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Next week, the Trade Union Bill will have its final vote in the House of Commons. The TUC says the proposals would fundamentally undermine UK workers' right to strike and attack key civil liberties, and would seriously hamper the life-saving trade union safety role (Risks 726). Activists' details would be passed to employers and police. And employers will be free to use agency temp workers to break strikes, again with a big concomitant threat to safety (Risks 726). The TUC wants to “make sure we really get our MPs' attention as they check their tweets and emails too. Our easy-to-use tool will let you tweet your MP straight away.”
Workplace health initiatives including planned Europe-wide rules to reduce the toll of occupational cancer are to stay shelved, latest documentation from the European Commission has confirmed. The TUC, berating the Commission’s decision only to “review” the occupational health and safety situation, said exposures to workplace carcinogens are widespread and lead to “at least” 15,000 occupational cancer deaths each year in the UK. “Because of the high level of exposure there is a clear need for new regulation on carcinogens,” noted TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. But he said the European Commission’s work programme, published on 27 October, states only that a “review of the existing occupational health and safety legislation, including on carcinogens and mutagens, will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an EU framework for protecting workers.” Robertson, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, notes: “The nearest we get to anything concrete on health and safety is a statement that they will conclude the complex preparatory work already under way to protect Europeans from the dangers of endocrine disruptors and follow up on it.” Instead of addressing the need for new regulations, the European Commission says it will instead check that existing rules are “workable and will be enforced”. According to TUC’s Hugh Robertson, “there is a real concern that given the current political situation in Europe and review of current regulation will simply be an excuse to deregulate or, in European-speak, ‘simplify’. It is also nothing new as the review of health and safety regulation is something that is already on-going. So in a nutshell what we have is an entire work programme that does not offer a single new proposal on the area of workplace health. Instead it confirms the dropping of some areas and simply says that they will be continuing what they are already doing. Yet, without a hint of irony, they call their work programme ‘No time for business as usual’.”
Maritime union Nautilus has called for UK authorities to take responsibility for investigations into suspected serious crimes at sea involving UK nationals. The union was speaking out in the wake of renewed calls for a police investigation into the disappearance of ship worker Rebecca Coriam. The 24-year-old from Chester went missing in March 2011 while working as a childminder on the Disney Wonder during a cruise between California and Mexico. Her body was never found and it is still not known how she vanished - but police in Britain say they cannot investigate because the ship was registered in the Bahamas. Among those backing the campaign for UK investigations is former Labour deputy leader Lord Prescott. The former ship steward said Britain should bring in legislation similar to that in the USA which allows the FBI to investigate any deaths at sea of US citizens. Lord Prescott said: “It is a conspiracy of silence to do nothing. Whatever the circumstances are there’s an obligation to investigate.” Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “The disappearance of Ms Coriam is just one of a number of crimes at sea which fail to be properly investigated due to the complex nature of jurisdiction in the global maritime industry, which is made worse due to the lack of regulatory control by some ship registers including many Flags of Convenience.”
Construction union UCATT is calling for a clearer, better system for certifying construction skills to ensure safety on construction sites. The union call came after it was revealed rogue companies were rigging Construction Skills Certification Scheme card exams and providing cards for cash (Risks 726). UCATT wants the system changing to introduce a simple one-day attendance safety course, paid for by the employer. UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said this system would erase any doubts about whether a worker is versed in health and safety. He said: “CSCS cards have been and will continue to be an asset to those hiring in the construction industry. It would be a mistake to discount the over two million cards in use, purely because of the fraudulent activities of a minority. For avoidance of doubt in awarding a CSCS card, we suggest not just a tick exam but a one day course.” The union leader said this system “would make the CSCS test more stringent, bolster its image within the industry, and make the industry safer - which is especially important given that construction is the most dangerous industry in the UK.” He added: “Employers require some kind of basic guide when employing. Employers say that safety is their number one priority and by supporting a compulsory one day safety course for all workers they will be putting their money where their mouth is.” UCATT said it has contacted all stakeholders in the UK construction industry, relevant politicians and industry bodies, making its case to create a new-style gold standard CSCS card.
A welcome drop in the number of workers killed on site should not lead to complacency, the construction union UCATT has said. The union said the industry was still far more dangerous than most other sectors, despite new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures revealing a 17 per cent drop in deaths in the UK construction industry in 2014/15, with the provisional annual fatalities total in the sector down to 35 from 42 in 2013/14. The overall fatality figure across all workplaces was up (Risks 726). UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “Fewer deaths in construction will be welcomed by all those who on a daily basis work in our successful but often hazardous industry. This union has always campaigned long and hard for improvements in health and safety checks in the UK construction industry. This union will remain vigilant at all times to ensure employers provide more than adequate safety provision for British construction workers.” He added: “Each death in the construction industry is a failure of some aspect of health and safety. Despite the fewer deaths last year, everyone working in construction must continue to strive for a time when we can report no deaths in British construction.”
Unite has called for its members to take action on stress. The union, pointing to official figures, said in 2014/15 around 234,000 people reported that their stress, depression and anxiety was caused or made worse by their work. Making the action call on 4 November, National Stress Awareness Day, Unite national safety adviser Susan Murray said the union “is aware that many of our members are suffering as a result of bullying, job uncertainty, changes at work and the government cuts - all of which can have an adverse effect on mental health.” But she added: “We also know that many of you are making a difference by working with your employers to help prevent occupational stress at work. It is a fact that a unionised workplace is a safer and healthier workplace because union members have the confidence, through union training and with the support of Unite, to raise and resolve workplace health and safety issues, including stress.” She said the union wanted to hear examples where initiatives at work had improved the health and safety of the workforce. The union’s voluntary sector website includes a “share your experiences of helpful stress reduction initiatives” link.
Major companies convicted of corporate manslaughter could from next year face fines of up to £20m under new sentencing guidelines. The guidelines, published this week by the Sentencing Council and due to come into force on 1 February 2016, suggest that judges in England and Wales should impose fines reflecting the size of the convicted organisation. Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, there is no upper limit on penalties. The guidelines indicate the £20m fine level will be for firms guilty of corporate manslaughter with an annual turnover of more than £50m, and up to £10m for other fatal criminal health and safety offences. The Sentencing Council said fines should be large enough to have an economic impact that would bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment. The guidelines use the turnover of the offender to identify the starting point of the fine. The council says turnover is used as this is a clear indicator that can be easily assessed. Fines for companies found guilty of other criminal health and safety, food safety and food hygiene offences will also be significantly increased under the guidelines. Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk. These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”
Two linked companies have been fined after a worker was killed when concrete joists dislodged by remotely controlled demolition machines fell on him. Electrician John Walker, who worked for 777 Environmental Limited, met his death while working on a demolition site at Elephant and Castle, London. He was working on an area of the site near to a couple of the remotely controlled demolition machines in August 2007. The machines dislodged several concrete joists which struck the worker and he died at the scene. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the principal contractor, 777 Demolition and Haulage Co Ltd and its subcontractor and sister firm, 777 Environmental Limited, failed to properly plan, manage and monitor the demolition of the structure. HSE said 777 Environmental Limited failed to properly investigate the nature of the structure as demolition proceeded, leading to the uncontrolled collapse. The firm pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing and was fined £90,000. 777 Demolition and Haulage Co Limited denied the charges but was convicted at trial of a criminal breach and fined £125,000. Costs of £167, 857 were awarded to HSE. HSE principal inspector Dominic Elliss said: “This was a tragic incident by any standards, and robbed a family, friends and colleagues of John Walker. I hope this case sparks renewed focus by all in the construction industry on the importance of effective planning, constant review and robust supervision throughout demolition works.”
A self-employed worker has been fined after a casual worker he employed to repair a shed roof fell, dying of his injuries several days later. Ayr Sheriff Court heard how on 26 August 2012, William Sproat, 63, had been employed by David William McVey to repair a storm damaged shed roof at Brunton Farm in New Crummnock. David McVey and William Sproat had accessed the shed roof via ladders to replace roof sheeting. Sproat fell approximately 18 feet through the roof to the concrete floor below. He sustained serious injuries from which he died on 31 August 2012. There was no edge protection and neither were wearing safety harnesses. No measures were taken by David McVey to prevent or mitigate a fall from height. David William McVey, of Jellieston Terrace, Patna, East Ayrshire, was fined £10,000, after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences.
A company run by a former Dundee Football Club director has been fined £50,000 after one of its workers was overcome by toxic fumes and died in a chemical tank (Risks 718). Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd, owned and operated by Paul Marr, admitted a catalogue of criminal health and safety failings over the death of Steven Conway at its premises in the city. Mr Conway, a 33-year-old 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 him unconscious inside the tank, and he was taken to hospital before being pronounced dead. Sheriff Alistair Brown imposed a £50,000 fine after the firm admitted two criminal safety breaches. He said: “In my opinion the foundational criticism to be made of this company is that, although they must have realised there was some risk involved in using EFX strip, they did not act on that by ensuring that they found out what it was they were using and discovering what measures were needed to protect their staff.” He added: “It ought to be obvious to anyone of ordinary intelligence that there is some risk involved in using a fluid which is volatile, which is strong enough to strip alloy wheels and which is referred to in the industry as 'acid'.”
International tyre manufacturer Pirelli Tyres Limited has been fined after a 17-year-old apprentice suffered serious injuries to his hands while using a metalwork lathe. The teenager was making a trolley for a tool box on 19 August 2014 at the firm’s site in Burton where he was working as a mechanical maintenance apprentice. Stafford Magistrates’ Court heard the apprentice was making a spindle for the wheels of the trolley, using emery cloth whilst wearing gloves to perfect the finish. The spindle was fitted to a lathe and the cloth snagged pulling Mr Powell into the lathe. He suffered several breaks to his fingers and wrist and one finger was partially severed. Following the incident the injured worker has had three operations on his hands including metal pins fitted and his partially severed finger may still need to be amputated. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there were very few control measures in place to prevent this incident. Pirelli Tyres Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined 28,000 plus costs of £1,418.60. HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “It is entirely foreseeable that if emery cloth is used on a lathe incorrectly then serious injury could occur. HSE has a specific information sheet on this practice and had this been followed by the company and a suitable risk assessment carried out, this incident could have been prevented.”
Chocolate manufacturer Hotel Chocolat has been prosecuted after a worker suffered serious hand and arm injuries when cleaning a machine tank. Piotr Podgorski, 35, was working as a cell supervisor for the company on 16 August 2014 when he was asked to clean the tank of a chocolate enrobing machine so it could be reassembled for production. Peterborough Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Podgorski was emptying the tank when a blue cloth he was holding became entangled in the rotating stirrer mechanism. The cloth continued to wrap around his finger, twisting his arm and then tearing the finger off, stripping the tendon from his arm. He was unable to work for over two months and still suffers with depression and nightmares about the incident. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company’s risk assessment process failed to recognise the hazard posed by the rotating stirrer and failed to effectively prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery. Hotel Chocolat Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,521.26. HSE inspector Roxanne Barker said: “This serious injury was entirely preventable,” adding: “The company should have put measures in place to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery, not rely on the operator to isolate it. Following the incident they took the decision to fit interlocks and E-Stops to the tank units on 12 of these machines.”
A deadline for Shell to address a risk of an offshore fire or explosion has been extended by the safety regulator. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) improvement notice was issued in August 2015 after an undersea gas leak. HSE listed two criminal breaches of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations, requiring them to be remedied by 30 October. However, the HSE enforcement database lists the case as “ongoing,” and Shell admits remedial work is continuing. The leak happened when a towline snagged on a pipe nearly 300ft below the Curlew floating production vessel in the North Sea. A valve ruptured and gas from the Fulmar Gas Line leaked out into the sea 130 miles south east of Aberdeen. Shell planned to evacuate the Curlew’s 91 crew after the leak on 19 January but stormy weather prevented the operation. The HSE improvement notice said the vessel’s towline “snagged the gas export pipeline’s subsea isolation valve skid and applied increased tension… until the pipeline ruptured and released its inventory of gas to the sea surface, exposing employees and others to a risk of fire or explosion.” A Shell spokesperson told STV News this week: “Shell received an improvement notice in relation to our management of change process for marine operations at our Curlew vessel. The notice refers to a gas release incident which occurred from infrastructure in the vicinity of the Curlew. Action is being taken to address the issues raised in the notice. The relevant authorities were informed of the incident and the matter remains under HSE investigation.”
A franchise of the sandwich chain Subway has been fined after a worker was trapped overnight in a chiller and tried to escape by writing 'help' in ketchup. Karlee Daubeney, 20, was working the late shift alone on 27 December last year and shutting down the store when she became trapped. She put milk away inside the cold store around 11.15pm when a door which had been reported as faulty closed behind her and locked her inside. She was only wearing trousers and a thin Subway top with the temperature inside the cold room just a few degrees above zero. She ended up locked in until the day shift arrived at 7.30am, after here ketchup call for help was not spotted on CCTV by security staff. CM Ventures, which has the franchise for the store, was fined £4,000 at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court and ordered to pay £1,950 in costs. Speaking after the case, Ms Daubeney said: “My muscles became so cold I found it really hard to walk for a few days, I had migraines and dry skin around my nose. When I went to hospital the next day I was told I was close to having hypothermia and I made myself as warm as I could when I got home.” Councillor Jennie Dallimore, speaking for Gloucester City Council, which brought the prosecution, said if simple repairs had been made the incident would have been avoided. “The manager had been made aware of the faulty door handle but had not taken any action to put things right,” she said.
A waste and recycling company has been prosecuted after a worker suffered serious fractures when his arm was dragged into the rollers of a moving conveyor belt. The 32-year-old F&R Cawley Limited employee, whose name has not been released, was working at the firm’s Luton site on 28 February 2014 when he was asked to clear a blockage on a material recycling facility machine (MRF). The control room operator turned off the power to the machine but Luton Crown Court heard the company’s lock-off and isolation procedure had not been followed on site for some time. The power was then turned back on and the worker’s arm was pulled into the rollers. He sustained serious fractures and required three metal plates in his left arm which he is still unable to use. He will need further operations involving transplanting bone from his hip. It is unlikely he will be able to do manual work again. The court was told that following an inspection by HSE in 2012, the watchdog had requested the company review their unsafe blockage processes. The potential for a breakdown in communication between the blockage team and the person in the control room was also discussed. The company provided a new documented procedure but the court heard it fell into disuse within weeks. The judge was satisfied that HSE’s 2012 intervention constituted a “warning that was ignored” and that if the firm had followed its own procedure, the chance of this injury happening would have been remote. F&R Cawley Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £20,763 costs. HSE inspector Andrew McGill said: “This worker has been left unable to work following an incident that could easily have been avoided if the company had ensured their staff were properly trained and supervised. This man used to enjoy cycling with his two children but now can’t do this or any other active play with them”.
The French wine industry’s attachment to routine pesticide use is coming under increased scrutiny over concerns about its health impacts. Earlier this year, a landmark legal action was launched by lawyers acting for the daughter of a vine grower, James Bernard Murat, who died in 2012 from cancer linked to his use of pesticides over a 40 year period. In June this year, the French criminal court launched the unprecedented inquiry into Murat’s “involuntary homicide”. His lung cancer was officially recognised as being linked to his profession in 2011 – one of around 40 cases where agricultural workers have had medical problems directly attributed to their work. This case is just the tip of the iceberg, according to François Lafforge, the lawyer acting for Murat’s daughter, Valérie. Although the Murat case is the only one currently in the criminal courts, his office alone has now begun 45 legal proceedings relating to farmers, agribusiness workers and researchers, with around 10 directly concerned with vineyard workers. He estimates that there could be up to 100 similar cases in the pipeline across France. The French authorities and the wine industry will be watching closely as the Murat case could open the way for claims against pesticide producers, vineyard owners and even the French state. In 2008 the French government pledged to halve the country’s pesticide use by 2018. However, earlier this year it was reported that use had actually increased and the target reduction had been delayed until 2025. In February 2012, a French court found American biotech giant Monsanto guilty of poisoning French grain grower Paul François, who suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling the Lasso weedkiller in 2004 (Risks 543). The ruling was upheld by an appeal court in September 2015.
Global media union the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is urging governments worldwide to extend judicial cooperation in investigating and prosecuting the killing of journalists. The IFJ, which this week launched its annual campaign against impunity for crime targeting journalists, also called on financial institutions and aid donors to make respect for press freedom and media protection among key criteria for development aid to countries with high levels of violence in journalism. “In addition to judicial cooperation among states, the IFJ stresses the need for international instruments to be implemented and for the UN to get tough on unwilling and corrupt governments,” said Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary. “Murder is a crime which must be punished. Today, we urge the UN, its agencies and other international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF to take all necessary measures, including financial sanctions, to bring to an end impunity for killings of journalists who play a public role. Impunity is an attack on freedom of expression and, ultimately, denies fundamental human rights to the public. Now is time for everyone to take their responsibilities and act accordingly.”
Poultry workers in the United States suffer extremely high rates of injury, earn poverty wages, and work in a climate of fear, Oxfam America has said. The group says its report, based on two years of research, is central to a new nationwide campaign to expose the human cost of the modern poultry industry. It wants consumers to press the nation’s largest poultry companies to treat workers with fairness and dignity. Oxfam says its report, ‘Lives on the Line’, examines the hazardous plant conditions that lead to elevated rates of illness and injuries, and exposes industry practices designed to prevent union organising and to discourage workers from reporting violations. “Poultry workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the United States,” said Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “The industry is booming, profits are climbing, but poultry workers remain trapped at the bottom. Oxfam believes the consumer has tremendous power to put pressure on these companies to change their unfair policies and ensure that workers can assert their rights without fear of retribution.” The report cites dozens of medical and government studies that document how the relentless pace of the processing line and more than 20,000 cutting, pulling, and hanging motions per worker per day contribute to painful and crippling musculoskeletal injuries. It says poultry workers suffer carpal tunnel syndrome seven times more often than workers in all other industries; they suffer occupational illnesses at five times the rate. The report makes a welter of recommendations, including a call on poultry firms to provide a healthy and safe environment in plants, including reasonable line speeds, adequate staffing to allow for rest and bathroom breaks, and proper medical care for injured workers. It also says there should be “worker voice and empowerment”, to “allow workers to have a greater voice in the workplace, ensure they understand their rights, and provide an atmosphere of tolerance to act on those rights.”
Ÿ Oxfam America news release. Lives on the Line: The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken, Oxfam America, October 2015: full report, executive summary, multimedia website and social media kit. The Pump Handle. Think Progress. Ecowatch.
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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Issued: 4 November, 2015