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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 901
 
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

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

GMB to campaign on work-related bladder cancer

The union GMB is to launch an awareness campaign on the link between work in certain industries and bladder cancer. The decision at the union’s annual Congress commits it to target a problem it says particularly affects workers in the chemical dye and rubber industries. However, the union said the chemicals linked to bladder cancer also occur “in hair dyes, paints, fungicides, cigarette smoke, plastics, pollutant emissions from industrial installations, and metal and motor vehicle exhausts, which can affect both male and females.” GMB says there are an estimated 100,000 men and women living with bladder cancer in the UK and approximately 15,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, making it the fifth most common cancer overall. GMB London’s regional secretary, Warren Kenny, said: “Occupational bladder claims thousands of lives per year, and it is likely that official statistics are underestimated as there are many causes of the cancer, meaning the link to work is often not made. Due to the long latency before symptoms manifest, it is often perceived to be an older person’s condition. As such there has been little campaigning for preventative approaches and such an approach is long overdue.” He said the union would work with both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Fight Bladder Cancer campaign to “provide a much needed focus on this overlooked cancer and help to provide access to decision-makers in industry and government who can help address the shortage of research funding and poor prioritisation of bladder cancer.”

Ÿ  GMB news release. Fight Bladder Cancer.
Resources: TUC occupational cancer guide. Work cancer hazards blog. Cancers and their work causes: An ITUC/Hazards at-a-glance guide to cancer hazards.

Minister accused of putting ambition first in asbestos scandal

Unite has accused defence secretary Penny Mordaunt of ‘putting her political ambitions’ ahead of thousands of Sea King helicopter maintenance workers exposed to asbestos. The union wrote to the Portsmouth North MP on 2 May, expressing its ‘severe’ concerns that the MoD had failed to act to ensure the safety and wellbeing of thousands of MoD personnel, contractors and visitors who were potentially exposed to asbestos, during the 50-year operating lifetime of the helicopter (Risks 900). Over a month later, Unite has not received any response from Ms Mordaunt or anyone else at the MoD. Unite national officer for defence workers Jim Kennedy said: “It appears that Penny Mordaunt is focused more on developing her own political career, than dealing with the Sea King asbestos scandal. Tens of thousands of workers, many from her own constituency, may have been given a potential death sentence after unknowingly being exposed to asbestos and the MoD does not even have the good grace to warn them about their exposure.” The Unite officer, who has now written again to the minister, added: “If Penny Mordaunt is interested in the health of her constituents and MoD workers, not only does she need to respond to Unite’s concerns but she needs to take action to ensure those affected understand the risks they now face. The current approach of trying to wash their hands of this catastrophic failure shames the defence secretary, the MoD and the government.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

‘Toxic’ organisation pays off leaders, then slashes staff

Members of Unite employed by Amnesty International have pledged to consider ‘all options’ after the human rights charity announced that 93 workers face losing their jobs. In total Amnesty is proposing cutting 146 posts, although this includes a number that are vacant. Amnesty ‘dissolved’ its senior leadership team last month, with five top bosses leaving with substantial payoffs, after a report concluded they had created a ‘toxic workplace’ (Risks 900). Amnesty commissioned the independent review following two staff suicides last year (Risks 877). The round of job cuts was announced following a review conducted by Deloitte UK. Since the Deloitte report was published Unite has raised serious concerns around the process, mandate and accuracy of the report. Unite regional co-ordinating officer Alan Scott said: “Unite members will meet this week to decide how to respond to the devastating announcement of redundancies. All options are firmly on the table.” He added: “The organisation’s senior management has a made a dangerous habit of irresponsible overspending and over-scoping, leaving staff to suffer the costs, first with their wellbeing and now with their jobs. The problems of wellbeing and the financial crisis are symptoms of a leadership that continuously made decisions that it could not afford, in terms of budget, workload and responsibility of care.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.
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.

Sellafield Mitie workers contending with stress ‘epidemic’

A confidential survey of Unite members employed by Mitie at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site has revealed ‘shocking high levels’ of stress, mental ill-health, financial problems and bullying among workers. The survey found that 91 per cent of members said in the past year they had experienced stress at work. The principal causes of stress were low pay (66 per cent), too much work per shift (52 per cent) and bullying at work (28 per cent). Over a quarter of the affected workers (28 per cent) had to visit their GP due to stress, with 18 per cent having to take time off work due to the condition. Just under half of respondents (49 per cent) report they have suffered from bullying or harassment at work. And workers also report suffering from mental health issues, with nearly a third (31 per cent) indicating they had a mental health problem, and nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) being forced to take time off work because of the condition. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of the Mitie workforce believed that Mitie did not take workers’ physical or mental health seriously. Unite regional organiser Ryan Armstrong said: “The findings of the survey are horrific. Levels of stress, bullying, mental and physical ill-health are off the scale.” The union last week recommenced strike action at the company. “If Mitie and Sellafield are serious about resolving this dispute, then they need to return to the negotiating table and make a sensible offer and then tackle the working practices which are making our members ill,” the Unite official said.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Workforce ‘stress crisis’ in Scotland’s colleges

A stress crisis is blighting the workforce in Scotland’s colleges, the education union UNISON has said. ‘SOS Stressed Out Staff, Scotland’s Colleges Stress Report 2019’, based the union’s survey, found over 50,000 working days have been lost due to stress in Scotland’s colleges over the last three years. The report shows that work-related stress is having a severe impact on staff. If found 60 per cent of college staff felt that workloads are high or extremely high and 56 per cent suffer stress directly due to workloads. Action was rare, the union found, with 97 per cent saying managers hadn’t discussed Group Stress Risk Assessments and 73 per cent stating that managers had never discussed work levels and stress with them. Only 55 per cent of colleges in Scotland have a specific avoidance of stress policy, the union said. Chris Greenshields, chair of UNISON Scotland’s further education committee, said: “This report shows that workplace stress has reached critical levels in Scotland’s colleges and is still on the rise. Our members are struggling with workloads while continued cuts to staff numbers are being sustained as a means of finding ‘savings’.” UNISON was particularly concerned that almost threequarters of colleges had never had discussions with staff about stress and workloads. John Gallacher, UNISON Scottish organiser, said: “Too many staff are struggling under the stress of the job and it is affecting the service provided to students. The constant pressure to do more work for more students is proving too much for too many staff. We must properly invest in our colleges, to ensure staff can provide the world class education to their students.”

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Call to bar blacklisting firms from Commons refurb work

Unions representing all staff working in parliament have called on the House of Commons Commission to not employ construction firms who were involved in illegal blacklisting of union members on the forthcoming refurbishment contract of the estate. Contracts for the work are estimated to be worth as much as £4 billion. A letter sent this week from the joint House of Commons trade union side to speaker of the House John Bercow, said it is “crucial that parliament should not be seen to employ companies and individuals who have engaged in the blacklisting of workers for, among other reasons, simply being trade union members.” Commons trade union side president Ken Gall said the restoration and renewal project for parliament will be a “very public and very welcome modernisation of the seat of our democracy, and as such will receive a great deal of scrutiny in terms of public money, design and the kind of parliament we want to see in the 21st century.” He noted the “reputational impact of awarding prestigious and hugely lucrative contracts to companies that previously engaged in illegal and outrageous treatment of the people they employed can hardly be exaggerated,” adding: “We trust that parliament - which has a laudable aspiration to be an exemplary 21st century employer - would not wish to be seen to reward that behaviour.” Health and safety activity was a major reason trade union reps were targeted by the blacklisters. Union lay officer and safety activist Brian Higgins, who died last week, struggled to find work as a bricklayer for decades, even during severe shortages of skilled labour. It later emerged a blacklisting file held on him by the industry-financed covert blacklister The Consulting Association ran to 49 pages, the largest held on any individual.

Ÿ  PCS news release. Northampton Chronicle.

College staff link weapons threat to lack of resources

Young people are bringing weapons – such as machetes, hammers, metal bars and in one case a gun – into colleges across the country and making staff feel unsafe at work, according to a new report from the education union UNISON. Nearly a quarter of college support staff say weapon-related crime is a problem where they work – and the majority of this group say the issue has got worse, the union’s survey found. Budget cuts, rising knife crime and the closure of youth centres have put support staff – such as canteen workers, learning support assistants and librarians – in harm’s way, the union said. A survey of 800 support staff in colleges across the UK has revealed a number of serious incidents involving weapons – including pupil-on-pupil assaults, gang attacks and violence against staff. One in five support staff members admitted that they did not feel safe at work and some admitted that they had considered quitting the profession as they felt in danger. The vast majority (90 per cent) of respondents said they had received no training on dealing with teenagers who bring weapons into college. College staff need to be given training in handling weapon-related incidents after both students and staff have been left injured by a weapon brought into college, UNISON said. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Budget cuts, rising knife crime and the closure of youth centres means college support staff are having to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of other students. It’s no accident that as spending on youth services has dropped, teenage crime levels have rocketed. A joined-up response from police, youth support services and colleges is the only way to turn youngsters away from crime – it shouldn’t fall to college support staff to pick up the pieces.”

Ÿ  FE News. TES News. The Independent.

Emergency services battling knife crime epidemic

The union GMB is to campaign for greater resources to be available to emergency services to help tackle the knife crime epidemic across the country. A motion passed at the union’s annual Congress calls for the police service and justice system to be given a significant increase in support, tools and education to tackle this violence. The union cites Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who is “sure” that the current wave of knife crime is linked directly to the police budget cuts instigated by the Conservative government. Warren Kenny, GMB regional secretary, said: “This is the start of a battle, of a campaign to see our own heroic police service and justice system be given the support, tools and education to fight back against this wave of uncertainty and fear. It is a chance to tackle an epidemic which has made us all fear late nights and be suspicious of those who in the majority are innocent.” He added: “GMB fully support all frontline emergency workers, and importantly all the services which support communities, being properly funded in order to tackle this tragic epidemic.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Carers suffer thousands of serious work violence injuries

Care workers suffered more than 6,000 reported violent attacks resulting in serious injuries during the last five years, a GMB analysis of official figures has revealed. The union said the “horrifying” statistics, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that between the financial years 2013/14 to 2017/18, 6,034 violent attacks on care workers resulting in serious injury were reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Of these, 5,008 workers were so seriously injured they had to take at least seven days off work. A further 1,026 carers suffered a ‘specified’ injury, an inclusive list of legally reportable injuries that includes fractures, loss of sight, brain damage, loss of consciousness, asphyxia, or amputation. GMB says the true rates are likely to be much higher, as the HSE warns that ‘non-fatal injuries are substantially under-reported.’ Violent attacks account for a third of reports for residential care workers – compared to just 7 per cent of reports for all workers. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison commented: “These statistics are the tip of the iceberg – they only include the most serious injuries, and our members have to deal with violence on a daily basis.” She added: “Unfortunately, our members are sometimes put under unacceptable pressure to keep working after an attack when they should be receiving care themselves. Care is crucial. For each of us individually, our parents, grandparents, kids, friends and neighbours, but too often the sector is overlooked and the people working in care treated less than the frontline professionals that they are.”

Ÿ  GMB news release. The Guardian.

POA presses for action on prison violence

The prison officers’ union POA is to ballot its membership on “any lawful means necessary” to address what it sees as inaction by ministers on the prison violence crisis. The union is concerned that the failure of the service to press ahead with a roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray (Risks 871). The union says to date, PAVA is available only in four pilot sites. This is despite the union warning that assaults on prison officers remain at “record levels”. POA says it is prevented by a High Court injunction from taking industrial action but it maintains its they still “have a right to take lawful action in order to protect their members’ health and safety.” POA national chair Mark Fairhurst, commenting on the union national executive’s decision to ballot its membership in England and Wales, said “during the last six months over 6,500 staff have been assaulted. How many assaults may have been prevented if PAVA had been operational in our prisons? The employer has stalled for too long and our members are rightly concerned and annoyed.” He added: “This ballot gives our members the opportunity to display to the employer their discontent whilst supporting the national executive in protecting their health and safety. There should be no criteria placed on staff safety and we must insist that PAVA is given to staff in our most violent prisons as a priority whilst ensuring the roll out does not take the planned two years our employer is insisting upon. Our members deserve to be protected, as do those who inhabit our prisons.”

Ÿ  POA news release.

Unite ‘fury’ at Dundee charter breaches

Unite has reacted furiously to allegations it says point towards a contractor breaching the Unite Construction Charter signed in December last year by Dundee City Council. Charter signatories pledge to use procurement and delivery of council-backed building projects to ensure high standards on employment status, health and safety, training and adherence to nationally agreed terms and conditions. However, only months after the deal was signed, Unite says it has received multiple reports of an agency called O’Neil and Brennon using an ‘umbrella practice’ to employ construction workers on a council housing project. The union said agencies attempt to force workers into these ‘umbrella companies’ to evade responsibility for national insurance contributions and other benefits. The main contractor identified on the Dundee job is the Robertson Group. George Ramsay, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “The allegations of umbrella practices by an agency working on the construction of homes in Dundee is outrageous. It's only a few months ago the 'construction charter' was hailed as a major step forward in rooting out illegal and bad practices by companies and agencies in the construction sector. Unite has raised these breaches both with the Robertson Group who are the main contractor for this project and Dundee City Council to ensure that if these allegations are correct then the agency involved should be withdrawn immediately.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

OTHER NEWS

Valero fined £5 million after explosion kills four

Valero Energy UK Ltd and B&A Contracts Ltd have been fined on charges stemming from a 2011 explosion that killed four workers and seriously injured another at an oil refinery in Pembrokeshire. Dennis Riley, 52, Robert Broome, 48, Andrew Jenkins, 33, and Julie Jones, 54, died after a storage tank exploded at the site. Andrew Philips also sustained major injuries. Swansea Crown Court heard how, on 2 June 2011, the five workers were emptying a tank in the Amine Recovery Unit using a vacuum tanker when the explosion and subsequent fire took place shortly after 6pm. B&A Contracts Ltd, which was a long-term contractor at the refinery, was carrying out the work, with support from another contractor, Hertel. The explosion resulted in a fireball which severed the 5-tonne tank roof, and this was projected 55 metres to impact against a butane storage sphere. The roof narrowly missed a pipe track where a range of flammable materials were carried. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the explosion was most likely to have been initiated by the ignition of a highly flammable atmosphere within the tank, during what should have been a routine emptying operation in preparation for further cleaning and maintenance. The investigation also found there had been longstanding failures within the refinery safety management systems and as a result the risks posed by flammable atmospheres within the Amine Recovery Unit were not understood or controlled. At the time of the incident the refinery was operated by Chevron Limited, but ownership changed in August 2011 when the sale to Valero was completed. Valero Energy UK Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £5 million and ordered to pay costs of £1 million. B&A Contracts Ltd pleaded guilty to the same charges and was fined £120,000 plus costs of £40,000. HSE inspector Andrew Knowles commented: “This incident, which had devastating consequences for all of those involved, was entirely preventable. Many opportunities to take action to control risk were missed, that would have prevented the incident from occurring.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. WalesOnline. BBC News Online.

Firm fined after worker killed by gantry crane

Superconducting electromagnet company Tesla Engineering Ltd has been sentenced after a worker was fatally hit and crushed by an overhead gantry crane. Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard how on 23 March 2018 Dr Craig McEwan, 34, a unit manager of Tesla Engineering Ltd, died while making of a superconducting magnet coil at the firm’s Storrington premises. Dr McEwan was working on top of a tank when he became caught between a moving gantry crane and a metal chimney on the top of the tank. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Tesla Engineering Ltd had failed to implement measures to prevent a person from being hit by the overhead gantry crane. A chimney extension had recently been fitted to the tank and increased the height workers had to access, putting workers at a height where they could come into contact with the overhead gantry crane. However, no measures had been put in place to ensure that the gantry crane could not be operated while workers were at risk of being hit. Tesla Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £7,546.72 in costs. HSE inspector Russell Beckett commented: “Tesla Engineering adapted the work process it carried out but failed to review its planning or to take measures to ensure that workers could not be hit by the moving overhead gantry crane. Simple measures to either lock out the crane or to prevent workers accessing dangerous areas could have been implemented but were not, which ultimately led to Dr McEwan losing his life.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Midhurst and Petworth Observer.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Korea: Samsung victim wins 10-year fight for recognition

A victim of occupational cancer caused by toxic exposures while working at Samsung has won a decade long fight for compensation. On 5 June, Han Hye-kyung was notified her workers’ compensation claim had been approved by the compensation authority KCOMWEL. Han, 41, was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 27 in 2005. Four years earlier, in 2001, she had resigned from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, where she had handled hazardous chemicals while soldering together LCD parts for six years. Han was only 17-years-old and still in high school when she began to work at Samsung. In 2009, Han, together with her single mother, Kim Si-nyeo, petitioned unsuccessfully for workers’ compensation. However, in 2017 South Korea’s supreme court ordered KCOMWEL to posthumously pay workers’ compensation to a Samsung worker who died of a brain tumour. This decision paved the way for Han to request the re-evaluation of her workers’ compensation case. Two years later KCOMWEL finally decided in Han’s favour. Both Han and her mother Kim are active members of grassroots campaign group SHARPS, which has spearheaded the campaign for justice for Samsung’s occupational disease victims. Both have attended “countless” SHARPS pickets, protests and rallies. Despite the family facing terrible hardship, they turned down a surreptitious 2013 offer from Samsung executives of KRW 1 billion (U$1m/£665,000) and full medical coverage, because the settlement was conditional on the family severing its ties with SHARPS.

Ÿ  SHARPS news report.

Japan: Call for safety probe at Tokyo Olympics sites

A former Olympian and head of a human rights group is asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo Olympics organisers to investigate worker safety at venues being built for next year’s games. Mary Harvey, the CEO of the Geneva-based Centre for Sport and Human Rights, raised her concerns in the wake of the publication last month of ‘The dark side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics’ by the global construction union federation BWI. The report describes “dangerous” patterns of overwork, some workers without employment contracts, and a “culture of fear” that discourages workers from reporting poor employment conditions. Many of those identified as facing the worst exploitation were foreign workers. “To think this is going away is burying your head in the sand, and I'm concerned it's going to get worse,” said Mary Harvey. “The heat of the summer months is upon us while construction deadlines are trying to be met. Someone dying or committing suicide shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.” Harvey, a goalkeeper on the 1996 United States women's Olympic soccer team, said: “Everyone should be taking a serious look at the risks identified in BWI's report and, by everyone, I mean everyone who is a stakeholder, including the IOC, the Japanese government and construction companies.” BWI has called for outside inspections and said that its efforts “have been largely ignored, and workers and their trade unions have been met with hostility.” Ambet Yuson, the general secretary of BWI, said the case needs “to be elevated to the IOC. We need to see what they will do about Tokyo and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.”

Ÿ  Japan Today. The Olympians.

Ÿ  BWI news release and report, The dark side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, May 2019. Centre for Sports and Human Rights.

USA: Workers will die unless deadly solvent is banned

More labourers working with a toxic solvent will die while the US authorities reconsider the strategy to protect them, occupational physicians, advocates, and researchers have predicted. At least three US workers exposed to the paint stripping solvent, methylene chloride, have died since 2017 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to ban consumer and most commercial uses, said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a staff attorney working on labour issues at Earthjustice. “Now, tragically we’ll see how many die” while the agency revisits its previous conclusion that workers faced unreasonable risks, and decides how it may reduce those risks, Kalmuss-Katz said. He referred to a change to the proposal the EPA made in March, when it issued a final rule that banned consumer - but not workplace - uses of paint strippers made with the solvent. The new approach, modelled on a UK derogation from the EU ban on use of methylene chloride as a paint stripper, would instead allow professional use subject to the user meeting training and certification requirements. Most comments to EPA on the training strategy proposal were opposed and instead supported the agency’s originally proposed commercial ban. “No-one should be poisoned at work - EPA needs to follow the science and move forward with a commercial ban,” said Veena Singla, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. In January this year, Nicholas Corbett, a director of UK company Abel Ltd, was sentenced to 10 months in prison for selling methylene chloride paint strippers online without ensuring the purchasers were certified (Risks 880).

Ÿ  Bloomberg News.

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