|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. 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.|
A review of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted for its host ministry, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), has called on the safety regulator to up its game, echoing concerns raised by the TUC, trades unions and safety campaigns. The ‘tailored review’, carried out for DWP by a member of the board of the Pensions Trust, is generally positive about the HSE, but raises several serious concerns. High on the list is the government-ordered end to most proactive – preventive – inspections. The review calls instead for inspection and enforcement to be based on evidence of the best outcomes and for HSE to consider more challenging prosecutions on issues like work-related stress. It also says the representative “tripartite structure of the HSE board should be retained”. The system has been misfiring in recent years, with lengthy delays - and on two occasions a flat refusal - by the government to appoint well qualified TUC nominated workers’ representatives. The review also raises concerns about the HSE’s government-demanded ‘commercialisation’ programme, an initiative now accepted by most to have been a damaging diversion and a flop. The report notes: “HSE should clarify the purpose of its commercial strategy and ambitions, to ensure that projects undertaken align with, and complement, HSE’s core business.” It adds: “HSE should ensure that the success of commercial activity is measured by its contribution, rather than by income.” According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “These two comments are a very strong reminder to the government that the HSE is there for a reason, which is to improve the health and safety of workers and the public - not a commercial organisation chasing profits.” He welcomed the call for inspections policy to be based on evidence rather than a government dictated deregulation agenda. “The TUC argued strongly that the move away from proactive inspections was a political move and not one based on evidence,” he said. “We also pointed out that the HSE approach to inspections was far more likely to find breaches of safety, where serious injuries have to be reported, rather than health. Proactive inspections continue to expose a material breach rate of 45-50 per cent, demonstrating the value of this form of intervention in removing risks from the workplace.”
Ÿ . , DWP, November 2018, first published online 19 December 2018.
Liverpool has become the first council in the country to make UNISON’s ‘End violence at work charter’ part of its commissioning process for third-sector care and housing providers. Councillors agreed the move after hearing UNISON national officer Gavin Edwards declare: “Half of our members working for charities and housing associations tell us they have experienced violence or aggression at work in the past two years. This is unacceptable and shows that far too many employers are just telling their staff to put up with it, that it’s ‘part of the job’.” To qualify for the UNISON violence at work charter mark, employers must have a written violence and aggression at work policy, which is available to all staff, and which covers lone working. There should be a senior manager responsible for implementing these policies. The employer must also take measures to reduce risks. It should also encourage reporting of incidents, collect and monitor data on incidents and allow union safety reps to access these data. It should also consult with safety reps on solutions to issues relating to violence in the workplace. Thorough risk assessments should be carried out and there should be clear support and independent counselling services for staff who are victims of violence at work. Workers should also receive the training necessary to ensure they know how to deal with threatening situations. UNISON says so far 36 individual employers have signed up to the charter, including Action For Children, Dimensions and RNIB. Liverpool is the first service commissioner to sign up. “Taking this step will help reduce the number of violent incidents staff are subjected to and will show all service providers we deal with that violence against staff is not something to be swept under the carpet,” the UNISON’s Gavin Edwards told councillors.
Tube union RMT has called for a reversal of job cuts and a renewed focus on safety, after ‘shocking’ official figures revealed a sharp rise in violent crime on the network. The British Transport Police (BTP) reported a 43 per cent increase in violent crime on the Tube network over the past three years. Its data showed there were 1,980 reported incidents between November 2015 and October 2016, compared with 2,838 between November 2017 and September 2018. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These shocking figures show the brutal reality of the rising tide of serious violence on the Tube network and are backed up by the daily experiences of RMT members working at the sharp end. Due to the cuts programme we now routinely have reports of stations being left unstaffed and the safety culture being ripped apart as London Underground is turned into a thugs’ paradise. Those cuts to staffing and budgets must be reversed and these appalling figures should serve as a wake up call to those calling the shots.” He added: “RMT will be stepping up the fight to halt and reverse the cuts.”
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Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has welcomed as a step in the right direction a Home Office minister’s offer of limited measures to address violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, but has expressed dismay after another minister later said the government did not accept the union’s case for changes to the Offensive Weapons Bill to protect workers. A letter from Home Office minister Victoria Atkins MP following a roundtable meeting on violence and abuse against shopworkers () noted “the government intends to announce the following package when the Offensive Weapons Bill enters Committee stage in the House of Lords: A call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shopworkers to help ensure we fully understand this issue and consider all options for addressing it; funding for the sector to run targeted communications activity to raise awareness of the existing legislation in place to protect shop workers; refreshing the work of the National Retail Crime Steering Group on violent crime.” A 23 January debate in the Lords, however, heard another Home Office minister reject the union’s case for legal protection for shopworkers. Conservative peer Baroness Williams agreed to meet with Usdaw. However, in responding to a question about the need to protect shopworkers who are enforcing the law, she said: “I don’t agree they are acting as law enforcement officers”. Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of Cradely said the government’s proposals “fall short in failing to recognise the need for specific legislation to make it an offence to assault a worker enforcing the new age-related restrictions on acid and knives set to come into force as a result of this Offensive Weapons Bill.” Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis commented: “Shopworkers are on the frontline of helping to stem the scourge of knife crime and acid attacks. Their role should be valued, they deserve our respect, but most of all they deserve the protection of the law. It was disappointing to hear that the minister doesn’t appear to recognise that and we look forward to meeting with her.”
Ÿ Usdaw news releases on the and the . , 23 January 2019.
Huge cuts in independent roadside inspections of lorries could be leaving all road users at greater danger, the transport union Unite has warned. The union alert came after a series of freedom of information requests it submitted revealed the number of road side inspections or checks involving heavy goods vehicles (HGV) by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has fallen by 37 per cent in eight years, from 234,296 in 2010/11 to 147,533 in 2017/18. The union said this is despite evidence of an increase in lorry journeys. Based on Department for Transport (DfT) figures on total HGV journeys in the UK, Unite calculates there is now only a 0.03 per cent chance of a lorry receiving an on-the-spot inspection, on each journey. The union warns the decrease in inspections corresponds with an increase in HGV driver fatalities, up by 50 per cent in 12 months from 14 in 2016 to 21 in 2017 (). The total number of road deaths involving HGVs in the UK in 2017 was 263. Unite said the reduction in inspections is linked to ‘huge’ government cuts to the DfT and its agencies. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “These figures are truly shocking and the stark result of the government’s obsession with austerity. By cutting inspectors and inspections the government is risking the safety of all road users. While the majority of HGVs are well maintained, those that do not meet the necessary standards could potentially cause accidents, with tragic results. It also means that drivers who are prepared to break driving hours rules are also unlikely to be identified.” He warned: “If unscrupulous employers realise that there is little possibility of their vehicles and drivers being inspected, they are more likely to be tempted to cut corners on safety. It is clear that as the number of lorry journeys increase, not only do these cuts in inspections need to be reversed but they need to increase from the 2010 levels as a result of increased lorry journeys.”
A new report has exposed the “complacent attitude towards resident safety shown by the council, the Westminster government, and the businesses involved in Grenfell,” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has said. The firefighters’ union leader was commenting on an Inside Housing report that found no fire safety report was commissioned for the final Grenfell cladding refurbishment plans. An earlier fire safety report had determined that the refurbishment would have “no adverse effect on the building in relation to external fire spread”, but this did not consider the addition of external combustible cladding, or other major changes such as new windows. Fire safety firm Exova, which prepared the report, recommended a follow-up analysis on the final plans, but this was never commissioned. FBU’s Matt Wrack commented: “This concerning development sheds further light on the complacent attitude towards resident safety shown by the council, the Westminster government, and the businesses involved in Grenfell. The FBU has repeatedly highlighted the dangers of the cosy relationship between councils, the construction industry, and fire safety regulators. This new evidence provides further proof that corners were cut, exposing the endemic cost-cutting mentality surrounding social housing, and which placed profit before the lives of residents.” He said that while this “is rightly a matter for the inquiry and potentially for police investigation,” the union was “disappointed that, due to the delay to the next phase of the inquiry, the corporate and government interests complicit in the fire safety regime at Grenfell will continue to evade justice for another year."
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The family of a former fitter who died of an asbestos-related cancer has been compensated with the help of his union, Unite. The man, whose name has not been released by the union, worked for a Wakefield manufacturing firm from 1941 until his retirement in 1988. He initially joined on an apprenticeship, before becoming a qualified fitter. Towards the end of his career he took a role as a foreman at the factory. Throughout his career he was exposed to asbestos in the fitting shop, where he would accidentally disturb and breathe in the dust used to lag mechanical parts or in brake linings and clutch discs. Years after retirement, the member was diagnosed with the incurable cancer mesothelioma, leaving him with significant breathing difficulties and in pain. He died nine months after his diagnosis. Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “Almost half a century of negligence by our member’s employer left him suffering from this disease. His family were devastated by his loss and turned to our legal team for answers. By supporting the family’s investigation into a legal claim, they were able to understand why this happened in the first place.”
Nearly a quarter of schools in England (23 per cent) have not told the government how much asbestos they have in their buildings and how they are managing the risks, a committee of MPs has revealed. Schools were asked to provide details to the government by 31 May 2018. But the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee says it is “seriously concerned” about the Department for Education's lack of information about asbestos in schools. It adds that schools that have not reported back should be “named and shamed.” According to the PAC report, despite the deadline “only 77 per cent of schools have responded and the department has extended the deadline yet again, to 15 February 2019, to allow the remaining 23 per cent of schools to respond.” The committee concludes: “In March 2019, the department should name and shame those schools which did not meet the February 2019 deadline and which have therefore repeatedly failed to respond to its asbestos-management survey.” According to teaching union NEU, more than 200 teachers have died since 2001 from mesothelioma, just one of the cancers associated with asbestos. Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said his union “shares PAC’s concerns about asbestos management in schools. Failure to provide the DfE with information about management of asbestos in schools is putting lives at risk. These delays show that academy trusts and local authorities who bear overall responsibility for health and safety in schools are not facing up to their legal responsibilities.”
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A Bangladeshi factory that produces clothes for Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Mothercare was forced to compensate an “outspoken” female worker after she was beaten up on the orders of management and threatened with being murdered. The woman claimed to have been “severely beaten up” by security guards and the human resources (HR) and compliance management at the factory, which is used by the brand Stanley/Stella. She said she was robbed of her severance pay and told that if she protested she would be “killed and her body put in a cardboard box”, a report from the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) notes. The report from FWF, whose membership is comprised of garment companies, follows revelations last week by the Guardian that workers at another factory used by Stanley/Stella, making Spice Girls T-shirts designed to raise money for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign, were paid just 35p an hour. The Guardian said Stanley/Stella had confirmed the garment worker beating occurred at Dird Composite Textiles, its largest supplier. The factory was also used by M&S until October last year. The factory initially denied the allegations but later sacked the HR manager and paid the woman 68,250Tk (£630) in compensation after pressure from FWF. In response to the revelations about the other factory producing their charity T-shirts, the Spice Girls said they were “deeply shocked and appalled” and would personally fund an investigation into the factory’s working conditions. Dominique Muller, the policy director at Labour Behind the Label, said: “Only through real representative unions can these vulnerable workers have any power against big brands and suppliers. Stanley/Stella have been given a ‘leader’ status by the FWF despite this complaint and recent evidence which shows how far they are from being an actual leader.”
A disabled woman was discriminated against when she was unfairly dismissed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), according to an employment tribunal ruling. Isabella Valentine, who suffers from severe and frequent migraines, was dismissed less than two months into a 12-month programme specifically created to help into work the long-term unemployed and others groups struggling to find employment. The ruling on an October 2018 Norwich tribunal issued this month found the DWP acted in a “perverse” manner when handling Valentine’s disability and had “failed in their duty to make reasonable adjustments” under the Equality Act. Valentine joined DWP on 3 October 2016 as an apprentice in a back-to-work programme meant for individuals likely to “require a degree of nurturing to help them”, according to the programme’s line manager’s guide. According to Valentine: “My manager started harassing me on the first day I took off sick because of a migraine. By the fourth day, the department had started disciplinary proceedings and decided to dismiss me. Which it then did.” In his judgment, employment judge Robin Postle said Valentine’s treatment “does beg the question, why, given the nature of why the claimant was put on the course, to try and get her back into the workplace, the [DWP] did not make reasonable adjustments [under the Equality Act 2010], in disregarding migraine absences, or indeed, simply taking no further action. The claimant has suffered unfavourable treatment and she had a disability.” The DWP has been taken to employment tribunals 57 times for disability discrimination against staff in a 20-month period, the worst record for any large government department.
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Safety professionals’ organisation IOSH is urging employers to ensure workers are protected from cancer-causing welding fumes as new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) control standards takes effect. The revised standards were introduced in response to an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of welding fumes and UV radiation from welding as top rated Group 1 causes of cancer in humans (). The more stringent enforced control standards recognise all forms of welding fume can cause cancer. They require the use of local exhaust ventilation for indoor welding, combined with respiratory protective equipment (RPE) where this is unable to fully control the fumes. RPE is required by the standard for outdoor welding. IOSH’s Michael Edwards commented: “The raised control standards for welding fumes are now in effect for organisations within the UK and will have implications to a whole range of different industries where welding operations occur.” He added: “IOSH urges employers in the UK to review current welding control measures in place to ascertain that they meet these raised control standards. This may also mean that risk assessments and risk registers may need updating to ensure that they reflect the new requirements.”
Ÿ . , IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 118.
A former soldier is suing the Ministry of Defence after contracting Q fever in Afghanistan. Wayne Bass claims his life has been ruined by the Army's failure to provide antibiotics which would have protected him from the disease. His case is the first to test the MoD's duty to protect against Q fever, an infectious disease linked to exposure to animals and animal products. A minority of sufferers can develop the potentially fatal heart condition Q fever endocarditis. In 2011, Wayne Bass, a private serving with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, was deployed to Helmand Province, to an area known for its heavy Taliban presence and fire. It is there that he believes he contracted Q fever, an infection caused by bacteria most commonly found in cattle, sheep and goats. In the UK, Q fever is a ‘prescribed’ occupational disease, with people working with animals or animal products eligible for government industrial disease compensation. “To avoid enemy fire I was constantly having to dive into ditches on the ground where farm animals had been, there were animals all over the place,” Bass said. Initially, he experienced flu-like symptoms and an army doctor diagnosed Q fever. Intravenous antibiotics failed to cure him and he was subsequently diagnosed with Q fever chronic fatigue syndrome. Justin Glenister, a partner at Hilary Meredith, the law firm acting for Wayne Bass, believes the case breaks new legal ground. “This is the first case in which the question will be asked whether the MoD had a duty to protect soldiers against this known risk of Q fever, which we say was a preventable risk, and what steps it ought to have taken to protect them. There are other similar cases being prepared.” The MoD's defence says 200 personnel per year tested positive for Q fever in 2008-2011 and of those a third were symptomatic.
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The TUC says zero hour contracts are a licence to treat people like disposable labour. Since 2015, the STUC-backed Better Than Zero campaign has been organising against zero hours, zero rights, and zero respect in the workplace. The campaign supports workers to take collective action through their trade union to fight for better terms and conditions. As part of the TUC’s HeartUnions week, TUC Education is hosting a webinar with Better Than Zero to find out how they have been organising against precarious work in the hospitality and service sectors in Scotland. Sign up to learn what unions and reps can do to eradicate these contracts.
Ÿ , 2:00pm, 13 February 2019.
A ‘universal labour guarantee’ including a recognition of workplace health and safety as a ‘fundamental’ human right is a central recommendation of a new report by the International Labour Organisation’s Global Commission on the Future of Work. The report is the culmination of a 15-month examination by the 27-member commission, which is made up of leading figures from business and labour, think tanks, academia, government and non-governmental organisations. Co-chaired by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven, the commission this week outlined a ‘human-centred’ agenda for decent and sustainable work. This includes the universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces. The report notes: “The international community has long recognised health as a human right. But in a world where almost 3 million workers continue to die every year as a result of occupational accidents and work-related diseases, it is time for safety and health at work to be recognised as a fundamental principle and right at work.” Luc Cortebeeck, one of the three workers’ representatives on the Commission, commented: “Regulation and protection of workers’ rights is a must for the new forms of work. The employment relationship remains the centrepiece of labour protection and the Commission recommends the establishment of a Universal Labour Guarantee, with freedom of association, collective bargaining, freedom from forced labour, child labour and discrimination, and very importantly: adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces.”
Global food and farming union federation IUF has issued a serious health warning about behavioural safety (BS) programmes at work. The union body notes: “Behaviour-based safety programmes, which are now the guiding method used by many companies, shift employer responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace onto workers by focusing on workers’ ‘behaviour’ rather than the workplace hazards which are the source of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. They undermine union-based health and safety committees and workplace solidarity based on collective bargaining.” IUF has a policy position opposing behaviour-based safety which also commits the global union “to develop programmes to educate workers on their dangers, among other measures.” IUF says a new policy paper and summary, developed by its food processing division, “detail the destructive impact of these programmes and explain how occupational safety and health management systems which truly protect workers’ health and safety are developed and implemented.”
Industry estimates of the cost of the European Union-wide REACH chemical registration regulations were massively inflated, the chemical safety group ChemSec has revealed. Chemical industry lobby group CEFIC initially estimated that the total costs of REACH for industry would be between €20 and €30 billion. By contrast, the Extended Impact Assessment carried out by the European Commission in 2003 estimating that direct costs of REACH for the European chemicals industry at €2.3 billion over a period of 11 years. The Commission also calculated that health benefits would be as high as €50 billion over 30 years. The REACH registration process ended in May last year, allowing a real-life assessment of the cost to be made. According to ChemSec, the total costs for registration under REACH turned out to be €3 billion, close to the European Commission figure and more than six times lower than CEFIC’s most conservative calculation. “Furthermore, if we look at the EU chemical industry sales during these same eleven years (2006-2017), they total at €6,234 billion (= €6.2 trillion). Comparing this figure with the actual costs of REACH (€3 billion), we can see that it equals to 0.048 per cent of the total sales – more or less exactly like predicted by the Commission,” ChemSec said. Claims REACH would damage the European industry were also unfounded, it indicated, citing evidence that Europe’s leading chemical companies increased their revenues by around 10 per cent in 2017 and raised their average tax-adjusted profits by 27 per cent. As a whole, the European chemical sector grew at double the rate of its American counterpart. In a remarkable about face, the European chemicals industry is now urging the European Commission to “communicate more strongly about the benefits and the good functioning of REACH.”
A high-level delegation from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to Bangkok has condemned the treatment of a group of workers from the State Rail Union of Thailand (SRUT) who have been persecuted for raising safety concerns (Risks 517). The seven SRUT leaders had been sacked, but reinstated. However, despite being found innocent, they are facing a crippling fine of THB24 million (£562,000) set by the Thai Supreme Court. Noel Coard, ITF’s head of inland transport, said: “This long-running saga shames Thailand, it’s time for the government to prove that workers here have true union rights.” But he said unions were encouraged by positive meetings at the labour and transport ministries “and now wait to see them put their words into action.” CA Raja Sridhar, ITF’s railway workers’ vice chair, said: “Railway safety is important for workers, passengers and the public. Railway workers have unrivalled knowledge and can help make the system safer – these union leaders should be praised for their initiative, not punished.” SRUT president Sawit Kaewvarn said: “We welcome the support and efforts of the ITF and its unions. It keeps us strong and has helped us to win some battles in this ten-year struggle. We will not back down because we know we have not done anything wrong, and I am sure that this mission from the ITF will help us to finally win justice.”
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