|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.|
Unions won the five-day week, limits on working time and paid holidays – and unions can make sure changes in the modern workplace lead to further working hour gains, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said. “New technology should be helping workers switch off, not keeping them on call round the clock,” she wrote in a TUC blog post. “As new technology makes us richer, the benefits should be shared by working people, in the form of shorter hours, more time with family and friends and decent pay for everyone.” She warned, however, that the trend has been in the wrong direction. “We’ve seen the rise of one-way flexibility, where employers get all the benefits and workers bear all the costs. Look at the 800,000 people on zero-hours contracts, constantly at the beck and call of their employers. In all sorts of sectors, workers are finding themselves always on call, with emails, calls or texts preventing them from switching off at evenings or weekends. This reinforces Britain’s long-hours culture, and it’s nothing to be proud of. Workers in the UK put in more than £32 billion hours worth of unpaid overtime last year.” She said this was neither right nor legal, noting “let’s be clear: if your employer takes your time and doesn’t pay you for it – that amounts to theft.” The TUC leader concluded: “We already know the UK works some of the longest hours in Europe. And yet our productivity levels are so much lower than our European partners [Risks 894]. Overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal – and it’s nothing to be proud of. So let’s end the long working hours culture in this country and accept the fact that workers are more productive when they’re properly rested.”
Ÿ TUC blog.
Over a thousand key London Underground (LU) maintenance and engineering staff are to strike for three days in a dispute over the hacking back of train preparation and inspection schedules, RMT has said. The rail union warned the cuts would have a devastating impact on both service reliability and public safety. The strike, which was backed nine-to-one in a ballot, is slated for 17-20 May. Workers are also to take action short of a strike in a number of areas around risk assessments, a ban on lone working and a ban on working without valid licences and fire wardens being in place. The staff involved work at Tube fleet maintenance depots across Greater London, with RMT saying the work is critical to the day to day operation of London Underground. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The nine-to-one ballot result showed just how angry Tube staff are at proposals London Underground are attempting to bulldoze through that would decimate the inspection and safety culture on the fleet. Despite that result Tube bosses have ignored the workforce and are pressing ahead and it is that intransigence that has left us no option but to confirm industrial action today.” He added: “Our message is clear, LU should pull back immediately rather than crash on regardless of the consequences of their actions. We remain available for genuine and serious talks.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is to demand action to protect retail staff who enforce the law on age-restricted sales, after delegates at the union’s annual conference voted unanimously to lobby the government on the issue. Paddy Lillis, the retail union’s general secretary, said: “Enforcing age-restricted sales is still a major trigger for abuse, threats and violence. This abuse, threatening behaviour and violence against shopworkers must end, especially when they are upholding the law around age-restricted sales.” He added: “The customer isn't always right and abusive, threatening or violent customers are never in the right. Our members have a legal responsibility to ask for ID, to challenge those who might be underage. If they fail in their responsibility, they face serious consequences. They could be disciplined, or even prosecuted and fined.” The union leader concluded: “Simply doing their job and following the law also puts shopworkers on the frontline and abuse must never be accepted as just part of the job. So we will continue to lobby the government about our Freedom from Fear campaign.” The government has opened a ‘call for evidence’ on this issue of shopworker abuse, following pressure from Usdaw, employers like the Co-op and retailers’ groups including the Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium and National Federation of Retail Newsagents.
A Suffolk prison workers’ union rep has warned life on the frontline has spiralled “out of control” as new figures reveal the number of assaults at HMP Highpoint have more than doubled since 2011. The data, from the Ministry of Justice, shows the total number of assaults on both staff and prisoners has increased by more than 130 per cent since Highpoint merged with Edmunds Hill prison eight years ago. The ‘safety in custody’ quarterly statistics show the number of assault incidents leapt from 157 in 2011 to 370 in 2018 – with the number of serious assaults quadrupling in the same time frame. Jackie Marshall, Eastern representative for the prison officers’ union POA, said the situation is now “out of control” – with some prisoners locking themselves in their cells out of fear. She told the East Anglian Daily News the main issues could be traced back to a lack of staff, especially experienced officers, and serious retention problems. “We do feel under strain because we are on our own a lot more than we would have been before,” she said. “They took all these prison staff off us. Staff were getting battered as well as the prisoners in their care.” While a new recruitment drive has helped bolster numbers to compensate for major cuts since 2009/10, the union representative said frontline officers are still struggling. “Unfortunately in some establishments we can't keep staff,” she said. “Retention is a major, major problem – a lot of that is down to the levels of violence in the establishments.” She warned: “It is not just the injuries you see colleagues getting, it is the injuries you see other prisoners getting. It just makes you wonder how close we are going to come to an officer being killed.”
Unite has written to new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt urging her to take action on the asbestos disease threat posed by past work on Sea King helicopters (Risks 895). The union says the Sea Kings were based at the Solent naval base, so many of those at risk will be living in the minister’s Portsmouth North constituency. In his letter to Penny Mordaunt - a naval reservist - Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said: “Secretary of State, asbestos related diseases result in terrible distressing illness that more often than not is terminal. Your constituents will be amongst the many thousands that came into contact and have undertaken maintenance on the Sea King and are therefore likely to have been exposed to asbestos. The continued failure to act to contact those who may have been exposed is simply not good enough. It indicates institutionalised neglect, and that will be exposed.” A Unite freedom of information (FoI) request has revealed that since 2004 there have been over 100 occasions when contact with asbestos while working on Sea Kings was recorded on the official ‘hazard log’. Jim Kennedy said: “The MoD has sought to sweep the matter under the carpet, but Unite hopes that the new defence secretary, whose constituents have a direct interest in the scandal, will ensure that proper procedures are put in place. The multiple failures by the MoD in this matter is deeply disturbing and demonstrate that the government appeared more interested in maintaining its helicopters, than ensuring the health and welfare of its workers.”
Offshore union Unite is to continue its campaign for an independent probe into helicopter safety in the oil and gas industry. A total of 33 workers and crew have been killed in Super Puma helicopter crashes in the North Sea since 2009. But earlier this year the Scottish government’s energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said there is already work being carried out within the industry to review safety and an inquiry “would not be helpful”. Now Unite north-east regional officer Tommy Campbell has said the union’s campaign for an independent inquiry is not over. He said: “In the UK and Norwegian oil and gas industry 212 workers have lost their lives due to helicopter accidents and it’s important that we all support the campaign for a UK full public enquiry as this part of remembering those who died as well as fighting for those still working in the industry.” He added it was “disappointing that that the UK government refused to support the Transport Select Committee’s recommendation in 2014 that there should be a full public enquiry and even more disappointing is that recently the Scottish government have decided not support a UK public enquiry either despite the many representations from the offshore based unions and the families who lost loved ones in the helicopter accidents.” Campbell warned: “Oil and gas workers travel to work in a dangerous environment and also spend weeks working with the potential of great danger that the Piper Alpha tragedy could happen again.”
Ÿ Energy Voice.
Some of Britain’s biggest construction firms are embroiled in a legal dispute over a multimillion-pound compensation bill that has been paid to more than 1,100 blacklisted trade unionists. The workers won payouts totalling £55m after they discovered that construction firms had unlawfully compiled confidential files on their political and employment activities, preventing them from getting jobs. Many were union safety reps targeted for their site safety activities. Eight firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty, have so far paid the compensation, and issued an “unreserved and sincere” apology, to the blacklisted workers. Now the eight companies are pursuing legal action in a bid to force another firm, Amec Foster Wheeler, to make a contribution to the compensation bill, arguing that the blacklisting was organised across the construction industry. Amec is resisting the legal action, maintaining that it is not culpable, according to legal documents filed in the high court. The legal wrangling comes as the eight construction firms face another round of compensation claims from workers backed by the union Unite who allege that they too were blacklisted. A trial is due to start on 4 June and could last six weeks (Risks 887). In contrast to the previous court case which concluded in 2016, Unite says it will be seeking to ensure Cullum McAlpine, the original chair of the Consulting Association and a director of UK construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine, is required to give evidence in court under oath.
Ÿ The Guardian.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that new legislation to ensure safe staffing levels in Scotland’s health service will not be enough to solve the workforce crisis. Although he welcomed the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill being passed by the Scottish parliament on 2 May, BMA Scotland chair Lewis Morrison said further action was needed. “Vacancies are at too high a level, and this just puts more pressure on the doctors in post. While there are many positives from the bill, it will not create more doctors – or staff of any type – simply by becoming law,” Dr Morrison said. However, he said that the new duties placed on NHS boards and the Scottish government to plan for and deliver adequate staffing levels would clearly help frontline NHS staff. “We particularly welcome elements added to the bill that will strengthen the input and voice of doctors and other staff, as well as better scrutiny of the delivery and monitoring of safe staffing levels,” he said. “We also welcome moves to provide a clear route through which staff at all levels can raise concerns if they feel staffing levels are not safe.” According to the Scottish government, the bill is the first comprehensive, multidisciplinary workload and workforce planning legislation in the UK. Speaking after the vote, Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I want staff to feel engaged and informed about decisions relating to staffing requirements and feel safe to raise any concerns about staffing levels.” Safe staffing levels are necessary not just to better protect patients, but also to protect staff. Repeated surveys have shown overworked health service staff are suffering high levels of stress, musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related health problems. NHS staff survey results released earlier this year confirmed the health and wellbeing of workers in the NHS is deteriorating and work-related ill-health is increasing (Risks 887).
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among police officers in the UK is far more common than previously thought, a new survey suggests. The study of almost 17,000 police across the UK found that 95 per cent of officers and 67 per cent of operational police staff had been exposed to traumatic events, almost all of which were work-related. Of those who had experienced trauma, 20 per cent reported symptoms in the preceding four weeks that were consistent with PTSD or the more chronic condition, Complex PTSD, which is associated with emotional numbness and disconnection. Two-thirds of those with PTSD were unaware they were suffering from it, according to the research. “For the first time in the UK we can see behind the cultural trope of the 'burnt-out copper' who has seen too much,” said lead researcher Dr Jess Miller from the University of Cambridge, which conducted the ‘The job, the life’ study. “This is a clinical and public sector crisis,” she said, pointing out the rates of PTSD in the police are almost five times higher than in the general population. Gill Scott-Moore, chief executive of Police Care UK, the charity that funded the research, said: “The service has real challenges around recognising and responding to the signs and symptoms of trauma exposure and is heavily reliant upon generic NHS provision that isn't equipped for the specialist treatment needed.” In April, a national police wellbeing service was launched to provide expertise on occupational health provision to forces across England and Wales.
Two workers have been killed and two seriously injured after a wall collapsed at a Scottish farm. Peter Walker, 53, from Blackburn and 48-year-old James Henderson, who was known as Paul, from Grangemouth were working on the wall when it collapsed. The incident happened at Myrehead Farm in Whitecross, between Linlithgow and Falkirk, at about 10:10am on 6 May. Two other men, aged 21 and 36, were seriously injured and are being treated in hospital. Police Scotland said a joint investigation into the incident was continuing. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been informed of the incident. Detective Chief Inspector Jim Thomson of Forth Valley CID said: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the families of Peter and Paul, as well as all those affected by this tragic incident, at this very difficult time. A multi-agency investigation is underway to establish exactly what happened and provide both men's loved ones, and their workmates, with the answers they require.” He added: “If anyone believes they may have any information relevant to this inquiry then please come forward.”
The land and property arm of the Greater London Authority (GLA) has been fined for serious criminal failings in safety management after a wall and advertising hoarding collapsed onto a man in front of his wife and two children. Southwark Crown Court heard how on 25 January 2014 the family of four were hurrying along a pavement to Catford Station to shelter from a storm when the wall and hoarding was blown onto the father, knocking him unconscious. The man, 45, suffered facial and skull injuries including a fractured eye socket and had to have a titanium plate inserted into his left cheek. The whole family including the children, four and nine at the time, remain affected by the incident. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that GLA Land Property LTD (GLAP) had employed a company to manage and maintain this site. The investigation found that GLAP failed to oversee the contract properly, resulting in the wall not being maintained. The wall developed a crack which weakened, causing the hoarding to act like a sail in strong winds, eventually leading to its collapse. GLA Land and Property Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £14,653 in costs. HSE inspector Ian Shearring commented: “A set of simple arrangements to inspect and maintain the wall would have picked up on the imminent danger to any passer-by. Instead, a whole family was traumatised by seeing the father sustaining serious injuries from being struck by hoarding as it collapsed. It was only a matter of luck that no-one was killed on the day outside a busy station.”
A recycling company has been fined after it ignored safety warnings before a worker suffered a back injury when moving gantry steps. Preston Crown Court heard how on 10 September 2016 the employee of Suez Recycling and Recovery Limited helped to manually move steps weighting in excess of 950kg at a site in Haslingden, after repair works had taken place. The employee sustained a back injury. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found this method of moving and realigning steps was a regular occurrence and that employees would use a scaffold pole under the steps to move them back into position. Senior staff knew how the steps were moved and that employees had concerns, as these had been reported, yet no suitable assessment had been carried out, or safe system of work implemented, to avoid hazardous handling. No equipment or handling aids had been considered to help employees manoeuvre the gantry steps. Suez Recycling and Recovery Limited guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £144,000 and ordered to pay costs of £32,000. HSE inspector Sharon Butler said: “Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary equipment, information, instruction and training to their workers. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.” Waste and recycling is one of the UK’s most hazardous industries.
A Queensland government audit of the Australian state’s stone industry last year found 98 workers had contracted silicosis, with 15 of those cases considered terminal. But the news that the industry is killing its workers has had another consequence – a serious labour shortage in the industry. Derick Brosnan has operated a stone cutting business on the Gold Coast for seven years, and said silicosis had wiped out a generation of experienced stonemasons, with replacements proving difficult to find. “You used to put an ad in and get 10 guys,” he said. “It was all about how much you’d pay them, but now we don’t get any replies.” The business owner, who employs 30 staff at his Arundel factory, said it was also getting harder to find young people wanting to enter the trade. The Queensland government reacted to the epidemic by auditing 138 benchtop fabricators last year and funding health screening for 810 workers. During the audit, 562 infringement notices were issued by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for breaches relating to exposure to silica from unsafe work processes. Dry cutting of stone, which has now been banned, was cheaper and quicker than using wet cutting machinery. Occupational physician Dr Graeme Edwards said he thinks more workers will be diagnosed with silicosis. “Most remain undiagnosed,” he said in a statement from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). “While 100 stonemasons have already been diagnosed in Queensland, there is likely to be several hundred, and possibly more than a thousand, affected workers across Australia.” Six medical bodies including the RACP, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, and the Lung Foundation have called on the major political parties to commit to a national taskforce and fund a respiratory disease surveillance and registry programme. The federal government announced last month it will launch a national taskforce to help prevent potentially deadly dust diseases. It said the taskforce will commence in July 2019 and will provide a final report by 31 December 2020.
Hundreds of stonemasons took to the streets of Pindwara on 1 May, to protest at the deadly dust risks facing the workers building India’s temples. Union leader Ganesh, 31, was diagnosed with the frequently fatal lung scarring disease silicosis at the age of 29. He is unable to walk more than a hundred metres and struggles for breath while talking. Despite his failing health, Ganesh came out to lead the rally because he said he wants to ensure that other workers do not suffer like him. Pindwara is home to about 230 factories that have built some of India’s most famous temples. On May Day, 400 workers occupied the streets of Pindwara’s RIICO – the industrial area where the biggest of these factories are located. The workers had one rallying cry – freedom from the occupational disease of silicosis. According to the Sirohi district’s health department, over 1,650 of these temple-building workers are dying after contracting the untreatable lung disease. Workers’ advocates say this is an under-estimate, as screening for the disease only started in the area three years ago. Addressing the rally, union founder member Sohan Lal said: “We stone-carvers are builders of famous temples in Delhi, Ahmedabad, London, New York, Australia. Rich and famous people visit these temples and enjoy the fruits of our labour, while we die of silicosis in big numbers in anonymity. Last year prime minister Modi laid the foundation of Swaminarayan’s latest temple project in Abu Dhabi. But what about us, the workers who are building this temple here in Pindwara and are dying in the process?” Sohan Lal is one of the 1,000 workers in Pindwara that formed the union, Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh, to bring the issue of death in India’s temple-building industry to light. The union successfully pressured the district and state health departments to hold regular health camps for Pindwara’s stone carvers, with screening results suggesting four in every 10 have silicosis. The union says employers routinely violate safety rules, arguing they have provided masks and so it is the workers’ fault if they fall ill. However, a union-run research project, where workers measured dust levels in 30 factories and monitored workers’ lung capacity, found dust levels several times the official limit. Over 70 per cent of workers had “highly compromised” lung capacity.
Ÿ The Wire.
While workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for all workers in the US, incidents in health and social care are far outpacing those in other industries, a union has warned. The union USW noted that a lack of preventive measures combined with the increasingly profit-driven nature of the US health care system is resulting in problems like unsafe staffing levels that contribute to the trend. The union said this “foreseeable and preventable” problem impacts anyone who works directly in health care or social services, anyone who is a patient, and anyone who visits or accompanies a patient. “This is why we are launching a nationwide action to push for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act,” the union added. “This bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure these workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans.” The union’s HQ has distributed packages of postcards, for the attention of US senators and the Secretary of Labor and detailing USW’s demands, to be sent in by thousands of union members nationwide. “This is a solvable problem, but it will take action like this to get it done,” the union said.
Firefighters’ unions have played a central role in a successful push to get a cancer-linked chemical banned under a United Nations treaty. Governments at a Stockholm Treaty meeting in Geneva agreed to the global ban on PFOA/PFAS, fluorinated chemicala linked to cancer and reproductive harm that does not break down and causes adverse health effects at background levels. Unions and environmental campaigners welcomed the ban, but criticised “unjustified” five-year exemptions for PFOA use in semiconductor manufacturing, firefighting foams, fire-resistant textiles claimed to protect workers, photographic coatings for films, and medical devices. Additionally, China, the European Union and Iran obtained wide-ranging exemptions for fluorinated polymers, medical textiles, electrical wires, and plastic accessories for car interior parts. “From a firefighter’s perspective, we know we have significantly raised PFAS levels in our blood,” said Commander Mick Tisbury of Australia’s United Firefighters Union (UFUA). “We feel we have a ticking time-bomb in our bodies; we do not know when it will explode or even if it will explode - we just want the bomb removed!” Governments agreed special controls on PFOA-containing firefighting foams, prohibiting production, export or import and not permitting their use in training. Before the meeting, industry fire experts and firefighters released a new report demonstrating that cost effective fluorine-free firefighting foams meeting regulatory standards and have been widely adopted by world-class airports and major companies. “Governments should listen carefully to industry fire safety professionals and firefighters who actually put out fires and rapidly move to phase out fluorinated firefighting foams,” said Pamela Miller, co-chair of IPEN, a network of environmental and chemical safety campaigns. IPEN worked closely with firefighters’ unions to press for the PFOA ban.
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