|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 TUC, women’s rights organisations and charities have launched a joint campaign calling on the government to introduce a new law to make employers responsible for protecting their staff from sexual harassment at work. Announcing the initiative, the TUC said its research found that more than half (52 per cent) of women – and nearly seven out of ten LGBT people – have experienced sexual harassment at work. But under current law there is no legal duty on employers to take proactive action to prevent harassment happening in their workplaces. Instead, the onus is on the victim of the sexual harassment to report it to their employer after it has happened. Four out of five (79 per cent) women who have been sexually harassed at work do not feel able to report it to their employer – meaning harassment continues unchecked in workplaces across the UK. With the government set to launch its consultation on tackling sexual harassment soon, the TUC’s ‘This is not working’ alliance – backed by organisations including the Fawcett Society, Action Aid, Amnesty and Time’s Up – wants to see the law changed so employers have a legal duty to take preventive measures to ensure their workplaces are harassment-free. The new duty would be supported by a code of practice, explaining exactly what steps bosses need to take to prevent sexual harassment – such as carrying out mandatory training for staff and managers, and having clear policies. The alliance says this simple step would make a huge difference practically. It would mean that the burden of dealing with sexual harassment would be shifted from individuals to employers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s shocking that in 2019 so many people experience sexual harassment and assault while at work. The government must strengthen the law to put responsibility for preventing harassment on employers.” She explained: “This would shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from individuals. And it would help end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed. We’re calling on everyone who want to stop sexual harassment at work to join us and call on ministers to take action.” 'This Is Not Working’ is an alliance of more than 20 unions, charities and women’s rights organisations. The alliance has launched a petition calling for a new law to make employers prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces.
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has welcomed a new TUC-led campaign to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. The ‘This Is Not Working’ campaign calls on the government to take immediate action with a new, easily enforceable legal duty requiring employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from sexual harassment and victimisation. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary said: “We very much welcome this new TUC campaign. It complements Usdaw’s own ‘Call It Out’ campaign, which promotes our belief that everyone has the right to work in a safe and supportive environment. Our aim is to promote workplace campaign activity on this issue and let Usdaw members know what sexual harassment is and how to report it. Current laws put the onus on individuals to report such incidents, but it should not be down to the individual to prevent and manage their harassment alone. Employers need to protect their staff from harassment; it should be a part of their duty of care.” The union leader added: “The Usdaw and TUC campaigns make it clear that workers don’t have to experience sexual harassment and workers should ‘call it out’, challenging comments and actions of a sexual nature.”
The number of people doing gig economy work has doubled in the last three years, according to new TUC supported research. The survey – carried out by the University of Hertfordshire with fieldwork and data collection by Ipsos MORI – shows that nearly 1 in 10 (9.6 per cent) working-age adults surveyed now work via gig economy platforms at least once a week, compared to around 1 in 20 (4.7 per cent) in 2016.The majority of gig workers don’t do this kind of work full-time. Rather “platform work” is used to supplement other forms of income, reflecting that UK workers are increasingly likely to patch together a living from multiple different sources. The term “platform work” covers a wide range of jobs that are found via a website or app – like Uber, Handy, Deliveroo or Upwork – and accessed using a laptop, smartphone or other internet-connected device. Tasks include taxi driving, deliveries, office work, design, software development, cleaning and household repairs. Commenting on the ‘explosion’ in the gig economy, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Huge numbers are being forced to take on casual and insecure platform work – often on top of other jobs. But as we’ve seen with Uber, too often these workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour. The world of work is changing fast and working people don’t have the protection they need.” She added “everyone working for an employer must get basic rights like the minimum wage and holiday pay.” Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, which published the study along with the TUC, European union federation UNI Europa and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), said: “These results underline how important it is to tackle low pay and precariousness. But they also suggest that we need a new deal to provide basic rights for all workers in the digital age.” Studies have linked precarious work to problems including higher rates of workplace injuries (Risks 808), work-related ill-health (Risks 827), road traffic accidents (Risks 863) and sexual harassment (Risks 830).
The struggle against work-caused mental illness was at the top of the action agenda for the annual youth conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Delegates to the event, which concluded on 1 July, heard speakers draw parallels between physical injury at work and the impact of work on mental illness, and supporting moves to build the power of workers to challenge unhealthy working conditions. Unite member Anthea Koon, the chair of STUC’s youth committee, said: “Young workers are urgently asking the question, how is our mental health being damaged short-term and long-term because of work? When we take on these issues, there is stigma, there is denial, and people are even being sacked for bringing their employer into disrepute when they talk about work-related mental illness. But numerous cases of stress-related strokes, chronic anxiety and even suicide are caused and exacerbated by working conditions.” She added: “Historically our movement ensured that conditions that caused physical harm were eradicated in factories, fields and mines. Today we are building workers’ power to challenge the isolation, insecurity, and exploitation especially in sectors like hospitality, care, distribution and other services that lead to similar harms.” STUC president Jackson Cullinane said: “There are people in precarious work who are going to work uncertain about their future, being asked to achieve targets that are unachievable, and facing a lack of workplace democracy. For the large chunk of daily hours spent at work, there is no democracy. Someone else tells you what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And voices are disregarded and sometimes absolutely stamped on, unless they have a collective trade union voice. So the issue of mental health relates directly to the need to build a collective voice at work.” He added: “This is not simply about raising awareness and looking to build mental health services, but how we can make a new demand of the Scottish government through the Fair Work agenda to ensure that all workers have a union voice to challenge the causes of mental ill health.”
Threequarters of teachers in Wales claim their job has damaged their mental health in the last year, a survey by the teaching union NASUWT has found. Eighty per cent of teachers said they have experienced more workplace stress in the last year and 82 per cent have suffered from anxiety due to their work. As a result of these pressures, 12 per cent of teachers have used antidepressants to help them cope in the last year and 13 per cent have undergone counselling. Asked to rank their top five concerns about work, the teachers’ most common responses were: Workload (86 per cent); pupil behaviour/indiscipline (68 per cent); school budget cuts (51 per cent); curriculum reform/changes (41 per cent); and pay (41 per cent). Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Quite frankly the statistics are appalling. So many dedicated and talented teachers are suffering from mental health problems as a direct result of their work and yet no action is being taken by government or employers to address this.” She added: “Excessive workloads, pupil indiscipline and school budget cuts are clearly taking their toll. If the government and employers fail to act to address these issues then the NASUWT will do so as we are already doing in schools across the country.” Neil Butler, the union’s national official for Wales, said: “NASUWT Cymru has been getting increased casework from members suffering from mental health conditions that directly relate to their employment as teachers. We need the government, the employers and the inspectorate to get serious about teacher wellbeing and mental health, before they are faced with the tsunami of workload that is coming their way with the new curriculum and new Additional Learning Needs Code.”
Unite has confirmed it is to hold a ballot for industrial action at a Scottish gas plant in a dispute over plans to force some construction workers to take on ‘permit holder’ safety work and penalise those workers already doing the job. The site workers at the St Fergus plant near Peterhead, which processes oil and gas from offshore installations in the North Sea, are employed by the Wood Group Industrial Service on the Shell owned site. An overwhelming 98 per cent voted in a consultative ballot to move ahead with an industrial action ballot over the plans. The Wood Group is planning to withdraw a longstanding payment for permit holder workers who receive a daily payment to carry out safety duties. The dispute has now escalated to include wider safety concerns because each worker is no longer being given the choice to be a permit holder, and those existing holders are now being expected to take out permits without the historic payment. Vic Fraser, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “Unite will not stand by as individuals who do not want to perform this safety critical role and those individuals who are not even capable to carry out the added responsibilities being forced to do so. The permit system is an integral part of the safety system at the gas plant.” He added: “Both Wood Group and the site operator Shell have been made aware of the reduced plant efficiency and the concerns over safety through stopping the original practice of permit holders coming in half an hour before the rest of the workforce. But neither company appears to be interested in what the workforce has to say. As such, Unite members will be moving forward with an industrial action ballot to protect our members’ terms and conditions, and the safety of the plant and the nearby community.”
Transport for London (TfL) must take action to tackle the potentially deadly fatigue afflicting the capital’s bus drivers, the union Unite has said. Two years ago the Greater London Assembly commissioned a report, ‘Driven to Distraction’, which highlighted high levels of stress and fatigue among London bus drivers (Risks 810. However, Unite is accusing TfL of attempting to “sweep the report under the carpet and ignore its findings.” The union says after extensive lobbying by Unite of TfL and London mayor Sadiq Khan, a further in-depth study into bus drivers’ fatigue was commissioned by TfL from Loughborough University. Unite says it understands the publication of this report is now imminent. Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “Levels of bus drivers’ fatigue are at chronic level, which is affecting the safety of drivers and the general public. TfL, bus operators and the Mayor of London can’t continue to sweep this problem under the carpet, action must be taken. Unite, which represents London bus workers, must be fully consulted.” He added: “Workers are being left exhausted by a combination of long hours, shift patterns which fail to allow workers time to recover and the lack of adequate rest facilities. If the Loughborough report recommends a radical overhaul of the existing working conditions then that has to be taken on board, to improve the safety of all Londoners.”
A call by the retail union Usdaw for government action to stem ‘the rising tide’ of shop violence has been backed by retailers and their representative organisations. A letter to the Home Secretary and other minsters, signed by Usdaw, the British Retail Consortium and over 50 major retailers and industry organisations, calls for bold, ambitious and collective action to deliver meaningful change that will reduce levels of violence and abuse, both from central government, the wider justice system and from retailers themselves. It recommends tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers. It also wants a full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “We welcomed the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and we look forward to them now taking action to stem the rising tide of shopworker abuse. The government should really sit up and listen when the shopworkers’ trade union and the retail employers are talking with one voice on this very important issue.” The union leader said 80 per cent of its members believe the problem has increased in recent years. “Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. We continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.,” he said. “Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Teachers at a Birmingham school have gone on strike over concerns about violence and knife threats from pupils. NASUWT members at Starbank Secondary School said they received little support from bosses in confronting badly-behaved pupils. The union said a "knife audit" needs to take place, along with extra training for teachers and a behaviour policy for pupils. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Strike action is a last resort for dedicated and committed teachers but there has been a failure by the employer to take seriously their professional concerns over pupil indiscipline. Teachers are entitled to a safe working environment and employers have a legal duty of care for their employees.” Paul Nesbitt, NASUWT national executive member for the West Midlands, said: “We have been negotiating for some time with the employer over the issues relating to pupil behaviour and while new policies have been introduced by the school, sufficient practical steps have not been taken to ensure poor behaviour is addressed and that teachers are supported in maintaining good order in the classroom. The NASUWT regrets any disruption caused by the strike action to pupils and parents, but the lack of effective action by the employer means we have been left with little choice but to call this strike action.” He said there had been three incidents in the last three weeks, including one which saw a pupil bring in a 12-inch knife.
Tube union RMT has slammed London Underground (LU) bosses for repeatedly ignoring warnings about the surge in crime on the Tube. The union was speaking out after new figures revealed that thefts on the network have risen by 80 per cent in the past three years. RMT said the ‘shocking’ new British Transport Police (BTP) figures come on the heels of statistics identifying increasing assaults and sexually and racially motivated violence across London Underground and the wider transport system. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The union has been warning for years that the cuts to staffing on LU would turn the Tube into a criminals paradise and not only have Tube bosses ignored those warnings but they are lining up further cuts under the guise of the transformation programme.” He added: “Those presiding over this crime surge on London Underground… should be in no doubt that RMT will use every tool at our disposal, including industrial action, to turn back the tide of cuts to jobs and safety.”
Health and transport experts are to launch an inquiry into potentially harmful “Tube dust” amid concerns about the impact of pollution on commuters using the London Underground. Previous studies have found high levels of airborne pollutants on the network, mostly comprised of iron, which comes from wear on the brakes and friction between wheels and tracks, and is linked to lung inflammation. Quartz, associated with kidney and lung conditions, is known to exist in smaller quantities alongside “organic content” that can lead to allergic reactions or asthma attacks. Traces of chromium, manganese and copper have also been detected. Professor Stephen Holgate, a leading air quality expert, said Tube dust was mostly made up of metal particles. He told The Independent: “Metals from the rail and break friction are highly reactive and will damage the delicate lining cell of the lung, like welding fumes do.” A briefing note for the latest enquiry, led by the London Assembly’s environment committee, said in confined tunnels and stations dust “tends not to disperse”, and that while exposure on the Tube is for limited periods it “still could add significantly to overall exposure”. The risks to staff, working entire shifts year round in the system, will be correspondingly higher. Caroline Russell, chair of the Environment Committee, said it was “committed to finding out the content of tunnel and other dust on the Underground but also what the impact of Tube dust is on the health of workers and passengers.” Tube union RMT has run a lengthy campaign for action to protect Tube workers and passengers from the “scandal” of toxic dust exposures on the network (Risks 808).
Workplace exposures can lead to an increased risk of a number of life-threatening degenerative diseases, a major study has found. Swedish researchers reviewed 66 published studies on occupational exposures and the neurodegenerative diseases Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The potential risk factors considered were electromagnetic fields, metals and pesticides. The authors of the new analysis concluded: “Exposure to pesticides increased the risk of getting the mentioned neurodegenerative diseases by at least 50 per cent. Exposure to lead was only studied for ALS and Parkinson’s disease and involved 50 per cent increased risk.” They added: “Occupational exposure to EMFs seemed to involve some 10 per cent increase in risk for ALS and Alzheimer’s disease only.” Commenting on the findings, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) noted: “Public health policies targeting these diseases highlight various factors such as population ageing or genetic factors. Little attention is paid to working conditions, even though the elimination of occupational exposure could be an effective prevention instrument.” It added: “One of the major obstacles in this respect is the fact that the majority of such diseases have a long latency period, only affecting people in old age. Few doctors seem concerned with a patient’s previous working conditions.”
Ÿ Gunnarsson LG and Bodin L. Occupational Exposures and Neurodegenerative Diseases-A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analyses, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, volume 16, number 3 page 337, 2019. ETUI news report.
Britain’s workplace health and safety regulator has announced the appointment of its new chief executive. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the current chief executive of the Insolvency Service, Sarah Albon, will join the organisation on 1 September. She will be replacing outgoing acting chief executive David Snowball who has held the post since June 2018 and who will be retiring from HSE at the end of the year. Snowball took up the post after the early departure of Richard Judge – who like, Albon, came to HSE from the top post at the Insolvency Service. Sarah Albon said: “Working together with my new colleagues across HSE, I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the vital mission we deliver on behalf of Great Britain’s workplaces. My focus will be on continuing to deliver improvements in health and safety performance as our workplaces move into a future with new challenges, new technologies and new opportunities.” By the time Albon takes up the post in September, HSE will also have two new union-side board members, Claire Sullivan, the director of employment relations at the physios’ union CSP and Ged Nicholls, general secretary of Accord. They join Kevin Rowan, TUC’s head of organisation and services, on the 10-person board responsible for overseeing the work of HSE, the government’s workplace safety regulator.
Britain’s workplace health and safety regulator is urging local authorities (LAs) across the country to make a ‘statement of commitment’ to work with others to improve health and safety standards in the sectors they regulate. Figures collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show failures in the management of occupational health and safety in local authority enforced business sectors result in more than 100,000 new cases of ill-health, 5,000 major injuries and the deaths of around 10 workers each year. Local councils predominantly cover the retail, consumer services, entertainment, warehousing and supply chain sectors, which HSE says account for two-thirds of all business premises and around half of the total workforce in Great Britain. It adds many of those harmed are vulnerable workers not provided with reasonable workplace protection, and around 15 members of the public, among them children, are killed each year in avoidable incidents because of workplace activity. HSE, which is the lead government regulator on workplace safety, says it is promoting the new commitment because “many local authorities in Great Britain face a challenging environment that impact on the way they deliver a wide range of regulatory services and statutory duties.” HSE adds the statement “has been designed to strengthen and maintain long term senior commitment to delivery of their legal duty as enforcers of workplace health and safety and asks that LAs collaborate with other bodies to deliver effective and correctly targeted solutions to keep workers safe. The statement has been endorsed by HSE’s board, the Local Government Association (LGA), the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and the Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland (SOCOEHS).” Councillors, chief executives and Heads of Regulatory Services in local authorities are also being encouraged to publicly commit to the statement and “embed the principles within their service plans.”
The TUC is calling on the public to support its call for a new legal duty on employers to protect staff from sexual harassment. The union body notes: “Our laws rely on individuals reporting harassment to get action taken but this is not working. Four out of five don’t feel able to report sexual harassment to their employer. Managers don’t seem to care. A lot of them laugh it off because they see it as a joke.” The TUC says there needs to be change. “We need a new law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace before it happens. We're demanding a new, easily enforceable legal duty. It would require employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from sexual harassment and victimisation. It’s a simple step that could stop harassment in many cases before it starts.” The TUC is asking individuals to sign its petition “and demand the government to take immediate action to bring a new law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s a simple step that could stop harassment in many cases before it starts.”
At least 43 artisanal miners have been killed by a landslide at a copper and cobalt mine owned by Swiss-based mining giant Glencore in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The death toll from the 27 June tragedy could climb further, local officials said. The incident happened in the Kolwezi area of Lualaba province when two galleries caved in at the KOV open-pit mine operated by the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), a subsidiary of mining multinational Glencore. Glencore said in a statement: “The illegal artisanal miners were working two galleries in benches overlooking the extraction area. Two of these galleries caved in.” The statement said KCC had observed a “growing presence” of illegal miners, with an average of 2,000 people daily sneaking onto its operating sites. “KCC urges all illegal miners to cease from putting their lives at risk by trespassing on a major industrial site,” Glencore said. Illegal mining is common and frequently deadly in the DRC. Thousands of illegal miners operate in and around mines in southern Congo, which produce more than half of the world's cobalt, a key component in electric car batteries. In 2016, a 250m wall inside the KOV pit collapsed, killing seven mine employees.
All workers deserve to work in safe temperatures, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said. In a week many areas of Europe endured record temperatures, the union body called on the next European Commission “to take this issue seriously and introduce a legislative instrument that recognises this increased risk to workers and provides a framework for protecting workers.” It added: “Weather conditions do not respect national borders and so European action is required. Yet, unlike in other parts of the world, Europe has no binding legislation on safe maximum working temperatures.” The ETUC said average temperatures are increasing as a result of climate change, exposing workers to more frequent and more intense heat waves. “Aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an urgent priority to keep our planet habitable but climate change is already here, and workers must be protected from its consequences,” ETUC said. “In December 2018, the ETUC Executive Committee adopted its policy resolution on the need for EU action to protect workers from high temperatures. The ETUC is also running a project on adaptation to climate change and the world of work to better understand how climate change consequences are impacting workers and how trade unions can anticipate them.”
Global warming is expected to result in an increase in work-related heat stress, in turn damaging productivity and causing job and economic losses, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said, with the poorest countries worst affected. The new ILO report further cautions that the estimated 1.5°C global temperature rise by the end of the century assumes the global mean temperature rise will not exceed 1.5°C, making harm predictions “conservative”. The UN agency adds that the estimate assumes wrongly that work in agriculture and construction – two of the sectors worst affected by heat stress – are carried out in the shade. The new ILO report, ‘Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work’, notes other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work. “The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change, which adds to other adverse impacts such as changing rain patterns, raising sea levels and loss of biodiversity,” said Catherine Saget, chief of unit in the ILO’s research department and a report author. “In addition to the massive economic costs of heat stress, we can expect to see more inequality between low and high income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable, as well as displacement of people. To adapt to this new reality appropriate measures by governments, employers and workers, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable, are urgently needed.” The report calls for greater efforts to design, finance and implement national policies to address heat stress risks and protect workers. It adds employers and workers are best placed to assess risks and take appropriate action at the workplace so that workers can cope with high temperatures and continue to do their jobs. It says employers can provide drinking water, and training on recognising and managing heat stress.
Ÿ ILO news release and report, Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work, July 2019.
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