Senate inquiry’s call for a uniform national system of industrial manslaughter laws. The report released by the committee on 17 October also recommends that unions and families be given the right to bring cases under the new laws on behalf of workers. It adds that Australia’s health and safety framework needs to respond to the poor safety outcomes from insecure forms of work, such as labour hire. ACTU said these changes would be a ‘huge step forward for safety at work’ and would ensure that employers are held accountable when their actions threaten or end the lives of working people. ACTU president Michele O’Neil commented: “The families who have lost loved ones to preventable workplace fatalities have worked too hard and waited too long for us to allow this opportunity for change to pass us by. We urgently need national, uniform industrial manslaughter laws.” And ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said: “Everyone has the right to come home safe from work but every year hundreds of people don’t, and in some cases that is because of the disgraceful actions of reckless employers who can’t be held to full account due to the limitations of the legal and regulatory framework. The proposed changes set out in the report would assist in ensuring that such employers are held to account for negligence or carelessness which ends a worker’s life.” Calling on the federal government to introduce the changes immediately, he added: “Big business is using insecure forms of work like labour hire to avoid responsibility for injured workers. We have to change the rules to ensure that workers are safe and that employers do everything they can to ensure that no more families are destroyed by deaths in the workplace.”
A nationwide ban on asbestos introduced in Canada has been welcomed by unions and campaigners, however loopholes that allow some asbestos exports and the exploitation of asbestos tailings have caused alarm. Commenting on the ban, which will come into force on 30 December 2018, Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yussuff said: “We can all breathe easier. The introduction of these regulations in a timely manner is the result of years of advocacy and hard work by people dedicated to safer, healthier workplaces. Today, I celebrate and thank the government for giving the next generation of Canadians a better future, free from the pain and suffering caused by asbestos.” He added: “We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government on the broader whole-of-government strategy to protect Canadians from the harms of asbestos.” However, federal environment minister Catherine McKenna faced criticism in parliament on export loopholes and the decision to exempt the processing of asbestos wastes from the ban, in order to recover magnesium. She responded that the ban was “comprehensive” and added: “There is no impact on human health.” Critics say this is not true. They point out the occupational exposure standard for asbestos to be used on an Alliance Magnesium (AMI) asbestos wastes project, to be run with financial backing from the government, is that favoured by the asbestos industry. It allows workers to be exposed to levels of asbestos ten times greater than is permitted anywhere else in Canada or in the western world. Exposures at even these lower levels are linked to cancer. Internationally acclaimed anti-asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff said the government had “succumbed to vested interests,” adding: “I would give them huge credit for finally moving to ban asbestos... But I'm troubled by the fact that there are these weaknesses and gaps and, if anything, they seem to have gotten worse.” The asbestos wastes project has also received multimillion-dollar financial backing from the provincial government in Quebec. Both the federal and Quebec governments previously supported the province’s asbestos industry.
The chemical industry and trade unions have agreed a future framework to better protect European Union workers from the risks associated with exposure to substances toxic to reproduction. In a joint declaration, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the union federation for the chemical sector IndustriALL Europe, the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG) and the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) call on the European Commission to strengthen the current system of protection of workers’ reproductive health. “Adopting the proposed approach at EU level will benefit both companies and workers across all EU countries,” said Marco Mensink, director general of Cefic. “Maintaining high standards of occupational health and safety is of paramount importance for the chemical industry,” added Emma Argutyan, director general of ECEG. Luc Triangle, general secretary of IndustriALL Europe, added: “This agreement is important because it shows that employers and unions are working together to reduce chemical exposure at work and improve working conditions in all sectors.” According to ETUC confederal secretary Esther Lynch: “This agreement is in line with the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and proves that social dialogue is alive and kicking in Europe and delivering protection for workers’ reproductive health.” The joint declaration is a contribution to the ongoing debate on revising legal requirements for exposure to reprotoxic substances under the EU’s Chemical Agents Directive (CAD) and Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). Reprotoxic substances including some pesticides, solvents and metals can cause fertility and reproductive problems in exposed workers.
Ÿ Joint ETUC-IndustriAll Europe-Cefic-ECEG news release and Joint Declaration, 16 October 2018.
Pregnancy discrimination is widespread in corporate America. Some employers deny expecting mothers promotions or pay raises; others fire them before they can take maternity leave. But for women who work in physically demanding jobs, pregnancy discrimination often can come with even higher stakes. The New York Times reviewed thousands of pages of court and other public records involving workers who said they had suffered miscarriages, gone into premature labour or, in one case, had a stillborn baby after their employers rejected their pleas for assistance — a break from flipping heavy mattresses, lugging large boxes or pushing loaded carts. They worked at a hospital, a post office, an airport, a grocery store, a prison, a fire department, a restaurant, a pharmaceutical company and several hotels. But refusing to accommodate pregnant women is often completely legal in the USA, the paper notes. Under federal law, companies don’t necessarily have to adjust pregnant women’s jobs, even when lighter work is available and their doctors send letters urging a reprieve. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is the only federal law aimed at protecting expecting mothers at work. It is four paragraphs long and 40-years-old. It says that a company has to accommodate pregnant workers’ requests only if it is already doing so for other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” That means that companies that do not give anyone a break have no obligation to do so for pregnant women. In a deregulatory political environment, recent attempts to introduce legislation to protect pregnant women at work, using the same language used in the Americans With Disabilities Act, have gone nowhere.
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