Issue date
28 Nov 2018
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 877
 
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 healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk.
 

Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

EVENTS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

Brexit deal threatens your rights at work

Theresa May’s Brexit deal has failed to deliver any essential protections for working people, the TUC has warned. “For the past two years trade unions have been clear that any Brexit deal would have to safeguard rights at work, otherwise we couldn’t support it,” noted TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Theresa May brushed off our concerns, insisting that her deal would ‘protect and enhance’ rights at work. Well as of last week, we know for sure that it doesn’t.” In the prime minister’s hard sell, a 25 November statement listing ‘40 reasons to back the Brexit deal’, there’s not a single mention of workers, employment rights or workplace health and safety protections. “We’re talking about everyday protections that really matter to working people. Like paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mums and dads, equal pay for women and limits on working hours,” wrote O’Grady in a Huffington Post column. “These rights were won by trade unionists through the EU, and we’ve been clear that leaving the EU must not put them at risk. And building on that, working people need a long-term, binding guarantee that rights in the UK will keep pace with those across Europe.” She warned that a future government of Tory Brexiteers could under May’s template “try to negotiate a free trade agreement that undermines our hard-won workplace protections. We know that there’s appetite in the Conservative Party for a bonfire of workers’ rights.” O’Grady, calling for either a general election or a popular vote on May’s deal, concluded: “The government knows this deal is bad for jobs, as its own impact assessments show. But we now know it would also be a disaster for rights at work…. It’s working families’ futures that are at stake. And the government is failing them.”

Ÿ  TUC blog. Prime Minister’s Office news release. Huffington Post.

UCU calls for review of rights on overseas campuses

Lecturers’ union UCU has welcomed the pardon this week of British postgraduate student Matthew Hedges, who it said had been unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The student, who was arrested at Dubai airport in May and then held in solitary confinement for six of the seven months he was detained, had been researching the country's security strategy as part of his PhD studies at Durham University. UCU said the case demonstrated the need for universities to urgently review their overseas operations, working with staff and students' unions to ensure that human rights, academic freedom and the university's local footprint were consistent with the institution's values. According to Universities UK, there are more than 700,000 students studying outside the UK for qualifications awarded by 138 UK universities. UCU head of policy and campaigns Matt Waddup said: “We share the relief of all those involved with the Matthew Hedges case that he has been pardoned with immediate effect and expect the government and his employers to do their utmost to help Matthew recover from his ordeal.” He added: “UK universities with overseas operations should launch reviews covering human rights, trade union representation, academic freedom and ensuring that local workers employed by the institution are not exploited. It is vital that the profits from overseas operations are not achieved on the back of the dilution of staff and student rights and personal safety.”

Ÿ  UCU news release. BBC News Online.

Bus driver was unfairly dismissed after botched drugs test

A bus driver and former union rep who was sacked after testing positive for cocaine has been ‘exonerated’ and awarded almost £40,000 in compensation at an employment tribunal. Ken Ball, 62, failed a saliva test after a shift in June 2017 but insisted he had never taken drugs other than those prescribed to him. To prove his innocence, the Unite member paid to have his hair follicles tested, with this sensitive test showing no traces of cocaine. Despite this First Essex Buses Limited sacked him for gross misconduct in July 2017 and upheld the decision at two appeals. With the assistance of Unite, the bus driver took the case to an employment tribunal at the East London Hearing Centre, where he was found have been unfairly dismissed. He was awarded £37,369 compensation. Employment Judge Tobin said Ken Ball had enjoyed a 21-year unblemished career as a driver for the company and had been left “shocked” and “floundering” when told he had failed the test. “He claimed that the constant handling of money and hand-to-mouth interaction potentially contaminated the sample,” the judge said. As a diabetic, he had to test his blood sugar regularly, causing sore fingertips which he said he licked continuously, the judge added. Ball was repeatedly told during the disciplinary process that his hair follicle test, which he had paid for himself, could not be taken into account because it was not part of the company's procedure. But the judge said the company had a policy that said it had to take all evidence into account. “To discount evidence on such a basis was illogical, grossly unfair and in breach of the disciplinary procedures,” he said. The judge found the company had “closed their minds to all possible explanations that did not fit their predetermined conclusions.” Referring to the company’s approach as “puerile” and “grossly unfair”, judge Tobin found that managers at all levels of the company, including the appeal hearing manager, were “committed to one outcome only and that was to find the claimant guilty”. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “First Essex Buses cruelly plunged Mr Ball into a living nightmare after they disgracefully and wrongly sacked him. Managers refused to accept two additional, more reliable tests nor did they publicly acknowledge the implausible nature of Mr Ball’s guilt even though they privately acknowledged this possibility in communications.” He added: “Thankfully with the support of his union Unite and the union’s lawyers Thompsons Solicitors Mr Ball has been entirely exonerated and damages are now payable to him by his former employer.”

Ÿ  Unite news release. BBC News Online.

Amazon ignores call for a joint safety probe

Amazon had turned down a joint plea from the union GMB and a shadow minister for a joint health and safety review to determine how to reduce the hundreds of ambulance call outs to the company’s warehouses, Jack Dromey, the shadow minister for work and pensions and fellow Labour MP Emma Reynolds, whose constituency includes the giant Amazon warehouse in Rugeley, made the request last week in a letter to Lesley Smith, Amazon’s public policy director for UK and Ireland. The letter proposed “a joint health and safety audit by Amazon and the GMB of the Rugeley depot to ensure working conditions are such as to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees.” They also suggested a meeting between Amazon and the union, hosted by the MPs in parliament, to discuss the issues. The company has not replied. GMB investigations revealed ambulances were called out to Amazon warehouses 600 times during the past three financial years, with 602 injury reports made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over that period. GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “We know Amazon has an appalling health and safety record – the hundreds of ambulance call outs and accident reports tell us that. So why is Amazon so keen to avoid making things safer for their workers?” Shadow minister Jack Dromey said: “Amazon is putting their workers at risk. We have urged the company to agree to a joint health and safety audit with GMB. The union has agreed. We expect Amazon to do likewise, because no responsible employer should ignore evidence of serious failing putting their workers at risk. The fact that they are yet to reply over a week later is unacceptable.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Sales season is not a jolly time for Asos workers

High pressure times in the retail sector put unbearable strain on warehouse workers, the union GMB has said. Commenting as the ‘Black Friday to Cyber Monday’ sales bonanza got underway, the union said thousands of Asos workers at the company’s Barnsley distribution warehouse endured a “frantic work rate pack to meet the demands of customers, whilst little regard is paid to their health and safety by the retail giant.” GMB organiser Deanne Ferguson said: “Companies like Asos should be treating staff with respect, not treating them like robots. Our members tell us about attacks to their terms and conditions, reductions to sick pay, on-site bullying by management and unregulated pick-rates, which mean people have to work until they drop. GMB is here to provide a voice for our members and achieve dignity at work.” Neil Derrick, the GMB’s regional secretary, said: “It’s a bleak day for us all when profits are put before the health and safety of workers.” Speaking from outside the Barnsley warehouse he said he “was staggered to hear first-hand, toilets have been out of order for days and the site is literally full to the rafters with workers who don't have enough equipment to work safely and effectively.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Materials giant Hanson works with Unite on welfare facilities

Unite and building materials giant Hanson UK have joined forces to upgrade welfare facilities at the company’s sites, including new toilets, showers, washing amenities and rest areas. Hanson and Unite’s shop stewards worked together to audit existing facilities and formulate an action plan to make improvements where needed. One immediate payoff is that drivers – both those employed directly by Hanson and those visiting the company’s sites – will now have full access to improved welfare facilities. Mathew Barlow, Hanson UK supply chain director, said: “Our facilities had degraded over time and we needed to bring these up to a modern standard at every location that meets the requirements of a professional workforce. The investment we have made in improving toilet, washing and rest room facilities is a worthy one as it demonstrates Hanson’s commitment to the excellent work of all of our drivers.” Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Hanson has responded in the way we would hope every employer would when we brought this issue to the attention of management. The financial investment in bringing welfare facilities up to an acceptable standard should not be underestimated.” He added: “The same cannot be said across every organisation in the UK however. In many instances drivers are still facing difficulty in accessing any facilities and when they do the quality and cleanliness of the toilets at some other sites can be downright disgusting. It is great that Unite shop stewards have been able to work proactively with Hanson’s management in rolling out these improvements. I just hope others will follow their example.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

‘Disgusting’ toilets at Deeside construction site

The controversial Parc Adfer energy from waste construction site in Deeside, north Wales (Risks 845), has become the first to be named and shamed by construction union Unite for the poor state of its toilets and welfare facilities. Photographs of the ‘disgusting’ welfare facilities were provided to Unite by a whistleblower. The photos show broken urinals, overflowing bins and a blocked toilet. Parc Adfer is the first site to be publicly shamed by Unite at the start of its campaign to expose how tens of thousands of UK workers are being denied ‘toilet dignity’. Unite has earlier raised concerns about the refusal of the US-based client Wheelabrator and the main contractor, French based company CNIM, to adhere to industrial agreements on the site. The work is being undertaken on behalf of the North Wales Residual Waste Treatment project which comprises five north Wales council, led by Flintshire county council. According to Unite, “employers have a clear duty to provide decent toilets and washing facilities as part of the Welfare (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, with separate regulations applying to the construction industry. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) administers these regulations and while it has the power to take legal action this rarely occurs.” Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “These pictures reveal that workers on this project are being required to work in filthy conditions. Flintshire council and the contractors at Parc Adfer should hang their heads in shame at the state of the welfare facilities.” He added: “Unite will now be contacting the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] with our evidence and asking it to take urgent action to relieve the misery currently being experienced by the Parc Adfer workforce.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

OTHER NEWS

Research exposes 'significant issues' with MHFA at work

Days after a plea was issued to government for ‘mental health first aid’ (MHFA) to become mandatory (Risks 876), new research has highlighted “significant issues around the lack of clarity with boundaries and potential safety concerns”. The University of Nottingham feasibility study, published by the professional body for occupational safety and health IOSH, found both positives and areas for concern, including inadequate boundaries for employees and a lack of proof that MHFA is effective. Principal investigator Professor Avril Drummond, from the School of Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, said: “We found examples of excellent practice in rolling out the mental health first aid training where there were clearly strategies in place to support staff who felt confident in their role. However, we also found examples where staff felt unsupported and where, for example, they had co-workers contacting them outside working hours: there were significant issues around lack of clarity with boundaries and potential safety concerns for the trained person.” Duncan Spencer, head of advice and practice at IOSH, said: “IOSH calls for a ‘prevention first’ approach incorporating MHFA as part of an organisation’s overall efforts to protect their workforce from mental health problems. Appointing staff in a volunteer capacity to support colleagues with mental health problems must be part of a bigger management system including preventative controls to remove or reduce risks.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson welcomed the report. “This is useful confirmation that MHFA training is not a solution to preventing and supporting those with stress related illnesses,” he said. “It can however help raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and signpost those with mental health issues towards appropriate support.”

Ÿ  IOSH news release and full report, MENtal health first aid in The wORkplace (MENTOR): A feasibility study, November 2018.
Mental Health First Aid England news release and Letter from business and union leaders.
TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace. TUC mental health awareness training. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, 2018.

Amnesty suicide linked to ‘serious’ management failings

Amnesty International failed to support a London-based researcher who killed himself at work after feeling “abandoned and neglected” by the organisation, an investigation has found. The independent inquiry commissioned by Amnesty into the May 2018 suicide of Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, has concluded that multiple failures to support the veteran research amounted to “a serious failure of management.” James Laddie QC found “it is clearly the case that his unhappiness at work was a significant contributing factor.” Amnesty’s new secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, described the report as “devastating.” He added: “Staff wellbeing must be at the heart, front and centre of our leadership and management practice. Nobody in the organisation should feel isolated, undervalued, or ignored. I would like to assure you that the international board, the senior leadership team and I will work together to ensure that the recommendations are implemented. We will publish a detailed plan and timetable by the end of the year, including ways in which staff can feed into and help shape the work on wellbeing and duty of care.” Five weeks after Gaëtan’s death, London-based Amnesty intern Roz McGregor, 28, killed herself. McGregor’s family expressed concerns that Amnesty failed to respond adequately when she developed “acute anxiety” in the job. A survey this year by Unite, which represents hundreds of Amnesty staff in offices around the world, revealed one in three employees recently surveyed by the union felt “badly treated or bullied at work since 2017” (Risks 873).

Ÿ  Amnesty International news release and independent report. The Guardian. The Times.
Resources: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists , January 2018. Work and suicide prevention checklist , Hazards, 2018. More on work-related suicide.

When it gets busy, logistics firms should take care of workers

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has called on employers to look after the health and safety of warehouse staff and delivery drivers at particularly busy times of year. In an article ahead of Black Friday for the trade publication HSS Magazine, HSE’s Michael Paton wrote: “Staff across Britain are expected to work longer hours to cope with demand – whether that’s those in shops dealing with customers, warehouse staff lifting and moving heavy parcels or delivery drivers on the road for hours on end.” He added: “While excitement builds for customers gearing up to spend their hard-earned cash, the demand this creates on workers can have negative impacts on their health – longer hours in busier and more high pressure environments.” Musculoskeletal problems are a particular problem, he noted. “At HSE, preventing work-related ill health is of the utmost importance to us. We firmly believe that no worker’s health should be affected or made worse by the work they do which is the reason why we launched our Go Home Healthy campaign,” he explained. “We believe every worker should leave their place of work healthy and well, regardless of the industry they work in.” He said that as part of this campaign, HSE has compiled its ‘top 10 tips’ for employers to help ensure workers in the transport and logistics sector stay healthy and well over the busy holiday and sales season.

Ÿ  HSS Magazine. Usdaw news release.
HSE Go Home Healthy campaign, including guidance on musculoskeletal problems.

Site workers facing needless dangers, study shows

Construction union Unite has called on employers to start taking workers’ safety seriously, after a survey highlighted the extent of the carnage on Britain’s building sites. The study by Direct Line for Business reported there were 196 fatalities and 26,196 non-fatal injuries in the construction industry in the five years from 2012 to 2017. At the same time, the number of prosecutions being taken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in construction has substantially declined. There were 246 cases taken in 2015/16 and just 206 in 2016/17, a fall of 16 per cent, it found. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, said: “Each and every one of these accidents will have a profound effect on the worker involved. With regards to the large number of tragic fatal accidents; families will have been left devastated when a loved one went to work one day and never came home again.” She added: “What this research demonstrates is that far too many employers are playing fast and loose with safety laws, resulting in workers being needlessly injured at work. The sharp decrease in HSE prosecutions is deeply troubling. The best deterrent against unscrupulous employers cutting safety is the fear that they will be caught and prosecuted.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Industry wants big boost in occupational health capability

Britain’s manufacturers are urging the government to use its review of occupational health provision in the UK to ensure all companies have access to an occupational health service (OHS). Manufacturers’ group EEF said this should be part of a wider ‘overarching strategy’. The call came on the back of a major survey of work and health by EEF and specialist insurance broker Howden. EEF said its research shows that whilst the vast majority of employers are providing their employees with access to OHS, many are still falling short on record keeping and risk control measures. The survey also found the waiting time for surgery or health investigations, tests and recovery from surgery remains the biggest cause of work-related absence, followed by stress. Terry Woolmer, head of health and safety policy at EEF said: “Investment in the wellbeing of employees by both the employer and government makes sense not just for good business practice but also the benefits to wider society from reduced benefits and pressure on a stretched NHS system.” He added: “The focus on occupational health needs to regain momentum, however, especially given the upward trend of a number of causes of long-term absence. This should involve practical short-term measures such as a replacement for the ‘Fit for Work’ service, as well as a long-term focus on a wider strategy for employee health that goes way beyond just managing absence.”

Ÿ  EEF news release.

EVENTS

TUC webinar on harassment at work, 11 December 2018

Workers suffer abuse from customers and members of the public all too frequently, from harassment through to violent acts. Unfortunately in the retail, hospitality, health, care and transport sectors daily incidents of this type of ‘third party harassment’ are accepted as part of the job. The TUC says they shouldn’t be. It adds that while this type of mistreatment can happen to anyone, young workers in particular can’t protect themselves because they are most likely to be in insecure jobs and lack a voice at work. The TUC says young workers are least likely to be a trade union member or to report the abuse to an employer. In its latest webinar, TUC young workers policy officer Kathryn Mackridge, will present young workers’ experiences of third-party abuse and show what unions can do to tackle this problem.

Ÿ  ‘Don’t put up or shut up’, TUC webinar on workplace harassment, starts 2pm, 11 December 2018. Free. Register.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Canada: Border agents at risk of cancer, report finds

Workers guarding the Canada-US border are at a higher risk of developing cancer, according to researchers. Their report, published online in the peer-reviewed journal New Solutions, examines evidence from a workers' compensation case involving a female border guard who worked for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on the Ambassador Bridge for 20 years before developing breast cancer. Both authors of the paper, Jim Brophy and Michael Gilbertson, were expert witnesses in the case. The Ambassador Bridge “is the largest truck-crossing point in the continent... It's one of the most polluted areas in the country,” said Brophy, a Windsor, Ontario based occupational health expert. He said the exposure to harmful chemicals like diesel fuel and vehicle exhaust is extremely dangerous for border agents and added many are also exposed to second-hand smoke. He added the number of border guards who have developed cancer over time isn't clearly defined, but said that piece of data is something the union Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling for. "Maybe as many as 20 or 30. We don't know exactly how many. That's one of the major issues that are facing both the people at the bridge and at the tunnel — and the union,” he said. Though there's a “strong scientific case for a causal relationship between occupational exposures of frontline female border guards” and the development of cancer, the report says, the CBSA officer still lost her compensation claim. Brophy said that's the result of compensation cases being handled like criminal matters, in which claims are denied if there are any doubts that an employee's environment resulted in cancer. He said he believes the evidence “points toward the direction that there is an association between these exposures and the risks for this disease.”

Ÿ  Michael Gilbertson and James Brophy. Causality Advocacy: Workers’ Compensation Cases as Resources for Identifying and Preventing Diseases of Modernity, New Solutions, Online First, 22 November 2018. CBC News.

China: Silicosis sufferers protest and attacked by police

Over 300 silicosis victims and their family members from Hunan Province who staged a peaceful 7 November march and sit-in protest in front of the Shenzhen city government were attacked and tear gassed by police. The workers, some of whom were hospitalised as a result of the attempt by police to disperse the group, were demanding the city government help them with medical expenses and compensation issues. They say they contracted the occupational dust disease in Shenzhen (Risks 871). They add the government failed to deliver on an earlier promise to provide assistance, prompting more migrant workers and their families to travel from Hunan Province to join the protest and fight for justice. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) said the Shenzhen city government “should value the contribution these workers made for the city and help them with medical support and living allowance. It should also safeguard their fellow workers, to eliminate the chance of the existence of another ‘silicosis village’.”

Ÿ  HKCTU news release.

Korea: Samsung must now work with unions on safety

Global electronics giant Samsung has said it is sorry for the work diseases it caused but it must now engage with unions to make its plants safer, the global union IndustriALL has said. The union call came after the company sealed a comprehensive occupational disease compensation deal with a public apology. After an 11-year struggle by SHARPS, the South Korean advocacy group which represents workers who developed cancer and other diseases as a result of exposures in the company’s plants, Samsung Electronics made the formal public apology in a 23 November Seoul news conference. The deal covers 16 types of cancer, other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, and miscarriages, as well as congenital conditions affecting workers' children. Samsung will be required to pay compensation of up to 150 million won (£102,000) per case. “We sincerely apologise to the workers who suffered from illness and their families,” said Kim Ki-nam, Samsung's co-president, at the news conference. “We have failed to properly manage health risks at our semiconductor and LCD factories.” After reading the apology, Kim took a deep bow and stepped off the podium to shake hands with SHARPS founder Hwang Sang-ki and Samsung occupational disease victims. Taxi driver Hwang Sang-ki’s campaign for justice started after his daughter Yumi’s occupational leukaemia death in 2007 and led to the formation of the SHARPS campaign group. “Workers' compensation is important but more important is prevention,” Hwang said. “The right to know and participate for all workers and members of the community - so workers can know what chemical substances they are using - must be guaranteed by strengthening the Industrial Safety and Health Act.” He added: “The apology made by Samsung’s representative director today, to be honest, is not sufficient to the victims and their families. Indeed, no apology will be sufficient, given countless deceptions and insults wrought upon SHARPS [by Samsung] and the agonies of occupational diseases and the pain in the loss of their beloved next-of-kin.”

Ÿ  SHARPS news report. IndustriALL news release. Korea Times. Good Electronics news report. NPR news report. BBC News Online.

USA: Poultry industry workers living in fear

The poultry industry “has created a culture to keep people living in fear,” a union official has warned. Brandon Hopkins of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), the union that represents workers at US poultry giants including Sanderson Farms, JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride, says in his 10 years as a union representative in Texas and Louisiana, he has “had employees go to the bathroom on themselves because they are so scared of getting in trouble that they don’t leave the line”. Sanderson Farm employees claim that any restroom request outside an authorised 12-minute break – the rest rooms in the giant plant can be over 3 minutes walk away - and 30-minute unpaid lunch break is at the supervisor’s discretion. “I tried not to drink water because I knew my supervisor wasn’t going to let me go. Not even if I was peeing on myself,” said one worker who had worked at Sanderson Farms. Labour experts link the issue to a push for increased productivity and increased line speeds following a rise in consumer demand for chicken in the 1980s and 90s. More specifically they say the issue is symptomatic of the industry’s high turnover rate. “It’s about staffing. They don’t have enough staff to replace a worker who needs to go to the bathroom,” said Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in Washington DC. In a recent move, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was allowing poultry processing plants that meet certain criteria to increase their line speed even further (Risks 870).

Ÿ  The Guardian.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2018

Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

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