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October 2019

Keep up with the latest information and developments in the fire world, by Sheila Pantry OBE

On the 10th October 2019 the Fire Information Group UK (FIG UK) held their annual seminar to help members keep up to date with some of the latest developments in the wider fire world.

The speakers discussed a wide of range topics and details of their presentations can be found on the FIG UK website.

The programme included the following:

FIG UK membership available, visit: www.figuk.org.uk/form.html

66% of employees pushed to work ‘very fast’ in France

The results of the SUMER 2017 survey were presented in France on 9 September 2019. SUMER is the acronym for the French “surveillance médicale des salariés aux risques professionnels”, i.e. the medical monitoring of employees’ exposure to occupational risks. Carried out for the 4th time, the survey maps the main work-related risks. The previous surveys were performed in 1994, 2003 and 2010 in such a way that a comparison of the results provides important information on the evolution of working conditions in France over a period of more than 20 years.

As with the previous surveys, SUMER reveals major differences among private sector employees. For instance, shift work affects just 2.8% of managerial staff, but 22% of unskilled workers. 1.7% of managerial staff are exposed to at least three chemical products, compared to 32.7% of skilled workers.

More information: https://www.etui.org/About-Etui/News/66-of-employees-pushed-to-work-very-fast

The RoSPA Health and Safety Awards 2020 are now open for registration

After a bumper 2019 – in which nearly 2,000 entries from more than 30 countries were received – the RoSPA Health and Safety Awards 2020 are now open for registrations.

Every year more and more organisations are signing up to the RoSPA Awards, and winners now represent more than 7 million people worldwide, helping to keep them safe at work and beyond.

Sponsored by NEBOSH, the RoSPA Awards are open to organisations of all shapes and sizes and from all sectors, and culminate in the famous gala dinner evenings in London, Birmingham and Glasgow. As well as offering non-competitive achievement awards – in which Gold, Silver, Bronze and Merits are awarded – entrants can bid to be crowned the winner across 24 industry sectors.

More information: https://www.rospa.com/Media-Centre/Press-Office/Press-Releases/Detail?ItemID=876

Usdaw welcomes action call on abuse of shopworkers

The shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has welcomed an intervention in the Queen’s Speech debate by Labour David Hanson, who called on the government to include measures to protect shopworkers in the proposed violent crime bill.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP for Delyn said: “I hope that when the violent crime Bill is brought before the House, there will be an opportunity for action to be taken on protecting shop staff by giving greater support to measures that will discourage violence against them and ensuring that they live free from fear about their daily workplace.” He added: “Nobody apart from the current government has resisted the potential for action on this. I hope that the consultation that the government have undertaken will prove fruitful, but I want to see it come back before Christmas, as promised.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294085

Mental health ‘is a trade union issue’

USDAW – The UK shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has highlighted the positive role of trade union workplace reps in supporting members experiencing mental health problems.

Speaking on the 10 October 2019 World Mental Health Day, the Usdaw general secretary said his union’s ‘Time for Better Pay’ survey of over 10,000 workers found that 63 per cent report that financial worries are having an impact on their mental health. He said the survey also ‘laid bare’ the issues that working people are facing as a result of low pay, short and zero hours contracts and insecure work. Lillis said: “Mental health is a trade union issue. Cuts to in-work benefits; rising living costs; wages falling in value; shorter working hours; redundancies, along with industry-wide cuts to budgets and staffing levels have left members feeling overstretched, overworked and undervalued.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294087

UK Ambulance staff facing ‘epidemic’ of mental ill-health

A survey of ambulance staff has revealed they are suffering mental health problems at ‘epidemic’ levels.

The initial findings from Unite are based on responses from the 550 members have so far taken part in its survey. Unite found over half of ambulance staff have suffered from anxiety (54 per cent) while 44 per cent recorded they had suffered from depression. Two-thirds (67 per cent) described being excessively irritable or angry and over threequarters (77 per cent) reported they were suffering from stress. Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) of respondents also reported trauma as a result of their work responding to life-threatening emergencies.

The staff also registered other problems including tiredness (89 per cent), problems with sleep (85 per cent), generalised aches and pains (70 per cent), poor diet/loss of appetite (64 per cent), headaches (55 per cent) and gastric problems (54 per cent).

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294088

Wales gets a new health at work partnership

A new partnership intended to improve the health of the workforce in Wales has been launched.

The initiative was announced at the Wales Health at Work Summit 2019 hosted by the newly-formed Wales Health at Work Partnership (WHWP), ‘a coalition of organisations committed to improving workplace health and wellbeing in Wales’ and including the Welsh government, Public Health Wales and its ‘Healthy Working Wales’ programme, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) plus the Wales TUC and other social partners.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294092

Tell the government to ban zero hours contracts!

The TUC is calling for an outright ban on zero hours contracts – and it wants your support. It says too many workers are being denied job security and can miss out on sick pay.

Insecure work is out of control, it adds. Urging supporters to sign an online petition, the TUC says if ministers are serious about building a country that works for everyone, they must act now to ensure every worker gets fair pay, decent rights and a voice at work.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294094

Australia: Union-bashing bill jeopardises public health

A draconian ‘union-busting’ drive by Australia’s federal government will undermine public health campaigns, the country’s national union federation has warned.

ACTU said the fight for public safety and to secure justice for asbestos victims would not have been won without a campaign of work stoppages, boycotts and protests. Asbestos victims joined unions at Parliament House this week to warn that the proposed Ensuring Integrity Bill would reduce the ability of unions to protect the public and working people. The propose law would mean a union official who visited a workplace without providing 24 hours’ notice would risk being disqualified from office and could face having their entire union shut down.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294096

Bangladesh: Lululemon leggings workers routinely abused

Upmarket athletic wear brand Lululemon, whose £88 yoga and running leggings are favoured by celebrities, is sourcing clothing from a factory where Bangladeshi female factory workers claim they are beaten and physically assaulted.

The Canadian brand recently launched a partnership with the United Nations to reduce stress levels and promote the mental health of aid workers. Yet, reports the Guardian, young female workers at a factory in Bangladesh making clothing for the label gave detailed accounts of how they struggled to survive on meagre wages and faced physical violence and regular humiliation at the hands of their managers, who called them “whores” and “sluts”.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294097

Canada: Rubber workers’ plight should inspire national action

Jim Brophy, one of Canada’s leading experts in workplace health issues, is calling for a large-scale public investigation into occupational health risks and the compensation system for workers in the country.

Brophy’s plea comes after a series of scandals which have seen decisions to deny occupational cancer compensation to thousands of workers. However, campaigns by unions and victims’ advocacy organisations have secured recent reversals of these decisions, with workers at a GE plant in Peterborough and several rubber plants in Kitchener, Canada’s ‘Rubbertown’, eventually receiving recognition their cancers, respiratory conditions and other diseases were caused by their work.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294098

USA: Women meatpackers ‘treated like meat’

Workers at the world’s largest pork processing company, Smithfield Foods, say as long as lines are moving fast, supervisors who sexually harass them are given a free pass.

Smithfield Foods’ 2,000-employee bacon and sausage packaging plant in Smithfield, Virginia, sits a mile down the road from the company’s stately corporate headquarters and flagship restaurant, Taste of Smithfield, a tourist-friendly establishment known for its smoked pork brioche sandwich, Virginia craft beer and “piglets” menu for kids. But the reality of life in the plant became visible in late May last year, when nine women workers sued Smithfield Foods.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-919-19-october-2019#_Toc22294099

London Taxi drivers face highest level of black carbon exposure

Taxi drivers in London experience the highest exposures to black carbon compared to other professional drivers.

New research has found that taxi drivers in London experience the highest exposures to black carbon compared to other professional drivers such as couriers, truck drivers, waste removal and emergency service workers. Black carbon is the sooty black material emitted predominantly from diesel engines in the urban environment.

In a recent study, researchers from King’s and Queen Mary University of London recruited 140 professional drivers from a range of different occupations working in the heart of London. The drivers were asked to carry black carbon monitors for 96 hours, which were linked with GPS trackers. The monitors measured exposure levels once every minute. Drivers were also asked about the type of vehicle they drive, their working hours and whether they drive with their windows down or air vents open.

Lead researcher and King’s PhD candidate Shanon Lim said: “We know quite a lot about the dangers of exposure to traffic pollution. However, there has been surprisingly little research on levels of professional drivers’ exposure to pollution and its effects on their health. We believe there are around a million people working in jobs like these in the UK alone, so this is a widespread and under-appreciated issue.”

On average, the results showed that professional drivers were exposed to 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (µg/m³) while driving, around four times higher than their exposure at home or levels experienced in offices. During the same period, researchers found that pollution levels at Marylebone Road were 3.1 µg/m³ on average and, away from the roadside, the average level in London was 0.9 µg/m³.

More information: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/taxi-drivers-face-highest-level-of-black-carbon-exposure

UK Unite calls for urgent cut to killer silica dust limit

Unite had given its strong backing to a campaign to force the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the workplace exposure limit for silica dust, a move it says will save 4,000 lives a year.

The union call came in response to a new ‘Choked’ report from Hazards magazine. This presents evidence for cutting the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m³ for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m³, a move the report says would dramatically reduce the incidence of the lung scarring occupational disease silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions.

Hazards reviewed the international scientific literature and internal HSE documents to calculate the annual excess silica-related death toll resulting from HSE’s repeat refusal to switch to and enforce the tighter standard, instead sticking with a level it admits comes with “significant risks”. It reveals that HSE’s own internal reports estimate the silicosis risk for workers is six times higher at the current HSE limit of 0.1 mg/m³, calculated at 30 cases per 100 workers exposed compared to just five per 100 at the tighter 0.05 mg/m³ standard. The United States and a number of other jurisdictions already work to the safer standard.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733463

Amazon health and safety lies ‘exposed’

Amazon’s ‘lies’ about it’s shocking health and safety record have been exposed, according to an investigation by the union GMB.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the union ‘it does not recognise’ the evidence Amazon claims shows its warehouses are safer than the industry average. In response to GMB’s earlier investigations into Amazon’s working practices – which revealed hundreds of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses – the company claims on its website: “According to the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive RIDDOR, Amazon has 43 per cent fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK.” However, after the GMB wrote to the HSE to query this, the government safety regulator replied to say that it ‘does not recognise’ the company’s claim.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733464

Government deregulation ‘responsible for Grenfell’

The UK government bears ultimate responsibility for the Grenfell Tower fire which left 72 people dead and hundreds homeless, the firefighters’ union FBU has said.

A new ‘meticulously researched’ report from the union argues decisions made by every government since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration led to the ‘gutting’ of the UK’s fire safety regime and, ultimately, to Grenfell. ‘Grenfell Tower Fire: A crime caused by profit and deregulation’ concludes that the expertise of firefighters “has mostly been substituted with management consultants, industry lobbyists and chief fire officers. These agents have operated within a political climate that has emphasised the need for reducing regulation… driven by central government.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733465

Union action call to force bad ship operators out

The leader of the UK maritime union Nautilus has called on unions worldwide to work together to force out shipowners who flout rules governing decent working conditions.

Speaking at the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) inspectors seminar in Sri Lanka, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “A bad flag state, an exploitative shipowner, those who flout the norms of decency and who breach conventions. We take them on together.” Policy makers must know about the challenges seafarers face and the ‘schemes and scams’ of the shipowners and the shortcomings of flag and port states, he said.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733466

RMT driver only operation dispute on West Midlands Trains

Rail union RMT has confirmed it is now in dispute on West Midlands Trains over plans by the company to ‘bulldoze through’ driver only operation (DOO), a move the union says will ‘rip apart the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface.’

Preparations for a ballot of guards for both strike action and action short of a strike are now underway. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility, the company knows that and they should pull back from their threat to bulldoze through driver only operation and their attack on the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface. RMT will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand firm on that very basic principle.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733467

Tube violence ‘out of control’ warns union

The number of sexual assaults reported on London’s Tube system has soared by 42 per cent in the past four years, latest official figures show.

Attacks on the London Underground recorded by the British Transport Police (BTP) rose from 844 in 2015/16 to 1,206 in 2018/19, according to Mayor of London statistics. Calling for urgent action, the rail union RMT said violence on the network was ‘out of control’.

The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said the figures were “a truly shocking indictment of our crime-ridden transport system. Both passengers and staff alike are being subjected to an unprecedented surge in crime and violence and this trade union is sick and tired of the warm words and excuses while those in charge ignore the brutal reality.”

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733468

UK workers deserve a break, says TUC

The TUC is calling on the UK government to cut Britain’s overworked workforce a break, by creating four new public holidays.

The union body says workers in England and Wales get just eight bank holidays a year, fewer than any other EU country and lagging far behind the EU average of 12 days. Workers in Germany and France get three additional public holidays a year, while workers in Sweden get 13 days – equivalent to an extra week off. Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Cyprus top the table with 15 days each, enjoying nearly twice as many public holidays as their British counterparts.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733470

New US NIOSH Webpage on Suicide and Occupation

US National Institute of Occupational safety and health (NIOSH) recently published a webpage on Suicide and Occupation.

Identifies information we know about the suicide problem, factors that are linked to increased risk of suicide among occupations, ways to prevent suicide in the workplace, and a host of other resources.

France: Toxic exposure anxiety ruling to be broadly applied

A French Supreme Court decision that gave workers exposed to asbestos the right to claim compensation for emotional distress caused by the fear of contracting a serious disease can be applied more broadly, a new ruling has indicated.

In its September decision, the same court expanded the scope of the April 2019 compensation ruling to include all ‘harmful or toxic substances’. This means an employee who demonstrates they been exposed in the workplace to a substance creating a high risk of developing a serious disease and has developed anxiety as a result can seek compensation from their employer. The employer would be liable if they had not implemented minimum measures to protect the employee, provided the claim was also made within a five-year statute of limitations.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733480

Malaysia: Haze is an ‘occupational hazard’ say campaigners

The blanket of choking smog over Malaysia should be regulated as an ‘occupational hazard, a coalition of unions, environment, women’s and migrant workers’ groups has said.

The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) says while flights have been re-routed or grounded and schools have been closed, “the nation’s workforce perseveres in daily routines with inadequate protection from the unknown long-term health effects of inhaling the carbon-rich smoke.” The LLRC wants the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) amended to cover the haze, which is believed to be generated each year from peat land fires in Indonesia, to require employers to implement measures to protect workers from detrimental effects.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733481

USA: Safety interventions less effective for low-waged

A safe patient-handling intervention decreased injuries among nurses, but not among lower-wage care workers, a US study has found.

Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health confirmed the “inequality paradox” when they compared self-reports of safe patient-handling practices and hospital injury rates at two large Boston area hospitals from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, nurses and patient care workers at one hospital received the same safe patient-handling intervention while workers at the other hospital did not. The intervention included initial and ongoing training on using new equipment, including slings and special devices, to help move patients safely. After the intervention, lifting and exertion injuries among nurses decreased by about a third, but no decrease in injuries occurred among patient care workers. At the same time, both groups reported similar improvements in their own safe handling of patients. The authors say their findings are an example of interventions unintentionally widening the gap between less and more advantaged workers.

More information: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/risks-916-28-september-2019#_Toc20733482