|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 repeated its warning that bullying is a health and safety issue that must be taken seriously at work. Bullying was the second biggest concern for trade union safety reps after stress, according to the TUC’s 2018 survey. Almost half (45 per cent) of those responding to the survey reported bullying was one of the top five concerns in their workplace. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said there are two key roles for safety reps. “The first is to support workers when they are subjected to bullying. The other is to ensure that there are effective policies in place to prevent bullying,” he wrote in a TUC blog. He pointed out the TUC bullying at work guide for reps “makes it clear that unions are best placed to help give workers the confidence to challenge anyone they believe is bullying them, whatever their level in the organisation, and ensure that the employer takes action to protect the member and provide them with a safe and supportive workplace.” But he added “we should not wait until members complain before taking on bullying, especially as all the evidence shows that workers are often unwilling to speak about the problem. We need to get in there first and make sure there are strong policies that protect and support the complainant and give a clear process for how complaints will be handled.” The TUC guidance includes a simple survey form, “intended to cover both workplaces where there is no existing policy, as well as those where there is a policy – after all it is important to know that if there is a policy, it is working,” noted Robertson.
The entertainment technicians’ union BECTU has launched a comprehensive set of standards for the live events industry, in its “fight for better working conditions for its members in the sector.” The union said over two-thirds (69 per cent) of respondents to its survey named long hours as their biggest concern, followed by lack of crew welfare facilities (46 per cent) and concerns over health and safety (30 per cent). BECTU added workers – often freelancers – who undertake contracts at entertainment events, festivals and conferences as lighting technicians, sound engineers and live events crew have reported widespread mistreatment including long hours, no breaks, bullying and harassment. BECTU said it plans to directly address this in its set of standards for the industry, which also cover health and safety, diversity, inclusion and provision of appropriate facilities based on the Equality Act’s protected characteristics. BECTU’s lead official on the ‘Set the standard!’ campaign, Naomi Taylor, said: “Increasing pressure on this workforce, who put in long hour shifts with sometimes little reward, means it’s time to act and say enough is enough.” She added: “That’s why we want employers to step up and do the right thing by abiding by these standards to ensure a sustainable industry that does the right thing by its workers who work tirelessly to get big shows on the road.”
‘Abhorrent’ threats by right-wing activists targeting newspaper, freelance and broadcast journalists this month have prompted the journalists’ union NUJ to renew its demand that the authorities take action against the perpetrators. The union said individuals who seek to intimidate and silence the media by publishing photos, names or addresses of journalists and who urge their supporters to target journalists should not be allowed to do so, arguing this behaviour is unlawful harassment and intimidation. The union revealed that in the past six months NUJ members have been physically assaulted, had their homes targeted and threats made at their workplace, “simply for doing their job” (Risks 886). It warned that unless action is taken to stop such ‘thuggery’ there is a danger of a ‘chilling effect’ on the coverage of vital issues of public interest. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Journalists have a duty to scrutinise the claims and activities of those who foment Islamophobia, racial tension and violence. They should not be facing threats or intimidatory tactics because they are doing their jobs.” Police launched an investigation last week after right-wing activist Tommy Robinson was accused of attacking the home of a journalist who helped a BBC Panorama investigation into his activities. Robinson — real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — banged on the door of Mike Stuchbery’s home in Luton and shouted abuse at 10.45pm on 4 March, then returned with others at 5am the following morning and renewed the attack. At the same time, the journalist’s mobile phone was flooded with abusive messages. Police were called on both occasions.
The construction union Unite has renewed its call for a full public inquiry into a scandal that saw thousands of union and safety activists blacklisted. The union was speaking out as new evidence emerged it said demonstrates that the police and security services were involved in the illegal activity on an ‘industrial scale’. The new evidence came in the Metropolitan Police’s 2016 internal ‘Creedon’ report, just released to the Blacklist Support Group. The report reveals that the police supplied information to the covert blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association, which was funded by the country's major construction firms. The police have had specific units to monitor trade unionists and liaise with companies for decades, according to the report. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail commented: “The latest revelations underline why it is imperative there is a full public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal. Ten years after the blacklisting scandal was first revealed new information is still being unearthed, these documents expose that the police were working hand in glove with the blacklisters for decades.” She added: “It is becoming increasingly clear that we will not get full transparency about the scandal until there is a public inquiry. The government’s refusal to order an inquiry is becoming increasingly untenable.” Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The blacklisting of construction workers by the police is nothing short of criminal. The latest revelations demonstrate that this was not a one off, or the actions of a rogue individual, but there was collusion between the blacklisters and the police on an industrial scale for decades.” Last month Unite revealed it intended to bring before the courts the top construction bosses behind the blacklisting of site workers (Risks 887).
The CWU is celebrating a major victory for postal workers after the government agreed to introduce a law which would outlaw back-busting low level letterboxes on new doors. The issue, which has been the subject of a long-running CWU campaign, came to public attention in January when a Ten Minute Bill backed by the CWU and Royal Mail was presented to the House of Commons (Risks 881). The government has now indicated it will accept an amendment to the Building Regulations so doors in the future will have letterboxes positioned at a safer height. Welcoming the ‘great news’, CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said: “The government has this target of a million new homes to be completed by the end on 2020 and large developments with low level letterboxes are a nightmare for postal workers. The union has had to tackle the problem by challenging builders piecemeal when they install low level letterboxes in big numbers without the force of law behind us and today’s news couldn’t have come at a better time.” The CWU safety specialist added: “The housing minister has also indicated to us his support for the change and we hope it can be pushed through quickly. This is an extremely important change for the health and safety of postal workers out on deliveries six days a week, 52 weeks of the year and a huge step forward for sensible change. This is great news for the union’s 95,000 delivery members.”
A pioneering agreement will ensure that working conditions and building standards on construction projects under the control of Milton Keynes Council will meet the highest safety and employment standards, the union Unite has said. The union was commenting after the local authority became the latest to sign up to the Unite Construction Charter. Now construction firms planning to work on Milton Keynes Council building projects will need to adhere to the charter, which commits firms to working with Unite to achieve the highest standards on direct employment, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. Sarah Carpenter, Unite regional secretary for the South East, said: “The Unite Construction Charter makes a difference by helping local workers to operate in a safe environment, giving them the rights to raise health and safety issues without fear. The Charter also protects workers from bogus self-employment by ensuring construction workers are directly employed.” Councillor Peter Marland, the leader of Milton Keynes Council, said: “Ensuring that people are able to work safely is highly important, but in the building industry it is a matter of life and death. The ability of employees to join a trade union, speak out on issues and be paid a fair rate for their labour is vital, and I’m proud that Labour-led Milton Keynes Council is one of the first to incorporate the Unite Construction Charter into our procurement standards.”
Security staff at Southampton General Hospital are regularly attacked in the accident and emergency (A&E) department and are not receiving even the basic protection they require, their union Unite has said. The union said its 21 security staff members were being attacked on a regular basis by members of the public who were under the influence of drink or drugs or who had mental health problems. Unite said its members, employed by Mitie Security Ltd, report that the firm has refused to provide adequate personal protection equipment (PPE), such as stab vests and safety restraints, even though knife-related incidents are increasing. Unite lead officer for health in the south east, Scott Kemp, said: “With cuts to the police force and mental health services, there is a tendency for those suffering from various conditions to be dropped off at the hospital and left to the security guards.” He said the real extent of the problem is hard to ascertain as there “has been a lack of proper investigation into the incidents over a considerable period. The guards report incidents that have occurred on every shift, but the bosses at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Mitie Security will only investigate when someone is injured.” Unite says a worker suffering an injury in an attack can quickly find themselves surviving on statutory sick pay alone. “What we want is enhanced sickness payments for those off work due to being injured protecting patients and hospital staff; proper and transparent investigations into all attacks; and our members having the necessary personal protection equipment. Our members are seeking six months’ full-pay, followed by six months’ half-pay for all sickness absences. We don’t think those are unreasonable requests, given the level of violence in today’s society generally.”
A water company that has been criticised for its poor management of its water resources has been accused of taking ‘huge’ safety risks by using a taxi firm to investigate leaks. Utilities union GMB said Severn Trent, which provides water to 4.3 million homes across the East and West Midlands, has been using Uber and taxi drivers to investigate leaks more than 30 times a week. The union said customers have not been impressed with the ‘Virtual Fieldworker Programme’ – dubbed ‘Uber leaks’ internally. GMB national officer Stuart Fegan said: “When I found out Severn Trent are using taxi drivers to investigate leaks I thought it must be a joke. But no one is laughing – this has got huge safety implications for customers, the drivers and the public at large.” He explained: “Water engineers are highly trained specialists – they can spot if water is contaminated and if water produces a risk to the public. I doubt most taxi drivers can. They also don’t know how to pin-point leaks - meaning repair crews can dig unnecessary holes in the highway. And how is someone going to feel after they report a leak, expecting a Severn Trent worker to attend with a uniform and the necessary training and a taxi driver turns up. They’d think it was a hoax call.” The GMB official added: “Have Severn Trent consulted with its customers about this practice or discussed it with the regulator or HSE [Health and Safety Executive]? Severn Trent needs to see sense and cancel the Uber leaks programme immediately.” The company said it has been using the taxi drivers because it is a “cheaper” way to assess leaks than using skilled technicians.
The UK pilots’ union BALPA and the cabin and ground crew union Unite have welcomed the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) decision to ground 737 Max aircraft, saying “safety must come first”. The move came after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed on 10 March, killing all 157 people on board, in the second fatal accident involving the 737 Max 8 model in five months. A wave of countries including the UK banned the plane from their airspace in the wake of the latest tragedy. Following last October's Lion Air crash in Indonesia involving the same model of plane, investigators said the pilots had appeared to struggle with an automated system designed to keep the plane from stalling, a new feature of the jet. It is not yet clear whether the anti-stall system was the cause of the latest crash. Eyewitnesses say they saw a trail of smoke, sparks and debris as the plane nosedived. Commenting on the CAA’s 12 March decision to ground the 737 Max, BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “BALPA welcomes the precautionary action of the CAA in stopping commercial passenger 737 Max aircraft from arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace. Safety must come first.” He added: “It is too early to know the cause of the latest crash and it is vital that air accident investigators carry out a thorough investigation to identify the cause so that measures to prevent future accidents can be put in place.” Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said: “This is a sensible precautionary measure and it is absolutely correct that the CAA has taken this decision as safety must always be absolutely paramount.” He added: “Unite is closely monitoring the situation and consulting with its reps. Unite will also be closely liaising with the companies involved in order to ensure that all appropriate measures such as training are in place before the affected planes return to service.”
Offshore union RMT has said it shares the ‘growing anger’ over the refusal of the Scottish government to reconsider its opposition to a public inquiry into helicopter safety. The union was commenting after North East Scotland Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald called on ministers to reconsider their decision not to back a public inquiry into helicopter safety in the North Sea, after he received a what he has described as a “deeply disappointing” reply from energy minister Paul Wheelhouse. In a letter to the MSP, the minister said that “while sympathetic to the underlying concerns” the Scottish government did not think a public inquiry at the current time would add to ongoing work. Lewis Macdonald said: “When so many workers are coming together to highlight safety concerns, it is vital that both Scottish and UK governments take on board what they have to say. That is why SNP ministers at Holyrood must reconsider this decision and back calls from workers for a UK-wide public inquiry into helicopter safety.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash added: “Ultimately, the Scottish government has sided with the interests of the oil and gas industry and against offshore workers in opposing the call for a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety. Offshore unions will take note of that as the campaign continues.”
Waste workers in a London local authority should benefit from a new ‘respect and protect’ scheme, their union has said. GMB, which represents refuse, street cleansing and recycling employees employed by Serco under a Hammersmith & Fulham council waste management contract, is backing the company's Citizens Charter and Respect and Protect Campaign. Serco’s Citizens Service Charter aims to raise awareness and increase understanding of violence, aggression and abuse at work, as well as providing a responsive structure to identify, prevent and manage the problem. The ‘Respect and Protect’ Campaign aims to reduce the number of employees on Serco’s Environmental Services contract being subjected to assaults, threats, abusive and insulting behaviour by members of the public. Welcoming the initiative, GMB senior organiser Keith Williams said violence against frontline staff was increasing. “The Citizens Service Charter and Respect and Protect Campaign launched by Serco sends a clear message, that violence towards employees in any shape or form will not be tolerated, and demonstrates that Serco are fully backing staff, and that any such act will result in investigation and action, involving police if appropriate.” He added: “GMB are now calling for all contractors to follow Serco’s lead and introduce their own Charter of Protection to protect employees from violence and assault.”
A company that knew about a risk from overhead power lines but didn’t act to protect workers has been fined after a 38-year-old worker was electrocuted in a ‘wholly avoidable’ tragedy. Luton Crown Court heard how Darren Waterman, a driver employed by Just Grab Services to unload material at Fillets Farm, Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, was using the grab arm on his vehicle when it came into contact with an 11kV overhead power line (OHPL) and he was electrocuted. The site was managed by Options Energy Resource LLP. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 16 September 2016 incident found that Options Energy Resource LLP had identified the risk from power lines in risk assessments but had failed to implement measures to remove the risks and adequately plan construction work and to train its employees. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,242.33. HSE inspector Samantha Wells commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of Options Energy Resource LLP to implement safe systems of work and to ensure that health and safety documentation was communicated and followed. Every year in the UK, two people are killed and many more are injured when machinery comes into contact with, or close proximity to, overhead power lines.”
Mental health at work is a big deal – which is why the TUC has produced an extensive range of resources to help union reps support members and address any work-related factors that might cause or exacerbate problems. TUC Education’s mental health awareness course, offered by local trade union education centres, runs for 18 hours and is designed for reps who want to increase their awareness of how the workplace can affect mental health and who want to improve policies for their members. There is also a similar ‘eNotes’ online alternative, which describes common mental health illnesses and helps reps recognise when colleagues may have mental health issues. It also summarises the law on mental health in the workplace. A mental health in the workplace workbook, which can be downloaded free from the TUC website, provides guidance on securing the best outcomes for individual members with mental health issues, and for working with employers to develop 'mentally healthy' workplaces. And union reps can sign up for a webinar on mental health at work, scheduled for 13 June. On top of that reps can listen online to earlier webinars on wellbeing at work, tackling stress and other related workplace health and safety issues.
Ÿ Courses: Search the TUC Education course directory to find a course near you.
Global unions have criticised the Bangladesh government for its continued instance that an effective independent garment factory safety watchdog gets out of Bangladesh by a fixed date, regardless of whether there is a competent safety authority to replace it. At a hearing of the Appellate Court on 18 February, lawyers for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety reported on the failure of negotiations between the Accord, the Bangladesh government and the employers’ organisation BGMEA on the conditions for transition of the Accord’s functions to the government. Global unions IndustriALL and UNI, together with representatives of the Accord signatory garment brands, have written to the Bangladesh prime minister and to the minister of commerce to request their direct intervention in resolving the impasse. The letters state that a premature closure of the Accord office would have immediate negative and damaging consequences. “After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, it became clear that urgent measures were needed to ensure safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. There is no doubt that the Accord has helped transform the industry and save lives,” said UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman. “That is why it is senseless for the Bangladeshi government and garment industry to push out the Accord rather than work with its safety experts on a credible transition.” She added: “We should not turn back the clock and reverse the progress that has been made, and that’s what prematurely expelling the Accord would do.” The global unions say the Bangladesh government must end the uncertainty and come to the table with a real commitment to a credible and responsible transfer of Accord functions “based on a genuine readiness of the government to take over.”
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has banned with immediate effect the use of known carcinogens used for road markings and in paints and plastics. The court’s Tribunal of the EU, which deals with disputes between EU institutions, ruled in the case brought by the Swedish government that an earlier European Commission decision to authorise uses of the chromium VI compounds, lead sulphochromate yellow and lead chromate molybdate red, was unlawful. Just one company, Canada-based Dominion Colour Corporation (DCC), had applied for EU authorisation to sell pigments containing the two substances for use in road markings, metal paints and industrial plastics. The European Commission, supported by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), argued that banning the use of these substances would be “disproportionate” considering that concerns over their health and environmental impact could be allayed by simply limiting their use (Risks 775). DCC’s Maastricht-based subsidiary had said in its authorisation application that none of the alternatives available had the same characteristics as the lead chromates in question. However, both Sweden and the UK have banned the use of lead chromates in road marking paint, while evidence from other pigment manufacturers made it clear that “replacement solutions existed in the EU market for all the uses set out by DCC Maastricht in its authorisation request,” the tribunal concluded. Environmental law group ClientEarth welcomed the ruling as a “huge victory for the environment and public health.”Alice Bernard, a chemicals lawyer for the group, said it was also a win for “the companies who had invested in safer solutions decades ago that the commission’s authorisation had effectively disadvantaged.” Elise Vitali, policy officer on chemicals for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), branded the original authorisation a “farce” that “exposes just how permissive the EU is to conservative business interests”. She added: “This shameful carte blanche has hammered the business case for developing safer alternative chemicals and rewarded those firms that are unable or unwilling to kick their toxic habits. We are happy to see the court remind officials that the law is the law.”
Violence and harassment affect the lives of millions of women workers on a daily basis - yet there is still no law at the international level that sets a baseline for taking action to eradicate the problem at work, the global union IndustriALL has said. The union comments came ahead of a second International Labour Organisation (ILO) discussion on violence and harassment in the world of work which will take place in June 2019 at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. According to IndustriALL, this “will be a historic opportunity to adopt a binding instrument that addresses this serious gap in international labour standards for the protection of millions of workers, especially women.” Whereas employers are hoping the international labour standards body will introduce voluntary measures, the global union says it is important ILO introduces ‘a binding text’ – in ILO speak, a convention - with legal weight. It adds the new global rules must address both violence and harassment and should protect all workers regardless of their employment status. According to IndustriALL: “The convention should provide a framework for governments, employers, companies and unions to tackle violence and harassment at work.” It adds: “While the convention would be addressed to governments, the primary responsibility to create a work environment free from violence and harassment lies with employers. Duties should be assigned to employers to introduce workplace policies, in consultation with unions, setting out: prevention measures; transparent and confidential procedures to deal with complaints; sanctions for perpetrators; information to ensure that workers understand policies and procedures; and support for victims of violence and harassment at work.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors