Risks 32 - 15 December 2001

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issue no 32 - 15 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.

Court blocks asbestos compensation

Thousands of people who are dying from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma may not receive any compensation following a court ruling. The Court of Appeal upheld a previous High Court judgment that compensation could not be paid in a case where a worker was exposed to the deadly dust by more than one employer - the case for many workers, particularly in the high risk construction trades. Responding to the judgment, George Brumwell, general secretary of construction union UCATT, said: "It lets off scot-free employers who negligently expose workers to this killer dust, just because we can't identify which single fibre has caused the cancer." The appeal was lodged by the widow of Arthur Fairchild, a member of UCATT who died in 1996. The case was against Leeds City Council and Waddingtons, who exposed him to roughly the same amount of asbestos, so neither could be held mainly responsible. General union GMB also condemned the court decision.

TGWU's safety fears borne out by river crash

Confident claims by Associated British Ports (ABP) that 'at no point will safety be compromised' during strike action by the Humber Pilots ran aground within hours of the start of the strike. The Rolf Buck, the first boat to be piloted under ABP's alternative arrangements, crashed into a stationary ship, holing both ships. According to a spokesman for the TGWU, the incident could and should have been avoided had the pilot of the Rolf Buck been properly trained. However, the embarrassment for ABP has intensified with the revelation that the pilot of the Rolf Buck is one of the team leaders and key trainers of pilots for ABP. The TGWU has consistently warned that the contested training moves proposed by ABP would compromise safety (Risks 31). The union now says 'serious questions must be asked about the nature of training being considered by the company.'

Westbury worker dies after firm snubs union

A man was crushed to death at Westbury’s Birmingham manufacturing plant just weeks after the house builder snubbed a safety meeting with construction union UCATT. Union officer Joe Cairns had written to the firm asking to discuss health and safety issues and terms and conditions. But Westbury’s human resources manager Keri Ashton’s reply said the company 'is a single status manufacturing facility with good industrial relations based on mutual trust and respect, and employment procedures modelled on best practice. To this end there is no perceived need to progress a partnering arrangement. Due to this I feel that it is inappropriate to arrange a meeting with yourself or a representative from UCATT.' The union’s regional secretary, Trevor Vernon, said: 'Nobody knows whether this accident could have been avoided if we had gone in to speak to them, but the whole attitude of the company was very anti-trade union.' Production at the plant has been suspended while the HSE investigates the incident in which an unnamed 48-year-old worker was crushed to death.

Safety strike closes hundreds of offices

Tens of thousands of workers walked out of benefits offices and Jobcentres on 12 December in a 48 hour strike over fears that the new Jobcentre Plus offices are not safe. Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) will take up to five days’ strike action every month until management guarantee their safety at work. Mark Serwotka, general secretary elect, said: 'Today, tens of thousands of civil servants lost a day's pay to try and protect themselves from assaults at work, despite threats from management that they could lose maternity pay, holiday pay, temporary promotions and other benefits.' He said management 'can no longer ignore the fears of staff that have driven them to this mass action.'

'Don't have a go' says union after stabbing

'Don't have a go' was the emphatic message from shopworkers’ union Usdaw after a supermarket worker was stabbed and seriously injured by a teenage shoplifter. Bakery section manager Nick Sanderson was knifed four times in the back when he confronted the shoplifter outside the Tesco supermarket in Ilkeston. Usdaw deputy general secretary John Hannett said: 'Supermarkets and other retail outlets should employ trained security staff to handle shoplifters and although one would expect sales staff to alert them, they should under no circumstances get physically involved themselves.' He added: 'we have always been in favour of closed-circuit TV, both in shopping streets and in stores, which we believe is the greatest deterrent to opportunist thieves, who often steal to fuel a drug habit.' Doctors said Mr Sanderson’s injuries are not life-threatening.

Union turns up the heat on cold classrooms

Teachers should not face freezing classrooms in the New Year, teaching union ATL has said. 'In many educational establishments, the start of the New Year often results in a return to classrooms which either have inadequate heating or no heating at all,' a union guide says. 'In extreme cases, it may become necessary to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for enforcing health and safety law. ATL can contact the HSE on behalf of members if the employer/headteacher/ principal is acting unreasonably. With a little forethought, many educational establishments can take prompt measures to ensure that staff and students are both warm and comfortable during the winter months.'

HSE calls for new line in call centres

New advice including a call for regular rest breaks is being issued to call centre inspectors and employers following an in-depth study of working practices in the industry. The expanded HSE advice now includes new guidance on verbal abuse, stress, good practice on length and frequency of breaks with a recommendation of at least five minutes off every hour, and hearing problems. John Monks, TUC general secretary, said good practice meant 'more breaks, less pressure, and union safety reps who can make sure workers' voices are heard, not just the callers!' Sarah Veale, TUC's senior employment rights officer, said: 'there isn't so much a need for more regulation but there is a need for better enforcement.' And Nigel Bryson of the GMB union, said: 'we hope that progressive employers will see the benefits of a partnership approach in addressing key issues such as shiftwork and breaks.' Mr Bryson added: 'with an estimated 20 to 30 per cent staff turnover rate in call centers, employers cannot afford to ignore the unique expertise that trade union safety representatives bring.'

Tube privatisation safety clearance will arrive late

The government's plans for a public-private partnership for London Underground were put in further doubt when it emerged that safety chiefs were unlikely to clear the project for its scheduled start date next year. The HSE is ‘highly unlikely’ to accept the revised safety proposals for the PPP in time for the 1 April deadline set by ministers, reported The Independent newspaper. A final version of the post-privatisation safety plan is not now expected to be ready until late this month or January. On-site inspections and other checks mean that the HSE may not approve it in time for April. Risks reported last week that a newly approved Tube safety case would not apply if any services were privatised (Risks 31).

Silicon Glen study spots high factory cancer rates

Elevated rates of four cancers have been found among workers and former employees at a National Semiconductor plant in Scotland. A study by the HSE has suggested the higher incidence might be work related. HSE agreed to undertake the study following claims by a group of women workers that cancers were linked with their work at the Greenock factory. Higher than expected levels of four cancers - lung, stomach and breast cancers in female employees, and brain cancers in males - were uncovered by the researchers. HSE said the results are 'inconclusive' and that more research is needed. Earlier this year it was revealed that National Semiconductor had spied on health campaigners and had used company ringers and a media dirty tricks campaign in an attempt to discredit them.

  • HSE news release and BBC online. Cancer among current and former workers at National Semiconductor (UK) Ltd, Greenock: results of an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive ", ISBN 0717621448, £7.50, from HSE Books or full HSE report free online [in pdf format]. Production lies - US chip firm's secret PR strategy, Hazards magazine.

Insurance snub for construction contractors

Contractors will face an uphill struggle to get insurance cover next year as underwriters turn their backs on the construction sector. Trade journal Construction News reports 'high risk' businesses like civil engineering, demolition and scaffolding will be hardest hit as insurers pull out of the market or hike premiums by up to 100 per cent. The industry's poor health and safety record is being blamed for the premium rises. Ken Urquhart, director at broker Urquhart Turl, said: 'insurers are finding it difficult to budget properly, especially when they are taking premiums today but having to pay claims 10 years later. Contractors, particularly smaller ones, have to take their health and safety responsibilities very seriously.' Many firms are due to renew their policies on 31 December.

Sleep crash driver faces jail

The judge in the Selby crash trial says it is inevitable Gary Hart will receive a substantial prison sentence. Mr Hart’s vehicle stopped on rail tracks when he allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, leading to a derailment and 10 deaths. Hart was found guilty on all ten counts of causing the deaths of ten people in the crash on 28 February. The jury in the Selby crash case had previously heard how Hart, 37, drove having had no sleep all night. The prosecution alleged that he fell asleep at the wheel. A study conducted by the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University of Technology, found that the total time the sleep-related accident driver had spent behind the wheel was not as important as the amount of sleep.

Global: Flexibility causes problems for construction

Decades of flexible labour market policies have had such a profound impact on conditions of work in the construction sector that the industry is having great difficulty attracting new recruits, according to a report from the International Labour Office. ILO says the ‘outsourcing’ of labour has had 'a profound effect on occupational safety and health, wages, training and the level of skills, which has fallen in some countries.' It says that the subcontracting trend is most apparent in Spain and the UK. Most UK firms rely on nominally self-employed labour, with the percentage of self-employed workers in construction having doubled from 30 to 60 per cent of the workforce between the mid 1970s and 1995. Surveys of UK building sites have found as many as five tiers of subcontracting.

  • ILO news release. The construction industry in the twenty-first century: Its image, employment prospects and skill requirements, ILO, ISBN 92-2-112622-6. ILO background documents including a pdf version of the full report

South Africa: Asbestos victims welcome £18 million offer

Asbestos victims in South Africa’s Northern Province have welcomed the offer of R300 million (£18 million) in compensation from the British-based manufacturing company Cape plc. Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the Premier of the province, says the first installment of R150 million will be released in the next few months to 7,000 victims in the Northern Province and the Northern Cape. He cautioned that it would not be possible to finalise payment dates before an agreement is reached between the British and South African governments over the payment of legal fees, estimated at over £3.5 million. While each South African victim stands to receive a settlement in the region of £2,000, asbestos victims in wealthier nations can sometimes receive considerably more. US asbestos cancer victim James C.Crawford was this week awarded $8 million in compensatory damages and $7 million in punitive damages by a jury, a total of $15 million or £10.4 million. His wife Terry was awarded $1 million (£700,000).

Europe: Big grants to cut accidents in small firms

Six European trade union organisations are among the recipients of the European Agency’s €4.5 million (£2.8 million) grant scheme aimed at cutting accidents among European small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). A total of 51 projects - 16 European and 35 national - will receive grants ranging from €25,000 (£15,500) to €190,000 (£118,000) under the scheme. Successful union bids included projects proposed by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) which involve the TUC. The scheme provides co-funding for initiatives that encourage SMEs to adopt good occupational safety and health practice. This could be through training, information campaigns or the development of effective health and safety practices, focusing on priority hazards and high-risk sectors.

  • Government websites on small firm health and safety from the UK, Australia and USA

Australia: Casino workers on verge of smoking ban

Gaming venues in the Australian state of Victoria could be smoke-free by July 2002 following a long campaign by LHMU, the union representing casino workers. The Victorian state health minister John Thwaites has met with LHMU officers to discuss the casino workers' campaign to have smoking banned in the workplace. LHMU casino union state secretary Brian Daley said union members would no longer tolerate passive smoking: 'anything less than a timetable for phase-out will be unacceptable,' he said. 'Our call will be the 1st of July next year.' The union says about 1,500 hospitality workers have signed a passive smoking register.

Northern Ireland: Safety blitz stops danger jobs

The Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) has completed its fourth construction site safety blitz of the year to crack down on site deaths and falls from height. Inspections were carried out over a four-day period to 30 November with roofing contractors the main target of a province wide campaign. In the first three safety blitzes a total of 78 prohibition notices were issued at 270 sites Northern Ireland sites.

Northern Ireland: Journalists at risk

The National Union of Journalists has expressed concern over the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland, especially those who have investigated paramilitaries and alleged collusion with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. NUJ National Executive Council member Kevin Cooper said: 'the murder of journalist Martin O'Hagan in September, along with the fact that two journalists continue to be under threat means we need urgent action. It is important for all communities in Northern Ireland that journalists are free to do their work unhindered by paramilitary or state.' He is urging NUJ to seek meetings with politicians over the safety of journalists in the North of Ireland.

Stress network

The UK National Work Stress Network now has a website. Newsletters and information can be downloaded, however the network stresses it is 'a campaigning organisation, not an individual casework support group.'

BECTU health and safety bulletin

Stage and screen technicians’ union BECTU now publishes an online health and safety bulletin.

LRD bullying guide

The latest booklet from the LRD, Bullying and harassment at work — a trade unionist's guide, gives guidance on how to tackle bullying and harassment, including policies and procedures.

Australia: Union Call central e-mag

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Call Central e-mag is a free publication for call centre operators who want to know what's happening in the industry. To subscribe to the e-mag, or to send a news story, e-mail ACTU Call Central

  • Subscribe to the ACTU’s online Call Central bulletin

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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