|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.
Amnesty International has ‘dissolved’ its senior leadership team after an internal review said it had a “toxic” workplace and a union said it was not feasible for the top tier of managers to remain. The human rights organisation's secretary-general, Kumi Naidoo, ordered the independent review after two employees killed themselves last year. This found that “39 per cent of Amnesty International staff reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty.” The review concluded “organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues,” and pointed to an “us versus them” dynamic between employees and management. The senior leadership team subsequently accepted responsibility and all seven offered to resign (Risks 887). This move came on the heels of Unite, the union representing Amnesty staff, declaring it had no confidence in the organisation’s senior management and indicating it was “infeasible” they could remain (Risks 885). Five of the seven senior leaders, based mainly in London and Geneva, are now believed to have left or are in the process of leaving the organisation. An Amnesty International spokesperson told the BBC: “The former Senior Leadership Team, which comprised of seven directors, has been dissolved and a new transitional team is in place until all of the positions in the new four-person Coalition Leadership Team are filled. This is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.” In May 2018, Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, killed himself in Amnesty's Paris offices. He left a note talking of work-related stress and overwork (Risks 877). A subsequent inquiry found he was unhappy over a “justified sense of having been abandoned and neglected”. Six weeks later, Rosalind McGregor, 28, a British intern working at Amnesty's Geneva office, killed herself at her family home in Surrey.
Civil service union PCS has warned it will continue its ‘sustained’ campaign for decent work at Universal Credit centres in the West Midlands. In March, up to 700 Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members working in the Universal Credit service centres in the West Midlands walked out after voting overwhelmingly for strike action over high workloads and too few staff (Risks 887). Commenting after a follow-up two day strike in late May, the union said there was a great turnout on the picket lines at the Walsall and Wolverhampton centres. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members who work to support some of the most vulnerable members of society will not put up with DWP management ignoring their real concerns over staffing and under investment.” He added: “This strike will be part of sustained campaign of action which could spread to other parts of Universal Credit, if the government doesn’t meet union negotiators to discuss workers’ concerns. Our members care passionately about the work they do and the people they support. However, they cannot stand idly by while ministers make the job of supporting claimants impossible.” The union said it is currently consulting members in other Universal Credit sites that could lead to the strikes spreading to other offices.
Ambulance staff in Scotland are overworked and stressed, a union survey had confirmed. UNISON Scotland’s report, ‘An emergency but no accident’, has established that, despite an increase in funding and staff numbers over the past five years, demand has increased far beyond those resources with almost nine in ten ambulance staff (85 per cent) reporting their workloads is now heavier, rising to 98 per cent among paramedics. Almost half of paramedics (47 per cent) report they often think about leaving the service. Many have experienced high levels of violence and abuse, the survey found, with six in ten saying they have suffered physical and/or verbal abuse at work. Only 5 per cent, however, said their employer had undertaken a risk assessment and only 2 per cent were aware of changes being made. David O’Connor, UNISON regional organiser, said: “This report reveals the immense pressure facing Scotland’s ambulance staff. It shows a dedicated workforce who are working hard to support the public under enormous pressure. They feel exhausted, undervalued and suffer violence regularly. They are struggling to deal with the demands placed upon them.” He added: “The service is already in critical condition with ambulance staff at breaking point and demand is continuing to grow. We need urgent action to increase funding and resources in order to deliver the high quality of care our patients rely on and deserve.” Liam Boyling, UNISON Scottish Ambulance Service branch secretary, added: “Workers are exhausted from the physical and emotional demands of the jobs and it’s no wonder that the majority would not recommend it as a place to work. We’re already at crisis point and we need urgent action to protect this vital service.”
Unite has uncovered “shocking safety failures” on maintenance undertaken on Sea King helicopters that potentially exposed Ministry of Defence (MoD) workers and contractors to asbestos. The union said the revelations, obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request, deepen the scandal surrounding the exposure of Sea King maintenance workers to the cancer-causing substance. The MoD has now admitted to Unite that 90 separate components on the Sea King helicopter contained asbestos and that many of these continued to be used even after a major modification programme in 2006, up until the helicopter was decommissioned in 2018. Unite national officer for MoD workers Jim Kennedy said: “The scandal of the government’s failure to remove asbestos from the Sea King, or to even inform the affected workers and contractors, is growing. At every step in the process the MoD has failed to take effective measures. If this had been a private company which was guilty of such catastrophic failures, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) would have stepped in and taken action but because it is the MoD no-one appears prepared to act.” The MoD has admitted that “around 1,000 people worked on Sea King at any one time.” As the Sea King was in service from 1969 until 2018, Unite estimates this means tens of thousands are likely to have been exposed to asbestos. Despite 90 Sea King components being known to contain asbestos, only two risk assessments were conducted by the MoD as the risk of exposure was “not considered to be high”. At the beginning of May 2019, Unite wrote to the new secretary of state for defence, Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, about the scandal, but is yet to receive any response (Risks 896). Jim Kennedy said: “Penny Mordaunt and the officials at the MoD need to stop pretending this problem will just go away and introduce effective measures to ensure all workers and contractors potentially exposed are properly informed.”
Unite has accused bosses at Colloids Limited in Kirkby of ‘blatant double standards’ when it comes to health and safety at work. The union was hitting back at the firm for having ‘one rule for management, and a different one for its workforce’ after the union discovered that the company has not been consistent in the application of its ‘zero tolerance’ health and safety disciplinary policy. Members of Unite began strike action on 20 May after a union rep was dismissed for an alleged breach of health and safety. Unite has now uncovered photographic evidence that some managers are breaching the same health and safety regulations, which it the union says resulted in the unfair dismissal of Unite union representative George Gore. The union is calling for the immediate reinstatement of George Gore and a complete review of health and safety policies and procedures across the Kirkby site. Unite's Pat Coyne said: “This new evidence clearly demonstrates the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the zero tolerance policy as a complete sham. If Colloids is that safety conscious, then why are its managers not being sacked for breaking the rules too?” He added: “Our members are outraged that George has been singled out. It is vital that Colloids’ management works with Unite in adopting a consistent health and safety policy that applies to all, not just our shop steward. We take the health and safety of our members seriously, so it’s important that any safety issues are identified and resolved as a matter of urgency.”
A major construction job in Wales has shown it is possible to quickly slash the use of cancer and lung disease linked diesel. Solar lighting and power generation has achieved 97 per cent diesel-free operation on a major rail renewal project at Llanwern, South Wales. The ‘Site of the Future’ project was led by Network Rail and Colas Rail. It used solar and battery technologies instead of diesel generators to save 6,000 litres of fuel, and more than 15 tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) during a 14-day project. Nick Matthews, Network Rail programme engineering manager, said: “In business improvement, generally a one or two per cent gain is considered significant, so to achieve 97 per cent at the first attempt is simply staggering.” He added: “We really want to get to that 100 per cent fuel free-figure by the time of our next challenge, planned for a rail renewal project later in the summer.” Solar lighting and power generation technologies were used across the site covering more than 21 acres. This included access roads, the welfare cabin area, car parking and the track working area itself, where the London to Cardiff main line meets the Llanwern steelworks spur, near Newport. In October 2018, the TUC revealed diesel exhaust is one of the biggest workplace killers, but warned the UK is failing to take the action necessary to protect workers (Risks 873). In response, the union body published a guide to diesel exhaust that highlights the practical and simple steps that employers can take to protect their workers.
Ÿ Network Rail news release. Global Railway Review.
The non-profit International Life Science Institute, which claims to conduct “science for the public good” that “improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” is in reality an industry lobby group, according to a new study. Findings published in the journal Globalization and Health detail examples of how ILSI advances the interests of the food industry, especially by promoting industry-friendly science and arguments to policymakers. The study is based on documents obtained via state freedom of information requests by US Right to Know, a non-profit investigative research group. The study’s authors conclude: “Regulators should also consider ILSI’s status as a lobby group in Europe, the Americas, and beyond. Our analysis of ILSI serves as a caution to those involved in global health governance to be wary of putatively independent research groups, and to practice due diligence before relying upon their funded studies and/or engaging in relationship with such groups.” Monsanto’s Glyphosate, the best selling pesticide linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma (Risks 897) and the subject of a major controversy over an official cancer risk rating, was one chemical featured in the analysis of ILSI’s undeclared business links. The UN’s specialist cancer agency, IARC, found that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” (Risks 776). However a joint panel of two UN bodies, FAO and WHO, chaired by ILSI Europe’s vice-president, Prof Alan Boobis of Imperial College London, found that glyphosate was probably not carcinogenic to humans. The final panel report included no conflict of interest statements, even though ILSI Europe had received donations of $500,000 (£344,234) from Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), which uses glyphosate in its RoundUp weedkiller, and $528,500 from the industry’s global lobby group, Croplife International.
Ÿ USRTK news release. Sarah Steele and others. Are industry-funded charities promoting “advocacy-led studies” or “evidence-based science”?: a case study of the International Life Sciences Institute, Globalization and Health, volume 15, number 36, 3 June 2019. Documents from the ILSI study will be posted in University of California, San Francisco’s Food Industry Documents Archive, in the U.S. Right to Know Food Industry Collection. The Guardian. ABC News.
A materials supplier and a maintenance contractor have been fined a total of £750,000 following the death of a floor layer in London. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that on 4 September 2015, 30-year-old Paul Tilcock was found dead by the owner of house in Mitcham. The adhesive used to fix the flooring to the bathroom floor contained a large amount of dichloromethane, also known as methylene chloride. Paint strippers containing the chemical are banned for use by the public or contractors without specialist training, but no such restriction applies to adhesives containing the cancer-linked chemical, which behaves like carbon monoxide when inhaled. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that contractor T Brown Group Ltd had not implemented any systems or procedures adequately to control the risks to its employees from working in an enclosed space with a substance known to be hazardous to health. The decision on whether to wear face masks or on what type of respiratory protection should be used was left up to employees. When Paul Tilcock’s body was found he was wearing a completely ineffective face mask. Altro Limited, the flooring company who supplied the adhesive, was found not to have ensured so far as reasonably practicable that the product supplied was safe to use at all times. Contractor T Brown Group Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £23,936. Altro Limited also pleaded guilty and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £34,773. It said it suspended use of the product after Paul Tilcock’s death and no longer sells it. HSE inspector Peter Collingwood commented: “This tragic incident which has had a devastating effect on a young family was wholly avoidable. It is important that companies have an appreciation of their duties, (whether to its employees or its customers) and have effective systems and procedures in place to ensure that those duties are fulfilled”.
A construction company and its director have been fined after failing to ensure the safe removal of asbestos during demolition work. Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how Sherwood Homes Limited was the client responsible for the demolition of Crowton Mill in Northwich. Peter Kiely was a director of the company when the results of an asbestos survey conducted in January 2017 were received. These identified the presence of asbestos containing materials on the site. The extra work required to remove the asbestos increased the estimated costs and timescale for the completion of the demolition. An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Sherwood Homes Limited failed to ensure suitable contractors were used to carry out the asbestos removal work and demolition of the mill in February 2017. No record of a notification to HSE to remove asbestos had been received for the site. No details of how the asbestos containing materials were removed or how they were disposed were provided to HSE. Sherwood Homes Limited was convicted of a criminal safety offence and fined £170,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,406. Company director Peter Kiely pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,500 plus costs of £7,000. HSE inspector David Norton commented: “Asbestos should only be removed by specialist contractors. Sherwood Homes Ltd and Peter Kiely put workers at risk by not following the correct safety procedures. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
Two company directors have received suspended jail terms after an electrician fell two storeys through an unprotected stairwell. Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court heard how electrical work was being undertaken by Green Generation Renewable Services Ltd on a property owned and being refurbished by self-employed contractor Steven Dixon. However, on 1 December 2016 an electrician working on property fell two floors from a makeshift ladder to from the loft, landing on concrete and suffering multiple fractures, a bleed on the brain and facial nerve damage. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that two directors of Green Generation, Karl Grice and Sean Mullan, were fully aware, along with Steen Dixon, that a damaged board was being used as a makeshift ladder. They were also aware of the unprotected edges of the stairwell, but had not carried out risk assessments, identified the control measures needed, or implemented suitable safety measures to protect workers on site. Green Generation Renewable Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,548.28. Company director Karl Grice pleaded guilty to a criminal breach and was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,000. Fellow director Steven Paul Dixon also pleaded guilty and was given the same sentence. Sean Mullan also made a guilty plea and was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,000.
A Warrington fabrication company has been fined after a worker suffered severe crush injuries when a metal frame he was moving toppled from a forklift truck. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 11 October 2017, the employee of JL Engineering (Rixton) Ltd, together with another worker, was moving a trestle frame using the forklift. In an attempt to release the frame, which was catching the wheels of the truck, the driver loosened the securing straps. This caused the frame to topple onto the employee, who suffered multiple severe fractures and an serious bladder injury. He is still receiving medical treatment and has been unable to return to work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had not prepared a suitable risk assessment or lifting plan for lifting operations and had failed to recognise the risks associated with the way its employees were working. Employees were not adequately trained or instructed in methods of carrying out lifting operations safely. JL Engineering (Rixton) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £22,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,895.32. HSE inspector Catherine Lyon said: “The employee’s injuries in this case were life-changing and could have been fatal. Employees were put at risk as a result of the company allowing forklift trucks to be used without the appropriate training and monitoring of drivers.” She added: “Employers have a responsibility to provide safe methods of working and to ensure workers have the necessary information and training to enable them to work without risk.”
Over the past few years mental health has moved into the foreground as both a challenge, and an opportunity in the workplace. TUC Education says this has created an an increasing sense that action is needed. A TUC ‘Talking mental health’ webinar – an online seminar - will look at three areas, focusing on practical tips for reps in relation to mental health. These are: Noticing distress and reaching out appropriately to somebody who isn’t coping; supporting disclosure and assisting with ongoing concerns, including reasonable adjustments and return to work; and working strategically to improve the nature of work to protect and promote mental wellbeing for all staff. TUC Education advises “if you're a union representative, you're entitled to paid release from work to take part in this webinar. Talk to your employer.”
Ÿ Register for the TUC Education Talking mental health webinar, 2:00pm-3:00pm, 12 June. TUC Education webinars are recorded and made available on its YouTube channel after the event. Several deal with workplace health and safety issues.
A deadly disease caused by working with stone dust is affecting workers younger, harder and faster, with a 22-year-old Australian worker now believed to be the country’s youngest diagnosed victim. Connor Downes can no longer work as a stonemason and says his days are instead filled with medical appointments. In the state of Queensland alone, an audit revealed 98 stone industry workers have silicosis and 15 of those cases are terminal. The incurable condition is caused by exposure to silica dust from engineered stone benchtops. Connor Downes had been working with the material for just three years when he submitted himself for testing after a workmate was diagnosed. “When they did the respiratory tests with the CT scan you could straight away see the nodules all through my lung, big white powder sort of thing everywhere,” he said. “It has been a pretty rough process and right now I'm not allowed to work in the stone industry, there are a lot of jobs that I am not allowed to work in.” At 29, Joel Goldby also has the lungs of an old man. The Melbourne stonemason, who worked for a small company installing kitchens, was diagnosed with silicosis following exposure to silica dust following 13 years cutting stone kitchen benchtops. “Each day I’m out of breath, my chest feels tight and heavy,” Goldby said. “I’m always short of breath. I had never even heard about it. We really didn’t know the danger involved. I just want them to be held accountable and the rules to change.” Goldby’s brother Mark, 32, is also a stonemason and was diagnosed first, which prompted Joel’s mother to urge him to get a medical check-up. Scans showed Goldby had nodules ranging from 1mm to 5mm across both lungs. His best mate and a group of his work colleagues are also grappling with the condition. Margaret Kent of law firm Slater and Gordon, which is representing affected workers in a class action, said: “It is a tragedy that so many people have, or will, become grievously ill just by going to work.” Gerry Ayers, an occupational health and safety specialist with the construction union CFMEU, said: “This issue has taken a long time for people to come to grips with and in that time we’ve had people dying and suffering immeasurably over a completely preventable disease.”
At least eight workers have been killed and 35 injured this year in incidents in Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards, IndustriALL has said. The global unions said the number of fatalities since 2017 is ‘around 47’, adding: “The series of recent accidents point to a massive safety crisis in the Bangladeshi shipbreaking industry.” In incidents last month, five workers were injured in a fire in the Golden Iron Shipbreaking yard on 28 May, two suffering severe burns. One worker was electrocuted on 20 May at the Bhatiari Steel shipbreaking yard. On 15 May, a gas cylinder exploded, and a fire broke out at Mahinur Shipbreaking Yard in Sitakund, killing two workers and hospitalising four others. IndustriALL says employers’ negligence, coupled with poor inspections, a lack of implementation of safety measures by authorities, inadequate training on safe shipbreaking methods and workers unable to get appropriate protective equipment are major causes behind the accidents. Kan Matsuzaki, IndustriALL shipbreaking director, said: “The negligence of employers and government officials leads to frequent accidents and the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act of 2018 needs to be strictly implemented. We reiterate our demand that the Bangladeshi government needs to move faster to ratify and implement the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.” Apoorva Kaiwar, the global union’s South Asia regional secretary, added: “It is unacceptable that the lives of shipbreaking workers are put at risk. IndustriALL calls upon the employers and the government to ensure that proper safety measures are in place.”
Burn-out has been formally recognised as a work-related health condition by a UN body. A meeting of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) World Health Assembly in May declared burn-out to be an “occupational phenomenon”, a step that allows its inclusion in WHO's next edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Codenamed ‘QD85’, burn-out is listed in a parent section on “problems associated with employment or unemployment”. According to WHO, burn-out “specifically refers to phenomena related to the professional context and should not be used to describe experiences in other areas of life.” The updated International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) will come into force on 1 January 2022. A WHO spokesperson said listing it under “occupational phenomena” but not as a “disease” will mean “that burn-out is not conceptualised as a medical condition, but as an occupational phenomenon.” Responding to the WHO listings move, unions in the Philippines called immediately on their government’s labour authorities to take action to address workplace burn-out risks.
Garry Steffy typically starts his day with a cup of coffee and a quick look through the newspaper for obituaries of people who once worked for ATI Specialty Alloys and Components in the small town of Millersburg near Albany, Oregon. This daily routine is more than a retiree’s curiosity. Steffy has made a mission of searching for members of the steelworkers’ union USW and former co-workers who qualify for a special government compensation programme after developing radiation-related cancer while working on the US nuclear weapons programme. “We have a rare opportunity here to assist our brothers and sisters,” said Steffy, a USW District 12 coordinator for the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). Over several years, Steffy and his fellow SOAR members led the charge in spreading the word about the compensation programme. They have helped hundreds of ATI retirees, employees and their families receive more than $42 million in federal compensation and medical benefits. And that number will most likely continue to grow. “I love when people get the money,” said Steffy, who started Oregon’s first SOAR chapter after he retired from ATI in 2010 with 36 years of service. “But I hate that they had to suffer to get it.” The US Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to provide benefits to nuclear weapons project employees who were made sick by exposure to radiation or other toxic substances. Survivors of deceased workers were also eligible to file claims.
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