|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.
The new prime minister must get on with enhancing workers’ rights now and should abandon his threat of a no-deal Brexit, the TUC has said. The call to Boris Johnson comes as new TUC analysis shows that 1 in 9 workers – 3.7 million of the workforce – are in precarious jobs. Nearly two million (1.85m) are stuck in low-paid self-employment earning less than the minimum wage and a similar number are in other forms of insecure work – including zero-hours, agency, seasonal and casual workers, according to the analysis. These workers often have no security of income and frequently miss out on key workplace rights such as sick pay, parental leave or holidays. Studies have also linked low pay (Risks 855) and 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 TUC report came in the wake of Cabinet member Michael Gove, who has been charged by Boris Johnson with leading his Brexit push, announcing “no deal was a very real prospect”. The TUC warns that under a no-deal Brexit Britain’s insecure work crisis would mushroom, with vital workplace protections no longer guaranteed for any worker. Indicating an immediate ban on zero hours contracts would be “a good start”, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “Boris Johnson needs to stop threatening a no-deal Brexit – which would be a disaster for workers’ rights – and get on with enhancing labour protections now. We already have an insecure work crisis in Britain. Crashing out of Europe would make things far worse.”
Ÿ TUC news release and report, Insecure work: Why the new PM must put decent work at the top of his to-do list, TUC, 29 July 2019.
A union representing tens of thousands of cabin crew workers has condemned the airline industry’s ‘frankly dangerous’ dress codes. The union GMB cites the example of international ground service giant Swissport, where women are required to wear makeup and where ‘lip gloss or lipstick in red, pink or brown is obligatory'; a minimum heel height of 1.5cm and stipulates that ‘well-groomed legs are a prerequisite’. GMB female members at the firm say they are only permitted to wear flat shoes at work if they provide a doctor’s note - despite having to walk several miles a day in busy airports covering multiple terminals. GMB also reveals a uniform policy at Emirates Airlines stipulates ‘noticeable hair on legs, arms and face is not acceptable. It can be removed with various methods, choose which one is most appropriate for you’. Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, commented: “Requiring women to wear heels and traipse about for miles on end, specifically not allowing them to wear flats like their male counterparts is downright discriminatory. Equally worrying is forcing women to remove their body hair in order to be presentable - women have body hair, get over it. If the ‘Me Too’ movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal have taught us anything it's that women need proper protection at work.” Houghton added: “While these policies don't constitute sexual harassment they contribute to a frankly dangerous perception of the way women 'should' look and behave in order to fit in with a superficial, patriarchal standard. It's these perceptions and dress code requirements placed on women that lead to them being sexually objectified.” In July, a broad-based #ThisIsNotWorking alliance led by the TUC called on the government to introduce a new law to make employers responsible for protecting their staff from sexual harassment at work (Risks 905). And research published last month by the union-backed safety journal Hazards revealed an ‘enforcement anomaly’ meant no government regulator was responsible for preventive inspections targeting workplace sexual harassment risks (Risks 905).
Ÿ GMB news release. The Independent.
A Unite safety activist who lost his job on the Crossrail project after raising safety concerns has exposed the giant construction consortium’s use of a private security firm to monitor blacklisting activists. Electrician Frank Morris campaigned successfully to get his job back at the Crossrail project after he said he had been blacklisted and dismissed for voicing safety concerns (Risks 621). The TUC at the time welcomed the Unite-brokered deal that saw Frank Morris reinstated in September 2013, noting: “No-one should be punished for raising concerns about the health and safety of their colleagues.” The new evidence of Crossrail’s covert surveillance comes in a report in the Guardian. This reveals that senior managers at the huge publicly-funded, government-sponsored rail project hired a corporate security company to monitor trade unionists who were campaigning against blacklisting across the construction industry. The secret documents were obtained by Frank Morris under the Data Protection Act. They show Crossrail paid £59,000 to the security company, Control Risks, over three years. The consortium told the paper the monitoring of the trade unionists was part of work to protect the project from outside threats. The internal documents show how Control Risks, which styles itself as “a specialist global risk consultancy”, compiled weekly reports on the trade unionists. Frank Morris criticised the “mismanaged” Crossrail project for carrying out monitoring. He said: “Big business is spending large amounts of money to keep me under surveillance and deny me work. It sounds like something from a Hollywood film but it’s actually the dirty hidden secret of much industrial relations in the UK today.” The Guardian reports the decision to hire Control Risks would have been authorised by Chris Sexton, the project’s technical director until last year. He has since been promoted to be Crossrail’s deputy chief executive and is a member of the company’s board. The company website notes Crossrail Limited is “a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London (TfL), and is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and TfL.”
Ÿ The Guardian. Crossrail news release.
Record-breaking temperatures can make work unpleasant and downright dangerous unless employers act to protect their staff, the TUC has warned. To cope with the stifling heat, the union body has renewed its call on employers to allow flexible working and to keep workplaces cool so staff can work as comfortably – and safely – as possible. The TUC said giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the sweltering and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses could also let staff work from home where possible. Workplaces can be kept cooler by taking simple steps such as having windows that can be opened, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat, or installing ventilation or air-cooling, the TUC added. Temporarily relaxing their workplace dress codes can also help save workers from getting overheated. And frequent breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks are sensible and necessary safety precautions. The TUC indicated both indoor and outdoor workers need protection. Measures to protect outdoor workers can include scheduling work to avoid the hottest parts of the day, providing shelter and canopies to shade workers from the sun, providing sunscreen and suitable clothing and hats to protect the skin, and providing breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “While many of us love to see the sun, it’s no fun working in a baking office or a stifling factory. Bosses should do all they can to keep the temperature down.” She added: “It's in bosses’ interests to provide a cool and comfortable work environment.” The TUC is campaigning for a maximum workplace temperature. It says however employers already have a general duty under safety law to protect their staff from work hazards, including excessive heat.
Ÿ TUC news release, workplace temperature webpages and guide, Cool it! A TUC guide for trade union activists on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace.
Unions have welcomed Labour’s call for a maximum temperature, echoing measures sought in a long-running TUC campaign. Under the Labour policy, if the indoor workplace temperature goes over 300C – or 27 Celsius for those doing strenuous work - employers will have to put in place effective temperature controls to help workers keep cool. GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “The law as it stands doesn’t properly protect working people - we need a maximum working temperature enshrined in law because everyone has the right to come home from work safe and healthy.” UNISON head of health and safety Robert Baughan said unions and the TUC “have long called for an indoor maximum of 30˚C. We would also call on employers to do more to protect those working outdoors in these temperatures.” A statement from Ian Hodson, national president of the bakers’ union BFAWU, also welcomed Labour’s move. He warned: “The business lobby has resisted any introduction of even the most minor changes, constantly undermining our ability to bring about the changes we require for a more comfortable working environment. They have knowingly, and willingly put profit before the safety of human beings.” Under the proposals, Labour will task a Royal Commission on Health and Safety at Work with bringing forward realistic proposals to protect all workers – including all outdoor workers - from extreme or uncomfortable temperatures at work. Shadow minister for labour Laura Pidcock said: “As we’re all being reminded this week, working in hot conditions is really uncomfortable, often stressful and it makes us less productive and even ill. Plus it’s often the lowest paid and most insecure workers who suffer the most. That’s why the next Labour government will demand that employers look after the needs of their workers during heatwaves like this.” The Labour MP added: “We believe everyone should have the right to basic protections from working in unbearably hot conditions. Climate change is already making our shops, offices, call-centres and other workplaces too hot, and it’s also threatening the safety and health of old people, babies and many others.” Last year the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended a maximum workplace temperature (Risks 860).
RMT members on the SERCO-run Caledonian Scottish Sleeper have voted overwhelmingly for both strike action and action short of a strike in a dispute over the ‘intolerable pressure’ on staff following the introduction of new fleet. Since the introduction of the new trains staff morale has sunk to an all-time low and RMT members have suffered workplace stress and mental health issues, the union said. It explained the “insufficient staffing levels, insufficient training and an unresponsive management regime have all contributed to a complete breakdown in industrial relations which has sparked the action ballot.” The RMT members have voted by more than 10 to 1 for both strike action and action short of a strike in a turnout of over 80 per cent. The union said the result will now be considered by the union’s executive who will decide on the next steps. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members on the Caledonian Sleeper are sick and tired of paying the personal price for the botched introduction of the new fleet and that is why they have delivered this overwhelming vote for action.” He added: “It is time for SERCO to wake up and take note of the appalling working conditions their mismanagement has lumped on their staff and to take action to resolve this dispute. The result will now be considered by the union’s executive and we remain available for genuine and meaningful talks.”
Train drivers’ union ASLEF has welcomed the Scottish government’s decision not to press on with its proposed merger of the British Transport Police (BTP) and Police Scotland. Kevin Lindsay, the union’s organiser in Scotland, said: “We are delighted that Humza Yousaf has announced that the BTP will not now be merged with Police Scotland. As we have said consistently – and we have been supported by everyone who knows anything about the railway in Scotland – it would not have worked.” He added: “The railway needs officers who understand the way the railway works, and how to keep rail workers – on trains and at stations – as well as passengers safe. We have lobbied the SNP government hard since it announced its plans, and we are delighted that Humza Yousaf has listened to what we had to say. It is, frankly, a victory for common sense.” Rail unions ASLEF, TSSA and RMT and Scottish Labour had all opposed the ‘downright dangerous’ merger (Risks 859). Announcing the creation instead of a new rail policing committee, Scottish government justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This is a complex piece of work and represents a great step forward for the accountability and transparency of railway policing in Scotland. It will also ensure the continued safety and security of the travelling public.”
The Supreme Court has ruled an asbestos disease victims’ advocacy group can access court documents used in a legal case against the asbestos manufacturer Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited. The landmark judgment in favour of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK will have ‘wide-ranging implications for the future disclosure of documents used in court proceedings’ and will impact on the access to documents given to people and organisations who are not part of court proceedings, the group’s lawyers have said. The forum’s Graham Dring applied in 2017 to access documents from a legal case against asbestos manufacturer Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited, which were due to be destroyed, as he believed that the documents would contain valuable information about the dangers of asbestos, reveal the research that had been carried out within the asbestos industry, and the influence which the asbestos industry had in setting health and safety standards in the UK, standards which still apply today. In July 2018 the Court of Appeal ordered that Mr Dring should be given copies of “key” documents from the previous court proceedings against Cape. The Supreme Court has now held not only that the Court of Appeal had the jurisdiction to make this order, but also that it had the jurisdiction to make a “wider” order if it was right to do so. The case will now return to the Royal Courts of Justice where the trial judge will consider whether to order wider disclosure than the Court of Appeal, which could mean all the court documents related to the case. Graham Dring said he was ‘thrilled’ at the ruling, adding: “It is only right that documents which could help sufferers of asbestos-related diseases secure justice, should be made available to the support group.” Harminder Bains of law firm Leigh Day, who acted pro bono in the case, added: “This is a landmark decision for access to documents to non-parties and a victory for open justice. I hope it will help shed a light on all manner of issues, including the deadly asbestos industry. Cape has fought tooth and nail throughout, we have had to deal with numerous novel and complex issues. I am delighted to see the judgment reflects this.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a Good Work Standard, which is says is a new benchmark for high employment standards. The initiative, which includes a Healthy workplaces Award, has already attracted sign-ons from public, private and third-sector employers and union bodies including the TUC and UNISON. The new standard has criteria covering fair pay and conditions, wellbeing, skills and progression, and diversity and recruitment. It has been developed in collaboration with London's employers, trade unions and professional bodies. To sit alongside the Good Work Standard, the Mayor said he will soon launch an Employment Rights Hub, which will help Londoners understand their rights at work and what action is available to them when those rights are infringed. The Mayor has also launched the Healthy Workplace Award, an initiative he says is aligned with the Good Work Standard. Sadiq Khan said: “London and the whole country are still simply too unequal – and it is bad for our both our economy and our society. I want to make London a fairer city by ensuring that all Londoners get the opportunities that our city gave to me when I was growing up. The Good Work Standard will play a key role in tackling poverty and inequality in London.” UNISON regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe said: “We are very proud to have collaborated with the Mayor in developing the Good Work Standard. We know that good employers have happier, healthier and more productive staff – who feel valued, are paid fairly and are less likely to leave; so all employers in London should want to be accredited.” Unite said it is urging employers to get behind the scheme. Unite regional secretary for London and Eastern Pete Kavanagh said: “This is an excellent first step on the road to improving the working lives of Londoners. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity. The fight for fairly paid, safe, secure jobs is at the heart of what we do as a trade union. We need to be fighting not just for good jobs, but great jobs.”
The British Safety Council (BSC) has warned that soaring temperatures don’t just present a danger from excessive heat, they leave outdoor workers at a heightened risk for air pollution. BSC chair Lawrence Waterman urged the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to provide guidance “in relation to outdoor workers who, as well as by heat, are affected by air pollution, particularly in Britain’s largest cities. They spend their working lives close to city traffic and pollution-emitting machinery.” He added: “Outdoor workers need to be protected from air pollution in hot weather more than any other group of workers. That’s why we need this advice now. We cannot fail them as we have done in relation to asbestos, which continues to cause harm and mount up the health bill.” BSC said a recent trial conducted by the environmental charity Hubbub, monitoring air pollution exposure of people working or living in London, confirmed that outdoor workers are particularly affected by air pollution. For example, the site engineer at a construction site had air pollution exposure levels six times higher than that of the office worker. Of all the trial participants, a lorry driver had the highest overall exposure. In what it described as a world first, BSC earlier this year launched Canairy, a free mobile app designed to protect outdoor workers and that tracks pollution exposure. The group worked with experts at King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group to produce the app, which notifies the user of pollution risks and suggests tips to reduce exposure, including working away from traffic, reducing strenuous work or putting up a screen barrier.
A car and commercial vehicle component manufacturer has been fined £1 million after two employees suffered burns when chemicals used to clean a distillation tank ignited. Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court heard how on 11 July 2017 two employees of Delphi Diesel Systems Limited were burnt when the vapour of a flammable chemical, which was being used to clean the distillation tank of a component washer, ignited and caused an explosion. Both employees suffered significant burns, with one employee’s injuries being so serious they could not return to work for over two months. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at the company’s site in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire found that no risk assessment had been undertaken for the cleaning procedure and that no safe system of work had been put in place. The investigation also found that no planning had been undertaken for the use of the flammable chemical during the cleaning activity. Delphi Diesel Systems Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £1,000,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,374. HSE principal inspector Paul Thompson commented: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe systems of work, and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in those systems, as well as the substances they use. If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the injuries suffered by the employees could have been prevented.”
“Shortcuts were taken” by a building firm fined £102,400 after a 6,350-volt shock killed one of its workers. Mark White, 47, was electrocuted when a metal rake he was holding came into contact with overhead power lines in Ashton, Northamptonshire, in 2016. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said KJ Pickering failed to prevent the risks posed by the power lines. The company admitted two criminal safety offences at Northampton Crown Court. The court heard Mr White was carrying out groundwork on stables at the home of the company's owner Kevin Pickering where the firm is also based. Mr White was described as an “experienced ground worker” and had been with the company for almost seven years. Tim Green, prosecuting, said that because Mr Pickering was both the client and contractor there had been a “degree of informality” about the work. He said the danger from the overhead power lines “was obvious” but “ignored” and “shortcuts were taken” with no risk assessment carried out. Western Power Distribution, which owned the power lines, was not contacted and said it could have disconnected the lines. On 9 January 2016, with the work almost finished, a rake attached to an extendable metal pole being held by Mr White came into contact with power lines about six metres (20ft) overhead. They were carrying a total of 11,000 volts and the court heard 6,350 volts passed through Mr White. Colleagues heard a “loud bang” and in Mr White's last moments of consciousness, he told them not to touch him so they did not also get electrocuted. He died at the scene. The court heard Mr White had earlier pointed out dangers to other workers of exposed power lines, photos of which were shown in court. Judge Adrienne Lucking QC described Mr White as a “dedicated family man” and said his death was “avoidable.” KJ Pickering was also ordered to pay costs of £65,000.
Concrete multinational Hanson has been fined £400,000 after a welder lost four fingers during an unsafe lifting operation on a London site. Southwark Crown Court heard how on 27 September 2016, at the company’s Kings Cross site, a forklift was being used to lift and swivel a large metal gate. It was attached to the truck with a chain on an ‘O-ring’ that was slotted onto the forklift, with nothing to prevent the gate sliding off. As the gate was being lifted, it slipped off and fell to the floor, slicing off the welder’s four fingers. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Hanson Quarry Products Europe Limited did not properly plan and supervise this lifting operation to ensure it was carried out in a safe manner. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the lifting regulations and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £11,376.25. HSE inspector Jane Wolfenden said: “The use of forklift truck, chain and O-ring was unsafe, putting workers at unnecessary risk. This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply having a competent person plan a safe lifting operation and providing adequate supervision to ensure the lifting operation was carried out safely.”
Amber Rudd has kept her job as work and pensions secretary (Risks 876), one of the few top level survivors of new prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. Rudd’s responsibilities at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) include workplace health, related benefits and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In April, Justin Tomlinson replaced Sarah Newton as the DWP minister of state for disabled people, health and work, with responsibilities including occupational health, the HSE and industrial injuries and disease benefits.
A maritime union has said outsourced maintenance work on the docks was behind a potentially ‘catastrophic’ incident where wire ropes slipped on a crane used to load and unload shipping containers at DP World’s Port Botany terminal. The MUA said it was pure luck that no one was injured in the “major safety incident.” Initial investigations indicated that a contractor hired to replace wire ropes on the crane failed to follow appropriate procedures, resulting in clamps being installed upside down, a torque wrench not being applied, and endurance testing not being undertaken. MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer said the dramatic slipping of wire ropes on the crane could easily have resulted in a devastating accident. “These massive cranes carry huge loads, so any failure can have catastrophic consequences,” Mr McAleer said. “Thankfully, no one was injured when these new ropes slipped, but the fact remains that the company’s insistence on outsourcing this work to a contractor that had never previously worked on these cranes resulted in a highly dangerous and very costly failure.” MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the incident highlighted the concerns of workers who have been campaigning against outsourcing and automation of jobs at the Dubai-based stevedore’s container terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle. “One of the major issues behind recent industrial action at DP World’s terminals has been a desire by workers to have greater protection against their work being outsourced to the cheapest bidder,” he said. “This incident, which put the health and safety of workers at risk, highlights exactly why workers fear moves by DP World to contract out work, which will result in corners being cut as the drive to save a dollar is put ahead of safety and all other considerations.”
Russian food unions AIWU and Novoprof have taken a significant step towards raising health and safety standards at Danone facilities throughout the country in a newly-signed agreement. The arrangement builds on an international agreement on health, safety and stress between the global food and farming union federation IUF and food and beverage giant Danone. According to IUF, the new deal “reaffirms Danone's commitment to provide a safe and healthy workplace and ensures the involvement of trade union representatives in joint work with management to identify preventive health and safety measures and in procedures that follow significant lost-time workplace accidents.” IUF added: “Each such accident will now be immediately followed by an investigation carried out by joint teams made up of relevant management, workers and their union representatives. The agreement stipulates that these joint teams will be constructed on the basis of parity between management and workers’ representatives. In this respect it goes beyond Russian legislation, which requires only one worker representative on such teams together with five mandatory management representatives.” The global union says that establishing these processes jointly with trade unions through this agreement marks significant progress in management and union relations in Danone Russia, where there has been a history of serious tensions around union recognition and collective bargaining rights. “IUF members in Russia now look forward to continued advances in relation to union recognition, collective bargaining rights and the provision of information necessary for meaningful collective bargaining,” a statement said.
A Johannesburg High Court has approved a 5 billion rand (£285 million) class action settlement between gold mining companies and law firms representing thousands of miners who contracted the potentially fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis. The settlement follows a long legal battle by miners to win compensation for illnesses they say they contracted over decades because of the negligence of mining firms. “All the parties made an effort to ensure that the settlement agreement is reasonable, adequate and fair,” the High Court said in its judgment. The gold producers agreed in May last year to the settlement but it needed to be approved by the Johannesburg High Court before being implemented. The class action suit was launched in 2012 on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks. The six mining companies who formed part of the class action agreement are African Rainbow Minerals‚ Anglo American SA‚ AngloGold Ashanti‚ Gold Fields‚ Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater and they will pay from R70,000 to R500,000 (approximately £4,000-£28,000), depending on the type of claim, to affected workers employed in the mines post-1965. National union federation Cosatu said it will soon begin a process of identifying the victims of silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis to determine the extent of their claims against the gold mining companies. Abby Tlhakoana, a regional leader with the mining union NUM, said “we are very pleased to have got this latest development as per the court decision that all those employees that are affected with this kind of disease are at least going to get something out of this.”
Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).