Risks 750 - 14 May 2016

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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 750 - 14 May 2016 
 
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]
 

UNION NEWS

Blacklisting firms face a £75m bill

Fearful prison officers refuse work at Wormwood Scrubs

Thomas Cook cabin crew stand up for a break

Campaign hots up to save sacked safety rep

OTHER NEWS

Pesticides linked to deadly nerve disease

Unfairness at work can be bad for your health

Low wages are an occupational health hazard

Sluggish HMRC is hurting work disease victims

Balfour Beatty fined £2.6m for trench fatality

Worker killed in ‘obviously foreseeable’ fall

Cargo firm fined for agency worker’s injuries

Frozen food giant McCain fined after arm horror

EVENTS

Work stress conference, 19-20 November, Birmingham

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe: Global union slams EC on chemical risks

Europe: Unions claim ‘cancer victory’ for workers

USA: Nursing now one of riskiest jobs

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2016

 

UNION NEWS

Blacklisting firms face a £75m bill

Eight of the country’s biggest construction firms have agreed to pay an estimated £50m in compensation to blacklisted workers, equating to an average payout of £65,000 to each of the 771 workers. Some of the agreed payments to workers victimised for their union and safety activities are thought to be in excess of 200,000. Legal fees are estimated to run to around £25m for the long-running legal case, scheduled to go before the high court as the 9 May settlement deal was finalised. Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci settled the outstanding 256 cases with the union Unite for £10,435,000. Construction union UCATT then revealed it had secured £8.9m on behalf of the 156 cases it took for its blacklisted members. GMB said it settled at £5.4m for 116 blacklisted workers, plus £3m of legal costs under a deal struck last month. And law firm Guney, Clark and Ryan is understood to have secured £6.6m for 167 victims it represented. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The massive scale of the agreed damages - more than £10 million - shows the gravity of the misdeeds of these major construction companies which created and used the Consulting Group [Association] as a vehicle to enable them to blacklist trade unionists on behalf of more than 30 construction companies. The sums to be paid out go a considerable way to acknowledge the hurt, suffering and loss of income our members and their families have been through over many years.” Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said: “Despite all of the denials and attempts to cover up their secret conspiracy, the largest multinationals in the construction sector have been forced to pay out millions in compensation. Make no mistake, the High Court action is a historic victory for the trade union movement against the vicious face of free market capitalism.” TUC head of safety, Hugh Robertson, noted: “Without the support that of GMB, Unite, UCATT and of course the Blacklist Support Group, the workers would have either received nothing, or, at the very least, some token amount. That in itself is clear evidence of the importance of strong independent trade unions.”

Unite news release. GMB news release. UCATT news release. Construction Enquirer. The Guardian. Personnel Today. BBC News Online.

Fearful prison officers refuse work at Wormwood Scrubs

Prison staff at Wormwood Scrubs jail staged a 6 May work refusal over health and safety concerns. Members of the Prison Officers Association (POA), who are barred from taking formal industrial action, gathered outside the west London jail in protest against a spate of recent incidents. They complained problems arising from drugs, phones and weapons being smuggled into the prison. The action came after a report last month from new chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, that noted: “The number of assaults on prisoners and staff was double that at similar prisons and at the time of the last inspection.” POA said its members had “individually chosen” not to enter the prison “as they have fears for their health and safety.” POA general secretary Steve Gillan stated: “POA members have reluctantly withdrawn to a safe place under health and safety legislation. It is essential that staff and prisoners are safe in the prison. I urge management to engage with the union so that all who live and work at Wormwood Scrubs are safe from violent attacks.” He added: “Management and government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the drug culture which is making our prisons unsafe. The POA are on record as saying we will protect the health and safety of our members if management and government fail to do so.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “Staff working in prisons must feel safe at work.” She said the government “urgently needs to get to grips” with the rise in assaults on prison officers, which rose by over 30 per cent last year [Risks 749]. “Tackling violence and the increased supply of drugs and weapons must be a priority for policymakers,” she said.

POA news release. TUC news release. The Guardian. Morning Star.

Thomas Cook cabin crew stand up for a break

Over 1,000 Thomas Cook airlines cabin crew are being balloted for industrial action in a dispute over health and safety concerns and ‘dangerous’ changes to rest breaks. If the changes go ahead, Unite members would be allowed just a single 20 minute break during an 11 hour 59 minute duty period. The union says the strike vote follows mounting concerns that cabin crew are being ‘pushed to the limit’ in a bid to maximise profits. Before management’s imposition of the changes, cabin crew – who say they are concerned about the impact of fatigue on inflight safety - were entitled to a 20 minute break every six hours. A member of cabin crew will typically work 10 to 15 hour shifts and up to 60 hours a week. As well as reducing breaks, Thomas Cook has also introduced an ‘Airshoppen’ service for passengers, putting extra demands on staff. The ballot of cabin crew, working on flights to major tourist destinations from 10 airports across the UK, closes on Wednesday 25 May. Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said: “Our members are deeply concerned about the impact these changes to rest breaks are having on inflight safety. Fatigue is a major contributory factor to accidents and slower response times when there is an incident.” He added: “The primary purpose of cabin crew is the safety of passengers, but instead Thomas Cook seems intent on working them to the bone to extract as much money as possible out of passengers at the expense of safety.” He said the company’s refusal to negotiate “is only inflaming matters. Thomas Cook needs to drop its high handed approach, listen to cabin crew and start to negotiate meaningfully with Unite. Otherwise, its work until you drop, no matter what the cost, ethos will harm passenger safety and customer service.”

Unite news release.

Campaign hots up to save sacked safety rep

The leader of a Birmingham drug and alcohol charity, which sacked Unite health and safety rep Alison Morris for raising concerns with her manager over fire safety, has been deluged with calls for her reinstatement. Unite says David Biddle, the chief executive of CGL, the city’s leading substance abuse charity, has received nearly 3,000 emails supporting Alison Morris’ reinstatement. She was fired last month after she pointed out the fire alarms at the charity’s Scala House office were not working (Risks 749). Unite said that the 300-strong workforce in Birmingham is backing the call for Alison Morris’ immediate reinstatement – and if this does not happen, an industrial action ballot is “very much on the cards.” An internal CGL appeal will be heard on 16 May. Unite regional officer Caren Evans said: “This is one of the most unfair and cack-handed sackings that I have come across - it defies all justice. We call upon CGL to immediately reinstate Alison, an exemplary employee, to her job.” She added that in addition to the appeal, the union has also lodged an unfair dismissal claim. “Her workmates know that without Alison’s actions in raising concerns that if a fire broke out there would have been no alarm and their lives would have been at risk. Any union rep would have done the same, CGL workers know that, and they know they could be next for the chop based on a spurious trumped up charge. If Alison is not reinstated, there is a strong likelihood we will be holding an industrial action ballot on this issue.”

Unite news release. Morning Star.

OTHER NEWS

Pesticides linked to deadly nerve disease

Exposure to pesticides could affect the chances that a person will develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, new research has found. There is no cure for this rapidly progressive motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Those afflicted eventually lose their strength and ability to move their arms, legs and body. As part of a larger study on environmental risk factors for ALS, University of Michigan researchers this week published in JAMA Neurology their work on pesticide and other environmental exposures. Co-senior author Eva Feldman said the most frequent question she was asked by affected patients was “why me?”. She added: "I want to answer that question for my patients.” Feldman's team studied 156 people with ALS and 128 people without the condition. All described their exposure to pollutants at work and at home, with a focus on occupational exposure. The researchers also measured toxic persistent environmental pollutants in blood to gain a more comprehensive assessment of environmental exposures. “We found these toxic chemicals in individuals both with and without ALS,” said co-first author Stephen Goutman. “We are likely all exposed without our own knowledge, from the air, water and our diet, as these chemicals can last decades in the environment. However, persons with ALS, overall, had higher concentrations of these chemicals, especially in regards to pesticides.” There was no strong correlation between any particular occupation and likelihood of developing ALS, except for service in the armed forces, a link found in previous studies. Blood tests showed increased odds of ALS for those with exposure to several different types of chemicals, many of which are no longer widely used because of environmental concerns, such as the pesticide DDT. Some of the classes of chemicals studied, however, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, have only recently undergone scrutiny as potential health hazards. Other studies have linked ALS to work as a firefighter and to occupational exposures to lead and formaldehyde.

Feng-Chiao Su and others. Association of environmental toxins with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, JAMA Neurology, published online first, 9 May 2016.

Jacquelyn J Cragg, Merit E Cudkowicz, Marc G Weisskopf, Editorial: The role of environmental toxins in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Risk, JAMA Neurology, published online first, 9 May 2016.

Unfairness at work can be bad for your health

Employees’ experiences of fairness at work can impact on their health, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA). The researchers investigated whether perceptions of what they call ‘procedural justice’, such as the processes in place to decide on rewards, pay, promotion and assignments, are related to employees’ health. They found that when perceptions of fairness changed, the self-rated health of employees also changed, with those who experienced more fairness on average over the period studied reported better health. The study, which focused on more than 5,800 people working in Sweden, was conducted by Dr Constanze Eib, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, and researchers from Stockholm University. The findings are published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. Dr Eib said: “Our study provides a thorough examination of how fairness at the workplace and health of employees is related over time. The findings can help raise awareness among employers and authorities that fairness at work but also health is important to consider to increase satisfaction, well-being and productivity in the workplace and wider society.” She added: “It is important to know about these issues as there may be things that can be done to improve perceptions of fairness at work. For example, making sure people feel their views are considered, they are consulted about changes and that decisions are made in an unbiased way.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: “This is an interesting and useful part of research which shows that unfair processes can have a negative impact on health, but of course it is important to emphasise that this is just a small part of it. It is the actual outcomes that have the major effect which is why decent pay, worklife balance, respect at work, and safe workplaces are all much bigger factors than the processes that determine them.”

UEA news release. Constanze Leineweber, Constanze Eib, Paraskevi Peristera, and Claudia Bernhard-Oettel. The influence of procedural justice and change in procedural justice on self-rated health trajectories: Results from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, published online first, May 2016.

Low wages are an occupational health hazard

Low wages should be recognised as a genuine occupational health threat, US researchers have concluded. “Workers earning low wages may be at greater risk for disease and injury than workers earning high wages,” note J Paul Leigh and Roberto De Vogli of the University of California Davis School of Medicine. In an editorial in the May edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine they say that low wages should be considered among the psychosocial factors - such as long work hours and high job strain - identified as occupational risks to health. They note “at least part of the correlation between wages and health can be attributed to low wages resulting in poor health or health behaviours rather than vice versa.” Low wages may also have indirect health effects, they add if, for example, workers are forced to choose between essentials such as rent or healthy food. The editorial notes that several lines of evidence, including UK studies, suggest higher wages lead to improvements in health or health behaviours. The paper concludes that the link between low wages and health has important implications for legislation and policies related to the minimum wage or living wage and unions. The researchers conclude: “There is little debate about the effects of hikes in minimum wages on the health of low-income employees.” An official UK report published in September 2015 reached a similar conclusion, noting low pay is a workplace ‘well-being’ issue (Risks 719). In 2014, Hazards magazine warned that low pay is associated with high workplace risks. “Because low pay goes hand in hand with low health and safety standards, occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes and cancer frequently come with the job,” it noted.

J Paul Leigh and Roberto De Vogli. Editorial: Low wages as occupational health hazards, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 58, issue 5, pages 444–447, May 2016. Science Daily.

Low blow: Low paid work comes with high work risks, Hazards, October-December 2014.

Sluggish HMRC is hurting work disease victims

People suffering life threatening work-related diseases including occupational cancers are facing potentially disastrous delays of a year to receive their employment records from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), a top law firm has said. Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who have written to HMRC urging it to speed the system up, say the backlog is denying work disease victims compensation at the time they need it and in some cases resulting in denial of compensation completely. The law firm says the government department is currently unable to provide records quickly as employment histories for older workers are held on microfilm, an obsolete technology, which means providing records is labour intensive and difficult. Access to work history records kept by the HMRC is vital for those looking to pursue claims against their former employers as they provide the name of the employer that a claimant worked for in any tax year (proof of employment), as well as an indication of the dates of each employment, which ensure the complete work history can be fully investigated. The dates of employment may be crucial in the case of companies which are no longer in business as in such cases it is essential to trace the identity of the insurer on cover at the time the exposure took place. Roger Maddocks, a workplace disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “At present HMRC will fast track applications for the work histories made on behalf of claimants suffering from mesothelioma. However, we are told that HMRC will not fast track requests for work histories in other cases including posthumous mesothelioma claims or for living claimants suffering from other terminal conditions, such as asbestos-related lung cancer.” He added: “There is also the possibility that individuals suffering from these terrible work-related diseases and illnesses die before the full HMRC work history is available or that their legal claim may be statute barred if the delay prevents the identification of the correct defendants to commence court proceedings before the expiry of the limitation period.”

Irwin Mitchell news release.

Balfour Beatty fined £2.6m for trench fatality

A construction giant has been fined £2.6 million after an employee was killed when the trench he was working in collapsed on him in Lancashire. James Sim, a 32-year-old worker, from Barry, South Wales, was a sub-contractor working on behalf of Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Limited. On 14 April 2010, he was working in a trench, laying ducting for new cable for an offshore windfarm that was being built off the coast at Heysham, Lancashire. The trench was dug to a depth of 2.4 metres, without any shoring. Mr Sim was killed when he became trapped in the trench after it collapsed on him. Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Limited pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to three criminal safety offences after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The court heard that Balfour Beatty failed to adequately risk assess the works or control the way in which the excavation took place. HSE inspector Chris Hatton said: “The level of this fine should serve as a warning to industry not to ignore health and safety matters. Balfour Beatty failed to adequately assess, plan and supervise the work being undertaken. Trench collapses are easy to prevent, and it is disappointing that James’ life was lost in such a tragic way. The family has shown great patience and support throughout this investigation which is a credit to both them and James’ memory.” Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Limited was fined £2.6 million with £54,000 costs.

HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Worker killed in ‘obviously foreseeable’ fall

A Birmingham maintenance company has been fined after 25-year-old Edward Beggs died as a result of falling from the roof of a five-storey building. Birmingham Crown Court heard how H20 Plumbing Services Limited was contracted to carry out repairs to two motor rooms situated on the roof of a building on Hagley Road, Birmingham. Because of a lack of space, Edward Beggs and another worker set up a station immediately outside of a protected area to mix some mortar. The mixing station consisted of a tarpaulin sheet placed on top of the roof with a plasterer’s bath placed on top. The corners of the tarpaulin sheet were weighted down with bags of rubble. At the end of the working day, as both employees were cleaning up and as they moved the mixing bath, the sheet of tarpaulin blew open and landed over the edge of the building. As Edward Beggs attempted to retrieve the sheet he stepped off the side of the building, falling 14 metres, suffering fatal injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 10 October 2014 incident found that H20 Plumbing Services Limited failed to ensure the safety of its employees during the external repair work. HSE inspector Amy Kalay commented: “This incident was obviously foreseeable. The employees of H20 working at the site were effectively left to their own devices with equipment and a system that was not wholly suited for the task at hand.” H20 Plumbing Services Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000.

HSE news release and work at heights webpages.

Cargo firm fined for agency worker’s injuries

A Suffolk cargo handling company has been fined £100,000 after an agency worker suffered serious injuries when a sheet of marble weighing one tonne fell on him. Ipswich Crown Court heard how an employee of Extreme Handling Limited was working at GMA Warehousing and Transport Limited’s Felixstowe site. The worker, whose name has not been released, was assisting a forklift truck operator to move a one tonne sheet of marble from a container when it fell on him. He sustained extensive crush injuries to his legs as well as a fractured sternum and severe lacerations to the back of his head. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 15 August 2014 incident found that there was an unsafe system of work being used to move the load. GMA Warehousing and Transport Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,938.38. HSE inspector Jessica Churchyard said: “Employers have an absolute duty to ensure that they do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their employees.”

HSE news release and forklift webpages.

Frozen food giant McCain fined after arm horror

Frozen food manufacturer McCain Foods has been fined £800,000 for its criminal safety failings after an employee nearly lost his arm in a poorly guarded machine. Peterborough Crown Court heard how a 34-year-old employee was attempting to check the condition of the head roller on a bypass conveyor. While doing this, his arm became entangled in the machinery and was almost severed. Although the limb was saved, he now has limited movement in his hand. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 21 August 2014 incident found that the conveyor did not have the correct guards fitted. A risk assessment of the machine by the company failed to recognise the danger. McCain Foods (GB) Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety breaches and was fined £800,000 with costs of £12,831.51. Figures filed last month indicate the company registered a pre-tax profit of £63.7 million in the year to 30 June 2015, up from £54.7 million the previous year.

HSE news release and machinery safety webpages. Wisbech Standard.

EVENTS

Work stress conference, 19-20 November, Birmingham

The UK Work Stress Network’s 2016 conference will place from Saturday 19 November to Sunday 20 November in Rednal, Birmingham. This year’s theme is ‘Mental health in the workplace – tackling work stress in a changing working environment.’ The conference will examine the impacts of work on mental health, new research on specific age groups, and strategies to improve working life for those with mental health problems. Topics to be covered also include: Mental health and equality; ageism in the workplace; mental health policies at work; excessive work demand; stress risk management; presenteeism; and suicide intervention.

UK Work Stress Network: Conference details and booking form. Book and pay in full before September and you’ll qualify for a 10 per cent early bird discount.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe: Global union slams EC on chemical risks

Voting in the European Parliament, public opinion and credible, independent scientific research appear increasingly irrelevant to the European Commission (EC) when it comes to the protection of public health and the environment, a global farm and food union has charged. Peter Rossman, of the plough-to-plate union federation IUF noted: “An estimated 100,000 workers die each year in the EU from work-related cancers, prompting the ETUC to demand stronger laws and enforcement. Yet we are experiencing a generalised retreat from regulation.” Rossman cites the case of glyphosate - the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and the world’s most widely used herbicide – whose authorisation for use in the EU is currently up for renewal. He says despite growing evidence of cancer, reproductive and other health risks, the EC has proposed renewing the approval of glyphosate for the maximum period of 15 years. The European Parliament has called for a highly restricted seven year renewal, and has said the EC had exceeded its statutory powers. But, according to Rossman: “There are no democratic mechanisms in place to stop the Commission from cutting a deal with the corporate agrochemical giants which would keep Europe locked into the deadly spiral of increasing pesticide applications for another decade.” He concluded: “The rush to glyphosate renewal is part and parcel of the EU’s general retreat from regulation… Nothing is more political than food, which involves, or should involve, choices about what we produce and how we produce it, bearing in mind that foodworkers are in the frontline of exposure to the hazards which consumers experience as residues.”

Social Europe.

Europe: Unions claim ‘cancer victory’ for workers

The European Commission has announced new ‘binding occupational exposure limits’ for 13 cancer-causing substances in a move the Europe-wide union body ETUC has called a ‘cancer victory’ for workers. “This is important news for the health of workers across Europe,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC confederal secretary, “and a hard-won victory for workers and their trade unions. Although some of the exposure limits are inadequate, and some substances are not included, this is a significant step forward. After 12 years of inaction the European Commission has finally listened to demands to protect workers better from work-related cancer.” She added: “I am expecting the Commission to put forward exposure limits for at least 15 more substances by the end of the year.” ETUC notes that exposure limits do not replace employers’ obligation to eliminate and substitute toxic substances in the workplace. It says 100,000 people die in the EU every year from preventable work-related cancers, adding it has called repeatedly for limits to be extended to more cancer-causing substances. The Commission’s proposal for binding occupational exposure limits for 13 substances brings to 16 the total number of substances covered by exposure limits under EU law. One of the new limits considered by unions to be inadequate is a 0.1mg/m3 limit for respirable silica. This is the UK’s current standard, but twice the 0.05mg/m3 standard being introduced in the US and four times Canada’s 0.025mg/m3 limit. In the EU, Finland, Italy and Portugal already have a silica standard at or below the 0.05mg/m3 US limit.

ETUC news release. More on the debate about a new silica standard.

USA: Nursing now one of riskiest jobs

Nursing now ranks as one of the riskiest jobs in the US, with the highest rate of non-fatal occupational injuries, the president of the American Nurses Association (ANA) has indicated. Writing in the US government’s ‘Safe Healthcare’ blog, Pamela F Cipriano said the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ figures reveal how “nurses face painful musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from manually lifting and moving patients, they suffer from approximately half of all needlestick injuries, nearly 1 in 4 have been physically assaulted, and half have been bullied at work.” She adds in a recent ANA ‘health risk appraisal’, 82 per cent of participants said they experienced significant risk for workplace stress, double the national average. She said these dangerous conditions can never be accepted as “just part of the job.” The ANA leader concluded: “The bottom line: We must take care of our nurses so they can take the best care of our patients.”

CDC Safe Healthcare blog.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2016

Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

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