|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.
Tube union RMT has scored a major victory after London Underground (LU) confirmed it has dropped planned cuts to train inspection and preparation (Risks 896). The union’s executive suspended all industrial action last week after receiving a letter from LU that the cuts plan has been withdrawn in the face of the opposition of RMT members from fleet depots across the Greater London area. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “First of all I want to pay tribute to London Underground fleet members who have proved once again that militant, united and determined trade union action can roll back the tide of cuts. This is their victory but it also a victory for the travelling public, the RMT campaign on Tube safety and for basic common sense.” He added: “It is a massive achievement for this union to overturn the planned cuts to Tube train inspections and preparation but the campaign doesn’t stop here, not by a long chalk. We now expect London Underground to reverse the planned cuts to jobs under their ‘transformation’ programme and give us an assurance that there will be no further attacks on our members, their working conditions and the safety culture on the Tube network.”
Trade unions are lobbying City investors to increase the pressure on Amazon to improve conditions for its workers in the UK. At a meeting at the TUC’s head office this month GMB presentations, including one from an Amazon employee, were made to a dozen leading fund managers and pension funds that own stakes in Amazon, including Legal & General, Baillie Gifford and Aberdeen Standard. The meeting was organised by Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO), which forged a successful coalition with institutional investors in 2016 to force Sports Direct to set up an independent review of working practices. TUSO’s strategy then involved highlighting the high number of injuries at the company (Risks 764). In its Amazon campaign, GMB told investors that workers at the company’s giant warehouses worked long shifts under pressure to hit targets for items picked, causing pain and injuries. The Amazon worker addressing the fund managers outlined problems including a lack of action on sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and warehouse managers dismissing employees’ concerns. Janet Williamson, TUSO’s chair, said the meeting was a first step in getting shareholder support for better working conditions at Amazon. “Our aim was to introduce investors to working life at Amazon and enable them to hear for the first time from an Amazon worker about the reality of working at Amazon,” she said. “We will keep investors up to date with Amazon’s working practices in the UK and elsewhere and ask investors to raise these points with the company.”
Coroners should treat suicides precipitated by incidents while working as work-related fatalities, the train drivers’ union ASLEF has said. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan was speaking after an inquest heard a train driver killed himself just months after a suicidal pedestrian was killed when they walked in front of the train he was driving. The union leader said: “Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by these deaths, especially the families and the friends of those who lost their lives. We believe all incidents of this nature should be treated as work-related and will start campaigning to this end.” Currently, work-related suicides are not included in workplace fatality figures, with the Health and Safety Executive’s website noting: “All deaths to workers and non-workers, with the exception of suicides, must be reported if they arise from a work-related accident, including an act of physical violence to a worker.” Unions have warned this artificially depresses the true toll of work-related fatalities and deflects attention from the need for preventive measures at work (Risks 834). ASLEF was commenting after a May inquest found train driver Scott Walker killed himself on 2 November last year after he struggled to cope in the aftermath of suicidal person being hit by the train he was driving. Hull coroner’s court was told the 43-year-old Arriva Trains Northern worker had begun drinking heavily after the tragedy. Walker’s trauma led to the breakup of his relationship, the inquest heard. Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Rosemary Baxter, said: “He had anxiety and depression since the train accident and recently had split from his partner. I find his many personal problems overcame him at the end and he wanted to take his life by his own hand.” Work-related suicides are legally reportable occupational fatalities in France (Risks 895).
ASLEF news release. HSE RIDDOR webpages. The Guardian.
The journalists’ union NUJ is calling on its workplace reps to use health and safety law to improve mental health at work, urging them to send their managers emails with links to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prevention guide. The regulator’s ‘Talking toolkit: preventing work-related stress,’ published late last year, takes managers through the steps they should take to assess the risk of stress to their staff. The NUJ’s health and safety committee said reps should use this resource “to exercise their right to carry out workplace inspections, looking for potential ‘stressors’.” Adam Christie, NUJ health and safety committee chair, said: “For bosses, this document is a huge help by telling them what they should be looking for and how they should be preventing stress from injuring people and their organisations. However, it’s also a challenge; if they don't have the reasonable foresight to appreciate the implications of not following HSE guidance, they could face legal consequences.” Ann Galpin, chair of the NUJ’s disabled members’ council, said: “Work-related stress can have devastating and long-lasting consequences on individuals and their families. Many employers have cut staff posts in recent years, increasing the workload on ever-shrinking staff teams. Journalists, photographers and camera teams may also be subject to viewing and creating content about traumatic events, which can be a contributor to post traumatic stress disorder.” She added: “Employers should take every measure possible to reduce sources of mental distress in the workplace; and trade unions can support them to do so.”
A confidential survey of members of the union Unite has uncovered an epidemic of stress-related illness and ‘massive’ mental health issues among people employed by charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The survey found that 80 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced workplace stress in the last 12 months, while 42 per cent believed their job was not good for their mental health. Over 850 members from 238 organisations replied to Unite’s survey. Overall, 44 per cent of respondents didn’t believe they worked for a well-managed organisation, over a third (34 per cent) didn’t feel valued at work and four in 10 (40 per cent) didn’t feel their job was secure. Over one in five (22 per cent) respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘I work in a safe and healthy working environment’. In response to the survey, Unite is stepping up its efforts to ensure that its representatives have the tools to tackle stress and mental health problems in the workplace. Unite national officer for charities and the voluntary sector Siobhan Endean said: “The survey’s findings are profoundly disturbing. While some charities and NGOs are committed to ensuring their staff’s welfare it is clear many are not.” She added: “It is impossible to get away from the stark fact that the catastrophic cumulative impact of austerity cuts on the sector and mismanagement of dedicated and passionate workers is making them ill and creating widespread misery.” The national officer warned: “Unite is putting employers on notice that management has to change and they need to work with our representatives to tackle these problems that are at epidemic levels.”
Nearly 7 in 10 (68 per cent) lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people report being sexually harassed at work, according to new research published by the TUC. The report – which the union body says is the first major study into LGBT sexual harassment at work in Great Britain – found that more than 2 in 5 (42 per cent) LGBT people who responded to the survey said colleagues made unwelcome comments or asked unwelcome questions about their sex life. More than a quarter (27 per cent) reported receiving unwelcome verbal sexual advances. But two-thirds (66 per cent) said they did not tell their employer about the harassment, and quarter of those said they didn’t report it because they were afraid of being ‘outed’ at work. Around 1 in 6 (16 per cent) said the sexual harassment at work affected their mental health. A similar proportion (16 per cent) told the TUC that they had left their job as a result of being sexually harassed – and for 1 in 25, the experience was so unbearable they said it caused them to leave their job without another job to go to. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This research reveals a hidden epidemic. In 2019 LGBT people should be safe and supported at work. But instead they’re experiencing shockingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault.” She added: “Workplace culture needs to change. No one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions – let alone serious acts of assault. Government must change the law to put the responsibility for preventing harassment on employers, not victims. And anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should join a union.”
Nearly two years since the Grenfell tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives, the government has done nothing to adequately prepare fire and rescue services for a similar incident, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union says there is a “postcode lottery of preparedness across the country, with some fire services planning to send as few as two fire engines to a high rise fire.” The union attacked the ‘utter complacency’ of fire minister Nick Hurd, who it said has claimed repeatedly that fire services are prepared for a Grenfell-type fire. “It’s no longer possible to claim that fire like Grenfell is unforeseeable,” commented FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. “Firefighters were placed in an impossible situation that night. But two years on, the government still has not provided the planning and resources necessary to prepare firefighters for what are now completely foreseeable risks. It is extremely worrying that as part of their pre-determined attendances, some services only plan to send two engines to a fire in a high rise building. That is nowhere near enough to tackle a blaze which occurs when compartmentation fails, like it did at Grenfell. Fire and rescue services are clearly basing their pre-determined attendances upon a situation where compartmentation works. But at Grenfell it was the failure of compartmentation that caused the fire to spread so rapidly and virtually none are prepared for such an incident.” The union leader warned: “Grenfell proved the UK government’s utter complacency on fire safety. We need robust national standards to make sure that the lessons from that night are applied everywhere.” Cuts to fire and rescue services continued after Grenfell, the union said, with English fire funds from central government cut by a further 15 per cent between 2016/17 and 2019/20.
Leicester City Council has become the latest local authority to sign an agreement with Unite to ensure working conditions for construction workers meet the highest standards. Construction firms planning to work on the council’s building projects will now have to adhere to the new Construction Charter. The charter commits firms to working with Unite to achieve the highest standards of health and safety, direct employment status, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. Paresh Patel, Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands, said: “Construction is a hugely important part of the work local authorities do to support residents and the local economy. By signing up to Unite’s Construction Charter, Leicester City Council is also making a significant commitment to construction workers. The Charter gives workers the right to speak out on safety issues without fear, and to be paid a fair rate for the job. It means there will be no blacklisting of workers. Vitally it also ensures construction workers are directly employed.” Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “As one of the city’s major employers our priority is to ensure the highest standards of working conditions for all of our employees, and we want to work with other organisations that take the same approach. I’m very pleased to sign up to this Unite Charter as it reinforces our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that those employed on our construction projects also benefit from these high standards.”
A survey of British workers has exposed how the UK’s overtime culture is putting drivers at risk at the wheel, owing to poor sleep, pressure to respond quickly and stress and distraction. The research by business insurer NFU Mutual found that more than a third of people who work full- or part-time in the UK are expected to work outside of their contracted hours (35 per cent). Almost a third (30 per cent) are expected to respond to calls and emails out of hours, and sometimes slog away late into the night (46 per cent). Nearly one in ten who also drive for work, either as part of the job or their commute, admitted they have fallen asleep or nearly fallen asleep at the wheel as a direct result of work pressure (8 per cent), while a quarter have driven tired specifically due to out-of-hours work demands. In responses to the survey of over 1,000 working adults, one in six (16 per cent) admitted they have taken work or conference calls while driving and 1 in 20 (5 per cent) have responded to work emails while at the wheel. Only 38 per cent of respondents agreed that their employer has a suitable culture to help workers drive safely. NFU Mutual business insurance specialist Rebecca Richards said: “Brits work longer hours than any other European country. If businesses focus on increasing productivity and reducing costs, staff could feel the need to put extra hours in to climb the ladder or even keep their job. This can cause fatigue which is one of the biggest killers on UK roads.” She added: “Positive workplaces mean more engaged and productive employees. Companies which introduce safe driving policies and encourage a culture where employees can speak up about workloads, might just save a life.”
The owner of a skip hire firm has been jailed for a year after one of his employees suffocated when his clothes became caught in defective machine that had been bought on E-bay. Father-of-one James Criddle, 29, was operating a screening machine at Baldwin Skip Hire in Besthorpe, Norfolk, in May 2017 when he became entangled. The machine was bought second hand by defendant Robert Baldwin, 48, with no safety guards or external stop button. Detectives from the Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team launched an enquiry after the fatality, working alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), resulting in charges being brought against the company and managing director. Norwich Crown Court found Baldwin guilty of a criminal safety breach. He had been cleared of gross negligence manslaughter in connection with the death during the trial in March. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £75,000. During the trial, the court heard the screener, which included a cylindrical drum to sort material of different sizes, was delivered to the site five days before Mr Criddle's death on 15 May 2017. Julia Faure Walker, prosecuting, said: “It was bought second-hand on eBay... The guards had been removed. The workers were not protected from the dangerous working parts.” Judge Alice Robinson told Baldwin he had bought the machine for £17,000 rather than buying a new one for £50,000 as “a case of cost-cutting at the expense of safety,” when he could see it was in a “poor condition.” Sentencing Baldwin to a year in prison, she said in her view “this machine was a fatal accident waiting to happen.”
Sanders Plant and Waste Management Limited has been fined after an employee was fatally injured when he was struck by a reversing JCB loading shovel. Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court heard that, on 15 June 2015, a wheeled front-loading shovel was being operated in the main waste processing shed at the company’s waste recycling facility in Morpeth. The vehicle, driven by another employee, was loading waste into both a trommel - a large waste separation and sifting machine - and a parked haulage vehicle. During the course of this operation the vehicle struck George Richardson, a site operative. The 57-year-old was fatally injured and died at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was a lack of pedestrian and vehicle segregation in the waste shed, meaning that pedestrians and vehicles could not circulate in a safe manner. The company had carried out a risk assessment prior to the incident that identified some control measures to reduce the risks from operating the loading shovel and a forklift truck on site. However, these control measures had not been fully implemented nor were they sufficient to manage the risk of collision between vehicles and pedestrians. There was no risk assessment or traffic management plan considering the safe movement of vehicles across the site. Sanders Plant and Waste Management Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £500,000 with £14,041.96 costs. George’s daughter, Kerry Richardson, speaking on behalf of the family, said: “More than anything my whole family don’t want anyone else to lose their life and another family to go through what my family has gone through and is still going through.”
A farmer has been fined following a worker’s fatal fall through a milking shed skylight. Mold Magistrates’ Court heard how on 19 July 2018 self-employed contractor David Alan Rees, 56, was fatally injured whilst he was clearing out the valley gutter from a ladder at Knolton Farm, Overton. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that farmer Robert Latham, who was a friend of the man who died and who he employed periodically on a casual basis, failed to plan the work at height and did not have any suitable equipment available to do the work safely. Instead, a ladder had been used to go up onto the roof to clear moss from the guttering. The moss on the roof made it difficult to see the skylights. It was not known precisely when he fell but he was found on the floor of the cowshed under the skylight. Robert Latham, 64, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £26,000 plus costs of £3,922.60. HSE inspector Mhairi Duffy said: “There are no winners in this tragic case. Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers and contractors in the safe system of working. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the death could have been prevented.”
Glamping Cocoon Ltd and its director Nicholas Oaten have been convicted on criminal safety charges after ignoring legal notices from the safety regulator to remedy workplace health hazards. Beverley Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 20 March 2017, the company was subject to an unannounced inspection as part of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign targeting the woodworking sector. Four legally binding improvement notices were served requiring illegal work practices to be sorted in a given timeframe. But, following three extensions to the improvement notices, two notices remained outstanding months after the expiry date. This was despite HSE attempts to work with the company to sort out the necessary improvements. An improvement notice relating to the assessment of risk to employees from exposure to noise remains outstanding. Glamping Cocoon Ltd was found guilty of a criminal safety offence and fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £5,506 in costs. Company director Nicholas Oaten was convicted on two criminal safety charges and fined £2,640 and ordered to pay £5,506 costs. HSE inspector Louise Redgrove commented: “Failure to engage with HSE exposes both employees and the business to risk. In this case health risks to employees from noise were not assessed or managed and the business will have to pay a substantial fine.” She added: “The company and director should have taken on board all the assistance available to them from HSE or obtained competent advice elsewhere. HSE will assist small companies but where there is a disregard for the law, specifically the requirements of improvement notices, prosecution will be sought.”
Offshore giant Marathon Oil has been fined more than £1 million for criminal health and safety failings which put workers at “unacceptable risk” from an explosion. On Boxing Day 2015, an eight-inch diameter pipe in one of the Brae Alpha platform’s modules ruptured as a result of ‘Corrosion Under Insulation’ (CUI), expelling more than two tonnes of high-pressure methane gas at a force powerful enough to severely damage a nearby metal walkway and other infrastructure. None of the 100 individuals on board was injured. However a sheriff said it was simply “good fortune” that the incident had not resulted in tragedy. Following the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the offshore personnel on the rig were put at an “unacceptable risk of serious personal injury or death from fire and explosion.” Investigators found the pipe had been corroded by salt water, caused by a fire extinguishing system on the rig that utilised sea water. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard that because it was the holiday season, there was nobody in the module itself at the time but three workers close by reported hearing a large bang. Fiscal depute Richard Brown said that if there been anyone inside the module and the gas had ignited, there would have been a “100 per cent probability of fatality.” The HSE calculated there was a 5 per cent chance of ignition. Marathon Oil admitted two criminal health and safety offences and was fined £1,160,000. Sheriff Morag McLaughlin said: “Considering what I have been told, there was a risk of injury or fatality. There was no harm done, however on this occasion it seems to be a matter of good fortune. The festivities assisted in a reduced presence of staff, nevertheless there were three workers near the incident.” HSE inspector Ahmedur Rezwan said: “During any normal period of operations personnel could easily have been working in, or transiting through Module 14, and they would almost certainly have been killed or suffered serious injury. The timing of the incident and fact that the gas did not ignite was fortuitous.”
UK construction union Unite has given its strong backing to an open letter opposing any FIFA move to expand the 2022 World Cup beyond Qatar to neighbouring ‘rogue’ states. The letter was sent by BWI, the global federation of construction unions, to Gianni Infantino, the president of football’s global governing body. BWI has secured agreements to improve working conditions for migrant construction workers undertaking work on World Cup projects in Qatar. However, BWI warns that similar agreements do not exist in other Gulf states and conditions for migrant workers, the majority of whom come from the Indian sub-continent, are worse. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Expanding the World Cup just three years before the tournament is due to begin, would be a human rights disaster. Exploitation of migrant construction workers would massively increase, without any safeguards or protection.” She added: “It is imperative that FIFA places workers at the forefront of its considerations and rejects a last minute decision to expand the next World Cup.” The BWI letter to FIFA notes: “The prospect of expanding the co-hosts at the last moment to human rights rogue countries is shocking and deplorable. It would use a legal loophole in FIFA rules to renounce the spirit of FIFA human rights reforms and issue an invitation to a wide range of human rights risks.” The letter adds: “A decision to expedite an enlargement of host countries would be neither good nor good-looking governance. We call on you, as President of FIFA to take another, more careful look at the dangerous human rights risks in the countries under consideration and halt the initiative to expand the 2022 FIFA World Cup Games.”
Facing a rising tide of workplace violence across the country, nurses have been demanding action from Canada’s federal government for almost 18 months. In May, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health finally got the message and commenced the first-ever parliamentary study on workplace violence in health care. “Nurses in Canada have had enough of being kicked, punched, stabbed, scratched, spat on, on a daily basis while they care for and heal patients,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU). “I think any Canadian would find it shocking to hear that nurses face a workplace violence crisis that is worsening at a faster rate than for police and correctional officers. And yet that’s the reality that nurses face every day.” National data show that the number of violence-related lost-time injuries for frontline health care workers increased by two-thirds between 2006 and 2015 – three times the rate of increase for police and correctional service officers combined. “Canada’s nurses can be proud today that our efforts to bring this crisis to the attention of Canada’s politicians worked – Parliament is now listening to us,” said Silas. “It’s time for the federal government to take bold action by implementing meaningful solutions to this crisis.”
Current and former seafarers have detailed exploitative working conditions aboard vessels operated by Blumenthal, raising grave concerns about the welfare and rights of seafarers working on their global fleet. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said it has been told ‘distressing stories of intimidation, threats and abusive conditions’ onboard the German shipping company’s global fleet. “Seafarers have described atrocious stories of exploitation and discrimination on Blumenthal vessels, practices that have no place in the maritime industry,” said ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith. The Blumenthal whistleblowers, who have asked to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation, have detailed cases of forced overtime, withholding of wages, discrimination based on nationality and a lack of access to essential provisions like food and water. The ITF is calling on the German government and the maritime industry to join it in strongly condemning Blumenthal’s treatment of seafarers. “What we are talking about here is the fundamental abuse of these seafarers’ rights. To be paid for the work that they perform. To be fed. To have the right to freely associate and be represented by a union,” said Smith. “Today we urge the German government, charterers and the broader maritime industry to condemn Blumenthal’s exploitation of these workers, and join us in calling on the company’s president, Dr Matthias-K Reith, to bring all of the company’s vessels under ITF agreements to ensure respect for seafarers’ rights, freedoms and working conditions.”
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