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A multinational waste firm is putting the largely migrant workforce constructing a Teesside facility at risk, the union GMB has said. The union’s claim came after SITA Sembcorp UK confirmed that an employee working for site contractor, Baldwin Crane Hire Ltd, suffered a serious injury whilst de-rigging a crane at the Redcar site. The employee was taken immediately to hospital, where he underwent surgery. It is believed he lost three fingers in the incident. GMB said there have been several protests about local workers being excluded from the work - the project is being built predominately using European migrant labour on £5 per hour less the current national agreement for the engineering and construction industry. The union is concerned that this is undercutting established employment standards. It also believes migrant workers not fluent in English may not be getting legally-required health and safety protection. Minutes of an April 2015 site safety meeting obtained by the union stipulate: “English speaking stickers to be applied to relevant hats”, adding: “Confirmation of 1 in 10… English speakers assigned to each working party.” GMB is asking the company to clarify how it is complying with regulation 10 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which state: “Employers must provide employees with comprehensible and relevant information on: Risks to their health and safety identified by risk assessments; the related preventive and protective measures; emergency procedures and evacuation co-ordination; risks notified to them by other employers in shared workplaces.” Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer for construction, said: “Sita Sembcorp is employing migrant workers on this project with no comprehension of English. Asking for those who can speak English to have stickers on their hats, and to have at least 1 worker in 10 to have a stickered hat does not meet the requirement as set out in Regulation 10.” Referring to the site injury, he said site unions “expect full involvement in any investigation to determine whether the inability to raise concerns effectively may have been a contributing factor.” John McClean, GMB’s national health and safety officer, said “it is not clear that the company is complying with the requirement of Regulation 10,” adding: “The Guidance provides that the information provided should be pitched appropriately, given the level of training, knowledge and experience of the employees.”
Unite has launched a confidential advice and support line to help confront abusive ‘Victorian’ work practices at Sports Direct and a culture of fear at the retailer’s Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire. The move, which forms part of the union’s campaign for improved employment conditions at the retailer, follows the 27 April screening of a Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, ‘The secrets of Sports Direct’. This exposed a zero hours contract workforce in constant fear of losing their jobs, with staff named and shamed over a tannoy for not working fast enough. The programme estimated that only 300 out of the 5,000 plus workers at the Shirebrook depot actually have contracts with Sports Direct, with the majority on zero hour contracts with two employment agencies – Best Connection and Transline. It claimed working conditions are underpinned by a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure. Workers can get strikes for long toilet breaks, excessive chatting and even having time off for sickness. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Like a throw-back to the Victorian era, workers on zero hours contracts at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook site are being shamefully exploited and living in daily fear of losing their job.” He added: “Too often workers at the Shirebrook depot and across the retailer’s stores have been afraid to speak out. This culture of fear in Sports Direct needs to be confronted and the abusive workplace practices tackled. We would urge workers at Sports Direct to not suffer in silence, to join Unite’s campaign for decent work, to get in touch via the confidential number and together we can put dignity back into the workplace.”
Terminally ill workers need greater protection from heartless employers who are utilising a loophole in the law to dismiss the dying due to their illness, according to the communications union CWU. Delegates to the union’s annual conference heard the loophole stems from the fact that the terminally ill are not classified as having a 'Protected Characteristic' as defined by the Equality Act. This means employers are free to dismiss terminally ill workers once they have made 'reasonable adjustments' to the employee's job to accommodate additional needs the worker may have as a result of their condition. Not only do dying workers who are fired lose their jobs, CWU delegates heard, they lose their entitlements to death in service payments. A motion calling for employment protection for terminally ill workers was passed by the conference. Supporting the motion, CWU national executive member Mark Baulch said more protections for terminal ill workers was a fundamental “dignity and respect” issue.
In over 50 towns and cities and hundreds of workplaces people commemorated International Workers’ Memorial Day, the TUC has said. In an update on the TUC’s health and safety facebook page on the 28 April activities, the union body noted that London saw hundreds of building workers assembled at Tower Hill where a group of apprentices released balloons recognising those killed in building sites in the capital. Hundreds also braved sometimes atrocious weather to attend events in Manchester, Sheffield and other towns and cities around the country. In Lincoln, trades council secretary Nick Parker said: “We will redouble our efforts to put safety before profit, and encourage all workers to join a trade union and organise to protect themselves and their colleagues from harm.” According to the TUC facebook update: “However it was often in workplaces where the biggest effect was held, with many workers holding a minute’s silence at noon to remember the dead. At the same time the Labour front bench used the opportunity to reiterate their plans for health and safety after the election, and, at the same time, praised union health and safety representatives” (Risks 700). TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, writing in the Morning Star and referring to this year’s 28 April hazardous substances theme, noted: “Without stronger regulation and, more importantly, proper enforcement, people will continue to die needlessly from being exposed to hazardous substances. It is time ministers woke up to this reality and looked at the bigger picture. Health and safety in our workplaces doesn’t just protect workers, it protects those in the wider community.” She said the Conservative-led government “did all it could to weaken health and safety legislation and make it harder for victims, including those who have been to exposed hazardous chemicals, to pursue claims against employers.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A restaurant leaseholder has been sentenced after illegally removing asbestos from the building during refurbishment work. Aman Ullah was in control of construction work which included the removal of asbestos insulation board soffits from the premises. The board was removed in an uncontrolled manner with no controls to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found. The regulator had served a prohibition notice preventing any work near, or the removal of, the material except by a licensed contractor. However, Mr Ullah ignored the legally binding notice. North Somerset Magistrates’ Court heard that the asbestos was removed in an uncontrolled manner and then left at the side of the building in an area where members of the public had access. The court was told the nature of the work meant that the asbestos should have been removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. Aman Ullah, 54, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a series of criminal safety breaches. HSE inspector Kate Leftly said: “Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with some 4,500 deaths each year due to asbestos-related diseases, as well as many serious illnesses.” She added: “For this reason, work with asbestos requires a high degree of regulatory control to ensure it is carried out safely. Mr Ullah decided to ignore the fact an asbestos licence was required to undertake this work and his actions… put those working on site and members of the public at risk.”
Recent reports of asbestos cancers in education workers have highlighted the potentially deadly risks in the sector. An inquest last month ruled that the mesothelioma that killed former psychology lecturer Gwyneth Bonnet was an industrial disease. In a statement to lawyers she recalled how she had worked in dilapidated, prefabricated classrooms at Coleg Menai in Llangefni, in the 1990s. Lawyers acting for the family of former music teacher Julia Popple, who died aged 54 from mesothelioma, secured a £450,000 compensation settlement last month. Newham council admitted she was exposed to respirable asbestos dust while working at a school in the authority for three years in the 1980s. On 30 April, the Daily Mirror called for a national register of asbestos locations in schools. The call came as it reported that retired teacher Penny Devaney had developed mesothelioma. The paper said she had been exposed at sometime during her 30 years teaching at primary schools in Lancashire. She has secured an undisclosed six-figure settlement from Lancashire County Council. Ian Toft from law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented the former teacher, said: “Penny, like many other teachers, was not warned of the dangers of asbestos, despite the risks of exposure being known for decades.”
Ÿ Daily Mirror.
One in three people in Europe are at risk from asbestos exposures, with the deadly fibre claiming thousands of lives each year, a United Nations (UN) report has warned. A high-level meeting on environment and health in Europe on 30 April ended with an urgent appeal to all European countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases. The report showed that one-third of the 900 million people living in the region are potentially exposed to asbestos at work and in the environment. “We cannot afford losing almost 15,000 lives a year in Europe, especially workers, from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, of the World Health Organisation’s Europe office. “Every death from asbestos-related diseases is avoidable,” added the UN agency’s regional director. The report presented at the meeting indicated that asbestos is responsible for about half of all deaths from cancers developed at work. According to WHO’s new estimates, deaths from mesothelioma in 15 European countries cost society more than 1.5 billion euros annually. The UK tops Europe’s table for asbestos cancer deaths and related costs. While 38 of the 53 member states in the region have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, the remaining 15 countries still use asbestos, especially for building materials, and some continue to produce and export it. Two of these producer nations, Russia and Kazakhstan, are spearheading global efforts to resist further controls on asbestos trade. According to the WHO news release, even after its use has ceased, asbestos lingers in the environment, so it needs to be safely removed and disposed of without delay.
Tyre manufacturer Pirelli has been fined £150,000 after an employee died when he became trapped in an industrial autoclave for more than two hours. George Falder was found dead at the Carlisle factory on 30 September 2012 in a machine used to heat parts of tyres to temperatures of up to 145 degrees Celsius. Pirelli Tyres was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the company did not have a system in place to make sure the autoclave was checked before it was switched on. Carlisle Crown Court heard that Mr Falder was last seen alive on CCTV footage at around 2.45pm during a Sunday shift. Just over an hour later, a colleague shut the door on the five-metre long industrial autoclave and began the operating cycle. The 48-year-old’s body was found inside just after 6pm. The court was told the heavy, circular pressure-door on the autoclave could not be opened from the inside, and there was no way for anyone inside the machine to stop the cycle once it had begun. The industrial autoclave was used to heat rubber tyre beads. During its operation, steam would be piped into the vessel under pressure, creating a deadly atmosphere containing little or no oxygen. There was also no system for checking the autoclave before the door was shut and the operating cycle was started. Pirelli Tyres Ltd was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £46,706 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal health and safety breach. Passing sentence, Judge Batty said: “There has to be an element of deterrent for this reason: That this was a piece of equipment which was potentially fatal.” He said the firm has already been prosecuted for two previous criminal health and safety offences, the most recent in August 2013 and involving the removal of a machine's guard when the machine was in use. HSE inspector Michael Griffiths said George Falder’s colleague “had no way of knowing anyone was inside when he switched on the machine because the company did not have systems in place to stop this from happening. Pirelli failed to identify the risk posed by workers entering the autoclave.”
Bristol City Council has been fined for its criminal safety failings after a park keeper suffered serious injuries when she was thrown from a tractor as it overturned. The 51-year-old worker, who doesn’t wish to be named, broke her pelvis and badly damaged an Achilles tendon in the incident in Netham Park, Bristol on 30 May 2012. She remained off work for a year but has since returned and is undertaking an office job. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) led to the prosecution of Bristol City Council at the city’s magistrates’ court. The court heard the park keeper, who was carrying out maintenance work, was driving the tractor with a trailer attached and had braked as the tractor descended a slope. The vehicle skidded and she turned to avoid a fence but it overturned, throwing her from the seat. HSE found the tractor was not fitted with a seat belt or any type of restraint and the council had failed to ensure their employee had received adequate training on the use of the tractor. The investigation also identified the nearly new tractor and trailer had been acquired by Bristol City Council shortly before the incident but outside the normal procurement procedure and, as a result, no supplier training was provided. Bristol City Council was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £4,700 in costs after admitting two criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
The deadly risks posed by silica exposures in gold mines are particularly pronounced in small-scale operations, a new study has found. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, which looked at conditions in Tanzania, revealed that exposures to silica are more than two hundred times greater in small-scale artisanal mines than in larger mines. It says hundreds of thousands of miners have already come down with the lung choking occupational disease silicosis and rates of tuberculosis (TB) among miners in Africa are approximately 5-6 times higher than in the general population. The researchers found that the average airborne crystalline silica levels in underground gold mining operations were 337 times greater than the recommended limit set by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Even miners working above ground had exposures four times the limit. Silica dust is a known cause of silicosis and lung cancer, and is associated with TB and other lung diseases. The authors says the estimated 15 million artisanal miners worldwide – many times more than are employed in formal sector mines – are working without any dust control measures. Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International (OKI) and the lead author of the study, said: “Silica dust hazards are being ignored while thousands of miners die each year due to silicosis and the alarmingly high rates of TB in these mining communities.” He added: “While we did the study in Tanzania, the risk for TB and silicosis is similar in artisanal mining around the world. Many times more people work in artisanal mining than in formal sector mines.”
Journalism is under attack through repressive press laws, arbitrary detention as well as killings, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has said. Speaking out ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday 3 May, the global union urged the international community to take this intimidation seriously and to put pressure on governments to investigate it promptly. The union body denounced the targeting of journalists across the globe it said was making this period the most dangerous in recent decades. Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, said: "In almost every corner of the world, journalists are targeted, brutalised and put to death. In the first three months of 2015 we have met the third of last years’ total death, not to mention harassment, intimidation and imprisonments of our colleagues.” He added: “It is our mission to document, expose, lobby and campaign to stop attacks against journalists. We must also denounce the shameful failure of governments to prosecute the killers of journalists. These deaths are more than just statistics; they are colleagues and friends who have dedicated their lives to pay the ultimate price for their work as journalists for the right of their citizens to know.”
Journalism has never been more dangerous, and journalists say they have never felt so unsafe doing their jobs, according to ‘Under threat’, a new report from the International News Safety Institute (INSI). INSI says the overwhelming majority of respondents to its quantitative survey, 88 per cent, agreed that the safety of journalists and media workers is more of an issue than it was 10 years ago, with 86 per cent saying that journalists are more likely to be targets of violence. INSI found that even those who don’t work in hostile environments face greater dangers than they did in the past. Research done for the report shows that 1,480 journalists and media support workers have died doing their jobs in the past 10 years, an average of 131 every year. The majority, 822, died during peace time. The report says terror groups like ISIS are using new technologies to control what one interviewee called the “information battlefield”, with INSI adding “they have declared war on journalists through high profile kidnappings and killings broadcast on social media. Meanwhile, the frontlines in places like Syria and Iraq have blurred - journalists are no longer sure who to trust and where they can go safely. For their part, news executives are often not sure who to turn to for information and help when reporters go missing or get hurt in today's chaotic conflicts.”
Ÿ Under threat: The changing state of media safety, INSI, April 2015.
Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published a new, free 278-page hazards guide for the country’s health and safety representatives. The new book, published on International Workers’ Memorial Day and produced after an approach by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), is based closely on the TUC's bestselling ‘Hazards at Work’ guide. The TUC said it is “delighted that the HSA has used our publication as a template, and, although we have no plans to produce a joint version of Hazards at Work with the HSE, we definitely see this as being a great example of joint union/regulator collaboration that recognises the importance of safety representatives.”
Ÿ All chapters from the TUC’s Hazards at Work guide are available on the TUC health and safety webpages.
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Issued: 6 May, 2015