APOLOGISE! – demands GMB union after sick worker’s sacking ends in death

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The GMB trade union Tuesday called upon DHL management to publicly apologise to the family of one of its employees, whom it ‘callously sacked for suspected malingering or unauthorised absence when in fact he was suffering from ill health that had given rise to confusion and in the end his death’.

A GMB statement said: ‘Sixty year old, Bernard Doherty, a GMB member, was employed by DHL at the Nine Elms, Vauxhall depot in London. 

‘He was off sick and advised the company by phone of his illness.

‘He was on his way to post a doctors certificate to the company when he went missing. 

‘He subsequently turned up at his brother’s house but did not know where he had been or how he had got to the house. 

‘He was admitted to hospital. 

‘He was diagnosed with a three month history of confusion and weight loss.  He died a week ago yesterday, on Monday 18th July 2005. 

‘DHL had phoned his wife who informed them that her husband was missing and that she would get in touch as soon as she had any news.

‘Mrs Doherty subsequently phoned DHL to inform them that her husband was  in hospital. 

‘She was flabbergasted and angry to be told by DHL that Mr Doherty no longer worked at the Nine Elms depot because the sick note from the doctor had not turned up.

‘It appears that DHL assumed that Mr Doherty was either malingering or was involved in an unauthorised absence when in fact he was terminally ill.

‘DHL dismissed him when they did not receive the sick note from Mr Doherty’s doctor or replies to correspondence they had sent to his home while he was missing.’

Mick Rix GMB National Officer for DHL said: ‘This is an appalling case of management where workers are just a number and the human element is ignored.

‘It seems that DHL assumes that if a worker fails to turn up for work that they are either malingering or are involved in an unauthorised absence and therefore should be subject to discipline.

‘It did not occur to DHL management that their employee could be very ill, have met with an accident or that something untoward had happened to him.

‘DHL should at a very minimum check with the doctor when one of their staff informs them that they are ill before sacking them.

‘If they had done so in this case they would have established the seriousness of the ill health of their employee.

‘I call on DHL management to apologise to the family and to give the GMB an assurance that nothing like this will happen again.

‘It is to DHL’s shame that they sacked one of their employees when in fact it turns out he was terminally ill.’

l Meanwhile, the TUC Hazards magazine has highlighted the dangers to workers from Chancellor Brown’s ‘light touch’ proposals for health and safety.

It said: ‘In the week after safety minister Lord Hunt launched an online Health and Safety Executive (HSE) debate about “the causes of risk aversion in health and safety”, a series of tragedies have highlighted a far more pressing problem – deadly risk tolerance by employers.

‘On the day after the debate was launched, four defendants were fined a total of £80,000 at Reading Crown Court, following the deaths of two Polish migrant workers on a Berkshire fruit farm.

‘Harry Hall and his father Mark, directors of Hall Hunter Partnership (Farming) Ltd, were found guilty of safety offences after the two men died a horrific death when they became entangled between a rope and a rotating shaft while using a tractor-mounted machine to wind up the long lengths of rope used to secure polytunnels.

‘Judge Jonathan Playford QC, said: “In relation to Hall Hunter Partnership, no adequate risk assessment had been carried out and it was particular to the partnership to address this problem because they had 300 workers, many of whom were students and many from abroad who may not have had full understanding of safe working practices.”

‘The day the risk aversion debate was launched, Graeme Wallace, who operated an Interlink Express depot, was fined £4,000 with £2,000 costs after a worker was seriously injured in a forklift accident.

‘Wallace had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment.

‘Also this week, Paul’s Cash & Carry in Sutton was fined almost £18,000 after it was prosecuted for safety breaches after an employee fell from a wooden ladder.

‘The court was told risk assessment procedures were inadequate and had not been reviewed for 10 years.

‘Mondi Packaging (GB) Limited was fined £16,000 on 18 July following an accident in which an employee suffered serious burns after trapping his hand in a machine. It had failed to complete a risk assessment.’

The Health and Safety Executive (North East commentary on the forklift accident case said: ‘The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning companies to ensure workplace transport is managed safely after a worker was seriously injured during an unsafe loading operation.

‘Logistics firm, GeoPost UK Limited was ordered to pay £6,000 in fines and costs at North Tyneside Magistrates Court on 13 July 2005 after being found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) after it failed to ensure the safety of its employees at a depot in Longbenton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

‘The HSE prosecution followed an investigation into an incident at the Interlink Express Parcels depot in which 58-year-old HGV driver, John Slone, suffered serious injuries, including a crushed vertebrae and several broken ribs.

‘Mr Slone, who was working for GeoPost at the time of the accident, was helping to unload parcels from his lorry.

‘The delivery also included a number of roll cages, which were being unloaded using a fork-lift truck driven by the depot’s manager Graeme Wallace.

‘However, as he attempted to remove one of the cages, it became unstable and fell from the lift-truck’s forks, striking Mr Slone.

‘In addition, the HSE investigation found that Graeme Wallace, who operated the Interlink Express depot as part of a franchise, had failed to ensure the safety of drivers visiting the site.

‘In particular, he failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment for loading operations and he had no formal training in driving the forklift truck.

‘As a result, Mr Wallace, was charged with breaching Section 3(1) HSWA, and was fined £4,000 with £2,000 costs at the same hearing.

‘Speaking after the case, Richard Bishop, HSE investigating Inspector, said: “This was a very serious accident to a long-standing GeoPost employee which could well have had a fatal outcome.

“As it is, Mr Slone sustained major injuries, and continues to suffer from their effects.

“This accident underlines the need for employers to have safe systems of work in place for vehicle loading and unloading operations, for example, segregating pedestrians from areas where vehicles operate, and the importance of monitoring these systems to ensure that employees are working safely.

“Furthermore, where more than one organisation is involved, good communication and co-operation is essential.” ’