TUC - Risks 718 - 03 September 2015

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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 718 - 3 September 2015
 
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]
 

Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

 

UNION NEWS

TUC claims ‘vindictive’ and dangerous Bill

The government’s ‘vindictive’ Trade Union Bill could put your life at risk, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has warned. In a special feature in Hazards magazine she says David Cameron’s plan would rob union safety reps of the time and rights they need to perform their role. “The stand-out reason Britain’s workplaces are safer than in most other European countries is that we have more active union health and safety representatives. And we know that unions make workplaces safer,” she noted. “But one of the government’s first acts after the May 2015 election was to publish the Trade Union Bill. This will make life difficult for unions generally – and will have a marked effect on our work on health and safety.” The proposals, which include limitations on industrial action and restrictions on time off for trade union representatives in the loosely defined “public sector”, make absolutely no sense from a regulatory point of view, she said. “They will not save money or remove bureaucracy, nor will they improve safety. They are an ideologically-led reaction fuelled by simple prejudice against trade unions.” She said at a time when there has been a “massive reduction in inspection and enforcement activity” by official safety regulators, union protection has never been more necessary. “Anything that prevents us acting on behalf of those that need us will undermine health and safety in the workplace. That must not be allowed to happen,” the TUC general secretary asserts. “We are not going away. We are going to keep on recruiting and negotiating, and organising and protecting our members in every way we can, just as we always have done and will continue to do so in the future.”

We’re here to stay! Unions challenge wrong-headed government attack that could cost lives, Frances O’Grady, Hazards online report, 4 September 2015

Have you taken strike action to protect your rights?

No-one takes the difficult decision to go on strike lightly. But the right to strike is key to making employers listen to workers, says the TUC. And research has shown that industrial action is part of the armoury that makes trade unions so effective in defending health and safety standards at work, with a London School of Economics study finding: “Strikes and slow-downs serve as efficacious union tools for reducing workplace injuries.” The TUC says government’s Trade Union Bill “threatens the right to strike – and that’ll make it harder to raise safety concerns, oppose job cuts or service closures, or win better conditions.” The union body adds: “That’s where you come in. If you have been involved in a recent dispute that has resulted in strike action, please tell us your story.” It is quick and easy to send details of your action online, saying why it was important you took strike action and the outcome of that action.

Tell TUC what you did and why.

Rural safety threat as fire cover is axed

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in North Yorkshire has stepped up its campaign against cuts to the local fire and rescue service. It says an area in excess of 3,000 square miles could be left with the number of fire engines pared back to about half the pre-cuts level, and with hundreds fewer firefighters. The union has launched a publicity campaign, including a dedicated ‘no2firecuts’ website, to raise awareness of cuts it says will increase emergency response times and see firefighters turn up to emergencies without full life-saving equipment. Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “These cuts could result in firefighters attending a fire and not being able to do anything because they are waiting for a full size fire engine to turn up from miles away with the right equipment and adequate numbers of firefighters.” He added: “These cuts will mean that in the past five years 20 per cent of the firefighting force has been axed. Worryingly these figures do not include the 200 part-time firefighters who have been forced to resign as a result of the pressures of work, being on-call and retirements. The service is already looking to reduce from 46 to 27 the number of fire engines that respond to emergencies by increasing response times to 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 1 hour. In an emergency every minute counts and it will be the public who pay the price for these cuts as the five fire deaths so far this year highlight.” He warned: “The geographical layout of North Yorkshire with its 3,300 square miles, 1.2 million population and its large country roads make it difficult to cover. These cuts will put more pressure on an already over-stretched service.”

FBU news release and www.no2firecuts.com campaign website.

UNISON to continue tribunal fees fight

UNISON has vowed to go to country’s top court after the Court of Appeal rejected its appeal against the government’s introduction of ‘punitive’ employment tribunal fees. The Court of Appeal did describe the fees evidence as ‘troubling’ and expressed a “strong suspicion that so large a decline [in claims] is unlikely to be accounted for entirely by cases of ‘won’t pay’ and [that] it must also reflect at least some cases of ‘can’t pay’.” Under the fees system, workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the “decision is a huge disappointment and a major setback for people at work. Many unscrupulous employers will be rubbing their hands together in glee at the news.” He added: “There is stark evidence that workers are being priced out of justice and it is women, the disabled and the low-paid who are being disproportionately punished. Our fight for fairness at work and access to justice for all will continue until these unfair and punitive fees are scrapped.” In June, the government announced a review into the impact of employment tribunal fees (Risks 707).

UNISON news release. Court of Appeal judgment, 26 August 2015.

Long hours warning must be heeded at sea

Research linking long working hours to higher rates of heart disease and strokes should spur a reduction in the notoriously long hours worked at sea, seafarers’ union Nautilus has said. The union was commenting after a study published last week in the Lancet found that those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33 per cent increased risk of stroke compared with those who work a 35- to 40-hour week. They also have a 13 per cent increased risk of coronary heart disease (Risks 717). Allan Graveson, Nautilus senior national secretary, said: “In addition to stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer have been identified as long term increased risks to health as a consequence of working long hours, especially at night with inadequate rest. In shipping, where there is the potential for the greatest loss of life in a single incident, regulations provide for working a 91/98 hour working week.” He added: “Independent research, Project Horizon, has confirmed that human performance seriously degrades when working long hours, especially at night. This causes tiredness and places all marine users at risk.” The union officer concluded: “The long term risk to health is considerable and was recognised with the European Working Time Directive in 1993. Unlike asbestos, ignored for decades, employers now need to take responsibility. A 91/98 hour working week is unacceptable.”

Nautilus news release. Project Horizon.

Work capability assessments not ‘fit for purpose’

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Work Capability Assessments are not fit for purpose and should be scrapped in their current form, Unite has said. The union was speaking after the release last week of figures showing more than 4,000 people died within six weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ (Risks 717). They revealed that between December 2011 and February 2014 a total of 4,010 people died after being told they should find work following a privatised Work Capability Assessment. Of that figure, 1,360 died after appealing against a ‘fit for work’ decision. Of the 4,010 who died after being told they were ‘fit for work’, 3,720 were in receipt of Employment Support Allowance, while 290 where on either Incapacity Benefit or its replacement, Severe Disablement Allowance. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “These disturbing figures show that there is something deeply wrong with Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Capability Assessments. It is clear that the system isn’t fit for purpose and in some instances is finding people ‘fit for work’ as they enter the final months of their lives. In its current form it is nothing more than an impersonal tick box exercise that takes no account of people’s complex medical conditions and only causes worry and distress.” He added: “Whether or not someone is fit for work should not be determined by private sector companies driven by profit or targets imposed by ministers fixated on cutting the benefit bill. It should be trained NHS medical staff carrying out work capability assessments in a revised system with the need for on-going support and assistance at its core.”

Unite news release.
 

OTHER NEWS

Healthy workplaces ‘a must do’ says NHS chief

The NHS “must put its own house in order” and create healthy workplaces for its 1.3 million staff, NHS England's chief executive has announced. Simon Stevens was outlining his £5m solution for cutting the NHS bill for staff sickness, which currently stands at £2.4bn a year. Speaking on 2 September at the NHS Innovation Expo conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens set out how NHS organisations will be supported to help their staff to stay well, including serving healthier food, promoting physical activity, reducing stress, and providing health checks covering mental health and musculoskeletal problems – the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS. The NHS chief said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.” Christina McAnea of the health service union UNISON, commented: “The health and wellbeing of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients, and this initiative rightly starts recognising that. Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work.” She added: “NHS staff experience some of the highest levels of stress and violence in the country, and this can no longer be tolerated. Health unions will be working with employers and NHS England on these issues.” Sue Covill of the NHS Employers organisation said: “The biggest annual survey of NHS staff showed managers are doing more to support workforce health and well-being. There are over 50 per cent more programmes supporting staff health and wellbeing now compared to 2010. NHS staff are now more confident than ever in reporting stress and mental health problems.” But she added: “We cannot be complacent. As demand on the NHS grows, efforts to improve the health and well-being of staff are very important, not only for staff but also to improve patient outcomes.”

NHS England news release. BBC News Online. The Mirror.

Dundee firm admits failings in chemical tank death

A Dundee company has admitted criminal health and safety failings after a worker died while cleaning out a chemical tank with a highly dangerous chemical cocktail. Steven Conway died while working at Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd, a firm owned and operated by former Dundee FC director of football Paul Marr. The 33-year-old was sent in to remove debris from a chemical tank with inadequate protective clothing in August 2011. Dundee Sheriff Court heard Mr Conway, a father-of-two, was sent in to remove debris created from the process of stripping wheels, and was exposed to a chemical known as EFX Strip. The product contains methylene chloride, methanol and hydrofluoric acid and is described as a “highly volatile organic compound”. Methylene chloride is restricted and powerful solvent that can cause asphyxiation and hydrofluoric acid is dangerously corrosive. Mr Conway was wearing only trainers, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt and fleece. The mask he was given did nothing to protect him from the toxic fumes let off by the chemicals, which were used to strip alloy wheels for cars. Co-workers found the father of two unconscious inside the tank, and he was taken to hospital before being pronounced dead. A post-mortem examination found he had suffered chemical burns to his thighs, knees, shins and feet “typical of chemical burns from contact with hydrofluoric acid”. Pathologists concluded he had died from inhaling industrial paint stripper. Prosecutors said the tank Mr Conway was working in was not properly ventilated, the gloves he was given had holes in them and the face mask he was wearing was actually releasing “contaminants” into his air supply. The court also heard that there were no safety protocols in place at the premises, no risk assessment was carried out and there was no safe system of work in place. Sheriff Alistair Brown deferred sentence until October for the Crown and defence to make written submissions.

STV News. BBC News Online.

Coatings firm in court for legionella failings

A steel coating company has been fined for failing to manage the risks from legionella bacteria at two cooling towers over a period of five years. Newport Crown Court heard how in February 2014, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited Coilcolor limited in Newport, Gwent and found it had since 2009 been operating two cooling towers on site without taking necessary measures to control proliferation of the bacteria. The risks from the operation of the cooling towers had not been assessed, there was no written scheme, the towers were in poor condition, drift eliminators to reduce the spread of aerosol were missing, there was no water treatment programme in place and staff had not been trained to appreciate and manage the risks. Prohibition notices were immediately served by the HSE inspector, preventing the cooling towers being used until all appropriate controls were put in place. Improvement notices were then served requiring risk assessment and management problems to be remedied. Coilcolor Limited was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £28,393 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Joanne Carter, said: “Operating cooling towers without proper controls in place can present a significant risk to employees and members of the public; in this case the company operates next to a housing estate and within one kilometre of the Royal Gwent Hospital.”

HSE news release and legionella management guide.

Steel coating firm ignored Legionella risk

A steel coating company has been fined for failing to manage the risks from legionella bacteria at two cooling towers over a period of five years. Newport Crown Court heard how in February 2014, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited Coilcolor limited in Newport, Gwent and found it had since 2009 been operating two cooling towers on site without taking necessary measures to control proliferation of the bacteria. The risks from the operation of the cooling towers had not been assessed, there was no written scheme, the towers were in poor condition, drift eliminators to reduce the spread of aerosol were missing, there was no water treatment programme in place and staff had not been trained to appreciate and manage the risks. Prohibition notices were immediately served by the HSE inspector, preventing the cooling towers being used until all appropriate controls were put in place. Improvement notices were then served requiring risk assessment and management problems to be remedied. Coilcolor Limited was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £28,393 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Joanne Carter, said: “Operating cooling towers without proper controls in place can present a significant risk to employees and members of the public; in this case the company operates next to a housing estate and within one kilometre of the Royal Gwent Hospital.”

HSE news release and Legionnaires’ disease webpage.

Teen worker disfigured by unguarded machine

A Glasgow manufacturer of foam plastics and rubber materials has been fined after admitting criminal safety failing that left a teenage worker permanently disfigured. Glasgow Sheriff Court was told that on 28 January 2013 a 19-year-old employee of Paulamar Company Ltd was seriously injured while feeding foam sheets into an adhesive backing machine that had no safety guardings. His hand stuck to the adhesive and was pulled into the rollers. He suffered a broken knuckle on his middle finger and a broken index finger on his right hand, had deep lacerations to the palm of his hand with swelling and bruising to the back of his hand. He has been left with two visible scars and a burn mark on the back of his right hand and was off work for six months. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and found the young worker’s right hand was pulled into the machine because the company had failed to ensure the machine had the necessary guards fitted. Paulamar Company Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £12,000.

HSE news release

Worker pollaxed by boards failing from crane

A worker on a Balfour Beatty site in Dorset was knocked out and seriously injured after being struck by falling boards being lifted by a crane. The half a tonne load of sound bloc boards was being lifted from the fourth floor at the rear of a block of flats under construction in Poole to the second lift loading bay at the front of the building. Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court heard how on 6 May 2014, as the load of 15 boards descended into the loading bay, it snagged on a scaffolding standard causing the boards to slip out of two retaining slings. The worker at the site in Branksome was struck by a number of the boards as he stood on the loading bay. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs. Balfour Beatty Regional Construction was fined £22,000 and ordered to pay £16,089 in costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.

HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.
 

Contractor didn’t provide safety cover

A contractor has been fined after admitting unsafe work at height practices and insurance breaches. James Young, trading as Watertight Home Improvements, pleaded guilty at Chester Magistrates’ Court after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The court heard that on 19 November 2014, an HSE inspection of the re-roofing of a domestic property in Neston, Wirral, found workers carrying out work at height without “suitable and sufficient” means to prevent the risk of a fall from height of both people and objects. On arrival at the property the inspector found that the only protection available to prevent the risk of a fall from height was two poorly positioned mobile tower scaffolds. James Young admitted criminal safety breaches and failing to provide the legally required employers’ liability insurance for those undertaking the work on his behalf. These payments cover any compensation liabilities should someone be injured as a result of his negligence. He was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £1,020 in costs. HSE inspector Phil Redman said: “This case should be a lesson to roof working companies and others who fail to comply with their duties under health and safety legislation, it is unacceptable for companies to put the lives of their workforce at risk.”

HSE news release.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: Unions call for offshore safety action

There must be urgent reforms to regulatory oversight of Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry to improve safety, unions have said. In a new report, ‘Offshore OHS – Protecting our oil and gas workers’, national union federation ACTU outlines nine recommendations for occupational health and safety law reform. The ACTU urges the Australian government, Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – Australia has a federal and state government system - and relevant authorities to embrace world’s best practice for offshore occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation. The union body says its recommendations “are not contentious”, just asking for good onshore laws to be matched for offshore operations. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said: “Offshore safety legislation must be brought into line with national OHS standards – there is no justification for lower standards of protections for offshore workers.” He added: “Governments and regulatory bodies must answer the question – why is the safety of offshore oil and gas workers treated differently to their onshore colleagues?” Australian unions call on all governments to take notice of these recommendations, implement the reforms and stop us from sliding further behind the rest of the world.”

ACTU news release and report, OHS Offshore - Protecting our Oil and Gas Workers,

Global: Asbestos industry lobbyists still at work

Top public relations firms are continuing to ply their trade for the global asbestos industry, helping maintain the deadly fibre’s marketshare. The latest evidence, obtained by Canadian human rights organisation RightOnCanada.ca, comes from Malaysia. In 2011, the Malaysian government’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health proposed that asbestos imports should be banned. In an effort to defeat the proposed ban, the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) hired one of the world’s most powerful public relations companies, APCO Worldwide, to carry out political lobbying. The Consumers Association of Penang appealed to APCO Worldwide to disassociate itself from the asbestos industry. Human rights organisation RightOnCanada.ca, however, says it has evidence ICA is still today secretly funding APCO to carry out activities in Malaysia to block the proposed ban, including arranging presentations at conferences and direct liaison with government ministers. It notes: “It seems that most of the funding the ICA receives comes from the Russian asbestos mines and possibly the Russian government. Over two-thirds of the asbestos exported in the world in 2014 was exported by Russia.”

RightOnCanada.ca.

Global: Samsung pressed on cancers foundation

A broad group of civil society organisations from Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America is urging Korean electronics giant Samsung to deliver justice to those harmed by chemical exposures in its factories. The letter to Kwon oh hyun, CEO of Samsung Electronics, says Samsung should abide by the recent recommendations of a high profile mediation committee. The committee, set up to arbitrate between the company and occupational disease victims and their families, agreed Samsung should fund an independent non-profit foundation and resolve all outstanding issues arising from the cluster of occupational diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma among Samsung workers. Signatories to the letter to Samsung include the global union IndustriALL, campaign groups the International Campaign for Responsible Technology and Good Electronics, labour rights organisation the Asia Monitor Resource Centre and acclaimed academic Noam Chomsky. The letter states: “The key to assuring effective prevention strategies in the future is through the proposed foundation, made up of a wide range of independent experts who can help you become a respected leader in occupational and environmental health, matching your leadership in global technology.” It adds: “If Samsung insists on controlling all of these key decisions by yourselves, you will fail to achieve the acceptance and labour peace that you profess to desire.”

IndustriALL news release. Support and endorse the open letter. Good Electronics news release. Korea IT Times.

Ireland: Fearful rail staff dare not report ‘near misses’

Under pressure workers at Irish Rail are failing to report “near misses” or incidents on the country's railways for fear of being blamed by senior management, a damning safety audit has found. The draft report, commissioned by the Railway Safety Commission (RSC), also warns of “poor morale” among workers due to recently imposed pay cuts. The independent safety audit, which was carried out last year by a UK-based consultancy firm, calls for significant improvements in the safety culture at Irish Rail. “The current weakness is very much in the area of safety culture, which was widely characterised in audit interviews by a lack of trust between management and frontline staff and management being seen to be involved only at times of bad news,” the report states. “This is discouraging near-miss reporting, so that a full picture of risk is not visible at senior management and board level and feedback on the implementation of standards is limited (allowing poor standards to endure).” Auditors found that recent cost-reduction measures, which have included pay cuts, have contributed to a sense of poor morale. The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) called on the company and the government to immediately address the issues raised. NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said thousands of staff had been made redundant, and those remaining were doing more work for less pay. “Therefore you don't have to be an expert on rail safety to understand that low morale among frontline staff, the vast majority of whom perform safety-critical functions, can result in negative consequences.”

Irish Independent.

 

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