Issue date
16 May 2019
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 897
 
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 healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk. logo
 

Contents

UNION NEWS

·         Pregnant women are not always safe at work

·         Unite secures new £1.9m blacklisting settlement

·         Safety watchdog too cash strapped to deliver justice

·         Teachers facing 'unjustified' drug and alcohol testing

·         Unite to campaign for Heathrow safety inquiry

·         Arriva tops London’s bus crash deaths and injuries table

·         Shopworkers need protection from knife crime

OTHER NEWS

·         Union action call after bullying is exposed at NHS Highland

·         A good work environment is good for you

·         ‘Urgent’ action call on growing work cancer menace

·         Dad-of-two crushed to death by plastic bales

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

·         France: Telecom bosses on trial over staff suicides

·         Global: Unilever commits to ‘sustainable’ jobs

·         Global: Monsanto hit by new cancer and surveillance exposure

·         Global: Vested interests again protect deadly substances

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

·         Courses for 2019

UNION NEWS

Pregnant women are not always safe at work

The TUC and Maternity Action have warned that employers are not doing enough to protect pregnant women at work. The organisations have published new guidance which details steps bosses should be taking to keep female staff safe during and after pregnancy. It says there are clear laws in place to protect new and expectant mothers. But it warns that many bosses don’t know what they should be doing or are ignoring their legal responsibilities.  The groups point to a recent survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that found that two in five (41 per cent) expectant mothers felt that there was a risk to their health or welfare at work during pregnancy.  The guide highlights a wide range of workplace risks to new and expectant mothers, including irregular and long working hours, stress, excessive heat, chemicals, infectious diseases and violence. The guide suggests ways bosses can keep their pregnant staff safe including making workstations like desks and checkouts more comfortable, changing workload or hours to reduce stress, varying starting and finishing times to make commuting easier and agreeing an increase in breaks to visit the toilet and drink more fluids. The guide also sets out what employers need to do when a new mum returns to work, and how bosses can support their female staff with breastfeeding and expressing milk. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time for any woman without them having to worry about dangers at work as well.  Bosses need to do far more to ensure expectant or new mums are safe at work. Too many are ignoring their legal duty to remove risks from the workplace.” She added: “I’d advise every pregnant woman or new mum to join a union. Workplaces that recognise unions are safer and have better policies in place to protect all their staff.” 

Ÿ  TUC news release and Pregnancy, breastfeeding and health and safety: A guide for workplace representatives, TUC, May 2019 [pdf version]. Maternity Alliance.

Unite secures new £1.9m blacklisting settlement

Unite has settled a second major blacklisting case against the construction companies it says systematically ruined the lives of site workers. As part of the overall settlement, which is subject to court approval, 53 blacklisted workers will receive over £1.9 million in compensation. The defendants have also agreed to pay Unite’s legal fees. In what the union describes as a legal breakthrough, the construction companies have also agreed to provide £230,000 for a Unite-administered training fund, providing support to victims of blacklisting who have brought proceedings. The fund is not restricted to retraining in the construction sector. The latest settlement follows the 2016 court action that resulted in Unite securing £19.34 million for 412 blacklisted workers. Unite had hoped to force construction boss Cullum McAlpine to give evidence in court, but said this ‘proved to be impossible’. The union described McAlpine as one of the main ‘architects’ behind the Consulting Association blacklist of construction workers, many targeted for their site safety activities. Unite said McAlpine’s refusal to appear in court and answer for his actions confirms the need for a full public inquiry into blacklisting. Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett commented: “This is a historic agreement which provides some degree of justice to a further group of construction workers who had their working lives needlessly ruined by blacklisting construction companies. The creation of a training fund controlled by Unite is a huge breakthrough, and is to be welcomed, as it will allow the union to assist victims of blacklisting return to employment.” But he added: “The refusal of Cullum McAlpine to give evidence is bitterly disappointing. Unite remains utterly committed to ensuring that those guilty of ruining workers’ lives should be forced to account for their actions. This is why it is absolutely essential that a full public inquiry into blacklisting is imperative.”

Ÿ  Unite news release. Morning Star.

Safety watchdog too cash strapped to deliver justice

The government’s safety regulator is so starved of resources it can’t cope with the workload required to make sure workplace safety crimes don’t pay. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) union Prospect said stiffer penalties for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences have led to extra pressures on the watchdog, which is now pursuing far fewer safety prosecutions. Commenting on the impact of new, stricter sentencing guidelines which have led to much higher fines, the union noted: “Given that the number of prosecutions mounted by the HSE has dropped in each of the past three years, the guideline would be far more effective if we had an adequately resourced regulator.” Prospect added: “Sentencing offenders serves various purposes in the interests of justice. But in health and safety cases – where most offenders are companies receiving a financial penalty – punishment and deterrence are the most relevant.” But while HSE’s budget has dropped dramatically under the current government, the costs of HSE taking prosecutions has risen as firms spend more to try and limit their liabilities. According to Prospect, large companies are far more willing to pay for top barristers to represent them, even when pleading guilty, with fewer cases being resolved in the magistrates’ courts. “These two factors mean more legal wrangling for inspectors, while courts have higher expectations around timeframes, presenting evidence and legal argument,” the union said in blog posting. “A more rigorous justice system in itself isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it does place greater strain on an underfunded regulator. And, as the Treasury receives the fine, the HSE does not see any benefit for its extra work.”

Ÿ  Prospect blog.

Teachers facing 'unjustified' drug and alcohol testing

Teachers in Scotland could be subjected to alcohol and drug testing at work without any justification and without appropriate safeguards, a union has warned. NASUWT was commenting on the ‘punitive’ plans by some local authorities in the country to introduce ‘random’ and ‘with cause’ alcohol and drugs tests. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Clearly teachers, as with all employees, have a responsibility to meet appropriate professional standards in respect of their conduct in the workplace. However, there are already procedures in place to deal with any situations where teachers are failing to meet these standards or where their behaviour is causing concern.” She added: “The NASUWT has not been presented with any information to justify the introduction of drug and alcohol testing of teachers and the union is concerned that these tests are being brought in without any clear communication over the consequences for teachers. The NASUWT will be opposing the introduction of such tests which are, in our view, simply designed to be yet another punitive pressure on teachers.” Jane Peckham, the NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “Such policies threaten to further erode the trust and confidence, which is already at a low ebb, of teachers in their employers.”

Ÿ  NAWUWT news release. TUC guidance

Unite to campaign for Heathrow safety inquiry

A campaign to persuade Heathrow to commission an independent inquiry to improve airport safety has been launched by Unite. The union’s concerns were amplified by the death at the airport of Unite member John Coles in February 2018. Reports into Mr Coles’ death pointed to failings with Heathrow’s safety systems and emergency medical response procedures. Unite reps at Heathrow report that airside safety is not ‘fit for purpose,’ resulting in minor accidents and frequent near misses. The union adds Heathrow’s own safety alerts reveal frequent issues, including several involving vehicles. Unite regional secretary Pete Kavanagh said: “An independent inquiry is urgently needed into safety at Heathrow airport to prevent similar needless tragedies in the future. Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world and it is essential that not only are watertight safety measures in place but that they are always followed and fully understood by staff.” He added: “It is essential that Heathrow agrees to an independent inquiry in order to secure the support of all workers operating at the airport. Members at Heathrow report that near misses are occurring on a frequent basis and while Unite has excellent safety reps at the airport, it is essential that the right procedures are in place to ensure that serious accidents are avoided. Without an independent inquiry whose findings are swiftly acted on, there is a genuine prospect of further serious accidents at the airport. No one should be asked to go to work and put themselves into a potentially dangerous situation.” Unite represents more than 35,000 workers based at Heathrow.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Arriva tops London’s bus crash deaths and injuries table

Transport company Arriva has topped a table of deaths and injuries linked to London bus operators, the union GMB has said. Figures obtained by the union show that since January 2014, an average of about 3 people per day have been injured — of which over 4 people per week have been killed or seriously injured — as the result of a collision involving a Transport for London (TfL)-contracted bus. The official TfL figures analysed by GMB’s London region show that in the last five years collisions involving outsourced bus operators in London have resulting in 4,942 people being injured, of whom 49 were killed and 1,068 were taken to hospital. This prompted GMB to call on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to implement a London Bus Drivers ‘Bill of Rights’ and amend bus operator’s contracts to protect both drivers and pedestrians from bus collisions. Buses owned and operated by Arriva topped the list for total injuries arising from bus collisions, ahead of the 23 other TfL bus contractors. In the five years from 2014, collisions involving Arriva buses have resulted in 1,106 injuries, including 10 fatalities and 407 people requiring hospital attention. GMB regional organiser Steve Garelick said: “The safe operation of buses by the outsourced operators must be made TfL's top priority. We have to see an end to the current position on the endless toll of people killed and injured due to bus collisions.” He added: “Sadiq Khan has to get a grip on the problem he inherited from the past managers who designed the outsourced killing machine that TfL presides over. Nothing less than fundamental reform of the Bus System's contract performance incentives to include safety is acceptable.” He said the Bill of Rights demands that bus drivers are rested and have a safe system of work and well-maintained vehicles.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Shopworkers need protection from knife crime

Shopworkers need better protection from the growing menace of knife crime, their union has said. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Knife crime in the UK has seen a drastic increase in recent years and we support the call for stab vests to be provided by law, to all security guards and other public facing employees who are at increased risk of violence at work.” He added: “Stab vests won't solve the problem of violence against our members, but they may offer some extra protection when the worst happens. We would always advocate for the tightening of the law around the sale of knives and with the terrifying growth in knife crime, this is more pressing than ever. Knives should not be left on shelves, but should be behind counters, so that they are more difficult to steal.” The union leader said: “It is absolutely right that there should be greater restrictions on the sale of weapons, but our members are on the frontline of implementing those restrictions and as we know, this can often be a trigger for violence and abuse.”

Ÿ  Usdaw news release.

OTHER NEWS

Union action call after bullying is exposed at NHS Highland

Health service union UNISON has called for ‘fair and prompt’ action after an independent review found hundreds of health workers may have experienced inappropriate behaviour at a Scottish health board. The review led by John Sturrock QC reported that staff at NHS Highland described suffering “fear, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour at work.” The review was contacted by 340 people from most departments, services and occupations at the health board. More than 280 took part in face to face meetings or made written submissions. The majority – 66 per cent - reported experiences of what they described as bullying. The QC was appointed by the Scottish government to lead the review. Welcoming the report, Janette McQuiston, UNISON Highland Health branch secretary, said: “We look forward to working closely with NHS Highland with the input and direction of our members, to ensure that these recommendations are carefully considered, and appropriate actions put in place. Some of this evidence is shocking, and we owe it to vital NHS Highland staff to ensure that lessons are learned from this, and that measures are put in place to avoid staff having to experience these kinds of issues in future. No bullying of staff is acceptable, and these issues need to be dealt with firmly, fairly and promptly if they arise.” Simon Macfarlane, UNISON regional organiser for Argyll & Bute, said: “John Sturrock’s report reflects UNISON’s experience that far too many NHS staff endure bullying and inappropriate behaviour at work… too often though they are let down by management and human resources. Remoteness of leadership, constant service redesign and disregard for the contribution of staff are commonplace. This report must be a wakeup call.”

Ÿ  Sturrock Review. Scottish government news release and response to the Sturrock Review. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

A good work environment is good for you

A good work environment with job control and job security doesn’t just help prevent mental illness, it also promotes positive wellbeing, according to a new study. Researchers from the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health examined the impact of psychosocial exposures in the work environment on the mental health of a population-based sample of workers. Writing in the occupational hygiene journal Annals of Work Exposures and Health, they concluded: “Psychosocial work conditions were associated with both negative and positive measures of mental health. However, mental illness and mental wellbeing may represent complementary, yet distinct, aspects in relation to psychosocial work conditions.” The authors said their results suggest that, while the levers for achieving these objectives may differ, providing workers with greater job control, establishing supportive work environments and creating secure employment will prevent mental illness and improve mental wellbeing. The journal’s chief editor, Noah Seixas, commented: “The science of occupational hygiene has focused almost uniformly on the prevention of work-related disease and disability. However, health is more than the absence of adverse health conditions, it is also the support of a thriving workforce. This paper helps to open this important direction for occupational hygiene and others interested in developing workplaces that support worker wellbeing.” A new TUC pointer to resources for union reps seeking to address mental health issues at work notes: “Trade unions should work with employers to take a preventative approach to mental health by reducing stress. This could include looking at workloads, bullying, harassment and working hours.”

Ÿ  Jonathan K Fan, Cameron Mustard and Peter M Smith. Psychosocial work conditions and mental health: examining differences across mental illness and well-being outcomes, Annals of Work Exposures and Health, published online 13 May 2019.
Five ways to improve mental health and wellbeing in your workplace, and the TUC resources that will help you, TUC blog, 13 May 2019.

‘Urgent’ action call on growing work cancer menace

Occupational cancer is the largest single cause of work-related deaths and the numbers affected are increasing, leading experts have warned. A position paper authored by an international group of work cancer specialists, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, notes “it is clear that occupational cancer now represents the primary cause for work-related deaths globally and in many regions of the world, and the numbers continue to grow. In spite of efforts for prevention and control by several international organisations, institutions and authorities, the level of occupational cancer mortality and morbidity has remained high.” The paper cites recent estimates that indicated occupational cancer accounted for 27 per cent of the 2.4million deaths due to work-related diseases. “In numerical terms, this estimate means that the number of deaths attributable to occupational cancer annually increased from 666,000 deaths in 2011 to 742,000 deaths in 2015. This increase could be explained by different variables such as the evidence on new carcinogens, the methods of estimation, changes in the industry distribution of workers and the growing and ageing of the population.” The authors conclude that the need to define a global policy on occupational cancer prevention is an “urgent matter” requiring the “development of a priority action strategy to control and reduce occupational cancer as effectively as possible.” The TUC and the global trade union body ITUC have identified occupational cancer prevention as a priority issue, and have developed prevention guides and workplace campaign materials.

Ÿ  S Iavicoli, TR Driscoll, M Hogan and others. Position statement: New avenues for prevention of occupational cancer: a global policy perspective, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, volume 76, pages 360-362, 2019.
TUC workplace cancer guide. Cancers and their work causes: An ITUC/Hazards at-a-glance guide to cancer hazards, April 2019. ITUC workcancerhazards blog.

Dad-of-two crushed to death by plastic bales

A Liverpool recycling company has been fined after an employee was crushed to death by falling plastic bales. Paul Andrews was sweeping up and picking litter at his workplace at Centriforce Products Ltd when the bales fell on him from an unstable stack, leaving him fatally injured. He was not discovered until nearly an hour after the incident on 24 May 2017. Attempts were made to revive the 52-year-old, but he died later at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. At Liverpool Crown Court, Centriforce Products Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £10,540.95 costs. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the fatality and brought the prosecution, described the breaches as “appalling.” It found Centriforce had failed to store waste plastic bales securely in such a way as to prevent the risk of collapse. The company had also failed to carry out a suitable assessment which would have identified risks to the safety of employees located within the danger zone of unstable stacks. HSE inspector Rohan Lye said: “This appalling incident could so easily have been prevented if Paul’s employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and put a safe system of work in place. Their failure to do so has left Claire without her husband and two daughters without their father. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous work activities and prevent future tragedies.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Liverpool Echo.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

France: Telecom bosses on trial over staff suicides

A long-awaited trial in Paris has heard telecom giant Orange and seven former or current managers accused of moral harassment and related charges related to a spate of suicides at the company between 2007 and 2010. The charges relate to a time when the firm — then called France Telecom — was undergoing job cuts and modernisation efforts. Unions say France’s big companies haven’t learned any lessons from what happened at France Telecom, and about 200 activists demonstrated outside the courthouse to urge a conviction. The defendants include the former president of France Telecom, Didier Lombard, former human resources director Olivier Barberot and former deputy executive director Louis-Pierre Wenes. They are accused of having “degraded work conditions of personnel that risked hurting their rights and dignity, altering the physical or mental health (of personnel), or compromising their professional future.” Four other officials are charged with complicity in moral harassment. In France, moral harassment can be punished by a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros (£13,000). Orange itself is also on trial, and the court could order the company to grant additional damages to each civil party in the case. The problem arose as the firm sought to dramatically reduce staff numbers, but faced a workforce still benefiting from protective public sector contracts inherited at the time before the firm was privatised. The indictment says in a bid to get workers to leave, the company imposed “excessive and intrusive control” on employees, assigned workers to demoralising tasks, failed to provide training, isolated staff and used “intimidation manoeuvres or threats and pay cuts.” Unions and victims’ organisations rallied outside the courthouse as the trial began. “We’re hoping for an exemplary judgment, so business leaders who could potentially be tempted by these management methods are warned they cannot act with total impunity,” a joint union statement said. Echoing the words of one of the suicide victims, the statement added: “No to ‘management by terror’!” A study this year found over a third of French workers considering suicide did so as a result of work-related factors (Risks 895).

Ÿ  CFE-CGC Orange, CFTC, CGT and SUD union statement and trial protest note (in French). Fortune Magazine. The Independent. BBC News Online.
Resources: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists, updated February 2019. Work and suicide prevention checklist. More on work-related suicide.

Global: Unilever commits to ‘sustainable’ jobs

The soaps to soups giant Unilever has signed up to a sustainable employment commitment with global union federations IndustriALL and IUF. The unions say the agreement is intended to ensure that the rights of all workers in Unilever manufacturing operations are adequately protected from the potential adverse human rights impacts stemming from the use of non-permanent employment contracts. They add the Joint Commitment on Sustainable Employment in Unilever Factories is a rights-based deal based on the recognition that “Temporary contracts and third-party agency employment relationships can potentially deprive workers of the protections and worker rights outlined in the International Labour Organisation's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.” The agreement enumerates the human rights risks inherent in non-permanent employment, whether workers are hired directly by Unilever or through a third-party agency, including risks to union representation and collective bargaining rights, equal treatment, access to social security and the right to a safe workplace. IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: “The Joint Commitment is a victory in the fight against precarious work, and protects the rights of factory workers at Unilever’s operations around the globe.” IUF general secretary, Sue Longley, added: “The Joint Commitment addresses the many risks to fundamental rights which have become all too familiar to workers everywhere as employment has become increasingly precarious.”

Ÿ  IndustriALL news release. IUF news release and the Joint Commitment on Sustainable Employment.

Global: Monsanto hit by new cancer and surveillance exposure

Global agrochemicals giant Monsanto has faced a double hit this week, ordered to make another massive cancer compensation payout and accused of compiling a potentially illegal dossier on its opponents. A jury in California awarded more than $2bn (£1.5bn) to a couple who said the best-selling weedkiller Roundup was responsible for their cancer. It is the third time that the German pharmaceutical group Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, has been ordered to pay damages over the glyphosate-based herbicide. The jury ruled the company had acted negligently, failing to warn of the risks associated with the product. Bayer denied the allegations and says it will appeal. It insists that Roundup is safe to use. The jury in Oakland, California, said Bayer was liable for plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod contracting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after they used the product for years to landscape their home and other properties. “The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” said their counsel, Brent Wisner. The jury awarded each of them $1bn in punitive damages as well as a total of $55m in compensatory damages. Bayer now faces more than 13,400 US lawsuits over Roundup's alleged cancer risk. French newspaper Le Monde this week revealed government officials are investigating a potentially illegal file compiled by Monsanto on critics of its chemicals and genetically modified crops. The document was prepared for the company by PR agency Fleishman Hillard, which in 2018 also “helped Monsanto Company (now part of Bayer) develop their 2017 Sustainability Report: Growing Better Together.” Bayer says it has now dropped the global public relations firm.

Ÿ  BBC News Online and story on Monsanto’s dossier of opponents. Le Monde (in French). The Guardian. New York Times. Fleishman Hillard.

Global: Vested interests again protect deadly substances

Exports of deadly substances including chrysotile asbestos and a slew of pesticides will not require a health warning after a handful of governments defended them at a United Nations conference this month. The substances were being considered for inclusion on the UN Rotterdam Convention’s ‘prior informed consent’ (PIC) list, which would require exporters to inform importers of the potential risks. Both chrysotile and paraquat had also been recommended for inclusion by UN officials on numerous previous occasions. Commenting on the failure to list chrysotile despite the long-term support of the overwhelming majority of governments for the move, Phillip Hazelton of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) said: “The long term blockage to listing chrysotile, the world’s biggest occupational disease killer, must end and it’s up to those countries who are as frustrated as we are, to do it. They must come forward with a viable solution to break the blockade on the listing of chrysotile asbestos.” Pesticides Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP) expressed deep concern at the failure of the conference to list four of the five highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) proposed for inclusion on the PIC list. A small number of countries blocked the listing of paraquat (Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile), fenthion (Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda), acetochlor (Argentina, Chile), and carbosulfan (Kenya, India, Brazil). “It is highly disappointing that some policymakers still chose to misinterpret the Convention and to ignore the body of evidence of the serious harm these pesticides cause to human health and the environment,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director. “The incredibly slow pace with which pesticides are listed in the Rotterdam Convention - which doesn’t even constitute a ban, and only requires Prior Inform Consent in trade - show that existing mechanisms will not satisfactorily solve the problem of pesticides use.”

Ÿ  CIEL news release. IBAS news report. PANAP news release. Report of the outcome of the Conference of the Parties.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2019

Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

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