Posts Tagged ‘Stress’

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

The Young Turks: Low Paid Workers Have the Highest Death Rates

November 3, 2015

This is another video from The Young Turks. It does, of course, discuss an American problem, but it’s still relevant over here. And especially as the Tories have copied so much of their ideology from across the Atlantic.

In this video, The Turks discuss the findings of a survey showing that the least educated workers in the poorest paid, unskilled jobs, have shorter lives than their better educated, better paid co-workers. In some parts of America, the difference can be by as much as 33 years. Women, however, tend to live longer than men, which the Turks state is just about the only area in which women do better in the work place. I think the stats also show that Blacks and other racial minorities also have shorter life expectancies than Whites.

They identify the factors in the work place that have the largest influence on mortality. These are

Unemployment and layoffs
Lack of health insurance
Low job control
Job insecurity (for men)
Shift work (for women)

They recognise that some extremely highly paid groups, like bankers and lawyers, can also suffer stress, but point out that it’s not the same kind of stress as the low paid. Those groups, for example, are not under the same kind of pressure as a single parent with a child working two jobs simply to pay the rent and put food on the table.

One of the Turks’ panel, John Iadarola, did his Master’s degree on the way politics reflect deeply embedded ideas about morality in American culture. If you don’t do well at school, or have a low-paid job, it’s your fault, because you’re obviously lazy.

Here’s the video:

This is obviously acutely relevant over here, as the Tories have exactly the same ideas. Work is good for you. Hence the policies to kick everyone off benefits so that they get some kind of work, no matter how poorly paid, unsuitable, or simply impossible for some people, like the disabled or people with long-term health problems, to perform. There’s any numbers of Tories prattling about the ‘health benefits’ of work. One of them even started an opinion piece in one of the papers by going on about how true Auschwitz’s maxim of ‘Arbeit macht frei’ – ‘Work makes (you) free’ – was, before reality or the editor kicked in and that section was pulled. Obviously, somebody realized that perhaps quoting the Nazis approvingly, especially the slogan on their death camps, wasn’t a vote winner.

And the Tories have exactly the same kind of Victorian attitude towards poverty. If you’re poor, it’s not because of a genuine lack of ability on your part. Not everyone has the intellectual ability to be a financial whizzkid, or brilliant scientist or engineer, or entrepreneur or whatever. Just as clearly not everyone can be a skilled manual worker, like a carpenter or blacksmith, or have the physical prowess to be an Olympic sportsman or woman. But the Tories believe that if you don’t succeed at Uni or have a brilliant job, it’s because you’re lazy. Or feckless. Or whatever other word they want to use to stigmatise them as someone who has failed due to their personality defects or lack of suitable morals.

And in these days of mounting student and graduate unemployment, even being highly educated doesn’t not guarantee that you will have a good job, and be able to pay your bills. Social scientists have identified a new social group, the precariat. These are low paid workers, in precarious jobs. They’re on short-term or zero hours contracts. And they are often too highly educated for the work they do.

The American finds also confirm what has been known from the 1990s: that people at the bottom of the social hierarchy live shorter lives than their superiors, even if they’re not in particularly dangerous jobs. Part of the evidence for this is the records of civil servants’ lives and performance going right back to the first years of the last century. These showed, not surprisingly, that the lower clerks at the bottom died earlier than the mandarins at the top. Part of the reason for this was stress, the same stress the Tories want to pile on to the majority of working people.

The civil service stats show the Tories’ argument about work, any kind of work, being good for you is rubbish. This piece from The Young Turks adds further confirmation.

Vox Political: Two More Deaths due to IDS’ Sanctions

March 10, 2015

I’ve already reblogged a piece by Tom Pride reporting the sad death of Julia Kelly, the 39 year old woman who committed suicide after the DWP demanded she repay thousands of pounds in benefit that she had supposedly been overpaid. Mike here gives a few more details of her case, as reported in her local in the Northampton Chronicle.

He also reports another death caused by the DWP, Benjamin Del McDonald, a thirty-four year old man and the father of three. McDonald suffered from severe depression, and also took his own life after the DWP sanctioned his benefits and he was faced with eviction. His case was reported in the Lancashire Telegraph.

Mike’s article is called Two die amid threats of losing benefits and eviction. It begins

Conservative-led Coalition Government welfare policy has led to two more deaths, it has been revealed.

One concerns a man suffering from depression who was living in fear of eviction after his benefits were stopped (no reason was given in the news report), and the other involves a woman whose suicide was allegedly triggered by a DWP letter demanding repayment of £4,000 in disability benefit.

The Lancashire Telegraph reported that the body of 34-year-old father-of-three Benjamin Del McDonald, who suffered with depression, was found last November.

East Lancashire Coroner Richard Taylor said: “Something must have happened to make him behave the way he did, because He had so much more to live for, especially his relationship with his daughter.

“At the time, his money had been stopped, he had no form of income, and he said he was threatened with eviction from his home – all matters that can play one someone’s mind very much.

“The appropriate conclusion for me today is that while he was suffering from a significant bout of depression, he took his own life.”

The full report is in the Lancashire Telegraph.

In Northampton, 39-year-old Julia Kelly was found to have taken her own life, days after receiving a series of letters from the Department for Work and Pensions including one demanding that she repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments.

She had faced three tribunals in a bid to keep her benefit, and her family “firmly believed” the stress caused by the DWP over her claim was what “triggered” her suicide.

A statement by her father, David Kelly, said: “We firmly believe the letter from the DWP was the trigger for her actions. Not to be believed by the DWP that she was suffering chronic back pain and also to be accused of wrongdoing and be told her payments might be stopped – we believe she snapped and could not take it anymore.”

The complete article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/06/two-die-amid-threats-of-losing-benefits-and-eviction/.

This is another two tragically wasted lives to add to the bloody list of others, who’ve been murdered by Ian Duncan Smith, the vicious incompetent pouring out his hate and contempt towards the very poorest in our society. A few years ago I reblogged a piece by Stilloaks on his Facebook page listing the 45 people, who died in poverty, hunger and despair due to Smith’s wretched sanctions. Ms Kelly and Mr McDonald are just the latest in a long line of people, who’ve taken their lives since that list was compiled. I’ve literally lost count of what the number is now. Mike in another post on the deaths of two homeless men within the same number of weeks of each other at Ashton-Under-Lyme has suggested that the real figure may be as high as 52,000 a year.

But we won’t know, but IDS has declared that the figures won’t be released until after the election.

This is a tacit admission that he knows how damning the information will be, and doesn’t want it coming out to scupper his party’s chances of winning.

As for the bland statement the Jobcentre made in Ms Kelly’s case, stating that it was necessary to require the repayment of excess benefits, this is decidedly dodgy. Mr Pride has pointed out that if it was that straightforward, why was the case taken to three tribunals. It looks very much like either Kelly was entitled to the money, or she really couldn’t repay it and the DWP didn’t want to accept this.

The result: death.

This cannot be allowed to go on. The Tories need to be kicked out now, and the evidence of their persecution of the poor presented loudly and clearly, so that they cannot weasel out of it, or try to exculpated themselves with bland words and glib soundbites.

Boycott Workfare’s Day of Action against Jobcentre Bullies

February 22, 2015

Boycott workfare have called for a day of action against jobcentres up and down the country on the 25th. This is in support of an activist with the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, Tony Cox, who was arrested at Arbroath jobcentre. Cox had accompanied a female claimant, who suffers from severe dyxlexia and reading problems. She was having several severe panic attacks every day caused by the stress of filling five Universal Job Match applications every day. Cox was there to represent her. The jobcentre refused to consider reducing the numbers of applications she should make, and insisted that signing up to UJM is compulsory. It is not. They objected to Cox’s presence, and he was arrested when he left the building.

The article begins

Solidarity with unemployed activist arrested for representing a jobseeker – call out by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty.

Take part in a day of action at job centres Britain-wide, 25 February 2015.

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We urge you to join a Day of Action on 25th February at Jobcentres round Britain to show your solidarity.

We must fight back against this clear attempt to intimidate claimants and deny us the right to be accompanied and represented. Tony will be in court in Forfar on 25th February facing charges of “threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest”. That same day we call on people to descend on jobcentres round Britain to show their solidarity with Tony and distribute information to claimants urging them to exercise their right to be accompanied and represented at all benefits interviews.

As we face unprecedented sanctions and benefits cuts, it’s more important than ever that we support each other and stand up to the DWP bullies. The Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions and other groups have established a strong presence at the Jobcentres in Dundee and in nearby towns and cities like Arbroath, Perth and Blairgowrie, supporting claimants in opposing sanctions and harassment.”

The article gives details of individual protests in Scotland, and provides links to leaflets that can be given out outside the jobcentres. There is also another link to a petition you can sign. They also urge you to write in support of Mr Cox to Noel Shanahan, the Director of General Operations at the DWP.

This is a major issue. As Mike over at Vox Political and Johnny Void have repeatedly covered in their blogs, there are major issues with privacy and protecting the civil rights of claimants with Universal Job Match. It is not compulsory, and contains any number of defects and flaws. Such as false, spam offers of jobs by agencies seeking to increase their profile on the Net. And also, I think you’re entitled to want to avoid it as it’s IDS vanity project. It’s been set up by the man responsible for 51,200 deaths per year due to his sanctions regime.

And the jobcentres definitely hate anybody coming in to give support to claimants. Before I was effectively thrown off benefit, I used to come in with my mother. The last time I went there, a woman on the ground floor told me that only I could go up to the interviewing area. Mum had to stay downstairs. I really do wonder what they’re afraid of, when they object to the presence of a respectable lady in her mature years.

Their cowards and bullies and definitely need to be tackled.

Wandererwrites on Poor Computers and the Stress of Sanctions at the Jobcentre

February 25, 2014

Wanderwrites has kindly reblogged my piece ‘Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower’, and added these comments on their experience of the poor computer systems and the effect of the threat of sanctions on claimants at the Jobcentre.

‘This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown …’

Reblogged this on The Meandering Social Worker and commented:
There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or ever week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer one let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); the alternative option of using UK Online Centres are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and some women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html).

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

There is absolutely nothing I can add to that.

Their website is The Meandering Social Worker, at http://themeanderingsocialworker.wordpress.com/.