Chelmsford TUC

In Your Workplace

Health and Safety

Independent research has shown that where trade union safety representatives have been appointed, employees are 50% less likely to have an accident than those who are employed in a workplace where they do not have trade union protection. Another reason why it is important that you join a trade union.

Below you will find a wealth of information to assist you but first of all here is the speech delivered to our 2017 Workers’ Memorial Day event by Dan McCarthy, Senior Vice President of the NASUWT.

SPEECH BY DAN MCCARTHY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, NASUWT 28 APRIL, 2017. Sisters and brothers, thank you very much for inviting me here today. For me being asked by you to speak – especially at this event an event though relatively new in the Trade Union Pantheon – is one that resonates with all trade unionists – is a great honour.

Today - Worker’s Memorial Day, is up there with the Durham Miner’s Gala, Tolpuddle and Burston. And indeed gets more recognition than other events such as the Dagenham Machinists and the Bryant and May Women.

Workers’ Memorial Day commemorates the thousands of people who have died, been seriously injured or disabled, or been made ill through their work. Worker’s Memorial Day began in Canada in 1984 and is a national day in 19 countries. For us in the UK it was not until 2010 that it was officially recognised by the Government. Today is intended to be a rallying cry to ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’. Today though I want to add Remember the dead and fight for those living with death.

Brothers and sisters employers do not make the place of work safer – trade unionists do that. Trade unionists like Mary Driscoll and Eliza Martin who had the temerity as casual workers, poorly paid and in hazardous conditions the worst of which being phossy jaw to take on one of the empire’s most successful companies Bryant & May with a two week strike that changed their working conditions and led the way for other exploited workers in the East End and beyond to take similar action. Certainly Annie Besant published a blistering exposé of Bryant & May under the resounding title ‘White Slavery in London’ after interviewing a handful of matchwomen outside the factory did publicise their efforts but it was all their own work – not Annie Besant despite what history says.

Brothers and sisters too often my northern colleagues talk of how the trade union movement started in the north. I read the history of the match women and say it started with workers a lot further south.

Workers Work – Work its existence or absence – helps define a person. For some the choice of work is not an option – it is something they strive for. For others is it something that simply happens.

But for all of us it is who we are. If we are lucky, it brings in enough to pay the bills. But if we are truly blessed we have work which we enjoy, maybe even a calling, a vocation.

I am a teacher. I may not be in a classroom. I am not wearing my gown and mortar board. But it is what I am. It defines me. It is who I am. As a teacher I am never off Duty. At the drop of a hat I can go into teacher mode and speak with a voice like a foghorn. I can stop an action with “the look” I can make kids wonder, I can make them question. I make them criticize. I can make them apologize and mean it. I can make them write. I can make them read, read, read I can make them learn I can make them think I am dangerous. So dangerous that across the world teachers are thrown in prison for doing nothing more than teaching. Teachers like Migueal Angel Beltran in Colombia Or Esmail Abdi in Iran. Both still in prison. Or teachers such as those in Colombia where teachers are more likely to be executed than a drug dealer, or teachers in the union Egitem Sen in Turkey who are not allowed to leave their country and not allowed to teach.

Last week following his release from five years in prison I spent time with Mahdi Abu Deeb and his colleague Jalila of the Bahrain teachers Union released after five years in prison. Both now back in prison following their attending a political event – the NASUWT conference.

For us in the UK imprisonment without trial and death by cop is not an outcome. Indeed for us in the UK death at work is not a usual outcome. Yet every year nearly 150 workers do not come home after their shift. But they are not just workers – they are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends, colleagues.

One such colleague was Ann Maguire, a woman of 61, a wife a mother, a member of my union, a teacher doing her job, teaching her class and stabbed. Stabbed by a child - a child suffering from mental illness. A death and an avoidable death. A death caused both by action and inaction. A death from risks that should have been measured a death from risks that should have been removed. The signs you see in all public buildings saying respect the workers and not there in schools.

They are not there because some employers see it as part of a teacher’s job to be hit at school. That to complain too loudly would frighten the parents and offend the community. Yet I well remember the head who did not expel or prosecute the child who threw a teacher down the stairs, nor the child who threw a large lump of concrete at a teacher. No he expelled the child who blew smoke in his face.

Teachers are expected quite literally to take it on the chin and not complain. And complain they do not – but there is an unintended consequence of working in such environments. Death because of work.

As we go further into the 21st century death because of work is now a serious issue. It is estimated that in the UK at least 33,000 people die from injuries and illnesses related to their job every year. That’s at least 33,000 families missing more than just a breadwinner – missing their father or son, mother or daughter. And countless communities bearing the knock on effects – the grief, the mental health problems, the financial and social pressures. Those numbers are staggering enough but according to the national Labour Force Survey a further 141,000 former workers currently have breathing or lung problems they thought were caused or made worse by work.

Last year 144 people were fatally injured at work, 30.4 million working days were lost from a work-related illness and workplace injury, 1.3 million people were suffering from a work-related illness, 2,515 mesothelioma deaths were due to past asbestos exposures. And despite restrictions on payouts and cost £14.1 billion is the estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions.

But even that is not the end of the story. As I have made clear I am a teacher – in this country being a teacher should be safe – but it is not. There is a massive underreporting of injuries to teachers. But these do not take life. What takes the lives of teachers in ever increasing numbers are ourselves and our place of work.

As a teacher I carry, as do many of my colleagues the number of a dedicated 24/7 suicide support line for teachers. 49% of teachers have been to the doctors in the last 6 months made unwell by work. Nearly 40% of teachers are taking medication to get them through the day. 2% of teachers are cutting themselves but worst of all over 300 a year are committing suicide.

Mental health for workers is becoming a very serious issue – suicide is the most common cause of death of males under 45. Yet try placing mental illness – Stress anxiety and depression as an industrial injury. Despite all of the evidence – or perhaps because of it – mental illness cannot, they say, be an industrial injury.

As we move further in the 21st century and technology does our heavy lifting lives should be getting better not worse. Ah but we live in the world of austerity – of saving money of spending less. And the consequence - the unintended consequence is that we are spending more. But not in the right way. 60% of our school buildings are pre 1976. It will take £2.6 billion to repair them. Thus they are falling down and they are deathtraps. They all contain asbestos - they only differ in the amounts. They all leak. Not water but something more deadly asbestos fibres so small you can’t even see them and the government refuses to test for them. A recent voluntary survey by the government found only 80% of those that thought they were compliant with extremely weak legislation are compliant in that 20% of those that thought they were complaint are NOT. They did not have fully documented plans, processes and procedures in place at the time of the data collection. Even worse 2% were a cause of significant concern and were posing a clear and present danger. However the DfE phoned these schools are received verbal assurances that the matters would be put right and so the HSE has not been informed and no inspections are taking place.

“Every year in the UK 99% of work related deaths are caused by occupational diseases, not by accidents! And though the numbers of those that do not come home at the end of the shift are decreasing the numbers facing a bleak future and an untimely death are increasing.

Asbestos related diseases are a death sentence. There is no cure. From diagnosis to death is just over the year. Some like our friend and NASUWT Colleague Carole Hagerdorn live for a few years. What had she done to cause this? One possibility is that she put pins in a noticeboard. The other is that her employer decided to remove asbestos while teachers were unprotected in the school. A third is that a child banged a door or scraped a chair. Whatever the case a single fibre was released and lodged in her lungs. That’s all it takes to cause mesothelioma. Only a single strand of asbestos can cause mesothelioma or one of the other cancers and lung-related illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an umbrella term which includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Though suicide is currently the most common cause of death for teachers these asbestos related diseases are fast overtaking that number. So much so the government are refusing to count all of the deaths as work related and insurance companies have done a deal to reduce pay-outs!

But teachers are not the only work related asbestos deaths. By far the largest numbers used to come from the shipyards and the building trades. But with new building techniques the numbers of these are decreasing. So much so that the headline figures are dropping and this government can say asbestos is not a cause for concern.

But as the state of our public buildings deteriorates the numbers of non-teachers that work in our public building are dying are on the increase. Already more die of asbestos than on the roads – over 5,000 a year. But before I finish I must remind you of an increase in the deaths in another group of workers, an abhorrent increase caused by the policies and practices and spending of this government. All public building are in disrepair but though the Houses of Parliament are to get millions – most get little and schools get the least and are in the worst state.

Increasing spending would decrease the deaths. All workplace deaths as a result of work are avoidable.

We do not go to work to die. We do our jobs for lots of reasons but to die is not one of them.

I have told you of the rapid increase in mental health deaths of teachers caused by the actions of this government but this other group has also a rapid increase in suicide rates and mental health problems – caused by this government. But even worse the deaths of this group from asbestos is and will always be 9 times higher than the teachers. Let me repeat that the deaths of this group will be 9 times higher. In other words for every teacher who dies of an asbestos related disease then due to their youth and immature lungs 9 children – yes children will die of asbestos related cancers.

They are our children and we should be looking after them.

So today as workers as trade unionists – the ones that really do care and really do make a world of difference -we join with others around the world to remember those who have been killed, made ill, or injured by their own or someone else’s work.

The current legislative and enforcement framework is failing to protect workers. It should be strengthened, not made weaker by brexit and a government which has set its face against “red tape” as it calls the regulations designed to save life. Using myths like straight bananas they intend to strip us of our rights. That is why we all have a responsibility to ensure that health and safety is seen as more than just a nice add-on to everyday business, or a bureaucratic tick list to be checked. We must all take responsibility for ourselves and those around us, for making sure we look after one another and don’t make work a risky business.

And we renew our commitment to demanding safe and healthy work for all. Let us remember the dead. And fight for the living. Thank you

TUC Working with substances that cause skin problems guide

This guide explains how working with substances that cause skin problems can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

TUC Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome guide

This guide explains how Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

TUC Exposure to Chickenpox in the Workplace Guide

This guide explains how chickenpox can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

Mental Health Conditions Guide

This guide explains how mental health conditions can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

TUC Working with substances that cause skin problems guide

This guide explains how working with substances that cause skin problems can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

TUC Working with Asbestos Guide

This guide explains how working with asbestos can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

TUC Working in a Noisy Environment Guide

This guide explains how working in a noisy environment can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.

The TUC publishes an excellent range of books and pamphlets on health and safety and some of these can be seen on our TUC publications page. All trade unions have their own experts to assist you but the most important advice we can offer, is to make you aware that workers are safer in trade unions.

Employers do have statutory obligations to fulfil, including:

  • ensuring that you are not harmed by your work or while you are at work;
  • training you to do your work safely;
  • informing you about the hazards and risks of your work, and how you will be protected from them;
  • providing you with the equipment and clothing you need to stay safe; and
  • consulting you about health and safety matters.

At the same time employees have a duty to provide a safe system of work, and not to do anything likely to harm colleagues in the workplace. Consultation can take place through trade union-appointed safety representatives if your employer recognises a trade union. If not, the employer can either consult workers directly or establish a system of independently-elected Representatives of Employee Safety. Chelmsford Trades Union Council believes that union safety representatives are the best because they ensure that

  • consultation is effective
  • you will be properly represented
  • your rights to health and safety are respected.

Trade union safety representatives are well-trained, and studies have shown that where employers consult with trade unions over health and safety, and set up joint employer-union safety committees, the major injury rate falls by over 50%. Indeed, the training of trade unionists is so good that Health and Safety Executive research suggests that they often know more about health and safety than managers.

On top of the training which unions provide for their representatives, they also receive a wealth of up-to-date information. Union safety representatives also have another advantage - they are able to use all the union’s facilities to protect its members. Union safety representatives are, of course, there to help all their colleagues in the workplace, including non-union members, but if you want to obtain legal help, your best bet is to join a trade union.

A talk to our May Day Rally 2012 on Defending Health & Safety by Hope Daley, Head of Health and Safety UNISON

The Threat to Health and Safety

  • corrosive impact of H&S laws, more common sense and individual responsibility needed.
  • excessive rules… giving the impression… we have a right to a risk- free life - David Cameron (Oct 2010)
  • “We are waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses” and businesses have to “battle against a tide of risk assessment forms”. – David Cameron 2012

The Government view on regulation

  • One - in one – out
  • Any new H&S regs must be introduced at the lowest level possible
  • Three reviews of health and safety regulations in the past year and a half

The 1st Health and Safety Review – Lord Young

  • Common Sense – Common Safety launched on 15th October 2010
  • Over 30 recommendations
  • Most had nothing to do with occupational H&S
  • Where they did relate the most practical ones had already been done or were in the process of been developed
  • Makes no positive recommendations on issues such as enforcement or prevention
  • Accepted by the Government!

The 2nd Health and Safety Review

“My overall conclusion is that there is no evidence for radically altering current health and safety legislation. This overwhelming view was expressed by a wide range of stakeholders including groups that represent employers. Furthermore there is evidence that work-related ill health and injury is itself a considerable burden on business (as well as a cost to society more generally) and that the regulatory regime offers vital protection to employees and the public.” Professor Ragnar Lofstedt – launching his review of health and safety regulation.

The 3rd Health and Safety Review

  • The Red Tape Challenge
  • Set up in 2011 to enable suggestions on removal of legislation
  • Overwhelming majority called for no changes
  • Government also said no more regs as Britain is one of the safest countries in the world.

Do we have too much health and safety Regulations?

  • There are 46 per cent less regulation than 35 years ago.
  • The number of forms used for collecting information from business reduced from 127 to 54
  • Is regulation a burden on business?
  • No evidence that, despite all the complaints, health and safety regulations impose even a minimal hardship on businesses.

To Regulate or not to Regulate?

  • 80 per cent reduction in fatalities since the introduction of the HSWA 74
  • UK study carried out in 2001 showed that employers are motivated by legislation
  • European research shows legislation widely contribute to improved working conditions

Health and Safety Regulations for the sake of it?

  • We want to see simple and effective regulations
  • A real common sense approach
  • Want new regulations where there is a clear need such as a legal duty on directors to protect the health and safety of their workers; and a maximum temperature in the workplace

The Government’s proposals so far...

  • HSE funding cut by 35%
  • No proactive inspections
  • Decline in the number of Inspectors
  • Inspections and prosecutions already at an all time low will fall further Support for employers and workers reduced
  • All guidance being reviewed and a large number being withdrawn HSE Info line closed
  • All Campaigns stopped

The Governments’ proposals – the next steps

  • HSE to get rid of half of all existing regulations
  • Changes to the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations
  • Exemption of some self employed workers from health and safety laws
  • Scrap some regulations dealing with falls from height and registration of tower cranes

What does this mean?

  • Harder to get the laws we need
  • Could lead to Britain having the lowest levels of protection in Europe
  • Sends the wrong message to employers
  • Part of a wider attack on workers rights

What can we do?

  • Campaign for:
  • Directors - legal duties for H&S
  • Better Enforcement – H&S regs and SRSC
  • Better use of safety reps
  • Duty for employers to respond
  • More funding for the HSE – so that they can reduce hazards which cause ill health as well as fatalities
  • Defend the current H&S system of protection that we have in place – the laws, codes of practice, and guidance that protect us at work
  • Protect H&S as a brand