Join us for our Thursday Talk – Stopping the mental health harm of work Thursday 15th April – 6-7pm
What should our employers do to stop the mental health harm at work? Work related stress continues to be the top concern of trade union safety reps, it is causing the highest loss of working days through sickness and now there are additional mental health impacts from Covid-19. April is Stress Awareness month, we need prevention of this workplace killer!
– its an occupational and environmental disease while also being an indication of the state of the environment, that’s all environments, the workplace, the home, the wider environment and the first environment
– the womb. And breast cancer can begin in the womb with pre-birth exposure to toxic chemicals
– which is why it is so important to protect women and men in the workplace.
We must not forget there are lives behind every statistic.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in UK women with 55,176 and 390 men diagnosed per year -150/day.
Deaths – 11,500 women and 85 men per year – 32 people die from breast cancer each day.
In the last 25 years in the UK rates have gone from 1 in 12 to 1 in 7.
Incidence risen by 72% in the last 50 years.
Up to 70% of cases have no known cause – 30% attributed to lifestyle risk factors + genetic predisposition
It’s the 2nd most common cause of cancer death and the leading cause of death in women under 50.
There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK.
Breast cancer deaths in England are more common in females living in the most deprived areas.
Ethnic variations – patients known to be black are younger, less likely to be screen-detected and have worse prognosis tumours.
Breast cancer not just a gender issue, it is a health and safety issue.
But women are particularly affected because there are sex differences are found in almost every system of the body. There is lifetime of hormonal changes ie pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.
Women are not the default male.
Different immune systems – so we are more prone to auto immune disease – women make up 80% of those affected. Thinner skin – may allow great absorption of chemicals. Detox more slowly.
The current narrative is that breast cancer is that its all down to poor diet, wonky genes, too much alcohol and not enough exercise is not working, has not worked for the last 50 odd years. Cancer rates continue to rise as do deaths form cancer.
The human rights approach – United Nation Environment and the UN Human rights programme have issues key messages for human health and hazardous substances.
Stating that states are obliged to respect protect and prevent exposures to hazardous substances and failure to do so is a violation of obligations in relation to human rights and the right to life. Specifically mentions women and girls and workers at heightened risk of occupational exposure.
A cancer free economy –
The cancer free economy movement seeks to analysis the system which has created an economy that depends on hazardous and harmful chemicals and bring about a just transition to a cancer-free economy that works for all people and the planet.
Recognising environmental and occupational risk factors in all cancer plans.
The environmental and occupational risk factors are the missing confounding risk factors in all cancer plans and strategies.
Toxic tours of homes, workplaces, bathroom cabinets.
Demand all breast and cancer charities refences any information on risk factors on their website.
Toxic use reduction and COSHH (Hilda)
Risk perception – Jane McArthur’s work – Interesting approach to understanding breast cancer risk by assessing women’s occupational and environmental risk perception.
Need to campaign from a worker, consumer and citizen perspective.
Breast Cancer possible exposure causes at work include: Ionising radiation; endocrine disrupters; solvents; environmental tobacco smoke; PCBs; pesticides, including DDT/DDE, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, heptachlor breakdown products and triazine herbicides; combustion by-products including PAHs and dioxin; reactive chemicals including ethylene oxide; possible links to non-ionising radiation, phthalates; work as a firefighter; also long term nightwork and others
Hilda emphasised the importance of COSHH regulations, requiring employers to identify and risk assess all substances and prevent exposure of workers to substances that harm their health at work using the COSHH control hierarchy. Unfortunately the enforcement of this hierarchy as especially elimination and substitution is poorly enforced. She said that it was important to use the precautionary principle to the risks by substituting safer substances- Intelligent substitution based on the hazards of whole class of chemicals – TURI www.turi.org/http://www.subsport.eu/ where possible. And using high standards of mechanical ventilation where necessary, air monitoring and also a precautionary level of PPE properly fitted for the individual where necessary.
Hilda proposed suggestions for action, including:
Explicitly campaign for prevention of cancer caused by work 12%
Explicitly link Breast Cancer with work causes not lifestyle
Make eliminating exposures to carcinogens (EDCs, Mutagens and Rep Toxics) an explicit aim
Demand Risk Assessments, research, actions all sex/gender sensitive – resurrect TUC GOSH and develop into whole stream of work
Use existing law COSHH better, demand better enforcement of control hierarchy
Campaign for better laws/actions: Toxic Use Reduction;
Link Justice, Equality Human Rights, Environmental with workplace health and safety – 20% cancer caused by work+env exposure+ causes linked
Avoid Pink washing and putting Breast Cancer in wellbeing box
It was agreed to:
Support the setting up of a GOSH-Gender in Occupational Safety and Health committee to look in particular at the impact of work on women health and bodies.
To consider the suggestions for action and solutions recommended by Helen and Hilda in their presentations.
FACK Statement on the sentencing of Ruislip Plant Ltd for the offence that led to Ben Wylie’s death
Some justice for Ben Wylie’s family after seven years but much heartbreak
Mylene Bensley read her Victim Personal Statement to Reading Crown Court yesterday, before the sentencing of the company which pleaded guilty to a health and safety offence that led to the incident that killed her beloved son Ben on a construction site on 14 May 2014.
Ben was killed when stepping forward to help colleagues struggling to get a drilling rig functioning again after a part that had failed the day before had been repaired, altered and refitted, rather than replaced with a new part. When tested, the repair failed under pressure and Ben was hit by a jet of highly pressurised hydraulic oil. Ben suffered a severe chest injury which killed him but not immediately.
In her statement Mylene said:
“Ben was such a wonderful person full of life and he filled a room when he walked in everyone loved him. Ben had many friends and a few close friends. Rhys and Karah his brother and sister meant so much to Ben he always made the effort to be there for their birthdays and special occasions. and they loved him so much”
“Ben’s death was not immediate, and I will have the visions of my son standing up after being shot by oil and a piece of equipment and stumbling across a building site saying he felt sick and spewing out blood and then falling down forever etched into my mind, due to the inadequate provision for his safety.”
“The information started coming through in graphic minutia of detail of how Ben died. I took each blow of information because my son had taken the blow that killed him, and I wanted to be there in my mind in any way I could be because I couldn’t be there for his dying moments. Ben’s body was returned home on my birthday in a coffin.”
“We have suffered for seven years with no government assistance and a sham of justice we have to continue despite anger, Deep hurt and insecurity. I am so grateful that FACK and Hilda were so helpful because without Hilda’s help and support this whole horrible experience would have been so much worse.”
“I was asked to identify my son in Maidenhead and as I had no money, I had to rely on someone’s good will to get me there. Seeing my son lying there dead was the worst sight in the world to me. All the hopes and dreams of the future gone and now my son who experienced a terrible death just lying there. I didn’t want to leave him in that cold place and I had to be escorted out.”
There were several companies on site including Ben’s employer, but it took seven years to bring the case against only one, Ruislip Plant Ltd. Thomas Kearney, the sole director carried out the botched repair, but died in 2019. His son David, who bears no responsibility for the incident or charge, with some honour did not liquidate the company and so it had assets to stand trial and pay this fine.
Yesterday the company pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc.
The Judge fined the company £99,000 plus £116,800 costs..
Hilda Palmer FACK facilitator said:
“Families Against Corporate Killers welcome the sentence but note that justice delayed so long is always to some extent justice denied. FACK has supported Mylene throughout the HSE investigation, the Inquest and the trial. There is no automatic statutory support for families of those killed by employer’s negligence, no free legal representation at Inquest, and no financial compensation for the family of a young man without dependents to offset the costs of pursuing justice or coping with the effects of grief on health and earning capacity. Families suffer terribly. Mothers like Mylene suffer the most and siblings also suffer badly. None of this is accounted for or deemed worthy of support and help by the authorities or employers who cause preventable deaths like Ben’s. And since work-related death is little acknowledged, publicised or understood, many employers and even friends and family have no idea of the trauma suffered, the callous cruelty of the process or its costs to individual’s harmed due to no fault of their own but an employer failing to comply with health and safety law. The harms caused included the lack of financial or mental health support immediately or over the very long period it affects those grieving a traumatic death, and long-term impact of bereavement on parents and siblings. FACK believes that many bereaved families suffer undiagnosed and untreated PTSD and we demand more help for families to alleviate their suffering. FACK commends Mylene for her bravery in pursuing justice for Ben, being his witness, while also being the bread winner, caring for his sister and brother and coping with her own grief. She is truly courageous and inspiring.
“Mylene spoke to the Court powerfully and eloquently about the terrible impact of Ben’s death and the effects on her and Ben’s brother and sister. This is a long-term effect, nearly eight years of severe grief and hardship to get this conviction and some justice, but a life-time of loss and heartbreak to endure. FACK has heard these words many times but we still weep and rage. We urge everyone to heed them and demand more help, support and understanding from the authorities and all concerned. We also demand that employers take health and safety seriously, do not cut corners for profit or bodge repairs to save money and time, but fully protect the lives and health of all workers and that the Health and Safety Executive enforces health and safety more stringently to prevent workers being killed. Employers do not bear the full cost, it is families who bear the burden of employers’ criminal acts.”
After the sentencing Mylene added
“It was good to give Hilda and FACK the recognition today, whilst reading my witness impact statement. The efforts and support Hilda, in particular, provided for me throughout these seven years since Ben was killed, have enabled me to pursue justice. As I sat in virtual Reading court, through the prosecution of Ruislip Ltd, I knew I was there due to Hilda’s support. Thank you Hilda and FACK.“
Contact Hilda Palmer 0161 792 1044 mobile 079298 00240 for more information
Notes for editors
The Charge: Ruislip Plant Ltd of Ruislip Middlesex on 13th May 2014 at West Street, Maidenhead being an employer within the meaning of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (“the Act”), it failed to discharge the duty imposed on it by section 3(1) of the Act, in that it failed to conduct its undertaking, namely the maintenance of a high-pressure grease system, in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment who may have been affected thereby, including Benjamin Wylie, were not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety, namely hydraulic injection injury during maintenance, whereby it is guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33(1)(a) of the Act.
FACK – set up in 2006 by families bereaved by negligent employers to support families, campaign for justice and end preventable work-related deaths
“I turned to a group called Families Against Corporate Killers run by Greater Manchester Hazards Centre which supports the families of those killed at work. Through them I managed to obtain advice on the process, support and also free legal representation through Helen Clifford Solicitor for the whole of the Inquest, plus some funding to stay in Reading as I had no other means of ensuring I could even be there. There is no statutory help at all for people in my position. Thank you, Hilda, and FACK for your tireless efforts at gaining accountability for workers in unsafe corporate organisations. Without your support the whole terrible experience would have been so much more difficult.”
c/o GM Hazards Centre, Windrush Millennium Centre, 70 Alexandra Road,
GOVERNMENT – GUILTY! HSE – GUILTY! EMPLOYERS – GUILTY!
The jury at the on-line Workers’ Court, 11 March 2021, found the government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and employers guilty of all charges that were brought over the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of workers and members of the public.
‘The jury has unanimously found the employers, enforcement authorities and the UK Governments, guilty of all the charges laid against them. Their collective criminal negligence will not be forgotten. You are the living record, yours is one of the many collective records of the lives of over 130,000 people callously ended, needlessly ended, up to this point in the pandemic. Not to mention millions more who have been emotionally, physically and financially scarred in many cases for the rest of their lives. As bearers of this record, those for whom you have spoken and about whom you have spoken, we are not going away. On behalf the Workers’ Court: we demand a public inquiry, we demand legal proceedings for corporate bodies and senior individuals within them; we demand truth, justice and accountability. We shall remember the dead but we will also fight for the living.’
The court was organised by the UK Hazards Campaign on 11 March 2021, one year after the declaration of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). One year on, 130,000 UK citizens have died, including many thousands of workers.
Evidence was taken from a broad base of witnesses, including trade union reps, specialist academics and campaigners covering different industrial sectors including: the NHS, public sector, construction, education, manufacturing, telecommunications and transport. As well as an ex HSE inspector an activist from the Black Workers network, retired GP, national and regional trade union officers.
In introducing the witnesses Janet Newsham of the UK Hazards Campaign said:
‘The witnesses provided a picture where workers are bullied and victimised, where trade union representatives are sacked and blacklisted, where employers deliberately fail to control the risks leaving workers exposed, infected, disabled and dead. These are serious allegations which need bringing to justice. We need employers to understand it is their legal duty to ensure the mental and physical health of their workers, that the enforcement authorities need to stand up and start protecting workers and Government inaction must be challenged to stop the continued deaths of their citizens.’
– how government refused to accept clear and obvious risks to workers throughout the pandemic, especially denying the airborne risk until too many people had died, and failed to act sufficiently to halt the progress of infections, illness and deaths;
– how the HSE abdicated their role as health based standard setter and enforcement agency, failed to recognise the clear and obvious serious nature of the disease and the risk of transmission at the UK’s workplaces, failed to enforce Health and Safety laws and protect workers health and safety in the workplace;
– how employers have failed to meet the legal standards enshrined in our criminal health and safety laws, failed to make “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments and put in place “safe systems of work”, failed to consult with union reps as required by the law, demanded workers who could have worked from home actually go in to the workplace etc.
A full list of the charges is in additional information, at the end of the document.
The Jury that heard the evidence were:
Joan McNulty – Unison NW Health and Safety Committee Chair
Helen McFarlane – Health Worker, Trade Union Rep, Unite NEC
Janet Farrar – UCU President elect, Manchester College Trade Union Education
Prof. Dave Whyte – Professor of Socio-legal Studies Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Uni of Liverpool
Prof. Andrew Watterson – Professor Andrew Watterson, Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Stirling
Phil Liptrott – Personal Injury specialist and solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors
Ian Tasker – Senior Advice Worker at Scottish Hazards
Andrea Oates – Labour Research Department, NUJ
Verdict and statement of the jury, which was read out by Helen McFarlane, following their consideration of the evidence:
“First and foremost, we find the Government guilty on all charges: We believe the Government sets the scene for the remaining charges So, deregulation, privatisation, slow reaction to lock down, herd immunity Regarding our black and ethnic minority brothers and sisters, the Govt has failed to acknowledge root causes, NOT in genetics but in structural institutional racism in the workplace and the dangerous cocktail of race and class came to the fore “That the Government had a wilful downgrading of the serious nature of this pandemic”
“We find the also found the Employers guilty on all charges: We believe that is was wilful, for example we were struck by the evidence, there was never an accidentally going over the top with PPE, within any risk assessment. Not utilising RIDDOR Exploitation of women workers, BAME workers Failed by the employers to improve on the guidance. So even if they were hiding behind the Government saying that it was just guidance, our employers have failed to improve on that guidance and have ignored TU reps, to put in place better arrangements. And there has been victimisation of workers, sacking of reps and workers for raising safety issues and particular horror to hear of the UNITE London Bus driver Moe Mahsin Manir and his sacking.”
“The HSE we also find guilty on all charges: Not the HSE workers but the HSE leadership Our reps rely on advice and back up from HSE and we recognise that so do good employers who are trying to do right thing. But the lack of intervention, not intervening on even the RIDDOR allegations. Not setting standards that could be measured. Signing off on undermining health and safety guidance led by big business, especially the Construction Leadership Council. Allowing themselves to hide behind Public Health. And where there have been fines of 40,000+ individuals ONLY 78 Improvement Notices and no prosecutions.”
“We agree with the witnesses that said they blame employers, but we blame all three for deaths as they put profit before people’ s lives”
“Our judgment is we have witnessed: Social murder. Social injury. Social illness, both physical and mental. We further find exonerated the brave workplace reps and we demand their reinstatement. And we also exonerate all those who protest and call out the guilt of all parties. And in particular we exonerate Mental Health Nurse, Unison activist Karen Reissmann for the brave move that she has taken.”
Hazards Campaign Workers Court 11th March 2021
I. To highlight, challenge, and change the negligent response of employers, enforcers and UK Governments to the Covid-19 pandemic at work.
II. To give grass root organisations, workers, trade union reps, trade union health and safety officers and other occupational health and safety activists the opportunity to register their concerns about the direct and indirect effects of COVID occupational health and safety failures on workers including economic and social impact.
III. To provide a living record of the issues workers have faced due to the UKs response to Covid-19.
Employers: During the pandemic many employers have:
Compelled employees to return to work during the pandemic when it was unsafe to do
Failed to provide ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments, as required by law, that use a control hierarchy approach to controlling the risks of transmission via: direct, indirect, large droplets and aerosols and then monitor, review and implement effective Covid risk removal and risk reduction measures. (such as ventilation in indoor settings)
Failed to work with Safety Reps and Trade Unions to protect workers
Failed to provide sufficient pay for workers to allow them to stay off work when sick or having to isolate
Failed to provide adequate PPE at a precautionary level, when and where it was needed
Failed to record or RIDDOR report near-miss, infections and deaths from Covid-19
Failed to plan effectively for pandemics and act on international evidence of risks at an early stage.
During the pandemic the HSE:
Leadership has failed to enforce health and safety law compliance on employers who are not controlling the risks of transmission.
Leadership did not present the case to take the lead on workplace Covid outbreaks instead of public health agencies
Failed to carry out proactive inspections until transmission rates in communities are too high.
Failed to release information and detailed reports about infection outbreaks, workplace transmissions, failed to explain where/how transmissions have happened, failed to provide information about how these risks can be controlled and failed to inform how many workers have been infected, developed serious illness or who have died as a result of Covid-19.
Failed to prosecute employers for negligence and issued very few Improvement or Prohibition enforcement notices.
UK Governments failed to plan and prepare for the occupational health and safety risks of pandemics over several years when international agencies such as the ILO and WHO provided the necessary information
UK Governments failed to provide precautionary PPE, and
UK Government downgraded PPE standards (based on availability not health risk)
UK Government downgraded Covid-19 as ‘significant’ not ‘serious’ workplace infection
That the UK Governments failed to ensure that only workplaces that are controlling all the risks from Covid-19 transmission are permitted to open
UK Governments allowed non-essential workplaces to continue to operate during the lock-downs which has increased transmission rates in communities.
UK Governments have failed to provide transparent data on workplace outbreaks
UK Governments have failed to provide mitigation of the transmission risks in Government buildings, schools and other education facilities and health and social care settings.
UK Governments have provided guidance which does not meet the duties of employers under existing Health and Safety Law.
Contrary both historic and current evidence, UK Governments failed to acknowledge the true airborne transmission risk by continuing to only focus on hands, face, and space.
On the 11th March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic.
Twelve months later the UK has more than 120,000 UK citizens dead, including many thousands of workers. There are important questions that need answering.
The court will be overseen by Professor Steve Tombs with a jury of health and safety experts, academics, lawyers safety reps and campaigners.
Join the session to present your own experience of how Covid-19 has impacted on the workplace and workers and to listen to others, so that collectively we can:
Highlight, challenge, and change the negligent response of employers, enforcers and UK Governments to the Covid-19 pandemic at work
Provide grass root organisations, workers, trade union reps, trade union health and safety officers and other occupational health and safety activists the opportunity to register their concerns about the direct and indirect effects of COVID occupational health and safety failures on workers including economic and social impact
Secure a living record of the issues workers have faced during the pandemic
An important meeting to discuss what actions we should be taking in our trade unions to end the occupational causes of breast cancer. This is a joint meeting with TUC Health and Safety to formulate an action plan to take joint action to protect women at work.
How do we make sure our employers are controlling all the risks of Covid-19 infection in our workplaces?
Join Zero Covid and the Hazards Campaign to hear from speakers from across the labour movement on the fight for safe workplaces.
We will discuss what workers can do to pressure their employers over safety measures and the key demands we need to be making on the UK Government on issues like sick pay and PPE. After we have heard from the speakers there will be time for open discussion.
Sarah Woolley, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), General Secretary
Tracy Edwards, Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) National Health and Safety Officer
We want the event to be as accessible as possible. The meeting will be conducted using Zoom. You will find help and support for Zoom here: https://support.zoom.us. If you are unfamiliar with Zoom we recommend you try it out in advance of the meeting.
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Sarah Newton Chair of HSE Board and Sarah Albon CEO
Health and Safety Executive
15 February 2021
Dear Sarah Newton, Sarah Albon,
The Hazards Campaign is extremely concerned about the HSE’s response to the COVID pandemic in the workplace generally, and more specifically about recent published revelations that the HSE designated Covid-19 not as a ‘serious’ workplace risk but rather as a ‘significant’ risk.
Employment Minister Mims Davies said last week that Covid had been classified as a “significant” rather than “serious” risk as this best supports inspectors making “sensible, proportionate” decisions. The Minister also described Covid-19 as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”. 1
The Hazards Campaign find it odd how a disease that is ‘highly contagious’, the consequences of becoming infected are, in the words of the Prime Minister, ‘deadly’, which can leave infected workers with long-term life-changing and life-shortening ill health, leads to thousands of deaths, thousands of sick days and disabilities, can be classified as ‘not serious’ just a ‘significant workplace risk’. We do not recognise Covid-19 as described by Employment Minister Mims Davies, as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”.
A disease that is prevalent in our communities cannot be described as anything but a significant risk, and given the role of workplaces in spreading the infection, we believe it must be regarded as a ‘Serious workplace risk’. The thousands of known workplace outbreaks which have led to the deaths and infection of workers, their families and consequently spread to people in their communities, supports such a demand for extra action at work.
Specific questions we would like answered
Please provide details as to:
How was the decision to downgrade Covid -19 from ‘Serious’ to ‘Significant’ workplace risk made?
Who made the decision – which individuals/group(s) of people?
What are the qualifications/experience of the people who made the decision?
Based on what specific scientific and occupational health data was the decision made?
Was government advice/guidance sought or given?
What specific differences does a classification of ‘Significant’ as opposed to ‘Serious workplace risk’ have on the way the HSE regulates and enforces health and safety law and COVID guidance in workplaces?
What role did economic/financial issues play in this decision as regards HSE’s operational work and the effects on the businesses it regulates?
Employment Minister Mims Davies described Covid-19 as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”. If the HSE provided this information to the Employment Minister can you provide the data to support this assertion?
As a major Health and Safety organisation the Hazards Campaign requests an immediate review and resolution of this absurd situation. Employers look to the HSE to provide a lead in the advice they provide on safe and healthy work activities and this decision provides an excuse for bad employers not put in place preventative mitigations of the risks.
As an organisation Hazards Campaign is contacted daily for advice and support by frightened and anxious workers being exposed to infection risks because their employer is failing to control them. We feel that this mixed messaging from the HSE is contributing to these failures. At this time we need strong enforcement not excuses being made available to employers by the inaction and seemingly collaboration with weakened enforcement by reducing the standards of employers legal duties.
We also call on the HSE to be more transparent on workplace outbreaks, so that workers can be informed properly about where the risks are in their workplaces, including the transmission risks and how their employers are mitigating against those risks.
We will all be judged how we have responded to the pandemic. This is a time when the HSE needs to take a lead in providing strong messages about the duties on employers to ensure the mental and physical health of workers.