|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 email@example.com.
The TUC has said everyone deserves some certainty about the hours they will work each week, so it is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of workers remain trapped on zero hours contracts. Commenting on the publication this week of labour market figures showing that real wages are still 1.9 per cent lower than a decade ago and 844,000 workers are stuck on zero hours contracts, the union body said the fall of 50,000 on zero hours since last year “is just a drop in the ocean.” A TUC-commissioned poll of workers on zero hours contracts found only 1 in 8 (12 per cent) get sick pay and two-fifths (43 per cent) lose out on holiday pay. And a TUC analysis this year found working hours for those on zero hours contracts are more likely to be anti-social and “unhealthy” (Night-working has been shown to increase long-term health impacts, such as heart disease, shortened life expectancy and an increased risk of cancer. The TUC wants a ban on the ‘health risk’ zero hours contracts. Calling on the government to “put its power behind workers’ needs”, TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There are still over 800,000 people stuck on zero hours contracts. Most of them have no guarantees of basic rights like paid leave and sick pay. They want solid jobs and they need the government to get on and help them.”). It revealed zero hours workers are twice as likely as those on fixed-hours contracts to be working night shifts, and also twice as likely to be working seven days a week.
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Employers who fail to tackle members of the public who grope and subject female staff to lewd jokes should be held to account, UNISON has said. The union wants to see the reinstatement of Section 40 of the Equality Act – a clause that ensured staff doing their jobs were safeguarded against third-party harassment. Under this clause, employers were liable if they failed to act after two incidents. However, the Coalition government scrapped this ‘three-strikes’ rule in October 2013 on the grounds that other laws gave staff similar protection, a claim disputed by UNISON. The union’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea commented: “If we believe the media, it’s only young glamorous women who get harassed. But it’s not just actors and models who suffer. It’s also the cleaner, school secretary, healthcare assistant, call centre worker or finance officer. They feel they have to put up with the unwanted touching or personal remarks because they’re worried about their job and making a complaint would affect their future.” She added: “Workplaces should be harassment-free zones. There must be tougher policies, a clearer understanding of what harassment is, and a zero tolerance approach.”
A campaign to ensure that all workers in the construction industry are provided with death benefits has been launched by the union Unite, following a workplace fatality in Scotland. Gary Robertson was killed on the Longannet power station on 6 February. At the time of his death the 55-year-old was working for demolition contractor Brown and Mason. Although Brown and Mason described the worker as a “valued member” of their team and the company was registered with the B&CE - the not for profit organisation which provides benefits and pensions to the construction industry – Unite said it appears Gary Robertson had not been registered by Brown and Mason for accident and life cover benefit. Under the B&CE’s accident and life cover scheme’s standard rate if a member dies at work their family receives £80,000 and if they die while not at work the benefit is £40,000. The scheme which is paid for by the employer costs just £1.49 a week, less than three pence an hour for workers undertaking a typical 50 hour week. Unite is demanding all workers in the construction industry are covered by the B&CE scheme or an equivalent scheme regardless of their employment status. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The question of whether all workers on a site will be enrolled onto the B&CE scheme should be one of the first asked when clients are awarding contacts, companies that answer no should simply not be allowed to operate in construction.” He added: “The failure to enrol workers onto the scheme is unacceptable to Unite and must become unacceptable to the industry in the same way that having the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) is.”
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The union GMB delivered a giant Valentine’s card to the Amazon’s Rugeley warehouse on 14 February to highlight the ‘brutal’ working conditions facing the retail giant’s workers. Recent investigations by GMB revealed ambulances were called 115 times to the Rugeley warehouse, including three for women experiencing pregnancy or maternity-related problems and three for major trauma (). In addition, 88 serious incidents have been reported to the workplace safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) since 2015. GMB senior organiser Amanda Gearing said the workforce “didn’t get much love” from Amazon. “The conditions are brutal; workers suffer convulsions, electric shocks, major traumas, get knocked unconscious and are taken away in ambulances. This can’t go on – but Amazon refuses to meet with us so we can improve conditions for workers. Our Amazon members deserve better - and we won’t stop campaigning until they get it.” Lee Barron, TUC Midlands regional secretary, said: “The campaign at Amazon really is the front-line in the battle to secure basic rights and fairness in the ever changing world of work. GMB is right; Amazon workers are not robots and deserve our respect and support.”
Far-right demonstrators must not be allowed to ‘intimate’ BBC staff, media unions have said. The union alert came ahead of a planned 23 February protest by supporters of Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the English Defence League (EDF). The NUJ and BECTU, who represent staff at the BBC’s MediaCityUK in Salford, said they ‘roundly condemn’ the threats from Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon, made in response to a Panorama investigation. A videod “tirade” against the BBC had been posted by Robinson on social media, the unions said in a joint statement. The union statement noted: “The NUJ and BECTU say BBC staff should be free to do their jobs without these threats. Intimidation, threats and violence carried out by far-right protesters systematically targeting the media, especially photojournalists, are becoming more frequent and we will always call out this behaviour and report criminal activity to the police.” It continued: “We support our members who will be joining the Manchester Trades Council, Stand Up to Racism and other unions in signing a statement condemning Robinson's plans to rally at Media City and his attack on BBC workers, and those who will be taking part or covering the counter demonstration.” An email sent by Tony Chebrika, head of security for site owners Peel Media, has advised staff to work from home if possible. “The police have now confirmed that they are expecting a large scale protest on site at Media City between 5,000 and 10,000 people,” Chebrika added.
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Workers who are victims of blacklisting deserve better protection and justice, the rail union TSSA has said. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes renewed the union’s action call as the Blacklist Support Group said it was preparing to make public 'important new information' on a continuing problem. The move comes ten years after the exposure of a covert organisation secretly vetting workers in the construction industry. On 6 March 2009 the Information Commissioner revealed it had shutdown the Consulting Association which for decades – on behalf of major building firms - had run a blacklist of union members in the industry. Workers were targeted for their union and safety activities. To mark the anniversary, a Houses of Parliament meeting on 6 March will see the Blacklist Support Group release new evidence on blacklisting. Manuel Cortes said: “That the BSG has new information shows that this scandal has not gone away, far from it. I welcome more light being thrown on the outrageous blacklisting practices which for so long blighted the lives of workers, often union members who had done nothing more than rightly raise safety concerns.” Cortes added: “What began as an industrial relations issue has very much become a human rights conspiracy involving multinational companies and the police. Reparations and apologies must be made. This must never be allowed to happen again in any industry, and we must have full disclosure. As trade unionists we will never stand idly by and allow exploitation or blackmailing to take place.” The event will be hosted by Labour’s deputy leader John McDonnell and SNP MP Chris Stephens.
The firefighters’ union FBU has said a TV documentary on the failings that contributed to the Grenfell tower block tragedy should throw the focus onto a wider malaise that has seen fire safety nationwide undermined. A Channel Four Dispatches documentary aired on 18 February claimed up to 55 people who died in the Grenfell fire were subject to advice to stay put in the building after the fire was raging out of control. It also highlighted claims that firefighters have been given insufficient training about mass evacuating entire residential towers, despite recommendations from a coroner following a previous high-rise fire. Commenting on the programme, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “It’s absolutely right that the bereaved, residents and survivors ask the difficult questions and we are not against being asked these; absolutely no person or organisation should be immune from criticism. We are united in our quest for justice over the tragic events of 14 June 2017.” He added: “It is unfortunately true that nobody had planned for a fire like the one that unfolded at Grenfell, and without sufficient planning, and the procedures and training which would follow, firefighters were placed in an impossible situation, from start to finish. Firefighters were also unable to implement normal safety and operational procedures due to the spread of the fire up and around the building, and as a result, placed themselves at great risk.” The union leader said the scope of the inquiry into the disaster was far too narrow and risked missing overlooking the main culprits. “From the outset of the Inquiry, I along with others warned that the terms of reference could shut down or delay the real investigation of the underlying causes of the disaster. The delay of phase two until late this year or even 2020, sadly confirms these fears and is a blow to anyone seeking justice. The building owners, the local authority, the politicians, their advisers, the very people who have allowed public safety to be undermined over decades, need to be held accountable.”
Ÿ . Channel 4 Dispatches, 18 February 2019.
Good jobs and support from managers and colleagues, as well as a positive attitude, are most likely to enable a more long-term return to work for employees after a sickness absence, according to a new review of research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA). The review evaluated the impact of personal and social factors on sustainable return to work after ill-health due to musculoskeletal disorders, such as joint and back pain, and common mental health conditions, for example stress, depression or anxiety. Researchers from UEA’s Norwich Business School and Uppsala University in Sweden found the most consistent evidence for achieving sustainable return to work was for support from line managers or supervisors and co-workers, employees having a positive attitude and high self-efficacy - their belief in their capabilities to achieve a goal or outcome - being younger and having higher levels of education. The review, published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, examined evidence from 79 previous studies conducted between 1989 and 2017. Study co-author Kevin Daniels, professor of organisational behaviour at UEA, said: “Previous studies have shown how poor quality jobs can cause ill-health. However, there is also strong evidence that good quality jobs, for example those that enable reasonable work-life balance, allow staff some say in how their work is done and have supportive managers, are an important component for a speedy recovery after ill-health episodes and are generally beneficial for physical and mental health.” Social factors including ‘job crafting’ - employees redesigning their job task to fit their motives, strengths and passions - and employee-initiated changes to their job or how work is done could also aid return to work, the study found.
Ÿ . Abasiama Etuknwa, Kevin Daniels and Constanze Eib. , , published First Online 15 February 2019.
The family of a man who spent the last 18 months of his life fighting a decision that he was fit to work has won his case – seven months after he died. Jeff Hayward, from Clitheroe, Lancashire, was 52 when he died of a heart attack in June last year, two weeks before he was due to go to a disability benefit appeal tribunal. The father-of-two and grandfather had cellulitis, a painful bacterial skin infection, on his legs and his GP deemed him unfit to work. Nevertheless, in November 2016 after he lost his job of more than 25 years, he was refused employment support allowance (ESA) after a health assessor awarded him no disability points. He went through five stages of applications and appeals, according to Ribble Valley Citizens Advice, which assisted him. But it was only last month that his daughter Holly, who took up his case after his death, was told he was entitled to the highest rate of ESA. His family have been paid his backdated benefits but they remain angry about the stress Hayward was put through and that the decision was overturned on the basis of the same medical evidence he had previously submitted. Holly said: “For someone who was genuinely ill, worked all their life, never asked for a penny [previously], it made him feel worthless. He was stressed and depressed, it made him feel worse than he already did.” Ribble Valley Citizens Advice said Hayward was anxious before his disability benefit appeal tribunal, which was due to take place on 4 July last year. His daughter is clear that the stress did not kill him but equally adamant that “it didn’t help”. She said when her father lost his warehouse job he had painful ulcers and large patches of skin through which his veins were visible. Overturning the original decision, the upper tribunal found that Hayward could not walk more than 50 metres. Work capability assessments, used to determine eligibility for ESA, have been dogged by complaints that they are inaccurate, bureaucratic and have a negative impact on claimants ().
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The managing director of a vehicle repair firm has been given a suspended jail term after an employee was crushed by a bus. Cambridge Crown Court heard how, on 4 July 2017, David Nelson was working in a vehicle inspection pit beneath a single decker bus at the company’s site in Upwell. The rear of the bus had been raised off the ground and was supported on two bottle jacks, so that work could be carried out on the brakes. But the coach fell from the jacks onto the 46-year-old, killing him instantly. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found AD Hurst and Son Commercial Limited failed to plan and organise the lifting of the bus in a manner that ensured the safety of their workers. The coach was inadequately supported, using only two hydraulic bottle jacks. It should have been supported so that it could not have fallen, using axle stands or other appropriate equipment. The firm’s managing director, Alan Hurst, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was jailed for six months, suspended for 18 months. AD Hurst and Son Commercial Limited also pleaded guilty to a criminal breach and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,282.54. HSE Inspector Paul Unwin said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a much loved family man. His death could easily have been prevented if his employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place.”
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Specialist contractor Oliver Connell and Son Ltd and Rydon Construction Ltd have been fined after a worker fell to his death when a temporary platform collapsed. Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 24 July 2015, Vasile Nichitut was working on the fifth floor of building, when he walked onto a temporary platform covering a vertical shaft, which collapsed beneath him. The 31-year-old fell approximately 14m and died of his injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Oliver Connell and Son Ltd had failed to ensure that work at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe and practicable manner. There was no temporary works design for the platform and the company’s system for installing and inspecting it was inadequate. Rydon Construction Ltd failed to plan, manage and monitor the work involving the temporary platform to ensure that construction work was carried out without risks to health or safety. They failed to identify the lack of design drawings or carry out suitable checks on the platform. Oliver Connell and Son Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £360,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,834.08. Rydon Construction Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,740.88. HSE inspector Owen Rowley said: “The consequences of temporary works failing can be dire. All contractors involved must ensure that an effective system for managing the temporary works on site is established and adhered to. Crucially, all temporary works require a design to ensure that they are suitable for purpose. In this case the failure to manage the risks associated with temporary works and work at height led to the entirely preventable death of Mr Nichitut.”
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A new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weed killing products in the world, has found that people with high exposures have a 41 per cent increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded. Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG face more than 9,000 lawsuits in the US brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases. The first plaintiff to go to trial, former schools groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, won a unanimous jury verdict against Monsanto in August 2018, a verdict the company is appealing ( ). The next trial, involving a separate plaintiff, is set to begin on 25 February, and several more trials are set for this year and into 2020. The new analysis is a blow for Monsanto, which has criticised the probable cancer rating given to glyphosate by the International Agency for Research on Cancer ( ). “This paper makes a stronger case than previous meta-analyses that there is evidence of an increased risk of NHL due to glyphosate exposure,” said Lianne Sheppard, a co-author of the new paper and a professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences department at the University of Washington. “From a population health point of view there are some real concerns.” In addition to looking at the human studies, the researchers also scrutinised other types of glyphosate studies, including many conducted on animals. “Together, all of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” the scientists concluded.
Ÿ Luoping Zhang and others. , Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, published online ahead of print 10 February 2019. doi:
The campaign to stop glyphosate reauthorisation in the European Union failed, “but it succeeded brilliantly in exposing the agrochemical industry's grip on the regulatory agencies tasked with protecting public health and the environment,” global food and farming union IUF has said. An IUF briefing notes: “In the wake of the Monsanto Papers revelations and effective campaigns channelling public outrage over the EU's farcical reauthorisation of the world's most widely used herbicide [Risks 828], the European Parliament last year established a Special PEST Committee to examine the procedures under which pesticides are authorised for use in the European Union. The Committee's report, released in December 2018 and approved by an overwhelming cross-party majority of the parliament on 16 January, catalogued the multiple failures of the authorisation process” (Risks 881). The IUF briefing noted the scandal’s continuing ‘aftershocks’ have had a positive effect, with the EU Council and parliament on 11 February agreeing more rigorous risk assessment procedures. “The new procedures, if followed through on, mark a significant, if partial and preliminary, success for the glyphosate campaign. They fall short of the PEST recommendations (and the European Citizens' Initiative demands), but can be a lever for prying loose the pesticide lobby's hold on the public regulatory agencies.” The briefing concludes: “A window has been opened; the pesticide lobby will be working intensely to slam it shut. Now is the time to step up organising on the broadest possible basis at national, European and international level for an immediate ban on the most toxic agrochemicals, targeted reductions in pesticide use and comprehensive support for a transition to socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture.”
A report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at work (EU-OSHA) has found systems used in European countries for the early detection of work-related diseases still leave many cases unacknowledged and uncounted. The report examines the effectiveness of 12 national schemes implemented operating in European countries and the United States, all of which help to spotlight health problems caused by bad working conditions and insufficient prevention measures. The report concludes there is a need for more comprehensive systems, noting none of those examined were ‘ideal.’ It adds: “The number of work-related deaths is likely to be considerably underestimated owing to shortcomings in the available data. Hence, the early detection of health impairment, whether entirely or partly caused by work-related factors, remains difficult.” Across the EU it notes the system should be strengthened, adding “collaboration between the national OH [occupational health] authorities and the actors of alert and sentinel systems is essential for the sustainability of the systems and their effective link with prevention.”
It has long been known that the hard labour common to many jobs in agriculture leads to osteoarthritis –pain and mobility problems caused by wear and tear in the body’s joints. Now a new study has found it also causes rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. A team headed by Christine Parks of the US National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), using data from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), investigated non-pesticide agricultural exposures in relation to rheumatoid arthritis in licensed pesticide applicators and their spouses. Overall, they found the condition was associated with regularly applying chemical fertilisers, using non-gasoline solvents and painting. In applicators over 62 years of age, rheumatoid arthritis was also associated with driving combined harvesters and milking cows. The paper concluded its findings “suggest several agricultural tasks and exposures may contribute to development of rheumatoid arthritis”. Other studies have linked the condition to occupational exposure to mineral oils, textile dusts and crystalline silica.
Ÿ Christine G Parks and others. Farming tasks and the development of rheumatoid arthritis in the agricultural health study, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online Firstdoi:
A new study has exposed the exploitation of migrant workers in New York City’s car wash industry. The researchers interviewed 70 workers employed at seven car washes about hazards and safety protections, as well as work-related injury and illness symptoms. Five of the locations are job sites where workers recently organised to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The findings, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, revealed excessive hours were common, with almost half reporting working six days per week and on average 10 hours per day. Almost all those interviewed - 66 of the 70 workers - were born outside of the US. Nearly all (93 per cent) of the car wash workers said they had not received any safety training in the last 12 months from their current employer. They also described symptoms they associated with exposures at work. The most common symptoms identified as work-related were shortness of breath, back pain, neck or shoulder pain, other joint pain and eye irritation or burning. The authors note: “Car washes are urban assembly lines that employ toxic chemicals handled by untrained and unprotected immigrant workers who perform highly repetitive movements to produce clean vehicles.” In the UK, the car wash industry has been identified as a hot spot for both exploitation of insecure migrant labour and ‘modern slavery’ (Risks 848) - with sometimes fatal consequences. In August 2015, Romanian car wash worker Sandu Laurentiu was washing himself in the rat-infested shared flat provided by the owner of Bubbles car wash in east London. Shaip Nimani had illegally bypassed the electricity meter at the property. While Laurentiu, 40, used the decrepit power shower, he was electrocuted.
Ÿ The Pump Handle blog. Brittany Dickens and others. Occupational health of New York City car wash workers, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 61, number 2, e77-e79, February 2019. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001520.
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