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Diesel exhaust is one of the biggest workplace killers, the TUC has said, but has warned the UK is failing to take the action necessary to protect workers. The union body cites official figures putting the toll from diesel-fume related cancers alone at 800 each year, although studies have indicated the real figure could be considerably higher (Risks 635). According to the TUC, UK safety regulations fail to recognise diesel exhaust as a cause of occupational cancers – a designation which has now been recognised by the European Commission, along with a new occupational exposure limit (Risks 871). Commenting on the UK’s lack of action on the dangers, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “At the moment, the level of awareness about the dangers of diesel fuel is appalling, and any enforcement action is rare.” He added that “trade unions need to ensure that their employers take action to remove or reduce the risk from diesel exhaust to the lowest level possible, regardless of any limit. That is why the TUC has published a guide to diesel exhaust that highlights the practical and simple steps that your employer can take to protect their workers.” The guide “gives a clear and simple message to all trade union health and safety representatives. If you can see or smell diesel exhaust emissions in your workplace then you have a problem and your employer needs to sort it.” In addition to cancers, diesel exhaust emission exposures can cause heart, lung and other diseases.
Ÿ TUC news release and Diesel exhaust in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, October 2018.
The number of people working night shifts has increased by more than 150,000 over the past five years, a TUC analysis of official figures has revealed. The union body says the number working nights now stands at more than 3 million workers – or one in nine of the total UK workforce. TUC’s Scott Gilfillan, in a blog posting, commented: “That’s why we want employers to consider the impact of night work on staff, and make sure their workers are treated fairly. And we’re clear that decisions to extend night working should always involve talks with unions.” He said one pressing reason for action is the “negative health impacts include heightened risks of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and depression.” Working nights has also been linked to breast cancer (Risks 869), with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimating the annual toll at over 500 deaths each year. According to the TUC analysis, women accounted for two-thirds of the rise in night working since 2013, many in caring professions, with 101,000 more working at night than five years ago and the total now at 1,247,000 women working nights. Commenting on the new figures, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Whether its nurses looking after patients or taxi drivers getting people home safely, we all depend on Britain’s army of night-workers. Night work is hard and can disrupt family life. So, we should show our appreciation for the sacrifices night workers make by ensuring they have good rights and protections at work.” She added: “Employers must play fair and play safe, or public safety will be put at risk and the families of night workers will suffer.”
Ÿ TUC news release and analysis. TUC blog. HSE webpage on shiftwork and breast cancer risk. The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain – Breast cancer, RR852, HSE, December 2012.
Global logistics giant UPS could face industrial action in the new year in an escalating row over drivers denied access to night-time toilet facilities at its depots. Unite said about 350 HGV drivers were not allowed to use toilets at some of UPS’s 50 depots if they turn up with deliveries during the night. The union dismissed UPS bosses’ alleged security argument for the nocturnal ban as ‘spurious and mean-spirited’, as drivers then have to search out alternative facilities in the dead of night. Unite national officer for road transport and logistics Matt Draper said: “For the last year Unite has been pressing the UPS management to show a little humanity and make toilets available for the drivers who arrive at their depots late at night. UPS is a global logistics player, operating in some 200 countries, and should be more than able to sort out this wee problem before it causes big reputational damage.” He added: “This nocturnal ban affects about 350 ‘feeder’ drivers who deliver parcels and other packages between UPS depots in the UK, as well as the agency drivers UPS use at night time. During the day, there is no problem as the toilets are open.” A year ago, Unite won a long–running campaign for the right of delivery drivers to use an employer’s toilets while conducting deliveries (Risks 825). “We believe that we have a very strong case following last year’s change in the regulations and is a matter that may be of great interest to the Health and Safety Executive as the welfare regulations appear to have been flouted by UPS,” Draper said. “If we can’t break this impasse and a satisfactory toilet regime is not introduced, we will consider balloting for industrial action which would commence in the new year.”
Ÿ Unite Live.
BT managers’ union Prospect has warned the telecoms giant is creating “a perfect storm of stress and anxiety” among members by rolling out fundamental jobs restructuring without first agreeing the related changes to pay, terms and conditions with the union. In a letter to members, Prospect national secretary Philippa Childs stated any change to contracts of employment under the BT People Framework exercise has to be agreed, either individually or collectively, with the affected person. Childs noted: “We’ve made it clear to BT that by proceeding with restructuring ahead of any agreement on pay and terms and conditions they’ve created a perfect storm of stress and anxiety for managers and professionals. People are unsure whether they will have a role in the future shape of the organisation and uncertain about what terms and conditions will be associated with any roles that they are applying for or being offered.” Childs added: “BT has agreed a timeline through to the second week of November to resolve the outstanding matters relating to terms and conditions. At this point Prospect will review the progress that has been made and consult with members on next steps.” In France, a mismanaged restructuring programme at France Telecom led to a spate of suicides in managers and a national scandal (Risks 854). The former chief executive of the company and six other managers are to stand trial, accused by prosecutors of presided over a management culture that led to at least 19 employees killing themselves. The executives are accused of “moral harassment”.
A veteran worker at Amnesty International killed himself after complaining of a lack of support from management, the union Unite has said. In a statement, the union’s Amnesty branch noted “popular and highly-respected colleague” Gaëtan Mootoo, who worked out of the London office, took his own life at Amnesty International’s Paris office on 25 May 2018, leaving a note that stated he had not received the support from the organisation he had requested. Since then, Unite – which represents hundreds of Amnesty staff in offices around the world - has continued to insist that the circumstances surrounding Gaëtan’s death be fully investigated, that staff be involved in this investigation and that management address Amnesty’s workplace culture. An internal report identified a “combination of failures that certainly affected him. The cumulative effect of all the factors we analysed caused suffering.” According to the union, the report’s critical conclusions reflect the experience of many union members. “The facts exposed in the report go in line with the findings of a recent internal survey indicating that around 30 per cent of respondents (employed by Amnesty's International Secretariat) had been ‘badly treated or bullied at work since January 2017’. It is a tragedy that it has taken the death of a colleague to bring such issues to light,” the union branch noted. It is asking Amnesty secretary general Kumi Naidoo “to take, together with Unite the union, concrete steps in improving staff wellbeing and management accountability. Without this it is impossible to create a safe and healthy workplace where employee ill-treatment is never tolerated.” The statement concludes: “Amnesty International’s board and senior leadership team must ensure that the negative top-down management style within the organisation is eradicated and that the human rights standards we promote outside of the organisation are applied internally. These would be a fitting tribute to Gaëtan’s memory.” Amnesty intern, Roz McGregor, 28, from London, killed herself five weeks after Gaëtan’s death, prompting the agency to launch an independent inquiry. Both worked for Amnesty’s international secretariat in London. McGregor’s family expressed concerns that Amnesty failed to respond adequately when she developed “acute anxiety” during her five months at its Geneva office.
The head of animal welfare charity RCPCA has promised action to address high levels of bullying and harassment in the organisation. New chief executive Chris Sherwood pledged to tackle his organisation’s toxic culture, revealed in a major survey undertaken by Unite. Sherwood told Third Sector magazine: “There is absolutely no place for bullying of any nature within the RSPCA.” He also confirmed that the RSPCA is committed to establishing a wellbeing action group “which will work with Unite to review all relevant policies and explore fresh ways to ensure that anyone can raise a concern and access support.” The confidential survey undertaken by Unite received responses from 622 RSPCA staff. It found that almost one in three staff (29.3 per cent) had experienced some degree of bullying in the previous 12 months. In total 37 per cent of staff had witnessed someone being bullied in the past year. Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents believed that bullying was a serious or very serious problem within the organisation. The most likely source of bullying was senior managers (38 per cent). Unite national officer for the charity and voluntary sector Siobhan Endean said: “Unite welcomes Chris Sherwood’s commitment to tackle the culture of bullying and harassment which is deeply ingrained in the RSPCA’s culture. It is essential that the commitment to work with Unite to develop a long-term dignity at work strategy is fully undertaken as this is essential to tackle the problems exposed by the workforce.” She added: “Unite’s reps at the RSPCA should be congratulated on their hard work at putting together the comprehensive survey, which is now acting as a catalyst to drive forward much needed organisational change.”
The union Prospect has welcomed a decision of the House of Commons Commission to implement the recommendations of the independent report by Dame Laura Cox into bullying and harassment of staff in parliament (Risks 871). The decision by the Commission, which is responsible for administration, services and maintenance in the House of Commons, was announced in an online statement. “Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, or in any area of public life. The persistence of this problem has rightly called into question the culture and leadership of the House of Commons,” it said. “We acknowledge that we have a proactive role to play in improving the culture of the House Service, and therefore are resolved to ensure that Dame Laura Cox’s report marks the moment where we commit to swift and lasting change.” Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham responded: “This is a long overdue and very welcome decision that is a vital step in rebuilding trust between parliament and the staff who work there. Parliament may write our employment law but it has certainly not led the way on employment practices and it is disappointing that it has taken such public pressure to drag it into the 21st Century.” He added: “Prospect look forward to working with the parliamentary authorities to implement these recommendations and make parliament a safer and happier workplace for our members.”
The union Unite has said it is ‘extremely disappointed’ the government has rejected a call from MPs for a maximum working temperature. The Environmental Select Committee’s July 2018 report, ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’, called on the government to “consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort” (Risks 860). However, in its response to the report, the government stated: “The government has no plans to bring forward proposals to set a maximum permitted working temperature as there is an existing legal obligation on employers under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.” It added: “It is the employer’s duty to determine, in consultation with their workforce, what is ‘reasonable comfort’ and to take action accordingly.” Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “This shows the arrogance of government and just how out of touch the Tories are with the lives of ordinary workers, many of whom suffered extreme heat distress while at work this summer. The government received an entirely reasonable report from a cross party group of MPs and they just dismissed it out of hand. The government’s inaction is giving a green light to the cowboys who ignore workers’ welfare.” The Unite officer added: “By failing to take action the government is making life more difficult for the good employers who try to do the right thing and look after the welfare of workers as they fear they are being placed at a commercial disadvantage. Construction and all workers deserve to be treated better than this, there need to be clear enforceable regulations ensuring that employers take responsibility for workers’ welfare in all forms of extreme weather.”
Railway unions have called for urgent action to prevent train operator ScotRail from breaking an agreement not to dump human waste on Scotland’s railway tracks. A deal between the unions and the Scottish government ended the dangerous and disgusting practice in December 2017, but a shake-up in the ScotRail fleet is set to see its return. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said a senior ScotRail staff member has confirmed that only one of the 10 High Speed Trains expected to be in service by December 2018 will be fitted with a retention tank for human waste. He has written to the company’s managing director, Alex Hynes, and the Scottish government transport secretary, Michael Matheson, calling for urgent action on the issue and highlighting the “serious health risks” posed. Prior to the agreement coming into force the trains had toilets that discharged waste on to the tracks. The trains were then upgraded with Scottish government funding. However delays in the refurbishment programme now means unmodified models – which empty waste on to the tracks – are set to be returned to service. RMT’s Mick Cash said: “This disgraceful and retrograde step must be halted now and the union will take whatever action is required to hold ScotRail to their agreement with the union. One minute ScotRail are bragging about their aim to operate the most modern railway in the world and the next they are back to spraying track workers with human waste.” TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also condemned the ScotRail plan. “Our union warned months ago that vintage High Speed Trains weren’t fit to be brought into service,” he said. “Our members within ScotRail engineering warned that the problems with the toilets were going to need more than a bit of spit and duct tape to fix. But ScotRail management didn’t listen and pressed ahead with their plans to bring unrefurbished trains into operation.” He added: “We must bring this unhygienic and disgusting practice to an early end as no one should be working surrounded by excrement.”
CWU area safety reps (ASRs) and their management counterparts are to carry out a series of ‘spot-checks’ at Royal Mail delivery units around the country, as the union and the business jointly launch a safety campaign targeting slips, trips and falls on 5 November. “This initiative will focus on four key areas that can reduce risk of injury,” said CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce. “It’s about firstly working out how best to prepare, identifying what the potential hazards are, making sure that the walk risk assessments and dynamic risk assessments are carried out, and fully complying with the appropriate safe system of work.” He concluded: “It’s a busy time for our area safety reps in Royal Mail presently as we also launched a joint Dog Safety High Impact Units campaign last month and our ASRs are doing a great job concentrating on these key issues that cause high injury numbers amongst our members.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has vowed to continue its Justice for Injured Workers Campaign after MPs pushed through ‘unfair and unnecessary’ changes in the government’s Civil Liability Bill. The government’s proposal doubles to £2,000 the threshold for employer liability cases taken in the small claims court, a move strongly opposed by the union. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said the union was “very disappointed” that MPs had approved “unfair and unnecessary measures that will significantly restrict access to justice for injured workers,” saying the only beneficiaries would be “unscrupulous employers and claims management companies.” He said the union campaign would continue as the changes have still to be put into law. “We will be seeking a vote of the whole House of Commons and asking MPs to support our campaign to stop the government forcing more injured workers into the small claims court, where the costs of legal representation cannot be recovered from negligent employers. We want the government to accept the reasonable and fair compromise of raising the threshold to £1,500.” The union leader added: “Access to justice is a fundamental right for everyone, which helps ensure the rule of law as passed by parliament is observed. We will not stand idly by while the government restricts access to justice for injured workers.”
The first ever health service violence reduction strategy is to be introduced, the government has said. Secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock said the new, ‘zero-tolerance’ approach aims to protect the NHS workforce against deliberate violence and aggression from patients, their families and the public, and to ensure offenders are punished quickly and effectively. The move comes as the most recent NHS staff survey showed that more than 15 per cent of NHS employees have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the last 12 months – the highest figure for five years. The increase followed the axing last year of NHS Protect, which had collated data on violence, in a move strongly criticised by health unions (Risks 845). The government said the new strategy will allow staff to more easily record assaults and other incidents of abuse or harassment. Trusts will be expected to ensure every incident is investigated in full and lessons used to protect staff from future incidents. The government is also drawing up plans for violence and abuse data from across the NHS to be reported nationally. The new plans follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which became law this year and will see the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker double from six months to a year (Risks 867). Health service union UNISON welcomed the new strategy. The union’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said: “NHS staff spend their working days caring and saving lives, and their safety should be paramount. No one should be abused, threatened or attacked at work ‒ especially when all they’re trying to do is help people.” She added: “It is encouraging that the government has listened to unions and agreed to review measures in place to ensure staff safety. This includes a more joined-up approach between the NHS, police and CPS. Anyone who threatens or abuses NHS staff should be prosecuted under the new law protecting health care workers.”
Thousands of former miners and other manual workers may soon qualify for state compensation for a debilitating hand condition caused by their jobs. After a long delay, the Chancellor’s autumn statement this week included provision for Dupuytren’s contracture to be added to the list of prescribed diseases qualifying for industrial injuries benefits. A policy document accompanying Philip Hammond’s 29 October autumn statement noted: “Dupuytren’s contracture will be added to the existing list of over 70 prescribed diseases for which Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit is payable, as recommended by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. Eligible claimants are expected to gain, on average, over £1,200 per year.” The TUC and mining union NUM had campaigned for the move (Risks 839). Dupuytren’s is a condition in which the fingers gradually curl over towards the palm, and which in extreme cases can lead to amputation. It occurs in workers using tools like spades and shovels, or hand-held vibrating tools. The official recognition comes more than four years after the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) submitted its report to the work and pensions secretary recommending the condition should be recognised as an industrial disease.
Construction union Unite is calling on construction employers to ‘up their game’ to root out fake Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, warning the practice is putting site workers at risk. The union was speaking out after a fake CSCS card seller was jailed for fraud. Unite said the existence of fake cards is “primarily a result of the failure of employers to properly check CSCS cards when workers begin work.” It noted all new CSCS cards contain a microchip which it makes it easy for employers to check if they are genuine. Unite national officer Bernard McAulay said: “Construction workers recognise the importance of the CSCS card and it is a major factor in helping to improve standards and competency in the industry.” He added: “To ensure that the CSCS card remains the gold standard, employers need to up their game and ensure that all cards are checked electronically. The employers’ failure to do this is allowing the spivs and fraudsters to flourish. Allowing unqualified workers damages productivity and potentially the safety of all workers on that site.” Online trader Andrew Weeks was sentenced at Warwick Crown Court last month for offences under the Fraud Act. An investigation by Warwickshire County Council Trading Standards discovered he was manufacturing the fake cards at his printing firm and selling them online. Weeks was sentenced to three years and eight months in jail after pleading guilty to the manufacture of fake documents. The investigation was supported with information from the Construction Industry Training Board and a number of card schemes including the Construction Skills Certification Scheme and the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS). Steve Brawley, chief executive at ECS said: “Fraudsters on construction sites present a danger to themselves and others and we need to work together to stamp this activity out.”
A waste and recycling company director has been jailed after the death of a 39-year-old worker eight years ago. Liverpool Crown Court heard how Polish national Zbigniew Galka died while working at Gaskells Waste Services in Bootle on 23 December 2010. He was crushed while clearing a blockage on a baling machine, suffering haemorrhaging, shock and severe traumatic injuries to both legs. He died on his way to hospital. At Liverpool Crown Court, Jonathan Gaskell, 47, admitted a criminal breach of health and safety law and was jailed for eight months. A joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Merseyside Police found Mr Galka died trying to fix a machine which compresses waste material into small bales. The machine’s safety system had been disabled two months earlier. Gaskell’s (North West) Limited, which the prosecution said had a “patch it up and keep it running approach”, also pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay costs of £99,886.57. HSE inspector Phil Redman commented: “A great deal of time has passed since his tragic passing and we would like to publicly thank Zbigniew’s family for their patience throughout this complex investigation. This incident was completely avoidable and it is inconceivable that Gaskells continued to operate the same dangerous machine in the way it did for as long as five years after this incident.” He added: “Companies should be aware that HSE will not accept the defeating of safety systems in order to maintain production and will not hesitate to take action against those that fall below the required standards.”
A Leeds garden shed manufacturing company has received a six figure fine for criminal safety offences after a worker was killed. Leeds Magistrates' Court heard how, on 23 July 2012 sawmill worker Andrew Hanshaw, a 45-year-old Woodlands Homecare Ltd employee, was moving wood offcuts when he was struck by a side loader forklift truck (FLT) that had been unloading a delivery wagon. He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary where he was declared dead an hour later. Woodlands Homecare Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of workplace safety law and was fined £233,334 with £21,620 costs. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Rachel Brittain commented: This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement the findings of their own transport plan.” HSE says vehicles at work are a major cause of fatal and major injuries. It says every year there are over 5,000 incidents involving transport in the workplace, with about 50 of these resulting in people being killed. Hundreds more are killed each year in work-related road traffic accidents on the highways.
A Carlisle farm partnership has been fined £100,000 after a worker died when he was hit by a tractor. Labourer Stephen Toppin, 57, suffered fatal head injuries at Wragmire Bank, near Cumwhinton, Carlisle, in January last year. At Carlisle Crown Court, JS Wood and Son admitted a criminal health and safety breach. The court heard the teenage tractor driver was “not in any way at fault” for the tragedy. The partnership accepted failing to ensure the workplace “was organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles could circulate in a safe manner.” Stephen Toppin, whose main job was to rear calves, stepped out of a livestock shed into the path of the tractor, which was towing a straw-laden trailer as it travelled through a narrow passageway which ran between buildings on the dairy farm. Prosecutor David Temkin told the court: “The defendant hadn't undertaken any - or any proper - workplace transport risk assessment.” The court heard that had such an assessment been done, it would have identified the calf shed exits led directly into the main traffic route. It would also have taken into account Mr Toppin being 70 per cent deaf and that he wore a hearing aid, the prosecutor said. JS Wood and Son had since complied “entirely” with improvement notices issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), introducing speed limits and warning signs, the court was told. In addition to the fine, JS Wood & Son was also ordered to pay £7,310.80 costs. HSE inspector Matthew Tinsley said: “All businesses, including farms, should recognise the risk that moving vehicles present to workers and put in place control measures to prevent or reduce those risks. These measures can include using railings, segregated vehicle and pedestrian routes, speed limits and warning signs. Taking simple steps such as these can help to prevent tragic accidents such as this.”
More employer and state commitment to worker representation on health and safety issues is ‘critical’ to the protection of coal miners, an international study has found. Researchers from Cardiff University set out to examine how workers are represented on health and safety issues in countries with differing economic profiles. The study, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), examined practices in mines in Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia and South Africa. The researchers found “a clear regulatory steer, managerial commitment and well trained and informed health and safety representatives, supported by strong workplace trade union organisation, were critical to the effectiveness of the arrangements for worker representation.” The researchers added that their study “suggests that global regulatory bodies, such as the International Labour Organisation and global workers’ organisations, also have an essential role. Support from these bodies is important to ensure that miners’ representation and consultation on safety and health remain as central to the implementation of preventative strategies for safety and health in mining as they have been in the history of mining in advanced market economies.” Richard Jones, IOSH’s head of policy, said: “This research supports the principle that effective worker involvement can help bring health and safety improvement. But, importantly, this doesn’t happen in isolation. It needs effective regulation and management commitment, together with access to good training and protection of contractors.” The ILO estimates that although mining only accounts for one per cent of the global workforce, it is responsible for about eight per cent of fatalities at work.
Ÿ IOSH news release. Representing miners in arrangements for safety and health in coal mining: a global perspective, IOSH, 2018. Research summary. Volume 1: A comparative analysis of findings from five countries. Volume 2: Case studies in five countries.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened Istanbul’s third airport on 29 October amid a labour safety dispute that has led to the jailing and criminal investigation of 31 workers, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. Union representatives told HRW that an unrevealed number of workers who joined the protest were promptly dismissed from their jobs and that the airport construction site is being heavily policed to prevent any further demonstrations (Risks 869). “Behind the glass and steel of President Erdogan’s newest mega-project, 30 construction workers and a union leader are sitting in jail for protesting poor working conditions,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW’s Turkey director. “The jailed workers should be freed, the criminal investigations against them and many others dropped, and workers unfairly fired for protesting should get their jobs back.” Representatives of Health and Safety Labour Watch Turkey (İşçi Sağlığı ve İş Güvenliği Meclisi, İSİG), a non-governmental group, and the union Dev Yapı-İş told HRW there have been at least 38 confirmed workplace deaths at the airport building site over three years. They said they suspect the figure may be much higher because of underreporting of deaths and accidents, and a lack of measures to ensure their thorough and effective investigation. “The government advertises Istanbul’s new airport as the biggest in the world, but the prestige project has been marred by reports of accidents and arrests of protesting workers,” Sinclair-Webb said. “It is imperative for the authorities to improve working conditions and investigate deaths and injuries rather than using the police and courts to stifle workers’ demands.”
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