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New business secretary Sajid Javid was barely in the job when he’d promised a wholesale erosion of basic union rights. This would come on top of a whole lot of harm. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is already creaking after just one term of cutbacks and role erosion. It’s now resorting to touting its services to private buyers, many abroad. None of this bodes well for working conditions. But when it comes to your health and safety it is worth remembering the stand-out factor in protecting the health of the workforce is not what politicians say or do, it is the presence of strong and active trade unions (Risks 702). And that is why TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson says the union body “has made organising for health and safety central to our approach.” As well as TUC training courses and guides, the TUC points to examples of good practice where union investigations, negotiations and action have led to safer, healthier work. “And we now want to really show how lifesaving this union effect can be,” he said. TUC is pulling together a dossier of these union interventions and is urging safety reps and their unions to make sure we all know how they made a difference. “Sometimes this might be by identifying a problem by using workplace mapping or surveys; sometimes it might be refusing to work with a particularly nasty chemical by showing there are better, healthier ways to do the job. Whatever you did, we are keen to hear. Positive examples are not just instructive, they can be inspiring.”
What did you do to make work safer and healthier? Email your examples to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson
There was stunned silence followed by audible gasps in the High Court last week when a barrister read out documentary evidence indicating that major firms had deliberately set out to destroy evidence of their complicity in a blacklisting conspiracy. Unions UNITE, UCATT and GMB and the law firm Guney, Clark and Ryan, acting for the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), are representing 581 blacklisted union members in group litigation against 40 of the UK’s largest construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Vinci, Skanska and Bam (Risks 702). On 15 May 2015 a procedural hearing considered case management issues. The hearing was one of a series to prepare the ground for the full trial, scheduled for 16 May 2016 and set to last 10 weeks. BSG says that with directors of multinational firms and former undercover police officers set to give evidence, “this will turn into a show trial for the construction industry.” The latest hearing considered disclosure of documents to be used in the trial. Matthew Nicklin QC, representing blacklisted UCATT members, told the court that the limited disclosure so far by the firms was “worse than useless”, adding that the firms were being deliberately obstructive. He then read from an internal Consulting Association handwritten record made by Ian Kerr – chief executive of the covert blacklister - of a series of conversations he had with senior industry figures immediately after the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the Consulting Association’s office and served its warrant. The note read to the High Court stated that David Cochrane, director of human resources at Sir Robert McAlpine and chair of the Consulting Association when it was raided in 2009, told Ian Kerr: “Ring everyone – Cease trading – Close down – We don’t exist anymore – Destroy data – Stop Processing.” Senior construction industry managers told Kerr that had already destroyed the documents they held, the note said. Dave Smith, BSG secretary, said: “If the destruction of documentary evidence is proved in court, those responsible should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and be sent to prison. That would be real justice.” Michael Newman, the solicitor with law firm Leigh Day acting for the GMB, said: “The companies have provided some limited documents about their secret blacklisting operation, but getting full disclosure will be another important milestone in this case.”
Top global companies must pressure FIFA to act on the deadly and exploitative working conditions at the 2022 World Cup building sites in Qatar, unions have said. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) leader Sharan Burrow, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, said the work conditions were “simply slavery”. She said the 600,000 migrant workers are also housed typically in “squalid and unsafe conditions”. Letters have been sent to eight big sponsors urging them to use their position to put pressure on FIFA, with others encouraged to follow suit using an online letter prepared by the TUC. The firms targeted are FIFA commercial partners Adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai, Kia, McDonald's, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Visa. Hundreds of migrant workers, many from earthquake-hit Nepal and other parts of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, have died in Qatar and many more are believed to have suffered injuries as a result of unsafe working practices. Stephen Russell of the TUC-backed Play Fair Qatar campaign, said “as things stand, more than 62 workers will die for each game played during the 2022 tournament.” He added: “FIFA and its sponsors cannot wash their hands over what is happening. They have a moral responsibility to ensure that Qatar ends these human rights abuses now.” According to ITUC’s Sharan Burrow: “The discrimination, the racism, the denial of rights adds up to apartheid and a model of employment that is simply slavery. And there is a conspiracy of silence by governments and major sporting and cultural institutions that allow it to continue.” She added: “The world must not be duped by Qatar’s empty promises of reform.” She urged people to increase the pressure on football’s global governing body by emailing protest letters to the chief executives of FIFA’s commercial partners.
The TUC is calling for union safety reps to ensure workers are not exposed to a cancer-causing pesticide. A new briefing says because of the unquestionable risks posed by glyphosate, which can also cause short- and long-term skin, eye and respiratory problems and serious liver and kidney damage, it is “necessary to try to prevent any workers coming into contact with glyphosate.” The TUC briefing comes in the wake of a March 2015 report in the journal Lancet Oncology, which revealed the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) new classification of glyphosate - the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and the world's most widely-used herbicide - as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” IARC, a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), cites evidence in Canada, Sweden and the USA linking workers’ occupational exposure to glyphosate to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The report led to calls from the global food and farming union IUF to keep deadly pesticides out of the workplace and the food chain (Risks 700). The UK Alliance for Cancer Prevention said the use of glyphosate largely to kill off weeds in urban areas was not justified. According to the TUC: “No workers should be put at risk of exposure to any substance that can lead to cancer. Many employers will not know about the risks from glyphosate, especially as the manufacturers still continue to insist there is no risk, despite the evidence.” It adds: “Health and safety representatives should make sure they bring the information to their attention. Safety representatives must ensure that their employer reviews their risk assessments and share the results with them.” Safety reps have a right to see this information, the TUC said.
With challenging behaviour from pupils on the increase, UNISON is urging the government to better protect school caretakers, cleaners, dinner ladies, classroom assistants and other support staff from violent attacks. A new UNISON guide, ‘Managing difficult behaviour in schools’, is intended “to give staff more confidence and practical help when dealing with difficult situations,” the union says. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Managing behaviour is one of the main areas that school support staff raise as a major cause for concern. They often find themselves overlooked in behaviour management strategies and training programmes. All too often headteachers and school governors assume that it is only teachers who need support in this area.” He added: "We are calling on the new government to recognise that all staff in schools need adequate training and support to manage behaviour and communicate effectively with pupils and parents. We'll also be raising our concerns with the Scottish and Welsh governments.”
Teachers in Scotland are being left at risk of violence and aggression from pupils in the classroom, a teaching union has warned. The annual conference of NASUWT Scotland heard concerns that many teachers are being taught crisis management techniques for managing pupil behaviour. The union said this places an expectation on staff that they will physically restrain pupils in certain circumstances. The NASUWT is concerned this could leave teachers vulnerable to accusations of assault from pupils. NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “In the last year 21 per cent of teachers report having being victims of a physical assault at work. The approach in some schools is to commission training for teachers which, while focused on diversion and de-escalation techniques which can be very valuable, also places an expectation on teachers that they should physically restrain pupils where serious disruption occurs. Such an approach places teachers at serious risk of injury, but also places them directly at risk of allegations of assault being made against them.” She added: “The NASUWT will not hesitate to take action in schools where members are left exposed and vulnerable to indiscipline. If necessary, and with the support of members, we will ballot to refuse to teach pupils who place teachers at risk. We have already used this strategy in Glasgow to protect teachers and to secure the specialist support the pupil causing concern required.”
Concerns about the standards of asbestos management in schools have been confirmed by a union survey. Just published findings of the online survey of a small sample of members of the teaching union NUT found 44 per cent of respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. “This is quite shocking since most schools (approximately 86 per cent) do contain asbestos,” the NUT report noted. “If teachers haven’t been told, that means that not even basic awareness training will have been given.” Of the respondents who knew their school contains asbestos, just over a third reported that there had been an incident which may have led to exposure. More than 80 per cent of all respondents said that parents had not been given information about the presence of asbestos and how it is managed. The report notes that in the USA annual reports are mandatory. The union concludes: “The findings also show that while there is a long way to go in terms of getting messages across about the risks to children and the risks to staff, there was near total agreement that there should be a long term strategy on the part of the government for the eradication of asbestos from schools.”
Road workers at highways specialist A-one+ are being handed strings of UV reactive beads to highlight sun exposure risks over the summer months. Trade publication Construction Enquirer reports that site workers have a six times greater risk of skin cancer than the general population. The solar beads are to be worn by road workers while working in the outdoors and change colour to warn of increased UV light levels. Water bottles, sunscreen, fact sheets and posters are also being distributed to staff to raise awareness across the organisation. Emma Hughes, who has been leading the initiative across A-one+, said: “We hope that our summer-long campaign will help employees become savvy to the risks of sun exposure and encourage them to protect themselves. While many people are aware of the dangers of being out in the sun, they might not necessarily think about protecting themselves against the sun during their normal working day.” She added: “We aim to remind them of the dangers of over exposure to UV light in sunshine and help them stay safe and well. We often think that we are just in the UK and that it doesn’t get too hot. However, the UV rays are there and the UV beads enforce this message that even on cloudy days those rays that cause damage are still present.” Unions and their workplace cancer advisers have supported the provision of water and sunscreens, but say for prevention methods to be effective it is important to provide high quality rest rooms and welfare facilities, and to reduce exposures by better scheduling, design of work and breaks to limit time outdoors without shade.
An animal feed company has been fined £80,000 after an employee died when he was buried under tonnes of wheat being unloaded from a lorry. Andrew Scott Harrold, 33, was working at Transpan (Scotland) Limited’s Tore Mill site in Inverness, when the incident happened in February 2011. Emergency services used a digger, while a colleague assisted with a shovel, to scoop out eight to 10 tonnes of wheat before finding Mr Harrold. He was unconscious and attempts were made to resuscitate him, but he died at the scene. Investigations by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors discovered a bungee-style cord was positioned over the controls that were meant to be operated only by hand, compromising the safety of the system. Inverness Sheriff Court heard that the tipper was already in the process of rising before Mr Harrold had finished opening the catches on the back door, which then burst open. Transpan (Scotland) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “This risk here was entirely foreseeable. The bungees or elasticated cords on this tipping control had been on there for some time and there were other devices – such as pieces of wood and plastic pipe – that were used to defeat the safety function on other lorries. Transpan could easily have supervised drivers on site. If Mr Harrold had been prevented from using the elasticated cord on the tipping control, he could not have gone behind his lorry when it was tipping upwards.”
An engineering company has pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences that led to the death of a teenage worker. Nineteen-year-old Jake Herring was electrocuted while working for Grundfos Pumps Limited. The trainee design engineer came into contact with a live 3-phase electrical system and died from his injuries. He was working unsupervised, testing a live electrical control panel at the Grundfos Pumps Ltd factory in Windsor. The Leighton Buzzard-based company was fined £300,000 at Reading Crown Court plus costs of £115,000 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Grundfos Pumps Ltd had not adequately assessed the risks of testing live electrical panels to identify a safe system of work and failed to provide suitable training and supervision to undertake 3-phase live testing. HSE inspector Paul Williams said: “This tragic incident could and should have been avoided. Grundfos Pumps Limited’s failure to adequately risk assess the electrical testing process led to an unsafe system of work being in place. Training and supervision arrangements were clearly inadequate. If live electrical testing has to be undertaken, suitable precautions must be in place.”
A lorry continued to leak corrosive potassium hydroxide for a further 12 miles after the concerned driver, who wanted the emergency services called out, was instead instructed to return to the depot. Medway magistrates were told that some of the 170 plastic jerricans on the lorry containing a 45 per cent solution of the corrosive substance, which presented an ‘immediate risk’ to public safety, had not been adequately tightened, nor securely stacked on pallets, which in turn were not adequately braced on the trailer. The jerricans toppled over whilst being transported from Whitman Laboratories Ltd, in Petersfield, Hampshire, to Belgium, by a driver working for Allport Cargo Services Ltd, on 30 March 2014. The driver noticed his load was leaking during a stop at a motorway service station on the M2 in Kent. He phoned his transport supervisor and said the substance was corrosive and that he wanted the emergency services to be called. After consulting her line manager, the transport supervisor directed the driver to return to the company depot in Sittingbourne, some 12 miles away. On arrival, the extent of damage was realised and the emergency services were finally called – nearly two hours after the leak was originally discovered. Six fire engines attended the scene and hosed down the contaminated area. The driver and warehouse supervisor, who had been called in to assist, were believed to have been exposed to the material. They were stripped down and hosed on site, before being taken to hospital for observation. The service station was also decontaminated. Around 85 litres of potassium hydroxide was lost. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the jerricans has been loaded by an unsupervised contract employee, who had only started the job as a loader that week and had no knowledge of correct procedures. Whitman Laboratories Ltd and Allport Cargo Services Ltd both pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009. They were each fined £20,000 with costs of £3,438.
Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (KGH) has been fined for its criminal safety failings after an employee received serious steam burns. On 5 November 2012, a maintenance worker at KGH was stripping down a steam boiler for periodic examination, when he received the serious steam burn injuries to the lower half of his body. The incident occurred as he removed the crown valve from the boiler. The system only had a single point of isolation, instead of two, and this single point did not prevent steam leaking back into the section of the system on which he was working. Northampton Magistrates’ Court heard KGH had no system for assessing and controlling risks to their employees. The Trust did not know what training their maintenance employees had received and these workers were not under suitable supervision. Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was fined £7,000 with full costs of £1,926 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach.
Less than 10 per cent of people diagnosed with occupational cancer in Australia get any compensation, a report has revealed. ‘Occupational Cancer Costs’, a new review of workers’ compensation claims undertaken by Cancer Council Australia, found an average of 395 claims a year were made nationwide for work-related cancers, resulting in payouts of Aus$30 million (£15m), but that was a fraction of those who could possibly apply. The council says a recent analysis suggests exposure to known cancer-causing agents at work such as dust, chemicals and diesel exhaust could cause up to 5,000 new cases a year in Australia. This meant more than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with a work-related cancer had not received compensation. Report author Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia's occupational and environmental cancers committee, said: “Workers who develop cancer because of workplace exposures should receive adequate compensation – but a much better approach for everyone is to ensure appropriate protection is in place to prevent the cancer. If they don’t act, employers and regulators will be sitting on a cancer time bomb.” He added: “Australian businesses learnt their lesson the hard way when it came to the impact of asbestos and many Australians are still paying the price. We should be able to carry out a day's work, and go about our working lives without putting themselves at risk of developing cancer. We also need to make sure those who are affected are properly compensated.” The findings echo those in the UK, where hardly any non-asbestos cancers are compensated, and only a minority of even these asbestos cancers result in payouts (Risks 616). A TUC-backed report in 2013 revealed for most occupational cancers the chances of getting any compensation is below 1 in 50.
Ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations could undermine Europe’s chemical safety laws, a coalition of chemical safety, environmental and cancer prevention organisations has warned. The groups are concerned that the European Union’s chemical safety regulations are being wrongly characterised as barriers to trade that must be weakened. They have called on the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the issue, Bernd Lange, to follow the advice of the parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), and support the exclusion of chemical regulation from the TTIP negotiations altogether. US chemical regulations are significantly weaker than those in place in Europe. The groups say Europe’s REACH regulations are seen as a key target. And numerous chemicals banned by the EU are allowed for use in the US, including more than 80 hazardous pesticides. “The EU and the US have fundamentally different approaches and expectations of chemical legislation,” said Theresa Kjell, a policy adviser with ChemSec, a part of the coalition. “Regulatory cooperation in this field might lower the speed and effectiveness of chemical regulations which is a step in the wrong direction.” Bernd Lange’s final resolution will be voted on by the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) on 28 May 2015.
Governments backing the asbestos industry have derailed attempts to require mandatory warnings on all its cancer-causing exports. Russia and Kazakhstan – the world’s biggest asbestos exporters – headed a group of just four governments that refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances for which ‘prior informed consent’ is required by importers. These two asbestos exporters were joined by Zimbabwe - which wants to re-open its mothballed asbestos mines - and Russia’s ally, Kyrgyzstan. The group of four blocked the recommendation of the scientific committee to the United Nation’s convention, and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the 160-plus countries participating in the May conference assessing substances for inclusion on the list. The system requires a unanimous vote. The International Chrysotile Association (ICA), the asbestos industry’s global lobby organisation, was jubilant. “For the fifth time, inclusion of chrysotile has not been agreed. It is historical and without precedent. The policy of controlled use promoted by ICA still is the responsible accepted approach,” an ICA statement said. Prominent anti-asbestos campaign Kathleen Ruff retorted: “Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the corrupt information and the immoral conduct of the tiny number of countries who are sabotaging the Convention in order to protect their asbestos profits was condemned by the overwhelming majority of countries attending the conference.” UK union Unite, Australian unions AMWU and CFMEU, and global unions BWI and IndustriALL protested outside the United Nations building on 12 May, as the convention conference started. IndustriALL ran a two-week long publicity campaign on Geneva transport to remind conference participants and the wider public that asbestos is still in production and responsible for killing at least 100,000 people a year.
A prominent safety institute in the Philippines has challenged official safety assurances about conditions at a slipper and shoe factory where at least 72 workers died in a fire last week. The blaze swept through the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation factory in Valenzuela City on 13 May. Most of the dead were recovered from the second floor of the building, suggesting people had become trapped there. The fire was sparked when new-delivered chemicals used in the production of rubber slippers were ignited near the gate and grew quickly due to the abundance of flammable material inside of the building. The country’s Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) issued a statement the day after the fire assuring family members that they would be launching an investigation in order to ensure accountability and press charges for the incident. It added that DOLE would be providing families with compensation for funeral expenses and medical care. In the same statement, however, DOLE says that the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation was complying with employment and safety laws. A statement from the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) challenged the department assurance, saying the nature of the tragedy and the absence of fire escapes showed that both fire protection and occupational safety rules had been breached. IOHSAD also said workers who escaped the inferno said flammable chemicals were improperly stored. The IOHSAD statement noted: “The tragic death of the 72 Kentex workers is more than enough proof that the labour laws compliance inspection being implemented by the DOLE is erroneous, unreliable and questionable.” It criticised a DOLE policy seeking voluntary compliance with laws, rather than undertaking unannounced safety inspections. IOHSAD is calling for a new safety law making occupational health and safety violations a criminal offence.
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Issued: 20 May, 2015