|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.
The TUC has said that new quarterly fatality figures released by the HSE reinforce earlier concerns that injuries are increasing as enforcement and inspection activity falls. Data for the first 9 months of 2018/19 shows an increase in fatalities in the HSE enforced sector compared with the same period in 2017/18 and is the highest since 2011/12. In agriculture, the 27 fatal injuries between April-December 2018 are higher than at any time in the past eight years, while in manufacturing, the 22 fatalities in the nine-month period are already well above 15 for the full year in 2017/18. The figures for members of the public are also alarming with 35 fatal injuries between April-December 2018, compared to 25 over the same period in 2017. TUC head of health and safety said that, although these are not the complete annual figures, there is no doubt that there are serious grounds for concern. For decades fatal injuries have been falling but in recent years we have not only seen the numbers plateauing, but now they seem to be going up. Only by taking action now can this be prevented from becoming a long-term trend. While the responsibility for these deaths lies with the employer, the HSE and Government have a considerable role to play in ensuring that employers obey the law. That means a robust inspection and enforcement regime.”
The RMT union will be stepping up the campaign for dramatic improvements in air quality on London Underground amid fears that the situation continues to deteriorate with serious consequences for both staff and passengers alike. The union has produced a dossier that shows that members are suffering with respiratory problems while station staff and drivers are having high incidents of chest colds. Some station services have even had to be suspended, or equipment has failed, due to high levels of dust and dirt in underground facilities across the line. The RMT report shows that the pollution particulates found on the tube included 'health significant levels' of particulates including arsenic, nickel, vanadium and zinc. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said “The air quality issues for RMT members on London Underground are very clearly impacting on the short-term and long-term health of staff as the reports from those forced to endure these shocking conditions make crystal clear. The levels of dust pollution are now at crisis level as far as the union is concerned and our executive has agreed to make campaigning on this issue a priority. For too long tube bosses have paid lip service to this issue regardless of the personal consequences for those exposed to the very clearly identified health risks. RMT is placing the issue back before the London Underground Health and Safety Forum with a clear demand that LU sets out a programme of action to address the union concerns as a matter of urgency.”
The trade union Unite has announced legal action has been served in 51 court cases against five UK airlines. Unite is backing court action against UK airlines after independent expert evidence concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals. The union-backed claims allege that expert medical evidence shows long term exposure to cabin air, or to high dose ‘fume events’, can lead to pilots and crew members developing chronic ill health and life threatening conditions. Reports for the court show how fumes from jet engine bleed air used to pressurise airline cabins contains a mix of toxic compounds including organophosphates and TCP. The union is also calling for an inquiry into toxic cabin air and for the airline industry to clean up its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board planes. Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk. The evidence begs the question how many more must be put at risk before the airline industry cleans its act up? Unite will use every avenue, including calling for a public inquiry and pursuing legal action, to get the airline industry to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes.”
The Scottish teaching union, EIS, have issued the results of a poll that found that hundreds of East Ayrshire teachers have seen, or experienced, physical assaults in school. Out of 505 teachers surveyed, ninety-five per cent of those surveyed had experienced or witnessed a violent incident in school. Almost a third of teachers polled also said that violent incidents take place one to three times each week. The union found that 60 per cent of those who had witnessed or endured a violent incident had no feedback from their line manager and over 80 per cent of teachers surveyed have said that they’d like to see a zero tolerance approach to violence in schools. Nicola Dasgupta, EIS local association secretary for East Ayrshire, said: “Violent and abusive behaviour by a minority of pupils is a very serious issue which concerns teachers greatly. While these survey results are clearly shocking, they will be less surprising to the teachers who are experiencing or witnessing violent incidents on a regular basis in our schools.” EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan has called for urgent action. “The findings of the EIS survey, combined with the local authority’s actual figures for recorded instances of violent behaviour, paint a worrying picture which should alarm parents, teachers and local politicians. Urgent action is needed to address the issues raised and to ensure that teachers and pupils have safe environments in which to teach and learn.”
More than 30 maintenance staff at Newcastle’s hospitals will be balloted for strike action by their union Unite in a work/life balance row. Unite said that NHS bosses had failed to provide convincing evidence for the changes in shift working for its members that could endanger patient safety. According to the union, the crux of the dispute is that the 08.00-16.00 shift will change once every four weeks to 12.00 till 20.00 for the day shift. Unite regional officer Dave Telford said: “What we have here is an erosion of our members’ work/life balance. The trust bosses have produced no convincing evidence for these changes – despite repeated requests by Unite. We have serious concerns about patient safety with the 24/7 shift changes.” He added “You could have a case of an elderly patient being trapped in a lift, or fire alarms could go off without warning – resulting in the one member of the maintenance team on duty at night requiring the assistance of the on-call engineer, who would obviously take some time to attend from home, leaving patients potentially trapped in a lift or evacuated due to an alarm for significantly longer than necessary.”
On the 10th anniversary of a fatal helicopter accident off Peterhead, in which all fourteen offshore workers and two crew onboard were killed, the RMT union has repeated the call for a full public inquiry into helicopter safety in the North Sea. The tragedy happened when workers were being transported from the Miller Oil Platform to Aberdeen in an AS332 L2 Super Puma model which experienced catastrophic failure of the main rotor gear box. This was very similar to the causes of two ditchings and a fatal accident off Norway on 29 April 2016. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said “Offshore workers remain angry that despite a five-year Fatal Accident Inquiry process we still await justice, meaningful changes and the public inquiry into helicopter safety in the North Sea that has long been our central demand. Meanwhile confidence in the safety of offshore helicopter transport has declined as we continue to see commercial pressures on standards in a culture of cost-cutting.” He added “On this grim anniversary for the industry the union pledges to step up the fight for North Sea helicopter safety, a public inquiry and lasting changes to regulatory standards that are the best way to restore offshore workers’ confidence.”
The programme of in-depth checks by national EU Governments into substances thought to have dangerous properties has found that almost half of them are unsafe in their current commercial use. According to a report by the EEB network, around 22,000 chemicals are registered for use in Europe and national authorities began in-depth safety checks of hundreds of substances thought to have dangerous properties in March 2012. By December 2018, high quality checks were completed on 94 substances, of which nearly half (49% or 46) were declared to be unsafe in their current commercial use. The programme of in-depth checks is significantly off course, with just 94 of 352 cases completed by December 2018. This is largely because officials are given inadequate data by chemical companies. EEB chemicals policy manager Tatiana Santos said “This is very concerning. Millions of tonnes of dangerous substances are being used unsafely in consumer and other products and getting into the environment. It can take over a decade for officials to protect us, largely because companies fail to provide sufficient safety information. Is it really too much to expect good data from an industry worth €500 billion a year in Europe? It claims safety is a priority. The facts suggest it is not.”
The 2 Sisters Food Group food processing company has been fined £1.4 million with £38,000 in costs, after a worker was injured while unblocking a machine on the poultry slaughter line. In September 2012, an employee of the company was attempting to clear a blockage on a conveying system at its Foxhills Industrial Estate site in Scunthorpe, when he was struck by a large metal stillage. As a result, his body was crushed at chest height against the end of the unit, and he sustained multiple injuries including several fractured ribs, fractures to his back and a punctured lung. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to identify deficiencies in the guarding on the machine, and the clearing of blockages was usually carried out while the machine was still in operation. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Kirsty Storer said: “The employee’s life-threatening injuries could easily have been prevented had the company identified the guarding deficiencies and put in place simple measures to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery. This should serve as a lesson to others in the food processing industry about the importance of effectively guarding their machinery to stop others being similarly injured.”
The Shadow fire minister, Karen Lee, has claimed that Grenfell Tower was a 'ticking time bomb' after government fire inspector cuts. 72 people died as a result of the 2017 fire. Speaking in the House of Commons, she said it was impossible to make cuts "and then expect there to be no ticking time bombs like Grenfell". Ms Lee called for a "serious review" of fire service funding and to create a "national standard framework" of fire inspectors' "numbers and competency". She said: "Not only are the government failing to deal with dangerous cladding wrapped around buildings, but they are also responsible for cutting one in four fire inspectors since 2010. You cannot cut red tape and cut fire inspectors and then expect there to be no ticking time bombs like Grenfell. Cuts have consequences. The fire service must be funded to seek out risk and not just to respond to it." This view was echoed by the local MP for the area, Emma Dent Coad, who called for a review of funding to improve recruitment and retention of officers "to ensure people are safe in their beds." The Government is shortly expected to consult on proposals for a new enforcement regime for high-rise domestic buildings.
The owners of a North Devon hotel have been fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,999.60 after materials containing asbestos were disturbed during a major refurbishment. Newton Abbot Magistrates’ Court heard that between October 2016 and May 2017 construction work was undertaken to refit and refurbish the Park Hotel on Taw Vale, Barnstaple. The Health and Safety Executive found that, at an early stage of the work, an employee raised concerns about the potential presence of asbestos containing materials (ACM) within the rooms under refurbishment but no testing of materials being disturbed took place. Concerns were also raised by external contractors even when work was continuing, and testing did not happen until February 2017, when the presence of ACMs was confirmed. Even while the HSE investigation was in progress there was a further incident where ACMs were disturbed. The HSE found that planning undertaken for the work, which had included an assessment as to the presence of ACMs, was inadequate as it failed to identify the full scope of the work proposed and the materials that would be disturbed during the works. Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Jo-Anne Michael said: “The dangers associated with asbestos are well known and a wealth of advice and guidance is freely available from HSE and other organisations. Identification of the hazard is key. Duty holders should not undertake any work which either exposes or is liable to expose their employees to asbestos unless they have carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to the presence, location and condition of asbestos in the premises. Those persons tasked with undertaking the assessment should have the necessary skills.”
A whole list of health and safety failings have landed a Salford builder with a suspended prison sentence. Kenneth Morris, was caught after a concerned local resident reported him when he saw him using an unsecured ladder balanced from a tower scaffold at one end, to a roof at the other end. Investigations by the HSE showed that, as well as the dangerous ladder, he exposed members of the public and his contractors to harmful silica dust from using an old mortar and was not fully insured. At Manchester Magistrates' Court, prosecutor Peter Hayes said that Morris would 'cut corners to save money'. He said "This is a man who says that he has over 25 years' experience in this type of work, but the manner that he is undertaking this type of work is clearly unsafe.” To prove that this was not a “one-off” incident, the prosecutor said "During the investigation the inspector reviewed his website which included a picture on that shows unsafe scaffolding." The Judge said Morris had repeatedly 'dodged' health and safety laws for financial gain. He said: "You were cost cutting and risked death as you did so. I have no doubt you have been hiding under the radar of health and safety instructors for years. It is only down to the members of the public who flagged this up that you were caught. These business' practices are shoddy and dodgy." Morris was sentenced to 30 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for two years. He was also handed 180 hours of unpaid work and fined £2,615.
A Sheffield Sign-fitting contractor, AR Signs Limited, was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £2,475 in costs for safety breaches after a worker suffered multiple serious burn injuries. In September 2017, a 22-year-old employee of AR Signs Limited was using a breaker tool to dig a hole for the posts of a new sign at the Hellaby Hall Hotel in Bramley, when he struck a mains electricity cable, causing a large flash. The worker suffered burn injuries to the inside of his right arm, the top of his right hand, the inside of his left arm, and the right-hand side of his face. He also had burns to his hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and beard. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that no cable diagram or ground scanner was used to determine the presence of the mains cable, and no training had been given in the use of the breaker tool. After the hearing, HSE inspector Sarah Robinson commented: “This wholly avoidable incident was caused by the failure of the company to appropriately plan and execute a safe system of work whilst fitting the signs. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
It is less than a month to Workers Memorial Day. If you know of any events in your area, please let the TUC know at email@example.com You can find out more about the day, and what you can do to get involved, on the TUC website. This year’s theme is on “dangerous substances” so it is a good opportunity to campaign on issues that are relevant to your workplace such as diesel fumes or asbestos.
The TUC is holding a webinar on the menopause on Thursday 25th April at 14:00. Two union representatives at Bristol City Council will share their personal stories of managing their own menopause and talk about how they have lobbied for menopause awareness at work. They will be joined by a Health and Wellbeing Manager, to discuss how managers and union representatives can work together to increase support for women. Sign up to hear first-hand experiences and to get ideas on how you can change the conversation in your workplace. You can Register here.
The Australian Government has introduced increased penalties against importers who knowingly or recklessly import goods containing asbestos The new regulations mean that importers could now face up to five years jail. Although Australia has had a strict asbestos importation ban in place since 2003, some importers are still bringing goods containing asbestos into Australia illegally. The Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said "From today, unlawfully bringing asbestos across Australia's border is a Tier 1 offence. This means those who import or export asbestos face the prospect of jail time following a successful prosecution. These changes will help to ensure our communities are protected from the unlawful importation of asbestos materials into the future." The changes will also assist the communities of the Australian External Territories by allowing the lawful movement of asbestos waste to the mainland for disposal in a licensed facility. Unions have been demanding action by the federal government to stop asbestos entering the country after it was found in building materials, children’s crayons, quad bikes, motor vehicle parts and other products. One high-profile case involved the discovery in 2016 of asbestos-tainted products in roofing panels in the Perth Children’s Hospital. Despite these imports being illegal, there have been just three successful prosecutions for importing asbestos since 2006, with total fines issued of about $140,000. Last year no one was prosecuted after it was revealed that Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group had imported about 3500 Chinese-made rail carriages containing asbestos
MEPs have voted, by 309 votes to 286 with 24 abstentions, to oppose a draft EU proposal to authorise certain uses of chromium trioxide, which is found in paint and plating in industries such as aerospace, automotive and cosmetics. As well as being believed to be a carcinogen, chromium dioxide is highly toxic and corrosive. The recommendation is not binding and only asks the EU executive to review its decision to authorise use, which has already been backed by Governments. Despite its very limited use, it has been estimated by the European Chemicals Agency that authorisation to use chromium trioxide would cause an estimated 50 workers fatal cancers every year. Trade unionists and environmental campaigners have long criticised the way that the European Commission have been authorising the use of cancer-causing chemicals when there are safer alternatives available. Theresa Kjell, senior policy advisor for ChemSec stated “The whole process has to change and the EC has to change to a different mind-set. This [vote] is very positive and is a push for REACH to work as intended and can be the driver for innovation and substitutions away [from] most hazardous substances,”. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) also welcomed “the strong message sent by the Members of the Parliament” to the Commission and member states adding “Only very well-justified applications deserve an authorisation” and “safer alternatives are already widely-used in most European countries and in other regions of the world.”
At least 30 firefighters have died while tackling a huge forest fire in south-western China. According to the Government, fire crews had been fighting the blaze in the mountains of Sichuan province on Sunday when a change in wind direction caused "a huge fireball", trapping them. Contact with 30 firefighters was lost and by the following day state television confirmed that all 30 of them had perished. The deaths happened when about 690 firefighters have been trying to control the flames in a remote area of Muli county. The blaze broke out at a remote spot in the rugged mountains, at an altitude of about 3,800 meters, where transport and communication are difficult. There has been a spate of forest fires in China recently. A separate forest fire in the northern province of Shanxi was brought under control on the same day at the Sichuan tragedy after burning for two days. No casualties were reported from that fire, but at least 9,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The Sichuan blaze is one of the most serious incidents of its kind in the last few years but there have been several others in the past, most recently in 2015, when an explosion at a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and other first responders.
A report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Manila has found that young workers in the Philippines are the most vulnerable to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Young workers in the country face up to a 40 percent higher rate of nonfatal injuries than older workers due to lack of awareness of safety and health standards, with a majority of the young workers working in unstable conditions without written contracts, social-security cover, or union representation. Workers aged between 15 and 24 comprise 19.2 percent of the total workforce in the country. Khalid Hassan, country director of ILO-Philippines, said “The fact that these young workers are new to the workplace, they are susceptible to intimidation, harassment and violence in the workplace. Young workers are not aware of their rights and are generally hesitant to speak up about the potential harm in their work for fear of losing jobs.” The ILO official also said young workers lack job experience and are less able to safely handle hazardous substances and job tasks. The study was conducted following the tragic lessons from the fire at Kentex slipper factory in Valenzuela City on May 13, 2015, which killed a total of 74 workers, most of them youths. An investigation into the Kentex fire showed noncompliance with occupational health and safety since there are no fire escapes and no storage and labelling for dangerous chemicals. The majority of workers in Kentex are paid based on “per piece” rate and work contracts are only given after 20 years of service. The ILO study said there are enough laws on Occupational Health and Safety in the Philippines, but they are not properly implemented in workplaces due to lack of qualified labour inspectors. At the same time, the study noted that majority of employers’ view training on Occupational Safety and Health measures as “time-consuming and a business expense rather than perceiving these actions as worthwhile investments.”
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