It is time to get rid of asbestos for good, the TUC has said. Britain’s biggest industrial killer, responsible for thousands of cancer deaths every year, “can still be found in around half a million non-domestic premises and probably around a million domestic ones”, the union body says. The TUC says the official line that asbestos is best left where it is, managed and undisturbed, isn’t realistic. “It is extremely unlikely that asbestos is never going to be disturbed if it is left in place for decades. There can be few cupboards, boilers, wall panels and pipes that have had no work done on them since the 1970s, when asbestos use was at its peak,” it notes. “There is therefore considerable doubt that most of the asbestos that is to be found in buildings is going to lie undisturbed for the next 20 years, let alone the next hundred… So long as asbestos is present there is a risk.” The TUC has published a new guide for workplace representatives on how to negotiate “to get rid of this killer dust once and for all.” The guide says “there is a need to ensure that all workplaces have a programme of identifying, managing and safely removing and disposing of all asbestos.” And the government should introduce a law requiring this to happen, it maintains. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “There is no place for complacency. It is not only your members that are risk, it is anyone who enters the premises, or who in years to come has to work on refurbishing or demolishing the building. Remember that your workplace could be one of those that the HSE estimates puts 1.3 million tradespeople at risk from asbestos. By ensuring that it is safely removed and disposed of, we can protect our members, and anyone working in the building in the future.”
Social housing landlords should have a “legal duty” to undertake asbestos surveys and should give the results to tenants and maintenance workers, the construction union UCATT has affirmed. Delegates to the union’s national conference in Scarborough heard that a number of construction workers had recently been exposed to the deadly substance due to landlords’ failure to share information with contractors carrying out building work. Delegate Sandy Harrower told the conference that asbestos presented the “biggest occupational risk to construction workers”, causing deadly cancers that develop decades after exposure. A motion passed by delegates commits the union to “name, shame and publicise councils, housing associations and private contractors involved in exposing UCATT members to asbestos.”
The swift action of a train guard in evacuating passengers after an engine fire has been praised by the union RMT. Train services to London Paddington were disrupted last week after the engine fire near Twyford. It was the train guard who got passengers safely off the service, something the union says was acknowledged by Network Rail in tweets that were later deleted. The 18 May fire was safely put out and no passengers or staff were hurt, but the train line between Reading, Slough and Maidenhead was closed for about an hour. RMT general secretary Mike Cash said “we do know from the now deleted Network Rail tweets that the fire was put out under the direction of the guard who also safely evacuated the passengers on this busy service. The incident once again emphasises the safety-critical role of the guard and exposes the dangerous nonsense of trying to undermine and abolish these posts. If there had been no guard on this train the potential consequences would have been horrendous.” The rail union leader added: “Why the Network Rail tweets were deleted is anybody’s guess, but with the incident coming on the day that RMT is stepping up the national fight to defend the role of the guard on our trains it is clearly added weight to the evidence base that the guard is crucial to train safety.” The union is currently protesting plans announced by Southern Rail to make some services driver-only.
Rail union RMT is balloting guards across Scotrail for industrial action over the extension of Driver Only Operation (DOO) and Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) on the franchise. The ballot closes on 7 June 2016. RMT’s policy is for no extension of DOO on any route or service and for the guard to be in full operational control of the power operated doors. The union says it has made it clear its total opposition to any proposals for extending DOO, reducing or abolishing the safety role of the conductor and reducing or abolishing the role of the conductor in operation of train doors. But the union says Scotrail has failed to provide “the necessary assurances” and accuses it of “continued heel-dragging”, prompting the dispute. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Any extension of DOO or DCO is a clear attack on our members’ hard earned terms and conditions. RMT members should not have to face the risk of their role and responsibilities being reduced and undermined. There is also a very real threat to passengers of watering down and wiping out the safety critical role of the guard on these Scotrail services. That is a lethal gamble with basic rail safety.” He added that a 7 May incident at East Dumbarton, where a passenger was seriously injured when he fell onto the tracks while trying to board a driver-only train, “is just the latest in a catalogue of shocking episodes that expose the dangers of DOO.” He warned: “RMT is in no doubt that our members will stand together and demonstrate the strength of feeling across the Scotrail network during this dispute. The union remains available for further talks.”
Firefighters’ union FBU is calling for lessons to be learnt after an inquest jury concluded that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) firefighter and FBU member Stephen Hunt, 38, died as a result of ‘unlawful killing’. The union said safety measures that should have been in place during the handover from the day shift to the night shift, when Stephen and his partner Jeremy Jones took over fighting the Manchester city centre fire in July 2013, were absent due to failures in communication and procedures. Les Skarratts, FBU regional secretary in the North West, said: “Stephen was a dedicated, conscientious and skilled firefighter. His premature death is a devastating reminder of the real dangers firefighters face. There have been too many firefighter fatalities, 14 in all, from 2004 to 2013, more than double than the previous decade.” He added: “We have conducted a thorough review of what went wrong in the run-up to Stephen’s death and we welcome that the fire service has committed to working with the FBU to ensure that this does not happen again. We remain, however, deeply concerned that fire and rescue authorities and the government have not yet fully implemented recommendations from previous firefighter fatalities. A culture change is required at the highest levels of national and local government to ensure that our concerns are addressed. In particular, sufficient resources have to be made available to allow firefighters to put into practice the required safety control measures at every incident.”
Serious and possibly criminal misbehaviour by top human resources managers involved in the blacklisting of construction workers has been met with a “disappointing” response from their professional body CIPD, the union GMB has said. After news of the £75m blacklisting settlement broke earlier this month, the HR professionals’ organisation said “CIPD unequivocally condemns blacklisting and is in the process of conducting its own investigations against individual CIPD members alleged to have been involved in the practice of blacklisting. Some of these investigations are still ongoing.” But GMB says it wrote to CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese as long ago as 18 October 2013, listing 37 senior HR professionals and other executives from the construction industry involved in the blacklisting scandal. In response Mr Cheese confirmed CIPD was investigating 19 current members. GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “The CIPD have had over two years seven months to conduct an investigation into 19 of their current members involved with the blacklisting scandal with no apparent results.” He added: “The blacklisting companies have apologised, it is time for the HR industry, overseen by CIPD, to do the same and accept that there was something fundamentally lacking in the ethics and professionalism of the industry at this time… Many of these professionals involved still hold very senior positions within the industry and other important sectors. Inaction by the CIPD is predictably disappointing but not totally surprising.” CIPD head Peter Cheese said: “The CIPD has already bolstered its Code of Professional Conduct and provided clearer practice guidance on pre-employment vetting. We will review this on a regular basis to enable the HR community to act with the highest standards of ethics and professionalism in every aspect of its work.”
The pilots’ union BALPA has welcomed the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the government will introduce new regulations on drones in a forthcoming Modern Transport Bill. Background notes to the speech said included in the new law would be measures to “put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the autonomous vehicles industry, such as drones, and spaceplanes.” Jim McAuslan, BALPA general secretary, said: “We are pleased that the government is planning to bring forward drone legislation in a new bill. The number of recent near misses with passenger aircraft, and the huge growth in the number of drones in the UK certainly means this is a sensible thing to do, and we have been pushing for better regulation for some time. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department for Transport [DfT] and the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] in developing and refining these new regulations before the bill is laid before parliament.” He added: “Better and safer regulation, as welcome as it is, is not the complete answer, though. It is vital that the hobbyist drone user is educated about the rules, and understands his or her responsibilities, particularly the importance of keeping away from commercial air traffic. We know the DfT and CAA share our belief that a combination of education, technological solutions and proportionate training and licencing are vital in ensuring our skies remain as safe as possible.”
An irresponsible dog owner has been fined almost £9,000 after allowing his out of control dog to bite off the tips of a Romford postwoman’s fingers. CWU member Claire Offord had only been on post deliveries for five months when on the 23 February this year her hand was seized by the dog as she pushed mail through its owner’s front door letterbox in Romford. The attack was so ferocious that the tips of her fingers were completely bitten off. Immediately after the attack, Royal Mail managers visited the address and imposed a delivery suspension. The police were called, seizing the dog within 4 hours and arresting the dog owner at his address. CWU Romford branch area safety rep Ryan Ward said: “My investigation discovered that walk safety logs and walk risk assessment folders were not up to date in the delivery office and the files contained no relevant information regarding any dog residing at the said address.” He added: “I found that several of Claire's colleagues at the delivery office mentioned that they were aware of the dog that attacked Claire as it had been a problem in the past, but sadly several near misses had not been recorded and the details of the dog had not been logged to warn staff covering that delivery round.” He said that “with the help of CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce, Claire was restored to full pay under the nationally agreed 'Royal Mail Dog Attack Compensation Scheme'.” The dog owner was convicted of offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £8,793.
The Royal Mail Group Limited has been fined £50,000 after a worker’s foot was run over by a 4-tonne forklift truck in a warehouse. Medway Magistrates Court heard how the incident happened at the Royal Mail bundling centre in Rochester. A worker stepped out into an aisle and another worker, who was driving a ‘reach truck’, ran over his foot causing broken bones and bruising. The injured worked was not wearing mandatory safety boots with steel toe caps when the incident happened. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 7 March 2014 incident found that workplace transport was not organised to ensure pedestrians and vehicles could circulate safely. Royal Mail Group Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,406. The injured worker, a member of the communications union CWU, said the mandatory protective footwear had been ordered but hadn't been received after a mix up. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said: “This is damning example of what can happen when managers fail to manage and monitor the health and safety of the workforce through careful attention to law and the company’s own health and safety standards and rules. It's important to be proactive about health and safety and that didn't happen in this case.” He added: “I'm pleased to say that since the accident Royal Mail have been working with the CWU area safety rep and workplace safety rep to make real improvements at the site and that's fully acknowledged and welcomed. Going forward that needs to be maintained and continually improved. This accident could have resulted in a far worse outcome.”
Most healthcare establishments visited in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection blitz were in breach of the law on needlesticks safety, with nearly half the subject of formal enforcement action. HSE said the initiative focused on 40 organisations from across Britain, including three ambulance trusts and one a dental hospital. It added that it targeted organisations “where intelligence suggested there might be non-compliance, for example from reported RIDDORs and/or purchasing data.” HSE found health and safety breaches in 90 per cent of organisations visited, with 83 per cent of organisations failing to fully comply with the sharps regulations. Legally-binding improvement notices were issued to 45 per cent of the organisations visited. Health service union UNISON welcomed the report. Assistant national officer Robert Baughan said: “UNISON and the Safer Needles Network had long campaigned for this legislation to protect NHS staff from these unnecessary injuries and the risk of potentially fatal infections. The report highlights the work that still remains to be done by NHS trusts in enforcing this legislation and protecting staff from these injuries”.
Summary report, Prevention and management of sharps injuries: Inspection of NHS organisations, HSE Sharps Inspection Initiative 2015/16 and sharps injuries webpages. UNISON news release. Safer Needles Network.
A pipe manufacturing company based in Newport has been fined for criminal safety failings after seven reported cases of vibration-related hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurred at the firm between April 2014 and July 2015. Newport Crown Court heard that employees of Asset International Limited used vibrating tools without proper training or practical controls to reduce vibration risk. The firm was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £27,724 after pleading guilty to a series of criminal offences under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: “The serious and irreversible risks from hand arm vibration syndrome caused by work with vibrating tools are well known and guidance has been in place since the early 1990s. This case shows there is no excuse for not putting in place a management system which includes risk assessment, control measures, health surveillance and information and training to reduce these risks to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.”
A window fitting company and the principal contractor at a construction site have been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker fell three metres while installing glazed units. Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court heard how on 4 November 2014 an employee of GFT Frames Limited (GFT) was installing glazed units in a block of flats on a construction site in Bournemouth where Parsons and Joyce Contractors Limited (P&J) was the principal contractor. Darren Shepherd, 54, an employee of GFT, had been carrying window frames through the stairwell of the block of flats under construction. There were no stairs in place, just a ledge which was part of the structure that would act as a landing half way up the stairs once they were installed. After completing the unloading all the frames, Mr Sheppard and a colleague were accessing the first floor, up through the void. As Mr Sheppard climbed onto the first floor from the ledge, he slipped, falling approximately 1.7 metres back to the landing and then a further 1.3 metres to the ground floor. He sustained two fractured ribs and a broken thumb. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found GFT had failed to properly plan, supervise or carry out the work at height in a safe manner and that Parsons and Joyce failed to plan manage and monitor the construction phase and failed to provide workers with a site induction. GFT Frames Limited was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £9,953 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the work at height regulations. Parsons and Joyce Contractors Limited was fined £20,000 plus £9,953 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
A Cumbrian lead crystal manufacturer has been fined after an employee suffered a serious hand injury while using machinery. Laura Ponsford, who was 21 at the time of the incident in February last year, had the middle finger of her right hand torn off while operating a drill to widen the neck of a glass bottle. Preston Crown Court heard an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident at Greatdale Ltd - trading as Cumbria Crystal - found the firm had failed to prevent operatives from accessing dangerous parts of machinery. Mrs Ponsford had only been working at the company’s premises at The Lakes Glass Centre, Ulverston, for one year and has since left the job. The court heard on the afternoon of 20 February 2015, she was using a pillar drill to widen or ‘ream’ the neck of a glass bottle. The chuck and reamer were unguarded. Mrs Ponsford was wearing latex gloves while performing this task. The glove on her right hand became entangled in the rotating parts of the reamer, resulting in the middle finger of her hand being severed. Attempts to reattach the finger failed. HSE told the court the incident could have been prevented if a suitable and sufficient risk assessment had taken place and control measures to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery had been in place. Greatdale Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £15,000 plus costs of £3,000.
An Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) from chromium VI proposed by the European Commission (Risks 750) has been set at a level it knows will see 1-in-10 exposed at that level develop occupational cancer. The proposed limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3) would “render fatal lung cancer in every tenth worker over a working-life exposure”, said the non-governmental chemical safety group ChemSec. It bases its conclusion on a dose-response curve used by the EC’s official European Chemical Agency (ECHA). The proposed standard is considerably higher than those in place in a number of EC member states, including France (1μg/m3) and Sweden, Lithuania and Denmark (all 5μg/m3). There is also a danger the standard could be cited as an alternative to compliance with the REACH chemical registration law, ChemSec warns. “The new chromium VI OEL could open up a possibility for companies to use this chemical without having to apply for authorisation,” it notes. “No doubt some industry will try to use this argument in order to avoid having to apply for authorisation. However, looking at these proposed numbers and knowing the different scope of the two regulations it is crystal clear that workers protection legislation could not qualify as equivalent to REACH” so should not be allowed, said Theresa Kjell, ChemSec policy adviser.
For impoverished migrant workers in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the town of Godhra provides an escape from debt. The quartz crushing industry clustered around the town attracts many migrant labourers. It also generates clouds of white dust. The dust is crystalline silica, the cause of the incurable occupational lung disease, silicosis. At a lot of units, the most hazardous step of the process - the collection of the crushed powder and sealing of gunny bags - continues to be done manually, a decade after studies first linked the deaths of over 200 workers to the factories. In factories where automation levels are low, the silica dust makes it difficult to see objects even at the distance of an stretched hand. Jagdish Patel of the People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC) in Vadodara, Gujarat, which has filed legal petitions on behalf of the dependants of deceased workers, says not a single factory has dust control devices to measure actual levels of respirable silica dust. For labourers who live with their families on the premises, thin handkerchiefs frequently substitute for breathing masks. Patel points out that silicosis is still not being diagnosed independently and is often labelled as tuberculosis. “This is because silicosis renders the respiratory immune system vulnerable to infection, which in turn becomes a terminal disease.” While silicosis qualifies for workers’ compensation, tuberculosis does not.
The boss of a deadly coal mine in West Virginia has surrendered to federal authorities at a California prison to begin serving a one-year sentence. Don Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in the nation’s worst coal-mining disaster in a generation. The former Massey CEO - once among the most powerful men in the region - reported to the Taft federal prison north of Los Angeles, after an appeals court flatly turned down his bid to remain free while he appeals his conviction. The Taft facility near Bakersfield, California, has both a low-security main institution and a minimum-security “satellite camp”. It appears to be the only lower-security federal prison that meets the bureau’s general requirement of being located within 500 miles of Blankenship’s home, which the West Virginia native now says is Las Vegas. Under federal law, Blankenship, 66, could have been released pending appeal if the court had found his arguments raised “a substantial question” of law or fact that would be likely to result in the verdict being overturned. In December, Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards over a more than two-year period before the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners (Risks 732). On 6 April, Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison and a $250,000 fine (Risks 746), the maximum penalty allowed under existing law that mine safety advocates have argued for years should be strengthened.
Courses for 2016
Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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Issued: 25 May, 2016