|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.
Warm words won’t fix the ‘growing epidemic’ of work-related stress, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 31 October that show that across Great Britain 15.4 million working days were lost to work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2017/2018 - an increase of nearly 3 million on the previous year and the highest level on record. The new statistics show there were 239,000 new cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety reported over the last year. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Work-related stress is a growing epidemic. It’s time employers and the government took it more seriously. Warm words are not going to fix this problem.” She added: “Managers need to do far more to reduce the causes of stress and support employees struggling to cope. This means tackling issues like excessive workloads and bullying in the office. Toxic workplaces are bad for staff and productivity. My advice to anyone suffering from stress, anxiety and depression at work is to join a union. This is the best way to get your concerns heard.” The annual HSE statistics show 1.4 million workers were suffering from work-related ill health and around 555,000 from non-fatal injuries in 2017/18. A total of 30.7 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury. Workplace safety crimes resulted in 493 convictions, with fines totalling £72.6 million. The report shows HSE enforcement action has fallen sharply.
Ÿ TUC news release. HSE news release and report, Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2018, HSE, 31 October 2018. Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards, TUC and HSE guidance for health and safety representatives. More on work-related stress.
Civil service union Prospect has called on employers to work with safety reps to tackle record-high levels of work-related stress. The official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show stress-related absence is at the highest level since the regulator started routinely collecting the data in the early 2000s. The number of people saying they had work-related stress leapt by 13 per cent compared to the year before, according to the data, which is drawn from the Labour Force Survey. Prospect says rates of work-related mental ill health are highest in the civil service – around 40 per cent higher than the average across all industries. Prospect’s deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “The figures show that for hard-working employees and civil servants, austerity isn’t over. Work-related stress seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. Workers are struggling under mounting workloads in teams that get ever smaller, wondering whether their job will be the next to go.” He added: “Tried and tested methods for preventing work-related stress have been around for years, but too many employers still don’t have a clue about how to tackle it in the workplace. We call on employers to work with Prospect health and safety reps to understand and control the issues at work causing stress. As well as improving employee health and reducing sickness absence, tackling stress will help boost productivity, which in the UK continues to languish behind other developed countries.”
Union reps in BT are continuing to press for urgent action at the telecommunications giant to address harrowing stress problems in the workplace. CWU reps from across the country attending a union forum provided “disturbing examples of how vulnerable members are still being failed by unsympathetic managers and inflexible processes,” the union said. Talks with the company were initiated earlier this year, after the union’s annual conference demanded renewed pressure on BT to ensure all its managers receive mandatory mental health training within three months of their appointment. “Amid concerns that employees who are already struggling to cope are being seriously impacted at work, the union is pressing the need for any declared mental health issues to be taken into consideration by managers when they are formulating coaching or performance plans,” CWU said. It also wants better training and refresher training for managers “to ensure they fully understand how they should support members experiencing mental ill health – and a reassessment as to how standard letters sent out under the attendance process could be rephrased to reduce the distress they cause.” CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes stressed he was optimistic that the union’s message on mental health was finally getting through. He said: “All the indications to date are that BT is keen to work alongside the CWU to address just the sort of concerns that have been raised by branches – but the proof of the pudding will ultimately be in its actions, not words.” Prospect, which represents managers in BT, said last month said its members in the company are facing “a perfect storm of stress and anxiety” as a result of a poorly executed restructuring programme (Risks 873).
Cab hailing firm Uber has taken a court challenge on the status of its drivers to the Court of Appeal. In earlier GMB-backed legal hearings, the union argued successful that Uber’s drivers were ‘workers’ and not self-employed, entitling them a swathe of employment and safety protections (Risks 851). An employment tribunal described Uber’s the claim the workers were self-employed contractors as “absurd”. Two years after the employment tribunal judgment, however, Uber is still refusing to abide by the ruling. Nigel Mackay, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day that is acting for the GMB, said: “It is very disappointing that Uber refuses to accept the employment tribunal’s judgment and instead continues to deny the GMB members that we represent their fundamental workers’ rights, including to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage and to receive paid time off. These are not unreasonable demands.” He added: “This appeal is of great significance not only to Uber drivers but also to millions of other workers in the gig economy and we hope that this can now bring this matter to a conclusion for the benefit of all workers.” Sue Harris, legal director at GMB, said: “The company needs to stop wasting money dragging its lost cause through the courts. Instead, Uber should do the decent thing and give drivers the rights to which those courts have already said they are legally entitled.”
There should soon be no hiding place for bullies at the South Western Ambulance Service (SWAS), health service union UNISON has said. The union was commenting on the publication of an independent report. The study, based on a staff survey and interviews conducted by Professor Duncan Lewis, was jointly commissioned by UNISON and the ambulance trust. It follows a succession of serious complaints and grievances about the behaviour of managers and other employees at the ambulance service. Concerned that directors at the trust appeared to be ignoring or dismissing incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation raised by staff, UNISON persuaded the trust directors to commission the report from the Plymouth University Business School. The four-month study found a third of staff had witnessed bullying, mostly of their colleagues, but of managers in some cases too. UNISON SWAS branch secretary Chris Nelson said “bullying and other bad behaviour was effectively given the green light. Whenever staff complained, they felt that the perpetrators were let off the hook, and sent away with a slap on the wrist, or a training course at best.” He added: “The real work challenge will now be to bring our service back together. It won’t be easy, but this report will help enormously. Employers have a moral, legal and financial duty to keep their workplaces bully free, and there must be no more brushing of the problem under the carpet.” UNISON national ambulance officer Alan Lofthouse said problems stemmed from a lack of resources, adding: “Unhappy, bullied and harassed ambulance employees are in no one’s interest. Things must improve or they will keep on leaving, making a bad situation worse. It’s time the government took its responsibility to the NHS seriously and funded it properly.”
Rail union RMT has told the rail safety regulator the use of inexperienced, under-trained managers as ‘phoney guards’ is creating a ‘serious’ safety risk on the railways. The union was blowing the whistle on the use of a ‘scab-army’ of managers on bonuses acting as stand-ins for striking RMT members on the South Western and Northern rail networks. The union said the ongoing industrial action is part of its “fight for safe, secure and accessible rail operation for all.” In a letter to the safety regulator, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), RMT general secretary Mick Cash highlighted ‘serious breaches’ including three instances of ‘ready to start’ signals being used by ‘contingency guards (PUGs)’ when lights were at red. In another instance a PUG allowed a train to stop with some carriages short of the platform. The union leader said: “It is appalling that rather than settling their disputes these train companies are prepared to throw huge sums of money at a scab-army of volunteer managers who are a clear danger to passengers. It’s about time the safety regulator, who is funded by the private train companies, stopped letting the piper call the tune and took action to stop this dangerous nonsense.” Cash added: “Instead of tolerating the clear and present danger on our railways the train operators should be round the table with the union negotiating agreements that reflect the best practice in the industry and put safety first.”
Rail workers at Great Western Railway’s Paddington depot are to vote on industrial action over the victimisation of RMT activist Ben Frederick, the union has said. The train guard was sacked following a disciplinary hearing last week. RMT says the dispute dates back to 11 August, when the “highly regarded RMT activist” said he had been assaulted by a passenger. He reported being hit several times with a mobile phone, spat at and subjected to racist abuse. Frederick reported the incident to GWR duty control and British Transport Police (BTP). RMT says that although he was told the BTP would contact him for a formal statement, no officer came forward to interview him. Instead he was suspended from work in September after his bosses said they were opening an investigation into allegations he assaulted a member of the public, even though no complaint had been received from the alleged victim. RMT general secretary Mick Cash described the “vexatious and false allegation” as the result of a management grudge against a respected union activist. “We have been left with no alternative but to ballot our guards and drivers at Paddington depot for strike action and action short of a strike,” he said.
The loss of 500 firefighters in England in the last year has left the fire service struggling to protect the public, their union said. In a safety warning issued ahead of bonfire night, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the loss of professionals and services means it is now taking 30 seconds longer for crews to reach callouts compared to 2010. The delays are the ‘difference between life and death’, according to the union’s general secretary. Matt Wrack’s warning also referenced new figures revealing the growing problem of attacks on firefighters in England, now approaching almost 1,000 incidents per year and up by a quarter on the previous year. Firefighters are covered by new legislation, which comes into force this month, that doubles the maximum prison sentence for assault on an emergency worker from six to 12 months (Risks 867). Under the law, courts must also consider the strongest penalties for assaults on firefighters and other emergency workers. FBU leader Matt Wrack said: “Since 2010, this Tory government’s negligence means that fire crews are now likely to take 30 seconds longer to respond to an emergency. In a serious fire, 30 seconds can be the difference between life and death. The government are playing with people’s lives and must take seriously the need for investment and more firefighters in our communities.” Commenting on the rise in attacks on firefighters, he said: “It’s despicable that anyone would attack firefighters, these are professionals who are committed to keeping our communities safe. Cuts by this government have led to the demolition of community engagement projects, which are proven to reduce anti-social behaviour - investment in these services is urgently needed across the board.”
Teachers at Kaimes School in Edinburgh have had their pay stopped and been barred entry to their classrooms after refusing to teach eight pupils in a dispute over violent and disruptive behaviour. The union NASUWT has been supporting the teachers at the school since November 2017, but it says despite months of discussions with the school and Edinburgh City Council over the behavioural issues there had been “no tangible progress”. Union members voted in favour of a lawful refusal to teach or supervise certain pupils, but action was deferred to allow time for the issue to be resolved through negotiation. However, on 22 October - almost 12 months after the concerns had first been raised – the ban on teaching or supervising the eight pupils considered to pose the greatest risk to health and safety took effect. Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The teachers, and indeed other pupils at the school have, month after month, faced violent physical assaults, a constant stream of verbal abuse and threats and malicious allegations. Equipment has been smashed and classrooms trashed. Rather than supporting the teachers to deal with these pupils, Edinburgh City Council instead has embarked on a campaign of aggressive and punitive actions towards the teachers, simply because they have dared to stand up for what is right.” The union leader added: “The action the council is taking against our members is far more disruptive to children’s education than any action the teachers themselves are taking. Teachers are entitled to a safe working environment and pupils are entitled to learn in safety, free from violence and disruption… The council should let these dedicated and committed teachers go back to work immediately and genuinely engage in discussions with the NASUWT to seek to resolve the dispute.”
Unions have demanded Google toughens up its act in dealing with sexual harassment claims, after the tech giant’s staff across the globe walked out on 1 November in a protest over the issue. An estimated 17,000 Google employees worldwide joined the action against a pattern of sexual harassment, gender inequality and systemic racism they say goes “all the way to the top” of the transnational company. Google staff in London, Dublin, Singapore, Zurich, Tokyo, Berlin and New York were among those to take part. The protests followed allegations in the New York Times detailing sexual misconduct by senior executives, which organisers say are the most high-profile examples of “thousands” of similar cases across Google. Commenting on the 1 November walkout, Unite national officer for the IT sector Louisa Bull said: “We applaud the principled stand taken by Google workers in London and across the world today over how the company tackles allegations of sexual harassment. The employees are rightly demanding key changes in how sexual misconduct allegations are dealt with at the tech giant, including a call to end forced arbitration - a move which would make it possible for victims to sue.” She added that Unite “began organising and recruiting Google staff in London six months ago and membership continues to grow. You can see in the last year that there is a growing wave of disgust generally, as more and more cases of sexual harassment come to light in workplaces across the globe – and Unite will assist all those wishing to shine a light on such unacceptable workplace practices.” Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “The events in Google highlight the frustration many workers feel about their lack of voice in how many tech companies are run.” He added: “We need a zero tolerance for harassment and greater transparency over terms and conditions for staff. The sector also needs a stronger voice for staff and we would encourage tech workers to join a union.”
The Department for Education (DfE) has pledged to ease pressures on teachers in England, after it accepted the recommendations of a new report that said an “audit culture” in schools was causing anxiety and staff burnout without improving results. The report by the DfE’s teacher workload advisory group says teachers have to waste time producing data on their pupils, with the recording, monitoring and analysing of data being demanded by multiple sources, including local and central government, Ofsted school inspectors and multiple tiers of school management. Prof Becky Allen of the UCL Institute of Education, who chaired the advisory group, said it found “widespread data practices that don’t help pupil progress but do increase teacher workload. I hope that the principles and advice we have provided for schools will help them to question their current practice to change this.” In its response, the DfE said it “accepts all of the recommendations in this report in full. We have acknowledged that data management is a cause of unnecessary workload in schools.” Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching NASUWT, said: “This report confirms the NASUWT’s longstanding concerns about the unacceptable way in which too many schools use pupil performance data in teachers’ performance management.” She added: “There is no excuse for persisting with this debilitating and entirely irrational practice. The NASUWT will continue to challenge those schools and employers that choose to do so. The union will also press the DfE to take effective action to ensure that the report’s findings are implemented in full in every school.”
Britain’s workers are falling victim to a workplace ‘exhaustion epidemic’, a study has concluded. The research from Westfield Health found almost half of British workers regularly turn up to their job feeling too tired to work, 3 in 10 have had an accident or made a serious mistake due to fatigue, and 13 per cent have even drifted to sleep whilst driving. The September survey of 1,000 UK employees found almost 9 out of 10 workers (86 per cent) didn’t feel confident taking to managers about how fatigue was affecting their performance and six in ten admitted turning up to work too tired to do their job. Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at Westfield Health, said: “With stats like these, it’s clear to see there’s a real issue here, but 86 per cent of survey respondents said that they are not able to speak openly and in confidence with their line manager about how tiredness is impacting on performance at work, and only 13 per cent would consider tiredness or fatigue to be a genuine reason to call in sick.” He added: “Once employers better understand the impact of tiredness and fatigue, they can support their people with appropriate interventions in a safe and understanding environment. The cultural change needs to come from leadership. Once the example has been set at the top, staff will feel more comfortable to talk about their struggles with fatigue and get the support they need quicker.”
More than a thousand journalists were killed between 2006 and 2017, according to a UNESCO report published ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November. The UN agency said last year the percentage of journalists murdered in countries free of armed conflict (55 per cent) exceeded that of journalists felled in conflict zones for the first time. UNESCO said impunity for these crimes remains shockingly high as only one out of ten such killings resulted in the perpetrator being brought to trial. “The fight against impunity is central to freedom of expression, press freedom and access to information,” declared Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO. “Improving the safety of journalists who face danger to keep us informed is not only an absolute duty but also a challenge that democracies must overcome.” Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the UK journalists’ union NUJ, commented: “On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, we will remember our murdered colleagues and their commitment to media freedom, their integrity and collective legacy. We will be demanding an end to impunity and for all governments be committed to ensuring safety and justice for journalists. That is also why we are working with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to campaign for a UN Convention for the Protection of Journalists.” She added: “Without safety, without consequences for threats attacks and crimes against journalists, a climate of fear, intimidation, censorship and self-censorship is perpetuated that undermines press freedom and the public’s right to know.”
Teachers and officials at elementary, junior high and high schools across Japan are working more than 11 hours per day on average, raising concern about serious health repercussions or even deaths. A government survey found senior staff such as vice principals worked particularly long hours, with their daily average standing at about 12.5 hours. This means they worked 4.5 extra hours per day, or 90 hours per month, well over the official 80-hour monthly overtime threshold at which the prospect of death from work is considered a serious risk. In the survey, which drew responses from some 35,000 school teachers and officials, 80.7 per cent said they have stress or concerns related to work, of whom 43.4 per cent cited long working hours as the cause of their distress. The survey results were cited in a white paper adopted by the government in October outlining measures to prevent deaths from overwork. The government is aiming to slash the proportion of employees working more than 60 hours per week to no more than five per cent by 2020. In 2017, the figure stood at 7.7 per cent, unchanged from the previous year.
Ÿ Japan Today.
A major campaign spearheaded by occupational disease victims and their families has forced Samsung to agree a wide-ranging compensation scheme. Those affected - and workers' children with related ailments - will receive up to 150m won (£102,907) per illness. Hwang Sang-ki set up the Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS) with the help of local labour activists in November 2007. The grassroots advocacy group organised sit-in protests at Samsung sites to pressure the company into the deal. It alleged there was a link between the working conditions at Samsung and diseases including brain tumours, blood cancers and multiple sclerosis. As of June 2018, SHARPS said, it had identified 319 other victims, 117 of whom had died. "Samsung Electronics stands by the promise to unconditionally accept the suggested solutions and will work quickly on detailed plans for execution,” a company statement said. The deal covers both workers directly employed by Samsung and those hired by sub-contractors. The level of compensation paid will depend on the illness involved and the length of time the person worked for the company. “Since we agreed to do so in July [Risks 856], we will act on the arbitration decision,” said Kong Jeong-ok, a medical doctor and a SHARPS founder.
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