|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 law must be changed so women cannot be sacked from the moment they become pregnant until 12 months after they return to work, the union GMB has said. The union’s call came as Conservative MP Maria Miller, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, pressed for new protections for pregnant women and mothers by introducing a 10-minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons. The Bill has cross-party support. The GMB cites an Equality and Human Rights Commission report from 2016 that found discrimination against pregnant women was routine and concluded women were better protected if in a trade union. The union is calling for an extension of protection from dismissal from the moment the pregnancy begins and to include those on zero hour’s contracts and agency workers. Sue Harris, GMB legal director, said: “There are many unscrupulous employers out there who think it is perfectly acceptable to sack pregnant women or new mums – or take every opportunity to force them out of the business. It’s disgraceful, frankly. And as a society we shouldn't tolerate this out-dated, sexist attitude to women in the workplace.” She added: “We are calling on the government to strengthen our laws to protect women in the workplace and we call on employers to recognise the talents of the women they employ who also happen to be carers.” A May report from the TUC and Maternity Action warned that employers are not doing enough to protect pregnant women from health and safety risks at work (Risks 897).
Thousands of pub and club goers could go thirsty this summer if a dispute over drivers being ask to deliver ‘unmanageable loads’ escalates to strike action, their union Unite has warned. About 100 drivers and their mates employed by drink logistics company Tradeteam Ltd at depots in Immingham, Lincolnshire and Tinsley, Sheffield are being balloted for strike action. The ballot closes on 12 June. If the workers decide on industrial action it will hit drinks deliveries to pubs, bars and restaurants owned by Greene King, Mitchells & Butlers, Wetherspoons and Whitbread. The delivery of drinks brewed by Carlsberg and Coors could also be hit. Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said: “The focus of this dispute is the delivery of unmanageable loads that is being imposed by the Tradeteam bosses which, we believe, creates serious health and safety concerns for our members.” He added: “The employer’s failure to adhere to the planned times for deliveries, which were revised in 2018 following a previous dispute, has now led to unrealistic planned hours for drivers. Our members are saying they cannot achieve their deliveries safely within the time the management is now setting for them… They do a demanding job in all weathers which is now being made impossible by a managerial regime hell-bent on pushing the workers to the limit of their physical endurance.” The Unite regional officer warned: “If the strike goes ahead, pub, club and restaurant goers could be going thirsty in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the north Midlands this summer. But this drinks’ ‘drought’ can be avoided, if the Tradeteam management came back to the negotiating table with realistic timings for the delivery loads and a serious acknowledgement of health and safety issues that our members have raised.”
Strike action by postal workers could be on the cards in the Birmingham area over the sacking of a delivery worker with medically diagnosed anxiety and depression. The man, who works at the city’s Shirley Delivery Office, was dismissed in February after his cumulative absences from these conditions reached an official company limit and triggered procedures that resulted in his dismissal. However, the CWU says that according to the 2010 Equality Act, absences from work caused by chronic and ongoing medically diagnosed conditions should not count towards disciplinary procedures. His colleagues at the unit protested immediately, but a strike was temporarily averted when the management promised the CWU that they would allow an appeal against the penalty. But according to CWU Birmingham & District Amal Branch secretary Steve Reid, “on top of a downright wrong decision to discipline in the first place, neither the dismissal nor the appeal seem to have been conducted appropriately.” The CWU postal executive has now formally approved the request of the members at the Shirley delivery office for a statutory strike ballot, which will now go ahead. “The workforce at this unit are absolutely 100 per cent behind this member – and we held a full branch reps’ meeting this morning, with reps from all 31 Birmingham delivery units, and there is strong support and solidarity right across Birmingham and District,” Steve Reid said. “We demand justice.”
A Manchester man has secured six-figure compensation payout after a workplace crush injury left him in chronic pain and unable to work. The 62-year-old Unite member, whose name has not been released, was employed as a mechanical fitter by a recycling firm and was injured when a one-tonne steel plate he was fitting fell on him. He was working in a confined area at the time that was too small for the task he was undertaking, and the forklift truck provided to prop up the steel plate was inadequate. The Unite member was resuscitated at the scene and taken to a hospital, where he stayed for several weeks. He sustained significant fractures to his pelvis, as well as a cracked sternum and ribs, fluid on his left lung, a groin hernia and serious urological conditions, as well as psychological trauma. “I warned my manager how dangerous doing that in such a small space was, but he bullied us into it,” the grandfather-of-three said. “Because of this, I’m no longer able to work. My life has been turned upside down.” More than three years after the incident, the man remains under the care of a specialist NHS team and will need additional surgeries, including two in the next few months. He ended up losing his job because of his injuries, and he will never be able to work again. Ritchie James, North West regional secretary at Unite, said: “This employer’s disregard for its employee’s safety concerns had catastrophic consequences and is a stark reminder of why maintaining high health and safety standards at work is so important.” He said the six-figure settlement would cover the costs of adapted accommodation and domestic care needs, “but if his employer had paid more attention to simple health and safety needs, none of this would have been necessary.”
A local union has warned that a cut the number of behaviour support assistants (BSAs) in some Scottish schools will leave staff more vulnerable. Parents joined trade union officials in expressing concern over East Renfrewshire Council’s decision to reduce the number of specialist assistants working with troubled pupils from 28 to 21. They spoke out after an incident at a Barrhead primary school in which a seven-year-old boy grabbed a knife and started threatening people. The child is reported to have picked up a blade that was being used to cut a cake in a staff room. The school was placed in ‘lockdown’ as police were called to the scene. East Renfrewshire Council intends to remove all classroom assistants from its primary schools from August. The reduction in the number of BSAs at secondary schools is scheduled to take place from next April. Steven Larkin, East Renfrewshire branch secretary for UNISON, said he believes reducing the number of behaviour support assistants (BSAs) will make it more difficult to protect the remaining staff from harm. He told the Barrhead News: “The safety of our members is paramount and it is up to the employer to make sure our members are safe in their place of work. We believe these cuts will have a huge impact. The council had the ability to raise council tax further than they did but chose not to. They could have done that instead of agreeing to cuts. The chances of incidents like this one in Barrhead happening again in future will increase if these cuts happen.”
The prison officers’ union POA has welcomed an ‘appropriate’ sentence handed down to a prisoner following unprovoked attacks on prison officers at Gartree prison. The more stringent sentence follow a successful union campaign for the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act (Risks 867), which allows for more harsh sentences for violence against emergency services workers, including prison officers, police, firefighters, health service staff and other emergency workers. The prisoner, who was already serving an indeterminate public protection (IPP) sentence, was given two further sentences, which will run consecutively after his current IPP sentence is served. For an offence of squirting urine in a prison officer’s face, the inmate was given a 12-month sentence. A second offence of assault against a prisoner officer resulted in a three-year sentence, taking the total award to four years. POA national chair, Mark Fairhurst, commented: “This case highlights the positive work the POA have influenced when formulating the crime in prisons protocol and ensuring the emergency workers bill was recently given royal assent. We expect nothing less from the judiciary when brave public servants in public and private sector prisons, secure hospitals and immigration removal centres are subject to disgusting and cowardly attacks for simply serving the public and doing their job. We welcome consecutive sentences and hope these judgments both continue and act as a deterrent.”
Victims of sexual harassment should get more support and a right to paid time off, the union PCS has said. The decision, carried unanimously at the civil service union’s national conference, calls for a PCS campaign for a range of measures to combat sexual harassment. Proposing the motion, Liz McGachey of the union’s DWP Glasgow branch said: “Members need to feel they are able to successfully report sexual harassment and they are protected and taken seriously. Reps need better facility time arrangements and improvements to be made to the policy.” Delegates agreed the union should use all available industrial, public and political pressure to achieve mandatory sexual harassment awareness training for all staff in PCS organised areas, to be co-delivered by accredited, trained PCS workplace reps. It also said there must be improvements to facility time arrangements so that reps can be proactively engaged in co-delivering such training and being involved in awareness efforts. Specific training for managers on how to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, should also be pursued, including on how to deal with “similar fact evidence” from multiple survivors. And delegates said there must be the right to paid time off for survivors, especially during the complaints process, to reduce the burden of stress on those making a complaint, with such time not counted as sick leave.
Deteriorating working conditions were behind a 77 per cent increase in the number of university staff accessing counselling services between 2009 and 2015, according to new research. The report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) says excessive workloads, a lack of job security and management demands are driving the surge in stress levels afflicting staff. Commenting on the findings, the University and College Union (UCU) said universities had to think seriously about how they respond to the needs of staff seeking support and how to deal with the root causes of the rising stress levels. UCU’s Paul Cottrell said: “Excessive workloads, a lack of job security and managers obsessed with league tables and rankings have blighted the sector for years, and this report lays bare the negative impact those working conditions have on the mental health of staff.” He added: “Universities need to support their staff and ensure they can get the help they need, but, crucially, they have to tackle the root cause of these problems. Staff are at breaking point and unless there is a sea change in how government and university management treat staff, the number of people seeking help is unlikely to come down.” UCU has launched a campaign called 'it's your time' to address the issue, developing a suite of resources to help branches challenge the current culture and to secure agreements that protect staff. Work pressures have been linked to recent suicides in university lecturers (Risks 887).
Ÿ Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff, HEPI occasional paper number 20, May 2019. UCU news release and ‘It’s your time’ campaign. Personnel Today.
Unite has welcomed the findings of a report from public health experts that warns a lack of public toilets is affecting the health of workers and the public at large. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) report found that 74 per cent of adults believe that there are not enough public toilets in their area. It highlights outdoor workers among those ‘disproportionately’ affected. Unite has identified a lack of access to toilets as a major workplace issue as many workers, including bus drivers, street cleaners, lorry drivers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers and refuse collectors, are often reliant on public toilets when they need to relieve themselves during the working day. The lack of access to toilets often forces workers to reduce what they drink or to ‘hold on’, both of which can have serious consequences for health. Specific health conditions, pregnancy and ‘period dignity’ were additional factors that should be taken into account, the union said. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “The RSPH report again highlights the effect that a lack of public toilets has on the general public, but we must recognise that this is also a major workplace issue. Councils are closing public toilets with no consideration about how it affects the workers who rely on them – we call on employers too to ensure facilities are protected. This is a vital issue of health, dignity and equality. No worker’s basic requirements as a human being should be ignored or overlooked in this way. In some cases this has resulted in workers with medical conditions being forced to quit their jobs.” She added: “It is essential that employers ensure that adequate provision is made for their workers, those who don’t must be held to account.” Unite has launched a toilet dignity campaign to ensure that workers have access to decent toilets and do not have ‘petty restrictions’ placed on utilising them.
Ÿ RSPH news release, publication alert and full report, Taking the p***: The decline of the great British public toilet, May 2019. Unite news release and toilet dignity campaign.
Labour has called for construction firms that have been involved in blacklisting to be banned from bidding for work on the £4 billion restoration and renewal of Parliament buildings. Speaking in a 21 May debate on the bill dealing with the parliamentary refurbishment plans, Labour MP Christian Matheson, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, said the project presented an opportunity to show parliament was opposed to the practice. He said: “Blacklisting wrecks lives, careers and families and damages workplace health and safety,” adding: “We must send out a clear message. This is a prestigious project and companies that have been involved in blacklisting construction workers will not be welcome to submit bids. I shall be pressing the simple case that any construction company that is found to be associated with blacklisting workers and has failed to accept their wrongdoing and compensate those workers for that treatment should be publicly excluded from bidding from these prestigious contracts.” The shadow minister said Sir Robert McAlpine's appointment to carry out a £61m restoration of Elizabeth Tower had caused “consternation because they had been up to their necks in blacklisting”. Last month in a settlement totalling £1.9m, seven contractors, including McAlpine, agreed to pay another 53 workers close to £36,000 each in compensation after Unite settled its case against firms who blacklisted workers (Risks 897).
Motorists have been warned they risk serious injury if they drive with a lanyard around their neck. The common requirement for workers to wear their work ID or passes has led to lanyards becoming a common sight. However, in March the police warned that in an accident, car users can be struck by the lanyard at high speed or have it compressed into their body when the airbag is deployed. They are urging drivers to remove their lanyard before driving as it can cause more severe injuries in an crash. In one accident, a driver who was wearing their work pass around their neck sustained a collapsed lung when the lanyard was pressed into their chest by the airbag. In a Facebook post, Dorset Police said: “There have been a couple of serious traffic accidents of note (not within Dorset Police) where the wearing of identity lanyards around the drivers' necks has exacerbated the severity of the injuries sustained. This type of accident is fortunately unlikely, however staff, officers and volunteers should be aware of the hazard and how to avoid it.” Putting keys on the lanyard could pose an additional risk. Another driver, who works for the NHS, suffered a perforated bowel when work keys attached to her lanyard slammed into her body during a crash. She was forced to stay in hospital for six weeks and couldn't go back to work for six months. Now NHS staff in Wales have been warned about the risks. Tim Harrison, chair of the NHS Wales Health and Safety Management Steering Group, said: “Following some traffic accidents across the UK where the wearing of identity lanyards has exacerbated the severity of the injuries sustained, we have taken the step to ensure NHS Wales staff are aware of the hazard. This type of accident is unlikely, but we hope by raising awareness of the potential risk, NHS Wales staff who routinely wear these for work will remove their lanyard when travelling in a vehicle.”
An Essex company has been fined £15,000 on criminal safety charges following the death of a concrete worker at the Port of Felixstowe. Chelmsford Crown Court heard how RW Hill (Felixstowe) Limited was employed as the main contractor working to replace a roadway at the Trinity Terminal of the port and had sub-contracted a specialist concrete pumping contractor to pump the concrete and a concrete laying contractor to lay the concrete. On 7 August 2015, a flexible delivery hose through which concrete was being pumped became momentarily blocked, then cleared under pressure, causing it to whip violently round. Garry Louis, a 58-year-old employee of the concrete laying sub-contractor, was killed and another worker suffered cuts and bruising. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found an exclusion zone around the flexible delivery hose was not enforced by RW Hill (Felixstowe) Limited. The investigation also found the company did not adequately supervise, instruct or provide suitable information to sub-contractors, and failed to monitor the pumping operations to ensure the ongoing safety of workers. RW Hill (Felixstowe) Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Construction, (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,883.60. HSE inspector Glyn Davies said: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented had the company involved acted to identify and manage the well-documented risks involved in concrete pumping by the implementation of suitable safe systems of work. As this case sadly demonstrates, poorly managed concrete pumping operations can and do kill construction workers when industry safety guidance is not followed.”
A football club has been fined after a volunteer died when he fell through a fragile roof. Clive Churchhouse, 71, sustained fatal injuries after he fell through roof sheeting onto the terrace steps below at St Albans City FC's Clarence Park ground. The “wholly avoidable” incident happened on 18 July 2017. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the club, which plays in the Vanarama National League South, failed to ensure a suitable system was in place to authorise the work. It also found that inadequate supervision, together with volunteers being provided with keys to gain uncontrolled entry to the football ground, resulted in access to the roof to carry out the repairs in an unsafe manner. At Luton Magistrates' Court, St Albans City Football and Athletic Club Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,000. HSE inspector Sandra Dias said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable fatality caused by the failure of the club in its duty of care towards volunteers. Employers who use volunteers have to ensure their safety, the same as if they were a paid employee.” A stand at the ground has since been renamed ‘The Clive Churchhouse Terrace’.
The 2019 National Hazards Conference, billed as the UK’s “biggest and best educational and organising event for trade union safety reps and activists”, will be held in Stoke-on-Trent from 26-28 July. The theme this year is ‘Cleaning up toxic work’ in increasingly insecure workplaces. Speakers include Amanda Hawes, a US lawyer who specialises in occupational and environmental health compensation cases, world-renowned chemical safety and occupational cancer expert professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University, former TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, BFAWU environment officer Sarah Woolley, Unite member and TGI Fridays activist Claire Trevor and GMB health and safety director Dan Shears.
Female workers at South Korean semiconductor plants face a 1.59 times higher risk of contracting leukaemia and a 2.8 times higher risk of dying from the disease than other workers, according to the findings of the country’s first ever government backed study. The risk of female workers in the industry dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was 3.7 times higher. Study finding presented by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA also identified elevated risk ratios for thyroid cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, brain and central nervous system cancer, and kidney cancer. The 10-year epidemiological study examined 201,057 current and former workers at six semiconductor companies, including Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. Its findings provide a conclusive official confirmation of claims made over the past decade by workers’ rights campaigners. SHARPS, the campaign group that has fought a high profile campaign for semiconductor factory occupational disease victims, said the risks may have been underestimated as in-house subcontracted workers were not included in the analysis. “In the cases of stomach, breast, and thyroid cancer, they need to examine whether the increases [in reports] are the result of night-time shift work or the effects of radiation exposure [at factories] rather than simply being due to more opportunities for health checks,” the group added. Hwang Sang-gi, the SHARPS president and father of Samsung occupational cancer victim Hwang Yu-mi, said campaigners had been vindicated. “When our Yu-mi applied for industrial accident recognition in 2007, Samsung insisted [her leukaemia] was an isolated case, and the government just parroted that position, so they didn’t end up taking responsibility. Now it has been proven that what we said 10 years ago is 100 per cent correct,” he said.
The New Zealand firefighters’ union (NZPFU) has said it has received ‘strong support’ in its campaign for official no-fault compensation for firefighters struck by a range of cancers. The union was speaking out after it enlisted the help of a Canadian union legal expert to promote the case for ‘presumptive’ legislation, where named cancers are presumed to be caused by work as a firefighter and compensated by the country’s no-fault Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The New Zealand union praised the assistance it has received from Winnipeg Firefighters Union (UFFW) president Alex Forrest, a firefighter and lawyer and expert on firefighters’ cancer. NFPFU said with his help New Zealand was “well on the way to achieving cross-party support for presumptive legislation to recognise firefighters’ occupational cancers.” The move would require a simple amendment of the compensation law to recognise an inclusive list of firefighters’ cancers as qualifying for payouts. To coincide with the Canadian expert’s visit, the union organised a presentation to MPs, who NZPFU said “had great questions and all left supportive of our campaign,” followed by a parliamentary lobby. Presumptive cancer lists in North America cover compensation for brain, bladder, ureter, kidney, colorectal, oesophageal, breast, testicular, prostate, lung, skin, leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma (Risks 846).
Ÿ NZPFU news report. TVNZ breakfast show. IAFF list of presumptive legislation on cancer in firefighters across North American jurisdictions.
For the third time in three years, McDonald's Corp is facing allegations of rampant sexual harassment of female employees in its burger joints. Twenty-three new complaints against McDonald's - 20 of which were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the labour group Fight for $15, and the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund. Three of the complaints were filed as civil rights lawsuits, and two suits stemmed from previous allegations. The complaints of gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment of low-wage workers include inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, lewd comments and requests for sex, as well as retaliation for reporting such conduct. The incidents are alleged to have occurred at corporate and franchise stores in 20 cities. “It's a brutal reality across the fast food industry that at least one in four workers - especially women of colour working low-wage jobs - experience sexual harassment as a routine part of their job," said Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, in a statement. “Every day, workers are forced to choose between getting a pay cheque or speaking up about their abuse. When they report harassment, workers are often fired or have their shifts cut - and since nothing is done to stop it, the scourge continues.” Advocates say they hope the complaints brought against McDonald's, one of the most globally recognised brands, will “be a catalyst for significant change.” In September 2018, McDonald's employees staged a one-day strike in 10 US cities to protest sexual harassment in the workplace. McDonald’s workers again took strike action in late May this year in a campaign for higher wages and protection against sexual harassment.
A nationally renowned US drug rehabilitation programme has sent patients struggling with addiction to work for free and in frequently dangerous conditions for some of the country’s biggest companies. The Cenikor Foundation has dispatched tens of thousands of patients to work without pay at more than 300 for-profit companies over the years. In the name of rehabilitation, patients have moved boxes in a sweltering warehouse for Walmart, built an oil platform for Shell and worked at an Exxon refinery along the Mississippi River. “It’s like the closest thing to slavery,” said Logan Tullier, a former Cenikor participant who worked 10 hours per day at oil refineries, laying steel rebar in 115-degree heat. “We were making them all the money.” Cenikor’s success is built on a simple idea: that work helps people recover from addiction. All participants have to do is surrender their pay to cover the costs of the two-year programme. However, the constant work leaves little time for counselling or treatment, transforming the rehab into little more than a cheap and expendable labour pool for private companies, an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found. At some job sites, participants lacked proper supervision, safety equipment and training, leading to routine injuries. Over the last decade, nearly two dozen Cenikor workers have been seriously injured or maimed on the job, according to hundreds of pages of lawsuits, workers’ compensation records and interviews with former staff. One worker died from his on-the-job injuries in 1995. The investigation found Cenikor frequently skimped on providing safety training or giving participants basic protective gear, such as steel-toed boots and harnesses. In recent years, a Cenikor worker crushed his hands in an industrial press, another worker fell off scaffolding and shattered his knee at a chemical plant, and at least two workers broke their backs.
Ÿ Reveal News.
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