Hazards Conference Report Cheshire East UNISON by liaoqinmei


									                          Report from Hazards Conference 2012
                                     Nina Hammill

Opening Plenary:
Speaker from Scottish Friends of Bhopal: Survivors Safreen Khan and Balkrishna Namdev were
unable to get to the conference today. Balkrishna was orphaned at a young age and went to Bhopal
for schooling and also sold fruit and vegetables. He organised a union for street sellers as a teenager.
He has been a political organiser for a long time. He works with a lot of vulnerable people in Bhopal.
When the gas disaster happened in 1984 it made more people vulnerable. Safreen Khan’s parents
were affected by the gas disaster and it affected her health also. She lives near the factory which is
still full of toxins from chemicals. She set up Children Against Dow Carbide along with friends. The
Bhopal disaster was the worst environmental industrial disaster there has ever been. An insecticide
factory leaked gas which affected people’s eyes and lungs. An estimated 800 people died and many
more were injured and made ill. Lots of people were blinded. In the 1960s and 70s India opened its
doors to foreign investors. The Green Revolution meant that new species of crops with high yield
were grown but required high levels of fertilisers and pesticides. Union Carbide was one of the
foreign investors. They set up a factory to compile ingredients to make a pesticide. They decided to
compile directly from raw ingredients and the factory was near to a residential area. It involved
storing large amounts of toxic gas. A fall in productivity led to Union Carbide cutting costs including
cutting maintenance staff, employing unskilled workers, allowing things to corrode, using cheaper
materials and ‘minor leaks’ being regarded as normal. The disaster happened because of all these
things and more. Survivors mobilised and had spontaneous protests. The second disaster was the
outcome of the factory not being cleaned up and leaking toxins into water and soil. In 2001 Union
Carbide was taken over by Dow, which has absorbed the assets of Union Carbide but not the
liabilities. In 2008 Children Against Dow Carbide was founded by young people organising. Dow is
also known for producing the skin around the Olympic Stadium in 2012 and for being sponsor of the
International Olympics Committee. There has been a high incidence of children born disabled to gas-
affected parents. The campaign continues.
Louise Taggart – Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK): Louise spoke about the burdens borne
by the families. They are not treated as victims of crime so don’t get help from Victim Support. They
have a constant battle against the justice system. Without the persistence of families and FACK,
there wouldn’t be prosecutions. Many companies do not attend court hearings. There are many
cases of accidents that could and should have been prevented. Con Dem Government has made
continuous attacks on health and safety. Tory Health and Safety Minister Grayling has repeatedly
refused to meet with FACK. FACK members have spoken the length and breadth of the country.
They are fighting for our rights not to walk in their shoes. FACK runs on a shoestring and are
appealing. Please buy Face The FACKS DVD.
Ivan Timson, UNITE safety rep, on being a Hazards Campaigner: Ivan works in print and packaging
in Leicester. He is a senior Health & Safety Rep. Too many people are dying. More than 1,300 die per
year in workplace health and safety incidents. 50,000 die from workplace related illnesses. Workers’
protection is being removed. HSE proactive inspections are no longer taking place. It is everyone’s
right to go to work and come home safe and not end up dead because an employer didn’t take our
safety seriously. Check Hazards Magazine regularly and keep informed and up to date with health

and safety developments. Health and safety needs to be taken up to high levels and put on agendas.
Talk to people on training courses, use events such as Workers Memorial Day to promote health and
safety and to show true facts and figures. Raise motions through national unions. Submit articles and
reports to health and safety departments and unions. Get involved in marches and demos. Challenge
‘health and safety gone mad’ stories and tell the truth. Use union notice boards. Leaflet local areas.
Lobby MPs on health and safety. Write to British Safety Council. Let local councillors know the truth.
Use social media to talk about health and safety but don’t talk about work issues. Join in the fight,
get active and stay in touch with Hazards.
Saturday 1.9.12, Plenary session
Hope Daley, UNISON: Serious and sustained attacks on health & safety by the government.
Employers are convinced that they are wasting their time on protecting their workers and that they
should be concentrating on making profit, making workers do more, longer hours, for less pay, till
they get worn out. We need to something about it. We have the right to expect that we and our
families come home from work safe.
Simon Pickvance (Sheffield Occupational Health Advice Service) was sadly too unwell and unable
to attend. He has mesothelioma from when he worked on building sites. He was awarded the Alan
Award last year. He is featured in the Hazards Magazine. Helen Lynn, Alliance for Cancer
Prevention, spoke on behalf of Simon: Simon Pickvance had hoped to speak today but his illness is
affecting his heart. Helen shares a lot of his views. Simon set up the Sheffield Occupational health
advisory service over 30 years ago. The HSE cannot be trusted to protect workers’ health and safety.
Simon worked with workers suffering from industrial deafness and vibration white finger. Hearing
tests showed industrial deafness. Miners suffered from bronchitis and emphysema. Simon is deeply
sceptical of the HSE and establishment in general. Many people are exposed to carcinogens at work,
which includes long term night shifts. The HSE is not acting on workplace cancer. HSE figures on
effects of diesel fuel are grossly underestimated and do not address exposure on journeys to work.
Simon interviewed people with bladder cancer and found that many had been exposed to dyes at
work. This was a previously unrecognised cause of bladder cancer. There are lots of things we can
do. Contact workers to build up an inventory of processes used in industry, use checklists, use local
internet forums, contact local specialists and patient groups, work with trade unions and personal
injury solicitors. We need a trade union enquiry into carcinogens at work. We all wished Simon well
and sent our best wishes.
Tony Whitston, Chair of Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum: It is an opportune moment to
review the asbestos tragedy. Asbestos comes in 3 types, blue, brown and white. Blue is 500 times
more potent than white, and brown is 100 times more potent than white. All types cause cancer. It
causes pleural disorders, asbestosis, breathlessness, lung cancer and mesothelioma. There is no cure
for mesothelioma and average life expectancy after diagnosis is 12 months. Danger for all workers
today is that they are vulnerable to all diseases caused by asbestos. By the end of the tragedy there
will be 100,000deaths from mesothelioma alone. Reasons for the tragedy include asbestos industry
who advised the government, health & safety regulators, trade unions, frequent use of brown
asbestos in this country. Workers have consistently been told there is no risk to their health.
Workers continued to work with asbestos long after health risks were known. There have only been
2 custodial sentences in relation to employers’ liability. On 1 May 2012 the government introduced
an act which means members will have to pay substantial amounts of their compensation in legal
costs. Hundreds are being left to die without getting compensation to which they are entitled. There
is still a lot of asbestos in commercial and domestic buildings. 42% of workers think that asbestos is a
thing of the past. Never before has the role of safety reps been so important. Asbestos is still mined
and is still exported nationally. Asbestos consumption in the developing world now is as high as the
height of the asbestos tragedy in this country. Canada is one of the major exporters of asbestos. The
history of the asbestos tragedy has been a history of workers’ struggles and victories. Safety reps are
the front line and it will be us who will prevent this happening again.
John McClean, Director of Health, Safety & Environment, GMB: There are many pressures on trade
union and safety reps. Pressures are the same in public and private sectors. IOSH were critical of the
government for changing the length of consultations to 6 weeks. We need to defend jobs and terms
and conditions but we’re principally here to defend health and safety. We should now be thinking in
midst of election period how to influence politicians. We need to proactively influence what the
SRSC regs would look like in a few years’ time. We need to address the change in the industrial
landscape and change the agenda. We need to look at how resources are allocated. We’re not only
here to protect our workmates, but the general public as well. Health & Safety was high up on the
agenda at UNISON national conference this year. UNITE hotel workers rep spoke about when
builders came into a building and demolished a wall. There was asbestos in the building. The case
kept getting passed to and fro between HSE and others. By the time the HSE looked at the case they
said because it was last March it was too long ago for them to do anything. There had been no risk
assessment. The building had 52 apartments in which housed families and children. A UNISON rep
spoke about asbestos which was discovered in a lift shaft in a workplace. We can register exposure
of a carcinogen with a solicitor. 75% of schools have asbestos in and children and staff are being
exposed to it. Nick Green said figures from freedom of information statistics in the north west show
more like 80-85%.
Award of the Alan 2012 to Nobby Styles, Convenor UNITE NE 10/348: Award in memory of Alan
Dalton who died in 2003. Tony Whitston, Tony O’Brien and Nobby Styles were nominated for the
award. The winner is Nobby Styles for his work in setting up WMD events in Humberside and setting
up other events in Lincolnshire, setting up support for families, and for his work in the community
and as a Hazards Campaigner. Nobby’s branch gave a £100 donation to FACK. Congratulations
Morning workshop session – Improving workplace inspections:
Aims were to develop additional resources and ideas for workplace inspections. Health & Safety
regulations haven’t changed since 1977 but workplaces have changed enormously.
We worked in groups to identify less obvious hazards in workplaces and came up with the following:
A major supermarket chain has decided that they have no dangerous machinery in their company
and that it’s just people that are dangerous; stress can be a symptom of less obvious hazards, such
as long working hours and heavy workloads; falling glass panels; personal hygiene when working in
clients’ homes; activated sludge plants in the water industry; lighting conditions; asbestos; infection
control; workplace temperature; musculoskeletal disorders; personal safety; substances; equalities
issues; working hours; restructures; rotas; Weils Disease; bullying and harassment; violence;
recording near misses; sick building syndrome. We chose a hazard and worked on how to address it
and to get the employer to take it on board: A TSSA member who works for a small rail company
said the less obvious hazard in her workplace is musculoskeletal problems resulting in lower back
pain and shoulder pain, causing some sickness, but the company doesn’t recognise anybody as
Display Screen Users, so won’t recognise that there is a problem. Our plan was to start off by asking
the whole workforce to complete a questionnaire and then, if it were to show even a small
percentage of problems, to do a body-mapping exercise, and advise management what we were
doing, telling them that it is a positive thing and would benefit the whole workforce. We would then
produce a report using our evidence and highlight the need for equipment, induction and training
needs, including Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations and mentioning breaches of law. We
would ask the Branch Health & Safety Officer for support and would arrange to meet with the
employer and present the report. This could then be included in future workplace inspections to
check that measures had been put in place to deal with the hazards, and that equipment was fit for
purpose. We would use photos if possible.
Afternoon meeting – Sickness is for wimps:
John Bamford: Dame Carol Black, who was appointed in 2005 as UK director of health and work. She
has been instrumental in the government policy that almost everybody is fit for work, regardless of
illnesses or disabilities. In 2008 she was asked by the government to review health policy. A key
recommendation was the introduction of the Fit Note and about appointing health and wellbeing
coordinators. They set up some pilot projects and helplines, all of which failed. Fit Notes are not
popular. Atos Origin were employed and paid large sums of money to assess capability for work.
About 40% of people have appealed against decisions and a large percentage have had decisions
overturned on appeal. Dame Carol Black was called upon by the Cameron government to review
sickness absences. There was a clear objective from this to get people off benefits and ‘into work’.
She has recommended that after 4 weeks of sickness GPs would be removed from the process and
an independent body would assess our physical and medical function to support return to work. She
recommended setting up a government brokering agency. None of the recommendations focus on
the reasons why people are ill. She has talked about addressing misconceptions in managing sickness
absences. She seems to be doing a great service for the government but very little service for
workers. The pressure is on workers not to be sick or absent.
Robert Baughan, Head of Health & Safety, UNISON: The environment in which we work is much
much tougher now. David Cameron has talked about ending sicknote culture. In 2011, 131 million
days were lost due to sickness absence, down from 178 million days in 1993. Audit Commission in
2011 reported that “deprivation and sickness absence are correlated.” We as negotiators need to
decide a strategy for dealing with this. Regulations make it clear what duties and responsibilities
employers have. We have the right to be consulted over anything that affects the health and safety
of members. In the Equality Act 2010 things did not all go our way with regards to sickness. We can
still use the act but should be looking to negotiate and avoid going to tribunal. People can still be
dismissed for taking time off due to disability. We need to start setting our own agenda and need
high levels of union membership and activity. Find out what members think. Use one to one
meetings with members, workplace inspections and surveys to open dialogue. If we’re going to win
the argument with the government, we need to win the argument with our own members. We have
to try to swing the argument around and engage in the debate. We want managers at local level to
be trained. It is important to separate capability from disciplinary. We need occupational health
services which both management and members have faith in, with trust from both sides. We need
transparency and consistency, and good sickness policies. Potential sticking points could be trigger
points, reasonable adjustments, work related injury or illness and economic climate. It’s in our
interests for our members to be in work, but we want them in work because they are fit and well. It
avoids tension within the workplace and reduces capability hearings and potential costly legal
challenges. Some managers are not appropriately trained so use policies in a draconian way. Many
people are coming to work when they are sick. Some managers are using policies with their own
agenda, so some people are not being put forward for sickness reviews. There is a mutual benefit to
reducing the number of capability hearings which should be used as an argument for better training.
Managers using discretion sometimes get accused of using favouritism. They need to be open and
honest and explain why they are using their discretion. We should be insistent that we want proper
training for everybody in the workplace, not just members, managers as well. We have to force it.
Papers like the Daily Mail imply that workers are a bunch of idle bastards, which is just not true.
There is no legal requirement to record people damaged by stress. Nobody really knows what the
scale of workplace sickness is. UNISON member from Yorkshire water said the figures are a load of
nonsense as there is a 2-tier workforce where those who work from home don’t say they’re sick as
they just say they’re working from home, but the others have to tell their employer when they’re
sick. People working from home can be really ill but don’t want to tell their employers. A number of
local authority reps said many workers are afraid to take sick leave as they are scared of setting off
triggers for capability process. PCS member from Manchester said some people are going into work
with serious illnesses such as swine flu, and some terminally ill. The health service is notorious for
bad treatment of staff. Figures show that senior managers have less time off work, and it is easier for
them to disguise illness by working from home, which explains the discrepancy. We need more
clearer, transparent ways of measuring presenteeism. In public health sectors employers insist
workers have time off when they are sick, and many do not pay sick pay. PCS member said the public
sector is facing massive cuts and asked what the panel thought about it being used to get rid of staff
without having to pay redundancy. JB said employers do use this as a way of dismissing people. All
they have to show is that they’ve behaved reasonably. RB said we are dominated by a target-driven
society. Employers say they are working on improving health and wellbeing but in reality that is not
what is happening.
Chair (from Scottish Hazards) said also many senior managers are healthier because they have
better standards of living than the rest of us and can live healthier lifestyles. In the voluntary sector
zero hours contracts are making it very difficult for workers to take sick leave when they need to. JB
has a slogan which came from South African workplace groups: Organise, educate, make work safe.
Chair: 4 points to take forwards – reps to be very closely involved in sickness absence cases and
possibly occupational health, and training. Second thing is presenteeism. Third is that we need to
look at the underlying causes and ask if it was caused or exacerbated by work. Fourth, we need to
win over our own members. UCATT member said we need to look at the wellbeing agenda as it is
being used against us and implying there is no such thing as illness. A rep said that in his workplace
the policy is stage 1 after 6 days off, stage 2 after 12 days off then dismissal after 18 days, which is
Second Workshop Session – Managing sickness absence:
Central Manchester case from March 2012 the employer tried to link sickness absence to pay
increments. The union took the case on and won a comprehensive legal judgement.
We worked in groups and listed points to be included in sickness agreements: policy should be
flexible to allow some discretion; all triggers should be removed from policy; policy should include
compulsory training for managers.
Campaigning meeting – Bhopal, disasters and international solidarity:

The meeting was presented by Scottish Friends of Bhopal members. The 2 Bhopal survivors due to
speak at the conference were still unable to come due to problems with visas. They will do a tour to
raise awareness and to build solidarity with activists and to spread the message for a safer world for
all. 2014 will be the 30th anniversary of the disaster. There is time to mobilise and organise events. A
clinic has been set up in Bhopal which provides free healthcare for survivors of the disaster. Some of
the funding for this comes from fundraising events. Bhopal has been a feature of Workers Memorial
Day for many years. Bradford have a tree planted in memory of victims of the disaster and there are
also plaques around the UK. These are greatly valued by the people of Bhopal. There are also many
events on 3rd December every year, which is the anniversary of the disaster. There are documentary
films and books about Bhopal. People should watch the film “Yes Men Fix The World”. Books to look
out for are The Bhopal Reader, Bhopal Story and Bhopal Survivors Speak. Dow was known before the
Bhopal disaster for producing Agent Orange and other products. There is a Dow plant in
Grangemouth in Scotland and there have been memorial events for all victims of Dow. The Bhopal
Medical Appeal was one of the only groups allowed to protest during the Olympic Torch relay in
London. UCU has urged members to boycott Dow-sponsored events. With regard to compensation,
Union Carbide negotiated $47 million in 1989 as an out-of-court settlement. The Indian government
accepted this without consulting with survivors. This was the only money offered in 5 years and was
challenged in court. Dow say compensation has been dealt with. Compensation cases have since
been reopened and campaigners are arguing that the original settlement miscalculated how many
people were affected and didn’t account for second or third generations. There have been clean-up
plans to remove contaminated soil and transport it elsewhere to be incinerated. This would just
cause problems elsewhere. Campaigning has meant that some communities who live near the
factory now have piped water. Before 1984 sludge from the plant was dumped in a pond. This has
solidified and kids play on it. Dow is an American company and also has plants in Teesside and South
Wales. Their UK headquarters is in Staines. Their European headquarters is in Switzerland. Dow took
over Union Carbide in 2001. Survivors were being offered chemicals to treat the other chemicals in
their body and this was not working. Drugs have been tested on survivors. Bhopal is divided by a
lake. North Bhopal is where the disaster happened and people are poor. South Bhopal is more
middle class and people there do not tend to talk about the disaster. Survivors are looking for
answers about what the chemicals are doing to their bodies and want to find out about treatments.
The people of Bhopal are very keen to have international visitors. There had been problems at the
factory before 1984. There had been a death and injuries from gas exposure. Maintenance is a big
issue and has contributed to many disasters. There are well known sites in the UK where chemicals
from agriculture and horticulture have been dumped and are being built on. There is a connection
between health and safety in the workplace and environmental safety. Suggestions for solidarity
were: ethical investment; MEPs – procurement campaign; pension funds – disinvest; education in
unions; ‘Dow Quit India’ Campaign; relations with Dow unions; connections across Europe –
European Work Hazards Network; Amnesty touring bus; Avaaz e-petition; Bhopal anniversary
events; use links to Bhopal medical appeal on Facebook and Twitter.
Closing Plenary:
Reports from Saturday keynote meetings:
Lofsted – friend or foe?: Issue is about enforcement or lack of it, more than about what Lofsted has
to say. Need support and campaigning from all levels in unions. Explaining issues to members.
National unions and TUC to produce more materials for the workplace. Need H&S contingent on the
20 Oct march. TUC is planning a conference to discuss union visions. Link issues of attacks on
workers on health & safety and corporate greed.
The case for regulation and enforcement: There is a case for this, we need to keep making it. We
need to challenge ongoing assault on regulation and the slashing of enforcement of HSE and local
authorities. Recent legionella outbreak is just one example of the importance of proactive
Report backs from campaigning meetings:
Methods for finding out about H&S issues: 3 main methods – accident data, various resources and
courses. We’re all entitled to accident reports under regs but some reps have difficulty getting this
information. Writing to employer could be effective in getting access to data. Some reps have set up
their own reporting system and encourage members to report to them. Resources: Hazards
magazine, emails, social media, Labour Research Dept, TUC, unions. Good idea to triple-check any
information you get from internet to make sure it’s correct. HSE resources & website. Courses: get
to meet other safety reps and find out about other issues, issues with low numbers on courses.
Dealing with risk assessments: one of the main battlegrounds at the moment. The media say it’s
just a bureaucratic exercise we don’t need. If we don’t assess risks we can’t control them. Raise
awareness among members regarding what risk assessments are all about. Make the risk
assessment language simple. We mustn’t forget health, including mental health. We need to raise
the status of health & safety in our branches.
Campaigning inside and outside workplace; and using social media: Use material from internet,
including Hazards. Have workshop on twitter and produce page on how to set up a twitter account.
Engage with young people. Set up Hazards group as in Bristol. Workshop on campaigning and
lobbying, starting from basics. Social media is only one tool – there is nothing like meetings for
expressing feelings. We also need to be out there.
Occupational/environmental cancer: exposure to carcinogens – ie: smokers in prisons and asbestos
exposure in police force. Diesel exhaust emissions exposure from waste lorries affects workers and
public. We need to produce evidence for people to take action. Work with health & wellbeing board
on occupational cancer. Access to info on carcinogens – what can we trust? Hazards Campaign page
is trusted. Where is focal point for decisions on cancer in government. Need more information on
processes and structures.
Asbestos in schools: High proportion of asbestos containing materials in schools. No known
threshold. Exposure at early age makes people more vulnerable to diseases etc. Aim to make all
schools and colleges safe. Action points: communicate and lobby locally with MPs, educate people
who work in schools, group pressure: HSE are not going to be available anymore in relation to doing
inspections. They are downgrading everything. Without identification programmes and surveys
there will be difficulty getting message through. We all need to get involved in this.
Helen Edge, Jo Hobson and Tracey Evans were also there. Brilliant conference, great venue, food and


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