HEALTH AND SAFETY
ADVISERS’ BULLETIN NO. 85
NUT HEALTH AND SAFETY ADVISERS’ BRIEFING: 23-25 NOVEMBER
This year’s Health and Safety Advisers’ Briefing will take place at Stoke Rochford Hall
from 23-25 November. The course will consist of a mixture of plenaries and workshops
covering a wide range of issues, including:
women’s health and safety;
asbestos in schools;
building Schools for the Future toolkit; and
how health and safety can build your Division.
The briefing is open to all NUT Health and Safety Advisers, and also to Division and
Association Secretaries who undertake advisory work in this area. Further information
and booking forms will be sent out in due course; alternatively, Advisers can apply online
at: www.teachers.org.uk where details of the full programme of training can be found.
UK LOW SICK LEAVE LEVELS
A Europe-wide survey has found that UK workers take less sick leave than almost all
their European counterparts. The average European worker takes 7.4 days off sick
whilst British employees average just 5.5 days. The 'Pan-European health and benefits
report' by human resources consultancy Mercer surveyed nearly 800 companies across
24 European countries. Only workers in Turkey, with an average of 4.6 days sick leave a
year, were less likely to take time off sick than those in the UK. The highest absence
rate was reported by respondents in Bulgaria, Portugal, Norway and the Czech
In a similar survey in the US, also undertaken by Mercer, respondents reported a
commensurate rate of sickness absence to the UK, at 5.1 days. Relatively few workers
in the US receive sick pay, however, and workers there have some of the weakest
employment protection in the developed world.
Advisers can find out more about this research by visiting
FALLING SICKNESS ABSENCE - BUT ‘PRESENTEEISM’ ON THE INCREASE
One in four (24 per cent) of the workforce went to work despite thinking they were too ill
to do so in January, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the TUC. The poll
appears to paint a very different picture of sickness absence to the caricature that British
workers are always taking ‘bogus’ sickies and stay at home at the first sign of a sniffle.
These findings tally with workplace absence statistics collected by the CBI, which show
that sickness absence has in fact been steadily falling over the past decade. Ten years
ago the average worker took an average of 8.5 days off sick a year. Last year it was 6.7
days. This is a fall of over 20 per cent, and the second lowest figure since records began
According to the YouGov poll more than half the workforce (57 per cent) say they have
gone to work when too ill during the last year. Only one in eight (12 per cent) say they
have never gone to work when too ill. This trend is on the increase. The TUC asked
similar questions in a poll - using a very slightly different base, but at the same time of
year - in 2004, when one in five (19 per cent) said that they had been to work in the last
month when too ill to do so. Twice as many, one in four (25 per cent), said they had
never been to work when too ill.
Full details of the survey results can be found at http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-
Details of the TUC's 2004 poll are at http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-7528-f0.cfm.
NOISE IN SCHOOLS - NEW ADVICE
Representatives of the music and entertainment industries, together with Environmental
Health Officers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have created a new website
dealing with noise at work. The site offers advice on what you can do to avoid the
harmful effects of prolonged exposure to noise. It includes specific guidance for schools
and colleges, which can be found here:
NUT guidance on classroom acoustics is available on Hearth.
NEW GOVERNMENT ‘FIT-FOR-WORK’ SCHEME
The Government is funding pilot ‘fit-for work’ schemes which it claims will help people on
sick leave back into work. The NUT has concerns, however, that the main aim of the
scheme is to reduce spending on sickness benefits. The pilot schemes are designed to
test out how those absent from work through sickness can be helped to recover and
supported to get back to work more quickly. Each pilot will offer personalised, back to
work support for people off sick. These will go beyond health care, to incorporate
elements including skills and employment advice, health and wellbeing services focused
on vocational rehabilitation and wider social support covering issues like debt or housing
advice. The government said there will also be 'conciliation to overcome escalated
disputes between employees and employers.' The pilots are expected to begin later this
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Lord McKenzie said: 'Now more than
ever it's important to help people who are sick to stay in work so that they can support
themselves and their families. These Fit for Work pilots will help do just that. Everyone
has the right to work and we want to design a fair system which supports people so they
can work when they are able.'
But the TUC’s head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, said that the pilots fell short
of what was needed. He described them as, at best, ‘a substitute for good sickness
absence procedures by employers.’ He said that the solution instead was access to
comprehensive occupational health support; far more resources invested in prevention;
and greater support for union safety and other representatives.
A Department of Health (DH) news release can be found at
http://nds.coi.gov.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=392959&NewsAreaID=2. A ‘Fit for
Work’ webpage, hosted jointly by the DH and the DWP, can be found at
ASBESTOS CANCER RESEARCH CALL
The government must invest millions in research to combat a devastating asbestos
related disease, campaigners have said. Mesothelioma is currently incurable and is the
least researched of the top twenty cancers. The call on 27 February - Action
Mesothelioma Day - was made by mesothelioma sufferers, bereaved relatives, MPs and
victims' advocacy groups, who marked the day with events throughout the UK. The
campaigners want government funding for a National Centre for Asbestos Related
Disease, pointing out that both the US and Australia have released funds for research,
whereas the topic was given little priority in the UK.
John Edwards, a consultant thoracic surgeon and chair of the British Mesothelioma
Interest Group, is supporting the proposal. 'Researchers are desperate for funds to
develop life saving treatments - mesothelioma is far and away the least researched of
the top twenty cancers in the UK,' he said. 'Funding for a UK National Centre for
Asbestos Related Diseases is a priority' He said the centre would encourage
collaboration and 'stimulate transnational research to generate future treatments to
prolong and save lives.'
Tony Whitston, chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, said that 'society
has a moral obligation to stand by those who have lost their health and their lives in
creating this country's wealth.’ The UK and Australia are the world's top mesothelioma
A news release from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum can be found at
http://www.asbestosforum.org/AMD%20Forum%20Press%20Release.pdf. Meanwhile a
webpage posted by the Forum about Action Mesothelioma Day is at
CONCERNS OVER HSE EFFECTIVENESS
A report in Hazards magazine has revealed that HSE enforcement activity has reduced
considerably over the past five years. This is a consequence of a 16 per cent fall in
numbers of HSE inspectors over the same period. Health and safety prosecutions,
convictions, enforcement notices and major injury investigations have all dropped
markedly. For example, the HSE prosecuted almost 2,000 offences in 2001-02, leading
to over 1,500 convictions. By 2007-08 this had almost halved, to just over 1,000
prosecutions and 839 convictions. Work-related illness, injury and deaths have barely
improved over the same period.
Research carried out by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) found that the
HSE investigated fewer than 11 per cent of major injuries reported to them in 2006-07.
The CCA also found that there was a 69 per cent reduction in HSE investigations of
‘over-three-day’ injuries between 2001-02 and 2006-07.
More details are available at www.hazards.org/deadlybusiness/justice.htm.
NEW STRATEGY FOR THE HSE
The HSE has announced a major new strategy on occupational safety and health, one
in which worker involvement will play a more pivotal role. In its response to the prior
consultation, the NUT welcomed the proposals but stressed the need for significant
increases in HSE resources in order to deliver the new policy and reverse the declining
numbers of inspectors (see above).
The new initiative comes at a time of widespread frustration that downward progress on
figures for fatal and major injuries had come to a halt more recently. HSE chair Judith
Hackitt has said: “After many years of improvement in health and safety performance,
our rate of progress has slowed and we need to regain momentum”.
The strategy does not specify exactly how better dialogue between unions and
management might be realised, but refers instead to the need to find ‘new ways to
engage current and future workforces’.
In addition to enhanced worker involvement, the new HSE strategy promises:
to continue its investigation and enforcement activities;
to encourage strong safety ‘leadership’ in firms of all sizes;
to actively counter the media’s obsession with ‘silly’ health and safety rules;
to enhance the competence of those responsible for workplace safety;
to target SMEs with bespoke support on health and safety;
to avoid high-profile catastrophic accidents in heavy industry; and
to take account of the wider issues that affect health and safety at work.
The above points are quite vague; this is deliberate, the intention being to ‘add meat to
the bones’ through further debate and discussion with key stakeholders.
It does not, however, appear that there will be any increases in financial support for the
HSE to deliver this new strategy. Whilst Judith Hackitt stresses that new inspectors are
being recruited and trained to ‘maintain’ their numbers, there seems little likelihood, at
least for the foreseeable future, of staffing levels returning to previous levels.
Advisers will be kept informed of future developments with regard to the HSE strategy
via this bulletin.
TUC CANCER GUIDE
The TUC has produced a new guide for safety representatives to raise awareness of
carcinogens in the workplace, and how to avoid exposure to them. The TUC estimates
that work is implicated in around 18,000 cancer diagnoses each year in the UK.
The new document looks at:
the scale and prevalence of occupational cancers;
employers’ legal duties;
workplace exposure limits (WELs);
how to find out about workplace carcinogens;
workplace monitoring; and
TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said “Many people simply do not know the risks
from substances such as wood dust, silica and diesel particulates and even if they do
develop cancer later in life, they do not associate it with work exposure. As a result
there is far less pressure on employers to take action to remove the risks. That must
change. The TUC wants to ensure that no worker comes into contact with a cancer-
causing chemical and any employer who does expose their workforce to the risk of
cancer should be prosecuted.”
The TUC guide to cancer in the workplace is available at
FINE FOR PUPIL’S FIREBALL INJURY
A Sleaford motor business has been fined after a youth on work experience was hit in
the chest by a fireball. Hockmeyer Motors pleaded guilty at Grantham Magistrates Court
to a safety offence following the incident on 7 January last year. The company was fined
£15,000 and ordered to pay £9,000 costs in a series of installments over the next 12
months. Year 11 student Jamie Fenn-Smith was on a work experience placement at the
garage. He had been holding cables in place while an experienced mechanic changed
brake cables on a car. The fireball, which melted the plastic print of his t-shirt onto his
skin, was caused by brake fluid which ignited after being sprayed onto a running engine
by a colleague. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Judith McNulty-Green said:
'This incident left a young man hospitalised, and could have been avoided if the
company had assessed the risk associated with such habitual use of the solvent and
implemented appropriate risk control measures to reduce identified risks.' The inspector
added: 'Work experience pupils are viewed as employees for the purposes of health and
safety legislation, yet they are often more vulnerable than a company's trained and
qualified employees. It is therefore imperative that if companies contract to have work
experience pupils from local schools they update any risk assessments to take into
consideration this particularly vulnerable group of employees.'
An HSE press release on this incident can be found at
PROTECTING THE SCHOOLS OF THE FUTURE FROM FIRE
We have been contacted by a Fire Officer from County Durham & Darlington Fire &
Rescue Service who is carrying out research into the process of selecting fire protection
strategies for new school building projects.
If you have been involved in any way with a new school building or refurbishment project
since 2005 he would be grateful if you could take a few minutes to complete on online
survey about your experiences. Click here for online survey
If you have any difficulty accessing the online survey, it is also available in PDF and
paper format by request from Ian Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Fire protection strategies for new school buildings: An investigation into driving
factors and stakeholder influence.
Each year in the UK there are around 1400 school fires with an annual cost
estimated to be around £58 million.
The UK government has embarked on the ‘Building Schools for the Future’
program with the aim of rebuilding or renewing nearly every secondary school in
In order to protect the investment of the BSF programme, the government
expects all but a few low risk schools to have sprinkler systems.
There are various standards offering different levels of life and building
protection, all of which will meet or exceed the minimum requirements of Building
School building projects involve many varied stakeholders and the PFI
procurement method complicates this further.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL EXCELLENCE (NICE) GUIDANCE ON
NICE have finally produced their guidance on sickness absence, which can be accessed
through the links below. The TUC had concerns over the decision to produce this
guidance and the process used to develop it. It therefore was not involved in the
The final guidance adds nothing to the HSE guidance on managing sickness absence
except giving some advice on the interventions that might be successful. Again that adds
nothing to the report published by the DWP last year “Vocational Rehabilitation: What
works, for whom, and when?” The main difference is that the NICE guidance sees
employees as patients with no real say in the process. The emphasis is also on getting
the worker back to work as soon as possible. While this can be advantageous in some
cases, as the HSE guidance makes clear, this can be dangerous if it is the work
environment that contributed to their illness in the first place, or if the worker does not
feel ready to return.
The guidance does emphasise the role of trade unions, but the main emphasis is in
them acting as “advocates for – and supporters of – staff wanting to return to work”,
rather than in them supporting workers being forced back to work by employers or health
professionals before they are ready.
The TUC will not be commenting publically on this guidance but will continue to
recommend that unions and employers use the HSE guidance “Managing sickness
absence and return to work – HSG 249” and the free guide for safety representatives
“Working together to prevent sickness absence and job loss”
The 20th National Hazards Conference will be taking place in Manchester from 10-12
July 2009. This year’s theme is ‘Safety Reps: Making a Better World of Work
Possible’. The NUT will be represented at the Conference and, as in previous years,
will be showcasing its Health and Safety materials.
Application forms for the Conference can be downloaded from the Hazards website at
on_form.pdf. Delegate fees are £215 (residential)/£120 (non-residential) and a free
crèche is provided. The closing date for applications is Friday, 19 June 2009.