|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solictors. 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.
Anyone buying or being given a drone this Christmas needs to understand the new drone laws, or they could end up in court, the pilots’ union has warned. BALPA says that drone users who flout safety rules introduced this year “could face a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.” Official figures show up until November this year there had already been 117 near misses between aircraft and drones in 2018, compared to 93 for the whole of 2017. Head of flight safety at BALPA, Dr Rob Hunter said: “Even two kilogrammes of metal and plastic, including the battery, hitting an aircraft windscreen or engine or a helicopter tail rotor, could be catastrophic. People who buy these devices need to make sure that they know the rules and stick to them, so they don’t put anyone’s life in danger.” He added: “Pilots want to make sure airspace is safe for all users and that’s why BALPA continues to push for tighter restrictions around airports, for strict enforcement of these laws and for the government to make good on its promise to bring in registration and testing for drone users. Pilots don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun but if you are going to use drones the message is clear: Know the laws or expect serious consequences. Before taking to the air have a really good think about where you are, keep your drone in sight, consider what aircraft might be flying about and keep clear – it is your responsibility.”
Rail union RMT has warned of a growing threat from violence on Britain’s railways as a result of understaffing on the network. The union says staff numbers have been ‘hacked to the bone’, which could lead to major problems coping with demands over the festive season. It points to new figures from Network Rail that reveal the number of violent offences fuelled by alcohol at Britain’s railway stations over the festive period more than doubled in the past two years. The union said the ‘shocking’ British Transport Police (BTP) statistics that show that there were 189 more violent incidents between 24 November 2017 and 2 January 2018 compared with the same period two years earlier. The BTP also reported that violence directed at other passengers or station staff frequently resulted in injuries and arrests. Network Rail published the figures to mark the launch of a campaign with charity Drinkaware urging people to take care of their friends and colleagues when travelling on the railway over the Christmas period. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These shocking figures show that violence is soaring out of control on Britain’s dangerous railways as we head towards the festive period. Those rail companies looking to axe station and train staff should take a look at these statistics, hang their heads in shame and reverse their plans immediately.” He added: “The move to create a faceless, de-staffed railway in the name of profit has created a toxic environment where our members too often end up as the punch bags as drunken thugs run rampage. We need a publicly owned railway where security and safe staffing levels come before the profits of the greedy train operators.”
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The latest advice from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the estimated 1,000 former employees who could have been exposed to asbestos while maintaining Sea King helicopters ‘does not go far enough’, the union Unite has said. The union was commenting on a 5 December MoD statement that said veteran and former civilian employees ‘may wish’ to complete ‘MoD Form 960 Asbestos – Personal Record Annotation’ - if they ‘consider’ they have been exposed to asbestos from the Sea Kings. Unite had previously argued that ex-maintenance staff servicing Sea King helicopters since 1969 would not know of the form’s existence in 2018. Unite regional officer Caren Evans said: “It still doesn't go far enough, as the onus is still on ex-employees, contractors, and civilian and military personnel to contact the MoD. Our call was for the MoD, through its records, to contact all of the above who may have worked on the Sea King. So, while the recognition of the gravity of the situation is partially welcome, there remains an ambivalence as to the seriousness of the situation.” Saying the MoD was ‘abdicating’ its duty of care to its ex-personnel, she added: “The MoD keeps records for security purposes so would have a record of those who had serviced and worked on the Sea Kings since 1969. We demand the MoD now checks its records thoroughly to identify all ex-employees and contact them as matter of urgency, so it can fulfil its duty of care to former staff, however long ago they worked on the Sea Kings.”
Ÿ and online
The first changes to fire safety legislation since the Grenfell Tower fire 18 months ago do not go far enough, firefighters’ union FBU has said. Echoing concerns raised by the TUC (), FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The focus on only privately-owned buildings is misguided – the true scale of the problem is much bigger. Buildings up and down the country are unsafe - the government must address it as a whole, rather than providing a sticking plaster.” The FBU leader added: “Not only has the government taken too long to act, but their plans do not go far enough. We are clear, that to prevent another tragedy from occurring, all combustible cladding must urgently be replaced on all buildings, irrespective of height. This would require a major national programme to assess and prioritise the scale of the risk and adopt interim safety measures which residents, other building users and firefighters could have confidence in.” The union said recent findings from the Fire Protection Association had outlined the very serious risk of fire toxicity, and the danger of certain cladding combinations. FBU’s Wrack continued: “Combustible cladding must be avoided at all costs. The government must listen to the experts and ensure a full and proper review of materials and the effects of fire toxicity. We are calling for a blanket ban on all combustible materials which do not meet A1 classification, or are deemed to be of ‘limited combustibility’ but are ultimately still flammable.”
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Firefighters in East Sussex have passed a vote of no confidence in their senior management teams after they ignored union warnings about serious safety blunders. The unanimous vote by FBU’s East Sussex Committee came after East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) managers ignored repeated FBU warnings about planned changes the union believes “seek to reduce both public and firefighter safety.” It said: “In the latest in a series of judgement errors, the senior leadership team recently agreed to introduce small appliances, which carry less life-saving equipment. This latest decision has led to the vote of no confidence.” Mark Brown, FBU brigade secretary, said: “This is an ill-conceived plan that has not been properly thought through. We have repeatedly raised concerns with senior leadership over many months, unfortunately rather than listen to the FBU, our safety reps and our members, they have instead chosen to agree a plan that will reduce the service’s ability to deal with emergencies effectively. The senior leadership team need to assess the risk posed to the public, before contemplating any plans that seek to reduce fire cover and/or reduce equipment available to frontline staff.” He continued: “Despite the ‘vote of no confidence’ the FBU remain committed to working with management to find solutions that enable ESFRS to provide a safe and efficient service for its staff and the public.”
A round-table discussion between the Home Office, retailers and the union Usdaw on how to protect staff from violence, threats and abuse was ‘positive’, the retail union’s leader Paddy Lillis has said. Home Office minister Victoria Atkins agreed to the 11 December talks last month during the report stage of the Offensive Weapons Bill. The move was in response to an amendment tabled by David Hanson MP that would create a new offence where a person attempting to buy restricted goods including corrosive substance or knives then abuses, threatens or assaults the retail worker who is enforcing the law (). Commenting after the meeting, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “We had a positive discussion with the Home Office today and explored how to improve protections for shopworkers who are assaulted, threatened and abused for simply doing their job. The minister listened and asked to be given time to consider what she had heard. We reserve the right to return to the Offensive Weapons Bill if the government doesn’t agree to a review of legislation.” He 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.” Retailers and unions in Australia this month also called jointly for measures to protect shopworkers from violence and abuse, which they said is a problem that increases in the run up to Christmas.
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Workplace resilience programmes are of no proven value but could deflect energy from ‘meaningful activity’ researchers have warned. The initiatives, which are intended to bolster mental health and wellbeing, might not make any difference at all, according to the study published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The research, led by Dr Norman Jones of Kings College London, compared the impact of a resilience-based programme called SPEAR with standard training for new military recruits. The study found ‘no evidence’ that SPEAR made any difference to recruits’ mental health and wellbeing, their attitudes to mental illness and willingness to seek help for mental health or alcohol problems, or their perceptions of military leaders and their unit’s cohesion, when compared with standard training. The authors point out: “Many organisations search for a ‘silver bullet’ intervention that can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their employees when time might be better spent refining leadership and building strong cohesion.” They conclude: “Although the current study found no benefit for a specific intervention, this is an important finding as a great deal of time and expenditure is spent implementing such interventions without establishing whether they are effective or not. Doing no harm is not a reasonable defence of an ineffective intervention as time spent in delivery effectively reduces the time available for engaging in more meaningful activity.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the paper reinforced concerns about resilience programmes at work the union body had raised consistently. “For several years now employers have sought to deal with stress through trying to change the worker by introducing resilience and similar training. The TUC has frequently said that there is no evidence that they make any difference. This research supports this, ” he said. “The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has got to stop allowing employers to get away with refusing to prevent workplace stress and start a programme of inspection and prosecution against those who continue to damage the health of their staff through ‘blame the worker’ initiatives such as resilience.”
Ÿ Norman Jones and others. , Occupational and Environmental Medicine, e-publication ahead of print, 19 December 2018. doi:10.1136/oemed-2018-105503
Employee wellbeing is being compromised by a lack of understanding of how to implement effective programmes, a safety body has found. A new British Safety Council (BSC) ‘comprehensive review of the existing literature and market intelligence’ found only one in six (17 per cent) organisations evaluate the impact of their health and wellbeing initiatives. It also reported that in nearly two-thirds of companies (63 per cent), other priorities take precedence over employees’ wellbeing. The report, ‘Not just free fruit: wellbeing at work’, proposes a series of measures to assess and improve the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes and policies. BSC said its findings are ‘a call to action for employers in Britain to place the wellbeing needs of their workers at the top of the executive agenda.’ BSC chair Lawrence Waterman commented: “Too often, unlike the highly professional approach applied to risk assessment and risk control, wellbeing efforts have been marked by a combination of real enthusiasm and commitment married to a woeful ignorance of what will make a difference. This positivity could dissipate into incoherent programmes of free bananas and occasional ‘health weeks’, featuring Indian head massage and aromatherapy.” He added: “The Wellbeing at work report represents the British Safety Council’s contribution to establishing rigorous, evidence-based workplace interventions which enhance the wellbeing of everyone involved. It calls for commitment, clear thinking and effective action, not only to make our workplaces healthy and safe, but also to make a tangible impact on improving the lives of all workers.” The report says employees must be given the opportunity to participate in the creation and development of initiatives designed to improve their own health and wellbeing. BSC adds that workers’ wellbeing “is linked to job quality, which is expressed through a healthy working environment, fair wages, strong relationships with managers and colleagues, job design, a degree of responsibility and authority, workload, working hours, and career development prospects.”
Ÿ and full report, , December 2018.
Thirty years on from one of Britain’s worst train crashes, a rail safety expert has warned that the lessons learned have been forgotten and lives are being put at risk. The 12 December 1988 crash at Clapham Junction in London, which killed 35 and injured hundreds, led to a drive for safety improvements on Britain’s rail network. But the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Railway Group has said several incidents and near-misses in recent years have sparked new concerns for rail safety. The rail safety professionals say they are particularly troubled by high levels of fatigue among maintenance workers, who are doing long hours to ensure the network runs as smoothly as possible. Group chair David Porter said: “People are working incredibly hard over a long period to make sure the railways keep moving, but at what cost? Fatigue is a major issue in our industry. It is being caused by people working long hours and with fatigue comes mistakes which lead to safety risks.” He added: “In recent years we have had train derailments and potential derailments and instances of track workers just avoiding speeding trains. Lives are at stake here. We have to make safety our absolute priority.” The rail safety expert concluded: “Were the lessons learned from Clapham? I’d say they were. Have they been forgotten? Unfortunately, maybe they have… Standards have lapsed, and we can’t afford for this to happen. We have seen a number of incidents and near-misses which suggest this is the case. We must redouble our efforts to ensure our railways are safe for passengers and workers.” Speaking ahead of the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, Chris Sneddon, district council chair and Wimbledon branch secretary with the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “We will not forget Driver John Rolls. We will not forget Driver Arthur Creech. We will not forget the hard lessons learned on 12 December 1988.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The fragmentation of the rail industry that started after Clapham has meant that there is an ever greater disconnect between contractors striving for ever greater profit while Network Rail, responsible for operating, maintaining and renewing rail infrastructure, is stretched to breaking point due to budgetary constraints.”
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The main reason for sickness absence in the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is now stress, anxiety and depression, Commissioner Dany Cotton has said. LFB has seen a "small increase" in the number of days taken off as sick leave over the last three years, the brigade's most senior firefighter said, but for the first time mental health has been the leading cause of the absences, she told the London Assembly. LFB's counselling and trauma team has treated more than 157 personnel since the fire, according to a document submitted to the public inquiry which sets out changes the brigade has made since the blaze. Staff have been treated for adverse trauma response and post-traumatic stress disorder as they “deal with the traumatic impact of the fire and process of giving 'oral' evidence at the Grenfell Tower inquiry.” Some 80 fire officers - from a firefighter still on probation to the Commissioner - have given oral evidence during the first phase of the probe, with dozens of extensive written statements also submitted.
About nine out of 10 NHS trusts say they have hospitals containing asbestos, research by the BBC has revealed. Of the 211 trusts to respond to a BBC inquiry, 198 said they ran hospitals containing the material, which can cause potentially fatal illnesses including cancer. The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to all 243 NHS trusts in Britain. Responding to the BBC findings, Jo Stevens MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Occupational Health and Safety, urged the government to conduct an audit to “ensure every trust knows the extent of asbestos on their premises and has a plan for dealing with it.” She said: “If it's there it will at some point become dangerous if it's disturbed or if it deteriorates, so I'd like to see long-term plans and long-term strategies in place for its removal from all buildings. I appreciate that you have to prioritise what you do and so that's why there should be an audit of buildings so that the dangerous areas are dealt with first as a priority.” The BBC also found 352 claims were made against health trusts between January 2013 and December 2017 by people who had developed asbestos-related diseases in NHS buildings. According to the trusts, those claims resulted in payouts of about £6.8m, although three legal firms told the BBC they had won compensation claims totalling more than £16.4m in the same period.
A plastics firm has been fined £293,000 plus costs of £10,205.61 for criminal safety failing after a worker died in an incident at its factory. Tarsem Singh, 52, died of a heart attack a day after being hit by machinery in April 2016. An inquest had previously heard the end cap of a pressurised moulding machine blew off and hit him at a speed of up to 80mph, fracturing his chest and jaw. Nylacast Engineering Plastic Solutions admitted criminal health and safety offences at Northampton Magistrates' Court. The inquest last year heard another worker had been injured on the same machine in a similar incident that went unreported. A safety expert told the court the machine had not been properly risk-assessed, and Nylacast admitted failing to provide a suitable risk assessment for the machine. The company said it no longer uses the machine. Sentencing, District Judge Tim Daber said employees had been exposed to risk for some time, and described the incident as “an accident waiting to happen.” Speaking after the hearing, Mr Singh's wife Kulwender Kaur said she was “learning to live without” her husband. “The pain is not going away at all,” she said. “I don't think it ever will.” Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Alex Nayar said: “Those in control of work equipment have a responsibility to undertake a suitably robust assessment in order to ensure that all foreseeable hazards have been identified. Had this hazard been identified, suitable engineering controls could have been devised and implemented to minimise the risk, therefore this death could have been prevented.”
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Concrete pumping company Anytime McDaids and its sole director Laurence McDaid have been fined after an employee was struck and killed by concrete. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how on 13 February 2017 Kevin Hoare was attempting to clear a blockage in a vehicle-mounted concrete pump. The pump ejected concrete, which struck and killed the 26-year-old, who had only started work for the firm in December 2016. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Anytime McDaids Limited had no system to train operators to carry out the work safely, or arrangements to supervise them. The company failed to ensure the safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, of its employees and of others who may be affected by their work due to the lack of adequate training and supervision. The HSE found the company’s failings were due to the negligence of Laurence McDaid, the firm’s sole director. Anytime McDaids Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,102.81. Director Laurence McDaid pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £2,600 plus costs of £636.99. HSE inspector James Goldfinch said: “Concrete pumps have great potential to be dangerous when operated by those without suitable training, as they operate under high pressures.” He added: “In this case a young worker, having only been employed by the company for two months, was not provided with adequate training and supervision, which led to the unsafe operation of the pump and ultimately his tragic death”.
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Balfour Beatty Rail Limited and London Underground Limited have been fined £333,000 and £100,000 respectively after a worker was crushed at Whitechapel station in east London. Snaresbrook Crown Court heard that in the early hours of 4 June 2016, Adrian Rascarache, 36, was struck by a Road Rail Vehicle (RRV), and his lower body was crushed between the RRV and the platform edge of the station, resulting in serious injuries to his pelvis. An Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigation found that despite London Underground and Balfour Beatty being aware of the risks posed by allowing workers to guide RRVs by walking along the track in front of the machine, there was no safe system of work put in place that night to address the risk. In fact, a decision had been taken not to adopt a procedure called ‘send and receive’, which eliminated the need for people to walk between machines, as it was considered a slower method of working. ORR also found that on the night of Rascarache’s injury, workers were not given the required safety briefings before starting their shift, as the signing-in procedure had been deliberately bypassed. ORR’s chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser said “corners were cut as a response to perceived time pressure. This is unacceptable and resulted in the terrible injuries suffered by Mr Rascarache.” In addition to the fines, both London Underground and Balfour Beatty Rail Limited agreed to pay £30,000 in court costs.
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A bakery company has been fined for criminal safety breaches after employees suffered long-term exposure to flour dust, a respiratory sensitiser. Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard that between April 2002 and April 2016 employees of Coopland & Son (Scarborough) Ltd were exposed consistently to risks to their health, with some being diagnosed with occupational asthma. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no effective method of control to prevent the dust from becoming airborne and employees being exposed to breathing in the dust. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £159,080 and ordered to pay £4,594 in costs. HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher commented: “Exposure to flour dust in an industrial setting can cause serious and debilitating health effects. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
An Istanbul court has ordered the release of 31 construction workers that had been jailed since September after protesting about poor conditions and fatalities on Istanbul’s giant site third airport site (Risks 873). The Gaziosmanpaşa Criminal Court of First Instance ruled all 31 workers be released under judiciary control pending trial. Among those freed was Özgür Karabulut, president of the Progressive Union of Construction Workers (Dev Yapı-İş). In September, hundreds of workers walked off the job at Istanbul’s new international airport in protest at poor conditions and work-related deaths on the site. The mega airport will replace the city’s existing Atatürk airport once it is completed. Following the release of the union members, a statement from Dev Yapı-İş noted: “The first hearing of workers, who staged a protest against their bad working conditions and occupational murders in the construction of the new airport in İstanbul was held on 5 December. The hearing was held in the dining hall of the courthouse due to the low capacity of the courtrooms. The court ruled that workers shall be released on probation. The next hearing will be on 20 March 2019.” The statement added: “Özgür Karabulut, president of Progressive Union of Construction Workers is free now. He will be able to witness the birth of his daughter. And he will be back in his duties in the workers' movement.” The union concluded: “There will be a long-term struggle for improving the occupational health and safety conditions of airport workers. Thanks to all sisters and brothers who supported our campaign for their freedom and who contributed visibility of working conditions at Istanbul Airport.” Fifty-two people have died while building Istanbul’s giant new airport, according to official figures on workplace deaths at the site disclosed this month by Turkey’s official Presidential Communications Centre (CİMER).
The US mining union UMWA is suing the federal mine safety regulator MSHA after it reduced its oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record. MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues. Under the Obama administration, MSHA used that authority to place the Pocahontas Coal Company’s Affinity mine in southern West Virginia on POV status in October 2013, after two miners were killed in separate incidents within a two-week period. This year, under the Trump administration, agency officials decided to remove POV status for the Affinity mine in an agreement with the company that resolved litigation on the matter, despite a continued unsatisfactory safety performance at the mine. The UMWA’s complaint claims that the actions of the safety regulator MSHA violate the Administrative Procedures Act and the Mine Act. UMWA spokesperson Phil Smith said MSHA should keep the pattern of violations status in place until the Affinity mine is proved safe. “The message that this sends to operators and miners is that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is not going to fully enforce the law is a wrong one,” Smith said. “We think that message needs to be countered immediately.” The union’s lawsuit mirrors concerns from mine safety experts and some lawmakers, including a former MSHA director, a former member of a federal mine safety review commission, and the incoming chair of a Congressional committee with oversight on mine safety.
Twenty-four employees at an Amazon warehouse in the US were taken to hospital on 5 December after a robot accidentally punctured a can of bear repellent. The 255g can contain concentrated capsaicin, a compound in chilli peppers, was punctured by an automated machine after it fell off a shelf. The pepper spray incident happened at a warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey, on the outskirts of Trenton. The 24 affected employees were taken to hospital “as a precaution”, Amazon said. However, some reports said at least one affected worker was in a serious condition. The incident has again shone a spotlight on conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, which have been criticised in the US and the UK for poor working practices and a focus on productivity above worker safety. Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said: “Amazon’s automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger. This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. The richest company in the world cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people’s lives at risk.” In the UK, ambulances were called to attend to workers at Amazon warehouses 600 times between 2015 and 2017 (Risks 875).
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