|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Security guards at the Palace of Westminster who threatened strike action on 20 March over their unacceptable working conditions have achieved a ‘significant victory’, their union PCS has said. The dispute centred around three demands; improved rest breaks, settlements for longstanding personal cases and the reinstatement of a member. Last ditch talks with the House of Commons Commission resolved the issues on the eve of the industrial action. PCS, which said there was a ‘culture of fear’ in the workplace, said it had suspended the planned industrial action following the successful talks. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is a significant victory for our security guards. It proves that strong trade union organisation and negotiation brings results.”
One in five station-based Tube workers have been physically assaulted, according to research by the union RMT. Staff have been threatened with knives and shoved towards train tracks, the rail union said. RMT is calling for action including increased staffing to tackle this “growing tide of violence” against staff. The union’s study involved more than 300 workers and found threequarters of those surveyed had been verbally abused, with one in five experiencing abuse more than 20 times a year. Over a third of this abuse related to race whilst one in ten cases was gender-related. Almost one in five (18 per cent) of Tube staff have been physically assaulted. The study also found one in 10 Tube workers responding had been sexually harassed by passengers. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “There is a growing tide of violence and abuse across the London transport network and RMT members are at the sharp end on a daily basis and it is time for the employers to end the warm words and take decisive action to protect both their workforce and the travelling public.” He added: “That means more staff, making the objective ‘zero tolerance’ a reality rather than just a slogan and ensuring that decisive action is taken against those responsible for verbal and physical assaults and that those cases are well publicised to deter others.” The union raised its concerns at a Transport for London (TfL) summit this week. Nigel Holness, managing director of London Underground, said: “Everyone has the right to go about their day without fear or intimidation and we do not tolerate any form of physical or verbal assault on our staff or customers.” He added: “We are committed to working alongside our trade unions to ensure our staff can do their jobs in safety.”
Lone working can be dangerous and employers need to take precautions to protect any employee working alone, the union UNISON has said. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of isolated workers report they have experienced violence and aggression from the public, the public service union’s biennial health and safety seminar heard. More people work alone than ever, but an over-dependence on technology can risk giving people a false sense of security, delegates heard. For instance, when technology doesn’t work as expected, it can leave workers more isolated. UNISON safety specialist Robert Baughan said “it is important employers take some basic precautions to protect their workers and why we need more safety reps to make sure these things happen.” Protective measures could include reducing the amount of time workers spend working alone and identifying the times when lone workers are most at risk so they get the support they need. UNISON, which has published a guide to lone working, added that employers should also ensure lone workers can summon help if needed by providing contact names and telephone numbers, together with the means to raise the alarm. Systems should also let workers leave details of where they will be working, their expected arrival and departure times, and when they can be expected either back at their employer’s office or at home.
Pilots are reminding drone operators that they could face jail if they fly too close to airports. New legislation that came in to force on 13 March sees the no-fly zone around airports increased from 1km to 5km and gives police greater powers to deal with those who ignore the rules. Pilots’ union BALPA, which had campaigned for the extended no drone zone, said transgressors could face hefty fines and prison sentences. The union is now calling for the government to put in place measures to protect helicopters which operate at low levels away from the protected zone around airports and in areas where drones are frequently flown. BALPA is also pressing the government to deliver on a promise of a drone registration scheme this year and wants the government and regulators to encourage airports to invest in drone detection and disabling measures. BALPA head of flight safety Dr Rob Hunter said: “This new legislation, which BALPA campaigned for, is a step towards the safe integration of drones in to UK airspace. But the puzzle isn’t complete just yet and now is not the time to become complacent.” He added: “The government must ensure it delivers it’s promised drone registration scheme and looks at protections for helicopters, which operate in similar airspace to drones away from the no-fly zones around airports. We hope the Department for Transport will take a similar safety-first approach to looking at this aspect.”
The firefighters’ union FBU has branded proposed further cuts to Surrey fire and rescue service as “incomprehensible”, just months after a government inspection voiced “serious concerns” about the county’s fire and rescue service. The union says Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has experienced brutal cuts, with 131 firefighter positions slashed between 2010 and 2018 – a 17 per cent reduction in the workforce. The proposed cuts would see a further 70 firefighter posts axed in the area, cutting numbers by 22 per cent since 2010. The new cuts plan comes after a December 2018 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) voiced “serious concerns” about the service’s effectiveness and efficiency in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks. The latest proposals from Surrey County Council would see drastic reductions to fire cover at night. FBU says the “drastic reductions” to firefighter availability at night are under the guise of what the council calls “risk-based cover”, as more fires occur during the day than in the evening. But the FBU warns that there is a far greater chance of fire deaths at night, as victims are often asleep. The union points to Home Office figures that show that in 2017-18, 73 per cent of all deaths from residential fires and 77 per cent of all deaths from accidental residential fires occurred between the hours 6pm and 9am. Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary, said: “The council’s claim that these cuts are ‘risk based’ is ludicrous. Slashing night-time cover leaves the public exposed when they are most at risk of fatality. These proposals offer no improvement in public safety and do nothing to address how firefighters are supposed to keep themselves safe.” He added: “The public are being short-changed; receiving a less effective, less efficient service, that costs more while leaving them at greater risk”.
Dudley Council has become the latest local authority to use its procurement power to support local construction workers by signing up to Unite’s Construction Charter. The union says the agreement will ensure that working conditions and building standards on construction projects under the control of the council meet the highest standards. Construction firms planning to work on Dudley Council building projects will now need to adhere to the Construction Charter. The charter commits the council to working with Unite to achieve the highest standards of direct employment status, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of appropriate nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. Frank Keogh, Unite regional political officer for the West Midlands, said: “The Charter means contractors must work closely with the unions to achieve the highest safety and employment standards. With more councils signing up to the Charter in the West Midlands the agreement is becoming a mark of a council which is really serious about the best standards for local construction projects.” Councillor Qadar Zada, leader of Dudley Council, said: “As a council, we are responsible for the procurement of a large amount of construction projects. It is therefore appropriate that we, as a responsible client, enter into this agreement and commit to working with the appropriate trade unions, in order to achieve the highest standards.” The Dudley deal follows recent charter sign ups with councils including Liverpool (Risks 882), Manchester (Risks 884) and Milton Keynes (Risks 889).
A police dog handler who could no longer do his dream job as a result of a work injury killed himself the day before he was due to return to work in another role, an inquest has heard. Wakefield Coroner's Court was told 37-year-old PC Mick Atkinson 'dreaded' the prospect of working in an office after spending more than 10 years as a dog handler with North Yorkshire Police. The police offer was found hanged in the garage of his home near Leeds on 7 October 2018. He had been due to return to work the following day after a 17-month absence due to arthritis in his knee caused by an injury at work. Recording a verdict of suicide, assistant coroner Sarah Watson, said: “It seems his job was his life, certainly being with the dogs and being outdoors.” He underwent an unsuccessful knee operation in April 2017 and could not return to work. The inquest heard that after the operation Mr Atkinson's police dogs were reallocated, which upset him. His partner, Kellie Taylor, wrote in a statement to the inquest: “Obviously he could not see a way out. He had health and work issues. He was a wonderful man and will be sadly missed.” North Yorkshire Police chief constable Lisa Winward commented: “Mick was a distinguished officer and had been part of the North Yorkshire Police family for 17 years. He started his service as a PC in Scarborough and then moved into the Dog Support Unit and became a handler. He was a well-liked and much respected member of the team and of our wider policing family and his loss will be felt profoundly.” She added: “His death has come as a great shock to all of us and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this extremely difficult time.”
Ÿ Scarborough News. Yorkshire Evening Post.
A change in Scottish law will assist workers in securing personal injury damages from employers, a leading employment solicitor has said. Alan Rodgers, a partner at the union personal injury law firm Thompsons Scotland, said the introduction of “qualified one-way costs shifting” (QOCS) in Scotland could help unions secure faster settlements. Under the old law, the losing party in personal injury cases paid the other side’s costs. But under the new system introduced by the Civil Litigation (Expenses & Group Proceedings) Act last year, personal injury claimants will not be liable to pay if they are unsuccessful. Speaking at the RMT supervisory and clerical grades conference in Edinburgh, the personal injury law expert described the introduction of the new system as a “seismic shift.” He predicted it would put the onus on employers to offer better settlements before litigation. And he stressed union reps should get the message out that workers will be best compensated if they take personal injury claims through the union’s legal process. “It’s going to become a really competitive market,” he told delegates. “The texts we all hate, the phone calls: ‘Have you had an accident,’ that’s going to go through the roof as well.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A rail safety watchdog has issued new safety recommendations after a mobile elevating work platform ran out of control on tracks for 340 metres. The incident happened in June 2018 when the road-rail machine was being placed on the tracks near Bradford Interchange station. The machine operator and controller were able to run alongside and warn track maintenance staff to get out of the way. The machine ran away because its rail wheels were, incorrectly, partially deployed and because the rail wheel braking system had not been correctly maintained. Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said: “Getting road-rail plant safely on and off the track ought to be a straightforward business. Unfortunately, over the years RAIB has had to investigate too many incidents in which this operation has gone wrong, and the machine involved has run away downhill, often for quite long distances.” He said it was a serious concern “that the machine’s brakes did not hold it stationary on the 1 in 46 gradient. This was because they were badly maintained, a state of affairs that can be traced back to poor instructions and inadequate supervision of the plant hire company’s maintenance staff.” He added: “Our recommendations are directed to Network Rail and one other company, but I hope that people in all areas of the rail plant sector will take note of the learning points in this report, and make sure that their company safety management systems are comprehensive and fully implemented.” Rail union RMT has consistently raised concerns about the danger to track workers from runaways. In February 2004, four RMT members were killed by a runaway trolley on a track near Tebay (Risks 543).
A company that is in administration has been convicted of two criminal safety offences after an employee was killed when a wall collapsed on a construction site. Bournemouth Crown Court heard how, on 2 June 2015, Thomas Telfer was working as a bricklayer employed by Capstone Building Ltd, when he was struck by falling masonry after a retaining wall failed as it was being back-filled with concrete. The 31-year-old suffered fatal head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to appropriately manage the work that was being carried out at the site at Chatterton Heights, Lyme Regis and failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees on site, including Thomas Telfer. Capstone Building Limited, which is in administration, was found guilty after a trial of two criminal health and safety offences and was fined £900,000 and ordered to pay costs of £60,336.99. The firm’s sole director Stephen Ayles, 58, was found not guilty. HSE inspector Ian Whittles said: “This tragic incident could so easily have been avoided if the appropriate measures were in place to provide a safe working practice. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
A manufacturing company has been fined after a worker’s hand was caught in poorly guarded machinery. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how, on the 5 July 2017, an employee of Contour Showers Ltd, Winsford, was trying to clear a blockage from a metal cutting saw, when the blade cut through the knuckle of his left index finger damaging the tendon and ligament, preventing him from returning to work for eight months. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that there was inadequate guarding to prevent access to dangerous parts of the machinery and that training had not been provided on isolation, lock-off procedures and safe systems of work during maintenance activities. The investigation also found the firm had failed to identify the risks associated with inadequately guarded machinery. Contour Showers Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £14,000 with £5,473.21 costs. HSE inspector Lorna Sherlock said: “This injury was easily preventable. Employers should make sure they properly assess risk and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”
A Preston waste recycling company has been fined for a criminal safety offence after an employee was injured whilst operating a machine from which the guards has been removed. Blackburn Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 13 April 2017, the hand of a KT Recycling Ltd employee became trapped between a conveyor belt and drive roller of a magnetic separator as he attempted to remove waste material. The incident caused extensive damage to his left forearm, leaving the arm with impaired function. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that guard plates had been removed several weeks before the incident but had not been replaced. In addition, the company had no procedures to check the guard plates were correctly fitted, failed to provide suitable training in the safe use of the machine, and failed to adequately supervise the operatives who used it. KT Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was ordered to pay a £20,000 fine and costs of £13,000. HSE inspector Anthony Banks commented: “This incident could easily have been avoided if the company had put procedures in place to ensure that guard plates were maintained correctly, and their use was properly supervised.”
Norwich maintenance company RFT Repairs Limited has been fined after an employee fell two metres while working on a roof, suffering a head injury. Barkingside Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 7 September 2016, a roofer was working with a colleague to repair a leaky roof on a Felixstowe property. There was no edge protection around the roof and access to the roof was via an unsecured ladder. As the roofer accessed the ladder it slipped, causing him to fall from a height of approximately 2 metres. The worker sustained contusion and bruising to his head along with hearing damage. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the assessment of the work prior to the arrival of the roofers on site was inadequate. There was neither a system for checking the correct equipment for work at height was being used, nor for supervision of the work on site. RFT Repairs Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,391.76. HSE inspector Prentiss Clarke-Jones said: “Roof work requires a high level of planning, and supervision should be in place to ensure it is carried out safely. This incident so easily could have been fatal; work at height is a well-documented, well-regulated risk and there is no excuse for getting it wrong.”
The 2019 National Hazards Conference, billed as the UK’s “biggest and best educational and organising event for trade union safety reps and activists”, will be held in Stoke-on-Trent from 26-28 July. The theme this year is ‘Cleaning up toxic work.’ The conference includes a mixture of plenary sessions, meetings and a comprehensive workshop programme. Delegates have the opportunity to exchange experience and information with, and learn from, safety reps and activists from other unions, sectors and jobs across the UK.
The global asbestos lobby is campaigning actively to resist listing of chrysotile asbestos under a UN Treaty that would requiring its cancer-causing exports to include a health warning. The next Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will start on 29 April 2019, the day after International Workers’ Memorial Day. The asbestos industry has lobbied successful at a succession of the biennial meetings against the convention’s prior informed consent procedure, which would require a health warning accompanied its exports. Now the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) reports a February 2019 meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – representing Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia – agreed EEU members will work together to defeat UN attempts to list chrysotile asbestos. Key lobbying targets for the industry are those Asian countries it now sees as development markets for its product. The rearguard action comes as latest figures show a dramatic decline in asbestos production worldwide. According to IBAS, figures released in February 2019 show a reduction from global output of chrysotile asbestos in 2017 of 1,170,000 tonnes to 1,100,000 tonnes in 2018, with falls in production in China, Russia and Brazil but a big increase in Kazakhstan. The asbestos industry’s dirty tricks were again exposed in November last year, when a UK corporate intelligence organisation, K2 Intelligence, settled a legal case which involved an asbestos-industry financed and long-running spying project on trade union, safety and victims’ advocacy organisations and activists.
Ÿ Asbestos lobby news release. Corporate deceit: Asbestos espionage at home and abroad, IBAS, March 2019. Latest USGS global asbestos production statistics.
The Moroccan migrant workers harvesting strawberries in Spain are having to endure exploitative conditions and are forced to live in squalid accommodation, new evidence has confirmed. Each year, Spanish strawberry and berry farms recruit tens of thousands of female Moroccan workers through Morocco’s national employment agency, ANAPEC. Spain announced in January this year that over 19,000 Moroccan women would travel to pick strawberries in Spain’s Huelva province for the 2019 season. The first group of workers for the year sailed out from the Moroccan port of Tangier on 1 February and will return to Morocco in June. The workers are all married women with children, a government stipulation intended to prevent visa overstays. And though demand has grown in Morocco for the seasonal labour jobs, workers have long complained of abuse and exploitative conditions on Spanish berry farms. Now footage of the conditions faced by Moroccan female workers harvesting strawberries in Spain, broadcast last week in an episode of the acclaimed Spanish news series ‘Salvados’, features testimony from the women themselves, describing foul, overcrowded living conditions, sexual abuse at the hands of their supervisors and long, irregular hours. Aintzane Marquez, a lawyer for the women’s rights organisation WomenLink, said the conditions do not match the information companies gave workers before they accepted the seasonal jobs. She is currently representing four Moroccan women who have filed legal complaints against the farms.
In a landmark case, the US Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) has ruled a social service employer is accountable for failing to protect workers from workplace violence. Integra Health Management was cited for safety violations following the death of an employee who was stabbed nine times, then left bleeding on a front lawn after a December 2012 home visit to an agency client with a history of mental illness and violent criminal behaviour. “It is well-known – and tragic – that healthcare and social service workers are frequent victims of workplace violence,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “Employers have a legal responsibility to act on this knowledge and provide a safe and healthy workplace. Integra failed and a social service worker lost her life.” Attorney Randy Rabinowitz, who represented National COSH, the National Association of Social Workers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in preparing submissions to the OSHRC case review, said: “This ruling will help prevent future tragedies. Employers are now on notice of their responsibility under existing law to reduce the risks of workplace violence.” The murdered social service worker, who is not identified by name in the OSHRC ruling, raised safety concerns to her supervisor after a previous home visit. Despite these concerns, she was assigned – alone – to complete a required assessment with the client.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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