Thursday, 3 May 2007

Work cancer prevention kit

Hazards Magazine has released a four-part cancer prevention kit to coincide with launch of the Global Zero Cancer Campaign. The kit includes a detailed briefing, a guide to building a cancer campaign, advice on reducing the top ten cancer workplace risks and a resources and an information section.

It can be downloaded from:

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Employers slow to green their workplaces
Labour Research Press Release March 4th 2007

Employers are proving slow off the mark in "greening" their workplaces, despite the fact that over half the UK’s energy is directly used in the workplace, according to a new survey by the Labour Research Department (LRD).

But it also shows that environmentally committed workplace reps are proving that, where management works with them, green progress can be made.

The report, published in the LRD’s journal Workplace Report, surveyed union reps from over 500 workplaces, three-quarters of whom were in the public sector. Fewer than one quarter of the reps (23%) said their workplace had a clear system of environmental management.

In addition, the survey found that:

• fewer than one fifth of employers (19%) have comprehensive recycling schemes in place;
• only one in nine (11%) has a comprehensive energy efficiency scheme;
• almost two-thirds (63%) of employers have done nothing to promote green transport
• more than half have taken no action on water conservation (57%);
• 51% have done nothing on green purchasing;
• 34% have taken no action on minimising waste;
• 34% have done nothing to minimise the use of resources.

Although the workplaces involved had union reps present, very few of the employers had involved the union in green issues at work.

Even where there was an environmental management system, only 10% of reps said the union had any involvement with it. And fewer than a third of the reps overall said the union had been involved in environmental improvement measures in their workplace.

However, where management does work with the growing army of union reps who are enthusiastic about greening the workplace, it is clear that progress can be made. The survey revealed many examples of good practice, including those below (more details available from LRD).

The survey provides further evidence of the need for statutory rights for trade union environment reps, as advocated by the TUC.

Waste and recycling

A rep from University College London said the college had "direct recycling streams for paper and for bottle glass, although the potential for other streams is constantly under review…Batteries are removed from the hazardous waste stream and sent for recycling, and fluorescent tubes are processed to recycle the mercury content."

Reducing consumption

Toilets use huge quantities of water so the Met Office uses rainwater to flush its toilets. In addition, a number of efforts to reduce energy consumption were reported by reps including a plan at the Port of Tilbury to install three 90-metre wind turbines.


The UNISON branch environment officer at the University of Brighton has negotiated secure cycle storage on all four sites and an interest-free cycle loan to include helmets and locks, while at the Pensions Service the PCS has negotiated the installation of a shower for those cycling to work.

Notes to editors
1 The survey on union reps, the workplace and the environment was based on an online questionnaire to union reps, distributed by national unions and through the LRD website. Over 500 reps responded, of whom 76% were from the public sector and 55% worked in offices.

2 Further details on the results, together with case studies, are contained in an article in the latest issue of Workplace Report, published by the Labour Research Department. The Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded over 90 years ago. More than 1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.

For further information contact Paul Hampton on 020 7902 9826 or; or 07984 356110 out of office hours.

Labour Research Department press releases are also available on the LRD website:
Staff took short cuts with paper bailer
By Kevin Burchall
Swindon Evening Advertiser

A FORMER soldier who died after falling into an industrial paper bailer had not been given health and safety training for working the machine, an inquest heard.

Paul McGuire, 33, of Greatfield, near Wootton Bassett, had worked at the Sita recycling depot, just off the A419 near Cricklade, for less than three months when he lost his life.

He had been trying to clear a cardboard blockage at the top of the bailer on August 16, 2005 while the machine was still on.

And an inquest at Swindon's Civic Offices heard that under-pressure staff would regularly use a "short cut" to clear cardboard blockages in order to save 10 minutes from their 12-hour days.
The jury of five men and three women were also told that there was a lack of management at the depot in the months leading up to Mr McGuire's death with no one seemingly at the helm.
A safety harness had also been removed from the bailing machine before Mr McGuire's death, which staff said was sometimes used in the process of clearing any blockages.

Yard worker William Miles, of Bourne Road, Moredon, said he had seen Mr McGuire moments before his death standing at the top of the bailer's stationary conveyor belt.

He said he panicked when he saw he had vanished minutes later and rang his mobile phone to see where his colleague was.

He thought he must have been on the phone to his wife Sophie as the phone was engaged, but another colleague later discovered Mr McGuire's body in the bailer machine.

When asked by coroner David Masters if most members of staff did not turn off the machinery when dealing with blockages, Mr Miles replied: "Yes sir. We have all done it to be honest with you."

He added that he had not seen any documents relating to the safe working of the machine until the Health and Safety Executive presented him with a copy following Mr McGuire's death.
Fellow colleague Gordon Sheppard said he had used the short cut himself, but had also made sure someone was with him in case of an emergency.

But he confirmed that he too had not seen the health and safety guidelines.

Stewart Liddell, of Richards Close, Wootton Bassett, was the site foreman at the time of the incident.

He said there were no documents at the time explaining the safe working practices of the machine, but later admitted that he may have seen them on a previous health and safety training course.

He said the depot was very busy and that staff were working 12-hour days. He said the short cut method of clearing blockages would probably save workers 10 minutes.

Former Cricklade depot manager Ian Scott-Browne said all staff were aware of health and safety procedures prior to him taking up a different position in the company in March, 2005.
His predecessor, Cirencester depot manager Simon Fry, was brought in to oversee both of the company's operations and described how he did not start at the plant until after July 1 the same year and even then his visits to Cricklade were sporadic.

The inquest heard how Sita had implemented stringent health and safety guidelines and practices since the death of Mr McGuire including modifications to bailing machines.
The inquest continues.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Safety repressed

The government admits the lifesaving work of safety reps saves society hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Now unions are asking why the Health and Safety Executive seems reluctant to expand the safety rep role or to help they get the time they need to do the job. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill reports.

It takes time to be a good safety rep. Time for training, time for inspections and investigations, time to do background work and time to talk to members and management. But providing that time is an enormously profitable investment for UK plc.

A DTI consultation paper published in January 2007, 'Workplace representatives: A review of their facilities and facility time', concludes that safety reps at 2004 prices save society between £181m and £578m each year as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses of between 286,000 and 616,000 days.

A new “topic pack” to advise HSE and local authority inspectors on worker consultation and involvement issues, acknowledges the union effect. HSE says: “There is strong evidence to suggest that involving the workforce in health and safety matters has a positive effect on health and safety performance.” It adds: “This topic inspection pack is designed to help staff in HSE and local authorities to: understand what is meant by ‘worker involvement’; understand the legal requirements to inform and consult workers, along with the policy position on enforcing those requirements; determine when discussion of worker involvement is appropriate; and promote the benefits of involving workers.”

Commenting on the new 21 page pack, which can be accessed on the HSE website, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, said: “While this is welcome, we have to wait and see if it makes a difference in the way that inspectors deal with problems around consultation in the workplace. We hope that safety representatives will raise the points in the pack with any inspectors they come into contact with.”

A key concern of TUC and unions not addressed by the pack is the lack of support from HSE’s own inspectors for union safety reps who are denied time off to undertake necessary safety training and functions. A Hazards survey of union safety specialists conducted in February 2007 - and which received responses from unions representing over 5.6 million trade union members - found time off and getting the employer to act were the clear top concerns of their union safety reps. Getting management to act on safety concerns was a top 3 problem identified by nine out of ten of respondents. Getting time off for training and other safety rep functions was a top 3 problem identified by two-thirds of respondents. And getting support from HSE was identified as a top 3 concern by over a third of respondents.

Based on responses from the unions Amicus, ASLEF, ATL, BALPA, Community, CWU, FBU, GMB, NAPO, NGSU, NUJ, NUT, PCS, Prospect, RMT, SOR, TGWU, UCU, UNISON, Usdaw. Respondents represent over 5.6m members (over 86 per cent of the membership of TUC-affiliated trade unions) in 20 unions.

Busy going nowhere

While DTI looks at time and facilities for union reps in general, the Health and Safety Executive is analysing the results of its own 2006 consultation on worker involvement (Hazards 94). Unions dominated the responses – out of 440 written responses, 279 were from safety reps. The TUC and the major unions also made submissions.

HSE signalled early on, however, it did not believe there was a compelling case for any substantial changes. The consultation itself only proposed two limited measures – a new legal requirement to consult safety reps on risk assessments and a requirement on employers to respond to safety reps. Roving reps and provisional improvement notices, substantial changes sought in some union submissions, were not on offer.

HSE’s “partial” Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) – the cost-benefit analysis required by government that determines if a legal change can be justified and which said “it seems clear that the costs of introducing the regulatory amendments we are considering are very much more than the benefits we can identify” - was a particular concern to unions and campaigners.
A submission by GMB was particularly scathing: “The GMB has repeatedly expressed our concerns about the limitations of these types of regulatory impact assessments (RIAs), and the almost nonsensical assumptions that they are based upon.” It added “the real ‘value’ of some of the benefits of improving health and safety - the prevention of deaths for instance - can never be truly evaluated exclusively in monetary terms. Neither can the human costs of industrial accidents, injuries and diseases - costs which are borne by the victims and their loved ones - ever be adequately expressed by mere figures on a balance sheet.”

GMB national safety officer John McClean told Hazards: “We think the figures were plucked out of the air by civil servants to justify offering nothing much new. They don’t bear any relation to reality or the facts." He added: “An HSE RIA a decade ago prior to the introduction of representatives of employee safety – the breed of safety rep-lite introduced in workplaces without a recognised union – claimed the cost would be £14 million costs in the first year and £1 million a year after that. Despite repeated requests, HSE had failed to produce a single estimate of the real costs since their introduction.”

He said his union would be looking for positive changes as a result of the consultation. “We will not stand for another wasted consultation – two have already gone into a black hole”.
Doug Russell, national safety officer with the retail union Usdaw told Hazards: “The RIA is a joke. It seems to say there are extra costs in what reps are doing and want to do, and grossly under-estimates the benefits.” He added: “Under the present system, a failed RIA is pretty well a veto on the thing to go ahead.”

UNISON safety officer Vincent Borg concurs: “HSE seems to have made its mind up already,” he told Hazards. “UNISON is concerned that the RIA is incomplete – for example the work of safety reps is undervalued. This may lead to a poor decision, or worse still may indicate that decisions have already been made. Safety reps work – we all know this, and there is much research which proves this. We also all know that more needs to be done to improve health and safety. So let’s make better and more effective use of what works.”

A submission by Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign was equally dismissive. “The RIA assumes there will 100 per cent compliance with the new regulations and that this will place a cost on employers. Clearly the first part is nonsense. The existing regulations have certainly not got universal compliance and there is not reason to believe that, even with a stronger enforcement regime, the proposed changes will lead to any significant cost for employers. In fact, the proposals are simply what any good employer should be doing already.”

The enforcers?

Where HSE’s consultation document argued there were three pillars to a worker involvement strategy – legislation, guidance and enforcement – unions added a fourth: Enforcement.
There are two obstacles evident here. The first is an apparent reluctance on the part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to use its enforcement powers to support union safety reps. HSE’s enforcement database records not a single prosecution of an employer for breaches of the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations. There are no prohibition notices, and just two improvement notices, the most recent in April 2004.

Unions say if safety reps received support from HSE in obtaining their existing rights under the safety reps regulations, most of their concerns would be answered. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said “while the proposed new safety reps rights will be welcome, they are only part of the package” which must include proper enforcement of the existing safety reps’ regulations.

According to GMB’s John McClean: “Our top priority is greater clarification of the rights to time off for training, to carry out safety rep functions and to undertake and follow-up inspections and investigations. It’s a grey area at the moment.

“HSE never enforces any of this. We need a mechanism that enables inspectors to enforce time off rights. We need to have HSE with the power and inclination to insist on reps having the time and facilities to carry out their functions.”

Phil Madelin of civil service union PCS said their safety reps had a problem “getting HSE or local authority enforcement officers involved in a meaningful way with employers – it is very difficult to get their interest and, even when one does, they seem to have very low level expectations of employers.”

Usdaw’s Doug Russell said: “We are extremely disappointed HSE are not doing anything substantial to improve the safety rep role. They should alter the regulations, with improved powers for union and non-union reps.” He added: “They could at least enforce the existing regulations. The bottom line, is get them to enforce what we have already got. The big issue for safety reps is getting the time for training and to do the job they’ve already got. I would like HSE to bring out guidance on time off for safety reps’ functions and training, and to raise time off on inspections.” He said Usdaw had “recent examples of both HSE and local authority inspectors refusing to talk to reps.”

It’s about time

Getting the time to undertake safety reps’ functions and training was, alongside getting management to act, the most commonly cited safety rep problem identified by national union safety specialists responding to the Hazards survey. But despite being a clear right laid down in the safety reps’ regulations, brought in under the Health and Safety at Work Act, HSE says it is not its concern.

“HSE inspectors cannot take any action on time off issues,” Stuart Bristow, head of HSE’s worker involvement and inclusion team, told Hazards. “Regulation 11 of the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations confers jurisdiction on employment tribunal. This means HSE cannot take enforcement action; reps can take civil action via an employment tribunal.

“I don’t see there is anything wrong with this. I think it’s consistent with other employment law; HSE is happy with that.”

This means an employer can be in clear breach of an explicit duty under criminal law – a breach of a safety regulation – and there is absolutely no chance they will be prosecuted. The biggest single problem facing safety reps is the one HSE is entirely – intentionally – incapable of addressing. Employment tribunals can make recommendations on working hours and can impose compensation awards, but cannot take enforcement action. And the process is involved and laborious, which will deter many reps from proceeding.

In fact, even when reps are granted time off, lack of cover means they are stuck with a backlog of work on their return. UNISON responded that “the key issue is usually either the time given is not sufficient, or they get the ‘time off’ but still have to do the same workload.” Probation union Napo said as casework is allocated to particular workers, “no-one does the work if you are not there, so work waits until you get back.”

Nationwide Group union NGWU said although an agreement gave time off for training “the problem is pressure of work – targets. Safety Reps are reluctant to take time off if targets are not being met, the workplace understaffed.” TGWU said areas like shiftwork presented special problems, with reps on different shifts struggling to get time off to attend safety committee meetings or undertake other functions.

Looking forward

According to Doug Russell, HSE should start viewing safety reps as key part of a properly functioning safety management approach. “The safety rep function is a valuable contribution to the whole workplace safety management function,” he said.

CWU says the cash-strapped enforcement agency, which has just embarked on a massive job loss and budget cutting programme (Hazards 96), should be making the most of the support unions can provide. It is also calling on “the government to look again at the Australian system of safety reps having the power to issue legally binding 'provisional improvement notices', especially in light of the HSE limited resources.”

According to GMB’s John McClean: “Britain’s workplaces have changed beyond recognition in the 30 years since the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations were introduced. HSE doesn’t seem to realise workplaces have changed, so a new generation safety reps in smaller workplaces, managed differently, with a different ethnic and gender mix, have to be allowed to change the way they work to recognise this.”

UNISON’s Vincent Borg has his own wish list, including more effective rights and roving safety reps. He said the current package of safety reps’ rights “came about at a time before privatisation and contracting out. Its provisions no longer reflect the diverse nature of the employment market.

“We need provisional improvement notices (PINS) and a right to a response from employers – let’s use the skill and experience of the safety reps by giving them the right to a response once they’ve raised a health and safety problem, and PINS to use when an employer fails to take adequate steps. We also need real and effective consultation – too many employers still interpret this to mean notification, and any breach must be enforced by the enforcing authorities.”

He added: “If the outcome of the consultation exercise is unsatisfactory, then UNISON will continue to campaign alongside the TUC at governmental level and also issue appropriate guidance to UNISON safety reps to assist them in negotiating local agreements with their employers in the interim.”The only substantial, funded, HSE worker involvement programme, the three-year, £3m, Worker Safety Adviser Challenge Fund, comes to an end in March and its funding will not be renewed. With the coffers bare, HSE should be enlisting any help on offer, and the government evidence shows it doesn’t come much cheaper or more effective than union safety reps.
Lords amendment to Corporate Killing Bill

The House of Lords has voted to include prisons and police cells in the corporate killing legislation, defeating government attempts to esclude them. The government argued that such deaths can be adequately investigated by public inquiries, inquests and internal reviews.
Former Chief Inspector of prisons, David Rowbotham argued that deaths in custody should be included. He said that only one public inqyiry had been held into a death in custody, inquests deal only with the causes of death, and internal investigations are not made public.

The Prison Reform Trust, citing the case of Zahid Mubarak who was killed at Feltham young offenders institute after being bileted with a knowm racist, said:

"The family of a prisoner who died in custody as a result of corporate failure would find it incomprehensible that such negligence should be excluded from the ambit of the new legislation."

Home Secretary John Reid threatened to scrap the Bill if prisons and police cells were included.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

RMT has had enough of rail firm's excrement

You thought you had it bad? Count yourself lucky you don't work on the railway track. This is an RMT press release.

Rail firm GNER has failed to stop its trains spraying human waste into the atmosphere from on-board toilets, despite warnings from the Railways Inspectorate (Risks 269). Rail union RMT says monitoring of trains from the Linger and Die crossing at Ferryhill, near Darlington, has revealed that the problem has worsened. The union has demanded the Railways Inspectorate take action to stop a fine spray of human waste being released into the air from toilet tanks when Mallard Class 91 trains go round steeply-banked bends at speed or brake heavily. 'It is now more than two years since our members working on the track near Darlington complained that they were being sprayed with human excrement and we asked GNER to deal with it,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

He added 'they lied to us, telling us that the discharge was from air conditioning and was harmless, even though their own study showed traces of E-coli in the discharge,' a standard indicator of sewage contamination. Mr Crow said a long promised solution, a new tank emptying facility, 'has been in operation since November, and the most recent monitoring, in December, showed that there was a discharge from three out of eight trains observed - worse than the previous two monitoring exercises. If GNER cannot find any other way to sort out the problem they will have to put in place speed restrictions in those places where the discharge is released.' The union leader added: 'We have had enough lies and excuses, and we now need to see our members' and the travelling public's health and safety put ahead of GNER's profits.'

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Report from Swindon TUC Health & Safety Conference

A Health & Safety conference organised by Swindon Trades Union Council took place on February 5th. It was something of an experiment, since we have not organised such an event before. The general idea was to bring together workplace H&S reps from different unions and workplaces across the town, to share experience and discuss trade union H&S organisation. Once H&S reps have been on the TUC Stage 1 and 2 Course (or their own union’s equivalent) they do not necessarily have the opportunity to meet with other H&S reps. So we thought it would be useful to bring reps together and examine what the state of organisation was across a range of workplaces and unions.

Sixteen delegates from seven unions (Amicus, GMB, PCS, RMT, TGWU, UCU and UNISON) attended. We hoped for a higher attendance, but some delegates expected could not attend for one reason or another. Some were refused release for the day by their management. However, for a first attempt the event was a success, with delegates present from major workplaces, including BMW (ex-Rover), Civil Service departments (HMRI and Department of Constitutional Affairs), the Health Service, Homebase, Honda, Network Rail, New College, and Swindon Borough Council. There was also a delegate from Cereal Partners UK (Nestle) in Trowbridge.

Two informative speakers gave talks. John Foley from Rowley-Ashworth spoke about the crisis of the Health & Safety Executive and the forthcoming cuts which will make even less likely that we will see safety inspectors in out workplaces. He also gave a briefing about the weaknesses of the new Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Bill (see ).

Hilda Palmer from Manchester Hazards Centre, gave a wide-ranging speech about the national Hazards movement and H&S campaigning around the country. She talked about the National Hazards conference which takes place annually and usually has over 500 delegates (the next one is on July 27th-29th at the University of Manchester).

Delegates broke up into groups to discuss H&S in their workplaces and future activities which we might organise.

The level of organisation obviously varies from workplace to workplace. In Honda we learned that management has been refusing to allow Amicus H&S reps to carry out their statutory right to 4 workplace inspections per year. This is the source of an ongoing dispute, which Amicus has taken through the various procedures. They hope the situation will soon be resolved, or else it will be taken to an Employment Tribunal. However, the fact that a company like this has been so obstructive says much about the fact that legal rights for H&S reps are not automatically conceded by some managements. We have to continue to fight for what should be ours by right.

In other workplaces there is most often acceptance of the legal rights of H&S reps, though remedying problems which they have recorded is sometimes slower than should be the case. The intensification of work which has become common in both the public and private sectors often means that reps struggle for the time to carry out their H&S duties, despite their statutory rights.

We sent out a H&S questionnaire to all the reps invited to the conference. We will produce a detailed report of the responses. However, first indications are that nearly half the reps who responded were denied the full facilities to do their job properly.

From the discussion the general impression that we had was that H&S reps, whilst receiving information from their unions, are often left to their own devices in their workplace. There appear to be few area meetings between H&S reps within the same unions. That was one of the reasons why those present were grateful for the opportunity to meet with other reps.

Whilst there are many weaknesses in health and safety union organisation, the fact remains that accidents are 50% more likely to take place in a non-union workplace. Being an H&S rep can be a frustrating business, but it does improve safety in the workplace (see the evidence of this at ).

One of the weaknesses of union organisation appears to be that H&S is often not integrated into trade union activity and strategy within the workplace. H&S is often seen as solely the responsibility of the H&S rep rather than that of union organisation as a whole. But health and safety problems are not separate from ‘industrial’ issues. Problems are rarely just related to individual workers. If we can use the law to push through changes against management resistance this can show that unions can have clout in the workplace, and show the practical benefits of union membership.

The general consensus of delegates was that the day had been interesting, informative, and they were keen that this should not be a one-off event.

After discussion it was agreed that:

We would hold an annual health and safety conference, which we would try to build into a much bigger event over a number of years;

Swindon TUC would devote one of its monthly meetings to H&S (possibly in September or October), with a speaker on a specific issue, and H&S reps invited;

We would discuss with the TU Studies Centre at the New College the possibility of organising a couple of H&S seminars each year;

We should look at organising activities for Workers Memorial Day, on April 28 see ;

We would develop a H&S reps email list for circulation of information.

We would look to develop over the long-term a network of H&S reps, and seek to build up the conference and other activities over a number of years.

We have set up a website dedicated to Health & Safety - .

You can add comments on articles or news posted on it. If you have any H&S news which you think other people will be interested in, or questions which others might be able to answer, please email to or post it to:

Martin Wicks, c/o 19 Fleming Way, Swindon SN1 2NG

Hazards magazine web site
Hazards Magazine is an indispensable source of information for H&S reps and its website has a wealth of information on it. An annual subscription costs £15.
The TUC’s Health & Safety site
The TUC produces a weekly Risks newsletter (10,000 reps receive it). You can sign up and have it sent to you or just read it on the site.
Centre for Corporate Accountability – promoting worker and public safety
Families Against Corporate Killing

Martin Wicks, Secretary Swindon TUC
07786 394593