Risks 324 – 22 September 2007

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Number 324 - 22 September 2007

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hazard warning signEditor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 15,000 subscribers and 1,500 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 and Privacy statement .

UNION NEWS OTHER NEWS RESOURCES INTERNATIONAL NEWS EVENTS AND COURSES USEFUL LINKS
UNION NEWS
Protect the health of health workers

The government must do more to protect the health of the nation's health workers, delegates to TUC agreed last week. A Society of Radiographers (SOR) resolution carried at TUC's annual congress expressed 'concern the negative effect that constant organisational change, the threat of redundancy, vacancy freezes and working in a target-driven environment is having on the health and welfare of NHS employees.' It added 'that stress, bullying, violence and musculoskeletal disorders are rife in the NHS which, unsurprisingly, correspond with high levels of sickness amongst NHS employees.' SOR health and safety officer Kim Sunley commented: 'It is no surprise that NHS employees are leaving the service because they are suffering from high levels of stress related illnesses.' She added: 'The government do not seem to understand that unwell and unhappy workers are not going to deliver public service reforms effectively. It is in the employer's interest to look after their workers, but the government consistently fails to see the obvious benefits. We need a pro-active, well-staffed and holistic occupational health service that promotes preventive strategies and effective rehabilitation.' Unite delegate Sally Tattershall warned that hasty and ill-thought out NHS reforms were wreaking a grisly toll on the health of health workers. She said 'one of the bitterest ironies of the health service' was 'that those employed to safeguard the health of us all are themselves forced into ill-health by cruel working conditions, stress, long hours and bullying.'

Call for more physios to help workers

Workplace strain injury victims are being let down by a shortage of physiotherapists - yet most physio graduates are out of work. Physio's union CSP says just 24 per cent of physio graduates who could be treating patients have a job. It says a CSP analysis of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures shows that 437,000 people in Great Britain suffer from work-related back pain, with 70,000 new cases recorded last year. CSP says studies show early access to physiotherapy is vital in helping people injured at work make a swift return to employment, but adds that pressure on physio services, made worse by the lack of jobs for juniors, could mean injured workers face increasing delays in accessing treatment. It warns this could see a growing number of people developing long-term conditions and ending up on incapacity benefit. CSP chief executive Phil Gray said junior physios 'are desperate to put their skills to use and this move would enable them to play their part in relieving the pain and suffering of a broad range of patients, including those who've been injured at work and need help returning to the job market.' CSP says the highest rates of work-related back pain are seen in skilled agricultural workers, such as farmers, who are four times more likely to develop the condition as corporate managers. Other jobs with high rates include skilled construction workers, such as bricklayers and plumbers, and health and social welfare professionals, including nurses and midwives.

Finger injury leads to payout

A poorly training packaging worker who suffered a serious finger injury has been awarded a £5,500 payout in a union backed case. Unite member Ian Brown, 25, suffered the injury when his finger became trapped in a machine that had no protective guard in place. At the time of the accident, he was employed by Ebbw Vale-based Cardinal Packaging Ltd. He had been attempting to adjust the tension on a paper rolling machine. There was no guard on the machine and his left ring finger became trapped between two rollers. His finger required a skin graft. Andy Richards, Wales regional secretary with Unite, said: 'Mr Brown had received no formal training and had not been shown any safe working procedures to handle the paper rolling machine properly. In any circumstances where employees are required to work with potentially dangerous pieces of equipment, they must receive proper training and suitable protection from the risk of injury.' Petra Williams of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Mr Brown for Unite, said: 'Mr Brown suffered a painful injury which required immediate and ongoing medical attention. He was off work for 11 weeks. The accident has left him with nerve damage in his finger and it's unlikely that he will ever regain full sensitivity in it.'

Photographer sues Met over demo assault

A press photographer who was assaulted by police while covering an anti-war protest outside parliament is pressing charges against the Metropolitan Police. Acting on behalf of the photojournalist and NUJ member Marc Vallée, law firm Hickman & Rose has served papers on police commissioner Sir Ian Blair for 'battery' and breaches of the Human Rights Act, relating to freedom of expression and assembly. The NUJ has describe the police treatment of Marc Vallée as 'disgraceful'. The Met says it is looking into his claims. 'The police have yet to apologise for or offer any explanation of the actions taken by officers,' the NUJ said on its website. Acting for Mr Vallee, Ms Chez Cotton, of Hickman & Rose, said her client was injured by officers, despite being lawfully present to photograph the protest in October 2006. The injuries required immediate treatment by ambulance staff and further treatment at St Thomas' hospital. 'In these circumstances it is hoped that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police will swiftly confirm that neither he nor his officers have any legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what the media record, and resolve this case urgently,' she said. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: 'We are delighted to be supporting Marc's case. He has been treated disgracefully and it is important that such behaviour is challenged and proper amends made. Key democratic principles are at stake here and we are determined to do everything in our power to make sure that Marc gets justice.' A Met Police spokesperson confirmed it has been served with notification of a legal action alleging assault and human rights infringements. 'MPS has until late October to file a defence and enquiries are continuing,' he said.

Murders of trade unionists up 25 per cent

The number of trade unionists worldwide murdered for defending workers' rights increased by 25 per cent last year. In 2006, 144 trade unionists were murdered, while more than 800 suffered beatings or torture, according to a worldwide survey by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Its report reveals a shocking increase in anti-trade union violence, with the number of murders rising from 115 in 2005 to 144 in 2006. The increase is due in part to the brutal treatment of trade unionists in the Philippines, now the second most dangerous place in the world, after Colombia. A total of 33 murders and 130 instances of trade union and human rights violations were reported in the Philippines last year. Reported anti-trade union repression represents the tip of the iceberg as the vast majority of suffering goes unreported for fear of reprisals, say the ITUC report. Colombia remains the most perilous place in the world to be in a trade union, with 78 killings reported in 2006. ITUC general secretary Guy Ryder said: 'Workers seeking to better their lives through trade union activities are facing rising levels of repression and intimidation in an increasing number of countries. Most shocking of all is the increase of some 25 per cent in the number killed compared to the previous year.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'These figures should shock. Trade unionists around the world continue to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend workers' rights. Recent developments in the Philippines are extremely worrying. British companies have long enjoyed strong trade links there. UK companies must be ready to ask questions about whether they have been complicit in the denial of basic human rights or profited from attacks on trade unionists.' He added: 'The widespread repression of trade unionists in Colombia is well known and yet still no action is being taken. The Colombian government continues to tolerate the mass murder of trade unionists by paramilitary organisations and the British government must stop funding such a corrupt and repressive regime.'

OTHER NEWS
CBI wants GP visits off the clock

Family doctors are costing business a billion pounds a year because it is so hard to see them outside normal working hours, employers have said - a claim which has been challenged forcefully by the British Medical Association. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said millions of staff were forced to take time off work to visit GPs because they could not get evening or weekend appointments. The employers' group wants patients to be able to register at more than one practice so they have access to GP services near their work as well as at home. A CBI report says each year 3.5 million working days were lost to visits to GPs - four times as many days as were lost last year to industrial action. John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: 'Good employers want employees to look after their health. But they don't want to pay for a health service that isn't flexible enough to cope with the modern world. In the 21st century it should be possible to have a doctor close to work and close to home so that we can all get on with our lives with the minimum disruption.' The British Medical Association (BMA) said the real problem was the failure of employers to provide their staff with a proper occupational health service. In a firm riposte to the CBI's claims, Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA's GPs Committee, said: 'The CBI and its members should put their own house in order before trying to heap the blame on general practice. If employees lose time from work to see their doctor it is either because they are ill and need care or because their employer has insisted they get a sick note even for a temporary illness which has passed. This abuse of the sick note system is a waste of the time of both working people and clinicians.' He added: 'If the CBI really wishes to change things for their employees, a good starting point would be to talk to the people providing care to see if things can move forward. If its members think their staff are seeking medical appointments without any real cause, that seems to point to the need for a better occupational health service. Many employers seem to regard their sick employees' time as their own. It isn't. NHS general practice is there to treat patients and their care is what comes first and last.'



Hain vows to stop site deaths surge

An action plan to cut workplace deaths and improve health and safety standards was agreed this week by representatives of the construction industry and the trade unions. Secretary of state for work and pensions Peter Hain convened the 17 September Construction Forum to address health and safety practices in the housing and refurbishment sector following a 28 per cent increase in construction deaths ( Risks 317 ). The event was attended by government, the Health and Safety Executive, trade unions, industry bodies, suppliers, contractors and health and safety campaigners. Peter Hain said: 'I am resolutely committed to halting the recent surge in construction deaths.' Commenting on the forum, he said it 'has agreed a clear framework for action to cut this appalling number of deaths and reverse this deadly trend.' The minister added: 'The construction industry must take ownership and work side-by-side with trade unions and government to take action and drive down these unacceptable deaths.' The forum agreed measures including encouraging worker involvement, ensuring all projects include trades union and worker representatives and to take steps to drive out the informal economy in the sector. Departing from the agenda, Peter Hain invited Tony O'Brien, secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, to address the meeting. Mr O'Brien told attendees site employers commonly ignore the positive impact of union safety reps on site safety. Summarising his contribution after the meeting, he told Risks: 'No protection is given to safety reps. Safety reps should be praised and used as an example to encourage more companies to support them and work with them.' He added: 'The government has shifted the onus on companies to be self regulatory with the onus being on risk assessment. Well this is not working.' Members of the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG) and Families Against Corporate Killers (Fack) joined protesters from the Construction Safety Campaign outside the talks at the Thistle Hotel in London's Charing Cross .

Recognition of union role welcomed

Unions and safety campaigners have welcomed a commitment at this week's construction safety forum to greater worker involvement. GMB national health and safety officer, John McClean, said: 'GMB welcomes that the construction industry recognises the valuable role that can be played by involving trade union safety representatives in both site planning and risk assessments. The DWP are again to look at the role of worker safety advisers, effectively roving safety reps, to evaluate how they can help in delivering peer to peer safety information and improving health and safety culture across the UK's building sites.' Hilda Palmer, a spokesperson for Families Against Corporate Killers (Fack), called for more resources for and enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive and criticised the forum's focus on voluntary action. 'One major cause of the appalling lack of safety culture on sites is employers' knowledge that they can get away with it, and so more calls for 'voluntary action' will not be enough without a credible fear that they might get caught if they flout laws,' she said. Liliana Alexa, secretary of the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG) and whose son Michael was killed in a crane collapse last year, said: 'We are obviously pleased that Peter Hain has said he won't tolerate a continued increase in construction deaths and his commitment that the forum won't just be a talking shop.' Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, welcomed the forum, but added 'we need to ensure this is not just another false dawn in the battle to save builders' lives.'

Firms fined after worker's death

Two Wiltshire companies have been fined after admitting safety breaches which resulted in the death of a worker. TH White Installations of Devizes and RF Stratton and Company, owners of Manor Farm, Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire, were each fined £35,000 and £8,000 costs. Swindon Crown Court heard that engineer Timothy Kynaston, 50, fell eight metres through a rooflight while working at the farm in 2004. He fell from a walkway which had no safety measures in place, the court was told. Mr Kynaston's brothers said the fines were 'laughable.' Speaking for the family, Marius Kynaston, 41, said: 'It is not even the salary for a year for the managing director of TH White.' He added: 'We feel the company should have been prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. We came here knowing whatever fine they got would be laughable. TH White Installations are going to make a profit of £50,000 this year, we heard. The fine is not even going to negate that profit. TH White as a company has an annual profit of £1.3 million and net assets of £13 million. £35,000 is like a drop in the ocean.' Referring to RF Stratton boss, Richard Stratton, he said: 'Mr Stratton has a turnover of £1m and net assets of £1.2 million. He is a millionaire farmer.' Passing sentence, Recorder Neil Ford QC said: 'In my judgment the risk to life or the risk of serious injury was obvious and should have been appreciated and acted upon.' He added: 'The fines imposed are not and can't be any reflection of the value of the life lost. The life lost was priceless.' He said if Stratton failed to pay the fine, he would be required to serve a 12 month jail term in default. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Andy Shaw said: 'Employers need to be aware of the dangers and take appropriate action to reduce the risks before an incident occurs.' He added: 'There is a great deal of help and guidance available to help companies get it right and a relatively small investment in good safety measures could not only save lives but also save money in the long run, especially in terms of sickness absence and enforcement action.'

BP faces court over Texas blast

Executives of UK-based oil giant BP have given evidence in a state court in Galveston, Texas, about the March 2005 blast in which 15 workers died and dozens were injured. However, former global BP boss Lord Browne will not be required to give evidence, after the company agreed to settle compensation cases with four injured workers. After days of testimony, BP agreed to make undisclosed payouts, ending the first trial over the March 2005 disaster. The firm has now reached agreements on more than 1,500 claims. London-based BP is settling lawsuits from a $1.6 billion (approximately £800m) fund set aside for that purpose. The blast led to more than 3,000 lawsuits and a record $21 million fine by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It also contributed to the early retirement of Lord Browne as chief executive of BP. Top BP management had given depositions in recent days, and lawyers for the plaintiffs were pressing to get Lord Browne to give evidence. Throughout the trial, the plaintiffs contended that BP valued profits over safety by cutting budgets for maintenance, repairs, upgrades and training in the years leading up to the explosion. BP acknowledges the budget cuts, but disputes any link between those reductions and the blast. However, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded after a two-year investigation that cost-cutting, a lack of vigilance and a lack of investment in training and mechanical integrity at the plant paved the way for disaster ( Risks 299 ). Also, a BP-convened panel led by former secretary of state James A Baker III said that even though BP increased funding for its US refineries from 2002 on, after budgets had been slashed in prior years, it wasn't enough ( Risks 290 ). USW, the union which has been strongly critical of BP's safety practices, produced an innovative online resource, allowing people to view excerpts from the court proceedings and make comments on events as they unfolded .

Woman tells of asbestos disease nightmares

A 55-year-old woman from Retford, whose father and two brothers died from asbestos related diseases, is taking legal action after discovering she has the illness pleural plaques, associated with asbestos exposure. Valerie Pask, 55, was diagnosed with pleural plaques in April 2006. Pleural plaques are areas of thick scar tissue, which form in the chest lining and diaphragm. Over time, this thickening can make breathing difficult and there is a risk of going on to develop more serious respiratory diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mrs Pask's compensation case is one of many stalled in the courts, pending the outcome of a union backed House of Lords appeal. Insurance companies won an earlier case, denying compensation to people with pleural plaques (Risks 311). Whilst pleural plaques are benign, their presence indicates exposure to asbestos, which can cause cancer, and lawyers for sufferers say the anxiety caused by knowing a malignant condition could well develop, in the future, is very real. Mrs Pask, who was exposed to asbestos when shaking dust off her insulator father and brothers' work clothing, said: 'I know now there is a real risk that I may develop a much more serious asbestos disease just like the rest of my family. I have seen, firsthand, how awful these diseases are and I am terrified that the asbestos I have been exposed to through no fault of my own will kill me. I was always a very outgoing person, but now that I have developed extensive pleural plaques I feel depressed all the time, thinking about my brothers and my father and what they went through gives me nightmares.' Other family members have also developed pleural plaques. Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos disease litigation unit at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, who is representing Mrs Pask, said: 'Mrs Pask is acutely aware that there is a risk that she may develop a more serious asbestos-related disease in the future and she has seen, at close quarters, the painful consequences for her if that were to happen.' A 2005 study linked the presence of pleural plaques to a 50 per cent higher risk of colon cancer (Risks 233).

Firms urged to give substance misuse support

Firms must do more to help staff struggling with drink and drug misuse problems, a new report has recommended. Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found 41 per cent of employers feel that alcohol misuse is a major cause of absenteeism and poor productivity. A third (34 per cent) of firms believe drugs have a similar impact. More needs to be done by firms to rehabilitate those with drug and drink problems, the CIPD said. The CIPD research, based on responses from 505 human resources professionals from firms together employing over 1.1m workers, suggested that 22 per cent of employers currently test staff for misuse of drugs and alcohol - up from 18 per cent in 2001 - with another 9 per cent planning to introduce some form of testing. Almost a third of organisations said they had dismissed employees in the last two years due to alcohol problems. And more than a quarter said that they would report staff to the police if they were found to have used illegal drugs. Of the firms quizzed, 60 per cent ban alcohol being consumed on the work premises, while 24 per cent do not allow it while entertaining clients during office work time. CIPD employer relations adviser, Ben Willmott, said the firms that helped their staff had a good success rate in getting them back to work - with 60 per cent staying with the company after overcoming problems. But only half of the employers quizzed gave access to counselling for workers fighting dependencies on drink or drugs, with just 38 per cent offering coordinated rehabilitation. He said: 'Since 2001 the number of organisations with drug and alcohol policies has remained around the same (58 per cent) and where organisations do have policies they are doing very little to actively promote them.' He added: 'Clearly drug and alcohol misuse is an issue which needs to be taken seriously. Yet only a third of employers train managers in how to manage these sorts of issues at work.' Recent studies have concluded workplace substance misuse testing is of 'minimal' use, and have backed approaches that provide assistance for affected workers (Risks 310).

Pesticides cause asthma in farmers

Exposure to several commonly used pesticides dramatically increases the risk of asthma in farmers, new research suggests. This finding stems from a study of nearly 20,000 farmers, which was presented last week at the European Respiratory Society annual congress in Stockholm. Pesticide exposure is a 'potential risk factor for asthma and respiratory symptoms among farmers,' said lead author Dr Jane A Hoppin, from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 'A history of a high pesticide-exposure event was associated with a doubling of asthma risk,' she said. 'Because grains and animals are more common exposures in agricultural settings, pesticides may be overlooked.' Of the 19,704 farmers included in the study, 127 had self-reported (doctor diagnosed) allergic asthma and 314 had non-allergic asthma. The main finding was that a history of high pesticide exposure was associated with a doubling of asthma risk, Hoppin noted. The link remained statistically significant after adjusting for a variety of potentially confounding factors including age, smoking and body weight. 'This is the first study with sufficient power to evaluate individual pesticides and adult asthma among individuals who routinely apply pesticides,' Hoppin noted. Moreover, this is the only study to date to do this for allergic and non-allergic asthma separately, the researcher said. 'Better education and training of farmers and pesticide handlers may help to reduce asthma risk,' she said.

Mum's job can affect the fetus

Workplace exposures in pregnancy can affect the health of the fetus with workers in blue collar jobs at greatest risk, researchers have found. A new study from the Universities of Birmingham and Helsinki compared the risk of low birth weight (LBW), small-for-gestational age (SGA) and pre-term delivery (PD) - all factors linked to poor infant health - of Finnish women in sectors including 'farming and forestry', 'factory, mining and construction', 'office, non-manual and service work' and women in unpaid work at home. The team found there were 'substantial differences' in the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes depending on the sector in which the mother worked. In newborns of women working in factories, mining and construction, the risk of LBW and SGA was higher compared with newborns of women not in paid employment, but there was no increase in risk of PD observed. In newborns of farmers and forestry workers, the risks of PD, SGA and LBW were all elevated. In office, non-manual and service workers, the risk estimate was lower. The authors say the evidence suggests workplace exposures may have negative effects on fetal development, but add more research needs to be conducted on the reasons why the risk is elevated in particular occupations. Certain chemical, physical and biological hazards at work are all established reproductive hazards.

  • Parvez Ahmed and Jouni JK Jaakkola. Maternal occupation and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a Finnish population-based study, Occupational Medicine, volume 57, Number 6, pages 417-423, 2007 [abstract]. OHS reps, issue 123, 13 September 2007.
RESOURCES
HSE, phone home?

How about this for a claim from HSE? 'Why not try HSE's new call back service. Just fill out the form below or simply text the keyword 'HSE' to 64446 and we'll call you back within 1 hour. If you can't come to the phone when we call back don't worry as our operators will try three times to call you. This service is available Monday to Friday between 9am to 5pm.' The service is free (although your network provider may add their own charge for a text message) and gives you the option to specify a 'language preference'. But HSE's bid to get text savvy is not quite so revolutionary as the new service alert might suggest. The service is part of its out-sourced HSE Infoline information service, not a text hotline to inspectors.

Safety goes down the YouTube

Once upon a time safety information came in warning signs and 'don't do that' blame-the-worker posters. Then came magazines, posters and websites. Now, with the emergence of VideoOSH, health and safety has joined the YouTube generation. Put together by Marc Weinstein of Florida International University's Center for Labor Research and Studies, this occupational health and safety resource has already assembled an impressive list of YouTube clips. In his introductory blurb, Marc explains: 'The VideoOSH channel is your take-off point to identify ideas, training materials, and information on occupational safety and health. Your comments are valuable as are your contributions. These contributions can be your own material or suggestions and links to new YouTube content.' You can also subscribe, so you get updates on new content. So it's interactive, it's free, it's useful and it's a lot less boring that most safety guff. Take a look.


Psychosocial risks and work-related stress

The World Health Organisation's global occupational health network (GOHNET) has in its latest newsletter turned its attention to psychosocial risks and work-related stress. The document concentrates on countries in economic transition and newly industrialised and developing countries, but has a great deal of useful information for anyone interested in these topics anywhere. Like other WHO occupational health publications, the 32-page newsletter is well referenced. The WHO occupational health webpages include earlier editions of the newsletter, factsheets, policy documents and events listings.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Australia: Work rights attack is hurting safety

There has been an alarming growth in the number of workers whose health and safety rights are at risk as a result of reforms introduced by the Australian federal government, unions have warned. National union federation ACTU says the Howard government's poorly resourced workers' compensation and inspection scheme, Comcare, it being pushed as a cut price, second class alternative to much more comprehensive state-based systems. ACTU says that last year, Comcare grew by an additional 75,000 employees and on current trends the scheme will double in size in just four years, as employers switch - growing to cover more than 560,000 workers by 2010. Unions are concerned there are reduced entitlements for workers under the federal Comcare system and that, 'with such rapid growth, there are simply not enough inspectors to ensure workplace health and safety standards are maintained.' ACTU president Sharan Burrow said on top of a federal government attack on employment rights 'workplace health and safety is in their sights too.' She added that the government drive to switch employers from state schemes to Comcare 'means fewer health and safety rights for workers and in the long term less viable state-based workers' compensation systems.' According to Ms Burrow: 'There are approximately only 50 workplace inspectors to cover all of the workers in Comcare, with some states not having even one dedicated Comcare inspector. Workers in high-risk industries such as construction and transport will receive significantly less compensation for permanent impairment injuries under Comcare and the federal government has changed the rules making it harder to claim compensation for mental stress.' She said recent changes to the Comcare scheme 'have also taken away the right of workers to run their own elections for a health and safety representative and have made it tougher for workers to access health and safety advice.' She said further erosion of workplace safety rights are planned if the current government is re-elected.

Canada: Woodworkers in major safety strike

Woodworkers in Canada are entering the third month of a safety strike and are seeking support from around the world. Over 7,000 loggers, sawmill workers and other employees of companies in the rugged coastal forest sector of British Columbia went out on strike on 21 July following inconclusive negotiations with an industry umbrella group and three firms that bargained independently. Their union, USW, says the main issues - safety, shift scheduling and hours of work and contracting out - are left over from a strike in late 2003 that was ended after only three weeks by a contract imposed by the province's right-wing 'Liberal' government. The union says as a result, safety and health suffered and over 65 forest workers have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured in the province since January 2005. In spite of this evidence and many studies showing that accidents rise and productivity falls with longer shifts, companies refuse to relinquish their government-issued right to impose irregular shifts and workdays that often total up 15 or 16 hours per day, when travel and loading time is factored in. 'Now our members are saying enough is enough,' said USW Western Canada director Steve Hunt. 'While companies neglect their operations, workers are being squeezed to the limit, trying to stay competitive with run-down sawmills and deteriorating logging equipment.' Union campaigners have leafleted building products retail giant Home Depot's stores across Canada and the US; a massive day of action is planned against Home Depot and other corporate targets on 29 September. USW international president Leo Gerard said: 'Consumers should know that Home Depot is aiding struck companies with poor worker safety records by selling these products.' The union is asking union bodies and workers worldwide to support the 'struggle for safety and dignity.' It is urging individuals to sign an online message to Home Depot's HQ supporting the strikers and their safety campaign.

Global: Steel giant signs on to safety programme

The world's largest steel company Arcelor Mittal and trade unions representing its employees from over 20 countries have announced a new and innovative approach to health and safety concerns in the company. Meeting in Montreal at the International Metalworkers' Federation's (IMF) first world conference of Arcelor Mittal and its trade unions, the company and the unions committed themselves to a joint programme of education and training to raise health and safety standards throughout the company. The new approach will see the creation of a task force of trade union and company health and safety experts from across the globe that will target plants in the group in order to work to dramatically improve their performance. IMF says through the commitment to work together unions and the company will work towards the vision of eliminating hazards. IMF general secretary Marcello Malentacchi said: 'Occupational health and safety is undoubtedly the single most important issue for working people, irrespective of which region of the world or country in which they happen to live.' Arcelor Mittal president and CEO Lakshmi Mittal added: 'We are pleased and encouraged in joining our trade unions in achieving our joint vision to be the safest steel company in the world. One of our first joint initiatives since the merger of Arcelor and Mittal was the undertaking of a global safety and health day on March 6, 2007 wherein management and trade unions from around the world simultaneously committed to achieving our safety and health goals.' The company had previously attracted criticism on safety issues, notably after a spate of deaths in Kazakhstan (Risks 310).

USA: Industry obstructs cancer progress

Documents linking industrial chemicals to cancer are being kept from the public gaze as a result of industry lobbying, a new report has claimed. OMB Watch says allegations of mismanagement, industry influence, and suppression of whistleblowers at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) are already being investigated by the US Congress, and adds its new report further documents industry's attempt to restrict access to health and safety information produced by NTP. It says the report, 'An attack on cancer research', shows how industry has 'repeatedly misused the Data Quality Act (DQA) to suppress important cancer-related information.' OMB Watch's Clayton Northouse said: "We discovered that industry has tried to use DQA to challenge every aspect of the NTP scientific review and release process.' He added: 'Special interest associations have challenged meetings, press releases, notices to study specific chemicals and other documents that are clearly beyond the parameters of DQA. Instead of seeking to improve the quality of data, the intent of these challenges seems to be to keep scientific information out of the hands of health professionals and government decision-makers.' The report documents how the latest Report on Carcinogens (RoC), a key resource on cancer risks, has been delayed for more than one year due to 'numerous frivolous DQA challenges'. OMB Watch says the industry challenges do more than impede the flow of critical information to those who need it. The complaints also use up valuable staff time that should instead be used researching potential cancer-causing agents and safeguarding public health. A 2002 report in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health warned that industry was exerting a similar influence at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

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