Risks 30 - 1 December 2001

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issue no 30 - 1 December 2001

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to Owen Tudor.

Risks is the TUC’s weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 2,500 subscribers and 1,000 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer Privacy The TUC website lists future health and safety events in What’s On - new events are covered below.

Simon Jones: case now proved for corporate killing law

The Director of Public Prosecutions and the TUC have both called for a change in the law after the acquittal of agency firm Euromin and its general manager, Richard James Martell, who had been charged with the manslaughter by gross negligence of casual worker Simon Jones. Responding to the not guilty verdict, TUC general secretary John Monks said: "This is a devastating blow to Simon Jones' family and friends, and it is also a blow to everyone who wants to see fewer people killed at work. It puts the pressure on the government - we need a new law on corporate killing so that corporate responsibility is clear and the penalties are effective, and we need it as soon as possible." The Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, QC, repeated his call for a change in the law, adding that manslaughter by gross negligence, or "corporate manslaughter," is currently 'notoriously difficult to prosecute'. Euromin was fined £50,000 for safety offences (with costs of £20,000) relating to the death of Simon, who died on 24 April 1998 on his first day working at the dock. In passing guilty verdicts on charges relating to Euromin's duty of care, the judge described Euromin's and Mr Martell's attitude to safety as "absolutely deplorable."

Workers’ death costs employers a million

Two major construction companies were told to pay over £1m in fines and costs after health and safety failures resulted in the deaths of four men when a gantry over the Avonmouth gorge collapsed. In sentencing, Costain Ltd and Yarn Ltd (formerly Kvaerner Cleveland Bridge Ltd), Mr Justice Owen said there had been a 'blatant disregard for basic health and safety legislation over a long and sustained period of time.' Each company was fined £250,000 after admitting breaching health and safety regulations. The companies also have to pay costs totalling £525,000. The families of the four men said they were 'disgusted' by the penalties. Bob Blackman, national secretary for construction at the Transport and General Workers Union, backed the calls, said: 'the time has come for the Government to act and introduce tough measures on corporate manslaughter.' The families have begun civil proceedings against the two companies, supported by the GMB trade union, which condemned today’s 'weak penalty'. GMB northern region secretary Kevin Curran said: 'ten times the fine that has been imposed would not reconcile the loss of life and the suffering that has caused.'

Tipper driver fined over death crash

A teenager tipper driver responsible for a crash that caused two deaths has been fined £1,000 and has had his licence revoked. Darren Johnson, 19, was cleared of two charges of causing the deaths of Roy Savage and Brian Hockerday by dangerous driving. But he was convicted of careless driving in both cases and fined £500 in each. During the two-day trial, Exeter Crown Court heard Johnson lost control of his tipper truck and ploughed into four oncoming vehicles. Fining Johnson £1,000 and ordering his licence be revoked until he passes a test, Judge Ian McIntosh said no amount of money would compensate the victims' families for their loss.

Contractor pleads 'not guilty' to manslaughter

A Cleveland contract firm and its managing director have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges at Teesside Crown Court. Factorycover and its boss John Elders, a former Tory county councillor, denied charges of manslaughter and two further charges of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, after an employee of the company, Robert Stanley Dawson, fell 7 metres to his death on 13 May last year. The case has been adjourned.

Safety criminals named and shamed

The HSE has published its second annual Offences and Penalties Report. The 'naming and shaming' file identifies hundreds of companies and organisations convicted of health and safety crimes during 2000/2001. HSE director general Timothy Walker said: "During 2000-2001, HSE prosecuted for a total of 2,077 offences and gained convictions for more than 70 per cent of these offences. HSE issued a total of 11,058 enforcement notices over the same period in the interest of securing compliance with health and safety law.' In 2000/2001, HSE prosecuted 1,030 duty-holders. HSE says it achieved a 72 per cent conviction rate.

MPs demand action on site 'self-employment' scam

Self-employed builders suffer the worst working conditions in Britain because current laws allow workers to be exploited, MPs have said. Recent tax law changes encouraging workers to class themselves as self-employed have led to higher level of accidents on building sites, MPs said in a debate in Westminster Hall. Ian Davidson MP said only one in 20 accidents involving self-employed builders were reported, compared with one in two for other workers. Stephen Hepburn MP called for compulsory trade union representation of all construction workers, although he conceded the idea might be "too radical" for the government. George Brumwell, UCATT general secretary said "UCATT welcomes the initiative of Michael Clapham MP in securing an adjournment debate on false self-employment in the construction industry. This marks the beginning of a campaign to end tax evasion and the culture of lawlessness that dominates the construction industry. We expect the Inland Revenue to fulfil their obligations in the same way as any other government agency and end the tax scam of false self-employment."

Rail staff win working hours cut

Members of the rail union RMT employed by GNER are to move to a 35 hour week, giving them parity with train drivers. The partnership deal means that all workers at the company will now benefit from a shorter working week. Assistant general secretary Bob Crow said that since privatisation rail companies had offered widely varied conditions of service to different groups of staff. 'The fact that drivers won a 35 hour week at the beginning of this year, when other staff groups still had to work more hours, caused a huge amount of resentment." The deal will be phased in from January next year.

T&G and HSE combine in chemical solution

Over 150 safety representatives and employers from across industrial sectors in the North West have attended a Transport and General Workers’ Union seminar to launch an HSE 'COSHH Essentials' pack designed to provide information and advice about handling hazardous substances in the workplace. T&G regional secretary Dave McCall said: 'The T&G welcomes this information pack which will help employers and unions to control the harmful effects of hazardous substances in the workplace. This is vital since there are still between 3,000 and 12,000 cases of cancer each year caused by such substances at work. At the same time, there are about 200,000 cases of other lung diseases, and 66,000 cases of skin disease each year arising from hazards at work.'

Union safety partnership wins Euro award

Partnership working between the T&G and Castleford firm Hickson & Welch has led to the chemicals company winning a major European safety award. Joint health and safety training carried out by the T&G has underpinned the company's safety drive, says the union, enabling it to turn around its safety performance. Ten years ago the site had almost one reportable accident a week, and in 1992 several employees were killed in a serious fire. T&G says the company and union 'worked together to ensure adequate health and safety training for staff, and now Hickson & Welch, can boast that it has had three years without a single day's work lost due to accidents.' The union says the award from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, one of only 17 Europe-wide, 'recognise innovative approaches to preventing accidents at work.'

Work deaths up in all major industries

Workplace deaths in all the major industries are up, latest official statistics show. Introducing the HSC annual report, the chair, Bill Callaghan said that after a general fall during the 1990s, the rate of fatal injuries rose in all main industries. Mr Callaghan said: "By working with all our partners in the health and safety system we can deliver improvements. We welcome the government's continued support for our work, and for its focus on promoting the government and the public sector generally as a health and safety exemplar." About 36 per cent of deaths occurred in the construction industry and 16 per cent were in agriculture. However, progress may be stymied in the UK’s most hazardous industry, construction, as the industry resists improvement efforts. The Major Contractors Group is still blocking plans to introduce worker safety advisers on sites, supported by HSE and unions as a measure to reduce the industry’s appalling fatality record.

  • HSE news release. Health and Safety Commission Annual Report and Health and Safety Commission/Executive Accounts 2000/2001, The Stationery Office, ISBN 0 10 291307 2. £22.50. A free summary, Highlights from the HSC Annual Report and Accounts 2000/2001 (ref. MISC 422) is available from HSE Books and on the HSE website [pdf file]

Railtrack stalls safety improvements despite deaths

Railtrack has scrapped safety revisions intended to improve the protection of track workers after deciding the changes could reduce the output of contractors. A Construction News report says the revised standard, deemed by Railtrack regional managers to be unworkable, was intended to reduce instances of maintenance and inspection staff working on lines with trains still running. The withdrawal of the revision is the second time that work to improve track-worker safety has been abandoned. Phil Dee, health and safety officer for the RMT union, said he was "extremely concerned" about the delays. He said he would be meeting with the HSE before the end of the month and pressing for action. Five track workers have died on the lines in the past 14 months.

Bar workers face serious risk from passive smoking

Bar workers take in amounts of environmental tobacco smoke over 10 times higher than the average non-smoker. Professor Martin Jarvis, from University College London, measured the levels of exposure to passive smoking amongst London’s non-smoking bar workers. He found they were subject to 'extremely high exposure' to smoke. Bar workers were about 40 times more likely to have a high exposure than non-smokers from non-smoking households, and nine times more likely than non-smokers who live with a smoking partner. Researchers took saliva samples from the bar workers to detect the levels of cotinine, which indicates exposure to nicotine. Professor Jarvis’ evidence will form part of the SmokeFree London submission to the Greater London Assembly’s 5 December session of the Investigative Committee into Smoking in Public Places.

Australia: casino union honoured for anti-smoking activism

Australian union safety campaigners have been honoured after a successful drive for smoke-free workplaces for hospitality workers. Helen Creed, state secretary of the union LHMU, accepted the award from the Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH). The union organised groundbreaking blood tests on casino workers that showed workers were affected by environmental smoke. Since the test results were made public, the Burswood casino has gradually phased out smoking. Groups of workers at other casinos have since started their own tests. Anti-smoking initiatives are gaining in popularity worldwide. This month authorities in India began enforcing a national ban on smoking in public places, with 200 people in New Delhi already fined for violating the new law. They paid out the equivalent of £1.50 each after anti-smoking squads began their campaign in the capital.

Australia: union forces re-think on asbestos

The Australian Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has decided to support the construction industry's practice of "zero tolerance" for asbestos on building sites, after a union campaign. Andrew Ferguson, state secretary of construction union CFMEU, said that it was gratifying that the unions’ campaign was achieving results.

South Africa: asbestos victims widen quest for compensation

Victims in South Africa’s biggest asbestos claim intend to target two additional companies. Although talks are continuing to settle with Cape plc, the victims have told mining company Gefco and insurance firm General Accident SA they to should pay up. Cape pulled out of asbestos mining and milling in 1979, with Gefco taking over some of the mining operations. Richard Meeran of Leigh Day & Co, the London lawyer for the 6,000 plus claimants, said Cape has indicated Gefco should be including in any compensation claim because it had also exposed the claimants to asbestos. Insurance policies issued by General Accident are thought to provide cover from 1960 to 1970. The UK Transport and General Workers’ Union, which represents Cape employees in the UK, told Cape in a 26 November letter 'to reach a settlement with the South African miners which we believe will be in everybody's interest."

Global: unions aim to isolate US chemical companies

The world's chemical industry unions have launched a new drive for a global agreement with employers on the industry's Responsible Care programme - and says it will 'name and shame' those refusing to sign. The move by the 20-million-strong ICEM chemical unions’ federation comes after a previous attempt at a deal was scuppered by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), apparently at the behest of anti-union US companies Exxon and Dupont. ICEM general secretary Fred Higgs said: "Since the Americans stalled the process, many national employers' organisations have expressed their regrets and their continued interest in the concept of a global agreement.' He added: "associations that sign up with us will be listed on our website. So, however, will those that refuse to do so. Credit will be given where credit is due, but those who are neither responsible nor caring will be named and shamed."

Global: union saves injured teenage cruise ship worker

The International Transport Workers' Federation has rescued a young Australian woman abandoned by a luxury cruise ship after she was injured at work. The nineteen-year old beauty therapist was employed on the giant new cruise liner Carnival Triumph, carrying up to 2,642 passengers and 1,100 crew from all over the world and sailing the Caribbean. With her ankle still bleeding heavily and the achilles tendon severed, the teenager was bundled off the ship in Maimi with one change of clothes and $300, and left alone on a scorching dock. Only after a call to the International Transport Workers’ Federation was she provided with legal and medical support and then transport home. Jim Given from the ITF cruise campaign office in Miami says since ITF set up its cruise campaign office in Florida in June 2000, the union has dealt with 2,000 abandoned seafarers. He adds that sexual harassment, overwork and fatigue and even suicide are common problems.

USA: workers scarred by RSI want a union

Melody Purvis’ job requires her to remove clothes, fold them, put them in a bag and throw the bag over her right shoulder to a conveyor belt above her head, a process repeated some 400 times a night. Since starting at Brylane distribution centre eight years ago, Purvis has undergone three surgeries for repetitive stress injuries. Now Purvis and her 'scarred up' workmates have turned to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), believing a union will force the company to acknowledge and remedy dangerous working conditions. UNITE organisers say workers at one of the company’s other, unionised, distribution centres have a safer environment, better pay, a pension and more paid holidays.

USA: nuclear whistleblower sacked

Experienced pipe fitter Randy Walli refused to use valves he believed were too weak for testing pipes at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. He worried the valves would burst, flooding leak-prone tanks containing millions of gallons of radioactive waste. The Department of Energy, which manages Hanford, is supposed to protect whistleblowers such as Walli. But when Walli was laid off, twice, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration twice found that he had been illegally fired in retaliation for raising safety concerns. And DOE, instead of admonishing the contractor that fired Walli and four other pipe fitters, is paying its legal costs, nearly $1 million in tax money. Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog organisation providing legal aid for the pipe fitters, said DOE’s message to contractors is "we'll support your wrongdoing."

GMB asbestos materials

A comprehensive set of the resources produced to back up the GMB 'Asbestos: It’s still a killer' initiative (Risks 29) is now available on the GMB website in pdf format.

Only newly announced events, events next week and very important events will be listed here in future. But there is a comprehensive listing of health and safety events on the TUC website - bookmark it for easy reference!

No excuse: beat bullying at work seminar, 18 December

A TUC organised seminar in London aimed at union and workplace reps, employers and managers, intended to help make everyone take workplace bullying seriously. £11.75 TUC member organisations; £23.50 employers - registration form and details.

About time: TUC conference on working time, 5 February

A TUC conference in London for trade unionists, employers, HR and personnel professionals, academics and policy makers.Keynote speakers: Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and John Monks, TUC General Secretary. The conference will be chaired by Sheena MacDonald. Application form in text and pdf versions. Union members wishing to attend this conference, please contact your head offices which are co-ordinating numbers from each union due to the limited number of places available for this conference.

Workers' Memorial Day 2002, 28 April

TUC is planning to highlight occupational health, including access to occupational health services, and rehabilitation. Ask your union for details of Workers’ Memorial Day events or organise your own. Hazards magazine round up of Workers’ Memorial Day resources.

European Week of Health and Safety 2002, 14-21 October

Next year’s week will take place in Britain from 14 October, on the theme of stress.

Visit the TUC health and safety website or the main TUC website pages on health and safety. See what’s on offer from TUC Publications and What’s On in health and safety.

TUC courses for safety reps

January to March:

South East Wales North West South West East Midlands West Midlands Scotland

September to December:

Wales Scotland Southern and Eastern (plus COSHH Essentials courses) South West North West Northern Yorkshire and Humberside

Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.

What’s new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.

HSE Books , PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995.

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