|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.
Zero hours workers are more than twice as likely to work ‘health risk’ night shifts as other workers, according to new analysis published by the TUC. The TUC figures show that on a range of key measures, zero hours workers are having a tougher time those in secure employment. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) regularly work through the night, compared to 1 in 10 of the rest of the workforce. Night-working has been shown to increase long-term health impacts, such as heart disease, shortened life expectancy and an increased risk of cancer, says the TUC. The union body is calling for a ban on zero hour contracts alongside further action from government to tackle exploitative and insecure work. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The vast majority of people on zero hour contracts want out. The only flexibility offered to them is what’s good for employers. Zero hours workers regularly work through the night for low pay, putting their health at risk. And many face the constant uncertainty of not knowing when their next shift will come.” She added: “We need action from government the now to stamp out these exploitative contracts once and for all.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said zero hours workers fall foul of a workplace safety double standard. “The traditional health and safety regime in the UK is very much based on the permanent, full-time employee but over a third of workers do not fit that model. Nowhere is that more obvious than with zero hours workers,” he said. He added “there is no evidence that the employers who rely on zero hours contracts are going to step up to the mark without being forced to, so we do need the regulators to up their game and develop a strategy that is going to ensure that these sectors start accepting responsibility for their workers. That needs to include a robust inspection and enforcement regime.”
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An Usdaw survey of over 10,000 workers has laid bare the issues shopworkers are facing as a result of low pay, short hours and zero hours contracts and insecure work. The survey by the retail union found 92 per cent of respondents have seen no improvement in their financial situation over the past five years. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) said that financial worries were having an impact on their mental health. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, commented: “Mental health is a trade union issue. Cuts to in-work benefits; rising living costs; wages falling in value; shorter working hours; redundancies, along with industry-wide cuts to budgets and staffing levels have left members feeling overstretched, overworked and undervalued.” He added: “Our survey results are shocking, which is why we have the ‘Time for Better Pay’ campaign and launched a petition, to tackle these deep-seated problems so many workers are facing. Usdaw is also training and resourcing our reps to help members who are struggling to cope and they are doing a great job.” The union leader highlighted the union role in protecting mental health. “Usdaw reps are running campaign awareness days in their workplaces to tackle the stigma that surrounds mental health,” he said. “Stigma gets in the way of members talking to the union at an early stage and this can lead to them getting caught up in disciplinary procedures that could and should have been avoided.”
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Unite has called for a radical change in the senior leadership at Amnesty International following a damning report into the health and wellbeing of the workforce. The report by the KonTerra Group was commissioned following the suicides last year of staff members Gaetan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor (). The report found that “39 per cent of Amnesty International staff reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty.” It concluded “organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues.” A statement by the Unite branch at Amnesty International welcomed the initiatives already put in place by new Amnesty secretary general Kumi Naidoo, including “his emphasis on changing the culture of the organisation.” But the branch said it has no confidence in the rest of the senior leadership team, who were in post prior to the two tragedies. “It is unfeasible to imagine that given the findings in these reports, the senior leadership team can be considered as part of the solution,” the union’s statement said. Unite regional co-ordinating officer Alan Scott said: “This report is a damning indictment of the toxic and dysfunctional working culture at Amnesty. It is absolutely intolerable that workers at Amnesty experience bullying, targeting and power misuse and the previous leadership team must take full responsibility for these failures.” He added: “It is imperative that the findings of this report are not ignored and Amnesty now works closely with Unite to end the appalling working culture that currently exists.”
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Up to 700 Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members working in Universal Credit in the West Midlands are voting on whether to take industrial action over high workloads and too few staff. The union says the ‘unprecedented’ decision to ballot staff in Universal Credit could mean strikes or action short of strikes takes place next month. PCS says the ‘beleaguered service’ has faced severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated. General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The possibility of a strike by Universal Credit staff should serve as a wakeup call to ministers who have repeatedly insisted Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants when the opposite is in fact the case.” He added: “Our members have not taken the decision to ballot lightly but the responsibility for the breakdown in industrial relations lies squarely with the government who want to run this service into the ground while treating staff with contempt.” Workers at the Universal Credit sites in Wolverhampton and Walsall are demanding the recruitment of more staff, permanent contracts for fixed term staff and a decrease in workloads.
Cleaners in Edinburgh schools are facing threats to their health and safety as a direct result of council cutbacks, the union Unite has revealed. Unite says its ‘Fight for 5’ campaign to improve cleaning standards has uncovered practices that compromise health and safety due to a lack of school cleaners and cleaning materials. Among a litany of concerns identified by the union, cleaners complained to Unite about the lack of health and safety training, including being required to work with machinery and hazardous equipment without any proper structured training. Mary Alexander, Unite’s deputy Scottish secretary, said: “The situation is compromising health and safety standards. It is a ridiculous situation where those working in our schools have to bring in cleaning materials to compensate for the lack of cleaning staff, and also a lack of materials. We believe those pupils, parents and the general Edinburgh public deserve better.” Unite’s five key campaign demands are: Safe and effective cleaning materials; proper health and safety training; an end to the abuse of split-shift allowance; no more overtime abuses or unpaid holidays; and an end to the exploitation of temps and agency workers, through direct employment of more staff.
Firefighters have rescued record numbers of people this year, according to data obtained by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Figures show an increased public need for rescue services, prompting the union’s call for the government to properly fund firefighters’ greatly expanded fire and rescue role. Non-fire rescues now outnumber fire rescues tenfold, but FBU says the Westminster government continues to ignore the increasingly diverse demands on the service. Housing, Communities and Local Government secretary James Brokenshire last week announced further cuts to fire authority funding. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “While firefighters continue to protect their communities from fires, these figures show that their role has vastly expanded. The Westminster government needs to properly fund their vital role responding to flooding, hazardous chemical spillages, road traffic collisions, lift rescues and other hazardous incidents.” He added: “Firefighters are rescuing more people year on year, yet this Tory government continues to cut fire and rescue services to the bone. One in five firefighter jobs in England have been cut since 2010 – it’s the hard work of firefighters that is propping up the service. These figures make it clear that fire and rescue cuts put the public at risk to more than just fires. This is a matter of public safety.”
Workers operating the Woolwich Ferry used by an estimated 2.6 million passengers a year are to ballot for strike action in a dispute over pay, health and safety and a lack of staffing. The 31 Unite members employed by Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd say the dispute stems from the company’s failure to grant a six per cent pay increase for the year starting January 2019, the imposition of new duties, failure to deal with safety concerns, and inadequate staffing to operate the service. Unite says two years ago, there was an acrimonious and long-running dispute at the ferry with the same employer, which runs the service on behalf of Transport for London (TfL). This exposed a bullying culture and health and safety concerns (). Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “The travelling public, who use the ferry, may well think Groundhog Day has arrived with yet another dispute with the management at Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd.” He added: “I think the public have every reason to be concerned at fewer staff operating the ferry as this raises, in our view, serious health and safety issues. There is still time for the management to enter into a constructive dialogue with Unite and we would urge the company to do so urgently.”
Offshore union RMT has repeated its call for an independent public inquiry into the safety of offshore helicopter transport in the North Sea. The call came ahead of a 6 February Commons debate on the subject. The union says 33 offshore workers and crew died and 65 were rescued as a result of helicopter accidents across the North Sea in the decade from February 2009. All of these incidents, including the fatal incident off the Norwegian coast on 29 April 2016 involved Super Puma helicopters. These were withdrawn in May 2016 and have not been used in the North Sea since, despite the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) releasing airworthiness certificates in July 2017. Unite says trade union opposition is keeping over 30 Super Pumas on the ground, but there is an ongoing decline in offshore workers’ confidence in the safety of helicopter transport. Commercial pressure on helicopter operators from the oil companies has long been identified by offshore workers and their trade unions as a threat to safety, the union says. But it expressed dismay at the government’s 2014 refusal to accept the Transport Select Committee’s call for an independent public inquiry into the safety of offshore helicopter transport. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Commercial pressures must never be allowed to threaten offshore workers’ safety and it is only an independent public inquiry that would provide the clarity and certainty that RMT members are demanding over the future direction of helicopter transport in the North Sea.”
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A government minister has promised to launch a consultation into limiting the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) against employees after the emergence of further allegations of sexual, racial and physical abuse by retail billionaire Sir Philip Green. Penny Mordaunt, the minister for women and equalities, responded to reports in the Sunday Telegraph that Green had slapped a senior female executive on the bottom and kissed her on the face, after which she was allegedly paid more than £1m to stay silent about the incidents. The paper reported the experiences of five employees, all of whom had accepted money in return for signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), preventing them from talking about their experiences. Writing in the Telegraph, Mordaunt said: “Confidentiality agreements are designed to provide businesses with a legal framework that allows good practice and trust, what they cannot do is conceal illegal activity. Anyone who is a victim or witness to criminal activity at work cannot be bound by a confidentiality agreement from reporting this to the police.” The minister added: “I want to make clear to those individuals who think they can bully and harass people at work, that the government and good employers will not accept this abhorrent behaviour and will act to make sure that workplace rights are protected for everyone.” A review of NDAs was mooted in a 12-point plan issued by the government in December, aimed at preventing sexual harassment at work. A London School of Economics report last year concluded union protection was the ‘best antidote’ to sexual harassment ().
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More than a million and a half people now regularly work from home, prompting a London Fire Brigade (LFB) warning this could lead to more fires as people look for cheaper ways of heating their homes. It says last year there were around four fires every week in London involving electric heaters, candles and open fires, many of which could have been avoided. More than half of these occurred between the hours of 9am and 5pm and a common cause was portable heaters being placed too close to furniture or candles being used to light a room and falling onto carpets, papers or clothes. LFB deputy assistant commissioner Andy Hearn said: “It’s not just home workers that are at risk – parents, carers, students and anyone who spends a lot of time in the house could be tempted to try cheaper, dangerous alternatives to keep warm.”
Two companies have been fined following the death of a worker after just a week on the job. Preston Crown Court heard how, on 12 March 2012, metal fabricator Andrew Bowes died while working at the Larkin Eng Services Ltd premises in Barrow in Furness. The firm had contracted Cumbria Design Scaffold Ltd to collect two large metal walkways and deliver them to a customer using a flatbed lorry fitted with a mounted crane. Andrew Bowes was directed to assist with the lifting operation by his employer, Larkin Eng Services Ltd. The first walkway had been lifted onto the back of the lorry but was not fastened down. As the crane moved to pick up the second walkway, a sling became snagged on the first walkway, causing it to tip over and fall from the back of the lorry onto the 37-year-old, who sustained fatal crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Cumbria Design Scaffold Ltd had failed to properly plan the complex lifting operation. The company failed to recognise the risks involved and did not have a safe system of work for what was a complex lift and failed to supervise the lifting operation properly. The investigation also found that Larkin Eng Services Ltd had failed in its duty to ensure the safety of Andrew Bowes. It had directed Mr Bowes, who had only been working for the company a week, to become actively involved in the lifting operation. Cumbria Design Scaffold Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000 plus costs of £27,464.28. Larkin Eng Services Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £20,000 with costs of £27,211.09. HSE inspector Anthony Banks said: “We would like to thank Andrew’s family for their patience throughout what has been a complex investigation.”
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The director of a London roofing company has been given community service in a criminal health and safety prosecution following the death of an employee. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 9 December 2015, Daniel Shrimpton was removing flashing from the roof of a two-storey terraced house in Wimbledon. The 34-year-old was found lying unresponsive on the ground soon after beginning work and died later that day in hospital. Daniel Shrimpton was Ray Strank’s nephew and the only employee of Ray Strank Roofing Ltd. A joint investigation between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Metropolitan Police was launched. It found Ray Strank Roofing Limited had failed to properly plan the work and that suitable control measures were not in place. The most appropriate form of work at height equipment for the job would have been a scaffold, erected on two sides of the building to provide edge protection to all the open edges of the roof. However a scaffold was not present on site on the day of the incident and not priced for. HSE said Ray Strank Roofing Limited’s failings were due to the neglect of Ray Strank, the sole director. Ray Strank pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £5,500. Ray Strank Roofing Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,500. HSE inspector Gabriella Dimitrov said: “This was a tragic incident, which could so easily have been avoided by the carrying out of correct control measures and safe working practices.”
Global union confederation ITUC has confirmed the theme for International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2019. ‘Taking control - removing dangerous substances from the workplace’ will be this year’s focus for what has become the world’s largest annual health and safety event. The union-led campaign will emphasise a ‘Zero Cancer’ approach, urging reps to seek to eliminate or minimise exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. ITUC says it will be developing resources in the coming weeks to support union preparation of campaign materials. It adds that new resources and events will be featured on the regularly updated dedicatedwebpages. It is also urging organisations to use the hashtag #iwmd19. The high profile event, which in 2018 saw tens of thousands of activities in over 70 countries, has ‘trended’ on twitter in recent years.
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Sex discrimination in the workplace has a damaging impact on women’s health, a study has found. The research, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, investigated the associations between workplace sexism, sense of belonging at work, mental health, and job satisfaction for women in male-dominated industries. The 190 women, all members of a large Australian trade union that represents workers in mainly male-dominated jobs, found “organisational sexism and interpersonal sexism were associated with a poorer sense of belonging in the industry, which was associated with poorer mental health. A poorer sense of belonging also explained the negative effect of organisational sexism on job satisfaction.” The study was conducted with the assistance of the unidentified trade union. “Strategies that integrate women more thoroughly into male-dominated industries and give them a better sense of belonging may help to increase their mental health and job satisfaction,” said co-author Mark Rubin, an associate professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia. “However, we also need better strategies to reduce sexism in the workplace if we are to tackle this problem at its root.” The study cites research by the TUC into the impact of sexism in the workplace.
Ÿ Mark Rubin and others. A confirmatory study of the relations between workplace sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction among women in male‐dominated industries, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, February 2019. Related project website, including full text of the article. EurekAlert.
Unions are stepping in to support the victims and bereaved families of last month’s Brazilian mine disaster, thought to have claimed over 300 lives (Risks 883). Global union federations BWI and IndustriALL are also calling wide-ranging safety improvements. The Mine do Feijão dam in Brumadinho collapsed on 25 January 2019. It is the second deadly collapse in Brazil in three years associated with mining multinational Vale, which operates the mine. Unions are proposing a permanent forum for negotiating on the safety of Vale dams and an investigation with full union participation into the latest disaster. They also want negotiations on working conditions at the mine. Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the global building union federation BWI, stressed the connection between occupational health and safety for workers and the dangers to local communities, stating, “it is up to companies, but also governments, to protect workers as well as residents from dangers from mining and other industrial activities. There is no excuse for repeated disasters like the collapse of the Mine du Feijão”. Speaking in the days after the disaster, Victor Sanches, general secretary of the global mining union federation IndustriALL, said: “IndustriALL is calling on all companies in Vale’s supply chains, including multinational steel and auto producers, to share responsibility for this disaster and to use their leverage with Vale and the government of Brazil to ensure it is never repeated.” Ambet Yuson of BWI added: “This tragic accident could have been prevented had measures been put in place when it was revealed publicly that Brumadinho dam posed safety risk to workers and the community. Vale failed to adhere to these warnings and once again shown its disregard to safety. Workers have paid tragically with their lives.”
Retail workers are being exposed to “worrying” levels of BPA and BPS - hormone disrupting industrial chemicals that have been linked to diabetes, obesity, ADHD and breast and prostate cancers - by simply handling thermal paper receipts, a study by Environmental Defence Canada (EDC) has found. “These slips of paper are covertly exposing cashiers to worrying levels of hormone disrupting BPA and BPS every day,” Muhannad Malas, toxics programme manager at EDC, said in the study. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.” For the first-of-its-kind experiment, Malas, EDC toxics programme director Sarah Jamal and two other volunteers handled receipts, tickets and passes printed on thermal paper and then conducted urine tests to show how easily BPA - short for “bisphenol A” and commonly found in thermal paper - can be absorbed through the skin. They also handled thermal paper coated with BPS, or bisphenol S, which several companies have switched to in light of BPA-related concerns, though some scientists warn it could have similar negative health effects. The team at EDC found that BPA levels in their bodies rose up to 42 times higher than a pre-exposure baseline and BPS levels increased by up to 115 times. The findings were “mindboggling”, Malas said. The results have also worried union leaders representing retail workers. “I mean a lot of them don't even know that these chemicals exist,” United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada health and safety representative Mary Shaw told CTV News. “They are not being informed by their employers either which is incredibly frustrating.” The union has suggested that cashiers wear protective gloves until safer alternatives are to thermal paper receipts are introduced. That stance was even espoused in the autumn 2018 edition of ‘Checkout,’ UFCW Canada’s news magazine. The European Union has already taken action, banning the use of BPA in receipts from next year.
Airline mechanics in the US have revealed they feel pressured by management to look the other way when they see potential safety problems on airplanes. An eight-month-long CBS News investigation found that in some of the cases, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed with those mechanics. The mechanics say it reflects the economic reality of the airline business: a plane only makes an airline money when it's flying passengers. Several FAA whistleblower complaints have identified inappropriate pressure and retaliation since 2015 – and there have been at least 32 other anonymous industry-wide reports between 2015 to 2018, the investigation found. Former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia said it's unusual for so many mechanics to speak out publicly. “That's standing out on the top of the hill screaming at the top of your lungs,” Goglia said, acknowledging “there's no question that there's a problem.” He believes the pressure to speed up repairs and get planes back in service faster is a problem for mechanics industry wide. “I've probably had over a hundred over the past three or four years that have called me with those kinds of complaints, and I'm talking about calls from every single airline,” Goglia said.
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