Risks 232 - 12 November 2005

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Risks LogoEditor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 12,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here . Past issues are available . This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy statement .

Only a new law will stop the work bullies

An estimated two million people have been bullied at work in the past six months, a TUC survey suggests. About 75 per cent of the bullying was perpetrated by managers or supervisors, the research found. The figures, based on a survey of 5,000 workers, were published on 7 November to coincide with the TUC-supported Ban Bullying at Work Day. TUC is calling on the government to change the law to prevent millions more workers becoming the new victims of the UK's office bullies. It say a failure to tackle bullying means it is now responsible for the loss of 18 million working days each year. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'These figures suggest that there can be few workplaces in the UK without a resident bully. But although bullying can destroy lives and have a damaging effect upon workplace morale, the overwhelming majority of employers seem unable to stop bullies in their tracks.' He added: 'Employers should be tackling bullying just as they would treat any other workplace hazard. All workplaces, whatever their size, should have a policy which states that harassment and intimidation is unacceptable and that those who delight in the victimisation of others will be treated severely. The victims of bullying need to be listened to and supported, not dismissed as workplace wimps.'

AA wrong on pee and tea breaks

Call centre workers employed by the car recovery giant AA say the firm must come clean on toilet and other breaks. GMB, the union representing the workers, said there was confusion around the work patterns expected of its call centre workers in Cardiff, Oldbury, Cheadle and Newcastle upon Tyne. It said workers are being treated like children and are being required to put their hands up to get permission to go to the loo. GMB said performance targets require staff to spend 85 per cent of the working day logged in, ready to take calls. Failure to achieve this target can result in pay penalties or disciplinary action. Press statements from the company appear to contradict assurances about breaks GMB has received in memos from company managers, said Paul Maloney, GMB senior organiser. He said: 'The performance of AA call centre staff, including all breaks and going to the toilet, is subject to detailed surveillance and logging and the data is used for pay and discipline... Adults in the AA call centres have to put up their hands like schoolchildren to get time to get a drink of water or to visit the toilet.'

Teachers secure payouts after violent attacks

A teacher who was hit on the head when a child from another school hurled a brick has been awarded a £130,000 payout after a five year fight by her union NASUWT. The 40-year-old was on playground duty when attacked by the child, who police had already charged twice. The unnamed former head of religious education was left unable to work and still has blackouts. The child who threw the brick received a 12-month supervision order. The attack happened as the teacher confronted two youths from another school who were climbing into her playground in Preston. She saw one had a brick and, as she turned to move her pupils to safety, she was hit in the head. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) granted compensation after a lengthy battle by NASUWT. General secretary Chris Keates said: 'It's cold comfort for the loss of a job you love and your health. Not only do the victims suffer personally from such incidents, the profession is the poorer for the loss of experienced and dedicated staff.' In another case, the union obtained £27,500 in CICA compensation for one of its members who was forced to retire on medical grounds after being assaulted by a 12-year-old pupil. The teacher at Kingsdale School in Dulwich, London, was kicked on the knee and punched twice in the small of her back by the pupil in 1998. The pupil received a caution from the police.

Fears over call centre acoustic shock

A union has expressed concern about the safety of call centre workers in Aberdeen after complaints about bursts of noise in their headsets. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said 45 out of 160 operators suffered 'acoustic shocks' over two days. CWU said managers should have closed the Aberdeen centre as soon as the shocks were detected on 20 and 21 October. CWU safety officer Dave Joyce said the union knew of cases where this type of acoustic shock has led to depression, headaches and other health problems. He said: 'The roots of the union's campaign go back over 15 years when the first cases came to light. The size of the industry has more than doubled since then with a growing risk affecting a million workers in call centres today.' Speaking at an acoustic safety conference this week, he said the CWU and the civil service union PCS had handled more than 700 acoustic shock cases between them, securing more than £2 million in out-of-court settlements for affected workers, with some settlements exceeding £100,000. Safety minister Lord Hunt told the conference early action was essential and added 'the most important advice for call centres is to have a traceable reporting system for headset users, and that headsets should have built-in protection against high noise levels.'

Amicus targets the 'silent' asbestos epidemic

Private sector union Amicus is stepping up its campaign to compensation asbestos disease victims and says it has seen a marked upturn in calls from affected workers. A seminar last week supported by Amicus, Trust (Trade Union Safety Team), Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team, and personal injury law firms kicked off the campaign. Amicus East Midlands regional secretary, Nev Jackson, said: 'Amicus is receiving hundreds of calls a week in response to the union stepping up its campaign to compensate asbestos claims. Asbestos is not yesterday's problem it is a silent epidemic affecting a generation of workers in the East Midlands.' David Fisher, of union personal injury lawyers Rowley Ashworth Solicitors said: 'Mesothelioma deaths have increased from 153 in 1968 to 1874 in 2003. It is estimated that the total number of all types of asbestos related diseases will reach 10,000 per annum by 2011.' He added that insurers 'have mounted a large number of challenges to avoid paying damages.'

George Brumwell

George Brumwell, former general secretary of the construction union UCATT and a member of the Health and Safety Commission until October last year, died on 8 November after a short illness. George, who was 66, was awarded a CBE in 2003 and received a RoSPA distinguished service award the same year. In addition to raising the profile of safety in his union, he was a long-time member of the Construction Industry Training Board, where he chaired its health, safety and environment committee. George first came to prominence as a campaigner on asbestos and other safety issues in the union's Yorkshire region. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'George Brumwell was a doughty champion for construction workers and for his union. George was always determined to win dignity and justice at work for his members, and was dedicated in particular to delivering higher health and safety standards in an industry still blighted by too many deaths and injuries. His health and safety expertise was recognised by appointment to the Health and Safety Commission.' HSC chair Bill Callaghan said George was 'dedicated to his members, he was committed to health and safety, I emphasis safety. UCATT's groundbreaking work to improve the health of construction workers is a testament to George's drive, passion and determination... I wish a fond farewell to a true health and safety champion.'

Workplace toll shows 'more needs to be done' says HSC

Latest official accident and ill-health figures show some improvements but still leave cause for concern, officials have said. The Health and Safety Executive says its figures for 2004/05 show progress on occupational ill-health and the number of RIDDOR reportable injuries, but adds fatal and major injuries remain a concern. Chair of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) Bill Callaghan said: 'I am pleased to see the reduction in cases of occupational ill-health and the continuing reduction in the rate of fatal and major injuries in the production industries, especially in construction, but the overall picture is mixed. I am concerned at the increase of reported major injuries within the service sector, which is one reason the midpoint target for fatal and major injuries has not been met. We are making progress in meeting the days lost target, but in spite of the improvement last year it would be complacent to think we had cracked the problem of health at work. Today's figures suggest that our strategy is beginning to bear fruit but an even greater focus is needed.' TUC head of safety commented: 'There is much here that is to be welcomed, especially the fall in occupational ill-health. This is a vindication of the decision to try to address the high number of days lost through work-related illness. The HSE should be commended on the work they are doing in this area, which trade unions have actively supported. However the lack any clear change in the range of major injury is a matter of concern and we hope that the HSC can be given greater resources to tackle this area, which is necessary if they are to meet their targets for 2010.'

Campaign rubbishes official work disease figures

Official UK statistics on work-related ill-health are missing the overwhelming majority of cases, safety campaigners have warned. The Hazards Campaign, an informal coalition of unions and other safety organisations and activists, raised its concerns at a protest outside a Health and Safety Commission open meeting in London on 8 November. Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said HSC workplace ill-health figures were a systematic under-estimate and said: 'The top causes of deaths in the UK are the most common work-related health conditions - cancer, chronic respiratory disease and circulatory disease - and the workplace is a substantial contributor to overall mortality from these conditions.' 'A job to die for?', an online report published this week, concludes that official HSE statistics miss tens of thousands of deaths from occupational cancer, lung disease, heart disease and other complaints every year, with many conditions missed entirely. The Hazards Campaign is calling for more resources for safety enforcement and 'a switch to a safety system that protects those facing the risks at work, not those creating them.' The number of safety convictiond fell from 887 in 2003/04 to 673 in 2004/5, according to latest HSC enforcement statistics. 'It's time for the HSC to face up to the occupational disease epidemic that is here and now and save workers from illness and death just for doing their jobs,' said Hilda Palmer.

Call for action on asbestos cancer

A new 'Action Mesothelioma Charter' from the British Lung Foundation (BLF) is calling for urgent measures to give more rights to people with the fatal asbestos cancer mesothelioma and for the government to make the issue a top public health priority. The organisation says every five hours someone in the UK dies from mesothelioma. An online petition says services for patients and families must be improved, including better treatment, support and legal advice. Coroners should provide 'a consistent nationwide service', it says, with inquests dealt with promptly. The charter calls for the government to make mesothelioma a national priority of its cancer 'tzar'. It says government must also fund better research on diagnosis and treatment. It must also 'ensure the Health and Safety Executive vigorously enforce existing regulations on asbestos.' The charter adds that employers must prevent further exposures to asbestos and should work with unions and others to ensure regulations are properly observed. The TUC has welcomed the BLF initiative and says it will also be supporting mesothelioma day in February 2006. The human price of this condition continues to increase. Builder Rodney Milliner, 60, died in August from mesothelioma, an inquest heard last week. Carpenter Bernard Freeman, 67, was killed by the disease in July, an inquest into his death heard. Former shipyard worker John Spoors, 78, died of mesothelioma in August, an inquest last week was told. A Whitehaven inquest last week heard that ex-lagger William Cullen, 64, died of mesothelioma six days after receiving a £110,000 compensation payout.

Public at risk from new asbestos rules

A planned relaxation in the law protecting the public from asbestos, announced by the government last week, will see families and workers facing an increased risk of asbestos-related illness, contractors, unions and experts have warned. The changes, brought forward in a consultation paper on the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, will see textured coatings containing asbestos, such as Artex, taken off the list of materials that only licensed contractors can remove. The groups say the regulations, which are due to come into force next year, will mean that any contractor will be able to remove textured coatings containing asbestos, irrespective of adequate training, supervision or insurance. Asbestos removal experts, contractors and trade unions have united to express their concern about the increased risk to workers and families. Bob Blackman, national construction secretary for the union TGWU said the proposals were 'quite frankly, nonsense. Worker protection should mean just that, not stripping them of protection. If this goes through families will be put at increased risk. We would rather the HSE took a tough line on prevention than have to fund inquiries into illnesses.' Alan Ritchie, general secretary construction union UCATT, added: 'UCATT is extremely concerned at this proposed relaxation of the asbestos regulations. With asbestos there is no such thing as a low risk. My union has a zero tolerance policy wherever we suspect there is asbestos present. We need asbestos regulations that protect workers and the public.'

What would you give your right arm for?

Workers are still being maimed on the cheap by negligent employers, recent court cases suggest. Coalville packing firm Clarke Rubicon was fined £10,000 by magistrates after a worker, Gaynor Canderick, was dragged up to her elbow into a cardboard box making machine. There was no safe system of work. The company was also made to pay £3,500 compensation and £988 costs. Engineering firm G&P Machine Shop of Rushenden, near Sheerness, was fined £10,000 and £6,450 after an employee was almost killed. Peter Underwood was dragged into an unguarded horizontal boring machine by the arm, which was nearly severed. The firm had not carried out proper risk assessment and had no proper safety policy in place. Ramsey-based AMC Joinery was told to pay up more than £20,000 in fines and costs after two members of staff lost fingers in a wood cutting machine. Company boss Allan Marshall admitted failing to ensure the safety of employees, failing to report an injury and the continued use of a banned cutting tool. He was fined £15,500 and ordered to pay the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) costs of £5,158 .

No manslaughter charges after Corus death blast

Police have said they will not be bringing manslaughter charges against any individuals in respect of the Corus blast furnace explosion. Three men died and a further dozen suffered horrendous injuries in the disaster at the Port Talbot works in November 2001 ( Risks 28 ). Earlier this year the Crown Prosecution Service informed grieving families it would not be prosecuting any individuals for involuntary manslaughter. It then reviewed this decision following the inquest into the three deaths which was held in Swansea over four weeks this summer. Police last week confirmed that the original decision will stand. The Health and Safety Executive could still bring charges under workplace safety legislation, and says it will make known its decision in the new year. The explosion claimed the lives of Stephen Galsworthy, aged 25, Andrew Hutin, aged 20, and Len Radford, aged 53. The nine-member jury at the inquest was instructed to consider just one verdict - accidental death and not unlawful killing. Managers who gave evidence to the inquest were strongly criticised by steel union Community ( Risks 219 ). Roy Rickhuss, assistant general secretary of Community, said: 'The remarkable degree to which several Corus managers could not remember who made what decisions in a crucial meeting an hour before the explosion - with several of them unable to even recall what was discussed and by whom - smacks of a management culture whose first instinct is not a desire to establish the truth, but to protect their own reputations and positions.' Corus has been guilty of a series of sometimes deadly safety lapses ( Risks 135 ).

Scots workplace mental illness toll revealed

Mental illness is the most common cause of absence from work, according to new research for the Scottish Executive. The study found that of the 4,000 people off sick with work-related health problems between 2002 and 2003, more than 1,600 had mental health issues. Campaigners for the See Me mental health initiative said the problem could be worse than figures show. The See Me campaign, which was launched in 2002, has been fighting discrimination against people with mental illness. The latest research suggested that a third of employees off work due to mental illness gave a different reason for their absence. Some faked sick notes claiming they were off work because of back pain or exhaustion, rather than admit to depression or stress. The study found that 62 per cent of people who had been off work with mental health problems felt they were treated differently than when they were off with physical problems. The researchers warned that, as a result, an employee's recovery could be hindered. Linda Dunion, director of the See Me campaign, said: 'It's important to give people with mental ill-health the same respect and support as we would if someone had a physical illness.'

Want to be a better campaigner?

Are you doing a great job out there campaigning for safer workplaces, but would like to have new skills so you can do the job that bit better? A new charity, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, has opened nominations for its inaugural awards scheme, offering training fellowships to emerging campaigners. It says it is keen to hear from union safety campaigners, who could apply under the 'health and social care' category. The six award winners will receive a 10-day training package, including: One-to-one mentoring - the chance to learn from an experienced campaigner; the opportunity to shadow people in positions of influence, for example senior figures from politics, the civil service, journalism, research and academia, voluntary sector management, marketing and fundraising; and skills development training. Shelia McKechnie, who described herself as 'a fully paid up member of the awkward squad', cut her campaigning teeth nationally as health and safety officer of the union ASTMS, later MSF and then Amicus. She went on to become director of Shelter and the Consumers' Association .

TUC on smoking and the Health Bill

A TUC parliamentary briefing on smoking and the government's planned public health measures says the union body strongly opposes the current proposal to exempt bars that do not sell food and private members' clubs from the smoke-free provisions of the Health Bill. TUC argues the current proposed exemptions are illogical, are likely to prove unworkable and will do nothing to stop the continuing threat to the health of bar and club workers. Such exemptions will also distort the market, and are likely to have unintended consequences on the future of the pub and club trade. It says TUC shares the concerns of the hospitality industry that the proposed exemption policy will be divisive and make enforcement far more difficult. Instead, it says there should be a level playing field across the hospitality sector. Scotland, which on 26 March 2006 will be the first part of the UK to ban smoking in all enclosed public places, issued its guidance on the smoking ban this week.

China: Officials order bosses down mines

China's authorities have ordered that coal miners should always be accompanied underground by at least one manager, the Beijing News has reported. The move is part of a renewed effort to improve standards in China's mining industry, which has the world's worst safety record. Officials said the manager's job would be to discover any potential dangers before they lead to an accident. The authorities have also been pressing local officials to give up their shares in mines, since the conflict of interest has sometimes led to profit being put ahead of safety. A number of local officials have been sacked for negligence in recent months, and in August the country announced it was suspending production at a third of its coal mines until safety standards improved ( Risks 222 ). Last week officials announced plans to shut more than 13,000 coal mines by 2010 to boost competitiveness and safety. The government aims to reduce the number of small mines operating with outdated equipment to fewer than 10,000 from 23,000 now, said Wu Yin, director-general of the Energy Bureau at the National Development Reform Commission.

Trinidad: Teen death proves urgent need for new law

The death at work of 17-year-old Dinesh Rampersad, buried alive under tonnes of cement at a Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) plant, proves how desperately Trinidad needs a promised safety law, union have said. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed by parliament last year but prime minister Patrick Manning said elements of the legislation were flawed and has refused to enact the new law ( Risks 223 ). David Abdulah, president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said: 'The country's industrialisation demands a proper legislative framework. The Bill was debated intensively in and outside parliament and really ought not be delayed on the basis there are flaws in it.'

USA: Union glee as court ends protection racket

The US Supreme Court has ruled that companies must pay plant workers for the time it takes to change into protective clothing and safety gear and walk to their work stations. The move, which considered a worker challenge to practices at the meat processing giant IBP, was welcomed by foodworkers' union UFCW, which has advocated for decades that all required time in the workplace is paid time. Union president Joe Hansen said: 'For far too long, employers have cheated workers out of their full pay cheque by refusing to pay them for the time it takes to pick up their required safety equipment such as chain mail gloves, hair nets, aprons and heavy boots. Meat industry giants like Tyson Foods, which owns IBP, have long insisted that workers paid time does not include as much as 30 to 40 minutes per day spent collecting and putting on their gear and walking to their station on the production line.' He added: 'In reality, the fact that the US Supreme Court had to rule on such a case speaks volumes about the greed and arrogance of employers in this country. It wasn't enough to cheat workers out of their wages, the meat packing industry fought for the right to continue its rip-off all the way to the highest court.'

RSI rehab and diagnosis seminar, 26 November, Edinburgh

Lothian RSI support group has organised a seminar for RSI sufferers and health and safety activists, to be held in Edinburgh on 26 November. Speakers include top medical, legal and union safety experts.

Tube fire safety demonstration, London, 26 November 2005

A union organised demonstration in defence of fire safety rules on the underground rail system will take place at Kings Cross, London, on Saturday 26 November. Rail union RMT says crucial safety rules for sub-surface stations, put in place after the 1987 Kings Cross fire that claimed 31 lives, are once more under attack.

Health, work and well-being seminar, London, 5 December 2005

Following on from the October launch of HSE's 'Health, work and wellbeing - Caring for our future' strategy ( Risks 230 ), HSE is hosting a TUC backed free seminar on 5 December at TUC's London HQ. It says the day 'will provide an opportunity to explore with eminent and knowledgeable speakers what difference this will make in practice. It will bring you up to date with developments and plans for getting better management of back pain and stress, new provision to support smaller firms - Workplace Health Connect - and how primary care can help. Participants will be from all parts of industry and the public sector - employers, TU representatives and professionals working in personnel and occupational health.' Speakers include TUC's Frances O'Grady and safety minister Lord Hunt.

  • Health, work and well-being seminar, Monday 5 December 2005, Congress House, London WC1. To register for this free event send your name, address and contact number by email or post to the Securing Health Together Team, Better Health at Work Division, Health and Safety Executive, 8SW Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS. The deadline for registrations is Friday 25 November 2005. Event flyer [pdf]. HSE events webpage.
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