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TUC health and safety reps survey 2014

The TUC is carrying out a survey of health and safety representatives to gather information on their experiences, and what their needs are.  The TUC aims to do more to help health and safety reps, as well as use the information to better inform public policy debates and the work of the HSE.  The TUC will publish the results, and use the information to campaign for better safety at work and more rights for health and safety reps.  The survey closes on the 27th June 2014.  So if you are a safety rep, go to http://www.tuc.org.uk/health-and-safety/health-and-safety-reps-survey-2014  and complete the on-line survey.  Your views important.

Shocking carnage on London sites

The number of people killed in fatal accidents at work has increased this year.  Last year 148 people were killed at work, but we know already that this figure will be overtaken – and that’s with two full months of the count to go.

During the first week of March two construction workers were killed on London sites, and a third seriously injured.  This shocking carnage once again highlights the dangerous conditions that exist on building sites, and the need to enforce safety rules and regulations on employers prepared to risk the lives of workers.

On the 2nd March Kevin Campbell was killed at the Stratford DLR Site, Pudding Mill Lane.  Then on the 7th March Rene Tkacik was killed at the Cross Rail Site in Holborn.   Also on the 7th March, a crane driver suffered serious head injuries when a crane jib collapsed at Balfour Beatty’s Providence Tower Site in London’s Docklands.

The Construction Safety Campaign held silent vigils outside two of the sites on the 20th March.  Leaflets were distributed expressing regrets and concern at the fatalities taking place.  Safety campaigners also returned to the site at Kings Cross where in November Richard Laco was killed in another construction incident.

We believe urgent action must be taken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to enforce existing safety regulations and restore site inspections in an industry wide crack-down.  It’s no accident in our view that sites where trade unions are present are safer sites.  As Construction Safety Campaign Chair Peter Farrell said, “Construction employers must also stop banning trade union activity on site as they are currently on some major projects in London. They must be reminded of the positive influence of unions as happened on the Olympics site where happily no-one was killed.”

London Hazards Centre is urging people to rally at the statue of the building worker, Tower Hill, on Monday 28th April to support Workers Memorial Day.  Starts at 10:30am.  We remember those that have died by fighting for the lives of the living.

Fire service cutbacks increase risks

Just how dangerous things are getting when it comes to being able to call on the fire and rescue service for help in an emergency has been highlighted in a report by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA, which represents all the fire and rescue services in England and Wales, has mapped the impact that an expected further 10% cut in funding will have in 2015 – 2016 on a typical fire and rescue service.  Despite “driving out inefficiency” and “pioneering innovative service delivery”, the LGA says it will have to reduce or remove services altogether as they try to manage 2014 -2015 budgets with on average a third less government funding than four years ago.  It’s clear from the impact assessment in the report that the LGA is deeply worried about their ability to deliver effective fire and rescue services.

The LGA claims to have made significant savings so far without a major impact on critical services, but now says further funding restrictions will possibly force fire and rescue services “to make cuts that could increase the level of risk faced by local people and local businesses”.  The report refers to the preventative work done by fire and rescue authorities that has resulted in a steady fall in the number of fires, but points out that this is now at risk because of sustained cuts to fire authority budgets.  FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said “it’s clear that across the country cuts are already slowing emergency response times, impacting on critical services and endangering lives”.

The report estimates that a typical fire authority is faced with a funding gap that is increasing by £3 million a year and set to reach £17.5 million by 2020.  The LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee Chairwoman Kay Hammond said “ the reality is that fire services are reaching the limit of efficiency savings and the next few years will be very challenging … if fire and rescue services are expected to keep playing a key role in national resilience, then they must be given the funding to do so effectively”.

FBU General Secretary Mark Watts said, “the LGA is right to say that fire and rescue services must be given the funding to play a key, continued role in national resilience”.  “All of us working in fire and rescue and local government must stand together to save fire and rescue services and convince central government to provide adequate funding for brigades”.  The report points out that the impact assessment does not cover the London Fire Brigade, which accounts for 20% of all fire service expenditure in England. (Source: Morning Star10/03/2014)

Despite London Mayor Boris Johnson’s claims that there will be no reductions in front-line fire and rescue services, Chairman of London Fire Authority Brian Coleman, in an interview on LBC said “The truth is there are going to be £60 million pounds worth of cuts to the fire authority budget over the next four years – the details are still being worked out”. (Source: LBC 11/03/2014)

Time to care

The increasing demand for care services has seen a corresponding rise in care workers getting paid less than the minimum wage and not getting the rest breaks established under the Working Time Regulations. A report by the Resolution Foundation last summer titled “Does it pay to care” drew attention to the shocking working conditions of care workers that “has an impact on the quality and dignity of care provided to older and disabled people”.  The report estimates that up to 220,000 care workers are being paid less than the minimum wage

What’s more, thousands of care workers are not getting paid travelling time between visiting clients, they are only getting paid for the actual time spent in the home of those they are caring for.  This has the effect of reducing their pay to beneath minimum wage levels and is illegal. The law on travel time states that a worker travelling for the purpose of duties carried out in the course his or her work will be required to be paid at least the minimum wage.

The social Care sector is notorious for being one of the lowest paid sectors in the economy, with an overwhelmingly female workforce and a growing proportion of migrant workers. It’s hard and stressful work.  Being able to take proper breaks is therefore important. The Working Time Regulations are very clear on breaks. Employees are entitled to a rest break of not less than 11 hours in each 24 hour period, as well as a rest break of not less than 20 minutes when they work more than 6 hours.

Alan Hood, a care worker employed by Accept Care Ltd in Consett for seven years, won his GMB-backed legal case after being denied daily rest and rest breaks at work. His complaint that the firm was in breach of the Working Time Regulations was upheld at a Newcastle employment tribunal in January 2014.  GMB Regional Organiser Gail Johnson who supported Alan Hood with his claims said, the GMB “sees this as a victory for all care workers in care homes across the country in the fight to improve working conditions”.

The ‘London Report’ by the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (October 2013) estimates that there are 166,000 care workers providing direct care across London.  The London Hazards Centre suspects it is safe to assume that a significant proportion of them are affected by the issues raised by the Resolution Foundation.

TUC alerts ILO over health & safety changes

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has asked the UK government to explain why it has stopped health and safety inspections in the majority of workplaces.  This comes after a TUC complaint that the new system of inspection does not meet ILO standards.  Changes introduced during 2012-2013 to reduce “the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules on businesses” substantially reduce the number of health & safety inspections.

The TUC has also raised the Health Safety Executive’s (HSE) “fee for intervention” scheme under which employers now have to pay for HSE time spent rectifying any potential breaches in safety legislation.  This is expected to stop businesses drawing the HSE’s attention to safety concerns for fear of being charged.

The government’s claim that “the system of labour inspection continues to apply to all workplaces” is clearly untrue.  The TUC has reported this to the ILO and now the government has been asked to provide detailed information on how workplaces will be selected for inspection, along with how the social partners are involved in the process.

Importantly, the ILO wants to know how safety is affected by businesses not being subject to inspection.  The government has also been asked to report the number of infringements detected along with the number of workplace injuries and occupational diseases.

The London Hazards Centre welcomes the TUC’s initiative and awaits the outcome with interest.  The effect of less regulation will in our view regrettably be more workplace injuries and deaths.  We will keep you posted on this.  (Source: TUC Risks e-bulletin)

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