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A defence of the life-saving role of safety reps is an increasingly visible theme in the TUC’s campaign against the government’s rights-robbing Trade Union Bill. Announcing new infographics spelling out why the government should be addressing the damage to health caused by a neglect of safety rather than attacking employment and trade union rights, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson notes: “One of the things that completely shows how the Bill is based on ideology rather than any desire to change things for the better is the focus the government is putting on the number of strikes we have. The right to strike is of course a basic right and is also an important last resort for unions on health and safety when all else fails. It is also at one of the lowest levels for decades.” He contrasts this with the harm caused by poor health and safety standards. “What the government is completely ignoring is the real problem at work, which is not the 0.8 million days lost through strike action but the 28.2 million days lost every year through injuries and injuries that are caused by work. These are all preventable, and the best way to prevent them? Having trade union health and safety representatives in the workplace. Union health and safety representation halves the number of serious injuries.” He said it is “mindboggling” that the government is trying to restrict the ability of union health and safety representatives to perform their role by telling employers in the public sector that they must cut back on the time that representatives are given to undertake inspections, meet with employers, and help protect everyone in the workplace. He is urging everyone concerned by the threat to safety to print off, tweet and otherwise promote the new infographic.
We’re here to stay! Unions challenge wrong-headed government attack that could cost lives, Frances O’Grady, Hazards online report, September 2015.
National rally and march on the Conservative conference, 4 October 2015.
The UK’s aviation regulator no longer has safety as its paramount concern and should be split up, the union Prospect has said. In a letter to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin the union, which represents more than 5,000 aviation specialists, calls for the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) regulatory functions to be hived off to a separate regulator after the union’s ‘extensive’ research raised serious problems caused by its dual role monitoring the economic and safety performance of the industry. Prospect’s new policy report, ‘Towards a sustainable aviation industry for the UK’, draws on the experience of air traffic controllers, air traffic systems specialists, licensed aircraft engineers and CAA staff in Prospect’s membership. In his letter to the transport secretary, Steve Jary, Prospect national secretary, notes: “We have come to question the combined responsibility for both economic and safety regulation in the CAA. We are not convinced that this is a good idea in principle... there is growing evidence that the CAA is struggling to reconcile these responsibilities with the result that its historical focus on safety is becoming blurred.” Prospect’s 29-page report highlights the regulator’s light-touch “top-level principles” for general aviation – which make no reference to safety – as well as the increasing prevalence of the budget airlines’ “flags of convenience” model, with its emphasis on avoiding tight regulation. The report includes evidence of faulty planes being allowed to fly, after exploiting legal loopholes that allow them to be registered in nations with poorer regulations and safety checks, and where pressure for a fast turnaround of planes meant essential maintenance was neglected.
A government announcement that smoking will be banned in all prisons in Wales and four in south-west England from next year has been hailed as a ‘victory for health and safety’ by the prison officers’ union POA. The phased roll-out, which will eventually see all jails in England and Wales go smoke-free, will from next month see smoking barred inside buildings at all open prisons in England and Wales. “The POA has been at the forefront of the campaign to ban smoking in prisons – for the benefit of our members, the UK’s hard-working prison officers – since the legislation to ban smoking in public places was banned in 2007,” said Steve Gillan, the union’s general secretary (Risks 694). He said the “long overdue” announcement comes after the union battled “consistent opposition” when it tried to push for a ban. PJ McParlin, national chair of the POA, said: “This is a crucial victory for health and safety in the workplace for prison officers. Prison officers have been denied the basic protections from second-hand smoke that other workers have had for almost a decade. We have repeatedly raised at every level of the prison service our members unnecessary exposure to a known health risk and now at last vital workplace protection is to be set in place.” The POA said it is calling on the Ministry of Justice and Public Health England to work with the union to ensure that prisoners in pilot prisons are provided with appropriate nicotine replacement therapies and smoking cessation support. It is also seeking a commitment to provide appropriate staffing levels during the roll out in order to ensure the operational safety of prisoners and prison officers during the change. In Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service said it aimed to have plans in place by December 2015 on how indoor smoke-free prison facilities would be delivered. Passive smoking is linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease and other health conditions.
Diesel exhaust fumes on Britain’s streets are putting workers at risk of serious and potentially deadly health conditions, the union GMB has warned. The union’s analysis of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels – a key diesel exhaust component – is based on data from 110 monitoring stations across the UK for 2015. The air pollution measurements were obtained at a range of different locations, with measures taken near roads and as general background levels and in urban and rural settings. GMB’s analysis points to 18 locations where levels exceeded the European Union’s 40 micrograms per cubic metre recommended limit. The union says these excessive levels present a health risk to members working on the roadside, noting “street cleaners, refuse workers, parking enforcement staff, utility workers, police community support workers and others are particularly exposed to such pollutants.” Studies have also shown professional drivers can also be at risk, as gaseous vehicle pollutants can become concentrated in their cabs. GMB is calling for more local monitoring and for action to reduce exposures. As well as causing and exacerbating existing respiratory diseases and being linked to heart problems, diesel exhaust is an established cause of cancer in humans (Risks 635).
Over 47,000 people in the European Union are dying of asbestos related conditions each year with the UK topping the fatalities list, a new report has concluded. ‘Eliminating occupational cancer in Europe’, published this week by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), puts deaths caused by exposure to asbestos at three times previous estimates. It indicates the real toll is higher still, as certain asbestos related cancers are excluded from the calculation, as are those caused by environmental and domestic exposures. The report has led to calls from asbestos victims’ advocacy groups for a renewed effort to stem th future toll. Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, said: “Time and again, civil society groups have pressed the European Commission and European Union to take coordinated and decisive action on the asbestos hazard. The political will to engage with this crisis has been sorely lacking.” She added: “In the light of the new data, the authorities should make good on their promise to constitute a European Asbestos Taskforce as a matter of utmost urgency.” Graham Dring, chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, said: “Despite regulations and guidelines on minimising asbestos exposures in the UK, hazardous exposures at work, school and home remain a fact of life. Unless the government agrees to implement a national policy of asbestos eradication, the UK will continue to see an increase in avoidable asbestos-related deaths at a time when we already have the worst asbestos mortality rates in the world.” Earlier this year, the TUC called for the UK government to introduce an asbestos eradication law, a call that has been supported by unions and others (Risks 710).
Occupational exposure to a fluid commonly used in metal machining operations may be related to a rare, irreversible and disabling lung disease, according to research presented this week at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) international congress in Amsterdam. Although metalworking fluid is known to be associated with the lung diseases asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis -an allergic type of pneumonia – the study authors say their research appears to be the first to establish that exposure to metalworking fluid is associated with lymphocytic bronchiolitis. In this condition, an over-production of immune cells damages the smallest airways in the lung. Dr Kristin Cummings, a respiratory health specialist from the US government’s occupational health research body NIOSH, was part of a team that investigated the cause of this rare disorder after four cases were diagnosed at a manufacturing facility where metalworking fluid was employed in a number of processes. The researchers interviewed and measured the lung function of 388 workers who worked at the facility. “Although workplace exposures were generally low, we found that workers with higher workplace exposure to the fluid reported more symptoms than those with less exposure,” said Dr Cummings. “However, their lung function was about the same, regardless of exposure levels. The finding of symptoms with normal lung function could mean that some workers are at risk of developing the disease as well.” Several of the workers with lymphocytic bronchiolitis are now disabled and unable to work, and at least one has required supplemental oxygen. The disease appears to be irreversible, the researchers noted. Recommending that exposure levels be kept “at the lowest level possible,” Dr Cummings added: “The recognition of the work-relatedness of lung disease is important for those who are exposed to similar conditions in the same workplace, and in others worldwide.”ELF news release.
A former HGV driver who developed the occupational disease ‘farmers’ lung’ hopes his case will lead to better protection for other workers. Ian Gear, a 53-year-old from Stafford, was diagnosed with the condition, also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis, in September 2012. It is caused by inhaling mould that grows on hay, straw and grain. Ian worked as an animal feed delivery driver for Ed Weetman Limited from 2004 to 2012 at its Stone and Market Drayton depots. His role included driving a blower lorry to farms around the UK to deliver animal feed and grain. In June 2012 he began suffering with tightness in his chest and found he would often get out of breath. Tests discovered that his lung capacity had been reduced to 52 per cent and doctors confirmed that the most likely cause of this was his exposure to grain dust during his employment. Law firm Irwin Mitchell, acting for Ian in a compensation case, has now secured an admission of liability from Ed Weetman Limited’s insurers. Ian commented: “To find out my condition was caused by my exposure to grain dust while working was a real shock and the fact I was only ever provided with a basic face mask and never really warned of the dangers the dust posed to me just added insult to injury.” He added: “I’m very relieved that the company’s insurers have now admitted a breach of duty and I can only hope that by taking legal action it will persuade Ed Weetman Limited to introduce better protection for staff and provide workers with guidance on the dangers posed by dust in the workplace.”Irwin Mitchell news release.
A zoo director has appeared in court following the death of a keeper fatally mauled by a Sumatran tiger. Sarah McClay, 24, was pounced on in the keeper's corridor of the tiger house at South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, on 24 May 2013. She suffered ‘unsurvivable’ multiple injuries and was airlifted from the scene to hospital where she was formally pronounced dead, Barrow Magistrates' Court heard. David Gill, 54, is being prosecuted by Barrow Borough Council for alleged breaches relating to the day of the tragedy and subsequent failures to comply with two improvement notices served on him. He faces separate charges over an incident in July last year when a female zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats at the zoo. The council maintains that Gill, who founded the zoo, did not comply with the requirements of a notice served on 15 August last year by failing to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health, safety and welfare of employees and others who may be affected by live Sumatran tiger keeping. A similar charge relates to a notice served on 25 July 2014 in connection with the placing of animal food at height on poles for big cat carnivores and in its other outdoor enclosures. District Judge Gerald Chalk sent all matters to be dealt with at Preston Crown Court. Gill was released on conditional bail to attend a preliminary hearing on 23 October. Last September, an inquest jury in Kendal ruled in a narrative verdict that Padang the Sumatran tiger got to Miss McClay by entering two open internal sliding gates within the tiger house and then an open door that led on to the corridor. It was reported that a lock on one of the doors was defective.The Herald.
Two company executives have received suspended jail sentences after a bricklayer was crushed to death under a falling wall. Gareth Jones, 28, died in St Albans while working for Linley Developments. The firm pleaded guilty at St Albans Crown Court to corporate manslaughter and its managing director and project manager admitted criminal health and safety breaches. The court heard the tragedy occurred on 30 January 2013, two days after managing director Trevor Hyatt ignored a worker’s warning that the 2.9m (9.5ft) wall by the storeroom, which had been built a year earlier, was unsafe and only propped up by the soil it leaned against. The soil was removed regardless, and when Mr Jones was hammering metal pins into the ground nearby the wall collapsed, killing him instantly. The prosecution followed a joint investigation by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE found the company's planning had been “woefully inadequate”. The company was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000. Trevor Hyatt, 50, and project manager Alfred Barker, 59, both received six month prison sentences suspended for two years. Mr Hyatt was fined £25,000 and made to pay costs of £7,500, with Mr Barker told to pay costs of £5,000. During sentencing Judge Bright said of Trevor Hyatt: “The aspect of your involvement which makes your culpability particularly high is that two days before the fatal accident you instructed your staff to carry out excavation work at an even lower level despite being advised that precautionary measures might need to be taken before doing so. I am satisfied that you chose to ignore that and that had you taken it, it is likely that Gareth Jones would still be alive today.”Herts Constabulary news release. Welwyn Hatfield Times. BBC News Online.
A steel supply company has been fined following the death of an employee who was crushed by a two tonne steel beam at a warehouse in Cardiff. Mark Walker, a 37-year-old father of one from Newport, suffered fatal injuries as he was trying to move a steel beam onto a conveyor on 24 June 2012. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted Mr Walker’s employer, CMC UK Ltd, at Cardiff Crown Court. The court heard Mr Walker was working alone and was to use the computer controlled saw for the first time. He had to separate H-beam columns – each 16 metres long and weighing more than two tonnes - that were stacked ready to be put on the conveyor that fed the saw. As he did this, the top column fell and killed him. HSE’s investigation found there were no instructions on how to split and lift the columns safely and Mr Walker, an experienced warehouseman, had not been given training for this task. There was no safe system of work for splitting or separating columns. The safest way would be to separate them at floor level or in a purpose built rack before placing them on the conveyor table. CMC UK Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £112,500 and ordered to pay £96,000.in costs. HSE inspector Dean Baker said: “The company did not adequately plan the work that Mark was tasked with and expected a number of employees to separate large steel columns at waist height. They should have identified the risk of these columns falling and ensured that the columns were separated at floor level or in a suitable rack.” He added: “Had the lifting operation been properly planned and appropriately supervised and employees given adequate training, Mr Walker would still be alive.”HSE news release.
A chemical firm has been fined after a hydrogen explosion blew a vessel lid through a factory roof, injuring a worker. Catalloy Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at its plant in Widnes on 25 November 2011. Warrington Crown Court heard that two months earlier the company, which produces metal catalysts used by the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, had made a modification to one of its reactors. The explosion occurred on the first day of production following the modification and blew the lid and other equipment through the corrugated panels on the roof of the factory and into a neighbouring car park. A worker suffered cuts to his hand and back. The HSE investigation found the firm had fitted a new seal on the reactor to prevent air getting in, but had not properly considered the risks of the increased pressure inside the equipment during the production process. Catalloy Ltd was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety breaches. HSE inspector Mhairi Duffy said: “Catalloy deals with potentially dangerous substances every day and so it’s vital nothing is left to chance when it comes to the safety of its workers. The company should have carefully considered the risks of sealing the reactor but instead it continued with the production process and there was a major hydrogen explosion as a result.” She added: “Luckily, only one worker suffered minor injuries in the blast but the consequences could easily have been fatal.” HSE news release and hazardous installations webpages.
A roofing firm and a senior manager have been fined for criminal safety failings after an employee suffered life changing injuries when he fell through a fragile roof. Worthing Magistrates’ Court heard how in January 2015 Practical Cladding Solutions Limited of Southampton was appointed by Styropack UK Limited to cut a hole in an industrial roof and clad an extension. During the work, a 25-year-old employee, whose name has not been released, fell through an unprotected fragile roof light next to the work area. Practical Cladding Solutions Limited was fined £9,000, after pleading guilty to three criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations. Anthony Hibbard, the company’s senior manager, was fined £3,000, after pleading guilty to the same criminal offences. Costs of £1,192 were awarded to the Health and Safety Executive.HSE news release.
A Hampshire metal manufacturing company has been fined for criminal safety offences after a teenage agency worker suffered an injury to his hand. Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court heard how on 6 October 2014, an 18-year-old agency worker at Independent Ductwork Limited of Basingstoke was operating a three-roll machine when his gloved fingers were drawn into the rollers. His index finger later had to be amputated. HSE guidance states that gloves with fingers should not be worn when using this particular type of machine as they increase the risk of entanglement. Independent Ductwork Limited was fined £6,000, and ordered to pay £1,381.35 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal health and safety breach.HSE news release and machinery safety webpages.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN), comprising over 600 non-governmental organisations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries, has released ‘The Consolidated List of Banned Pesticides’. The newly compiled list shows whether these pesticides are regarded as highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation. As of July 2015, of the 98 countries on which PAN could collect data, one or more had banned a total of 316 pesticide active ingredients. In addition, the European Union refused approval for a further 53 pesticides that meet the PAN criteria for an HHP. “Effective alternatives to HHPs exist, and it is a lack of political will that is hampering progress on banning HHPs and moving towards safer agricultural practices not relying on such pesticides,” said Dr Meriel Watts, senior scientist from PAN Asia and the Pacific, who compiled this list. The Consolidated List of Banned Pesticides, PAN, 2015.
To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which runs through October, the TUC has issued a second edition of its guidance for union representatives, employees, line managers and employers for how best to support colleagues with cancer at work. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People with cancer can experience considerable prejudice from both managers and colleagues and may hide aspects of their illness from bosses. There is enormous scope for union reps to ensure employers support their staff effectively, and everyone should be in a trade union to get their voice heard and their interests represented at work.”
Publication alert and full report: Cancer in the workplace: A workbook for union representatives. TUC guidance on occupational cancer prevention: Occupational Cancer - A Workplace Guide.
Occupational exposures to chemical hazards – and how to identify them and avoid them – is the topic of new resources launched this week at a major international conference. The fourth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4), which started in Geneva on 28 September, considered next steps towards a previously agreed 2020 goal of ensuring all chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment. A new video and publication, produced by Sustainlabour and the international union confederation ITUC, outlines trade union demands and spell out what unions are already doing to reduce risks to workers and to accelerate sustainable management of chemicals at work.
Supporting SAICM implementation through fighting toxic work: Unions for a sustainable management of chemicals, Sustainlabour/ITUC, September 2015. Related video. ICCM4.
Related video resource: The true costs of the chemical industry's products, IPEN, September 2015.
Employers in Malaysia should allow smog-affected workers to stay away from work until air quality in the country improves, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has said. The union call came this week after acrid smoke billowing from agricultural fires in Indonesia caused a spike in air pollution in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. Earlier this month, smog levels led to the closure of schools in the capital. Parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been shrouded for weeks in a choking haze drifting from fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island. MTUC deputy secretary-general A Balasubramaniam said: “Private sector employers should be lenient enough to grant unrecorded leave for their employees at a time when the haze situation is worsening. Employers should also provide free face masks for their employees who are affected by the haze and ensure they do not engage in any outdoor activities.” He added: “We hope the employers do not take any drastic action against employees who are unable to attend work during this critical period,” he said.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released updated rules intended to keep farmworkers from being poisoned by pesticides. Under the changes, employers will now have to train workers on the risks of pesticides every year, rather than every five years. Workers will also have to stay farther away from contaminated fields and farmers will have to keep more records on exactly when and where they use specific pesticides. No children under the age of 18 will be allowed to handle the chemicals under the new rules. EPA estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 workers may be poisoned by pesticides each year. Many others are exposed to hazardous chemicals but experience less severe symptoms. US secretary of labor Thomas E Perez said: “No one should ever have to risk their lives for their livelihoods, but far too many workers, especially those who work in agriculture, face conditions that challenge their health and safety every day.” He added: “Workplace illness and injury contribute greatly to economic inequality, and can have a devastating impact on workers and their families. By promoting workplace safety, these provisions will enhance economic security for people struggling to make ends meet and keep more Americans on the job raising the crops that feed the world, and we are proud to support the EPA in this effort.” Farmworker advocates gave the new rules, which were not as extensive as hoped, a qualified welcome. “We've been fighting for more than 20 years from some of these improvements,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice.
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Issued: 5 October, 2015