|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.
UK companies claimed £32.7 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis of official statistics by the TUC. More than 5 million people put in an average of 7.5 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2018. On average, that’s equivalent to having £6,532 taken out of individual pay packets. The union body released its findings on 1 March, the TUC’s 15th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. This marks the day the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked the year so far for free. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s not okay for bosses to steal their workers’ time,” adding: “Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers’ stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends. Bosses who do steal people’s time should face consequences. So we’re calling for new rights to ensure that employers who break the rules on working time can be brought to employment tribunals.” The TUC says the government should actively enforce statutory paid annual leave, rest breaks and the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average. These rights should be enforceable both by complaints to a government enforcement agency and by taking a case to Employment Tribunal. It says this dual-channel system is already used to enforce the national minimum wage (NMW), which is a flagship policy.
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UNISON has launched a campaign to get better management of all workplace musculoskeletal injuries. Announcing the move on Repetitive Strain Injuries Prevention Day, the last day in February each year, the union said it had conducted research into a random sample of 50 strain injury compensation claims made by UNISON members. The union found that 90 per cent of these claims resulted from basic failings in risk assessments, while one-in-five of the claims was caused by staffing difficulties, with staff often being forced to single-handedly lift loads that should have required two people or more to do it. UNISON’s acting national head of health and safety Robert Baughan said: “This shows employers too frequently failing to carry out their basic health and safety duties. It also shows the damage this government’s austerity agenda – and the resulting staffing cuts – is doing to our members’ health and safety.” The union said safety reps are crucial to tackling strains, noting “the more safety reps we have, the more effectively we can hold employers to account.” It added “robust” risk assessments are necessary and employers should “where possible, eliminate the need for manual handling by providing mechanical aids.” They should also make work safer by “providing suitable, appropriate and well-maintained equipment, such as adjustable visual display units and chairs, and well-maintained and appropriate lifting aids such as slings and hoists.”
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The union Unite is asking for a meeting with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over its ‘catastrophic failure’ to contact the estimated 1,000 former employees who could have been exposed to asbestos while maintaining Sea King helicopters. Unite said it has been campaigning strongly in the last year to get the MoD to redouble its efforts to trace those ex-maintenance staff who had serviced Sea King helicopters since 1969, so they could be alerted and tested for asbestos-related diseases. The union said in a letter to the MoD last week that the ministry had failed to ‘adequately’ answer its concerns. Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said there had been “a catastrophic failure by the MoD in relation to their duties to defence personnel, contractors and visitors.” He added: “It is clear a record should have been maintained of all personnel working with asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and, in this specific case, the Sea King helicopter. The retention of such data would allow contact to be made with those who had worked on the Sea King helicopter to make them aware of possible exposure to ACMs.” The Unite officer is asked for a meeting with MoD top brass to probe key issues including an examination of all copies of risk assessments undertaken about the potential exposure to ACMs in the Sea Kings. It criticised the MoD for failing to enact Unite’s three-point plan. This calls on the MoD to introduce systems, as a matter of urgency, to identify all current employees who may have been exposed to asbestos and to offer follow-up counselling or access to medical checks for both current and former employees. Unite also say the MoD must introduce a system that will notify all former MoD employees of the risk they now face due to their potential exposure to asbestos while working on the Sea Kings.
A new safety initiative from the firefighters’ union FBU aims to tackle the deadly risk posed to its members by over-exposure to heat. The ‘heat illness preparation and awareness (HIPA)’ course being offered in conjunction with Unionlearn was considered necessary by the union because “overexposure to heat can have a significant effect on a firefighter’s health, with an immediate risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.” National officer Sean Starbuck noted: “Coroner reports from the last three tragic firefighter deaths in the UK raised concerns about long term damage from heat exposure. That’s why we’ve developed this course with experts from the University of Brighton and in collaboration with the TUC’s Union Learning Fund to ensure that firefighters aren’t facing heat over-exposure.” The union says all firefighters are exposed to extreme heat, with an average of one to two incidents per month. “For those involved in training, exposure is far more frequent, increasing the risk of heat-related illness,” Starbuck added. “Instructors face extreme heat ten times a month on average, but this number can be as high as 27. Trainee firefighters can be exposed up to five times each week.” He concluded: “We’re determined to ensure all firefighters have the knowledge and training necessary to reduce their risk. We’ve received funding from the Department for Education for firefighters in England to receive this training, and the FBU is making this course available to all fire and rescue services across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure no one needs to face this danger unprepared.”
The great majority of Coventry council’s staff have experienced bullying at work, a survey by the union GMB has indicated. The union is demanding urgent action after its ‘shock’ survey findings revealed 85 per cent of workers responding had experience bullying in the last year, with the union adding that every case involved a manager. Workers had their jobs threatened, suffered unpleasant personal remarks, intimidation, exclusion, threats, public humiliation, malicious gossip and even physical attacks, the union said. Overall, 90 per cent were aware of colleagues being bullied or harassed. Two-thirds did not report the bullying the experienced because their manager was the bully or they felt reporting it ‘would have made things worse’ or they were ‘scared of retribution.’ Nearly two-thirds (62.5 per cent) said their manager treated them either badly or very badly. And a third reported they were bullied or harassed because of their gender. GMB organiser Justine Jones commented: “Our members’ lives are being made a misery by the culture of bullying and intimidation within Coventry City Council (CCC). Despite continual efforts by GMB to resolve the situation, CCC has buried its heads in the sand – in fact they are time wasting over grievances to dissuade GMB members from submitting complaints. The authority is making no attempt to protect staff from bullying and intimidating behaviour which takes place on a daily basis.” She added: “GMB will support members through any periods of difficulty and urge our members to come forward. Bullying in the workplace should not be tolerated at any level. It is time for Coventry City Council to deal with this systemic problem.”
The government has said it intends to prevent employers from using gagging clauses to stop people reporting criminal behaviour, harassment or discrimination to police. However, the TUC has criticised the government’s slow progress on sexual harassment at work, saying non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are ‘just one part of the jigsaw’. The government’s latest move came this week, when ministers decided to act following high-profile cases including that of retail mogul Sir Philip Green, who has faced serial accusations of using NDAs to prevent several former employees from speaking out about alleged experiences of bullying and sexual assault. Business minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “What is completely unacceptable is the misuse of these agreements to silence victims, and there is increasing evidence that this is becoming more widespread. Our new proposals will help to tackle this problem by making it clear in law that victims cannot be prevented from speaking to the police or reporting a crime and clarifying their rights.” The government said there will be clarification in law that NDAs cannot be used to prevent workers from whistleblowing or to stop them discussing an issue with police, a doctor or therapist. Workers who are asked to sign NDAs must also have independent advice. But the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the government’s “piecemeal approach doesn’t reflect the scale of the problem,” adding the measures were not “a serious attempt to change workplace culture. Limiting use of NDAs is just one piece of the jigsaw. If the government was serious about tackling sexual harassment at work it would legislate to ensure responsibility for prevention with employers, not victims.”
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Staff and interns in parliament are “woefully unprotected” if they are sexually harassed at work due to “glaring gaps” in legislation, according to Fawcett Society research. Its report concluded parliament is effectively “above the law” on harassment because of these gaps in the legislation. MPs and peers are exempt from part five of the Equality Act 2010, which includes provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace that apply to employees, according to the research. Volunteers are left completely unprotected and staff who are sexually harassed by a third party are also not covered. Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said: “Everyone is entitled to work in dignity, free from harassment and abuse. Parliament and other political workplaces should be no different. However, MPs and peers have exempted themselves from the Equality Act, making parliament effectively ‘above the law’ on this issue and leaving women unprotected. This is fundamentally unacceptable.” She added: “It is vital that we increase women’s representation in parliament, but in order to do that we need to end sexual harassment in our politics which is deterring women from getting involved and also alienating voters.” The report calls for the government to reform legislation to ensure that everyone working in the parliamentary estate is protected. Siobhan Endean, a national officer with the union Unite, which represents parliamentary staff, said: “It reflects much of what trade unions have been arguing and lobbying for over many years . The key recommendations made by the Fawcett Society need to be urgently implemented in collaboration with Unite as the workplace trade union not just to protect staff in parliament but the whole of society.”
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Line managers are not being given enough support and training to protect the mental health and wellbeing of staff at work, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Management Today have said. Their survey found 62 per cent of line managers are not receiving enough help from their organisation to support the mental wellbeing of their staff. Only 31 per cent of respondents said they feel they have been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of poor mental health. IOSH and Management Today conducted the survey of more than 400 employees from a variety of businesses across the UK to get a clearer picture of what is being done in the workplace to support those with mental health problems. They said the survey results indicate businesses are not being proactive enough when it comes to tackling poor mental health in the workplace. The survey also found that most workers in the UK are reluctant to discuss their mental health with their line managers, with a ‘staggering’ 80 per cent fearing stigmatisation and being seen as incapable in their role. Duncan Spencer, head of advice at IOSH, said: “What the survey findings tell us is that there’s still much to be done in convincing businesses they need a ‘prevention first’ approach to managing mental health and wellbeing.” IOSH has produced a white paper informed by the survey findings to provide guidance on the role of line managers in promoting positive mental health. This argues it is vital line managers understand how to manage fluctuations in workers’ mental health, what the causes of ill-health can be, how to recognise when employees may be unwell, and how to advise on access to further support if they are to be effective in promoting positive mental health in the workplace.
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The threat of industrial action on Crossrail was averted after Unite members secured the reinstatement of an electrician suspected of having faced fresh blacklisting. Workers had raised fears over the dismissal in late February 2019 of Martin Overy, a former Unite safety representative, who was sacked almost immediately after getting a job at London’s Paddington station (). Mr Overy, whose name was included on the Consulting Association’s blacklist, was sacked five hours after signing a contract with Site Operative Solutions Limited. In 2016 he received compensation for having been blacklisted, but has struggled to find work since. The union-backed Blacklist Support Group was concerned that Skanska, the company that controls Paddington, may have sought to get rid of him. However, following a March meeting with Unite official Guy Langston, Mr Overy was reinstated. In 2016, Skanska was compelled to formally apologise for its role in blacklisting workers. Blacklist Support Group joint secretary and Unite executive council member Roy Bentham said: “This demonstrates that this union can defend its blacklisted members. 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.” He added: “The willingness of the rank and file to take action was never in question, and was central to Martin’s reinstatement.”
MPs are demanding a major review of work at height in a bid to cut the number of deaths and accidents caused by falls. A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Working at Height is calling on the government and industry to undertake a major review of working at height culture. It also wants to see improved reporting of incidents and the introduction of a reporting requirement on near misses. The report follows a 12-month inquiry by the APPG. Politicians examined why 18 per cent of people who die at work do so as a result of a fall from height, and what steps can be taken by government and industry to prevent the risk to the millions of people in the UK that work at height. Its main recommendations include improved reporting under the RIDDOR regulations and the appointment of an independent body to received confidential, enhanced and digital reporting of all near misses, to be shared with government and industry to inform health and safety policy. It also wants an equivalent system to Scotland’s Fatal Accident Inquiry process extended to the rest of the UK. Alison Thewliss, chair of the working group, said: “Every fall from height can have life-altering consequences for workers and their families. There is an urgent need to improve work at height culture, yet this issue is sadly not at the top of decision makers’ agenda.” She added: “Our report must be the first step in a wider process of systematic and cultural change. It is now time for policymakers to act.”
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A distribution company has been fined after an agency worker sustained serious, life-changing injuries whilst working as a delivery driver in Cheltenham. Cheltenham Magistrate’s Court heard how, on 18 May 2017, a 27-year-old agency worker arrived at H&M Distribution Limited’s Gloucester depot to begin his first day of work as a multi-drop delivery driver. After a brief induction process, the worker delivered his first drop successfully however the address provided for the second drop was incorrect and so a delivery of 12 beer kegs was not made and remained on the lorry. On his next delivery, the worker used a pallet truck to manoeuvre the beer to gain access to the next load on his list. He fell backwards from the raised tail lift onto the road and several kegs of beer fell and struck him. The worker suffered serious injuries including a traumatic brain injury and facial fractures requiring metal plates to be inserted into his skull. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the worker had no previous experience in using the type of pallet truck or tail lift involved in the incident. He was not given any practical training in the safe use of this machinery, nor was he made aware of safe working practices for a pallet truck on a tail lift. H&M Distribution Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,203.14. HSE inspector Berenice Ray said: “Employers who use agency workers or contractors have a responsibility to firstly establish the workers’ competence, taking into account their level of experience and familiarity with the work and work equipment, and then provide the appropriate level of training to ensure the work is done safely. If appropriate training had been provided, the life-changing injuries sustained by the agency worker could have been prevented.”
A Teesside chemical manufacturing company has been fined after failing to manage the risks posed by hazardous substances, resulting in workers being exposed to chemicals that caused long term damage to their skin. Some lost their jobs as a result. Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard how employees working with chemicals at Fine Organics Ltd (now trading as Lianhetec) were regularly exposed from October 2013 to December 2016 to the chemical intermediate used in the production of the Syngenta crop protection product Solatenol. Workers exposed to the skin sensitiser suffered rashes and in some cases were unable to continue working at the site. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Fine Organics Ltd had multiple failings in their handling of hazardous substances. They failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, failed to prevent the release of hazardous substances, failed to prevent spread of contamination, failed to properly decontaminate and they failed to have in place an effective system of health surveillance. Fine Organics Ltd, of Seals Sands, Teesside, pleaded guilty a criminal safety offence and was fined £224,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,098. HSE inspector Julian Nettleton said: “This was a case where the company failed to assess the risk and failed to implement appropriate control measures to manage the risk of exposure to these chemicals. If this had been done, then workers would not have been exposed to the chemicals and suffered harm as a result.”
With less than two months to go, it is time to start making your preparations for International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April. Unions in the UK are among the most active anywhere on what has become the world’s biggest heath and safety campaign day. To support this exemplary effort, the Hazards Campaign has produced a variety of Workers’ Memorial Day resources. These include stickers, posters, purple ribbons and high-viz WMD jackets. New 2019 posters are to follow. Some of the resources are free, others are provided at cost price.
Ÿ Hazards Campaign and . If you want to register an interest in receiving free copies of the Hazards Campaign’s 2019 Workers’ Memorial Day posters,
Europe’s system of ‘socio-economic’ cost-benefit calculations for authorising hazardous chemicals is so biased in favour of industry only one has been refused, according to a new report. ChemSec, a non-profit advocating for safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, warns that an exemptions system included in the REACH chemical registration process has “become the back door for companies in order to continue their use of hazardous chemicals.” It adds that only a single authorisation has ever been denied by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) during the twelve years of REACH. ‘Lost at SEA’, ChemSec’s new report, examines how the socio-economic analyses (SEAs) supposed to take account of health as well as economic factors are performed. “As part of the application process, the company is tasked with providing a socio-economic analysis. But since the burden of proof lies on the company itself to provide this information, it makes for a very one-sided analysis,” it notes. It adds: “The company needs to demonstrate that the societal benefits of continued use are greater than the risks, and according to the company applying for an authorisation, this is of course always the case.” It says ‘soft values’ such as human health and protection of the environment do not fit into the equation and are mostly ignored. “The methodology has obvious limitations since human health and the environment in general are priceless. This is why it’s important to be very clear about what has been included in the analysis and what has been left out,” commented Frida Hök, senior policy adviser at ChemSec. The group cites the example of shiny lipstick cases which, for decorative purposes, are often produced with the cancer-causing chemical chromium trioxide. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) “went on to recommend the continued use of it just so that society can continue to enjoy this decorative feature. This really begs the question of just how important it is that lipstick cases are shiny, and whether this really can be labelled as beneficial for society.”
Chemical companies are failing routinely to meet basis safety requirements on hazardous chemicals, an official annual review has found. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) progress report released on 28 February 2019 revealed that of the 21 substance evaluations completed in 2018, only 6 (28.5 per cent) of the substances were “sufficiently controlled,” with “further risk management measures” required for the rest. Chemical companies failed to provide important safety information on potentially serious health effects in nearly threequarters of cases (74 per cent or 211 of 286) checked by authorities in 2018. ECHA executive director Bjorn Hansen, said that efforts are needed “from all actors” to ensure that the safety data companies provide complies with the law. “As an agency, we will further improve the efficiency of our work on compliance checks.” He added that both ECHA and member states “must do more to accelerate the evaluation process.” Tatiana Santos from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said the report shows “there is a mountain to climb on chemical safety in Europe.” Where officials have the information they need to declare a substance unsafe, “in most cases no action follows,” she said. A February 2019 EEB report, which reviewed data from the EC’s community rolling action plan (Corap), found threequarters of substances deemed to pose a serious risk to human health or the environment under REACH are allowed on the European market without any regulatory action.
Female seafarers must reject outright the mandatory pregnancy testing required of some cruise ship workers, a leading trade unionist has said. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) maritime co-ordinator Jacqueline Smith said the practice was blatantly discriminatory. She told the RMT’s women’s conference last week that many cruise lines insist on a pregnancy test as part of a medical examination of workers before they come aboard. Women with uncomplicated pregnancies are allowed to work on ships up until a certain point, but shipping companies want to avoid the costs of support and standing them down when necessary. She said she has condemned the mandatory pregnancy testing policies in recent negotiations with employers at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). “It’s absolutely ludicrous that the ship owners were so bold in saying: ‘We do this because we care’,” she said. “You could have a UK seafarer who wants to work on a cruise ship, and before you go on they have to get a medical certificate — and mandatory pregnancy test.”
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Campaigners from SHARPS, the advocacy group for victims of occupational diseases contracted working for electronics multinational Samsung, say the company is failing to compensate many affected workers. It was speaking out on 4 March 2019, after assisting 14 occupational disease victims to collectively petition Samsung for compensation. SHARPS says it has calculated that the majority of more than 200 new occupational disease cases linked to exposures at Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and its affiliates are not covered by the compensation programme the conglomerate launched last year (Risks 877). The campaign says in the three months since the launch of the compensation scheme in November 2018, SHARPS profiled 206 occupational disease victims from Samsung and a variety of its associated companies or contractors. About 127, or 62 per cent of the new victims, won’t benefit from the current compensation programme because their diseases or workplaces are not covered. SHARPS adds that a technicality means their diagnoses fell outside the time frame covered by the programme. The group will now actively assist those victims ineligible for the Samsung plan in petitioning for workers’ compensation, Kong Jeong-ok, a medical doctor and a SHARPS founder, told the Hankyoreh 21.
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