The UK premiere of an award-winning documentary called “Breathless” on the impact of asbestos in the developing world countries will take place on Saturday 27th October in Central London, followed by a discussion including the United Nations Rapporteur for toxics, Baskut Tuncak.
Breathless, which had its global premiere at the International Film Festival in Brussels in June this year, aims to show how asbestos companies cynically expanded to the less-developed world in order to perpetuate a dangerous industry for profit.
In India, the asbestos industry continues to expand which will cause asbestos-related deaths for decades to come according to the film makers.
The documentary from the Storyhouse production company, tells of Eric Jonckheere, whose mother, father and two brothers died from mesothelioma, who travels to the largest asbestos dump in India to find a community affected by the same Belgian company.
It is a story of profit over people, but also of how ordinary people can stand up to corporations.
Krishnendu Mukherjer, a dual qualified barrister from Doughty Street Chambers, travels to India with Eric and also explains how the asbestos industry spied on him and other campaigners who campaign against the asbestos industry and spread knowledge regarding dangers of asbestos to life.
As you know, I’m a partner at Leigh Day, and my father died of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. This documentary comes at a crucial time and will assist in highlighting to the world the asbestos industry’s continued threat to life by exposing men, women and children to asbestos. The film shows children playing in the asbestos dump in India.
Breathless will be shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London on Saturday 27th October 2018 from 4 pm.
Safety Reps @ 40: Still Vital to the Future of Safe and Healthy Work!
Hazards Conference 2018
The 29th Hazards Conference was held at Keele University, 27–29 July, 2018. It is the UK’s biggest and best educational and organising event for trade union safety reps and activists. It consisted of a mixture of plenary sessions, meetings and a comprehensive workshop programme. Delegates took the opportunity to exchange experience and information with, and learn from, safety reps
and activists from other unions, sectors and jobs across the UK. Hazards 2018 addressed some of the most important issues facing workers providing practical skills, improving knowledge and giving delegates a new confidence to conduct their roles in the workplace.
Find below a full report of the conference compiled by Janet Newsham and Hilda Palmer – it includes numerous links to course materials, presentations and resources.
The Hazards Conference opened with a great session on the Friday evening, when more than 320 delegates from all over the UK, from different industrial sectors, different workplaces and different trade unions registered and attended the first plenary at this year’s Hazards Conference.
Each delegate received a bag full of important and relevant information and the bag proudly proclaimed ‘You gotta fight for the right to safety!’ Included in the bag were the Hazards Campaign leaflets on supporting solidarity action with ‘Fast food workers’ and ‘Care workers’. Also a newly developed leaflet on SRSC Regs – a sort of mini brown book with information about key dates, links and contacts which reps can hang around their necks on lanyards and further copies can be ordered from GMHC – firstname.lastname@example.org or 0161 636 7558.
The Hazards Campaign is developing a charter and the first draft of the charter was shared with delegates for further comment.
Finally along with important information from campaign groups, trade unions, there was also the latest copy of Hazards Magazine.
This is one of the most important publications for health and safety reps to keep up with the latest developments, news and topics.
Finally, all delegates received a Hazards 2018 commemorative badge.
The Falling Tears stained glass window
The Friday plenary was chaired by Doug Russell USDAW National Health and Safety Officer; we were moved to tears by Louise Taggart whose brother sadly died as a result of being electrocuted at work. Louise is a founder member of Families Against Corporate Killing (FACK), an organisation set up in 2006 to fight for justice for all families and for safer workplaces for everyone. Louise’s brother Michael Adamson was killed at work in 2005 aged 26 years. She said she wanted to make his life count and to stop anyone else suffering the way her family had. Louise used the Hazards Campaign: The Whole Story and gave many examples of the deaths of people who are invisible in the HSE figures, because the HSE do not include them as workplace deaths in the records that they count. These include people who are killed in road traffic incidents, in air crashes, those killed at sea, those who die as a result of suicide which is workplace related. And the thousands who die as a result of illnesses because of their work or workplace. This was such a moving and powerful contribution and there were not many dry eyes in the hall at the end of her contribution.
Our international speaker was Asli Odman from Istanbul Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly. Because of the volatile political situation in Turkey, we were uncertain Asli would be able to leave Turkey to come to the UK to speak, so her contribution was even more valued and welcome. Asli spoke about the large numbers of workers dying at work and the work they are doing in Turkey to record deaths and investigate patterns and causes. She explained that there is a problem getting information from the Government and their organisation has to scan local and national press to find out about the work related deaths. They also actively support workers seeking justice. Everyday there are at least 20/30 deaths due to work related reasons which Asli described as being like a war in workplaces. They call their work related deaths ‘work related murders’! Last year 2006 people were murdered and this included 453 in the construction industry. She also explained that women are largely invisible in the figures because their work is often not registered as being done in a workplace and therefore injuries are not recorded. Asli said that one of the reasons for poor health and safety in the workplace is because of a decreasing number of trade union members. Membership of unions has dropped from 24% to 4% in the last 30 years. Annually they produce a book detailing the deaths of workers. Finally every month they hold a vigil to all those workers who have been killed. Asli explained that she has been inspired by Hazards Magazine, International Workers Memorial Day and Families Against Corporate Killing.
Steve Tombs our final speaker on Friday evening spoke passionately about why Grenfell Tower tragedy is social murder. He said that Grenfell is a symbol of the consequences of deregulation, austerity, cuts and capitalism’s contempt. Steve spoke about the convictions which have already taken place because of Grenfell. There have been 7 and are nothing to do with the fire. He spoke about the gap between rich and poor. The people still waiting to be rehoused despite promises, the physical, emotional, psychological, cultural and financial harm being done to those affected by the fire. He spoke about the long term systematic attack on regulation which Governments must have known would consequentially result in death. It was foreseeable and that therefore this is social murder.
Delegates at the Hazards 2018 conference stood united in solidarity with all the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy fighting for justice and also with the Fire Brigades Union members being scrutinised unfairly in the public inquiry. We demand that those who are responsible for the deaths, injuries and continued trauma of families, friends, neighbours and firefighters are held accountable. Those responsible for the deregulation of fire safety, the lack of enforcement of building regulations, those who treated residents of Grenfell Tower with total disregard for their safety and welfare and those whose inhumanity created the foreseen tragedy of the fire. We demand justice for Grenfell!
A day packed with workshops, meetings and campaign meetings with the evening free for network and discussion. The day began early with two workshops followed by a main meeting and then a campaign meeting.
Saturday – Workshops
(a) Reps Functions and employers duties, Julie Weekes (b) Reps Functions and employers duties, Michelle Marshall
Meeting 1: From menstruation to menopause! Why do we need a gender sensitive approach to occupational safety and health.
Chair: Tracey Harding – Meeting 1 – Links
Speakers: Lynsey Mann and Andrea Oates – more
Meeting 2: How do we challenge the consequences of privatisation, commercialisation and marketisation of the deregulation agenda and the selective enforcement of health and safety laws? Chair: Hilda Palmer – Meeting 2 Report
Speakers: Neil Hope-Collins and Steve Tombs
Meeting 3: Why is transparency in the supply chain necessary in advancing the health, safety and welfare of workers both nationally and internationally?
Chair: Sara Marsden
Speakers: Kathy Jenkins – Meeting 3 report, Stirling Smith – more and Asli Odman
Meeting 4: Is mental ill health a consequence of the intensification of working practices and bad management in our workplaces and what should we do about it?
Chair: Ian Tasker
Speakers: Dan Shears – more, Joan McNulty – more and Adam Lincoln – more
Meeting 1: From Menstruation To Menopause with the GMB
Saturday – Campaign Meetings
Campaign meeting 1: Climate Change and Air Pollution
Speakers: Adam Lincoln and Graham Petersen
Campaign meeting 2: Why should Trade Unions use health and safety as an organising tool? Chair: Janet Newsham – meeting report
Speakers: Neil Hope-Collins, Ian Hodson – YouTube and Ali Waqaar
Campaign meeting 3: International solidarity to combat attacks on workers: lives and health Speakers: Kathy Jenkins – meeting report, Sara Marsden and Asli Odman
Sunday was a ‘barn storming’ morning with inspirational, interesting and dynamic speakers.
Although on the face of it, 5 is a lot of speakers – they were all great to listen to, they held our attention and the two hours passed as though it had been just minutes. Each speaker received a standing ovation and the audience was mesmerised and listened intently to each individual contribution, laughing where appropriate, indignant where there was cause and overall inspired by the lessons, leaving ready to challenge and improve the health and safety in their workplaces and provide solidarity to those in other unions and other workplaces.
Sunday began with a presentation by Hilda Palmer to Ian Draper of the Hazards Campaign Silver badge in recognition of his work in the UK Stress Network and his work on behalf of the Hazards Campaign in the European Work Hazards Network. Ian then drew the raffle for the Leigh Day IPad.
Janet Newsham introduced the session by saying that the conference was more than any other trade union conference and that she hoped everyone felt that they belonged to the health and safety family of the Hazards Campaign. A family with a common aim of keeping our friends and colleagues safe at work and with a network that extends beyond borders to sister organisations in places like Turkey, beyond sectors, industries, companies and organisations and brings everyone together to keep us all safe at work. Janet referred to the speech Hilda Palmer had made previously when she said health and safety was all about love and that no one should suffer the heartache that Louise Taggart had so movingly spoken about at the Friday plenary session. No one should suffer never seeing their loved ones again because of the negligence and total disregard of workers safety. And also the safety of our friends and families as they sleep in their homes, eat out or enjoy their short period of leisure.
Kevin Rowan said that no one else does the role of health and safety reps. He said that if every rep carried out just one inspection a year that would be 100,000 inspections. The HSE carry out just 20,000 inspections. And of those they find 10,000 serious breaches! In a recent roadside inspection of lorries, 90% of the lorries inspected were not loaded correctly. Kevin said that Trade Unions have a legitimate voice and we need to champion our successes more.
Audrey White showed a clip from a film that was made about her with Glenda Jackson playing her part. It was about the sexual harassment of 4 women shop assistants when she was a manager at Lady at Lord John in Liverpool and her subsequent dismissal for challenging him. Audrey’s story is inspiring; she went on strike supported by local T&G trade union members from the docks and road transport. She picketed the store and eventually after escalating the action won her case. Audrey spoke about why sexual harassment is a health and safety issue and the continuing need to challenge it.
Ali Waqaar, a McDonalds McStriker spoke about the health and safety challenges for young workers and in particular the dire conditions that many fast food workers are facing in ‘warzone’ like conditions from overwhelming queues of people, violence, drunkenness, and the consequential burns, injuries and stress caused to the workers. He accused McDonalds of victimisation and the need for workers to join trade unions and challenge these unacceptable conditions. Ali described himself as a ‘warrior poet’ – he said working in McDonalds was like the current in the ocean – always moving, always asked to do something, lift something, orders flooding through.
Dave Smith spoke about the importance of collective action. Dave writes a regular column, Organising 101, in Hazards Magazine which illustrates collective and creative action that could be taken to challenge unsafe and unhealthy working practices. He spoke about some of the challenges he had faced in the construction industry where in the 70’s one construction worker died every day and now 38 deaths a year from incidents and we can celebrate our role in that decline in deaths. He emphasised the need to continue to hold these companies to account. He said it was never about one person but always about the collective and that we are on the side of the angels.
Ian Hodson gave a brilliant speech to end the conference. He spoke about the importance of not blaming migrant workers for deteriorating pay and conditions at work. He thanked the Hazards Campaign for keeping health and safety at the top of trade unions agendas when health and safety was being attacked, deregulated and undermined. Ian recognised the important role of health and safety reps and trade union activists and said that we will make a difference in our workplaces if we stand together and work collectively.
The conference closed at 12.00pm. There has been some great feedback: one or two issues to improve on for next year and some great suggestions to consider, but overall summed up by one new delegate as ‘First Hazards experience did not disappoint + would definitely return again. A must for safety reps!’
A final thanks to all the staff at Keele for their support, patience and response to our many requests and challenges. A big thanks to all the GMHC staff for organising, administrating and delivering the conference. Thanks to all the volunteers who run the registration desk, help, support people with access needs and generally run to respond to delegates needs. Thanks to the workshop, meeting and campaign meeting speakers and tutors and for the plenary speakers who have inspired and challenged us all. Thanks to our photographers, and video recorders: Jawad, Nick and Cath. A special thanks to all the Trade Unions – nationally, regionally, at branch and workplace, Trade Union Councils, Hazards Centres, Solicitors and other campaigning organisations and individuals for supporting and sponsoring the conference. Finally, thanks to the hundreds of delegates for attending, contributing, networking and sharing their knowledge, challenges and successes with other delegates.
YouTube and PowerPoint resources from the Sunday Plenary
ILO partners with indecent employers like McDonald’s in Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth
McDonald’s has signed up to the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth joining ‘ 43 partners who have pledged to reduce barriers to decent employment for youth while boosting access to decent work around the globe’
ILO welcomes McDonald’s “decision to pledge a commitment towards Decent Jobs for Youth, which aims at positive change in young people’s lives through positive action.” This will come as a great surprise to McDonald’s workers and the unions working with them globally to achieve decent pay and decent work conditions as McDonalds’ does nothing but put up barriers!
This is McWhitewash of the worst kind, surprisingly promoted by ILO, a tripartite organization which seems to ignore the on-going global movement of workers and Trade Unions against McDonald’s – the waves of strikes, the demands for $15 an hour in US and £10 an hour in the UK.
Allowing McDonalds the prestige of respectability in appearing to ‘tackle barriers’ for young people, when they could at a stroke remove the barriers in their own company and pay all workers living wages, is absurd at best. This would be ‘positive action’ but the meaningless pledge is not.
“We are disappointed to read of the tie up between the ILO and McDonalds who are global exploiters. For the ILO to give credibility to McDonalds a company that has championed zero hours contracts and low pay is not the type of employer whose support for this initiative should be welcomed – its employment practices are not a model to be praised. McDonalds is currently under investigation across the EU and other parts of the world for its exploitative employment practices.
McDonalds operates a fierce anti-union strategy which includes union busting tactics again in breach of what is expected of a decent employer. As we have witnessed in the UK, McDonalds has no hesitation in sacking young workers who join trade unions. In one instance they sacked workers for raising genuine concerns for health and safety which we believe are contrary to the principles the ILO claims to champion on its website ‘Promoting Jobs Protecting people’.
“We urge the ILO to withdraw from endorsing McDonalds’ as a reputable partner – and to scrutinise all other corporations signing up to this pledge- to protect young workers around the world from its low road policies and to tell McDonalds to make good on its pledge by stopping exploitative employment practices, paying its workers a decent wage and recognising Trade Unions.”
“I am astonished that the ILO has accepted McDonald’s as a partner in this Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth when they are a world leader in creating barriers to decently paid work with decent health, safety and other conditions. I have talked to many young graduates working at McDonald’s who have been treated badly, sacked for raising genuine health and safety concerns, subject to the insecurity of zero hours contracts and wages so low they can’t afford housing and decent food. You can recognize a McDonald’s worker by the burn scars on their arms. McDonald’s is the barrier to decent employment . It has the money and power to solve this at a stroke by making wages in its stores and franchises £10 an hour immediately in the UK, $15 an hour in the US, and solving the burn problems along with all the other serious health and safety issues which make work indecent and bad for young people’s lives and health. “
This may be just a lack of research so far, but other reports also raise questions and Hugh Robertson, TUC, writing in Hazards Magazine questions whether MHFA is the right answer.
The Hazards Campaign has warned against employers adopting MHFA as a sticking plaster solution to the suppurating sore of anxiety, depression and worse caused by insecure work, low pay, excessive workloads, impossible targets, long hours, bullying, harassment and lack of support and respect at work. Prevention of work-stress must be the first task for employers and union safety reps – to prevent work from making workers mentally ill.
We want all those suffering from mental ill-health caused by work (or unrelated) to get the proper, qualified, effective treatment and support they need. We support mental health awareness training to improve our understanding of mental-health.
“The Hazards Campaign has warned against employers adopting MHFA as a sticking plaster solution to the suppurating sore of anxiety, depression and worse caused by insecure work, low pay, excessive workloads, impossible targets, long hours, bullying, harassment and lack of support and respect at work.”
The Hazards Campaign supports and works with union safety reps in working with employers, putting pressure on if needed, to assess for work-stress factors and remove them , and we want the HSE and Local Authorities to take enforcement action against employers who are failing in their legal duty to do this. This HSE Report makes clear there is no evidence so far that MHFA training achieves that or is effective in a workplace setting.
HSE’s Research Report: “The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training programme was first developed to train the public in providing help to adults with mental ill-health problems. Recently there has been an increase in undertaking MHFA training in workplace settings. As the regulator for workplace health and safety, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) wishes to understand the strength of the available evidence on the effectiveness of MHFA in the workplace. A rapid scoping evidence review was undertaken that considered three research questions on the impact, influence and application of MHFA training in workplaces.
A number of knowledge gaps have been identified in this evidence review that mean it is not possible to state whether MHFA training is effective in a workplace setting. There is a lack of published occupationally-based studies, with limited evidence that the content of MHFA training has been considered for workplace settings. There is consistent evidence that MHFA training raises employees’ awareness of mental ill health conditions. There is no evidence that the introduction of MHFA training in workplaces has resulted in sustained actions in those trained, or that it has improved the wider management of mental ill-health.”
Government guilty of breaching human rights over Grenfell cladding and protecting workers and citizen’s health and safety.
The Hazards Campaign welcomes and supports the statement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, EHRC, that the government is breaching its fundamental obligations to protect citizens’ right to life by failing to address the systemic problems of health and safety that led to the Grenfell tragedy.
The Commission expressed its concern that the consultation on the use of external cladding omits any reference to the government’s duty to protect lives under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.
The EHRC has written to the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG) outlining its concerns about the continued use of combustible cladding in existing buildings and advising the department of its responsibilities under human rights laws to protect lives.
“This paramount duty requires the state to take appropriate steps within its power to effectively protect the lives of individuals and groups in situations where there is a known real risk to life, or where the authorities ought to have known that,” the commission said in its response to the consultation to combustible cladding”
The Hazards Campaign specifically agrees and welcomes the EHRC challenge to the government that their failure to address the risk to life posed by combustible external cladding, similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower, is a breach of human rights. We would argue this existed both before and after the tragedy, but we also argue there is a wider breach of the human rights of workers and citizens in the attack on health and safety regulation generally.
“On the issue of cladding, we call for much stricter building controls, clearer guidance and effective, independent not privatised, outsourced enforcement,” said Janet Newsham, acting Chair of the Hazards Campaign . “We also agree with the EHRC intervention’s wider view which supports our long-held and consistent argument that health and safety is a crucial underpinning of the human right to life and, as such, the attacks upon it, ironically called Better Regulation but essentially deregulation and enforcement cutting, constitute an attack on workers’ and citizens’ right to life.
She added “ We have long argued that the government has failed to provide a strong and effective system of regulation and enforcement of health and safety at work, adequately funded and independent of concern for business interests which complies with the ILO minimum standards and this breaches workers’ human rights. We believe that everyone has the right to go to work and come home from a shift alive and well, with their physical and mental health unimpaired in short or long term.
“Further we argue that the process of government attack on this already inadequate system, via un-evidenced, ideologically biased notions of ‘bonfires of red tape’, ‘ removing the ‘burden on business’, puts workers at more risk of losing their lives and health, and also led directly to the disaster at Grenfell which killed 72 citizens injured and traumatised hundreds more.
EHRC recognises, that the lack of a good health and safety protection continues to imperil tenants of blocks clad with similar combustible material and has published a paper ‘Following Grenfell: the right to life’ which develops the argument as to how the government is breaching human rights law..
Janet Newsham says: “ Deregulation, Better Regulation and slashing the funding for enforcement agencies – the Health and Safety Executive, Local Authorities, the Environment Agency, Building Control officers, etc – is a direct attack on the human right to go to work, use products, eat, breath, drink, enjoy leisure activities, and sleep safely in one’s home. It is a fundamental attack by government on our right to life. We feel it clearly breaches the paramount duty under human rights law which ‘requires the state to take appropriate steps within its power to effectively protect the lives of individuals and groups in situations where there is a known real risk to life, or where the authorities ought to have known that.’
“Enough is enough, the government must stop destroying an already inadequate protection system which allows work to harm millions every year killed 72 people at Grenfell, and puts workers and citizens at risk, and begin to develop a system that protects us all.”
The Hazards Campaign says the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) underestimates massively the true figures of workplace deaths and injuries focusing instead on only a part of the story. Millions of workers are made ill and over 50,000 are killed by work yearly, rates significantly higher than HSE estimates. In the briefing document The whole story: Work-related injuries, illness and deaths the Hazards Campaign explains these shocking figures.
On the 6th July 2018 the names of all 167 workers killed in the Piper Alpha Explosion and fire 30 years again were read out in remembrance.
Thanks to Scottish Hazards for this list. We should know their names, speak their names, and while remembering them, fight like hell that others will never again be killed in similar way. However, regulations and safety lessons written in the blood of those 167 men killed in the Piper Alpha explosion have already been weakened and are being ignored, leaving current offshore workers at greater risk from hydrocarbon leaks, HCR. And Martin Temple Chair of HSE also says failure of other sectors to learn the lessons led to the fire at Grenfell.
30 years ago Piper Alpha was the worst fire in peace time, resulting from the rush for profit from oil taking all precedence over oil workers’ lives without strong laws and enforcement in place to protect them. The direct consequence was that 167 were killed, 167 families devastated, 61 survivors and others were traumatised.
Following the Piper Alpha fire, Lord Cullen headed an inquiry and recommended many broad changes to the regulation of offshore drilling which are well laid out in the Scottish Hazards blog
Removing a conflict of interest by making the Health and Safety Executive, HSE, rather than the Department of Energy responsible for health and safety offshore, and the development of a ‘safety case regime’ similar to that in the nuclear industry were two chief recommendations of Lord Cullen.
The first Offshore Installation (Safety Case) Regulations came into force in 1992 but by 2005 the duty to review the safety case every 3 years was relaxed to leave the safety case applying over the life of the installation, in the Offshore Installation (Safety Case) Regulations 2005. This weakening of the requirement was driven by oil industry leaders complaining of the myth of over-burdensome regulations and leaves offshore workers burdened by the risk of being killed on deteriorating rigs while oil prices decline and HCRs, with their risk of explosion and fire increase. The Elgin blowout was one such release that came “perilously close to disaster”
Chris Flint, HSE’s Director of Energy Division, is so concerned he wrote in April this year to all offshore operators urging them to assess their operation and reflect on learning from incidents.
“Every HCR is a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks. I recognise the steps the industry has taken to reduce the overall number of HCRs, however HCRs remain a concern, particularly major HCRs because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions and multiple losses of life. There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster.”
‘The letter requires operators to respond to HSE by 20 July 2018 with a summary of their improvement activities and plan arising from their self-assessment. The HSE has also committed to feeding back significant findings from the exercise to the industry later in the year.’
We await developments but note with alarm the lack of enforcement action taken or threatened. When Barry Stott, an offshore worker who was 3 years old when his father died on Piper Alpha, read the HSE warning he told the BBC:
“How can that still be possible? I don’t think there would be any other industry in the world where 30 years on from such a seismic disaster we were on the verge of the same thing happening again? That’s not my opinion, that’s what I’m reading, from the HSE and others. It’s a growing concern for the whole city and the whole industry.”
Scottish Hazards notes that the OffShore Installation (Safety Case ) Regulations 2015 put a duty on operators to consult with safety reps on the safety case and ‘to make arrangements to communicate national arrangements for anonymously reporting health and safety concerns.’ While welcome, Scottish Hazards emphasises the reality that without clear evidence of strong enforcement by the HSE to ensure adherence to safety cases by operators and penalties for those who don’t, workers cannot develop the confidence to report concerns.
But strong enforcement is exactly what we do not have. Due to slashing HSE budget by 50%, cutting inspector numbers, plus commercialising, business-friendly measures to ensure health and safety watchdogs consider the business case before workers lives and health since 2010, lack of enforcement is rampant. Deregulation known now as ‘Better regulation’ runs across work sectors, offshore and onshore, covers everything from work, food, construction materials, electrical and other home appliances, and environmental pollution
The fact that 29 years after the worst peace time fire at Piper Alpha, there was the second worst fire at Grenfell Tower is about far more than failing to learn or forgetting the lessons of Piper Alpha. The lessons from the killing of 167 men have been deliberately attacked and undermined by the demands by oil business leaders that health and safety regulation enacted after the disaster are ‘only pointless red tape’ that is burdensome to their business and must be eradicated which has been acted upon by successive neoliberal governments as laid out in Hazards Magazine We must name the causes and consequences of this deadly behaviour as Dave Whyte does in ‘The neoliberal bonanza from Piper Alpha to Grenfell.’
Hazards Campaigns calls for the reclaiming of regulation and enforcement to protect our health and lives as a social good, the mark of a civilised society and a complete rejection of deregulating for business interests, We also call for more rights and powers for workers to organise for better health and safety to participate, to be informed and consulted and the right to refuse work that put their lives and health at risk
One year on, the Hazards Campaign renews the call that the Grenfell Tower fire must be the ‘Enough is Enough’ moment when deregulation of health and safety is officially acknowledged as deadly and dangerous, the Tory fetish with deregulation ended, and a system of strong laws, strictly enforced intended solely to protect us at work, at home and in the environment is restored and reinvigorated.
Getting truth and justice for Grenfell, workers and citizens means reclaiming strong regulation, strictly enforced, as a social good!
We want an end to the lies and denigration of health and safety as ‘pointless ‘red tape’ and a ‘burden on business’ are banished for good. 6th July is also the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha fire which was the worst fire in UK in peace time, killing 167 people.
The root cause of the Grenfell fire is that the system of laws and enforcement on fire and building safety which most people thought was keeping them safe in their homes, became so bad that it allowed flammable material to be wrapped around a previously fire-safe tower block turning it into a death trap, causing an inferno, that firefighters could not put out, killing 72, injuring 70 and traumatising survivors and countless others in the local community.
It was weakening of the laws and enforcement around fire safety to benefit profit making by construction, manufacturers of material and property businesses that enabled the unsafe refurbishment to Grenfell Tower. This lax system allowed the use of flammable materials in cladding and insulation, the privatisation of building control safety allowing non- fire experts to inspect premises and building works, and sign off safety, refusal by government ministers since 2010 to review and change Part B of the Building Regulations recommended by the Coroner after the Laknal fire in 2009, and repeated many times by many fire experts. The cuts to fire and rescue services made the job of fighting the fire so much harder.
Hazards Magazine ‘Blue Murder’ shows the dismantling fire safety is part of the wider political attacks on workers and public health and safety over the last 40 years, From Thatcher’s ‘bonfire of regulations’, through Blair/Brown’s ‘better regulation’, ‘ light touch, limited touch’ regulations up to 2010 and then turbo charged by David Cameron vowing to ‘kill of health and safety culture for good’ and calling for ‘bonfire of red tape’, continued by Tory government s including using trade deals and Brexit as a way to cut protection of citizens and the environment even more
“When you tear up critical fire, building, product, environmental and workplace safety laws, you are not removing red tape you are removing the protection necessary to keep us safe. The Grenfell Tower fire is one shocking example of the consequences of your government’s ‘bonfire of health and safety regulations’. Enough is enough, stop undermining safety laws at work in our homes and our communities- instead keep improve and enforce and uphold the laws that protect us.”
15,000 postcards and ecards were sent to Theresa May.
Architecture and fire experts including Arnold Tarling , Sam Webb and the Fire Brigades, had warned of refurbishment compromising the built-in fire safety containment of tower blocks. There were warnings from the 1980s and especially since the Laknal House Fire in 2009 and the Coroner’s recommendations for a review of the Building Regulations.
All warnings, even via the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire and Rescue were disregarded, often with extreme contempt, especially since 2010, by Tory ministers hell bent on removing ‘red tape and burdens’ from business and ignoring clearly warned of consequences for fire safety and lives of those in tower blocks. The Scottish Government did change their Building Regulations in 2005 after a fire in a 14 storey tower block in Irvine, Ayrshire that killed one person, showing it could be done.
Work deaths are not as horrifyingly public as the Grenfell fire. We hoped the Grenfell atrocity was so terrible it would be the moment that changed everything, when deregulation could be stopped, reversed, and a formal recognition that protective laws like fire safety are necessary, a civilised, social good, not bureaucratic ‘red tape or a burden on business’. However we expected a backlash, a blaming everyone lower down, the victims, a retreat from the real causes and attempts to cover things up and a complete lack of urgent tightening of laws to make tower blocks safer. And so it has proved with deregulation falling off the agenda .
The blame is still not focused on the real culprits, governments and ministers responsible for the deadly deregulation of laws and enforcement meant to keep us safe at work, in the environment and in our own homes, and the businesses that took advantage and profited from it.. Government and ministers should be held to account for Grenfell deaths, not the firefighters who came to save lives in an impossible fire they did not create.
The fire itself showed that the Building Regulations were ‘not fit for purpose’ and that combustible/flammable materials should not be permitted on the outside – or inside – of tower blocks. Yet Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building Regulations Review did not suggest immediate changes to Approved Document B of Building Regulations, or a ban on flammable cladding/insulation (or retro fitting sprinklers, or second means of egress). While the government has said flammable cladding will be banned, there is likely to be the sort of ‘Red tape’ consultation which may give equal or more weight to the corporate bodies who make, sell, buy and install this material and who are already lobbying against any ban .
The response of the national and local state at the time of the fire, and since, has been widely acknowledged as abysmal, with victories only being won due to local community organising effectively for practical relief, and for justice and truth. Theresa May has ruled outside the terms of reference of the Public Inquiry (PI) any scrutiny of government policies or questioning of ministers who took decisions that rejected warnings which could have prevented the Grenfell fire. The criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police has also ruled government policies outside of its remit.
This rigging of the PI and criminal investigation shields and protects those at the top who are not held to account for their action, their culpability hidden, and we have seen the usual victim blaming fall to new lows at the PI. From the man whose fridge caught fire – though not the fridge manufacturers whose faulty appliances are responsible for 60 house fires a week – Grenfell residents have been blamed and demonised as being ‘migrants and scroungers’, and recently at the PI the obscene spectacle of lawyers grilling firefighters like Mike Dowden instead of the ex London Mayor, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea leaders, the KC Tenant Management Organisation, and Fire Service bosses, who had the power and made decisions about fire safety in Grenfell Tower, firefighting policy, and cuts to services, resources and training. Mike Dowden, a brave and dedicated junior fire officer was questioned as if personally responsible for the ‘Stay Put’ advice and decisions that turned a safe tower block into deadly inferno by cladding it in flammable plastic products equivalent to 32,000 litres of petrol as a new low. Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU said “The Stay Put decision was redundant the minute anyone was permitted to slap flammable materials on the outside of tower blocks.”
The PI has a long way to run, but the bizarre chronology of putting fire fighters in line for scrutiny before those who created the inferno, has led to a nasty feeling. We hope that the manufacturers of the cladding, insulation and all who specified, bought, installed and inspected it and passed t as safe, will come in for just as rigorous questioning and scrutiny when their turn comes.
On the first anniversary of Grenfell, all around the country directed by the community at Grenfell, moving memorials were held to both remember and mourn all those killed but also to support their families and the community in their fight for justice and truth. In an event organised by Salford Trades Council, held in the shadow of some of the tower blocks clad in similar material to that at Grenfell, Hilda Palmer of Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, Families Against Corporate Killers and the Hazards Campaign read out the names of the 72 who were killed, in a heart-breaking testimony to their legalised social murder.
For justice, for those killed and hurt, and for the truth, the Hazards Campaign is launching a drive to reclaim regulation and stop the deadly ‘better regulation’ that caused Grenfell and so many other deaths at work, at home, from unsafe food and from environmental pollution, the Hazards Campaign demands:
An end to health and safety deregulation and reclamation of the philosophy that regulation as good for all of us and is what a civilised state should provide for its citizens.
Establishing that the primary and sole purpose of health and safety regulatory watchdogs shall be the prevention of harm to the lives, health, safety and welfare of workers, citizens and the environment, not the protection of business interests first.
Provision of adequate funding, resources and independence to health and safety regulatory watchdogs the HSE, Local Authorities etc – given real teeth and power to enforce their primary and sole purpose.
Restoration of proactive, preventative inspections to check on employers’ compliance, and far more prosecutions and enforcement actions against non-compliant and criminal employers and businesses.
Dismantling of the apparatus of ‘Better Regulation’ which is the mechanism by which deregulation operates, including an immediate end to: Business Impact Targets – considering only business costs not health consequences; the One in Three out approach -no new law unless three laws of equivalent cost are repealed; the ‘Growth duty’ on health and safety enforcement authorities meaning they must consider first the impact of regulating on the business interests; the Primary Authority scheme allowing national companies to shop around for a Local Authority regulator and enter into a commercialised relationship.
An end to the dishonest rhetoric denigrating health, safety and fire safety regulation and the start of honest assessment of the value of regulation, the cost of poor regulation and enforcement, who it falls upon, and the collection and publication of statistic that reveal the true harm caused by employer and business full
The latest HSE provisional figures for workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain show 144 fatally injured between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018 which is nine more lives lost in preventable incidents than the year before 2016/17.
Coming a year after the Grenfell fire, and just before the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha fire which killed 167 workers, the upward trend is worrying. The Cullen Report into the Piper Alpha disaster led to tighter regulations and enforcement of fire safety offshore. Health and safety regulations written in the blood of the Piper Alpha workers undoubtedly saved many lives over the years but the lessons were not learned across all industries and could have prevented Grenfell .
In fact the need for strong fire safety laws, standards and enforcement has been totally rejected by governments intent on cutting regulations on fire safety to spare the ‘burden on business’. This obsession with deregulating has shifted the burden to us, to workers, and the residents of Grenfell and other high rise tower blocks
Work deaths were dropping steadily up to 2010 when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition turbo charged deregulation with the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ and attacks on HSE, but have plateaued since. Now the trend is going in wrong direction. Work deaths are going up while the government obsession with deregulation is just as strong and just as deadly. Anecdotal reports from offshore workers show they fear things are going backwards in terms of safety offshore, and fear that, as at Piper Alpha, profits are being put before workers’ lives.
Significantly HSE’s fatality figures show that 40% of the deaths were to workers aged 60 or over while this group only make up 10% of the workforce. The rate of fatal injury rises steeply from the 55-59 years age group, and is highest in the 65+ age group where it is almost five times the rate for all ages. This raises questions about the lack of management of risks to ageing workers, and also that the increase in state pension age means many more people will die at work. Agriculture which has the oldest workforce has the highest rate of fatalities at 18 times the average for all work.
Waste and recycling has a fatality rate 16 times the average, and has a low level of unionisation which is known to make work safer, and employs a larger proportion of more vulnerable migrant workers.
Construction still has a higher than average death rate at around four times the average and killed the largest number of workers at 38 for 2017/18.
But HSE official ‘144 killed by work’ is only the tip of the iceberg which we estimate at more like 140 a day dying from work! Hazards Campaign’s report The Whole Story explains that the 2017/18 144 worker deaths reported by the HSE plus another 100 members of the public is pretty horrifying but isn’t even the full total of those killed while working, let alone all those killed by work illnesses and dying often years later.
The HSE only counts those killed at work in incidents which are reportable to HSE and Local Authorities under RIDDOR . It excludes all those killed while at work on the roads, at sea and in the air – as their report makes clear in the Technical Note on page 13. It also excludes work-related suicides, which are not reportable under RIDDOR and are not even investigated. Although HSE records 100 members of the public killed, it does not add them to the total and report them. It does not include the 72 people killed at Grenfell arguably due to the work-activity of refurbishing which turned it into a death trap.
These HSE statistics only refer to fatalities in incidents at work, not due to illnesses, but they are frequently reported as a total death caused by work figure. To the totals of around 1,500 killed by work-related incidents, must be added the estimated 50,000 dying from disease caused by poor working conditions.
Evidence is piling up that shows what makes work safer and reduces deaths is strong unions, strict enforcement and strong, active unions . To reverse the upward trend in preventable deaths caused by work, the Hazards Campaign calls for the strict enforcement of laws and employers duties to workers, stronger laws, repealing of anti trade union laws and more rights for workers to know the risk they face, to enable participation in workplace health and safety, and the right to refuse dangerous work. The Hazards Campaign calls for an end to deregulation of the protective health and safety system which has been fully and publicly exposed as deadly by the Grenfell fire . We call for an end to the government enabled downward slide into a third world, informal precarious economy which is bad for workers, bad for the economy, everyone.
Every day this comes to about 140 people killed because of work.
Louise Taggart recently voted Most Influential Health and Safety Person at SHP Expo illustrates ‘ The Whole Story’ in a soap box talk.