|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 use of technology that allows employers to chip their workers must be discouraged, the TUC has said. Commenting on news that the UK firm BioTeq, which offers the implants to businesses and individuals, has already fitted 150 implants in UK workers, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “We know workers are already concerned that some employers are using tech to control and micromanage, whittling away their staff’s right to privacy. Microchipping would give bosses even more power and control over their workers. There are obvious risks involved, and employers must not brush them aside, or pressure staff into being chipped.” She added: “Employers should always discuss and agree workplace monitoring policies with their workforces. Unions can negotiate agreements that safeguard workers’ privacy, while still making sure the job gets done. But the law needs to change too, so that workers are better protected against excessive and intrusive surveillance.” Employers’ organisation CBI also opposed microchipping of workers. A CBI spokesperson said: “While technology is changing the way we work, this makes for distinctly uncomfortable reading. Firms should be concentrating on rather more immediate priorities and focusing on engaging their employees.” A union-backed University of Wisconsin study in 1990 linked electronic surveillance of workers to higher rates of workplace stress, anxiety and exhaustion. An International Labour Organisation (ILO) digest on workers’ privacy raised the same concerns.
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A new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) toolkit on tackling workplace stress has its uses, but won’t on its own lead to stress prevention, the TUC has said. The union body says the ‘simple and practical’ toolkit intended to help managers talk to workers about stress and then take action to prevent it identifies the six main causes of stress. It then suggests what kind of questions managers could ask of their workers and suggests some practical things they can do. The toolkit, based on the HSE stress management standards, could make a big difference in the workplace if used properly, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson noted, but he added: “The introduction to the stress toolkit makes it very clear that using it is not the only thing an employer should do to prevent stress. It is just one part and is not a substitute for a proper stress policy, line-manager training and risk assessment.” Spelling out this concern in a blog post, he noted: “This is a very important point that can’t be emphasised enough and before using the toolkit, any employer should look at implementing the stress management standards. If they do that then they may find that the toolkit is a way of helping managers manage stress on a day to day basis.” His ‘biggest reservation’ is the lack of emphasis on collective solutions. The TUC safety specialist advised that “preventing stress is something best done collectively across the organisation, not just individually, and that in many workplaces the line manager has no power to make the kind of changes the toolkit suggests.” Robertson concluded: “Given that work-related stress in now responsible for over half of all working days lost to ill-health the need for simple practical resources that will make a difference has never been greater and this toolkit could be a good starting point in many workplaces. However, until the HSE and local authorities start taking enforcement action against employers who do not take action to reduce stress, the effect of any guidance will be limited.”
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With more women aged over-50 in the workplace than ever before, thousands of people are finding themselves forced to juggle the impact of the menopause with career demands, while employers have failed to keep pace with workers’ needs. But the film, TV and theatre union BECTU says handled right – with empathy and understanding hand-in-hand with practical support measures – employers could hold the key to not only easing the burden, but also celebrating the positive contribution of female workers both during and after the menopause. A special ‘#talkBECTU’ union week seminar at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House on 5 November saw members of all ages come together with the advice service The Menopause Exchange to hear more about the menopause and to share their experiences. Attendees explained how simple measures like having easy access to cold water, suitable workplace temperatures and more flexible working can make a huge difference. BECTU is calling on employers to engage with staff to raise awareness and introduce clear menopause policies setting out their commitments to supporting workers. BECTU national officer, Caroline Hemmington, said: “Life doesn’t end with the menopause. It’s unacceptable for female employees to be brushed aside when the reality is that their experience of the menopause can make their contribution to the workplace more valuable than ever. It was great to hear women sharing their experiences and we will continue to press on employers the need to respect and support women before, during and after the menopause.” Safety measures feature prominently in BECTU’s 10 tips for employers to support workers through the menopause, including the need for; flexible working and workload adjustments, changes to sickness policies, environmental changes, including temperature and ventilation, provision of cold drinking water, menopause-specific risk and stress assessments, and performance policy adjustments.
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A delivery driver has received a substantial payout after suffering a hernia at work. Unite member Peter Warwick, who was a DHL driver when he suffered the injury, strained his groin trying to move an unusually heavy pallet as part of a delivery to a TK Maxx store. The 64-year-old’s hernia was so bad it required surgery. Subsequent investigations revealed the pallet was carrying heavy glass sheets weighing over two tonnes. Commenting after receiving a £12,000 payout in a Unite-backed legal claim, Peter said the union had “fought for my rights all the way. I was offered a lower settlement amount at one point by my old employer, and I thought it was the best I would get and said I was happy to take it. But the legal team was certain I deserved more and went above and beyond to ensure I was fairly compensated. I can’t praise them enough.” Sarah Carpenter, south east regional secretary at Unite, commented: “Peter’s injury could have been easily avoided. Having two tonnes of weight on a single pallet is dangerous in itself, but if it had been clearly labelled he would have known the risks and could have asked colleagues to share the load. Fortunately, his Unite membership gave him access to expert legal guidance free of charge, which ensured DHL was held responsible for its elementary health and safety failings.”
Corby borough council has signed up to a Unite construction charter that seeks to ensure employment and safety conditions for workers on construction projects under the local authority’s control meet the highest standards. Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said: “It’s great news for Corby’s construction workers that the council is on their side. The council is making a significant commitment to construction workers at sites under local authority control. Unite’s construction charter will help local workers to operate in a safe environment on construction sites. The charter also ensures that workers will be directly employed and that they can raise health and safety issues without fear.” Tom Beattie, leader of Corby borough council said: “We are very pleased to be signing up to Unite the union's construction charter. Corby is one of the fastest growing places in the country and with our ambition to double our population by 2020 it is important to ensure that we do all we can to work with construction companies that meet these high standards for their workers.” Health and safety clauses are prominent in the Unite construction charter, which notes “health and safety of workers on all of our construction projects is paramount” and adds: “It is a recognised fact that the presence of trade union safety representatives significantly improves safety in the workplace. Contractors and their supply chain are required to work collaboratively with the appropriate trade unions to identify and implement reasonable real-world initiatives.”
Rail union RMT has demanded plans to axe guards from trains should be abandoned immediately after a government minister admitted that these guards are in the front line in the fight against crime and drug gangs. A letter from organised crime minister Ben Wallace spells out his concerns that driver-only trains will mean the loss of the guards in a position to spot children recruited to carry heroin and cocaine. The minister has ordered officials to work with the Department for Transport to see if the move will worsen the county lines menace where city gangs groom boys and girls as young as 12 to carry cocaine and heroin to market towns and seaside resorts. The minister’s letter to MP John Woodcock notes: “I was very interested in your comments about the role of public transport in facilitating county lines, particularly where rail franchises are removing guards from trains. Home Office officials will liaise with the Department of Transport to consider this issue further and to determine whether there is any additional action that we can take in this space, working alongside other partners including the British Transport Police (BTP).” RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “The guards on our trains are the eyes and ears of the rail service and play a crucial role in combating crime whether that's assaults, sexual harassment or spotting those who may be in a vulnerable position like young kids being used as mules by county lines drug gangs.” He added: “This ministerial letter, admitting that the axing of guards has huge implications for the fight against crime and the drug gangs, backs up everything RMT has been saying about the dangers of Driver Only Operation. No government serious about tackling crime would give the green light to throwing guards off our trains. The policy should be halted immediately.”
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Retail trade union Usdaw has called on the government to increase funding and resources for the police to help them tackle a rising tide of attacks on shopworkers and theft from shops. The union was speaking out during its annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, 12-18 November. Interim results of Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear Survey, released to mark the start of the week, show that during 2018 over 230 shopworkers were assaulted every day, an increase of more than 40 per cent on 2016. Last month the Office for National Statistics reported a further increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting, continuing the trend of a 32 per cent increase over the last decade. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) reported a doubling of violence against shop staff in their annual Retail Crime Survey. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reported a 65 per cent increase thefts from convenience stores, also finding that challenging shop thieves is the most common trigger for violence and verbal abuse. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust this month found that two-thirds of UK retail workers have been exposed to violence or aggression in the workplace. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “The statistics from all sources are shocking and show that the need for urgent action is undeniable. While there are many factors behind retail crime, the effects of the severe cuts in police funding and the loss of over 20,000 police officers cannot be ignored. The clear message to government is they need to do more. A properly funded police service is essential to halt the dramatic rise in retail crime and the impact it has on our members.”
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Education workers are urging local schools and councils to add their weight to a union charter aimed at ending violence against school staff by pupils. Between January 2017 and November 2018 1,594 physical assaults were carried out by pupils against school support staff across 13 local education authorities (LEAs), a Freedom of Information request by the GMB union has revealed. GMB members working in the education sector have complained to their union about being punched, kicked, spat on and being at the receiving end of verbal and sexual intimidation in the workplace. The union warned incidents have been rising every year and has called on councils and schools to sign a charter to help prevent violence. The union’s charter demands that all staff receive fair treatment in the workplace and commits employers to moving forward with policies to reduce violence. The charter also calls on employers to acknowledge that anxiety caused by workplace violence is a source of stress to workers and pledge that trends of violence in schools will be identified. GMB senior organiser Keith Williams said that the LEA responses are the “tip of the iceberg,” adding: “By signing up to the GMB Charter, headteachers and councils would send a clear message — that violence in schools in any shape or form will not be tolerated, and would demonstrate that they are fully backing support staff.” He added: “School support staff care passionately about the role they undertake within schools and want to carry on doing their best for the children. However, all they are asking is that when they have been subjected to physical or verbal assault, that the school will support them and take a commonsense approach to protect them.”
The true number of recent serious health and safety incidents reported at Amazon warehouses has been revealed to have topped 600, a GMB investigation has revealed. The union has discovered that since 2015/16, a total of 602 reports have been made from Amazon warehouses to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A GMB study earlier this year revealed 440 incidents had been reported – but figures from Amazon’s Swansea and Dunfermline warehouses have now been included and bring the aggregate figure above 600. According to the legally-required RIDDOR work injury reports, workers have suffered fractures, head injuries, contusions and collisions with heavy equipment. One report detailed a forklift truck crash caused by a “lapse of concentration possibly due to long working hours.” Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “How much longer can Amazon bosses ignore the terrible conditions people are forced to endure in their warehouses? They can’t keep burying their heads in the sand while their workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious or being taken away in ambulances.” He added: “Amazon – the richest company on the planet - has been handed millions in subsidies by UK taxpayers and frankly enough is enough. They need to take responsibility for what is happening here in the UK to fill their pockets with gold. If Amazon want to sort this out, they need to meet with GMB. We don’t want to be protesting outside their warehouses, we’d rather be around the negotiating table, but until that happens we won’t stop campaigning to keep people safe at work.” Labour MP Jack Dromey, the shadow work and pensions minister, said: “It is simply unacceptable for such a large, profitable company as Amazon to be putting the safety of its staff at risk at work.” Visiting the Amazon Rugeley site with local Labour MP Emma Reynolds, he said: “Amazon must now come to parliament and explain themselves.”
K2 intelligence has agreed to pay ‘substantial’ damages to five prominent anti-asbestos campaigners after evidence emerged it had orchestrated a secret surveillance operation intended to undermine efforts to ban the deadly fibre. The campaigners took legal action after discovering details of ‘Project Spring’, where K2 retained Robert Moore to infiltrate and spy on the campaigners’ anti-asbestos network, including covertly recording phone conversations and meetings. In a document entitled ‘Phase One Report’, Moore, who posed as a documentary journalist, outlined the initial aims of the project. “I would like to engage with IBAS [International Ban Asbestos Secretariat] and LKA [Laurie Kazan-Allen] in the most genuine and heartfelt way possible so that I can establish both an intellectual and emotional connection with LKA”, he wrote. London-based Laurie Kazan-Allen heads IBAS; the other claimants in the case were Hazards magazine editor Rory O’Neill, lawyers Krishnendu Mukherjee and Harminder Bains, and Sugio Furuya, a Japan based campaigner for an asbestos ban in Asia, a key asbestos market. Invoices produced by Moore show that over a two-year period K2 paid him a total of £336,000 in fees and £130,400 in expenses. Legal proceedings were initiated in October 2016 for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act. K2’s clients’ were revealed on the instruction of the court to be Wetherby Select Ltd, a holding company in the British Virgin Islands; Kazakh asbestos industry and employers’ lobbyist Nurlan Omarov; and Daniel Kunin, a politically well-connected US national and fixer. Laurie Kazan-Allen commented: “We succeeded in our aim in this litigation. The asbestos industry will lose the battle to preserve asbestos markets. We look forward to an asbestos-free future!” Richard Meeran, partner at law firm Leigh Day, solicitor for the claimants said: “The extent of intrusion into these campaigners’ private lives shines a worrying light on the opaque activities of the burgeoning, corporate intelligence industry.”
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People feeling burned out at work are likely to experience symptoms of paranoia according to a new study. The researchers asked 218 teachers to complete surveys enquiring about symptoms of burnout, depression and paranoia. The paper, published online in the journal Occupational Medicine, found that people who scored highly on the burnout scale were likely to be experiencing symptoms of paranoia. Burnout is thought to result from unresolvable work stress and leads to people experiencing emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation, where they start to see others as impersonal objects. The new research has linked depression and paranoia to the condition. Study co-author Renzo Bianchi said: “Reducing paranoid tendencies in burned out individuals may lead them to re-appraise their working environment which could contribute to alleviating burnout.” Asked by Hazards magazine if the study had examined the influence of capability, disciplinary or sickness absence procedures on workers’ mental health, Bianchi responded: “Our study was exploratory. It was a first step. Specific workplace procedures were not assessed in this piece of research. It may be useful for future studies to explore this further now that a link between burnout and paranoid ideation has been identified.” Nick Pahl, chief executive of the Society of Occupational Medicine, commented: “It is important to ensure people experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition are supported. There should be an emphasis on the promotion of positive mental health in the workplace. Every employer should ensure they have occupational health services in order to access professional advice to support any health and wellbeing strategy.”
Ÿ R Bianchi and L Janin. , Occupational Medicine, published online 12 November 2018.
The sister of an electrician killed at work has backed a proposed law in Scotland that would give families new ways to pursue corporate killers. Louise Taggart, whose brother Michael Adamson was electrocuted aged 26 in 2005, said Labour MSP Claire Baker’s culpable homicide bill would “plug the justice deficit.” Currently companies in Scotland can be convicted of safety failings, but it is much harder to get employers found guilty of culpable homicide. Louise, who is a trustee of campaigning charity Scottish Hazards, said her family had seen “very little in the way of justice” after years pursuing the her brother’s case in the courts. “This Bill would not only plug the justice deficit faced by families such as mine, but would importantly serve as a deterrent to those who treat health and safety as a burden on business or a tiresome impediment to getting a job done,” Ms Taggart said. Launching the consultation on the Bill at the Scottish Hazards conference, MSP Claire Baker said: “New legal avenues for prosecution and statutory punishments would send a clear message to employers that health and safety must be the number one priority for any business.” Unite welcomed the proposal. “No prosecutions taking place demonstrates the need for tougher law in this area,” Unite Scotland said in a facebook note. “We look forward to continuing to work with groups like Scottish Hazards, Thompsons Solicitors Scotland, and the Scottish Labour Party to end the scandal of death at work. We encourage all parties and MSPs to support the bill and send a clear message that we can deliver justice to those so gravely wronged.”
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A director of a construction company has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after three workers narrow escaped injury during the partial collapse of a building during roofing work. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard that, on 24 February 2016, Jason Lycett, a director of principal contractor Brooke Ren Limited, was responsible for constructing two, two-storey blocks of flats in Barnsley. Timber roof structures had been constructed for each block but had not been tiled in their entirety. Three roofers had been working on one roof, transferring tiles from ground level using a tile hoist and distributing the tiles over the surface of the roof, when the tile hoist broke down. Two roofers had alighted the roof and a third was descending a ladder from a scaffold when the roof structure collapsed, demolishing a small wall at eaves level and distorting the scaffold. There were no injuries, however, had it not been for the breakdown of the tile hoist, the workers would have been on the roof at the time of its collapse. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had been informed during the pre-construction phase that the roof structure needed to be designed by a specialist, but this did not happen until after the incident. At the time of the collapse, the structure was not able to withstand the loads which had been applied to it. Brook Ren Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. Company director Jason Lycett was found guilty of a criminal safety breach and fined £30,000 with £7,026.58 in costs. HSE inspector Alan Sheldon said: “Principal contractors have an important role in managing health and safety risks during the construction phase, so they must have the skills, knowledge, experience and, where relevant, organisational capability to carry out this work.” He added: “Where directors are found to be negligent in carrying out their roles, they too may face legal proceedings associated with the same health and safety management failings. Although there were no injuries, matters could have been very different had the workers still been on the roof at the time of its collapse.”
A dairy company has been fined after a worker's toe was crushed by unguarded part of a machine. Chelmsford Magistrates' Court heard how, on 30 December 2016, a fixed guard on the front of a yoghurt filling machine had been removed. An employee stepped on the frame of the machine at the same time as a moving part descended, crushing the employee’s right foot. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a few days before the incident, a cable had been replaced on the machine but it was the wrong size and protruded out of the machine so the guard could not be fully fixed into position. In addition, due to setting up problems, the guard was regularly removed when the machine was in operation. Marybelle Pur Natur Limited was found to have failed to ensure that access to dangerous parts of the machine was prevented. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £32,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,767.09. HSE inspector Saffron Turnell said: “Employers should ensure that effective control measures are taken to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery in all aspects of the use of that machine.” She added: “In this case particular attention was required following maintenance of the machine. Marybelle Pur Natur Limited failed to effectively maintain the guarding of the machine, despite being aware of the risks it presented, and as a result their employee has suffered a serious injury.”
In the build-up to International Workers Memorial Day on 28 April 2019, Greater Manchester Hazards Centre will be unveiling a memorial ‘Fallen Tears’ stained glass window on 23 November at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, from 3pm to 5pm. The window will be jointly unveiled by Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, and founders of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK). ‘Fallen Tears’ will be on permanent display at the museum. The theme for Workers’ Memorial Day in 2019 is occupational cancer prevention.
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A new bill to be introduced in a Canadian province is designed to offer better protection from bullying in the workplace. Prince Edward Island’s (PEI) Eric Donovan Bill is in memory of a man whose death was linked to harassment on the job. His widow, Lisa Donovan, has been pushing for workplace legislation to include bullying since his death from a cardiac arrest on 11 November 2013. The Workers Compensation Board reviewed Eric Donovan's death and — although they couldn't say with 100 per cent certainty —found his death was probably brought on by bullying-related stress. His employer is appealing that decision. But as the appeal has been working its way through the system, Lisa Donovan has been meeting with union leaders and provincial government and opposition parties to develop changes to the legislation so that harassment is included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The new law will do that. “In the past, if you broke your leg or there was a physical accident in the workplace, occupational health and safety would be alerted. Now they will be alerted if there is a toxic bullying and harassment workplace,” said Donovan. The bill will include psychological as week as physical injuries, and it will make it clear that all workers are entitled to work in a harassment-free environment. It will also require all workplaces to have a policy for handling harassment complaints. Five other Canadian provinces have legislation that recognises workplace bullying.
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Union members from Hutchison ports in Indonesia, Pakistan and Australia have joined forces to form a regional safety committee. The move comes in the wake of at least six deaths and many other serious incidents in Hutchison terminals in the three countries over the past two years. Under the banner ‘Safety through Solidarity’ unions including Serikat Pekerja – JICT (SPJICT) in Indonesia, South Asia Port Terminal (SAPT) Democratic Worker’s Union in Pakistan and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), say they will be working closely together to protect wharfies, dockers and port workers from the ‘abysmally low safety standards’ at Hutchison Ports. Suryansyah Bahar, deputy president of the JICT terminal in Jakarta, said: “What happened in Hutchison Jakarta was brutal and vulgar. There were four workers dead within less than 18 months. We absolutely must have the highest standard of safety among Hutchison Ports operations not only in Jakarta but in Australia, Pakistan and ports around the world. The safety through solidarity campaign will cover all port workers. We have to fight for the basic right of safety for workers.” The new Asia Pacific Regional Safety Committee will see dockers from across Hutchison’s global operations united to combat the company’s poor safety record. Warren Smith, MUA assistant national secretary, said: “It’s an incredible thing that we have to organise globally to ensure people don’t die on the job. Well, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to fight and align our struggles as the issues are all too common. There is no space on the global waterfront for companies that do not respect safety and workers’ rights. Hutchison we’re coming."
When a worker gets smashed by a car part on Tesla’s factory floor, medical staff are forbidden from calling emergency services without permission. The electric carmaker’s contract doctors rarely grant it, instead often insisting that seriously injured workers – including one who severed the top of a finger – be sent to the emergency room in a Lyft taxi. Injured employees have been systematically sent back to the production line to work through their pain with no modifications, according to former clinic employees, Tesla factory workers and medical records. Some could barely walk. The on-site medical clinic serving some 10,000 employees at Tesla Inc’s California assembly plant has failed to properly care for seriously hurt workers, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found. The clinic’s practices are unsafe and unethical, five former clinic employees said. But denying medical care and work restrictions to injured workers is good for one thing: Making real injuries disappear. “The goal of the clinic was to keep as many patients off of the books as possible,” said Anna Watson, a physician assistant who worked at Tesla’s medical clinic for three weeks in August. Watson has nearly 20 years of experience as a medical professional, examining patients, diagnosing ailments and prescribing medications. She’s treated patients at a petroleum refinery, a steel plant, emergency rooms and a trauma centre. But she said she’s never seen anything like what’s happening at Tesla. “Every company that I’ve worked at is motivated to keep things not recordable. But I’ve never seen anybody do it at the expense of treating the patient.” At one point, Watson said a Tesla lawyer and a company safety official told her and other clinic staff to stop prescribing exercises to injured workers so they wouldn’t have to count the injuries. Recommending stretches to treat an injured back or range-of-motion exercises for an injured shoulder was no longer allowed, she said. The next day, she wrote her friend a text message in outrage: “I had to meet with lawyers yesterday to literally learn how not to take care of people.” She added: “You go to Tesla and you think it’s going to be this innovative, great, wonderful place to be, like this kind of futuristic company. And I guess it’s just kind of disappointing that that’s our future, basically, where the worker still doesn’t matter.” Watson was fired in August after raising her concerns.
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