|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 email@example.com.
Teachers at Buchanan High School in North Lanarkshire took the first of seven planned days of strike action on 20 June over what their union NASUWT has described as a failure by their employer to “act appropriately” to address serious safety concerns. NASUWT members at St Ambrose High School, who share the site, are set to join the action. The union’s stance followed the identification of four cases of bladder cancer in teachers who had worked in one corridor at the site (Risks 902). The union is calling for a full site survey. NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “This strike action could have been averted if the Council had engaged fully with the NASUWT when we raised these issues months ago. Our members are suffering deep stress and anxiety about their health and welfare due to the failure of their employer to take the necessary action to provide assurances about the safety of the site.” She said a “site survey should be commissioned immediately and as the end of term is only a matter of days away, the schools closed to enable the work to begin and at least give teachers and indeed pupils and parents some respite from the daily anxiety of having to attend the school site. As the local authority has refused to act to protect teachers the NASUWT will.” Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “The NASUWT is taking this strike action in order to protect the health and safety of its members. This strike action is the result of the failure of the employer to fulfil its legal duty of care to its staff. Our members are deeply worried about the safety of the campus they work on and have little confidence in the statements made by the local authority that the site is safe.”
Ÿ NASUWT news release. Sunday Post. The Herald. The Independent. BBC News Online.
An indicative workplace ballot of members of the union POA in public and private sector prisons, immigration removal centres and secure hospitals, has backed ‘lawful action’ to protect their health and safety at work. The union said almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of POA branches responded, with 95 per cent of members voting backing lawful action. The catalyst for the ballot was the delayed roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray, which ministers promised last year as a measure to address spiralling prison violence (Risks 901). POA national chair Mark Fairhurst said: “The results prove that POA members who work in the most hostile and violent workplace in Western Europe are prepared to support any lawful action we decide to take in order to ensure their safety at work.” He added: “We will continue to work constructively with the employer as PAVA finally begins to get rolled out and we will hold them to their assurances and timescales. Nobody should be in any doubt that I will ensure our members receive the protections they need to make our prisons safe and we will rule nothing in or nothing out to do so.”
Members of the London Underground union RMT is are being balloted for industrial action against cuts the union says are being “smuggled” in as part of a “Transformation Programme”. Nearly 2,000 staff are involved, covering engineering, signals, electrical, track and control centre staff, and the Tube’s Emergency Response unit. RMT said it has made it clear that the union “will have no hesitation in rolling out the ballot to other groups of staff” if the widespread threat to jobs and safety is not withdrawn. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT on London Underground is now on a war footing and it’s about time the management, and the London Mayor, woke up and took notice. If we are forced by their inaction to escalate the dispute then that is exactly we will do.” He added: “RMT will not stand back while jobs and safety are carved up and services like waste collection are knocked out to the cheapest bidder just to bail out savage cuts imposed on TfL by this rotten Tory government. This trade union will always look to co-ordinate action across the transport network if that is the best way of lifting the cuts threat to jobs, safety and pensions."
A Somerset engineer whose foot was seriously injured after a two-tonne machine he was moving collapsed has been compensated in a union-backed claim. Chris Tongs, 65, was moving the heavy plastic moulding machine with a colleague at Avalon Plastics in Glastonbury when part of the platform they were loading it onto, known as ‘loading skates,’ collapsed under the weight. The multi-skilled engineer, who maintained machinery throughout the plant, said: “I was only able to get my foot out once my colleague had jacked the machine back up. My foot was trapped for a matter of seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. I was lucky to not lose a foot in this accident. The quick thinking of my colleague saved me from even more life-changing injury.” The Unite member was treated at hospital for significant injuries to his swollen left foot, as well as to his hip, which was hit by the machine. The pain caused by the incident left him no choice but to take early retirement, and he continues to suffer from arthritis from his waist down. Chris, who has been a Unite member since he was 16, secured more than £60,000 compensation for the pain he went through, his lost earnings and the medical treatment he needed. Stuart Davies, Unite South West legal officer, said: “Chris may have been a highly-trained engineer but that doesn’t make him a specialist in manual handling. Contractors with the correct training and equipment should have been employed to move this vast piece of machinery but instead, the employers tried to cut corners and put Chris and his colleagues in serious danger, for which he paid the price.”
Nurses, care assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff have suffered lewd sexual insults, groping and even rape while at work, according to new research from the health service union UNISON. Being leered at or subjected to offensive ‘banter’ and suggestive gestures are regular occurrences for some of the nearly one in ten (8 per cent) healthcare staff who reported being sexually harassed in the past year. Verbal abuse such as unwanted remarks and jokes was the most common complaint (64 per cent), according to the report ‘It’s Never Ok’. Nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of the healthcare staff reporting harassment said they had been sexually assaulted. Some had also been the victim of criminal offences such as rape, up-skirting, indecent exposure or inappropriate touching. The findings come from a much larger survey of 8,000 health workers and their experiences at work. UNISON says they highlight the psychological trauma suffered by the 700 staff who responded to say they’d suffered sexual harassment in the past year. Some have even contemplated suicide, self-harmed or been driven to either leave their job or look for another, the union said. Acts of sexual harassment were most often committed by colleagues (54 per cent). A quarter were committed by other workers (24 per cent) and two-fifths (42 per cent) by patients. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of those who had been sexually harassed said it had occurred on a regular basis and more than one in ten (12 per cent) said it occurred weekly or daily. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea commented: “Staff should never have to face any kind of abuse, let alone sexually motivated insults and attacks. Many nurses, cleaners and administrative workers feel they have to put up with appalling behaviour as nothing will be done. This is generally because the perpetrators are in a position of power – or believe they are untouchable.” She added: “The workplace which should be a harassment-free zone and employers who fail to act should be held to account.” The NHS Employers organisation said the UNISON findings were “extremely disturbing.”
A Dorset firefighter whose pre-existing asthmatic condition was made worse by his job and who also suffered a back injury at work, has been compensated in a Unite-backed case. Peter Eaton’s breathing became worse after he was exposed to diesel fumes at Boscombe Down military airfield’s fire station. Trucks would frequently drive in and out an unventilated vehicle garage and fill the area with diesel fumes. “We really started to notice the issue around 2010,” the 52-year-old QinetiQ employee said. “We tried to tell our employer by voicing our concerns about having to work in a toxic soup day in, day out, but our comments were held against us and we were warned that we would face sanctions if we continued to complain.” Peter, from Wimborne, also developed a painful back injury after being told to carry and lift heavy carbon dioxide cylinders and fire extinguishers – sometimes as heavy as 50kg – without any lifting equipment. An inspection of the depot as part of the compensation case found that QinetiQ had installed ‘local exhaust ventilation’, which took fumes from vehicle exhausts out of the depot via a large pipe. However, the investigation discovered the company had only installed the extraction system when it was instructed to do so by the Health and Safety Executive and had previously left workers exposed for several years. “I feel the way we were treated by QinetiQ was draconian with management-led employee forums in place of proper union representation,” Peter Eaton said.
Rail union TSSA has accused the Scottish government of “reckless penny-pinching” after one of the 40-year-old High Speed Trains brought in last year caught fire at Glasgow's Queen Street station. Commenting on the 18 June incident, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We said from the start that Scotland deserved better than these museum pieces.” He said it wasn’t the first time an old High Speed Train has caught fire, with a similar incident occurring in Exeter in 2017. “Now – inevitably – we are seeing the cost of doing things on the cheap,” Cortes said. “Scotrail’s boss, Alex Hynes, has gone on the record saying ‘people don’t care how old their trains are’. He’s right - they care if the train is up to the job and they care about getting to work safely. Sadly, today’s incident shows that the High Speed Trains are neither safe nor reliable.” The union leader added: “The Scottish government's reckless penny-pinching in leasing 40-year old second-hand stock rather than investing in new trains put passengers and staff at risk today. There can be no repeat.” He said Scottish government transport secretary Michael Matheson “must conduct an urgent inquiry and Abellio must take all the High Speed Trains out of service until we know what went wrong at Queen Street.”
Colchester Institute has added its name to a charter aimed at helping employees who become terminally ill at work. The TUC's Dying to Work Charter calls for greater job security for terminally ill workers, including protection from being dismissed because of their condition. The charter was signed on 21 June by Colchester Institute principal and chief executive Alison Andreas, UCU branch secretary John Pullen-Appleby and UNISON rep Marisa Baker. UCU’s John Pullen-Appleby said: 'We wholeheartedly welcome the college signing the Dying to Work Charter and hope others will follow suit.” UNISON rep Marisa Baker added: “The last thing anybody needs when they're diagnosed with a terminal illness is to be thrown out of work as well. So Colchester Institute should be applauded for promising to do the right thing by its workers when they're at their most vulnerable.” TUC regional campaigns officer Laurie Heselden said: “A million workers are now covered by the TUC's 'Dying to Work Charter' and we expect more employers to follow Colchester Institute's caring example and to sign up in the coming months. The charter is making a real difference to the most vulnerable workers in our workplaces.”
Victim Support UK and ACCESS for Living have become the latest organisations to sign up to UNISON’s ‘End violence at work charter.’ The union said the charter is a key part of its campaign to get employers in the community sector to take violence against staff seriously. It follows concerns raised by UNISON members that some employers in voluntary organisations and housing associations were telling staff to “put up with” being assaulted at work because it was “part of the job”. The charter specifies 10 simple steps, covering training, prevention and support, which all employers should be able to take, showing they take violence against their employees seriously. UNISON said Victim Support and Access for Living are the 45th and 46th employers to sign up. Many major UK charities have already signed, including Action for Children, RNIB and WM Housing Group. Three UK councils – Liverpool, mid-Suffolk and Southwark – have also made signing the charter part of their commissioning process, showing they expect service providers seeking contracts to sign up to the charter.
Southampton City Council has become the latest to sign up to Unite’s construction charter, underpinning safety and employment rights on the council’s building contracts. Council leader Christopher Hammond and Unite regional secretary for the South East Sarah Carpenter signed the charter at a ceremony at Southampton Civic centre on 17 June. Construction firms planning to work on Southampton City Council building projects will now need to adhere to the charter. The charter commits councils to working with Unite in order to achieve the highest standards in respect of direct employment status, health and safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment. Unite’s Sarah Carpenter said: “Southampton City Council is the latest local authority in the South East to throw its support behind Unite’s Construction Charter. The charter marks a major boost for workers on construction projects which are under the control of the council. Unite’s Charter enshrines the highest employment standards across local authority construction projects.” She added: “The right to speak out on issues and be paid a fair rate for the job is vital. The Charter means there will be no blacklisting of workers. It also protects workers from bogus self-employment by ensuring construction workers are directly employed. The Charter also helps local workers to operate in a safe environment including giving them the rights to raise health and safety issues without fear.”
There could be an increased risk to the safety of tax office staff as a result of a decision to privatise HRMC’s in-house security team, civil service union PCS has warned. The union was commenting after it was announced private contractor Mitie is to be given the contract to run the entire security guard provision across the future HMRC estate. PCS said it has objected to the privatisation proposals at every stage of the process, condemning the management report recommending the outsourcing – which the union says was produced without a single site visit to review the security requirements. “Throughout the proceedings, HMRC has dismissed our very real concerns about the safety of HMRC staff and the risks associated with handing over this key service to a private sector provider,” the union said. “PCS remains totally opposed to the plans with our recent Revenue and Customs group conference confirming the membership’s overwhelming opposition to the privatisation plans. We will be discussing HMRC’s announcement with affected members and we will continue the campaign to reverse this dangerous decision.”
Working long hours is linked to an increased risk of stroke, a study has found. Long hours were defined in the French study as more than 10 hours on at least 50 days per year. The researchers investigated the impact of excessive working on cardiovascular health and found those who worked 10 hours or more for 50 days a year were 29 per cent more likely to have a stroke, compared to people who work shorter hours. People who worked long hours for 10 years or more increased their risk of suffering a stroke by 45 per cent, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) study concluded. The study was compiled from repeat surveys beginning in 2012 of 143,592 participants aged between 18 and 69. Lead author Dr Alexis Descatha said: “The association between 10 years of long work hours and stroke seemed stronger for people under the age of 50. This was unexpected. Further research is needed to explore this finding. As a clinician, I will advise my patients to work more efficiently and I plan to follow my own advice." Commenting on the study findings, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said millions of people in the UK are working in a labour market “dominated by long hours” and “unscrupulous bosses who deliberately ignore or undermine legal safeguards.” He added: “Workers who want to ensure that they get not just their legal rights but negotiated improvements to annual leave and other workplace conditions each year, should join a union and organise collectively to ensure their voice and concerns are heard at work.” A TUC analysis of official figures published in April revealed UK workers work the longest hours in Europe (Risks 894).
Ÿ Marc Fadel and others. Association between reported long working hours and history of stroke in the CONSTANCES cohort, Stroke, volume 50, number 7, pages 1,879-1,882, July 2019. BBC News Online. Unite Live.
A government commitment to tackle the crippling workloads afflicting teachers in England (Risks 874) is not being met, new international research has indicated. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Teaching and Learning International Survey – Talis - found secondary school teachers in England have one of the highest workloads in the world. More than half consider their job “unmanageable” the survey found, with teachers working longer hours, for less pay and in a less satisfying job than those in 35 other countries. Although they spend one hour per week less than their OECD counterparts on teaching, they are spending almost seven hours a week more on non-teaching tasks, such as lesson planning and marking. Full-time primary school teachers worked an average of 52.1 hours per week, compared with the 39.4 hours a week worked by primary school teachers in Denmark and 32 hours in Turkey. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said the findings for England revealed a “demoralised workforce, experiencing low pay, long hours, high turnover and heavy responsibilities.” She added: “The government must end teachers’ unsustainable workload by tackling the high-stakes school accountability system which is fuelling the long hours culture and driving teachers out of the profession.”
New official assessments have confirmed the ‘dangerous’ fragmentation of the fire service, firefighters’ union FBU has said. Commenting on the latest reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “These reports confirm what we have been saying for years. HMICFRS is absolutely right, a decade and a half of localism and austerity has led to fragmented services and a postcode lottery of response times and crewing levels, leaving the public dangerously unsafe in some areas.” The union leader added: “Fire and rescue is a vital public service, which needs central oversight, national standards and structures and an urgent improvement to 999 response times. After Grenfell, we wrote to the prime minister outlining why fragmentation of the fire service is unsafe, yet worryingly our calls for change have fallen on deaf ears.” The HMICFRS assessments also identified a lack of basic facilities for women firefighters, who were often forced to use inadequate and ill-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and uniforms. According to the FBU leader: “A one-size-ﬁts-all attitude is not acceptable – fire and rescue services must urgently address these concerns.”
Offshore union RMT is calling on the helicopter operator Babcock and aircraft manufacturer Airbus to be ‘completely transparent’ over ‘shocking images’ which claim to show damage to H175 copters. The call came after the manufacturer said in a statement: “Airbus Helicopters confirms it has issued a service bulletin to H175 operators calling for a temporary reduction of the maximum allowable speed of the helicopter. This follows the detection of structural damage during routine inspections of the horizontal stabilizer on a customer helicopter.” RMT said a ‘significant number’ of members had raised concerns about the pictures, which are circulating among rig workers and which it is claimed are images of the crack in the horizontal stabiliser of an H175 operated by Babcock. The union added the picture “appears to show a substantial fracture in the fuselage and our members have understandably called for an explanation from Babcock to explain the images.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This aircraft is being touted as the future of offshore transportation, but if the images being circulated of the alleged damage are genuine, questions must be asked around whether this aircraft is fit for purpose!” There are understood to be 19 of the H175 helicopters in the North Sea fleet.
A grain store company has been fined following the death of a worker at its site in Linton, Cambridgeshire. Peterborough Crown Court heard how on 27 July 2016 Edward Orlopp, an employee of Camgrain Stores Ltd, suffered fatal injuries after being struck by a lorry at the site. The 45-year-old had left the control room to walk across the site. On leaving the building he walked in front of a moving lorry. The driver had checked his mirrors but he did not see the employee and moved forward, fatally injuring Orlopp. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Camgrain Stores Ltd had failed to ensure that pedestrians and vehicles could move safely around the site and that it had not provided measures to prevent employees walking into areas where large vehicles were moving. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000. HSE inspector Stephen Faulkner commented: “Being struck by vehicles is one of the most common causes of workplace fatal accidents. This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident caused by failure of the host company to undertake a number of simple measures.”
A union-led campaign has won a new international standard on the prevention of violence and harassment in the workplace. After over a year of negotiations (Risks 828), the International Labour Organisation’s conference in Geneva this month agreed the new Convention and a related Recommendation. Conventions are binding standards, which provide a baseline for international practices and which have legal status once ratified by governments. The new standard covers all workers, regardless of their contractual status, and includes all acts of violence and harassment perpetrated in the workplace, including ‘third party’ violence, by customers, clients, patients and other members of public. Welcoming the new standard, ILO director-general Guy Ryder commented: “The new standards recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment.” He added: “The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men. I am sure that, given the co-operation and solidarity we have seen on this issue, and the public demand for action, we will see speedy and widespread ratifications and action to implement.” The passage of the first new ILO convention since 2011 was also welcomed by unions around the world. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People at work should be safe from violence and harassment. The agreement is a crucial step forward to guarantee basic protections throughout the world of work.” She added the UK government “should take the lead on this and ratify it as soon as possible – to ensure that every worker is protected.”
A global union push backed by UN human rights experts (Risks 902) to get recognition of workplace health and safety as a ‘fundamental’ principle in international labour standards has secured formal backing. A ‘centenary declaration’ agreed at the International Labour Organisation’s conference in Geneva this month put the issue at the top of its list of resolutions, and calls on ILO’s governing body “to consider, as soon as possible, proposals for including safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.” This would add health and safety to the core labour standards list covering globally recognised rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and freedom from discrimination at work and from forced and child labour. The declaration also notes: “Effective workplace cooperation is a tool to help ensure safe and productive workplaces, in such a way that it respects collective bargaining and its outcomes, and does not undermine the role of trade unions.” It adds: “Safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work.”
Seven people including five Chinese nationals have been charged with criminal offences over the collapse of a building in Cambodia that left 28 construction workers dead. The Chinese owner of the site, Chen Kun, and construction supervisor Deng Xing Gui, were charged at Preah Sihanouk provincial court with involuntary manslaughter, causing unintentional injuries and damage. Three other Chinese people were charged with conspiracy over the collapse, along with a Vietnamese and a Cambodian. The charges carry a penalty of up to three years in jail and the trial will take place against a backdrop of mounting concern in the country about lax building standards involving Chinese construction companies. The unfinished, seven-storey building collapsed early on 22 June on top of dozens of construction workers who slept each night on the second floor. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Seng Loth, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s ministry of land management, planning, and construction, said the collapsed building had been erected without permission. “It was an unlicensed project, and the provincial authorities had warned the developer twice, but they ignored the warnings,” he told Xinhua. The Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh released a statement that said it “supports a thorough investigation of the accident and necessary measures by competent Cambodian authority in accordance with the law.” In the wake of the tragedy, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen fired top safety official Nhim Vanda for a “lack of responsibility” and for lying about the incident. He added that Yun Min, governor of the Preah Sihanouk province, had submitted his resignation.
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