|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]|
Ambulances were called out to the headquarters of one of Europe's largest sports retailers 80 times in two years, a BBC investigation found. Many of the calls, for workers at Sports Direct's complex at Shirebrook, in Derbyshire, were for ‘life-threatening’ illnesses. Former workers told the BBC some staff were “too scared” to take sick leave because they feared losing their jobs. The figures, which came from a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC's Inside Out team to East Midlands Ambulance Service, have since been passed to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which has said it will examine the data. Shirebrook operates a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy, with even minor infractions of the strict work codes – like chatting to colleagues or taking an excessively long toilet break – punishable with a warning. According to the union Unite: “It’s no wonder many feel scared to take time off sick, even when they really need to, and people are pushed to the limits of their health.” The union said it had been told that last year there were about 3,000 agency workers at the Shirebrook headquarters of Sports Direct, which was founded by billionaire Mike Ashley. Unite, which has launched a campaign for decent work at Sports Direct, says poor conditions are not limited to the company’s warehouses. Workers in its high street shops are also vulnerable, employed on zero hours contracts. The union notes: “It’s time for Sports Direct to restore dignity and security at work by paying a real living wage and putting all staff on permanent contracts.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the most vulnerable workers are also the poorest served by enforcement agencies. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who are working in distribution centres, call centres and other workplaces who are being treated as little more than machines, with few employment rights and no access to trade union protection. This is the reality of life in deregulated Britain in 2015. Yet those that should be protecting them, the regulators, are nowhere to be seen.” He added: “Rather than hauling these companies before the courts, they are being told to concentrate on ‘high risk’ areas, and leave the office and retail environments alone. How a company that needs ambulances on 80 occasions over 24 months can be ‘low risk’, I don’t know.”
Rail union RMT has said speed restrictions placed on some train services have exposed the impact of cuts to maintenance and inspections on the railways and the dangers of running services on untested tracks. The union was speaking out after Arriva Trains Wales was last week forced to impose blanket speed restrictions on sections of the network that had not been tested within agreed safety schedules. An internal notice confirmed that the speed restriction was due to “the length of time since the last visit of a Network Rail test train.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The real impact of cuts to maintenance budgets, staffing and inspection schedules, imposed on Network Rail by the government’s agents the ORR [Office of Rail and Road], is exposed today as Arriva Trains Wales are forced to impose slow running on tracks that have not been tested within safety-critical time limits. Both passengers and staff alike are being put at risk.” He added: “With surging demand for rail care this is no time to be cutting corners, trimming budgets and axing safety-critical staff while the private train companies are raking in a fortune. It is a shocking indictment of the state of our railways.”
More than half of teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next two years, a union poll has revealed. The joint NUT and YouGov survey found 53 per cent of teachers are looking to quit, mainly due to low morale and high workloads made worse by cuts in pay and the number of teachers and support staff. Teachers are working up to 60 hours a week, the teaching union found. It is calling on the government to take action to address the issues of workload, pay and low morale. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that teachers felt the Department for Education’s (DfE) efforts to tackle workload have been “totally inadequate.” She said: “The government’s current priorities are both wrong and profoundly out of step with the views of teachers. They are the essential cause of the growing problems with teacher supply.” She warned that the emergence of the problems coincided with ballooning class sizes, with nearly one million more children starting school over the next decade. “We now have a perfect storm of crisis upon crisis in the schools system. The long-term erosion of teacher pay is further contributing to low teacher morale,” the NUT leader argued. She added that the Department for Education “remains wilfully and recklessly unable to see that they are the cause of teacher misery across England.” The Department for Education this week announced the creation of three teacher workload review groups.
Ÿ Morning Star.
The introduction of a 5p carrier bag charge in England must not lead to customer frustration once again being directed at shopworkers, their union has said. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “Every day shopworkers have to enforce a number of laws, like age identification. Sometimes customers can get frustrated with this and take it out on the staff. So the introduction of a new law, like carrier bag charging, can be a flashpoint for verbal abuse, threats or even violence. Therefore my message to customers is clear. Please respect shopworkers, they are just doing their job and have to comply with the law.” The union leader concluded: “Our surveys show that life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough, with more than half suffering verbal abuse in the last twelve months. Retail staff have an important role in our communities and that role should be valued and respected.” Usdaw’s survey of 5,021 shopworkers asked participants about their experiences last year. It found 3.1 per cent had been assaulted, a third (33 per cent) threatened and over half (56.3 per cent) verbally abused. Carrier bag charges were introduced earlier in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ÿ Morning Star.
A Unite member from Bradford who suffered an acute back injury at work has secured more than £6,000 in compensation. The maintenance engineer at Bradford Royal Infirmary, whose name has not been released, worked from a plant room, which he could only access by climbing a set of ladders and entering through a small hatch. Workers would often need to carry tools up to the plant room through the hatch, a manoeuvre that had prompted complaints to management. As the engineer carried a heavy tool to the room and reached to put the tool down, he suffered pain in his lower back. He continued to work in discomfort but sought medical advice after he felt shooting pains in his back and into his hands. His doctor recommended that he take time off work to recover. Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “Since our member was injured at Bradford Royal Infirmary a safe access to the plant room has been installed. While we’re pleased that maintenance workers will no longer be at risk because of an access not fit for use, it is a case of too little too late for our member.” She added: “Management at Bradford Royal Infirmary not only ignored complaints from staff about the access, it was also a clear breach of fire regulations and has resulted in a lasting injury for its employee.”
Blacklisted workers have been granted ‘core participant’ status in the government-ordered Pitchford public inquiry into undercover policing. The confirmation came in a letter to Imran Khan & Partners solicitors, who had applied to the Pitchford inquiry on behalf of the Blacklist Support Group. All of the named individuals in the BSG application have been successful. Core participant status means that blacklisted workers will be given access to all the evidence generated and the government will cover the cost of legal representation throughout the entire public inquiry. The first full session of the Pitchford inquiry started this week at the Royal Courts of Justice. It is expected to report in 2018. BSG secretary Dave Smith said: “We are not naive and remain sceptical about whether Pitchford will fully expose what these secret political policing units have been up to and which politicians were directing the strategy. But Pitchford is the only game in town likely to get close and we intend to continue to push for justice both inside and outside the inquiry.” Recent evidence has established undercover police officers infiltrated construction unions and also spied on union activists from RMT, FBU, UNISON, NUT and CWU. Information was also provided by police to the covert industry-financed blacklister The Consulting Association. The Morning Star reports that construction unions UCATT and GMB have both submitted large batches of evidence to the inquiry and are understood to have also been granted core participant status. “It is a very positive development that there will be a voice for blacklisted workers on the Pitchford inquiry,” said GMB national officer Justin Bowden.
Ÿ Morning Star.
‘Workplace resilience’, an increasingly popular intervention in workplaces intended to help us withstand the pressures of work, was criticised two years ago by the TUC for treating the distressed worker and not the dysfunctional workplace as the problem (Risks 623). Now the approach is coming in for flak in Australia. Andrew Thackrah and Susie Byers, writing this week in The Age newspaper, note a slew of private consultancies is cashing in on resilience training, often employing mindfulness, meditation and associated health and well-being programmes. But the article notes “individually-focused programmes can't overcome the structural realties and power imbalances that characterise the employment relationship. ‘Workplace resilience’ might help us bear up to stress, but it won't solve its underlying causes. And the causes of workplace unhappiness don't necessarily reside in the individual and their own ability to ‘be resilient’ or ‘relax’ – they are part of the economic structures within which we work.” Thackrah and Byers conclude: “The provision of health and well-being programmes by employers may have individual and collective benefits but it does not shift the underlying dynamic that determines the wages and conditions that, in turn, have a big impact on our health.” They add that while meditating at work may make us happier, “you know what else might make us happier at work? Packing up and going home on time. The real challenge for workers is not simply to remain resilient in the face of workplace stress, but to lead a societal shift that sees ‘work-life balance’ become more than simply a slogan. This shift will require the present generation of workers (particularly those in the expanding services sector) to adopt a healthy scepticism towards the behaviour of corporate vested interests and to be willing to act collectively to obtain lasting workplace justice.”
Ÿ The Age.
A factory worker suffering with chronic back pain as a result of repetitive work over long shifts has called for employers to improve their assessments and safety measures. Anthony McCarthy, 26, who has received an out-of-court payout, first began to suffer with muscle pain in his mid- to lower- back in early 2012, with the intensity and severity of the pain increasing throughout his 11-hour shifts at HVR International Limited. His role in the company’s metalisation room required him to operate a mounted spray gun which rotated but allowed very little movement of his arm. He was required to load, spray and store a minimum of 100 discs per hour. In March 2013, as a result of ongoing severe back pain, he underwent an occupational health risk assessment that recommended he should not work for longer than four hours continuously. However, HVR International Limited continued to assign him to six-hour shifts in the metalisation room until November 2013. As a result, he now suffers sharp, stabbing pains in his back and struggles with movement due to tightness across his back. Workplace injury lawyers at law firm Irwin Mitchell secured an undisclosed four-figure out-of-court settlement, after HVR International Limited admitted liability for Anthony’s injuries. Anthony, who has since returned to the company in a different role, said: “The injuries I suffered as a result of my work seemed quite minor at first but over time the pain got harder and harder to manage. I have been left with excruciating and almost constant back pain as a result of my job and I am delighted that I have now received a settlement that I can use to get treatment that will help to reduce the pain I suffer on a daily basis.” He added: “I can only hope my case acts as a reminder to employers to take safety seriously and to ensure everything possible is done to prevent workers suffering these types of injuries, as they can have a massive impact on people’s lives.”
A man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after another deadly workplace blast led to multiple deaths. The blast on the afternoon of Saturday 3 October at an industrial site in Hoddeston, Hertfordshire, left two workers dead and another injured, police have confirmed. A man in his 30s and another in his 40s, both from Wood Green, London, were rushed to hospital but later died from their injuries. The third man, in his 20s, was taken to hospital and later released. A 40-year-old man, from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence and criminal health and safety breaches. The four men were said to be carrying out maintenance work on the site on the Rawmec Industrial Park when the explosion happened. The police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are investigating. A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Police said: “Officers were called by ambulance service to an industrial premises in Plumpton Road. They were joined at the scene by the fire service and two air ambulances. Two men, one in his 30s the other in his 40s, were taken to Broomfield hospital but sadly died from their injuries.” He added: “A 40-year-old man from Hoddesdon has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence and health and safety breaches.” The tragedy was the third workplace explosion in less than three months to lead to multiple deaths. An explosion and fire at Wood Treatment Ltd in Bosley, Cheshire, killed four workers on 17 July (Risks 715). This tragedy came four days after two workers died in a blast that destroyed digger bucket manufacturer Harford Attachments, a Norwich manufacturing firm (Risks 711).
Ÿ The Mirror.
Ÿ Daily Mail.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Ÿ ITV News
Baxters Food Group Limited, one of the UK’s most well-known food manufacturers, has appeared before Elgin Sheriff Court for the second time in five months after another worker was injured while working at its Fochabers plant. The court heard that on 30 January 2014, short term contract worker Jodie Cormack climbed onto the conveyor belt to clear potatoes into the auger in-feed, but slipped from the belt into the collecting hopper. His body was pulled into the auger and he was trapped for an hour while orthopaedic surgeons and other emergency services battled to free him. Once freed, he was flown by air ambulance to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for emergency treatment. His right foot was partially amputated and he underwent a number of operations including the insertion of a metal plate and screws. However, his left foot could not be saved and he underwent a below the knee amputation of his left leg. He now wears a prosthetic leg. Baxters Food Group Limited was fined £60,000 after admitting two criminal safety offences. In May this year the company was fined £6,000 after admitting criminal health and safety failings that left employee Kayode Ogundele without full use of his hand, in an incident also involving a conveyor (Risks 702). In both cases, the court found that Baxters did not conduct adequate risk assessments and training.
Two global companies have received six figure fines after a worker was killed and another seriously injured during construction of an offshore wind farm. The incident happened when a team of engineers were loading wind turbine blades onto a sea barge for delivery to Greater Gabbard, off the Suffolk coast, on 21 May 2010. During the loading of wind turbine components at Pakeston Quay, Harwich, a part of the blade transport arrangement weighing over 2 tonnes fell off, crushing and fatally injuring one worker and seriously injuring another. Chelmsford Crown Court heard both workers were employed by Siemens Windpower A/S (SWP) but were working for Fluor Ltd, the principal contractor. The injured man, Frank Kroeger, was airlifted to Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge where he was resuscitated twice. He suffered a ruptured spleen, lacerations to his liver, a collapsed lung, multiple rib fractures on his left side, and significant crush injuries to his right arm and hand, with nerve damage to his thumb and fingers. His injuries were life-changing and required almost three weeks in hospital in the UK, followed by a long period of rehabilitation and treatment near his home in Germany. The family of the fatally-injured man have asked that his name not be released. The investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found serious safety failings in the two firms’ management systems for the loading operation, which allowed vital parts of equipment to go unchecked before being lifted. Following a four-week trial in July, Fluor Ltd was convicted of a criminal health and safety offence and ordered to pay £275,000 in fines and £271,048 costs. Siemens Windpower A/S (SWP) had pleaded guilty at an earlier stage. At the sentencing hearing it was ordered to pay £375,000 in fines with costs of £105,355.
A restaurant owner has been fined for failing to provide Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI). Hasret Sasmaz, trading as Starburger, was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay full costs of £1,779 at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to three offences under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Robert Hassell said: “Every employer needs to ensure that they have Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance in place, where such breaches, as in this case, are identified they will be pursued by the HSE.” Without this insurance cover, people suffering work-related illnesses or injuries as a result of the firm’s negligence could be denied the compensation to which they were entitled.
A new working paper from the European trade union research body ETUI presents arguments for a stronger policy to eradicate occupational cancer in Europe and globally. ‘Eliminating occupational cancer in Europe and globally’ notes cancer is a major public health concern all over the world – and points to an increasing awareness of the role of working conditions as a major cause of social inequalities associated with the disease. The working paper present a new estimation the burden of occupational cancer, noting the condition is responsible for 666,000 deaths worldwide, 102,500 of these in the EU alone. The UK figure is put at 13,330 occupational cancer deaths a year, over 66 per cent higher than the Health and Safety Executive’s estimate. It also summarises basic prevention principles. It starts from a position that occupational cancers are preventable and that prevention could save many workers’ lives and contribute considerably to the public health. Factors linked to occupational cancer in the working paper include dusts, in particular asbestos and silica dust, diesel engine exhaust, shift and night work of women, external tobacco smoke at workplaces, poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), exposure to hazardous substances in welding and painting work, radon in the workplace, mineral oils and ionising radiation. Asbestos remains the top workplace cancer killer (Risks 722).
Ÿ ETUI publication alert. Jukka Takala, Eliminating occupational cancer in Europe and globally, ETUI, 2015.
An investigation by Danish human rights group Danwatch has found that thousands of Chinese students are being compelled by their schools to work on the assembly lines of some of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturers, making servers destined for European universities. The Danwatch probe into conditions on the assembly lines of Wistron Corporation in Zhongshan, China, which manufactures servers for HP, Dell and Lenovo, found students working against their will for often between 10 to 12 hours a day for up to five months. They would not be allowed to graduate unless they completed the placements. The Danwatch report, ‘Servants of Servers’, found European universities spent £340m on mostly HP, Dell and Lenovo/IBM servers in 2014. “Many students are forced to complete irrelevant internships, working overtime almost daily, and working night shifts. These conditions violate the Chinese labour contract, as well as the standards on internships set by the Chinese ministry of education. Furthermore the forced internships violate the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on forced labour,” the report noted. Students interviewed for the report noted they were “depressed” and exhausted. When presented with the finding, HP and Dell replied to Danwatch that it had sent unannounced independent auditors to the factory almost immediately. Although denying claims of forced labour, they did acknowledge “concerns” at Wistron’s plant, including students working overtime and night shifts. Both HP and Dell have temporarily suspended the use of interns on their production lines and committed to “investigate the practices at Wistron to be sure” forced labour is not being practiced there. Pauline Overeem of the GoodElectronics network, which published the Danwatch report, said: “The problem of forced student labour in the electronics industry is widespread in China, Thailand and the Philippines. But the case of the Wistron factory in Zhongshan doesn’t stand on its own. It is good to know that HP and Dell take these signals seriously, but it is high time that brands and manufacturers across the board take determined action to ensure decent working conditions without any form of forced labour at their suppliers.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
A United Nations (UN) convened network has agreed on a plan that could prevent the annual deaths of more than one million people exposed to toxic chemicals. More than 800 participants, including government ministers, industry, union and civil society leaders, hammered out a strategy to reduce risks from chemicals at the International Conference on Chemicals Management, a weeklong UN Environment Programme event that ended on 2 October. Among other action points agreed, the conference backed action on highly hazardous pesticides, nanomaterials, endocrine disrupting chemicals and hazardous substances in the electronics industry. Olga Speranskaya, co-chair of IPEN, an international network of more than 700 organisations that fight toxic chemicals, commented: “So, we came here and we are really pleased with the outcomes of this political conference because the delegates adopted… concrete risk reduction activities, which, if implemented, will result in the reduction of toxic exposure on human health and the environment.” But she added: “Note that I say 'if implemented’.” Speranskaya said she does not believe the initial plan of action can be implemented by a 2020 deadline because the project is severely underfunded. The chemical management programme only has US$27 million available instead of the $100 million IPEN says is needed. A union delegation, led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), participated in the event and called for active worker participation in measures to ensure the sustainable management of chemicals.
Ÿ Supporting SAICM implementation through fighting toxic work: Unions for a sustainable management of chemicals, Sustainlabour/ITUC, September 2015. Related video. ICCM4.
A New Zealand logging company is facing a hefty legal bill after a union body took a private prosecution when enforcement agencies refused to bring charges after a workplace death (Risks 714). M and A Cross Limited was fined NZ$25,000 (£12,000) at Rotorua District Court and ordered to pay reparation of NZ$105,000 (£45,000) to the family of 45-year-old forestry worker Charles Finlay. He was killed on 19 July 2013 at a forestry work site in the Taumata Forest. National union federation CTU took the private prosecution after Worksafe New Zealand refused to lay charges. Maryanne Butler-Finlay said making sure her husband was not blamed for his death had been paramount for the family. “It's always been about just trying to clear his name and make sure the industry itself is safer for everybody. And I think that we've attained that, there's still a long way to go but the industry is certainly changing.” Speaking in August after the firm agreed to plead guilty, outgoing CTU president Helen Kelly said: “If the CTU hadn’t sought justice then M and A Cross Ltd would never have taken responsibility for Charles’ avoidable death. Justice would never have been served.”
Ÿ Radio NZ.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
E: [email protected]
Issued: 8 October, 2015