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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 883
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 logo







RMT calls for an end to staff cuts as rail attacks soar

Rail union RMT has called for a halt to staffing cuts on stations and platforms, including the removal of guards, as new British Transport Police (BTP) figures showed knife crime on Britain’s railways has more than tripled in the past four years. The BTP recorded 1,059 offences involving a knife or bladed article in 2018, up from 338 in 2015. This increased to 417 in 2016 and 632 in 2017, which RMT said illustrates ‘the rising tide’ of attacks. The number of people caught carrying a knife also rose steeply. Recorded cases of possession of an offensive weapon increased more than five times from 24 in 2015 to 136 in 2018. There were 57 recorded instances in 2016, and 52 in 2017. Figures for having an article with a blade or point in a public place rose from 103 in 2015, to 164 in 2016, 222 in 2017, and 387 in 2018. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “No one can now seriously argue that there isn’t a rising tide of violence on Britain’s railways and these latest shocking BTP figures are borne out by our members day-to-day experiences at the sharp end of the transport network. These statistics reinforce a pattern of increasing abuse and violence on our trains and platforms and should serve as a wake up call to both the government and a number of the train operators who are ignoring this brutal reality.” He added: “Staff are the eyes and ears of the service, axing them in the drive towards an automated and faceless railway in the name of profit gives a green light to the thugs and criminals and it is grossly and dangerously irresponsible. The threat to our guards and our station staff should be lifted immediately.”

Ÿ  RMT news release.

Shop crimewave spurs union call for worker protection

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has called for government action to protect retail staff after new Office for National Statistics figures revealed a 30 per cent increase in police recorded incidents of shoplifting in England and Wales over the last decade. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary said: “The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying for our members, even though figures from last year suggest the trend may be levelling off. The evidence from retailers, police and our own survey of shopworkers all show a disturbing increase in retail crime. This cannot be allowed to continue, action must be taken.” The union leader added: “The police must have the resources from government to respond to incidents and investigate shop thefts. We want the government to legislate for stiffer sentences for the thugs that attack shopworkers. They have the opportunity to do that in the Offensive Weapons Bill and we hope they will support amendments being tabled by Peers. We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shopworkers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.”

Ÿ  Usdaw news release. Police recorded crimes in England and Wales, released 24 January 2019.

Health service understaffing is unhealthy

Almost half of NHS workers on the front line of patient care say there are not enough staff on their shift to ensure patients are treated safely, with the health of staff also suffering as a result, a new survey by UNISON has found. The union says its study illustrates the effect of chronic understaffing in the health service, with unfilled posts and uncertainty about the future status of many workers having an impact on patients. The ‘Just Another Day’ snapshot survey examined attitudes and experiences for staff across the UK during one working day – the 24 hours of Tuesday 18 September 2018. Almost half (45 per cent) of the respondents who were directly involved with patient care (6,778 out of 15,134 respondents) said there were not enough staff on their shift to deliver a safe, dignified and compassionate service. Almost two-fifths of respondents (38 per cent) worked longer than their scheduled hours, in many cases unpaid. Nearly one in six (16 per cent) were subjected to violence, aggression and/or verbal abuse during their shift. And more than a quarter (26 per cent) reported extremely high stress levels. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “This survey shows the extent to which crisis level staffing has become normal across the whole NHS. These are long-term, systemic factors not being properly addressed.” She added: “The government must give the system the funding needed to tackle these issues.” In 2016, Wales became the first country in Europe to introduce safe staffing levels for nurses. Legislation is currently going through the Scottish parliament to introduce safe staffing, with a requirement for ‘appropriate’ numbers.

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Protective action needed on asbestos in schools

A ‘proactive’ approach is needed to protect pupils and staff from asbestos in schools, teaching union NASUWT has said. The union was commenting on the £100,000 fine handed in January to principal contractor Ashe Construction Limited after subcontractors were exposed to asbestos while refurbishing Oakwood Junior School in Derby. Chris Keates, the union’ general secretary, said: “The NASUWT is deeply troubled to see that in yet another school, asbestos has been removed unsafely. While the prosecution and fine is welcome, this incident should not have happened in the first place. The NASUWT has stated consistently that the management of asbestos in situ is flawed, and all asbestos must be removed from all schools to prevent these cases occurring. If this work had been undertaken in term time, the outcome could have been much more serious, with potentially large numbers of pupils and teachers contaminated.” Keates added: “The NASUWT is also concerned that Derby City Council appears to have learned very little from the Silverhill prosecution in 2007, at which the NASUWT was a key witness in securing the prosecution. The government and employers should be taking a more proactive approach to the safety and welfare of pupils and staff.”

Ÿ  NASUWT news release. HSE news release. Derby Telegraph.

Community calls for rethink on mental health at work

The union Community has called for an urgent rethink on mental health at work that recognises the ‘critical role’ of trade unions. The union was speaking out as the Changing Work Centre, a joint research initiative of Community and the Fabian Society, launched a new report. ‘Minds at Work: making mental health a priority in the changing world of work’ calls for ‘an urgent rethink of attitudes towards mental health as the world of work continues to transform.’ The report calls for a review of the Equality Act to ensure sufficient protections for those with mental health conditions. It proposes a reform of statutory sick pay to make it more flexible, more generous and available to workers from day one of their employment. It also backs the provision of mental health first aid in the workplace and says government, trade unions and employers should work together to make workplaces accessible. Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, said: “We have helped thousands of workers get the support they need with their mental health. As part of our priority campaign on mental health, we’ve developed mental health policies, a mental health guide, trained our reps in mental health first aid and developed a mental health charter for our employers.” He added: “Minds at Work is an important collection which explores the critical role of trade unions in addressing mental ill-health and providing the right support in the workplace.”

Ÿ  Community news release and Minds at Work report, January 2019.
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.

Firefighters overturn cuts to services in Merseyside

The FBU has won its fight to maintain night time cover at two fire stations, and has increased the number of fire engines in the region. The union says its stunning locally run campaign opposed cuts proposed by the fire authority and secured widespread political and public support. In light of the FBU’s campaign, the chief fire officer put forward a new proposal to increase the number of fire engines from 26 to 30 and to increase firefighter jobs from 620 to 642, with 20 recruits in training. Night time fire cover at City Centre and Wallasey fire stations would also now be retained under the proposal, which was accepted. Mark Rowe, FBU regional secretary in the North West commented: “Our success shows that an organised and focused campaign, which includes the local communities and political groups, can deliver significant results. The FBU, in the face of almost a decade of savage austerity, has shown that we can mobilise massive support and resistance, to not only stop proposed cuts, but also overturn previous cuts.” He added: “It is undoubtable that the public of Merseyside will now be safer due to the determined efforts of the FBU. I want to thank each and every FBU member, and the public, who have supported this campaign – without them, we would not have achieved what we have.”

Ÿ  FBU news release. Morning Star.

Bullying row escalates after union rep’s dismissal

Hundreds of Hackney council workers could take industrial action after a union rep at the centre of a bullying row lost an appeal over her sacking. Unite has accused the council of bringing spurious counter-allegations against shop steward Natasha Johnson – such as “chasing up emails too quickly” and making managers feel harassed by accusing them of harassment, the Hackney Gazette reported. The union rep was dismissed in November, in the middle of an employment tribunal, and after she had already been suspended for a year. That suspension came while she was going through a disciplinary procedure, and shortly before she was set to appeal over a grievance she had made about “management victimisation, harassment, bullying and racial and sexual discrimination”. Unite said her treatment highlights management’s “counter-allegation culture” towards staff who make complaints. Unite regional manager Onay Kasab told the Gazette a second employment tribunal on grounds of unfair dismissal will now be brought. He said: “The worrying thing is if the council is allowed to get away with making these allegations, in the future when people want to complain about bullying or discrimination this is what they will face.” He added: “We will be consulting our members. We wanted to give [Hackney Council] a chance to put it right and they haven’t. We will now be consulting about which areas to ballot for industrial action.”

Ÿ  Hackney Gazette.


Ex-ministers ‘culpable’ for Grenfell deaths

A ‘string’ of government ministers sat on safety reports that could have prevented the Grenfell disaster, a Labour MP has charged. Steve Reed told the Commons that had the ministers been employees of a private company they would “potentially be in the dock for corporate manslaughter”. The magazine 24 Housing reports that neither Gavin Barwell, now chief of staff to Theresa May, Tory party chair Brandon Lewis nor one-time communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles, have been called to give evidence to the Grenfell inquiry despite questions being raised about their fire safety failings. The three have previously been accused of not acting on a review of building regulations at tower blocks that uncovered serious safety failings following the fatal 2009 Lakanal fire in Camberwell, London. Speaking in the Commons, Croydon North MP Steve Reed said the government was “culpable” for not preventing the Grenfell tragedy through its failure to respond to advice given after Lakanal. “The government failed to clarify regulations and guidance after Lakanal, it is no individual minister, it is a whole string of them… that have failed to take appropriate action in line with guidance they were given.” He added: “I’m afraid to say the government is collectively culpable of what has happened, and failure to act when told action was necessary if they were going to prevent a repeat of Lakanal House – of course, it was repeated horrifically in the disaster at Grenfell Tower.” Reed added that had housing ministers belonged to a private company and failed to act in the same way they would now “potentially be in the dock for corporate manslaughter”.

Ÿ  24 Housing.

Chronic stress 40 per cent higher in working mums

Biological markers for chronic stress are 40 per cent higher in women bringing up two children while working full-time, new research has found. Working from home and flexitime have no effect on their level of chronic stress – only putting in fewer hours at work helps, according to the study published in the British Sociological Association journal Sociology. Shorter hours led to reductions in chronic stress markers for both men and women, the study found. Researchers from the universities of Manchester and Essex analysed data on 6,025 participants in the UK Household Longitudinal Survey, which collects information on working life and readings of measures of stress response. They found that the overall level of 11 biomarkers related to chronic stress, including stress related hormones and blood pressure, was 40 per cent higher if women were working full-time while bringing up two children than it was among women working full-time with no children. Women working full-time and bringing up one child had 18 per cent higher level. They also found that women with two children who worked reduced hours through part-time work, job share and term-time flexible working arrangements had chronic stress levels 37 per cent lower than those working in jobs where flexible work was not available. Those working flexitime or working from home, with no overall reduction in working hours, had no reduction in chronic stress. The researchers found that men’s chronic stress markers were also lower if they worked reduced hours, and the effect was about the same as for women.

Ÿ  Essex University ISER news release. The Independent.

Sick worker killed himself after voicemail from work

An inquest has heard how a stressed bank administrator who died on the tracks at Stourbridge Junction ‘crumbled’ when he received a text and voicemail from work while signed off sick. HSBC employee Matthew Lyndon was hit by a train as it was leaving the railway station on the morning of 16 January, Black Country Coroner’s Court was told. His partner, Caroline Garrington, said work had “continually called him and asked him for weekly meetings or chats on the phone and this made him stressed and made him cry and be scared of HR”. She added: “The day before his death there was a text from work and voicemail messages to say calls were going to be made to him on Wednesday and Thursday that week – this is the day that he passed away and the day after. He was very distressed about work trying to contact him and he was told by his doctor that they shouldn’t because he wasn’t fit enough to have those calls.” Assistant coroner Emma Serrano said Ms Garrington “believes that work were hassling him and pushed him over the edge as he seemed to be coping better and talked about cooking, shopping etc to his partner until he crumbled with the text and the voicemail”. The coroner added: “I think further enquiries need to be made into this death… I would like further enquiries in relation to this to be made.” The inquest was adjourned until 28 March.

Ÿ  Stourbridge News.
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.

Construction company fined after fatal fall

A London-based construction company has been fined £300,0000 for criminal safety breaches after a worker was killed in a fall. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 4 November 2015, Formation Construction Limited employee Adrian Nicolae Persu was using a concrete breaker at a site in Acton, London. While making an opening for a stairwell the 37-year-old fell 7.5 metres, sustaining fatal head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work was not properly planned, adequately supervised or carried out in a safe manner. Formation Construction Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £17,528 in costs. HSE inspector Kevin Smith said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement suitable and sufficient measures to prevent falls.” He added: “Ultimately, the company failed to control the risk on site and as a result one of its workers fell to his death.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Serial offender Veolia convicted over worker death

A refuse collection company has been convicted of a criminal safety offence and fined £1m after a worker was run over and killed. Canterbury Crown Court heard how, on 18 October 2013, Veolia ES (UK) Limited employee John Head suffered fatal injuries when he was run over by a reversing refuse collection vehicle (RCV) as he was walking across the Ross Depot Waste Transfer Station yard in Folkestone. The 60-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that multiple vehicles, including RCVs and articulated lorries, were manoeuvring around the yard with no specific controls. The company failed to adequately assess the risks involved in the yard and did not implement industry recognised control measures to protect employees. Veolia ES (UK) Limited was found guilty after a trial of a criminal safety offence and fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £130,000. HSE inspector Kevin Golding said: “This should be a reminder to all industries, but in particular, the waste industry, to appropriately assess the risks and implement widely recognised control measures to adequately control manoeuvring vehicles, in particular reversing vehicles and restrict pedestrian movements around vehicles.” In October 2010, Veolia ES was fined £225,000 after a worker was killed in a vehicle collision while collecting litter from a busy road (Risks 477). In February 2010, Veolia was fined £130,000 for another workplace death (Risks 444). The company was accused that year of being a “serial safety offender” (Risks 445).

Ÿ  HSE news release. Kent Live.

Joiner crushed to death by caravan

A joiner received fatal crush injuries while changing a tyre on a four-tonne caravan, a court has heard. Christopher Richards died from injuries sustained when the caravan collapsed on top of him at Blackhills Caravan Sales in Swansea in 2014. The firm pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £120,000 at Swansea Crown Court. The court heard the tyre shifted off a jack, causing the chassis to fall on to Mr Richards’ chest. The 48-year-old, who had been working with the family-run business for more than two years, suffered catastrophic injuries and died in hospital three days later. Lee Reynolds, prosecuting on behalf of Swansea council, told the court the firm did not have industry-standard safety procedures in place on the day of the incident. He said it was an “accident waiting to happen.” Three health and safety charges against company directors were dropped in December following the firm’s guilty plea. In addition to the fine, the judge ordered the company to pay £14,000 in costs.

Ÿ  Wales Online. BBC News Online.


Australia: Court backs union on airport split shifts

Airport workers in Australia are celebrating a legal victory after the federal court ruled they can't be forced to work split shifts. Justice Darryl Rangiah said airport services company Aerocare, now called Swissport Australia, can't require employees to work split shifts. In his ruling, the judge dismissed Aerocare's application to declare that split shifts are not prohibited under the employment award and workers are not entitled to overtime rates or recall penalties for the shifts. Aerocare's part-time employees perform ground handling duties such as baggage and cargo handling and check-in assistance. Transport Workers Union (TWU) acting national secretary Nick McIntosh said the ruling was an “important win” to ensure safety and security at airports. “This judgment implies that airport workers should not be used and abused by their employers, brought in for three-hour shifts at a time and forced to sleep on dirty floors, behind baggage carousels,” he said in a statement.

Ÿ  Sydney Morning Herald. The Age.

Brazil: Mining giant Vale faces dam deaths anger

Senior Brazilian politicians have called for mining giant Vale SA to be held to account for a 25 January dam collapse in which over 300 people are now believed to have died. Brazil's vice-president Hamilton Mourão said those to blame for the collapse of the mine tailings dam which devastated the town of Brumadinho should be punished, and a top prosecutor said executives could be held personally responsible. Brazilian multinational Vale, which owns the complex, said safety procedures were followed. Over 60 people have been confirmed dead after a sea of mud engulfed a works canteen and nearby houses. Nearly 300 are still missing, with rescuers saying they are very unlikely to find more survivors. “If there was malpractice, recklessness or negligence on the part of someone inside the company, that person has to answer criminally,” O Globo website quoted the vice-president as saying. Top prosecutor Raquel Dodge said it was important to hold the company “strongly responsible.” The mayor of the state capital Belo Horizonte, Alexandre Kalil, said: “Vale's board of directors should be in jail.” Vale president Fabio Schvartsman said the company had followed safety recommendations by international experts. “I followed the technicians' advice and you see what happened. It didn't work,” he said in a TV interview. Unlike dams used for water, tailings dams - like that in Brumadinho - are used to store by-products from mining operations. In November 2015, a dam owned by Vale, along with BHP Billiton, burst in Mariana, in the same Minas Gerais region. It killed 19 people in what was then considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster. Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), commented: “This tragedy is a sad reminder of the crucial importance of a functioning system to guarantee occupational safety and health for miners and protection for their communities. The ILO stands ready to provide continued support to its tripartite Brazilian constituents to ensure the safety of workers and prevent future accidents.”

Ÿ  Vale news release. ILO news release. BBC News Online. ABC News. Financial Times.

Europe: Commission slammed over EDC inaction

The European Commission has come under fire from MEPs who accuse it of continuing to drag its feet over action on regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCS). Speaking at a meeting of the European Parliament's environment committee (Envi) on 22 January, DG Sante’s director for food and feed safety and innovation Sabine Juelicher presented the EU executive’s long delayed strategy for EDCs, involving minimising exposures, more research and an annual forum for ‘active dialogue’ with stakeholders. But MEP Pavel Poc, the vice chair of Envi, said it “is not the strategy the European Parliament has been calling for many years. Under the term ‘strategy’ I would imagine more measurable results and indicators and clear allocated funds.” MEPs questioned the usefulness of the annual forum, with the Envi vice chair commenting: “My fear is it’s only going to be a discussion forum where people and experts will talk and talk [but] no practical measures are taken.” Ms Juelicher said the Commission is now preparing to implement its fitness check process on EDCs. A roadmap will go out for a three-month public consultation and this will be supported by a targeted stakeholder consultation “within a couple of weeks” or at the latest a “few months.” EDCs, which include a broad range of workplace chemicals including many pesticides and plastics, are linked to higher rates of cancer, reproductive harm and other health effects.

Ÿ  ENDS Europe. Chemical Watch. HEAL letter to MEPs.

Global: Landmark agreement on hotel harassment

IUF, the global union for the hospitality sector, has signed a landmark agreement with Meliá Hotels International on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. The union federation says it is the first between the IUF and an international hotel chain. The agreement was signed on in January by IUF general secretary Sue Longley and Meliá CEO Gabriel Escarrer, as part of the process initiated with the 2013 IUF/Meliá agreement on workplace rights. The new agreement incorporates the ILO definition of sexual harassment, affirms a policy of 'zero tolerance' and commits both parties to develop appropriate local implementation procedures based on a shared recognition of the need “to protect the dignity of everyone who works for Meliá, as well as their rights relating to their physical and moral integrity and non-discrimination.” Progress in implementation will be jointly evaluated on a regular basis, IUF says. IUF general secretary Sue Longley welcomed Meliá's lead. “Our members have reported that as many as 85 per cent of employees in the hospitality industry have experienced sexual harassment on the job,” she said. “Melia has shown the way forward in an industry increasingly dominated by global brands. We look forward to developing the implementation process through negotiation at global and local level.” Meliá is the largest hotel chain in Spain and has operations in 41 countries.

Ÿ  IUF news release.


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