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The TUC has called upon employers to combat the rising tide of racist abuse that has been reported following the EU referendum. According to a new TUC report, the UK has seen a major spike in reports of racist and xenophobic incidents since the referendum, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council reporting a 57 per cent increase in hate crime in the days following the referendum. This was on top of the Home Office observing an 18% increase in hate crimes in 2014/15, and reports from charities that Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents had more than doubled. Often the abuse is aimed at workers with those in transport, the NHS, retail, social care and the public sector in general bearing the brunt. At the same time a TUC guide to combatting racist abuse was published. This emphasised that this is very much a trade union issue and unions must ensure that employers protect and support their staff. The guide for workplace representatives gives advice on how to deal with abuse in the workplace, taking a clear risk assessment approach that seeks to ensure that unions are a major part of any response. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said “We need to stand up for modern British and trade union values, respect for difference, dignity at work, and a deep opposition to racism and extremism. Trade unions have long been a part of the fight against racism, but we can and should do more, as should the government and employers across the UK.”
The TUC has supported a strike on Southern trains which aims to protect the safety of passengers and staff. The five day stoppage, by RMT rail members, is against Southern Rail’s plan to increase the number of trains without a safety-trained guard on board. It was suspended on Wednesday after the operating company, GTR, agreed to talks. The TUC stated that it believed that the proposed services would be significantly less safe and disadvantage female, elderly, and disabled passengers. Commenting on the strike, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a strike for safety on our railways, and the men and women who work on Southern Rail trains deserve our support. Having a guard on board is helpful and reassuring for passengers, especially when things go wrong. If you’re female, elderly, disabled or in any way vulnerable, a guard on the train makes a real difference. You can’t automate that kind of human interaction. In cases of emergency, guards are trained to protect passengers. That should not be risked.”
Rail union RMT has launched the new phase of a Scottish rail safety campaign. The union is seeking to make the public and political case against any extension of Driver Only Operation in Scotland, making the positive case for "Safer Scottish Trains". The launch kicked off with an event at Glasgow Queen Street station. According to the RMT, it is a “broad-based campaign designed to engage the travelling public and every grade of rail worker in a united push for safe rail services across Scotland. At the heart of that united campaign is the clear message that every train should have a second person on board, that person should have a very clearly defined safety and operational function." The union is also highlighting the fact that stations should be safe and staffed and any attempts to reduce station staffing levels should be resisted. Earlier in the week the union suspended industrial action in Scotland when the train operator, Scotrail, agreed in principle that any EMU services (electrical multiple unit) that are being electrified now or in future, and for services that operate on certain routes, there will be a conductor on every new electrified train and a guarantee that conductors will retain their full competencies relating to track safety, rules and evacuation. This contrasts with the position taken by GTR, who operate Southern trains, where the union has been on strike over similar safety concerns.
The TUC has expressed concern over proposed changes to the way that company records will be kept on the grounds that it could have a negative effect on compensation claims. According to the Guardian newspaper, proposals are being considered to reduce the amount of time the records of dissolved companies are retained, from twenty years to six. These records are often used to trace companies which have gone out of business, but where former employees develop an occupational disease many years after they were exposed. Over the years thousands of workers have been denied compensation because they cannot trace a former employer or their insurer. The TUC’s Hugh Robertson said “If the Government allows Companies House to shred all records after six years then the problem will be far worse. An estimated two and a half to three million records will be lost overnight. In the case of those developing the deadly cancer mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure, the victim may still get compensation, although the money will now have to come from the public purse (that’s us). In the case of other diseases, the cost will be borne by the victim, who will be denied the compensation they are entitled to because of what is simply administrative expediency. Rather than reducing the timescale to six years, there is no reason, given the low cost of data storage, why Companies House should not be retaining the records of all companies that have been dissolved regardless of the timeframe.”
A senior opposition MP has called on the Government to do more to prevent workers having to work in excessive heat. Rosie Winterton, MP for Doncaster Central and shadow Chief Whip, wrote in her local paper that “I think it is time for this government to look at reviewing all the evidence to see whether more should be done. In the meantime, employers and employees should get together to see what can be done to cool down the workplace when things hot up.” She refers to the TUC campaign for a legal maximum temperature and says that “Once again, the trade union movement has been at the forefront of fighting to protect workers from having to put up with workplace conditions that can damage their health. As the TUC has pointed out, working in high temperatures can cause dizziness, fainting and heat cramps. In extreme cases heat stroke or collapse can even follow. Tiredness and losing concentration can, at worst, lead to accidents. In 2009 the Labour government said it was time to look at whether we should introduce a maximum workplace temperature but since then, despite all the campaigning, nothing has happened.” Last month the TUC warned about the dangers passed to workers of high temperatures and called for a change in safety regulations to introduce a new maximum indoor temperature. The TUC wants this set at 30C, or 27C for those doing strenuous jobs, with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24C. With further high temperatures expected in the coming week, many workers will again face working in unbearable and dangerous conditions.
A South Wales construction company has been fined £100,000 for running an unsafe timber-frame construction site. J G Hale Construction Ltd of Neath pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 27 and 29 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £40,000 and £60,000 respectively. They were ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £4633.76 and a statutory surcharge of £120. However, according to research done by the British Safety Council, the firm had already been served seven prohibition or improvement notices for fire safety issues dating back to 2012. HSE issued a further three improvement notices last year after finding a lack of fire prevention and control which included poor site management control, insufficient means to detect a fire and raise the alarm. When the HSE visited the site, fifty-four timber-frame houses were under construction, which carry a serious fire risk if not planned or managed properly, as the structures are made from wood. If a fire starts, the speed and intensity of fire spread can be extreme – putting workers and even members of the public at risk of harm. HSE found that measures to prevent a fire starting and getting out of control had not been properly taken. All the houses were under construction at broadly the same stage with little fire protection, a lack of site management control, insufficient means to detect a fire and raise the alarm, poor control of ignition sources and a general lack of emergency planning. Workers were also at risk of being struck or crushed by construction vehicles on site. After the hearing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne said: “Hale Construction had been given plenty of warnings about fire-safety and traffic risks in the recent past, including from HSE. Timber-frame houses are perfectly safe once they’re finished and protected, but when under construction they can be very dangerous. Stringent fire-safety standards need to be in place well before the build starts, and then maintained and monitored”.
Rail infrastructure operator, Network Rail has been hit with two fines in a week after workers were injured due to failures in electrical safety. On 4 August, they pleaded guilty at Blackfriars Crown Court to the offence of not complying with an electrical cabinet safety order. As well as the £70,000 fine, the railway infrastructure company was ordered to pay costs of £94,966. Back in November 2013, following an investigation into two incidents where rail workers suffered electric shocks while maintaining signalling equipment, the regulator served two improvement notices on Network Rail. However, the company did not make sufficient progress with this work and failed to comply with the notice by the due date, leading ORR to prosecute. Daniel Bulcock, ORR inspector, said that prior to the enforcement action the electrical cabinets posed a “very real safety risk”. A few days earlier the company had been fined £130,000 after a worker was electrocuted while working on track in North Ayrshire. He was working with a colleague on the line when he touched a live wire and was struck by a 25,000-volt power surge. The court heard Mr McDermott had been severely injured as a result of the incident, suffering years of surgery. Network Rail admitted to failing to provide safe working documentation and ensuring work was only carried out on isolated sections of the line.
Baldwins Crane Hire, a major supplier of mobile cranes to the construction industry, is to lose its license to operate heavy goods vehicles due to safety and maintenance concerns, including the falsification of driver records. An investigation into the company found drivers faking rest breaks in order to ensure cranes would be on site ready to work on time. The endemic problems are said to have been led from the top, and four directors of the business have also been disqualified from operating heavy goods vehicles. The decision was made by the government’s Traffic Commissioner for the north east of England, Kevin Rooney. He said: “The falsification of records to make it appear that drivers had taken appropriate rest goes absolutely to the heart of road safety. In the case of this operator, five out of seven drivers investigated in 2014 were found to be so offending. A follow-up investigation in 2015 found the offending, if anything, had worsened with eighteen drivers found to be offending. The failures at Baldwins Crane Hire are so significant so deep-rooted and inspired by the very top of the business that I find it entirely appropriate that this licence be revoked.” The licenses to be revoked only apply to the company's fleet of commercial vehicles and HGVs which accompany its large mobile cranes on the road. They are operated from two depots in Leeds and Slough. Last year the company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter and fined £700,000 after a worker was killed after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into an earth bank. An investigation by police and the Health and Safety Executive found the braking systems were "either non-functional, disabled or damaged providing only limited braking force". Brakes were inspected across the firm's fleet with several other cranes found to have significant issues which required immediate work, police said.
A home improvement company has been fined after removing asbestos material from a domestic property unsafely and without a license. St Albans Magistrates’ Court heard how Ace of Hearts Home Improvement Limited (AOH) removed asbestos containing materials (ACM) from a domestic property in St Albans. An investigation by the HSE found that the Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB) soffits surrounding the underside of the guttering around the front, gable end and back of the property had been dismantled in an unsafe manner creating the serious risk of respiratory exposure of asbestos fibres to the two workers and the residents of the property The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 8(1) and Regulation 16 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012, and The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Section 33 (1) (g) in that it failed to comply with an Improvement Notice, and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,118.50. This was the third prosecution of a company for exposing its workers to asbestos in less than a month but is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg. The TUC has been campaigning for all asbestos to be removed safely after an HSE report which showed that 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of exposure, and they could come into contact with deadly asbestos on average more than 100 times a year.
A Worcestershire-based manufacturer was fined after a worker nearly lost his life when a door collapsed and pinned him to a baler. Last year, two maintenance workers were replacing the bottom of a heavy sectional door at the factory. While removing the hinges and brackets the door collapsed, pinning one of the workers between it and a baler that was next to the door. He suffered serious injuries including broken ribs and asphyxiation which led to a loss of consciousness for eight hours. An HSE investigation of the incident found that managers had failed to recognise the risks involved in the maintenance work that was taking place. There was no appropriate equipment, instruction or training provided to the workers to ensure the method of work was safe. Essential Supply Products Limited of Enigma Business Park in Malvern pleaded guilty at Hereford Magistrates’ Court to breaching Section 2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £2,714.10 in costs.
Although there has been much media attention to the possible dangers to athletes posed by Zika and the high levels of pollution in some of the swimming arenas, less has been said about the appalling legacy that had led to the deaths and injuries of workers during construction of the various Rio Olympic facilities or Games-related projects between January 2013 and March 2016. According to a report by Rio de Janeiro’s Regional Labor and Employment Office, 11 workers died from a range of causes, including falls from heights, electrocution and vehicles overturning. Elaine Castillo, coordinator of inspections for the site, blamed the city government because “it awarded contracts based on price rather than quality which led to corners being cut, because it was slow to issue licences, because it lacks engineering experts who could oversee the projects and because it had failed to engage fully in dialogue with labour standards officials beyond putting pressure on them to allow work to hurry.” Ms Castillo said she did not have the staff to inspect as frequently as she would have liked, but even so they discovered 1,715 infractions and ordered work to shut down on close to 50 occasions due to violations that put workers lives at risk. The inspectors ordered two shutdowns of the velodrome site this year as a result of unsafe electricity cables and a lack of harnesses and guardrails for workers at height.
The Indian lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has passed a bill that it claims will lead to higher compensation in cases of industrial injuries as well as providing for hefty penalties where there is any violation by the employers. The Employees Compensation (Amendment) Act 2016 was passed without opposition after the government said it was committed to ensure protection of jobs, wages, social security and fair wages to workers. However there was considerable criticism that it did not go far enough with sectors like agriculture not included, and many occupational diseases omitted from coverage. The opposition also condemned the government’s record of failing to protect workers from injury in the first place. The opposition Congress Party claimed that the Bill would bring in only cosmetic changes, and make no substantial difference to the lot of the workers. The Bill updates a previous 1923 law and places a duty to inform employee of right to compensation; makes it mandatory for an employer to inform the employee of his right to compensation; imposes a penalty for failure to inform; changes the appeals process and deletes provisions that allowed payments to be withheld during appeals.
The Indonesian Trade Union Rights Center (TURC), an NGO which supports workers’ rights, has called for greater enforcement of the law following a fire at the construction site of the 27-story Swiss-Belhotel in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, on Sunday, which killed two workers and injured 12 other people. Surya Tjandra, the Director of the TURC said that employers were clearly not complying with national laws on health and safety or protective equipment and that there was little enforcement or punishment. He claimed “The law regarding work safety should be enforced without negotiation. If there are companies that cannot provide work safety, they deserve punishment.” Mr Surya also criticised the level of inspection and claimed there was far less awareness or public concern about occupational risks than in other south east Asian countries, claiming that incidents such as the recent two deaths were “treated as normal”.
Demonstrations have been held in Pakistan to demand action over the high level of workplace deaths amongst electricity supply workers in the country. The All Pakistan Wapda Hydro Electric Workers Union (CBA) led a march through Lahore to demand the provision of safety equipment in the workplace. The union claims that 121 workers lost their lives while performing duty on lines during the first seven months of this year alone. Union General Secretary, Khurshid Ahmed, said that special measures should be taken to ensure safe working conditions for electricity workers by arranging professional training for them and providing them with quality modern safety equipment. The union is also demanding that the government start inspecting workplaces. Last month a report was published which condemned the lack of any inspection processes. It was compiled after visits to two factories where 11 workers perished in separate accidents. The report claimed that industrial accidents had become a common occurrence in the country, and after the Ali Enterprise factory fire which claimed lives of 289 workers, the occupational health and safety provision had actually deteriorated rather than improved after the previous government had effectively stopped all inspections. The report stated that “Occupational Health and Safety Centre officials maintained that they had not been assigned responsibilities to conduct inspection; the officials also informed the teams that they did not have computers to maintain records or vehicles for inspection visits.”
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Issued: 11 August, 2016