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It makes no sense that under the terms of the government’s new cladding restrictions developers will still be able to build office blocks, stadiums, concert halls and private schools with combustible cladding, the TUC has said. The planned restrictions cover the use of combustible cladding in high-rise residential buildings, schools and hospitals, but the TUC says the government has once again ignored offices and other workplaces. The union body warning came this week after communities secretary James Brokenshire announced “combustible materials will not be permitted on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres.” Schools over 18 metres which are built as part of the government’s centrally delivered programmes will also be barred from using combustible materials in the external wall. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “What this means is that developers will still be able to build office blocks, stadiums, concert halls and, bizarrely, private schools, with combustible cladding. This makes absolutely no sense at all.” Warning the ban ‘ignores most workplaces,’ he added: “There is no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands of workplaces in the UK could have some form of combustible cladding. Yet despite the obvious fire risk, the government has ignored the issue, even allowing developers to continue to use it. Not only should the government be banning the use of combustible cladding in all new high-rise buildings, it should be ensuring that it is removed from all buildings over 18 metres, not only housing blocks, schools and hospitals.”
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A ‘scathing’ report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into refurbishment work at the Bridge of Don Academy in Aberdeen has vindicated Unite for raising safety concerns, the union has said. The HSE report highlights a catalogue of health and safety breaches by Aberdeen city council officials, requiring the regulator to issue legal improvement notices. The safety regulator’s report criticises the academy’s failure to alert staff to contamination of public areas for five days, areas used by a ‘significant number’ of people over that period (). The union said the breaches “occurred despite Unite repeatedly raising concerns with the council’s senior officials over the previous 12 months when other management of asbestos related incidents had occurred.” HSE identified a series of criminal contraventions of asbestos, safety management and construction regulations. Unite regional industrial officer Tommy Campbell, commenting on HSE’s ‘diligent’ report, said: “The report on the asbestos incident at the Bridge of Don Academy is absolutely scathing. The procedures put in place to deal with potential asbestos material were woeful, and in fact represented a threat to public safety. Unite has repeatedly raised our concerns that exposure to asbestos is not being robustly and strongly responded to when incidents occur in line with health and safety procedures. It’s our belief that the Bridge of Don Academy incident is not a one-off but symptomatic of a casual approach to the safety of workers and the public.”
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A Ministry of Defence worker who fractured his wrist when opening a security door at the British Embassy in Washington DC has been awarded compensation. PCS member Nicholas Callow fractured his wrist while working as an information officer at the embassy. He did not know the door was blocked by a ladder on the other side and stopped abruptly when he tried to push it open, painfully jarring his wrist and causing a fracture. Six years on, he still experiences significant pain and has been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. The Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office tried to stop the case being heard in the UK, where a potential settlement would be higher. But Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by PCS to act in the case, successfully used the ‘escape rule’ argument that the harm suffered by Nicholas was more closely connected to England than it was to Washington DC, even though the accident had taken place overseas (). The terms of the injured worker’s contract implied that English health and safety standards would be adhered to as far as possible while staff were engaged in work overseas and it was ultimately the organisation located in England that had the final say over such health and safety issues. Following the settlement, Nicholas Callow described PCS and Thompsons as “a pillar of strength for my wife and me. Especially given the complexity of the claim, the legal expertise provided by Thompsons, was exemplary.”
Telecoms union CWU is calling on Openreach to reconsider urgently an apparent ‘dumbing down’ of safety-critical pole tester roles in the company’s fibre networks. The union says that despite the fact that ‘pole testing is generally regarded as crucial for the safety of not just the engineers who climb them – but also for nearby residents and the public at large’, at a meeting last week Openreach ‘dropped the bombshell’ that the role was to be downgraded to a lower pay band. The company also said it intends cutting back the training of new pole testing recruits – something the CWU said is “evidence that the company is attempting to deal with current backlogs on the cheap by driving pay and skill levels down.” CWU assistant secretary Davie Bowman said: “The CWU do not believe, and will not accept, that a role with the safety responsibilities associated with pole testing that potentially impacts the lives of all our members, customers and members of the public should be resourced in this way.” He added that the union “intends to pursue this issue within Openreach – and externally if required – with the aim of getting the company to see sense and take the health and safety of its employees, and others, seriously by reversing the decision… The irony of the situation is that the title of the meeting we attended was ‘Ensuring a safe future on our network’. Openreach continuing down its current path will not deliver that aim.”
The British Safety Council has become the latest organisation to back Usdaw’s Justice for Injured Workers Campaign, which seeks to stop the government from forcing more workers into the small claims court. The government proposes to double the threshold for employer liability cases taken in the small claims court to those likely to be settled for £2,000 or less. British Safety Council policy director Dave Parr said: “Wherever employers are found to be negligent in the management of health and safety, there should be accountability. Workers should not be prevented from pursuing redress whenever they sustain a workplace injury or ill-health through no fault of their own simply because of financial limitations.” Claimants in the small claims court cannot recoup their legal costs. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said he welcomed the support of the British Safety Council, adding: “The threshold increase for employer liability cases has yet to be adopted through the statutory instrument process, it is very disappointing that the government did not put the change on the face of the Civil Liability Bill where it could have received proper scrutiny by peers and MPs. However we will be seeking votes in the Houses of Parliament, asking for support for 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.” He said: “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 and puts workers in danger.” The union believes the change would see tens of thousands of injured or sick workers lose out.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has welcomed a commitment from the Home Office to a round-table discussion with the union and retailers on how to legally protect staff from violence, threats and abuse. Speaking during the report stage of the Offensive Weapons Bill, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told the House of Commons: “We want to ensure that our shopworkers feel protected as well as actually are protected by the law, so if I may I'd like to reflect further on it. I’d like to invite (Mr Hanson and Tory MP Richard Graham) and organisations involved in the retail arena including the trade union into the Home Office for a round table so that we can discuss the concerns that have been raised this afternoon further.” The minister was responding to an amendment tabled by Labour MP David Hanson that would create a new offence if a person attempting to illegally buy corrosive substance or knives abuses, threatens or assaults a retail worker who is enforcing the law. The MP said: “Following the minister’s offer of a meeting with Usdaw and retailers I agreed to withdraw my amendment on the understanding that an amendment to the Bill can be brought to the House of Lords. I hope that we can make progress on this key issue that impacts on the lives of so many retail staff, this issue is not going away.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis welcomed the Home Office move and added: “We need a better balance in the law. The existing offence of common assault is not enough, because it is rarely used and difficult to prove in cases of verbal abuse and threats. A specific offence of obstructing a retail worker who is enforcing the law, which is easily understood by employers, staff, police, judiciary, shoppers and most of all violent criminals is absolutely necessary.”
People who have suffered traumatic personal injuries should have their long-term compensation determined in a fairer and more transparent way, a cross-party group of members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) has said. The Herald reports that the committee was reporting on the principles of the SNP’s Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill would see a change to the “personal injury discount rate”, which is used to calculate awards for future financial losses, such as ongoing care costs or lost earnings. This adjusts the amount of compensation paid to a victim to reflect the fact that they can invest the money to generate a return. It has the biggest impact on those who have suffered the most catastrophic injuries, and on those who pay compensation, such as insurance companies and the NHS. At present, the rate is set separately for Scotland by the Scottish ministers, for England and Wales by the Lord Chancellor and for Northern Ireland by the (Department of Justice) Northern Ireland Administration. The committee found victims of personal injury already take on a number of risks in the process of achieving compensation for their personal injury, such as ensuring their award fits their life expectancy and dealing with inflation costs. It said they should not have to carry undue risk, and the process must be improved with greater transparency. Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst said: “We heard compelling evidence for payments which allow those that have suffered a personal injury to receive lifelong compensation instalments.”
Plans to introduce monitors in train cabs in a bid to keep drivers awake is a dozy idea while train companies refuse to deal with work-related fatigue, ASLEF has said. The train drivers’ union was commenting after it emerged Britain's rail safety body is considering installing monitoring devices in trains that constantly scan driver's faces and vibrate their chairs if they start to doze off. The 'Guardian' device, dubbed 'Spy in the cab', uses infra-red beams to constantly scan drivers' eyes. It is made by an Australian company called Seeing Machines. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said the system is already in operation on the Croydon tram system and added it is exploring introducing the technology on other tram lines, as well as mainline trains. Ian Prosser, ORR’s director of safety, said: “It's still in the early stages but we are discussing it with the leaders in the industry. It's very important to talk to our trade union colleagues, and we have taken the general secretary of ASLEF to see the system in Croydon. But we have developed a set of principles which we want to discuss with all partners in the industry - and do some pilots, and we're working on that as we speak.” ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan told London radio station LBC he is not impressed by the plans. “We're not against anything that adds to safety, but the reality of this situation is that it doesn't,” he said. “Basically you're spying on people for the sake of spying upon them without dealing with the core problem. If we've got a problem with fatigue in the industry, deal with the shift processes, deal with the health regimes, deal with the five and a half hours in the seat.”
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Stagecoach firm Midland Red (South) Ltd has been fined £2.3 million after ignoring 24 letters of complaint about a bus driver who went on to kill two people in a crash. Kailash Chander, now 80, mistook the accelerator for the brake and smashed into a Sainsbury’s in Coventry city centre on 3 October 2015. A court heard he lost control of the Midland Red bus after working 72-hour weeks. A total of 24 warning letters about his poor standard of driving had been ignored, the court was told, and just 48 hours before the fatal collision, a manager warned that Chander was not safe and advised the company should consider ending his contract. Passenger Rowan Fitzgerald, aged seven, and pedestrian Dora Hancox, 76, were both killed while two more were seriously injured. Chander was found to have caused death by dangerous driving in September. He was declared unfit to stand trial due to post-traumatic stress disorder and frontal lobe dementia but was convicted following a ‘finding of facts’ trial. He was given a two-year supervision order at Birmingham Crown Court in his absence. In a case brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, Midland Red pleaded guilty last year to criminal breaches of the the Health and Safety at Work Act and has now been fined £2.3 million for its ‘significant’ failings. Sentencing, Judge Paul Farrer QC said: “The culpability of Midland Red lies in the background of this case. Mr Chander should not have been working excessive hours as his ability of driving seemed to get worse when he was fatigued.” The judge added: “He worked an average of 72 hours per week and there were further complaints about his driving from passengers. Despite this nothing of substance was done by Midland Red.” The firm had failed to follow its own procedures by not monitoring his working hours in the run up to the crash.
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Associated British Ports, DFDS Seaways plc and ICTS (UK) Ltd have been fined after a security guard was fatally injured when he was struck by an articulated vehicle. Hull Crown Court heard how, on 9 September 2015, Lyndon Perks, a 50-year-old security guard employed at the container terminal at Immingham Docks, approached a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) that was entering a gate and walked in front of the vehicle. The guard was not visible to the driver, either on approach to the vehicle or as he walked in front of it. He was hit and dragged underneath the HGV as it turned towards a warehouse. He sustained multiple injuries and died at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Associated British Ports and DFDS Seaways PLC had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient workplace transport risk assessment, and had not considered the risks that vehicles entering, leaving and manoeuvring in the gate area posed to others. Associated British Ports required the security guard at the gate to stop traffic and check pedestrians and vehicles entering the terminal but failed to provide means to do so safely as there was no signage indicating drivers should stop and report to security, and no safe facilities. ICTS (UK) Ltd failed to provide adequate training, and the risks of stopping traffic without any physical protective measures in place had not been considered. Associated British Ports pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £750,750 with £9,781.52 costs. DFDS Seaways plc pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £166,670 with £9,766.02 costs. ICTS (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to a single criminal breach and was fined £500,000 with £9,338.82 costs. HSE inspector Carol Downes said: “HSE found inadequate consultation between parties and no assessment of the risks to the segregation of vehicles and pedestrians. A properly implemented transport risk assessment should have identified sufficient measures to separate people and vehicles, and provide safe facilities.”
A contracting firm has been fined after a driver died when his wagon overturned. Sheffield Crown Court heard how on 17 September 2013 tipper wagon driver Alan Clements was fatally injured when his wagon overturned while he was tipping spoil onto a stockpile. Contractor Sirius Remediation Ltd was managing works which involved raising the ground levels on site by re-using spoil from other sites, instead of sending it to landfill. The 60-year-old driver reversed up the slope of the stockpile and raised his tipper, but the truck toppled over sideways. He suffered fatal trauma injuries to his chest. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was nothing to demarcate the sides or top of the slope, such as beams or barriers at the edges of the spoil heap, to prevent plant or other vehicles getting close to high and possibly loose edges. There was also a failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for the safe formation of the stockpile. Sirius Remediation Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. HSE inspector Medani Close said: “Stockpiling should only take place under the control of a suitably qualified temporary works manager or co-ordinator as it can be a high risk activity if not properly managed.”
A metal recovery company has been sentenced for criminal safety offences after a worker suffered fatal crush injuries when cutting up metal for scrap. Sheffield Crown Court heard how, on 4 March 2013, employee Michael Dwyer was working with his son, also called Michael, dismantling a 3-core reactor vessel. An unsupported metal section weighing approximately 1.3 ton fell and fatally crushed the 48-year-old between the fallen cylinder and a shipping container. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that adequate risk control measures had not been put into place to prevent parts of the reactor vessel from falling on employees. RS Bruce (Metals & Machinery) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,000. The firm, which has a £2.5 million turnover and this year reported a £65,000 profit, had not produced a written risk assessment. HSE inspector Tim Johnson said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to put in place adequate risk control measures to prevent sections of the steel ring falling onto employees. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment would have clearly identified the risk of serious injury from falling sections and should have prompted the company to put in place adequate, properly designed support and devise a safe system of work for the employees to carry out the dismantling operation.” After the sentencing, Mr Dwyer’s son Michael junior said: “We’re happy they’ve admitted they were at fault and the fact they’ve finally been sentenced five-and-a-half years after Dad’s death brings us a measure of closure. We’re slightly deflated by the size of the fine, which we think should have been bigger, but it was never going to be possible to put a price on Dad’s life.”
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Work-related cancers costs between €270 and €610 billion (£240bn to £543bn) a year across the EU, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has said. The trade union health and safety thinktank says occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths in industrialised societies, with more than 100,000 people losing their lives each year as a result of exposure to workplace carcinogens. A new book from ETUI, ‘Cancer and work’, calculates the human and financial cost of occupational cancers and spells out the steps needed to prevent them. “These cancers are morally unacceptable, as they could easily have been avoided through adequate prevention measures,” said Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI and co-editor of the book. ETUI chemicals specialist Tony Musu, the book’s co-editor, added: “They are also unfair. Exposure to carcinogens at work are the cause of major social inequalities in health in Europe, as in the rest of the world. Labourers or nurses are much more likely to contract an occupational cancer than engineers or bankers. Indeed, a socio-occupational map can be drawn for the different types of cancer, tracing them back to these social inequalities.” The problem is not treated with the necessary seriousness, ETUI warns. It says when comparing the research budgets assigned to studying genetic factors and occupational factors, the former has considerable resources allocated to it while the latter has to make do with ‘peanuts’.
Ÿ ETUI news release. Cancer and work: understanding occupational cancers and taking action to eliminate them, ETUI, December 2018: Free pdf download. HesaMag 18, Work-related cancer: emerging from obscurity, ETUI, December 2018.
The UN agencies with a role in occupational health and safety have been given monumental tasks but only trivial budgets, a new analysis has found. The authors, members of the occupational health experts group the Collegium Ramazzini, warn that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have limited capacity to press for the changes necessary and are further compromised by interference from ‘vested interests’. “There are nearly 3 million workers known to die each year from occupational injuries and diseases. Diseases related to work cause the vast majority of deaths among workers. Occupational cancer is responsible for almost a third of all work-related deaths. More than one million workers die each year due to exposure to hazardous substances,” the paper notes, adding: “The overall worker death rate is steadily increasing.” While industry voices appear to be heard, the positive role of unions is sidelined, the paper adds, calling on UN agencies to give more vocal support to union participation and the right to freedom of association. It says: “There is remarkably little objection to deplorable working conditions anywhere in the world. Unions provide a protective effect on workers’ safety. Anti-union legislation increasingly advanced in populist governments has a deleterious effect on occupational health.” The paper, published in the journal Environmental Health, concludes: “The UN could strengthen the national and global civil society voice in WHO and ILO structures, and, by keeping conflict of interest out of policy decisions, ensure greater freedom to operate without interference.”
Ÿ Joseph LaDou, Leslie London and Andrew Watterson. Occupational health: a world of false promises, Environmental Health, 17:81, 2018.
The Australian Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is calling for Uber and not just drivers to face criminal prosecution over the deaths of passengers. The call came as an Uber driver was convicted in Sydney over the death of a passenger. Samuel Thomas was killed while getting out of the vehicle in June last year. Nazrul Islam, who had disrupted sleep in the hours before the incident, said he had been driving for 21 hours, with seven hours' sleep split into two lots. Tony Sheldon, TWU’s co-ordinator on the on-demand economy, commented: “Why are drivers the fall-guy for this billion-dollar backed company which choses to wash its hands of all responsibilities? Uber incentivises drivers to work long hours because the pay and conditions are so bad. It provides no training on how to transport members of the public around safely. Uber should be in the dock because its work practices are leading to horrific incidents like this Sydney case today.” He added: “Uber has reintroduced eighteenth century working conditions into Australia, this time via an app. It refuses to support drivers when they are physically and sexually assaulted on the job, giving them the choice of turning up to work the next day to earn money or stay at home recovering from their injuries and lose pay. Drivers deserve rights and the federal government must start holding Uber to account.”
Police and other emergency service workers in Australia report suicidal thoughts twice as often as other adults and are three times more likely to have a suicide plan, a study has found. The research found one in three emergency service workers experience high or very high psychological distress compared to one in eight Australian adults. A further three in four first responders who made a claim for psychological injury due to their work found the current workers’ compensation process to be “detrimental to their recovery.” The landmark research, carried out by the University of Western Australia for the Beyond Blue charity, is believed to be the biggest study ever of police and emergency service workers anywhere with regards to mental health issues. More than 21,000 workers and volunteers from 33 different agencies across the Australia took part in the 'answering the call' study. Professor David Lawrence of UWA said the project had been a major undertaking. “The number of people participating in this survey is by far the largest study of mental health and wellbeing ever to be undertaken among police and emergency services organisations, in Australia and internationally," he said. “The study is very important as it provides evidence to help identify ways for agencies and the community to improve mental health and wellbeing in the sector, and to support the people who protect us when they also need help themselves.”
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