Number 652 - 3 May 2014
- Government cuts ‘vital’ safety protections
- ‘Disgust’ at commercial focus for HSE’s top job
- BAT must end the abuse of tobacco workers
- Drug driving limits nothing to do with safety
- Zero hour contracts leave workers hard pressed
- NHS staff are being pushed to breaking point
- Union concern as shoplifting rise continues
- Union call for better asbestos disease treatment
- Prison officer forced to retire after violent assault
- Icy slip ended care worker’s career
- Forty year career ended by employer negligence
- Bank carpet tile trip forced retirement
- Call for action over Crossrail climate of fear
- Work-related cancer can and should be prevented
- Tributes paid to teacher killed at school
- Docs attack complacency on fracking risks
- Trapped worker suffers horrific head injuries
- Australia: Petrol tankers are ‘mobile bombs’
- Bangladesh: Shocking toll from work chemicals
- USA: Chicken carcass spray makes workers sick
- TUC courses for safety reps
The government’s persistent ideological attacks on key health and safety legislation threaten even more accidents, injuries and deaths at work, the TUC has warned. Commenting on 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government says that the UK is a safe place to work and that we don’t need any more regulation. If only this were the case. With the UK ranked just 20th in the health and safety risk index of 34 developed nations, we’ve hardly got a record to be proud of.” She added: “Good employers who work closely with unions improving health and safety at work don’t see regulation as an intrusive burden. But rogue bosses, who are happy to cut corners and take risks with their employees’ lives, do. There is a real danger that further cuts and deregulation will destroy the workplace safety culture that has existed in Britain for many decades – with a disastrous effect on workers’ health and safety.” The union head added “there is an alternative – a government that is committed to protecting workers and puts a stop to the large-scale negligence that claims the lives or health of far too many workers and costs the state billions of pounds.” TUC estimates over 20,000 people in the UK die prematurely every year as a result of their work.
Construction union UCATT has expressed ‘disgust and disquiet’ following the publication of the job advert for a new chief executive to run the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The advert’s opening line reads: “We are now seeking a new Chief Executive to help lead change in the organisation and take advantage of a range of national and international commercial opportunities.” UCATT says that while the advert for the £160,000 per annum post mentions three times that the post holder will be expected to make the HSE more commercial, it fails to mention the importance of improving worker safety. Steve Murphy, the union’s general secretary, said: “This is disgusting and yet again shows the contempt the government has for the safety of working people. The primary role of the chief executive of the HSE should be about ensuring the lives of workers are not put at risk. Instead they are looking for someone to sell the organisation’s services to the highest bidder.” He added: “The HSE is not a commercial organisation full stop. Rather than trying to make money from the HSE the government should be reversing the HSE’s funding cuts, in order to ensure that people can work safely.” TUC calculates that since the Conservative-led government took office in May 2010, HSE’s budget has been cut by over 40 per cent (Risks 651). HSE has already embraced safety minister Mike Penning’s demand for more commercialisation (Risks 638). A report to HSE’s April board meeting from acting HSE chief executive Kevin Myers said “to support the commercialisation agenda” management consultant Leo Enright had been recruited and “will provide additional resource and commercial expertise to take forward this work as well as lead on the delivery of the other Triennial Review recommendations with a commercial aspect.”
Ÿ HSE chief executive recruitment pack, closing date 5 May.
Shareholders attending the British American Tobacco (BAT) AGM in London this week have been urged to put pressure on senior directors at the company to do more to raise the plight of tobacco workers in North Carolina. Baldemar Velasquez, the president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) – which represents tobacco farm workers in the US – flew into London to speak from the floor of the meeting about the exploitation of the workers that it is currently unable to represent. BAT is a major shareholder, with a 42 per cent stake in Reynolds American Inc.(RAI), the largest tobacco company in North Carolina. The British company is also a big customer of Reynolds, and FLOC believes this puts BAT in an influential position when it comes to setting acceptable standards for the treatment of tobacco farm workers in the US. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Baldemar Velasquez said: “Two years ago I spoke at the BAT AGM and warned shareholders and Chairman Richard Burrows of the inhumane way that Reynolds was treating its farm workers. Since then there has been absolutely no progress in addressing the abuse of workers in the BAT supply chain.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Reynolds may claim to be a good employer but the tobacco workers employed on its farms tell a very different story. Forced to live in squalid conditions, working with hazardous substances, and being paid next to nothing for their efforts, their plight is calling out for international attention.” She added: “BAT has a responsibility to make sure that all tobacco workers in its supply chains – no matter where in the world they are employed – are treated well, and work reasonable hours for decent rates of pay.”
Ÿ Send a message to BAT chairman Richard Burrows telling RAI to sign an agreement with FLOC.
A government proposed ‘drug driving’ limit has nothing to do with safety at work, the TUC has said. Writing in TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “Some employers will think that they will now have a test that will tell if someone is impaired. However it will not do that. In part it is because the government has ignored a recommendation by its own experts [Risks 649]. They recommended specific limits based on the evidence of what would impair someone who is driving.” But Robertson reveals: “The government however decided that it would not accept these recommendations for illicit drugs and instead decided to use its own limits which were as near as possible to zero.” He says the government’s new line contains bizarre inconsistences, so for example a person prescribed morphine would have a driving limit 16 times higher than someone without a prescription. “This means that there will now be, in law, ‘safe’ limits for drugs in relation to driving that are based, not on evidence, but on politics. This is simply at attempt to prosecute people for any illegal drug use as the government clearly admit claiming that the limits are based on a ‘zero tolerance’ approach.” According to Robertson, the new limits will lead to a “big increase” in drug testing at work and in workers being disciplined or fired for “being over the limit,” despite no evidence of impairment. He concludes: “Unions will therefore have to be on their guard for employers using the new thresholds as an excuse to introduce drugs testing in the workplace under the guise of safety when clearly they are about control.”
The majority of workers on zero hours contracts earn less than the living wage and are at risk of abuse, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting ahead of the publication of new official figures which indicated there are now well over 1 million zero hours contracts in the UK. The TUC is concerned that many workers on this type of contract are poorly paid, have no regular income and are at risk of exploitation. Insecure work has, for example, been linked to higher rates of occupational injuries and diseases. The TUC wants the government to clamp down on the abuse of the zero hours contracts by bad employers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that “casualised work is becoming more popular, even as the economy recovers. Companies like Sports Direct have put huge numbers of staff on zero hours contracts, even as they expand and pay bonuses to senior staff.” She added: “Replacing vulnerable zero hours contracts with more secure employment will be a key test of whether this recovery is reaching hard-pressed workers. In the meantime, the government should legislate to prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts by bad employers.” The official figures this week from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate nearly half of big companies in the UK use a total of 1.4 million zero hours contracts. The ONS study also found over one in five health and social workers are employed on zero hours contracts. Ed Miliband’s commitment last month that the next Labour government would legislate to prevent zero hours abuses was welcomed by unions.
NHS staff are being pushed to breaking point - with stress showing up as the number one health and safety issue facing UNISON members working in the NHS. That was the clear message of a 'body mapping' exercise that was carried out at the union's health conference last week. Body mapping uses a chart of the human body on which work-related injuries and health and safety concerns can be marked, and is ideal for highlighting physical symptoms of stress such as pains to head, shoulders and neck. “As service cuts bite, staff are working harder, longer and for less pay in order to correct the mess the government has created through its so called reforms,” commented assistant national officer Robert Baughan, who carried out the body mapping exercise. UNISON head of safety Tracey Harding added: “This reinforces the message we have received from all areas of our membership. Public services have come under attack from both the government and parts of the media. At the same time, staff are being expected to deliver more with less.”
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw has expressed concern that shoplifting is bucking the downward trend in victim-based crime. General secretary John Hannett welcomed crime statistics for England and Wales showing an overall decrease in crime, but said the union is “deeply concerned” that shoplifting continues to rise. The official figures published last week in the Crime Survey for England and Wales note that victim-based crime fell by 15 per cent during 2013, but shoplifting increased by 6 per cent. The union leader said: “In the course of their duties shopworkers can be put in real danger, suffering violence, threats and abuse. So it is always a real concern to our members when incidents of shoplifting are on the increase, because too often that can result in the shopworkers being assaulted by the thief.” The union says every day over 300 shopworkers are assaulted, and is dismayed at repeated government refusals to take action. “On three occasions in the current parliamentary session the government has been given the opportunity to support measures that would have provided greater protection for shopworkers and I was very disappointed to see Tories and Liberals combining to block these proposals,” John Hannett said. “We will continue to campaign for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message that assaulting shopworkers is totally unacceptable.”
Ÿ The Crime Survey for England and Wales, Office for National Statistics.
Communication workers have called for better compensation and more funding for research relating to the deadly asbestos-related disease mesothelioma. CWU national executive committee member Ian Ward told the union’s conference this week that there was going to be 100 per cent compensation for those contracting the disease, but that the coalition government stepped in to block the move. “The campaign does not end here, we will continue to fight with other unions for justice,” said Mr Ward. London delegate Phil Waker lost his father as a result of mesothelioma, reported the Morning Star. He told the conference that “more research into the disease is vital.” John Humphries, of London Postal Engineering, told how his branch had lost a number of people to the disease. “The government have watered down legislation relating to this disease. We need to continue to pursue the campaign,” he said.
Ÿ Morning Star.
A prison officer was forced to leave the profession after being violently assaulted by an inmate. The Prison Officers Association (POA) member, who was left with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the attack by an inmate, has secured a ‘significant’ sum of compensation with the help of the union. Marc Laycock, a POA member for 20 years, was employed at HM Young Offenders Institute Stoke Heath in Market Drayton. As part of his duties, Mr Laycock was escorting some inmates back to their cells following their ‘association hour’. At the same time, another 35 inmates had just finished their ‘exercise hour’ and were also being escorted back to their cells. According to the system in place at the prison, there should have been two officers with each group of inmates. However a senior officer had sent Marc’s colleague away to fetch a tea trolley and the two officers who had been escorting the other group of inmates left the wing - leaving Marc on his own. An inmate, who had been escorted by the other two officers and then left unsupervised, assaulted Marc without warning after refusing to return to his cell. Marc suffered a series of “brutal” blows before managing to send an alert via his radio. In the time it took other officers to come to his aid, Marc had been dragged approximately 15 metres along the prison landing and was grasped in a headlock, being punched repeatedly. He suffered a fractured cheekbone and soft tissue injuries to his elbow, wrist, hand and neck. He also developed PTSD so debilitating he was forced to retire. Prior to the incident the POA had raised with management a number of concerns about the level of staffing on the wing, but says these had been ignored. Further failings by the management included not alerting Marc to the fact that the prisoner who assaulted him had a history of threatening behaviour and had previously attempted assaults against staff and inmates.
A management decision to ignore a basic safety requirement meant a dedicated care support worker could not work again. The sheltered housing scheme employee, whose name has not been released, was forced to retire early after being knocked unconscious when she slipped on an icy and ungritted pavement. The UNISON member was awarded £50,000 in compensation after being left without her job and with permanent problems with her balance. She was carrying out a routine visit to a new resident on the sheltered housing scheme. Her head and neck took the brunt of the fall on the slippery pavement. The 62 year-old was taken to hospital and underwent an MRI and CAT scan and was diagnosed with vestibular dysfunction. The condition causes chronic dizziness and imbalance which doctors advised she is likely to suffer from for the rest of her life. Seven months after the incident, the care support worker decided she would not be able to return to work because she found her condition too limiting and, on her GP’s advice, took early retirement. The union established that the employer had failed to implement an adverse weather policy, despite one of the claimant’s colleagues suffering a fall on the ungritted pavement just three days prior to her fall.
A Unite member has secured compensation after he fell twice on the icy tailgate of a lorry while working for Stonegate Farmers. Roy Gardiner, of Melksham in Wiltshire, was working for Stonegate Farmers’ delivery firm when he slipped on the tailgate on two separate occasions while loading pallets into his van. Although his first fall was not bad enough to force him to stop working, it weakened his shoulder to the extent that – after the second, more severe fall less than a year later - he was left with a torn rotator cuff which required surgery and months of rehabilitation with a physiotherapist. His job required him to work outdoors in all weathers. His employer failed repeatedly to provide him with a bag of salt to spread on the tailgate to prevent him slipping on particularly icy days. The surgery left him with just 50 per cent use of his shoulder and, while his employers initially paid out sick pay, this soon dried up and Roy was forced to retire. Stonegate claimed falsely that Roy was had a pre-existing shoulder injury and offered no apology or sympathy to an employee who had worked for them for over 40 years. Commenting after he secured compensation in a union backed claim, Mr Gardiner said: “My employers of 40-plus years were so penny pinching that they would not even fork out for a bag of salt which would have cost them a few £'s. Instead their meanness has cost me my health and my job.” Unite regional officer Alan Tomala commented: “Stonegate clearly breached workplace safety standards and failed to provide the most basic of protections that could easily have prevented the accidents from happening in the first place.”
A bank worker injured in when she tripped and fell over a lose carpet tile ended up losing her job as result. Susan Green, who worked at a branch of Barclays Bank in south-east London, was walking back to her workstation after retrieving a fax when she tripped. Mrs Green, who was 59 at the time of the incident in 2009, fell heavily into the fax machine, and she sustained severe bruising to her leg, back, shoulder and arm. The fall exacerbated an existing back injury, requiring ongoing treatment and referral to a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. She was unable to do her job as a result of the condition and had to retire. Lawyers brought in by her union, CWU, found Barclays had been negligent. “The carpet tile had become loose, constituting a hazard to anyone walking across the floor," said Gary Tierney, of law firm Simpson Millar. A £70,000 settlement was secured, the majority to compensate for lost future earnings. Gary Tierney commented: “This case demonstrates the importance of keep the working environment safe and free from hazards that could cause a person to trip or slip. It should be noted that, after the bank received our initial letter of claim, Mrs Green was forced to retire from its employ.”
Construction union UCATT says it will step up pressure on Crossrail and its contractor Balfour Beatty Morgan Vinci (BBMV) to improve safety, following a damning leaked report. The report by consultants MindSafety for the BBMV joint venture digging tunnels at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street Station said: “The intention of the client is to get the job done safely, on time and with a healthy financial position on completion. The reality is that the methods used on-site are almost entirely counterproductive to this. The relationship between client and contractor seems to be strained almost to breaking point.” Responding to the revelations, UCATT said it was particularly concerned that workers “are operating in a highly intimidating atmosphere”, which results in workers not reporting accidents, near misses or dangerous working conditions as they fear to do so will result in them being laid off. UCATT regional secretary Jerry Swain said: “Employers need to understand that the perception of being victimised for reporting safety concerns is very serious, whether this is actually the reality or not.” He added: “We are seeking a meeting with BBMV to clarify how consultation is undertaken with workers on safety and how UCATT can be further involved in ensuring the project is delivered safely. Given previous problems, workers are more likely to speak to a union safety rep about safety concerns then go directly to management.” In December last year internal figures obtained by Hazards magazine revealed there had been a marked upturn in the accident rate on the Crossrail, affecting both direct employees and subcontractors (Risks 634).
Ÿ The Observer.
Ÿ Irish Post.
Ÿ Morning Star.
Exposure to cancer causing agents at work can and should be prevented, the organisation representing occupational hygienists has said. BOHS, the Chartered Society for worker health protection, is calling on employers to comply with the legal exposure limits for known carcinogens, urging the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be “robust” in its enforcement of the law, and says it is “critical” the government demonstrates the political will to prevent unnecessary loss of life from work-related cancers. It warns that annual deaths from preventable occupational cancers will be 2060 have risen by 5,000 from the current HSE estimate of 8,000 per year. Commenting on 28 April, International Workers’ Memorial Day, BOHS president Mike Slater said: “We at BOHS are aware of the impact which cumulative budgetary reductions have had on the operational capacity of the HSE. However, the latest research commissioned by the HSE has indicated that almost all the cancer deaths from silica exposure could be prevented in the future if specific interventions to improve occupational hygiene controls were introduced. This example indicates that robust enforcement of existing regulations to improve compliance by employers is vital.” He said it was “critical” the government “support the HSE with an adequate resource base in order to reduce the enormous social and financial costs of occupational cancer.” The BOHS call is supported by the TUC.
The family of teacher Ann Maguire, who was stabbed to death at a school in Leeds, has described her as “a shining light” who “brightened the world.” Mrs Maguire, 61, had worked at Corpus Christi Catholic College for more than 40 years before she was attacked in front of pupils on Monday 28 April. A 15-year-old boy has been remanded in custody charged with Mrs Maguire's murder. A statement from the teacher’s family, issued by West Yorkshire Police, said: “We are devastated. Her selfless, genuine, caring nature will remain with us eternally.” The Spanish teacher was due to retire in September after a 40-year career at the 950-pupil college. Commenting on the tragedy, Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said: “It is almost impossible to put into words the shock and distress that this tragic event has had, not only on the school community, but right across the teaching profession.” She added: “The NASUWT has contacted our members at the school and the headteacher to offer whatever support they and the college community need.” Mrs Maguire’s death was the second in a UK school in just four weeks. Keane Wallis-Bennett, a 12-year-old Edinburgh schoolgirl, was killed on 1 April by a collapsing school gym wall. The government has declared schools a ‘low risk’ environment exempt from routine official safety checks (Risks 651).
An official report on the risks posed by fracking in England is complacent on the real risks the practice could pose, an editorial in the British Medical Journal suggests. Dr Seth Shonkoff, executive director for Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, and his colleagues warn that efforts to understand the potential impacts of shale gas extraction close to populated areas have fallen short. The paper warns: “A focus on mostly hypothetical regulatory and engineering solutions may mistake best practices for actual practices, and supplants the empirical with the theoretical.” The paper asserts that scientific data should drive decisions on health and safety, instead of gestures to understudied assertions of best practice deployment. The recent Public Health England draft report on the extraction of shale gas does “recognise that many uncertainties surround the public health implications”, however, there are “problems with its conclusions,” the editorial notes. It says “in a leap of faith unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, its authors suggest that many of the environmental and public health problems experienced in the US would probably not apply to the UK.” Echoing the findings of an earlier UK study (Risks 648) and concerns raised by the TUC (Risks 643), the editorial adds: “Unfortunately, the conclusion that shale gas operations present a low risk to public health is not substantiated by the literature.” Shonkoff and his colleagues conclude: “As investigations of shale gas extraction in the US have continually suggested, assurances of safety are no proxy for adequate protection.”
Ÿ Editorial: Public Health England’s draft report on shale gas extraction, British Medical Journal, 2014;348:g2728.
A manufacturing company has been sentenced after a worker suffered horrific head injuries when he became trapped in a machine at a Newcastle factory. Desmond Salkeld, 65, was with a colleague investigating a fault on a hot wire cutting machine at Springvale EPS Ltd in Hazlerigg, when his head became trapped in dangerous moving parts. He was taken to hospital with extensive injuries including a hole in the bridge of his nose, shattered eye sockets, a large gash to his head which needed stitches, a badly-damaged jaw, a bleed on the brain and a fracture to his temple. During a nine-hour operation, surgeons took bone from the right hand side of his skull to reconstruct his face. Mr Salkeld, who still suffers from blurred vision, is unable to return to work and has had to retire, although he had planned to continue working. He is unlikely to fully recover from his injuries. Newcastle Magistrates’ Court was told that an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident on 4 June 2013 found the machine had not been isolated from its power source and a fixed safety guard had been removed. Springvale EPS Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,244.40 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Sal Brecken said: “Guards and safety systems are there for a reason, and companies have a legal duty of care to ensure they are properly fitted and working effectively at all times, especially during maintenance activities.” He added: “Springvale EPS Ltd’s failures have led to one of their employees sustaining devastating injuries from which he is unlikely to ever fully recover.”
An Australian union has told a federal government tribunal that petrol tankers are little more than ‘mobile bombs’. The 29 April Road Safety Tribunal in Sydney was convened to consider minimum safety standards for Australian petrol tankers after research revealed 1 in 4 tanker drivers were pressured to speed and 1 in 2 drivers reported inadequate brake inspections. Transport Workers Union (TWU) assistant national secretary Michael Kaine said many petrol tankers were literally “mobile bombs.” He added: “Industry research shows the tanker fleet is old and unreliable, and tanker drivers are routinely pressured to drive too fast or too long,” noting a third of drivers “report they’ve been threatened with job losses if they report serious safety flaws. And 45 per cent of drivers say employers routinely delay brake maintenance, with one saying his tanker was 13,000 kilometres overdue for servicing.” He said deadly crashes have resulted which is “why the union has lodged a national dispute on tanker safety, and why we’re calling for a national safety standard.” The union is demanding safe rates for the job, and contracting changes to prevent retailers from pressuring drivers to speed or skip rest breaks. It also wants to see a ban on “hot seating” - where tanker drivers swap seats with each other to avoid technical breaches of maximum driving times. Other demands include improved maintenance and driver training and mandatory reporting and publishing of compliance records on fatigue management, safe driving hours and maintenance. Truck driving is Australia’s most dangerous industry, with a fatality rate 15 times higher than the average for other jobs. TWU says every year around 330 people are killed in truck-related crashes.
At least 63 people were killed in Bangladesh in the last three months by toxic chemicals used at work, a study has found. According to the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE), which conducted the research, the most dangerous industries are agriculture, shipbreaking and tanneries. It says other jobs presenting a risk from chemicals include those in the textile and garment industry, food processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic industries, plastics, health care and the dental care sector. The findings were presented at the National Press Club in Dhaka on 28 April. Shahriar Hossain, a national expert on chemical safety, told the meeting that tannery workers are the worst affected. “They do not use any safety gear and directly deal with toxic substances. We found that a tannery worker becomes unemployed after working for 9-12 months. They develop severe illness because of prolonged exposure to chemical but the owners refuse to take responsibilities then. They just fire the worker.” He said a study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank found more than 70 per cent of Bangladeshi farmers are exposed to chemicals and more than 30 per cent of them are made seriously ill as a consequence.
Ÿ BSS News.
Chemicals used to disinfect chicken carcasses are making the workers exposed to them sick – and could even be killing them. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors and workers in poultry plants say the process of preparing chicken for sale is putting them at risk. USDA inspector Sherry Medina, who has developed asthma and requires medication and oxygen, inspected chicken carcasses as they came down the line. She says it wasn’t until 2006 when the poultry processing plant started spraying anti-microbial treatments that she slowly started to notice health issues. USDA inspector Beth Summers, who worked on the same line and who has been exposed for four years, said: “My nose is starting to burn. I can feel my face is starting to burn. It’s burning now. My throat, chest; it never stops burning.” On 25 April, the Washington Post reported the chemical-linked death of another USDA inspector, 37-year-old Jose Navarro, whose lungs haemorrhaged and whose kidneys failed. The inspectors’ union says related health problems are widespread. Amanda Hitt from the Government Accountability Project’s food integrity campaign said: “It is the industry’s little secret,” adding to keep foodborne infections at bay in the most cost-effective manner “they just blast them with these chemicals and send them on their way to your store shelves.” Hitt said she isn’t satisfied with the level of testing done on these chemical compounds prior to their implementation, especially when it comes to worker safety. These anti-microbial washes can include a variety of chemical compounds, including solutions containing chlorine, peroxyacetic acid, cetylpyridium chloride, lactic acid and others. In March this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved the use of peroxyacetic acid solutions as an anti-microbial wash for poultry. But EFSA’s scientific assessment did not consider worker safety.
Ÿ Mother Jones.
Ÿ UFCW Action.
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Issued: 2 May, 2014