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The UK’s health and safety watchdog is not the regulator, enforcer or guide it used to be – and things could be about to get a lot worse, the TUC has warned. The union body was commenting after the Health and Safety Executive’s new business plan revealed swingeing cuts to the watchdog’s government funding over the next three years. It follows earlier cuts and a dramatic decline in workplace safety inspections and enforcement. A new HSE strategy document says we must “act together” but includes no new targets, concrete plans or regulatory proposals. “The HSE’s Business Plan for 2016/17 gives some insight into why,” notes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. “In 2009/10, before the coalition government came to power, the HSE received £231 million from the government. In 2019/20 it will receive £123 million. A reduction of 46 per cent in ten years.” HSE’s already dramatically curtailed government funding will drop by more than 12 per cent over the next three years, according to the business plan. Taxpayer funding is forecast to fall from £140.9m in 2016/17 to £123.4m in 2019/20. Robertson says the document has a relatively good section on enforcement, “but there is nothing about how they are going to achieve it with the current number of inspectors, and the almost complete lack of any inspections in the local authority sector.” He adds: “On regulation, the paper is clear. There are no proposals for any new regulations in the areas responsible for 70 per cent of work-related sickness absence (stress and MSDs [musculoskeletal disorders]), or on anything else for that matter. Instead they simply want to simplify regulations such as the chemicals regulations, harbours, and gas safety.” Robertson says there is “no doubt” the cuts in the HSE budget are already having an effect, with the decades long downward trend in work-related fatalities and ill-health stalled and in some instances reversed. “If no-one is going to enforce the law then the law becomes useless,” he says. “However, given the 46 per cent cut in the budget, it is wrong to put the blame on the HSE. The deregulatory agenda comes from the government.” The TUC safety specialist concludes: “The less the HSE can do, the less enforcement, the more employers will be able to get away with breaking the law, and breaking their workers.”
Years of uncertainty for workers and employers could be the result of a UK vote to leave the European Union, a top labour law expert has warned. The independent legal opinion, commissioned by the TUC from Michael Ford QC of Old Square Chambers, identifies the dangers of Britain leaving the EU for working people and their rights at work. Among rights that would be most at risk of being diluted or scrapped after Brexit are health and safety protections, his report notes. “All the social rights in employment currently required by EU law would be potentially vulnerable”, it says. It concludes the rights most at risk post-Brexit from a government with a deregulatory agenda include rights to properly-paid holidays, protections for agency workers, health and safety protections and protections from some forms of employer discrimination – such as compensation rates, and protections for pregnant workers and older workers. In the opinion, Michael Ford QC further comments: “It is easy to contemplate a complete reversal of the gradual increase in social regulation protecting workers which has taken place since the 1960s”. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “The biggest cheerleaders for Brexit think that your protections at work are just red tape to be binned. Bad bosses will be rubbing their hands with glee if Brexit gives them the chance to cut workers’ hard-won protections.”
Decades of failing to deal with deadly asbestos in schools is a national “scandal” threatening the health of former, current and future schoolchildren, a wide-ranging investigation has found. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) said case histories it identified underlined “systematic failings” in the way asbestos in school premises was dealt with by successive governments. JUAC said Whitehall had a “scandalous disregard for life” by permitting inadequate surveys and campaigning against compulsory detection that it said would help prevent future asbestos-related cancers, including mesothelioma. The report said successive governments failed to require schools to keep asbestos records and inform parents about the material in their child’s school. It noted: “This has enabled the culprits to evade responsibility for asbestos exposure leading to mesothelioma, allowing them to escape with impunity. Nothing can be done to put right past asbestos exposure, but we must do more to protect future generations of school children and staff.” JUAC said government documents released under Freedom of Information rules suggested full and comprehensive new laws to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos were dismissed by politicians on cost grounds. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union ATL described the report as “shocking”. She said: “It is outrageous that staff and pupils are still dying from being exposed to asbestos in schools.” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Only through the safe, planned removal of all the asbestos which still remains in place across the UK, will the deadly menace of asbestos be lifted from future generations.” Asbestos campaigner Hank Roberts, presenting the report at the NUT conference, said: “It is disgraceful. This document shows absolutely everything you can think of has been going wrong - negligence, deceit, lying. Saying it is safe is an absolute lie.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has won a top award from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for its Freedom from Fear campaign, recognising the union’s achievements in improving personal safety. The Trust’s National Personal Safety Awards recognise the work being done across the UK to keep people safe from violence and aggression and highlight best practice in the field. Commenting after Usdaw received the Trust’s ‘Best safety campaign award’, general secretary John Hannett said: “We are honoured to have received an award from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for our Freedom from Fear campaign. All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many staff and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.” He added: “We launched our Freedom from Fear campaign in the face of an increasing number of attacks against shopworkers. The campaign works with retailers, police and customers to make workplaces safer for staff. This award belongs to the Usdaw reps, members and activists across the country who have done so much voluntary campaigning work to promote respect and improve safety.” The Trust was founded by the parents of Suzy Lamplugh, a 25-year-old estate agent who disappeared in 1986 after she went to meet an unknown client.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said the needless deaths of firefighters in the line of duty has to stop. The union was speaking out on 4 April, as the inquest into the death of Manchester firefighter Stephen Hunt opened. Stephen, who was based at Philips Park fire station in Manchester, was killed fighting a fire in Manchester city centre on 13 July 2013. The inquest, led by HM senior coroner Nigel Meadows, will examine evidence to discover how the firefighter died. The inquest is expected to last approximately five weeks. Kevin Brown, FBU executive council member for the North West, said: “We will be submitting evidence to the inquest and hope that the lessons learned from this tragedy will be taken away and implemented to prevent anything like this happening to any of our members ever again.” He added: “Obviously, fighting fires is not a job without risk but too often, firefighters say goodbye to their families when leaving for work, only never to return home.” A February inquest heard another firefighter’s death was linked to the tragedy. The coroner indicated that the death of Stephen Hunt may have tipped father-of-two Lee Gaunt, over the edge, and contributed to his suicide by hanging at work. The 41-year-old had also attended the fire. The coroner said he was “concerned” at the adequacy of occupational health support provided to firefighters (Risks 739).
Teachers are threatening strike action in their campaign against excessive workload.The National Union of Teachers' annual conference called for “sustained strike action” to back schools challenging a long hours culture. The NUT conference in Brighton voted to campaign over a “workload crisis” being exacerbated by the “perfect storm” of teacher shortages and rising pupil numbers. NUT leader Christine Blower said: “Teachers speak of having no life outside of school, nor time for family and friends. We are not talking about having to stay a little bit later of an evening, but of workloads that keep teachers working into the night and at weekends.” The union welcomed new Department for Education (DfE) working group reports on unnecessary workload burdens associated with data management, planning and marking. It said these reports were the result of sustained NUT pressure over teacher workload. But the union added: “The NUT and other teacher unions also agree that while these reports highlight many of the pressing issues, there are other concerns raised in the groups which are insufficiently covered.” Christine Blower said: “Teachers will want the DfE’s acceptance of these reports to be followed by concrete and effective action.” She added: “Teachers’ workload is currently at unprecedented levels and is driving many teachers from the profession. Our latest survey shows that 48 per cent of primary teachers, 61 per cent of secondary teachers, and 49 per cent of leadership members are considering leaving the profession within the next two years. These should be alarming figures for the Education Secretary. Such a ticking time bomb simply can’t be ignored.” The NUT leader concluded: “With government action these reports could lead to real reductions in workload. The NUT will be holding the government to account to make sure it delivers.”
Workload is the key driver of the teacher shortage crisis, putting people off becoming teachers and compelling enthusiastic teachers to leave, according to a new survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). The union’s survey last month of 876 education staff asked what they thought might stop people from wanting to become teachers; 93 per cent cited workload and 91 per cent said poor work/life balance. Eighty-three per cent said they had considered leaving the profession and among those, almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) said this was due to workload. ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The situation is becoming a vicious circle – the abysmal work/life balance puts people off and then teacher shortages contribute to an unmanageable workload, making more teachers want to leave. There has to be a serious attempt to reduce teacher workload and to treat teachers as professionals, with the respect and salaries they deserve. The government has to accept we are facing a crisis and put credible measures in place that will produce systemic change.”
Many teachers are on the brink of turning to medication, alcohol and self-harm to deal with increased stress at work, teachers’ union NASUWT has revealed. More than 20 per cent of members reported increased use of alcohol and caffeine to deal with work-related pressures, the union’s survey found. A further 7 per cent of teachers admitted relying on prescription drugs. Two per cent of teachers confessed to self-harm. Eight out of 10 reported experiencing anxiety and nearly 90 per cent suffered from work-related insomnia. Commenting on the findings, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Yet again we have shocking figures about the toll the job is taking on the health and well-being of teachers and school leaders. It is unacceptable that given the increasing scale of the problem, there is still no sign of either employers or the government taking any effective action to address this. Instead of offering support, in far too many cases we see employers introducing punitive and callous sickness absence policies. High-quality education cannot be delivered by stressed and anxious teachers.”
The family of a West Yorkshire maintenance worker who developed a disabling lung condition after working with asbestos has received compensation from the NHS. Unite member Jack Coleman from Cleckheaton worked as a plumber at Leeds General Infirmary from 1980 until 2004, where he repaired pipework in the hospital. The service tunnels that Mr Coleman worked in were poorly ventilated and contained pipes that were lagged with asbestos. He would manually remove the asbestos lagging to access the pipework, causing the asbestos to become airborne. During the first seven years of his employment, he was not provided with personal protective equipment or warned about the dangers of working with asbestos. He was rushed to hospital in 2010 with breathing difficulties, where an x-ray revealed he had developed pleural thickening, which affects the lining of the lungs and can cause breathlessness. He died of a heart attack in December 2014, aged 72. His daughter Sam Scholey continued a union-backed compensation claim on behalf of her mum and the family. “My dad had been suffering from chest problems for years but he didn't think it was because of asbestos,” said Sam. “Even after he retired he used to enjoy going to the gym or having weekends away with mum, so to see him suddenly deteriorate was horrible.” Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “Asbestos-related conditions often take years to develop, and for a long time Jack didn’t attribute his chest problems to exposure earlier in his career. It wasn’t until he began struggling to breathe, which in turn led to his diagnosis, that he became aware of the debilitating effects of asbestos.” She added: “Employers have a duty to ensure that their employees are protected from harm in the workplace, but unfortunately cases of asbestos disease are far too common. By the 1980s, the dangers of asbestos were well documented, which makes the circumstances of Jack’s exposure all the more avoidable.”
The family of a BECTU member is urging anyone who has worked at aerial transmission sites in the UK to come forward with information about the working conditions, following the premature death of Patrick Smith. Patrick, from Storrington, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, in 2014. He worked as a technical engineer between 1977 and 2014 at locations including Wenvoe, Wood Norton, Daventry, Sutton Coldfield, Wooferton, Washford, Ascension Island, Droitwich and Bressay. The sites were owned by the BBC and operated by Arqiva, previously named the Independent Broadcasting Authority and National Transcommunications. Following his diagnosis, Patrick contacted his union, BECTU, with regard to a possible compensation claim, but the condition killed him with the claim at an early stage. The claim is now continuing on behalf of Patrick’s family. Jackie Wood, from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by BECTU to act in the claim, said: “We are appealing for anyone who worked at the transmission sites mentioned above from 1977 to 2014 to come forward, particularly those with expertise in radio transmitters, klystrons and resistor mats, who may be able to provide valuable information about the presence of asbestos. To help Patrick’s family it is vital we piece together a full picture of his working life and contact with asbestos.”
A Unite member has been awarded £30,000 in damages after developing a repetitive strain injury (RSI) from excessive use of a computer keyboard. The 31-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, suffered a strain injury to her right wrist while working as an administrator at an unnamed charity, where she would spend up to eight hours a day entering data onto a computer. Her duties included taking handwritten notes at meetings, which she would then type up onto a computer as well as setting up appointments through email. As the amount of work increased, she started working through her lunch break and for up to two hours after her shift was meant to have finished. All computers within the facility were fitted with software that monitored keyboard usage, however, staff would be told by managers to switch it off in order to get more work done. When the Unite member started to suffer from pains in her wrist she visited her doctor who confirmed she had developed a repetitive strain injury. She had to take three months off work and after this time she went back on a phased return. However, she had to take further time off because of the pain in her hands, and she was subsequently made redundant. Her injury prevents her from working full-time on a computer so she is now in academic study, which allows her to have a more flexible approach to work. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “The fact that the employer actively told staff to go around a programme that was created to protect them completely defeats the object of having it in the first place. As her workload increased, our member began to develop a painful injury which her employer should have taken responsibility for sooner.”
The TUC has demanded immediate government action after a report revealed over threequarters of working mothers had experienced pregnancy discrimination. The union body’s call came in response to a report published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which revealed 77 per cent of working mothers has experienced pregnancy discrimination. EHRC also found “4 per cent of mothers reported they left their job as a result of health and safety risks which were not resolved; if scaled up to the general population this could affect 21,000 mothers a year.” Backing EHRC’s call for action, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s disgraceful that tens of thousands of women are forced from their job each year due to pregnancy discrimination and that most struggle to enforce their rights.” She said the report “must lead to change. Women who have lost their jobs should not have to pay £1,200 to take a case to an employment tribunal.” She added: “The government should also recognise the vital role unions play in combatting pregnancy discrimination. This report shows that employers who work closely with trade unions have greater awareness of pregnant women’s rights and better policies to support them. I would urge every working woman to join a union to make sure they are represented and their voice is heard.”
Police Scotland has been told to take ‘remedial action’ over the presence of asbestos in some of its buildings. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served the force with an improvement notice following inspections at four sites in Glasgow earlier this year. Police Scotland said it was taking the appropriate action to resolve the issue. John Gillies, director of people and development with Police Scotland, said: “We take the health and safety of our staff very seriously, and are working with unions, staff associations and the HSE to develop and deploy the appropriate action plans in relation to the management of asbestos. We are committed to providing a safe working environment for our officers, staff and members of the public and are fully co-operating with the HSE to ensure the appropriate action is taken to achieve this.” An HSE spokesperson confirmed that its officers had identified issues with asbestos at Police Scotland premises. She said: “During inspections of Police Scotland premises, HSE found inadequate arrangements in relation to the management of asbestos and an improvement notice was served requiring remedial action to be taken. Further visits will be paid to assess compliance.” UNISON branch secretary George McIrvine said: “It is disappointing that it has taken the intervention of the HSE to highlight the shortfalls in the asbestos management systems within Police Scotland. The branch has been working with Police Scotland to address the issues contained within the improvement notice to ensure that the workplace is safe for our staff and officers as well as other visitors to police premises.” He added: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our members is paramount and we will continue to effectively challenge the organisation to ensure that these issues are addressed in a timely manner, whatever the cost and that a situation such as this does not happen again.”
Amnesty International has exposed exploitation of migrant workers building the Khalifa International Stadium, a ground slated to host a football World Cup semi-final in 2022. A report from the human rights organisation says that despite promising to improve protections, Qatar has failed to adequately reform its exploitative migrant labour system. ‘The ugly side of the beautiful game’ says migrant workers need their employer’s consent to leave the country and change jobs. It adds excessive control by employers over their workers’ lives puts workers at risk of exploitation, and sometimes even forced labour. Amnesty international says “FIFA has a responsibility to make sure the 2022 World Cup is not built on abuse. When it awarded its showcase tournament to Qatar, it knew, or ought to have known, that most construction work in Qatar involves migrant workers and that migrant workers were subjected to serious and systemic labour exploitation.” It adds: “If FIFA’s new President Gianni Infantino wants to end the body’s shocking indifference to the appalling treatment of migrant workers, he and FIFA must publicly call for urgent and fundamental reforms to protect migrant workers in Qatar.” Commenting on the Amnesty report, Bert Schouwenburg, international officer with the UK union GMB, said: “How many more reports do we need to tell us that Qatar has not the slightest interest in complying with even the most basic norms of civilised behaviour?” He added: “We allow them to buy up a significant portion of central London; humour their ridiculous aspirations to hold a football world cup in the middle of the desert and completely ignore their sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East. Just what does it take for our government to condemn this gangster state and use whatever influence it has to make it change its ways?”
Book your place now the national Hazards conference, the country’s biggest annual gathering of grassroots safety and union reps. The theme this year for the Hazards Campaign-organised event is ‘Building resistance to support safety reps’. The 2016 event will have top UK and international speakers and workshops, and will be held from 29-31 July 2016 at Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent.
Seven people, including a 16-year-old boy, were injured after guards at a shipbreaking company in Bangladesh opened fire on people protesting against the death of a worker. Mohammad Sumon was killed instantly when a truck transporting scrap steel from the Kabir Steel yard in Chittagong, ran him over on the morning on 28 March 2016. On hearing about the tragedy, locals, co-workers and Sumon’s family members gathered at the scene. According to reports, factory authorities at Kabir Steel took the body inside and refused to hand it over to his relatives. Global union IndustriALL reports: “With grief and anger they started to protest, blocking the Dhaka Chittagong highway in front of the factory for about two hours demanding punishment to the guilty. Factory guards, reportedly acting under orders from Kabir Steel, then opened fire on the demonstrators, injuring seven people identified as: Nurun Nabi (20), Delwar (24), Usman (25), Munna (20), Musammat Shahnaz (25), Shabuddin (18) and Samir Ahad (16).” The union body has written to the prime minister of Bangladesh to “condemn in the strongest terms” the shootings. “We demand an investigation into why such brutal force was used against the protesters and the guilty must be punished,” said IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina. “We can no longer afford to continue the business as usual attitude as workers risk their lives every day at Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. IndustriALL calls upon the government of Bangladesh to ensure that accident victims are provided appropriate compensation and to punish employers who operate shipbreaking yards with gross negligence.”
Firms across Europe are far less likely to undertake risk assessments where there is an absence of effective worker participation, a survey has found. The findings come in the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2), for which almost 50,000 establishments from 36 European countries were interviewed in 2014. EU-OSHA director Christa Sedlatschek said the findings highlighted the importance of worker participation in managing occupational health and safety. “The second enterprise survey has confirmed the findings of the first: worker participation is vital in implementing safety and health measures at work — 85 per cent of establishments with formal employee representation carry out risk assessments, but this worryingly drops to only 64 per cent of establishments without such representation.” The survey found levels of psychosocial risks in European workplaces are high, with 77 per cent of establishments reporting at least one psychosocial risk factor in the workplace. The importance of effective regulation and enforcement of workplace health and safety was highlighted by the survey. The most commonly reported reason for addressing occupational health and safety issues was to fulfil legal obligations, reported by 85 per cent of establishments.
Campaigners have said the European Commission must be stopped from proceeding with the renewed authorisation in the European Union of the toxic herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and the world's most widely-used herbicide. The demand from the global food and farming union IUF and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International, comes as renewed authorisation is being pushed through despite an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) warning last year that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans and other evidence of the impact of glyphosate on food and health (Risks 744). IUF and PAN International are calling for a deluge of messages to be sent to the European Commission and its relevant bodies “urging them to ban glyphosate in the EU and to provide comprehensive support for a safer, saner food system which does not put agricultural workers in the front lines of exposure and inject massive quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment.”
Ÿ IUF news alert. Sign the IUF/PAN letter to Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament.
Unions have obtained the full accident records of the New Zealand meat processor Talleys/AFFCO group of companies, and say the records show a further increase over the previous year's ‘horrific’ number of workers maimed and injured at the workplace. Workers’ compensation claims for injury at work were paid to 1,773 workers throughout the Talleys Group of Companies in 2015, an increase of 220 workers from 2014. Over 1,000 workers were injured at AFFCO and 350 at South Pacific Meats for a total increase of 240 workers over the previous year at these Talleys-owned meat companies. Global food unions’ federation IUF said the company failed to report an accident where a worker was required to clean up an offal spill without appropriate protective equipment. Offal matter entered his eye, causing poisoning so severe that the worker needed to have a heart valve replaced. “An incident in January this year involving a German tourist on a working visa is now known to be even more serious than initially reported: his head was crushed as he was dragged along the slaughter chain by a moving hook in the same area of the plant where the company was prosecuted for a previous life-threatening accident to an experienced worker,” IUF reported. “The New Zealand Meat Workers Union is challenging Talleys' ongoing fight against union rights and recognition, including the rights of workplace health and safety representatives. The union has had to return to the courts to contest the company's 7 March layoff of all union members at the Rangiuru plant in flagrant violation of the law” (Risks 742).
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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Issued: 7 April, 2016