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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 887
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







Drug testing is not the answer to work problems

Drug testing at work is not a substitute for a good drugs and alcohol policy nor does it tell employers what they need to know, the TUC has said. Launching new guides on drug testing at work and on workplace drug and alcohol policies, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said despite efforts to market drug testing at work the approach isn’t proving popular with UK firms “for the simple reason that it does not tell the employer what they need to know, which is whether someone is working unsafely because of drug use regardless of whether the substance is illegal or not. After all, with the exception of alcohol testing, what a drug test does not do is measure someone’s level of impairment.” He said where a worker has a problem with addiction, or is regularly misusing any kind of drugs or medication that can affect their work, “employers should aim to be supportive and non-judgmental. It is for these reasons that every employer needs a drug and alcohol policy aimed at supporting any person with a drug or alcohol problem but at the same time ensuring that no-one puts themselves or others at risk through misuse at work.” Robertson concluded: “Dealing with issues like drug use in the workplace can be very difficult, but, from a safety point of view, it is best done by on open and non-judgmental policy aimed at giving people support.”

Ÿ  TUC blog and new guides on drug and alcohol policies and on drug testing.

Government warm words won’t protect shopworkers

Warm words and sympathy will not protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse, retail union Usdaw has said. The shopworkers’ leader Paddy Lillis was commenting after a protection of shopworkers amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill was not accepted at this week’s report stage debate on the Bill in the House of Lords. The Usdaw general secretary said: “Our members now face additional risks of prosecution because of this Bill, but no commensurate additional protection.” But he added there were hopeful signs. “One major achievement from this campaign is that, for the first time, a Conservative government accepts there is an issue to be tackled, that now needs to be backed up with urgent action. Following a roundtable meeting that I attended, we have now secured a ‘call for evidence’ and investigation into what can be done to provide better protections for shopworkers, we are still pushing for a timetable.” Lillis added: “I note that the minister accepted that legislation may be necessary and if so the government would provide time in parliament for its passage. We intend to hold the minister to that and the government can be assured that we will be providing extensive evidence of the need for legal protections to tackle the scourge of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.” Latest figures from Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear Survey show that during 2018 nearly two-thirds of shopworkers experienced verbal abuse, over 40 per cent were threatened by a customer, and there were over 280 assaults on shopworkers every day.

Ÿ  Usdaw news release. House of Lords report stage debate, Hansard, 26 February 2019.

Overworked Universal Credit workers back strike action

Up to 700 Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members working in Universal Credit in the West Midlands have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over high workloads and too few staff. The union said the vote means two days of strike action will take place in March at Universal Credit centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton. PCS said the ‘beleaguered’ service has faced severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated. Commenting on the vote, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said staff had been “treated with utter contempt”. He added: “The message from our members is clear – changes need to be made otherwise they will walkout for two consecutive days. The union has tried to negotiate for months but to no avail. Ministers have stuck their heads in the sand and our members are now sending them a very loud wake up call.” Workers at the Universal Credit sites are demanding the recruitment of more staff, permanent contracts for fixed term staff and a decrease in workloads.

Ÿ  PCS news release.

New union passports to help disabled workers

A new union ‘reasonable adjustments’ passport has been launched to help the nearly 1 million (946,010) people with disabilities who fall out of work or switch employers each year. The joint initiative from the TUC and the union GMB hopes to ensure employers meet their legal duty to make – and keep in place – the reasonable adjustments necessary for them to do their jobs. With 1 in 10 (390,820) disabled people dropping out of work and 1 in 7 (555,190) finding new employment every year, the TUC and the GMB say it is vital to find a more successful and unified way of agreeing and recording what modifications need to be put in place. Their new ‘model reasonable adjustments employer agreement’, for union reps to agree with their employer, together with a template reasonable adjustments passport, are intended to capture what adjustments have been put in place to eliminate barriers in the workplace. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “It's been law for employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers for almost a quarter of a century. Yet many can face a daily battle with bosses just for the basic things they need to do their job. This means stress and misery for them and their families - and can lead to poverty, hardship and unemployment when they feel forced out of their jobs; disabled workers are twice as likely to drop out of work than non-disabled workers.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady explained how the new passport could help address these problems. “The TUC and the GMB’s passport is an ideal place to officially and clearly record what adjustments have been agreed, so disabled workers aren’t going back to the starting line every time they get a new manager or role.”

Ÿ  TUC news release. GMB news release. The full report, model workplace policy and model reasonable adjustments passport.

Pilots pleased as government sees sense on drones

The government is to extend the drones exclusion zone around airports to meet a limit recommended from the outset by the pilots’ union BALPA. The move comes after drones sightings in December and January led to flight cancellations at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. The tightened legislation will ban drones from flying within 5km of Britain’s airport runways – a significant expansion of the current no-fly zone. “The enlarged zone will better protect the UK’s airports from those misusing drones, and will come into force on 13 March 2019,” the government said. Work to progress a new Drones Bill is also underway and will be introduced in due course, the government announced. Dr Rob Hunter head of flight at the pilots’ union BALPA, welcomed the move. “We are pleased that the government is bringing forward legislation to increase the drone no fly zone around airports from the current 1km to 5km radius. This increase is what we've been calling for in order to ensure there is a safe separation between commercial aircraft and legal drone operations. This, along with the introduction of suitable detection measures, represents a significant improvement to the safety of manned aircraft around airports.” But he added: “We remain concerned that protections for helicopters are still lacking as they operate at low levels away from the protected zone around airports and in areas where drones are frequently flown. We hope the Department for Transport will take a similar safety-first approach to looking at this aspect.”

Ÿ  DfT news release. BALPA news release. Air Cargo News.

Openreach workers won’t work for nothing

The ‘patently unfair’ treatment of Openreach engineers who are being forced to work for up to two hours a day for free has prompted the launch of a major new CWU campaign. The ‘Our hours’ initiative has set out to ensure the company “is left in no doubt as to the scale of employee anger.” The root cause of the engineers’ concerns is “the vexed issue of travel to and from the first and last jobs of the day.” CWU says some contracts pay workers for this travel time, but others are spending up to 10 hours a week on unpaid travel, taking them perilously close to the 48-hour legal working hours ceiling. Following CWU protests a 2012 agreement briefly resolved the issue by extending paid travel time to cover those affected, but CWU says in September that year Openreach reneged on the deal, introducing a 60-minute Personal Travel Time (PTT) system for all new recruits. “We’ve been battling ever since to try to get PTT removed,” said CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman. But the union says despite strenuous efforts it has been unable to prevent PTT being included in new contracts. A recruitment drive “means thousands of engineers are now affected, having to put in up to two hours of unpaid personal travelling time a day on top of their contracted hours – either 36 hours, for those employed before September 2014, or 37.5 hours for those employed subsequently.” According to CWU national officer Davie Bowman: “Openreach can’t get away from the fact that if you travel for an hour at the beginning and end of the working day, and work a 37.5 hour week, you’re already up to 47.5 hours – just half an hour shy of the WTD [working time directive] limit.”

Ÿ  CWU news release.

Unite pledge to see top blacklisting boss in court

A construction boss who played a pivotal role in orchestrating a blacklisting scandal that targeted union safety activists will face the courts, the union Unite has pledged. The union said it “is closing in” on Cullum McAlpine who it wants to account for his actions in court. Unite is taking fresh legal action on behalf of workers who were blacklisted by the Consulting Association. Most of the major construction companies in the UK used the illegal service. Unlike the previous court case which concluded in 2016, Unite says it will be seeking to ensure Cullum McAlpine, the original chair of the Consulting Association and a director of UK construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine, is required to give evidence in court under oath. The trial is set to begin on 4 June and could last for six weeks. Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Unite is totally committed to ensuring that the key individuals behind blacklisting workers and ruining their lives as a result are required to account for their crimes in the public arena of a court.” He added: “This is the minimum that the affected workers deserve. They need to see those responsible in the dock and finally forced to account for their actions. The forthcoming court case will finally ensure this will happen.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “There remain employers in construction and other industries who continue to believe it is somehow acceptable to engage in the disgusting and deceitful practice of blacklisting, to ruin people’s lives. We are seeing blacklisting ‘outsourced’ to labour suppliers at the beck and call of large firms and acting as unaccountable instigators of union busting. That’s why Unite is still fighting for justice for those who were previously affected but is also fighting to stamp out contemporary blacklisting.”

Ÿ  Unite news release. Morning Star. BBC News Online. Blacklist blog.


Victimisation dispute looms at Crossrail

The Crossrail project could face industrial action over the firing of a well-regarded union safety activist. The looming dispute centres around Birmingham electrician Martin Overy, a former Unite safety rep who was dismissed last week only five hours after signing his contract with the electrical contractor Site Operative Solutions Limited (SOS) at Paddington station. Overy’s details were included on the notorious Consulting Association blacklist. In 2016 he was awarded damages in the major blacklisting trial at the High Court that saw eight construction giants agree a massive compensation payout. However, the skilled electrician reports that he has struggled to find and stay in employment. Paddington station is under the control of the Swedish multinational Skanska, one of the defendants in the High Court litigation. It has publicly apologised for its role in the blacklisting scandal. But the union-supported Blacklist Support Group (BSG) says the company has since been accused repeatedly of involvement in “contemporary ongoing blacklisting after FOI requests highlighted emails that showed union members were being kept under surveillance.” BSG says the Crossrail project has been dogged by claims of blacklisting. A parliamentary select committee was told that Frank Morris, a UNITE shop steward, was dismissed from the project after his name appeared in a list of ‘troublemakers’. Roy Bentham, the BSG joint secretary and a Unite executive council member, commented: “In an industry with such an appalling fatality record, workers who are prepared to raise concerns about safety should be valued but instead the treatment of Martin Overy seems a blatant case of blacklisting. Both Crossrail and Skanska have got form on blacklisting and we’re not going to sit back and let this happen again. If Martin isn’t reinstated, rank and file industrial action is unstoppable.”

Ÿ  Blacklist blog.

Bar worker choked by co-worker wins tribunal

A bar manager who was choked by a chef at their work Christmas party has been awarded more than £6,600 compensation from the firm. Molly Phillips passed out after Nathan Webb gripped her at the Cameo Club in Cardiff on 1 January 2018, in an incident caught on CCTV. The 24-year-old claimed company directors dismissed her complaints and continued employing 33-year-old Webb. In December, she won an employment tribunal claim against bar owner Pontcanna Pub Company Ltd, after saying she felt unsafe and had to resign. She has now been awarded £6,659 in compensation. Phillips said she still suffers physically and mentally following the incident. “I suffer with anxiety and physically it’s affected the way I smile as well. My smile now looks sort of wonky and the doctors have said it is unlikely it will change. The thought of not being able to smile in my wedding photos in the future is just awful.” She said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) told her last month they would not be prosecuting Webb, a decision she is seeking to appeal.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Amnesty leaders offer to resign over ‘toxic’ culture

Amnesty International’s seven-member senior leadership team has offered to resign after a damning report warned of a “toxic” working environment and widespread bullying. The move come on the heels of Unite, the union representing Amnesty staff, declaring it had no confidence in the organisation’s senior management and indicating it was “infeasible” they could stay (Risks 885). The resignation offer, in a letter signed jointly by the human rights group’s leadership team, acknowledged mistakes had been made, adding that the seven senior leaders took shared responsibility for the “climate of tension and mistrust” across the organisation. “We are truly sorry that a majority of colleagues feel undervalued and unsupported, and we are willing to do whatever is possible to change this,” they wrote to the organisation’s international secretariat. “With the best interest of Amnesty International in mind, we have all told Kumi [Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary general] that every one of us is ready to step aside.” Serious concerns over Amnesty’s work culture emerged last year when veteran worker Gaëtan Mootoo killed himself after complaining of stress and overwork. Six weeks later, Rosalind McGregor, 28, an intern at Amnesty’s Geneva office, killed herself at her family home in Surrey after complaining of acute anxiety in the job.

Ÿ  The Guardian.
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.

Workload action call after Cardiff University suicide

The widow of a university lecturer who killed himself at work has demanded action to tackle workload pressures to save other families facing the same heartache. Diane Anderson said Cardiff University knew her husband Dr Malcolm Anderson was under significant pressure (Risks 853). The inquest into Dr Anderson's death heard he had left two notes before he fell from the university building in which he worked - one to his family and another referring to work pressures and long hours. “He did tell them. In his appraisals he told them that his workload was massive and it was unmanageable but nothing ever changed,” said Mrs Anderson. “There was no account taken for it. And it was just more of the same.” Annual work appraisals show Dr Anderson, who was 48 when he died, raised concerns that he was unable to take annual leave due to his workload in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He was dealing with over 600 students and on the day he took his life, in February 2018, he was in the middle of marking 418 exam papers, and preparing for a day of lectures. More than 600 members of staff have now signed an open letter to the university's vice-chancellor, executive board and council, urging them to safeguard others from pressures of excessive workloads. Prof Victoria Wass, one of Dr Anderson's colleagues at the Business School, said staff have “no confidence” in the university’s work allocation model “and no confidence in management who keep trying to implement it.” Malcolm Anderson’s death was not the only recent suicide linked to work factors at Cardiff University. Eminent entomologist Dr Mark Jervis, 62, who had struggled with problems at work and a spiralling workload, killed himself in his 6th floor office of the university’s School of Biosciences on 11 March 2014 (Risks 658).

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Survey shows work pressures are hurting NHS staff

The health and wellbeing of workers in the NHS is deteriorating and work-related ill-health is increasing, latest NHS staff survey results have revealed. The just released 2018 survey findings show there was “an overall decline in staff health and wellbeing,” with only 28.6 per cent reporting their organisation “definitely takes positive action on health and wellbeing”, 3 per cent down on 2017. Over a quarter (27.6 per cent) of staff experiences work-related musculoskeletal problems, it found, up 2 per cent. Four out of ten (39.8 per cent) reported “feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months”, the worst result in the last five years. Over half (56.5 per cent) reported “going to work despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties in the last three months,” in line with responses on presenteeism for the last three years. Commenting on the findings, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “With so few staff, it’s no wonder the pressures of working in the NHS are making so many health workers ill. The combination of rising stress levels along with bullying and bad behaviour from managers and colleagues shows the pressure is really getting to staff. It’s a testament to them that they keep going, but the government can’t expect this to continue.” She added: “With the risk of abuse or violent attack from patients or the public ever present – especially in the ambulance service, some NHS workers understandably want out. Ministers must get to grip with the pressing issue of chronic understaffing or the health service’s problems will go from bad to worse.”

Ÿ  NHS staff survey 2018. UNISON news release. NHS Employers news release.

Long working hours linked to depression risk

Working very long hours – 55 plus a week - is linked to a heightened risk of depression in women, a study has found. The observational study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health also found working weekends is associated with an increased risk in both sexes. The paper noted the expansion of the global and gig economies has driven the need to work outside standard ‘office’ hours - a factor that has been associated with poorer physical health. The researchers, led by Gillian Weston of University College London, drew on data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). This has been tracking the health and wellbeing of a representative sample of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009. There was no difference in the number of depressive symptoms between men who put in fewer or more hours than the standard working week, or who worked weekends. But weekend working was associated with significantly more depressive symptoms among men when work conditions were accounted for. Among women, depressive symptoms were associated with the number of weekends worked. And women who worked 55 or more hours a week and/or who worked most/every weekend had the worst mental health of all, with significantly more depressive symptoms than women working standard hours. The authors note: “Such jobs, when combined with frequent or complex interactions with the public or clients, have been linked to higher levels of depression.” They add: “Our findings of more depressive symptoms among women working extra long hours might also be explained by the potential double burden experienced by women when their long hours in paid work are added on their time in domestic labour. Previous studies have found that once unpaid housework and caring is accounted for, women work longer than men, on average, and that this has been linked to poorer physical health.”

Ÿ  Gillian Weston and others. Long work hours, weekend working and depressive symptoms in men and women: findings from a UK population-based study, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, published Online First, 25 February 2019.

Balfour Beatty fined £600,000 after excavator death

Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Limited has been fined £600,000 for a criminal safety offence after a worker was killed by an excavator during construction work on the Third Don Crossing in Aberdeen. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard that between 4 January 2016 and 13 January 2016 Balfour Beatty, as principal contractor, failed to ensure that the safe system of work for refuelling of all plant and equipment was fully implemented at the site. As a consequence of that failure, on 13 January 2016, 58-year-old Ian Walker was struck by a wheeled excavator which was slewing after being refuelled. He suffered fatal neck and chest injuries after being caught between the fuel bowser and the excavator. An HSE investigation found that refuelling of plant and equipment was identified as a high risk activity by the principal contractor, who had created a task briefing document detailing a safe system of work and had risk assessed the activity. However, it was evident that although these procedures existed on paper, the safe system of work and its control measures had not been fully implemented at the site. Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction Design and Management Regulations and was fined £600,000. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the civil engineering company to implement safe systems of work, and to ensure that health and safety documentation was communicated and control measures followed.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Construction Enquirer. Evening Express.

Firms fined after paper mill death

The owner and the operator of a paper mill where a worker was run over by a lorry have each been fined £350,000. Austin Thomas was hit by a vehicle at UPM Shotton in Flintshire on 6 February 2017. Mold Magistrates Court heard how the 29-year-old employee of mill operator CM Downton (Haulage Contractors) Ltd was fatally crushed when he was struck from behind by a Volvo shovel loader whilst working at UPM-Kymmene (UK) Limited’s Shotton Paper Mill. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), found there was no safe system of work to segregate pedestrians and vehicles and that drivers had limited visibility when driving large shovel loaders. CM Downton (Haulage Contractors) Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £350,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,613.90. Site owner UPM-Kymmene (UK) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £350,000 plus costs of £6,711.90. HSE inspector Mhairi Duffy said “This death would have been prevented had an effective system for managing workplace transport been in place. This is a reminder to all employers to properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risks from moving vehicles in their workplaces.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Daily Post. BBC News Online.


Australia: Public wants an industrial manslaughter law

A significant majority of the Australian population support the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws and an expanded role for unions in ensuring workplace safety, according to a new poll for the national union federation ACTU. Almost six out of ten (58.8 per cent) Australians want new laws which would see employers who are responsible for workplace deaths held accountable and ultimately sent to jail. Eight in ten (80.1 per cent) want to see significant financial penalties for employers who don’t manage psychological hazards such as bullying and stress. And nearly two-thirds (62.5 per cent) believe that unions are important to improving workplace health and safety. Of that group, most (88 per cent) believe that laws should be strengthened to help workers stay safe at work and to allow unions to do the job of enforcing workplace safety. ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “Everyone should come home safe from work, but every week four people are killed in their workplace in Australia. The rate of psychological injuries in Australian workplaces is rapidly increasing and urgent action is needed to address this trend. Employers must take action to reduce workplace stress.” He added: “Bosses who cut corners and kill worker should go to jail. This should not be happening in Australia in 2019. We need to change the rules, governments need to listen to the people and bring in industrial manslaughter laws now.” The independent Boland review of national workplace safety laws in Australia this week recommended the introduction of a new offence of industrial manslaughter into workplace health and safety law.

Ÿ  ACTU news release and related release. Sydney Morning Herald.

Zimbabwe: Flood tragedy spurs safety call in artisanal mining

The deaths last month of 28 artisanal miners when the Cricket and Silver Moon gold mines flooded after heavy rains has spurred union calls for new safety standards. Glen Mpufane, director for mining at the global union federation IndustriALL, said such tragedies are avoidable if key stakeholders prioritise health and safety in artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) operations. In particular, he said governments must develop policy to formalise relations with ASM and mining companies with operations in their vicinity. “Promoting the health and safety of ASM is a social responsibility and stakeholders mustn’t turn a blind eye. Therefore, we support initiatives in which mining companies engage with trade unions and communities on safe and sustainable mining such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), which calls for engagement between large scale mining (LSM), ASM and communities in its standard.” Zed Banda, general secretary of the National Mineworkers Union of Zimbabwe, said: “Artisanal and small-scale mining is one of the ways in which workers are surviving Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. In a country with limited opportunities, and where unemployment is very high at over 90 per cent, ASM helps the youth put food on the table. We are calling on the government to recognise and support ASM to end the deadly mining conditions under which they toil to eke a living.” Around two-third of Zimbabwe’s gold production is from artisanal mines.

Ÿ  IndustriALL news release.


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