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Every two minutes, a worker somewhere in the UK is made ill through stress at work, the TUC has revealed. The union body says the “huge problem” of workplace stress leads to 11.3 million lost work days and accounts for 39 per cent of all work-related illness. It adds the mental symptoms of stress range from sleeplessness and listlessness through to clinical depression and suicide. The physical effects range from appetite loss and nausea through to heart damage and stroke. To coincide with the stress-themed European Health and Safety Week, which ends on 25 October, the TUC has published new advice on managing stress at work. The guidance highlights three key points: Stress is not a weakness or your fault; Don’t suffer in silence, but instead talk to someone like your union rep, a friend, your GP or a support service; and stress-related illnesses caused by work are preventable. The TUC says employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or remove anything at work that could make you ill and that includes workplace stress. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People don’t get ill from stress because they are weak, but because employers aren’t doing enough to remove or control the causes of the stress. Pressures of long working hours and low job security are being felt in offices, hospitals, schools and shops across the country.” She added: “Much more needs to be done to stop bosses treating their staff like machines. It’s in no-one’s interests to have stressed-out workforces. People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off. Anyone worried about their workload or being unfairly treated at work should join a union, to get the support they need and their interests represented at work.” The health and safety week is run by the Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) and is coordinated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK.
The TUC is demanding immediate action after MPs accused the government of complacency on the risks of asbestos in buildings and called for an asbestos eradication law. ‘The asbestos crisis: why Britain needs a new law’ was published last week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. Launching the report, group chair and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said the government is being “far too complacent about asbestos.” The report calls for all commercial, public, and rented domestic premises built or refurbished before 2000 to have conducted and registered an asbestos survey with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by 2022. It says where asbestos is identified, all refurbishment, repair or remedial work done in the vicinity of the asbestos containing material should include its removal. The report adds if no such work takes place or is planned for the foreseeable future then the duty holder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos by 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, this should be done no later than 2028. Welcoming the report, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “They are calling for new legislation requiring all employers to address the issue by, first of all doing a full survey of asbestos no later than 2022, and then ensuring the removal of all asbestos by 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, this should be done by 2028. This echoes a call from the TUC General Council earlier this year and we will be 100 per cent behind the campaign. If we do nothing then it is future generations that will pay. We need to act now.”
Unions have given their strong support to a report from MPs calling for the urgent removal of asbestos from Britain’s buildings. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health warned that at least 5,000 people die annually as a result of exposure to asbestos. The number of preventable deaths is triple that on the roads, according to the report. Welcoming the MPs’ call, Unite national officer John Allott said: “The only way we will ensure future generations don’t have to experience the same deadly epidemic of asbestos related diseases that we suffer today is to eradicate it from every workplace in Britain.” Dan Shears, GMB national health and safety director, said: “This is a sensible and achievable approach from a cross-party group, and the government must take notice and provide a timetable for action. Other nations such as Poland already have ambitious plans in place for asbestos eradication. Given the UK's historic leading role as producer and consumer of asbestos, a national action plan is the very least that the government should commit to.” Brian Rye, national secretary of UCATT, said: “This report demonstrates that new regulations are urgently needed in order to ensure that construction workers undertaking maintenance and refurbishment work are properly protected. Workers should not be expected to play Russian roulette with their health.” Julie Winn, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), which focuses on the asbestos risks in schools, said: “JUAC calls on all political parties to support the proposal for a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos and for them to work together to make all UK schools and colleges safe from asbestos.”
Unite is calling for answers and action after it was revealed more than 20 workers have been exposed to asbestos for years in a Manchester hospital. The union says the exposures came after Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust failed to deal with the cancer causing substance, putting staff, patients and visitors at risk. A report by Asbestos Contracting Limited (ACL) in August 2015 found that the trust had known about the presence of asbestos for over 10 years. Despite this, the trust continued to issue jobs to workers in areas of the hospital known to management to be contaminated. Concerns were raised in a subsequent Unite report, but the union says no action was taken by the trust. The union says the trust failed to inform employees about the presence of asbestos and did not put any control measures in place. According to Unite, the trust also failed to maintain an up-to-date asbestos register, monitor the condition of the asbestos on site, along with other contraventions of the Control of Asbestos Regulation 2012. Staff launched a formal grievance with the trust’s CEO Roger Spencer in February 2014. Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “It is appalling that these workers have been exposed to the cancer causing substance, especially as they were exposed in the world-renowned cancer hospital. The knowledge that they may develop an asbestos-related disease from conducting their duties with trust and good faith has placed a huge burden of stress on the workers and their families.” He added: “The trust’s management failed in its duty to properly manage the risks of asbestos in its premises and, as a result, workers have been exposed to asbestos. Unite is calling for both the facilities manager and the technical manager of estates to go before a disciplinary hearing to answer the allegations.” The hospital has admitted it “historically may not have met the required health and safety standards.”
Pilots are calling for accurate information about where it is safe to fly to be shared by nation states and operators worldwide. The demand from the UK pilots’ union BALPA is in response to the full report into the shooting down of the passenger jet Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. A total of 298 people died, including 15 crew. BALPA said pilots take their responsibility to protect passengers very seriously and want clear direction from the UN on how safe routes are, particularly when close to or above conflict zones. The union said it was encouraged by the setting up of a system to share information worldwide but now wants all countries to help make it work. Following MH17, authorities heeded BALPA’s call for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to take the lead in decision-making regarding overflying areas of conflict. The union said this work must develop to enable nation states to share knowledge for the good of all air operators, their passengers and crew. Stephen Landells, flight safety specialist at BALPA, said: “Pilots want to make every flight safe and comfortable for passengers and need cast-iron information to ensure where they are flying is safe. Passengers and pilots want an open and uniform level of safety, not one that is decided in secret and in different ways by airlines and countries.” He added: “This new system for sharing information is in its infancy and the UK is leading the way in making it happen. Now the aviation community worldwide needs to work together to share information. We would like ICAO and the UN to use their influence to encourage all nation states to take advantage of this unique resource to ensure the safety of the travelling public worldwide.”
Laboratory assistants at a Yorkshire hospital took strike action last week over “enormous” work pressures and rotas that are causing sickness rates to skyrocket. The action involved 18 members of the public service union UNISON who work at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, which is run by Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The staff said they were “under enormous strain because there are not enough staff to do the necessary work.” UNISON regional organiser Jim Bell said: “The shortages are having a very bad effect on our members. Sickness levels are soaring and some staff are being forced to leave the job because of the enormous pressure they are under.” He added: “Our members say they have been left with no alternative but to raise this dire situation in public through industrial action.” The laboratory assistants prepare blood samples and other bodily fluids for scientific tests. The Morning Star reported this week that strike action by the laboratories’ scientists, who are mainly members of Unite, was suspended pending proposals from management. The scientists also have complained of unacceptable pressure of work and shortages of staff, the paper said.
Fifteen years on from the Hatfield disaster, rail unions have raised serious concerns about safety on the network. On 17 October 2000 a train travelling from Kings Cross to Leeds derailed just south of Hatfield station, killing four passengers and injuring over 70. Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said: “Hatfield exposed the serious shortcomings of the privatised infrastructure company Railtrack. The subsequent inquiry revealed that the company – which put profit before safety – had failed in its duty of care to passengers and workers.” He added: “As some people talk about privatising Network Rail we should reflect on what that means and where it goes. Private companies put profit – and their dividends to shareholders –before safety and take short cuts which result in accidents, injuries and deaths. In a safety critical industry there is no room for a company, or chief executive, who wants his managers to take short cuts at the expense of fare-paying passengers, and those of us who work in the industry, and put safety, delivery, and public service first.” Manuel Cortes, leader of the rail union TSSA, said: “It is now well known that poor privatised maintenance practices caused the Hatfield rail crash.” He added “we owe it to the victims and their families to remind the Tories who are currently rumoured to be on the brink of breaking up Network Rail why Network Rail was created and why passenger safety and rail maintenance are too important to leave to the market.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash warned a new Safe Work Leader infrastructure maintenance system was already creating chaos. “The picture we are getting from reps is one of ‘this is getting dangerous and we’d be safer under the old system’. Network Rail needs to take this message seriously otherwise RMT will have to resort to industrial action to get the current dangerous programme halted.”
The June 2015 report of an evaluation of Europe’s workplace safety directives which the European Commission had hoped to keep under wraps until at least next year has been published online, seemingly by mistake. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson last week revealed the study’s key findings based on an opinion on the report published online by the EC workplace safety committee (Risks 724). But the full report only became available for public scrutiny after the Irish employers’ organisation IBEC put the document on its website in what the TUC has called “an apparent mistake”. As indicated earlier by the TUC, the report finds that EU safety laws are coherent, and effective and there is no evidence they are a burden. The report also notes: “Strong evidence suggests that employee representation has noticeable influence on the proportion of establishments performing risk assessments and an even more pronounced impact on other key requirements.” It proposes that the EU should adopt all ILO conventions on safety, echoing a call in the TUC’s manifesto on health and safety last year. According to Robertson, the report is “a bit weak” on occupational health, but in a cautiously worded section “does seem to recommend regulation” on stress. It also calls from beefed up enforcement, noting “it is clear that legal requirements and inspection are key determinants in explaining why establishments develop OSH [occupational safety and health] policies and take OSH action, so there is a need for a strong effort in this area.” According to TUC health and safety expert Hugh Robertson, while the recommendations are limited “the overall report is a strong weapon that demolishes all the government’s rhetoric about European health and safety regulation being a ‘burden’. We should use it.”
Construction giant Carillion has been branded a hypocrite after demanding thousands of pounds in legal costs from a blacklisted worker only days after issuing an unreserved apology for blacklisting in the High Court (Risks 724). The company is one of the eight multinational building contractors that this month issued “a full and unreserved apology” for their role in blacklisting of union members in the construction industry, with a High Court statement in a case brought by Unite, GMB, UCATT and the Blacklist Support Group admitting they “recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families”. However only days after the apology, law firm Clarkslegal, acting on behalf of Carillion, submitted a claim for £3,500 in legal costs against blacklisted former UCATT safety rep Dave Smith. The legal costs relate to a submission made by Carillion arguing that Smith should not be allowed to have his blacklisting claim heard in the UK Supreme Court and include a charge of £600 for one hour’s work from barrister John Bowers QC. The tribunal had accepted firms now owned by Carillion had been involved in blacklisting Smith and he had “suffered a genuine injustice”, but as he was employed through an agency a loophole in employment law meant the construction multinational could not be held liable (Risks 552). In a move seemingly at odds with its ‘unreserved apology’, Carillion singles out Smith for explicit criticism on its website and accuses him of be involved in “unlawful” activities. Dave Smith commented: “Over the years, these people have sacked me, blacklisted me, fought me in the courts and bad mouthed me on their corporate website all because I tried to improve safety for my fellow workers. But now I have to pay over three grand for the privilege. That’s some apology! I have no intention of paying a penny towards the legal costs of these money grabbing hypocrites. If they want their blood money, they will have to come after it.”
The UK Institute of Directors (IoD) is being urged to dismiss its high profile chair because of her “indefensible” role at the company responsible for America’s worst coalmine disaster in 40 years. The CtW Investment Group, a pension fund formed by unions affiliated to the US Change to Win union federation, wants Lady Barbara Judge to go because of her role at Massey Energy where she sat on committees overseeing safety and corporate governance. An explosion in 2010 killed 29 workers at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, which according to a 972-page official report was “the result of a series of basic safety violations” and was “entirely preventable” (Risks 681). For months prior to the deadly blast, shareholders including CtW Investment Group had complained that Judge was unable to devote enough time to the job because she served on too many corporate boards. The complaints about Massey's corporate governance intensified after the tragedy. Less than three weeks after the 4 April 2010 blast, Judge, who chaired the corporate governance committee and sat on the safety committee, resigned from the Massey board. In a renewed attack on Judge, a 16 October 2015 letter from CtW Investment Group to IoD, noted: “The evidence of widespread safety problems at Massey mines and red flags pointing towards impending disaster at Upper Big Branch were abundant and yet Lady Judge and her fellow board members failed to act”. Urging IoD to “dismiss” its chair, the letter adds: “We believe that Lady Judge spread herself too thin and did not commit the necessary time to effectively oversee Massey Energy during her tenure on the board. Given the dangerous nature of coal mining and Massey’s long-standing history of safety problems, this is indefensible.” After the blast, a class action suit brought by pension funds and other investors accused Massey of giving a misleading impression of its safety standards. The claim resulted in a $265m out of court settlement, one of the largest such payouts of recent years. It had been brought against Massey and its former directors — including Judge and other members of the board’s safety committee. The former head of Massey, Don Blankenship, is currently on trial in the US on criminal charges related to the tragedy. Blankenship, 65, faces three felony counts alleging that he conspired to violate mine safety standards and thwart government inspectors to cover up the resulting hazards to workers. He also is charged with making false statements to securities regulators and with securities fraud.
Two men have been sentenced to four years in prison following the death of Jason Morgan who was electrocuted when his ladder touched an overhead power cable. After the tragedy at Great Brynn Barton Farm in 2011, Roger Matthews, Norman Treseder, Philip Tucker and Matthews Plant Hire Ltd went on trial at Truro Crown Court. The court heard how Morgan was killed while installing safety netting on a barn extension. The overhead 11,000 volt power line should have been buried to make the site safe. Matthews, 48, and Treseder, 54, were both found guilty of the manslaughter by gross negligence of Jason Morgan and sentenced to four years in prison. Tucker, 57, was found guilty of a criminal safety offence and sentenced to nine months suspended for two years. Matthews and Tucker were also ordered to pay £10,000 each in costs. Matthews Plant Hire Ltd was found guilty of two criminal safety offences and will be sentenced at a later date. Detective Inspector Stuart Ellis of Devon and Cornwall Police said: “Under the Work Related Death Protocol, I have worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive and Crown Prosecution Service during this time to establish the facts of this incident and identify those responsible. I hope that this trial will help those concerned with Jason to understand more fully what happened on that day, and that the verdicts and sentences will help to bring some form of resolution for them.” He added: “This case also serves to highlight the importance of health and safety matters to all those involved in construction and the tragic consequences that can occur unless appropriate precautions are taken.” In an impact statement to the court, Jason’s partner Sarah Gane said she could not put into words how it felt to “tell our daughter, aged five, that her daddy was not going to come home and was now a star in the sky.” She added: “She has said to me 'mummy, I always wonder what our life would be like if daddy was still here'.”
A pellet manufacturing company has been fined after an employee was killed when he was pulled into an industrial blender. Father-of-one George Major, 51, was clearing material from the blender at Rettenmaier UK Manufacturing Limited, a pellet manufacturer based in Mansfield, when it unexpectedly started up. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the 21 January 2011 incident found the guard had been removed from the machine and it had not been isolated and locked off from the electricity supply. Nottingham Crown Court heard the blender was part of a process line in which shredded recycled paper was mixed with bitumen and oil before being pressed into pellets, dried and bagged. The pellets were then used to reinforce asphalt mixes for use in road surfaces. Investigators found on the day of the incident Mr Major had been helping to clear a blockage from machinery when he was dragged into the blender and killed. The court heard there was no written system of work or instructions for isolation and no instruction to lock off isolators. There were no manuals or written instructions for operating plant. There was no proper training for staff. There were no risk assessments for any work on the plant. Rettenmaier UK Manufacturing Limited admitted two criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 with costs of £100,000. HSE inspector Samantha Farrar said: “Mr Major’s death was entirely avoidable and his life was needlessly lost. The failings by Rettenmaier UK Manufacturing Ltd caused a fatality in particularly distressing circumstances.” She added: “The absence of an effective health and safety management system, including a lack of a safe system of work for equipment isolation and lock-off, risk assessment and proper training for staff, meant that all workers at the site were at risk. This tragic incident could have so easily been avoided if a few simple steps had been taken by the company.”
A national recycling firm was fined after an employee was struck by a 7.5 tonne telehandler. Preston Crown Court heard Sita UK Limited failed to provide adequate segregation between pedestrians and moving vehicles at a waste transfer station in Darwen, Lancashire. As an employee walked across an outside plastics hand sorting area, he passed behind a stationary telehandler. The telehandler began to reverse and struck the worker who was knocked to the ground and then run over by the rear wheel of the vehicle. His injuries caused him to be hospitalised for two months. The court heard the company had identified the risks but failed to put in place suitable controls to stop people being hit by vehicles. HSE inspector Stuart Kitchingman said: “Employers need to look carefully at their workplaces regularly to make sure that pedestrian routes are clearly marked and physically separated from vehicle routes wherever possible. The employee could have easily been killed and still has severe mobility problems as a result of the accident. He is unlikely to be able to work in the near future.” Sita UK Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £200,000 with £11,998 costs. The firm was fined £200,000 three years ago after employee Mark Bate was killed instantly when the arm of a JCB skid steer loader crushed his head (Risks 559).
A key meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has agreed a far-reaching resolution intended to tackle the low pay rates in road transport that can lead to dangerous driving. The resolution of a tripartite transport health and safety meeting at ILO calls on the ILO, a UN agency, to research good practice in the area and makes explicit mention of the highly successful union ‘safe rates’ campaign in Australia. It also calls on ILO convene a meeting of experts to adopt a code of practice or guidelines on road transport safety that aims to protect the community and road transport workers from health and safety hazards, preventing accidents and promoting safe and fair remuneration. Speaking from the meeting, Tony Sheldon, chair of the road transport section of the global union federation ITF and national secretary of Australia’s Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), said the agreement was a “major step forward in promoting road safety,” adding: “Significantly, it connects safety and remuneration – and, crucially, accountability – right through the supply chain. Unsafe practices are deadly for road transport workers and everyone in the community who share the road with them. In Australia, the EU and US, work-related crashes are estimated to cause from about one-quarter to over one-third of all work-related deaths, according to the meeting report for discussion. In 2008, across just 10 countries covering the continents of the world, 327,479 people in transport, storage and communications were injured and 2,034 fatally injured.” According to Sheldon: “The pressures to skip breaks, overload vehicles, speed and drive for longer than is legal are problems for drivers all over the world. We need a global effort to tackle these problems and stop the carnage. We now have the green light to do this.”
The world’s major industrialised nations are pressing ahead with plans for a new fund to improve workplace safety. In June 2015, the G7 group of nations, which includes the UK, formulated a plan for the ‘Vision Zero Fund’ in cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), spurred by the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 in which more than 1,200 workers died (Risks 706). At a meeting in Berlin earlier this month, G7 ministers agreed on a series of measures, including the creation of a multi-donor fund for action in producing countries. The fund will support social dialogue and the application of ILO standards on occupational safety and health, as well as fundamental rights at work in global supply chains. The fund, which will come into operation in January 2016, will be administered by the ILO with oversight by unions, employers’ organisations and governments. So far the European Union, United States and Germany have agreed to provide money for the fund. The G7 summit also agreed to develop a “common understanding” on due diligence and “responsible supply chain management.” However, unions have criticised the lack of regulation on this issue, noting voluntary approaches have failed. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said: “Other G7 countries should follow France’s lead and bring forward legislation that makes corporate ‘due diligence’ for human rights mandatory.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said it was “cynical” for the EU and US to demand that developing countries ratify ILO safety standards, when they don’t do this themselves. He said 15 ILO safety standards set additional or more stringent standards than EU regulations. Out of these, the UK has failed to ratify 11 and only part ratified another, the ILO standard on inspections. “So what we say to both the EU and the UK is that this fund is a very important and welcome step, but don’t forget to put your own house in order as well.”
H&M has been accused of ‘spinning the facts’ in its response to a report critical of its approach to safety at its supplier factories in Bangladesh. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) said the retail giant’s comments on its report, 'Evaluation of H&M Compliance with Safety Action Plans for Strategic Suppliers in Bangladesh 2015', are “replete with false and misleading statements, demonstrating that the company remains unwilling to address the issue in a serious and forthright manner.” CCC notes that H&M “acknowledges the veracity of our central conclusion: that there are major delays in safety renovations at its supplier factories in Bangladesh.” But among ‘10 ways H&M is spinning the facts on worker safety’ listed by CCC is “H&M's claim that all of its supplier factories have emergency exits”, which CCC described as “an outright falsehood… The only way H&M's statement makes sense is if the company is redefining the term ‘fire exit’ to refer to any building that has doors.” The labour rights campaign group notes: “H&M's success depends on its ability to move hundreds of millions of units of product around the world, swiftly and efficiently, and the company prides itself on its accomplishments in this regard. In Bangladesh, it employs more than 600 staff to handle the logistics of production, including the movement of goods. How plausible is it that H&M is incapable of getting a few thousand fire doors into Bangladesh in the space of two and a half years?” CCC concludes: “Given the number of lives that are at stake, it is appalling that H&M, two and a half years after the Rana Plaza collapse, and five years after 21 workers died in an H&M supplier factory, is blaming the absence of life-saving fire safety equipment in its supplier factories on logistical problems that could have been resolved in a matter of months.”
The authorities in Japan have acknowledged that a worker involved in clean-up work at the Fukushima nuclear plant may have developed cancer as a result. Officials say the man will be entitled to compensation for work-related illness, in the first cancer case linked to the Fukushima plant meltdown. The man, aged 41, is suffering from leukaemia. The nuclear plant was badly damaged in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March 2011. The man worked at the damaged plant from October 2012 to December 2013, and was exposed to a total of 19.8 millisieverts of radiation during that period. The BBC reports this is nearly four times the annual dose allowed for nuclear workers in Japan but is less than half the amount US nuclear workers can be exposed to in a single year. The man will receive compensation to cover medical costs and lost income, government officials said. “While the causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear, we certified him from the standpoint of worker compensation,” a health ministry official said. Three other Fukushima workers are waiting to have their cancer cases assessed. Former plant manager Masao Yoshida died of oesophageal cancer in 2013 - but plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) denied his death was related to the 2011 meltdown, saying the cancer would have taken several more years to develop. Tepco said it could not comment on the decision to approve the worker’s compensation claim. “We would like to offer our condolences to the worker,” a Tepco spokesperson said. “We will continue to reduce the radiation dose of the working environment and manage thoroughly workers’ exposure to radiation.” More than 45,000 people have worked on the clean-up at the Fukushima plant.
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Issued: 22 October, 2015