Report dispels the myth of sicknote Britain

A TUC report shatters the myth that UK workers - particularly in the public sector - are always taking 'sickies', that stress is not a serious illness and that the solution to 'sicknote Britain' is a drastic cutback on the numbers of people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. 'Sicknote Britain?' shows that Britain is not a nation of malingerers and reveals that British workers are less likely to take short term time off sick than workers in any European country except Denmark. It adds that only Austria, Germany and Ireland lose less working time due to long term absence. And contrary to the common perception, public sector employees are off sick less than private sector workers. The report adds that the majority of employers accept that most staff time taken off ill from work is because of genuine sickness. A bigger problem is the high number of workers (75 per cent) who confess to having struggled into work when they were too ill to do so. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Sicknote Britain is an urban myth. We take less time off than most other countries, and public sector staff are less likely to take time off for a short term illness.' He added: 'Rather than spiralling out of control, as some would have us believe, the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants is actually on the decrease.'

TUC news release and Sicknote Britain? report
Hazards news and resources on work sickness
BBC News story



Did you have a chilly reception at work?

Did you receive a warm welcome back to work, or was the reception more ice-box than Christmas box? Over the holidays, TUC called on employers to make sure that the heating in offices, shops and factories was turned back on early enough to ensure that their workplaces reach the minimum legal temperature before staff returned from the holiday shut down. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Every year we get lots of calls from workers who return from the festive break only to find their building is like an ice-box.' The law requires most workplaces to be kept to at least 16oC during working hours. Not only is working in arctic conditions very unpleasant, excessively cold working environments can also affect dexterity and mobility. Employees with muscular pain, arthritis and heart conditions may have their health put at risk, warns the TUC. It adds that the temptation to bring in old, possibly defective heaters to warm the place up may introduce new dangers.

TUC news releaseDaily MailBBC News Online



Average unpaid overtime was worth £4,650 in 2004

UK employees did unpaid overtime worth £23 billion in 2004, according to TUC - a mindblowing £4,650 worth per worker. If they had done all their unpaid overtime at the beginning of the year, they would have worked for free until Friday 25 February. The TUC has designated Friday 25 February 2005 ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’, the day once a year the TUC urges employees to only work their contracted hours. 'We’re not saying that we should turn into a nation of clock-watchers,' said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. 'Most people do not mind putting in some extra time when there’s a crisis or an unexpected rush. But too many workplaces have come to depend on very long hours. They get taken for granted and staff have to do even more if there is an unexpected rush.' He added: 'Worst of all is that many long hours workplaces are inefficient and unproductive. People are putting in long hours to make up for poor organisation and planning in the workplace.' Long hours are linked to higher heart disease, depression and sickness rates and to an increase in the number of accidents.

TUC news releaseWales TUC news releaseWorksmart 'Work Your Proper Hours Day' guideBBC News OnlineSky News
Email TUC your long hours story
TUC Changing Times work-life balance webpages Hazards worked to death webpages


£1/2m pay victory spurs rail hours investigation

Amicus is to launch a major investigation into breaches of the working time regulations after securing an out-of-court settlement in excess of £500,000 for 282 rail maintenance workers. The union found GTBB joint venture, whose sponsor companies are Balfour Beatty and Carillion, had failed to pay a number of staff holiday pay required by the working time directive. Amicus says rail staff across the UK could be losing up to £1,500 a year. The problem stems from companies calculating holiday pay based on basic salary, illegally discounting retention bonuses, shift premiums and other allowances. Amicus national officer Bob Rixham said: 'The £1/2 million settlement negotiated by the union is great news but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Rail maintenance companies will be best advised to review their holiday payment policies or they will be pursued to a tribunal.' The Working Time Regulations were introduced as a workplace health and safety measure, to ensure workers had adequate breaks and time off work (Risks 166). Rail workers have been covered by the Europe-wide law since August 2003.

Amicus news releasePersonnel Today



Amicus says bullying firms could be named

Amicus says it will 'wage war' on workplace bullying in 2005 with a campaign to expose employers who tolerate bullying in their workplace. The union says it is working in partnership with good employers who recognise the damaging effects of bullying on staff but says it will expose bad employers. Mandy Telford, anti-bullying campaign coordinator at Amicus, said: 'In 2005, Amicus will be waging war against the bullies and we will expose those companies who tolerate it. The resulting economic damage to UK plc in terms of sick days and lack of productivity is increasingly serious. We believe that the union's anti bullying project will tackle the problem at both an operational and a policy level.' The union is pressing major UK companies to sign up to its anti-bullying charter, and says companies including BT, Legal and General, British Aerospace and Royal Mail are already on board. Amicus is fronting a £1.8 million DTI-sponsored Dignity at Work Partnership to investigate bullying causes and cures (Risks 150).

Amicus news releaseBBC News OnlineAnanova



Family court staff face rising intimidation

Family court staff have faced a mounting campaign of intimidation, including verbal and physical abuse, from aggrieved fathers over the last 12 months, according to the probation officers' union. A dossier compiled by the union, Napo, claims that the names of court staff have been published on websites, threats have been made against their homes, and their offices have been daubed with paint and super-glue put on locks. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said the dossier sent to children’s minister Margaret Hodge showed that the number of incidents had escalated in the past year. During 2003 more than 100 hoax bomb warnings were received at Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) offices, and this year a website was set up 'naming and shaming' court officers and denouncing them as incompetent and corrupt. Mr Fletcher said 'the escalation in intimidation against family court staff has caused stress and is bound to lead to absenteeism.' He added: 'Staff need protecting and the civil and criminal law must be used to contain this behaviour.'

The Guardian



Britain: Union calls for law to protect health workers

Health service union UNISON is calling for tough new laws to protect staff from violence and abuse and to punish the offenders. General secretary Dave Prentis said: 'It is shocking. Staff are punched, kicked, spat at and abused. We have had members stabbed and threatened with knives and guns. All for doing their job, caring for the sick and injured.' He added: 'The public knows that if they attack a police officer they are going to have the book thrown at them. UNISON would like to see the same tough treatment meted out to anyone found guilty of assaulting an NHS worker. Judges must impose sentences that reflect the crime. At the same time, we need managers to act before staff get hurt, rather than dealing with it after.'

UNISON news release



Fatigue is top 2005 concern at sea

A campaign to combat fatigue at sea will be a top priority during 2005, says ship officers’ union NUMAST. General secretary Brian Orrell said the union is stepping up its efforts to persuade the government to act on the recommendations of a special Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the links between accidents and fatigue and reduced crewing levels (Risks 184). He accused ministers of 'side-stepping' the problems and of failing to state clear support for the MAIB proposals. 'Ministers seem to believe that the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the hours of work and minimum manning regulations lies with anyone but the government,' he added. 'This is a serious issue and this ducking and diving is atrocious for a responsible flag state.' The union says it is preparing a strategic campaign on fatigue in the run up to its May biennial general meeting.

NUMAST news release



UNISON nabs £37m from unsafe employers

UNISON obtained a record £37,388,262 compensation in 2004 for members injured at work, up £3 million on 2003. 'This £37m compensation represents an awful lot of pain, injury and suffering for a lot of our members,' said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis. The majority of these injuries were preventable, he added. 'Employers know this, but many refuse to act to prevent them, or they find it cheaper to pay out compensation to anyone injured, rather than improve safety at work.' He said employers must take seriously their responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of their staff. Compensation awards included: £191,825 to the family of an Edinburgh man who died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma; £47,000 to a London play centre worker who suffered a serious arm fracture after falling when working in cramped conditions; £75,000 to a hospital worker who suffered serious injuries to her back when she tripped over a trailing cable; and £55,000 to a Southend Council finance manager, who developed a mental illness triggered by substantial pressure at work.

UNISON news release and briefingThe ScotsmanSky News


Call for Scottish schools to act on accidents

Educational employers must make employee health and safety a priority for 2005, says Scottish teaching union EIS. The call came as the union announced it secured in 2004 a total of £250,000 in compensation payouts and legal costs for injured EIS members. EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said: 'This is a clear sign that not enough is being done in our schools, colleges and universities to ensure the safety of teaching staff. While the EIS will always do everything it can to support the claims of members who have suffered an injury, our obvious preference would be for compensation claims to become less common due to a reduction in accidents and attacks against teaching staff.' He added that a commitment to safety was 'sadly lacking in many educational employers.' The EIS compensation statistics show the biggest risk to teachers and lecturers in the workplace is slips, trips or falls. The largest payout in 2004 was £80,000, to a lecturer who suffered severe health effects caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.

EIS news releaseBBC News Online


New rights to safety information take effect

The Freedom of Information Act has come into full effect and gives individuals a statutory right to see a massive amount of information held by government departments and thousands of public bodies, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Commission (HSC). Information on a company’s safety record, for example, should be made available on request. A new HSE freedom of information (FOI) website 'will provide the means for the public both to access information as it becomes available and request information not already published,' says HSE. Full text of HSE internal operation guidance documents is now available. HSE says most enquiries will be answered without charge, however more complex enquiries can attract charges running to hundreds of pounds. The website also highlights a series of exclusions, including information that might prejudice enforcement action or that would be a 'breach of genuine commercial confidence.' Campaign for Freedom of Information director, Maurice Frankel, said 'the new rights will help people ensure that they are being treated fairly, learn whether they are exposed to hazards, check that public authorities are doing their job and give people a better chance of influencing decisions before they are taken.'

HSE news release and new Freedom of Information webpages, including enquiry forms.
Department for Constitutional Affairds FOI webpages
and DCA news release
CFOI news release
For general FOI law in Scotland, see: Freedom of Information Act Scotland
Campaign for Freedom of



Working wounded at higher risk of heart attack

Men who never take a sick day even though they are not in good health may be setting themselves up for a heart attack, according to a new study. Dr Mika Kivimäki and colleagues used a study of 5,000 British male civil servants aged 35 to 55 to examine the relationship between sickness absence, 'presenteeism' - working while ill - and the rate of serious coronary events, including fatal and non-fatal heart attacks. Among participants in the study who rated themselves as unhealthy, 'no absence' was associated with double the risk of a serious coronary event, the team reports. That risk remained high even after coronary risk factors were taken into account. 'The fact that the incidence of serious coronary events is twice as high among unhealthy employees with no sickness absenteeism as among unhealthy employees with moderate levels of sickness absenteeism probably reflects the adverse consequences of working while ill - that is, sickness presenteeism,' the researchers conclude. Earlier stages of the 'Whitehall II' study of UK civil servants established job insecurity and a lack of control at work are strongly related to higher levels of ill-health (Risks 165).

Mika Kivimäki and others. Working while ill as a risk factor for serious coronary events: The Whitehall II Study, American Journal of Public Health, volume 95, number 1, pages 98-102, January 2005. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2003.035873 [abstract]Reuters Health
Hazards guides on sickness absence policies and practice and on work-related heart disease
• Background information: Work, stress, health: The Whitehall II Study [pdf]



Health alert over flat screen TVs

Workers in factories that make flat screen televisions could suffer long-term health damage, say scientists. A healthy 30-year-old man developed a serious lung disease after being exposed to a substance used to coat the screens. Doctors at Toranomon Hospital in Tokyo found tiny deposits of indium tin oxide (ITO) in the man's lungs, according to a report in the European Respiratory Journal. He had worked on flat screen TVs for four years, during which time he was repeatedly exposed to an aerosol containing ITO. He became ill with a respiratory condition called pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that kills half its victims within five years. He also had emphysema, another potentially fatal lung disorder. Another employee at the plant had already died as a result of inhaling ITO, used in liquid crystal displays or plasma display panels for TVs, computers and video monitors. The report notes: 'As industrial consumption of ITO rises, the potential health hazard caused by occupational exposure to indium compounds has been attracting much more attention. Maximum measures should be taken to protect workers from the potential toxicities of indium compounds.'

BBC News Online • S Homma and others. Pulmonary fibrosis in an individual occupationally exposed to inhaled indium tin oxide, European Respiratory Journal, volume 25, number 1, January 2005.



Night shift linked to late pregnancy loss

Pregnant women who regularly work the night shift may have an increased risk of a miscarriage late in pregnancy or a stillbirth, a new study suggests. The study of more than 40,000 Danish women who worked during pregnancy found that those who consistently worked the graveyard shift were 85 per cent more likely than daytime workers to suffer a miscarriage relatively late in pregnancy or have a stillbirth. Other job shifts - including rotating shifts that required some overnight work - were not related to late pregnancy loss, according to findings published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The researchers also found evidence that job stress could be a factor in night shift workers' higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Job stress was not linked to pregnancy loss overall, but among workers on fixed night shifts, those who said their jobs had high demands but gave them little control over their work had a higher risk of pregnancy loss. In a recent analysis of the same group of Danish women, Zhu's team found that those who worked nights or rotating shifts had a slightly higher risk of having a low birthweight baby.

Reuters HealthJin Liang Zhu and others. Shift work, job stress, and late fetal loss: The National Birth Cohort in Denmark, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 46(11), pages 1144-1149, 2004 [abstract]



Occupational health priorities in Europe
A new report says estimates that over 100,000 people in European Union are killed each as a result of a work-related accident or disease are infact 'no more than an approximate minimum, because no exact figures can be put on it. It is a conservative and certainly understated guesstimate.' The report from TUTB, the Brussels-based health and safety research body for Europe’s unions, says whenever authorities or researchers attempt to determine what measurable impact working conditions has on some aspect of health, they uncover new problems. The report covers on-going debates on workplace health problems in the European Union, including prevention systems, work organisation, job insecurity, reproductive health and 'learning the lessons of failure.'

Occupational health: Eight priority action areas for Community policy, TUTB, 2004. ISBN 2-930003-55-3. 10 Euros. Online summary and order form



Asia: Labour organisations appeal for tsunami action

The International Labour Organisation says urgent action is needed to rebuilding the communities and livelihoods of the survivors of the Asian tsunami disaster, which is now thought to have claimed in excess of 150,000 lives. ILO director general Juan Somavia said there was a pressing need to get people back to work 'to avoid exacerbating existing and chronic poverty.' He added: 'The ILO is making a rapid assessment of the impact of the disaster on workers and employers as a basis for proposals for reconstruction and recovery. Local organisations of employers and workers have been hard hit but are struggling to help their members and the communities in which they live.' Somavia said that ILO 'has voiced its special concern for the many orphaned children and the risk they may face of becoming victims of trafficking and the worst forms of child labour.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber announced a TUC financial appeal. 'I am asking all TUC affiliates, union organisations and individual union members, to give generously to the TUC Aid appeal for money to help the victims,' he said. 'We will also be helping the regional trade unions to rebuild and re-equip themselves.' Unions worldwide have launched similar tsunami appeals. Many unions in the UK and worldwide have already making substantial donations, according to Labourstart, the union news service.

ILO news releaseLabourstart tsunami news service on the global trade union response • US Centers for Disease Control tsunamis webpage/links.
Donate now to the TUC Aid Tsunami Appeal, using the TUC’s secure online donations service. Donations to this site receive gift aid tax relief, which can add an extra 29 per cent to their value. Alternatively, cheques payable to 'TUC Aid - Tsunami Appeal' can be sent to TUC, EUIRD, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.



Australia: Massive payout to gunned-down Coke worker
Soft drink giant Coca-Cola has been ordered to pay almost Aus$3 million (£1.2m) to a former employee who was shot five times while loading a coke-vending machine. Craig Pareezer, 39, sued Coca-Cola Amatil for negligence after he was shot in the head, chest, stomach, leg and hand as he restocked a vending machine at a Sydney further education college in 1997. Mr Pareezer had previously complained about the dangers of restocking the Coke machines, but was threatened with losing his job if he didn’t continue - despite his boss knowing he had already been bashed unconscious by a gang targeting vending machines at the college. The shooting occurred on his first day back at work. Announcing the award in December 2004, Justice Robert Hulme ordered Coca-Cola Amatil to pay Mr Pareezer more than Aus$2.8 million (£1.14m), his wife Sue $58,926 (£24,000), and $39,282 (£16,000) to his son Scott, who witnessed the shooting. A NSW Supreme Court judge ruled at an earlier hearing that Coca-Cola was liable for Mr Pareezer's injuries. The company is appealing against the judgment, but as a condition of appeal must pay the Pareezer family $260,000 (£105,600) now. Mr Pareezer’s assailant, Adriano Manna, is serving an 18 year jail term for attempted murder.

Herald SunNews Interactive



USA: $1/2m passive smoking payout

A US state appeals court has upheld a $500,000 (£265,500) award to a flight attendant who blamed secondhand smoke on planes for her bronchitis and sinus trouble. The decision could clear the way for damage trials on up to 3,000 similar claims. The ruling for former TWA attendant Lynn French was a test case interpreting a $349 million (£185m) settlement reached in 1997 between the tobacco industry and non-smoking attendants. The flight attendants blamed their illnesses on smoke in the cabin before smoking was banned on domestic flights in 1990. After the tobacco industry agreed to settle, a system of mini-trials was set up for each flight attendant to decide whether he or she deserved compensation. Under the ground rules, each jury was to presume that secondhand smoke causes several diseases; the attendants had to prove only that they suffered from one of those diseases and that their exposure to smoke occurred on the job.



USA: Asbestos cowboys get lengthy jail terms
A US federal judge has sentenced an asbestos company boss to 25 years in prison, his father to 19 years and has ordered them to pay about $25 million (£13.3m) in restitution and fines. Alex Salvagno, 38, and his father, Raul, 71, were found guilty in May of racketeering and conspiracy to violate environmental laws for rushing asbestos abatement jobs at 1,555 buildings and were sentenced in December 2004. Witnesses testified that Alex Salvagno's company, AAR Contractor, profited by forcing its workers to clean up asbestos as quickly as possible, by using illegal methods that jeopardised the health of employees and, in many cases, left deadly fibres behind. Their shoddy work went undetected because Salvagno secretly co-owned a firm, Analytical Laboratories of Albany, which was supposed to be testing the job sites. Dr Stephen Levin, an associate professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, testified in October that an estimated 100 employees who worked for more than four years for AAR will almost certainly get sick and die as a result of asbestos disease.

Albany Times-Union



USA: Safety enforcer 'no longer much of a problem'
US rights to basic protection at work are being fatally undermined by the Bush government, latest evidence suggests. A feature this week on National Public Radio reported that while official safety watchdog OSHA was traditionally one of the two regulatory agencies that American business feared the most - the other being the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - 'EPA still causes trouble, but the word around Washington is that OSHA is not longer much of a problem.' It added that under Bush, 'OSHA changed course with a speed not often seen in government.' Mark Friedman, director of labour law for the US Chamber of Commerce, told the programme: 'There is no reason why workers should have a voice in negotiating health and safety policy' because OSHA does not enforce against workers. This week OSHA announced a range of new measures to 'reduce the regulatory burdens on employers,' including axing a requirement to report exposures to some workplace carcinogens. Critics say the Bush administration has also stacked the National Labor Relations Board with pro-business, anti-union appointees, a move reflected in a string of recent decisions which have taken away worker rights and denied workers protection in organising and collective bargaining.

• NPR 'All things considered' - listen to the programmeOSHA news release • Confined Space on weakening OSHA and NLRB.


Dyslexia in the workplace
Dyslexia affects up to 2.9 million workers in the UK, but many employers are not doing enough to assist affected workers, says a TUC report. ‘Dyslexia in the workplace’ warns that managers who do not appreciate the link between dyslexia and common performance problems can often judge dyslexic employees unfairly. The TUC report offers advice on how working practices can be changed to maximise the potential of employees with dyslexia. Examples in the report include the case of Paul, a trainee train driver for a national railway company. Following an assessment that showed him to be dyslexic, the company agreed to consider reasonable adjustments and engaged a specialist trainer for advice. Despite initial misgivings from some managers, Paul succeeded in passing the rigorous operational and health and safety requirements of the post first time, and is now a successful main line train driver.

TUC news release Dyslexia in the workplace: A guide for unions. ISBN 1 85006 727 9. From TUC Publications. Members: £2.50; educational: £5.00; non-members: £ 10.00.