Risks 330 - 3 November 2007

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Number 330 - 3 November 2007

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'Falls from vehicles campaign'

Hazards 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 .

SPECIAL FEATURE: Directors' Duties UNION NEWS OTHER NEWS INTERNATIONAL NEWS EVENTS AND COURSES USEFUL LINKS
SPECIAL FEATURE: Directors' Duties
Directors publish voluntary code

Company directors have published their own voluntary guidelines to good boardroom safety practice. The Institute of Directors (IoD) says the new guidance will remind directors it is their responsibility to lead on health and safety and establish policies and practices that make it an integral part of their culture and values. 'Leading health and safety at work', written by directors for directors, was published by the Health and Safety Commission and IoD last week. Supporting the new guidance, safety minister Lord McKenzie of Luton said: 'The health and safety of employees is a moral and ethical obligation for each and every employer and this must be driven home from board level. Only this way will we ensure that health and safety is taken seriously. This guidance clearly sets out the agenda for effective leadership of health and safety.' New HSC chair Judith Hackitt said: 'It is visible leadership from the top of an organisation which truly makes for an effective health and safety culture which in turn delivers good health and safety performance and much more. I am still confounded by the number of people who see 'health and safety' as a barrier to doing things, as experience and evidence shows that the reverse is true.' She added: 'This guidance makes it clear what directors need to do but it is their action and delivery which will really count'. The new HSC chair also emphasised the importance of inspection and enforcement in securing safe and healthy workplaces.

Unions want more than guidance

Unions have welcomed new guidance from the Institute of Directors (IoD), but have said there should also be legal safety duties on directors. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'The TUC welcomes anything which will help change the culture in the boardroom, and we will be strongly promoting this useful and well written guidance, however there is a limit to what can be achieved through guidance and there are some directors who will simply not take their responsibilities seriously. That is why we need a clear legal duty on directors.' Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary, said: 'Government is right to say there is an obligation on employers but instead of that being moral and ethical, in other words voluntary, it should be compulsory and enshrined in law. The frustration is ministers had a chance to tackle this but failed to act and now the HSE itself is facing possible budget cuts, which, if implemented, will mean the situation won't improve. Meanwhile, workers have continued to pay the price by being killed at work in increasing numbers.' Unite health and safety officer Bud Hudspith, who represented TUC on the panel drafting the IoD guidance, said: 'We want guilty directors in prison, and we want other individual penalties when directors and senior managers fail to meet their health and safety duties.' He told Risks: 'Until health and safety duties on directors become a reality, Unite welcomes the approach identified by HSC chair Judith Hackitt. She has said HSE inspectors will be trained in the new guidance, will discuss it with duty holders and will use the guidance to assess the health and safety role of board members during any investigations.'

Directors must be made to be safe

Boardrooms must be compelled to take workplace health and safety seriously, a new union-backed report has concluded. 'Bringing justice to the boardroom', prepared for construction union UCATT by the Centre for Corporate Accountability, says there has been a 'complete failure' of the voluntary approach to reducing injuries and fatalities in the workplace. The report accuses the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of deliberately distorted its own research to downplay the case for binding directors' duties. It says a large number of lives could be saved every year if statutory legal health and safety duties for directors were adopted. Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'This damning report demonstrates the government's failure to introduce statutory legal duties forcing directors to take responsibility for their companies' health and safety policies, is literally costing workers their lives.' According to the report, HSE's research reveals that since voluntary guidance on directors' duties was introduced in 2001 only 44 per cent of companies have designated an individual director with responsibility for safety. It says despite this HSE has claimed 79 per cent of companies have such a director. The UCATT/CCA report says in reality this figure only applies to a few very large companies, those with over 4,000 employees. The report says when a company does take positive action at director level on health and safety, major improvements are achieved - on average this leads to a 25 per cent reduction in accidents, the report says. Michael Clapham MP, chair of the all party occupational safety and health group, welcomed the report. He said: 'This report should be required reading for all those who argued against the need to make directors directly liable for a company's health and safety failures. It is essential that parliament have the opportunity to revisit this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.'

UNION NEWS
TUC dismay at rise in workplace ill-health

The TUC has expressed dismay at new official figures showing a dramatic rise in work-related ill-health. Commenting on statistics released this week by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) which showed a 10 per cent upturn in health problems related to work, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the figures were 'very disappointing.' He said: '36 million days lost to ill-health at work is unacceptably high and this number has risen in the last year. This is bad news for everyone. Too many employers are getting off the hook because the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not have the tools to deal with the massive workplace health problems we face.' Mr Barber added: 'We share the HSE's recognition that more needs to be done on enforcement and welcome the steps that have been taken. But the HSE cannot meet their targets for reducing occupational ill-health by 2010 without a significant increase in the resources available. Instead, the HSC has had its workforce reduced and faces further cuts of up to 5 per cent for the next three years as a result of the current spending review. These spending trends must be reversed. Otherwise, employers will continue to get away with playing fast and loose with their staff's heath.' Commenting on the statistics, which showed last year over 140,000 reported workplace accidents took place resulting in employees suffering injuries such as amputations, chemical burns and fractures, new HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: 'Never mind banning conkers or Christmas decorations look at these figures, this is what real health and safety is all about.' HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger said: 'The statistics indicate that last year alone in Great Britain 2.2 million people suffered from work related illnesses and 241 people were killed at work. While workplace injuries have reduced, we lost 30 million working days due to ill-health.' Over the last two years, 2005/06 and 2006/07, HSE notices issued and prosecutions taken have been at the lowest levels for a decade, although the latest figures for both are slightly up on the preceding year. HSE said the new statistics suggested it was on track to meet its targets on fatal and major injury reductions, but was set to miss targets on work-related ill-health and on a reduction in day's lost as a result of work-related illnesses and injuries. Deaths from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma hit a record 2037 cases in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Usdaw pledges to protect shopworkers

Retail union Usdaw has pledged to protect its members from violence after the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reported a 50 per cent increase in violence against shopworkers. The BRC's annual crime survey also revealed recorded threats of violence against staff have more than doubled, the number of threats of violence has increased by one third in the past year, and the number of incidents per 100 stores has shot up by 18 per cent. Commenting on the figures, which were trailed in September ( Risks 326 ), Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'We are working with employers, staff, local authorities, the government and the police to promote local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which aim to cut crime and anti-social behaviour in the retail sector.' He added: 'The number of reported incidents thankfully remains much lower than the peak in 2003 when Usdaw launched our Freedom from Fear campaign and this is a result of the work Usdaw, the BRC and many good retail employers have done to combat the problem.' He said local partnerships of retailers, shopworkers, councils and police were being used to 'rid our shops and shopping areas of this criminal and anti-social behaviour. This not only affects retailers and staff, but customers and the wider community as well which makes it all the more important that we work together. Shopworkers deserve respect and should be able to go to work without the fear of violence and abuse.'

Metal firm pays for deafness

A worker who suffered serious hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise in a metal extrusion firm has received a compensation payout. GMB member Stuart Capell, aged 61, brought his claim after realising that his hearing had become impaired after working at Alcoa Extruded Products (UK) Ltd, of Banbury. He received a £3,500 settlement. The extrusion operative said: 'Despite the excessive noise which came from the presses and the surrounding machinery, I wasn't provided with any protection from Alcoa until the mid-80s. I realised something was wrong in November 2005, after a medical. Sadly I wasn't aware of the long term damage this could cause and I now suffer from noise induced hearing loss which affects my day to day life.' GMB's Andrea Austin commented: 'Stuart Capell is the latest victim whose hearing has been impaired for the rest of his life. Employers have been required to control noise at work for decades, and deafness has long been one of Britain's most serious occupational diseases. The latest Control of Noise at Work Regulations came into effect in April 2006. We would urge other members to come forward if they have experienced similar hearing problems as a result of noise at work.' Victoria Kingscote from Thompsons Solicitors said: "Noise remains one of the most underestimated workplace risks. Employees shouldn't see deafness as 'just one of those things'; it is usually caused - as in Stuart Capell's case - by an employer failing to provide suitable equipment and - as Stuart has learnt to his cost - has long term consequences.'

Stress lays low Edinburgh's home helpers

Scores of home helpers in Edinburgh have been signed off sick due to the stress of their jobs. An average of one in seven is absent on any given day, with stress singled out as the predominant cause. Unions say home helpers have a particularly stressful job, as they often work alone and sometimes look after vulnerable residents. The city council and public sector union UNISON now intend to examine what can be done to bring sickness levels down. Although figures have dropped steadily since March, the 13.55 per cent absence rate among the 1,200-strong workforce is considerably higher than the council's overall figure of 5.64 per cent. John Ross of UNISON told the Scotsman newspaper: 'A lot of the work home helps do is of a physical nature, such as lifting elderly residents or helping them bathe. They also do a lot of lone working, so that puts additional stress on them. They also have to make their own decisions - they haven't got peers to work off and have no direct supervision.' He said a group was being set up to look at stress levels. 'We would always like to see sickness rates lowered. The group will look to find the root cause for absences, and see if additional measures can be taken to reduce sickness levels.' The council's director of health and social care, Peter Gabbitas, said: 'Analysis of reasons for sickness absence has shown that stress is a predominant cause. The level of stress and its impact in the department is currently under investigation to find ways to alleviate the causes of any work-related stress, or to help employees deal with stress better.' Workplace health experts have dubbed the unique forms of stress in caring work as 'emotional labour', and say the problem is greatly under-estimated.

Get TUC certified online!

Experienced union health and safety reps can sign up online for TUC's premier safety qualification, the TUC occupational health certificate. The course is designed for union safety reps who have already got a fair bit of training under their belt, including TUC stage 1 and 2 health and safety courses, or eight 30-hour OCN credits with a minimum of four credits at Level 2 (24 10-hour OCN credits), or who have obtained other training to an equivalent standard. TUC says the certificate course 'will help health and safety reps become better reps by building health and safety organisation in the workplace; tackling welfare and environmental issues; deepening and extending the capacities of learners enabling them to access union health and safety posts or higher education opportunities and by developing personal/study skills, the ability to work collectively and generally improve the confidence of learners to study at a higher level.' The course is delivered over 36 weeks spread over three terms.

OTHER NEWS
Workplace health project a costly flop

A multi-million pound government funded project designed to provide advice on workplace health issues to small and medium-sized firms is failing dramatically in achieving this goal, with almost 9 out of 10 calls received not workplace health-related. Workplace Health Connect, launched in February 2006 as a semi-detached offshoot of the Health and Safety Executive, quickly attracted criticism. HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger told a May 2006 Select Committee the project 'had a problem in relation to take up'. An evaluation four months into the project found only seven per cent of calls were on workplace health issues, the remainder on safety issues already catered for by HSE awareness advisers and the HSE Infoline. Now an Institution for Employment Studies evaluation of WHC's first 16 months in operation has found 'the data demonstrates that the adviceline is primarily of interest to employers as a source of advice about safety related matters, although about 11 per cent of callers did ring with a specific health enquiry.' Advisers could only introduce health issues with callers requesting information on other issues in just over 15 per cent of cases. The report notes 'overall call levels to the adviceline remain well below the initial targets.' Just over 9,000 calls were received in the evaluation period, from February 2006 to May 2007, or about 20 calls a day. This suggests just a couple of calls each day were on a workplace health issues, WHC's key purpose. Jawad Qasrawi, manager of the two-person health and safety campaigning magazine Hazards, commented: 'We answer more health-based queries before breakfast, and we have no budget for advice work. Compared to primary care based occupational health projects and workers' health and safety advice centres like Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, Workplace Health Connect is a multi-million pound disaster and a costly flop. This money could be better targeted and much better used.'

Study shows safety specialists cut accidents

The more firms invest in safety specialists, the safer they get, new research suggests. The research commissioned by safety professionals' organisation IOSH and carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University researchers also found organisations where health and safety personnel vet sub-contractors have an accident rate almost 60 per cent lower than in those that don't. Dr Iain Cameron, Dr Billy Hare and Dr Roy Duff analysed data from 101 contractors in the construction industry collectively employing over 200,000 workers. Dr Hare commented: 'What we found particularly staggering was that, on average, the more qualified in health and safety the line manager in an organisation is, the less the accident rate. This shows that investing in health and safety training does have an impact, benefiting employees, and helping to boost productivity by reducing the considerable disruption caused by an incident causing death or injury.' Ray Hurst, IOSH president elect, said: 'Skimping on safety has a very negative human impact indeed. It's time to act now to get proper health and safety investment and training across all employment sectors in the UK.' He added 'the health and safety profession is not legally regulated, meaning that almost anyone can call themselves a health and safety expert, without any qualifications or experience. IOSH, the chartered body for health and safety, is calling for UK-wide legal minimums for all those practising as health and safety professionals.' STUC general secretary Grahame Smith commented: 'HSE research has revealed that trade union organised workplaces are safer workplaces. This new Glasgow Caledonian University research, sponsored by IOSH, now adds to the picture in confirming that organisations with line managers more highly qualified in health and safety have lower accident rates, benefiting employees and their families.'

Refinery blows one day after HSE visit

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has started an investigation into a fire at an oil refinery this week that saw flames shoot 100ft (30m) into the air. HSE specialists will sift through evidence at the Petroplus Coryton refinery, near Stanford le Hope, Essex. The explosion when the fire broke out on Wednesday 30 October caused buildings to shake 14 miles (22km) away. Managers at the refinery said the fire started after a leak of petroleum gas. Nobody was hurt in the fire. HSE inspectors had been at the site on Tuesday, the day before the fire, carrying out routine checks. An HSE spokesperson said the checks were not directly linked to the area where the fire broke out. HSE said its experts would be examining whether there were any similarities between the fire and the huge explosion at an oil storage depot at Buncefield in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, in December 2005. A liquefied petroleum gas leak was blamed for the May 2004 Stockline blast in Glasgow that killed nine. Pointing to lessons from this disaster, HSE union Prospect warned that resource cuts meant HSE inspectors could no longer undertake inspections with the required thoroughness, and were instead required to concentrate on a small number of targeted issues rather than probe all the risks ( Risks 326 ). The Swiss oil company Petroplus bought the Coryton Refinery from BP in May 2007 for £714.6m.

BP gets record fine and probation

The US Department of Justice has fined UK-based oil multinational BP a total of $373m (£182m), for breaking environmental and safety rules and committing fraud. The fines include $50m relating to the Texas refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 180 more. The total penalty is the highest fine of its kind levied under the Clean Air Act. The largest contribution relates to a price manipulation scandal between April 2003 and February 2004, over which four ex-BP workers have also been indicted. 'The tragic explosion at the Texas city refinery, and the pipeline leaks in Alaska, were sad reminders that our environmental laws exist both to protect the lives and safety of the public, and also to preserve our natural resources,' said acting attorney general Peter Keisler. 'Businesses that ignore those laws and endanger their workers and communities must be held accountable. Today's announcement shows that they will be.' BP America chair Bob Malone said the firm would look at ways of limiting further problems such as the explosion at the Texas City refinery and the leakage of oil pipes in Prudhoe Bay, in Alaska. Mr Malone explained that the company would continue efforts to stop 'another tragedy like Texas City.' He said: 'If our approach to process safety and risk management had been more disciplined and comprehensive, this tragedy could have been prevented,' adding: 'We deeply regret the loss of life, the injuries and the community disruption caused by the explosion.' As well as the $50m fine for the safety felony, the company was put on three years probation. Over this period it will be monitored by an independent body to ensure it complies with the terms of the agreement. BP was warned that it would be prosecuted should it fail to fully comply. The firm said under the agreement the Justice Department agreed not to bring additional criminal charges against BP in connection with the March 2005 explosion.

Payout after fire escape fall

A 52-year-old Huddersfield woman has received a 'substantial' sum in compensation after she plunged 12 feet when a workplace fire escape collapsed beneath her. Barbara Eastwood was working as the steward at Kirkheaton Liberal working men's club when the incident occurred. Workers had been called to look at the building's fire escape, which had previously been condemned by a local fire officer as unsafe, and were shown the way by Mrs Eastwood. She said: 'I had just stepped out on to the escape when it suddenly collapsed beneath me. I fell to the floor below and landed on my feet. I was in agony and it later became apparent that I had fractured my vertebra and smashed my right heel. I managed to return to work for a while after the fall but I needed further surgery to my heel and have not worked since.' Claire Newstead from law firm Irwin Mitchell represented Mrs Eastwood. She said: 'Following her fall at work, Mrs Eastwood, experiences constant pain in her heel, ankle, foot and back due to her extensive injuries.' She said the employer had admitted liability, which meant 'Mrs Eastwood has received a payment which will help her live as normal a life as possible from now on. This should be a warning to other employers going forward, the importance of maintaining areas where staff go is paramount and the fire escape should not have deteriorated to that extent.'

Six figure payout for devastating injuries

A painter and decorator has received a settlement worth up to £5m after safety failings led to an incident that left him with brain damage. The High Court in London heard how Alan Miah, 45, from Luton, was left seriously injured after he fell through scaffolding in October 2003. The court heard a plank 'split in half' at the site in Windsor, Berks, causing him to fall 20ft (6m) onto stone steps. Thorne Barton Estates, which employed Mr Miah, and Berkshire scaffolding firm Gemini Riteway, admitted liability. The court was told Mr Miah is reliant on a wheelchair for mobility, suffers from a personality change because of a brain injury, and needs round the clock care for the rest of his life. Thorne Barton will pay 30 per cent of the compensation and Gemini Riteway Scaffolding 70 per cent. If Mr Miah has a normal life expectancy, the damages could run to more than £5m. The settlement will see Mr Miah receive a £2.4m lump sum, as well as an index-linked annual payment of £105,000 for as long as he lives. The court was told the money would pay for adaptations to Mr Miah's home, so he could leave a nursing home where he receives specialist care. In October 2004 both companies were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. Thorne Barton Estates Ltd was fined £3,300 and ordered to pay costs of £2175.75 and Gemini Riteway Scaffolding Ltd was fined £17,000 and costs of £2036.20.

Firms fined for asbestos exposure email gaffe

Three Aberdeen firms were fined a total of £5,000 for causing workers to be exposed to potentially life-threatening asbestos. North Offshore, Jenkins and Marr and Universal Sodexho (Scotland) admitted their part in the mistake which happened during renovations of a sports club in the city. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard Universal Sodexho ran Woodbank Leisure and Conference Centre on behalf of Shell UK. Jenkins and Marr were planning supervisors, and North Offshore were the contractors who carried out the work. The court heard a pre-tender report was done by another firm in 2004 which had highlighted the potential asbestos problem. Jenkins and Marr emailed an initial report to North Offshore which did not contain this information. When Jenkins and Marr was told of the asbestos, it then emailed the report with the correct information to North Offshore, but the firm assumed it was a duplicate of the earlier email. The court heard North Offshore did not open the second email and then carried on with work to a floor which disturbed an asbestos-containing ceiling below. North Offshore and Jenkins and Marr were fined £2,000 each and Universal Sodexho was fined £1,000.

Butcher fined again for teen mincer horror

A butcher's shop and its manager have been fined for an accident in which a 15-year-old boy lost part of his arm in a mincing machine. The prosecution followed earlier fines for child labour offences ( Risks 310 ). Sam Ashworth was stuck for two hours in the machine at J and B Fitton butcher's shop in Oldham, Greater Manchester. The firm was fined £18,000 by Oldham magistrates and ordered to pay £2,140 costs. Manager Daryl Lees was fined £2,500 and £2,140 costs. The firm and Mr Lees admitted breaching health and safety legislation at the shop. John Rice, acting assistant director of environmental services at Oldham Council, said the accident was 'horrific and avoidable.' The teenager had a Saturday job at the shop when the accident happened in September 2006. Surgeons from the Royal Oldham Hospital were called to J and B Fitton to help Sam. They decided to amputate his right arm at the shop, before he was taken to hospital for further surgery. In June, both the firm and Mr Lees were prosecuted by Oldham Council because the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the council's by-laws ban schoolchildren from working in butcher's shops. At Oldham Magistrates' Court, both pleaded guilty and were each fined £750 with £200 costs.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Afghanistan: Women workers face deadly risks

Women working in four wool and fur factories in Afghanistan as dying as a result of the harsh, dusty work. Over 1,500 women work in the factories in Herat city. The workers have to separate fur from goats' hair and weave sheep's wool without protective gloves or masks. Ahmad Zia Rahmani, a lung and chest diseases specialist at the Herat city hospital, says workers in fur and wool factories are vulnerable to virulent microbes, which harm the respiratory system and cause chest infections. Many of the classic occupational diseases, including anthrax and Q fever, are associated with handling animal products. 'Sheep's wool and goats' hair usually contain harmful bacteria which can easily be transferred to a human via close contact and inhalation,' Rahmani said. Mothers who regularly breastfeed their babies and consume food at the factory can also transfer dangerous microbes to their children if they do not wash their hands with antibacterial soap, Rahmani added. In the past year, at least seven female workers have died due to respiratory and chest diseases, workers and factory officials said. According to Afghanistan's labour law, public and private employers should provide medical insurance to employees who work in hazardous environments. However, there are too many hurdles - including poor law enforcement institutions, lack of awareness about women's rights and conservative traditions - which mean there is little practical application of the law. Almost all workers in factories in Herat province have no written contract with their employers, particularly in the private sector. Workers and employers have only verbal agreements, which do not cover medical and hazard insurance.



Australia: Minister apologises to asbestos campaigner

Australia's federal health minister Tony Abbott has phoned anti-asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton to apologise for accusing him of conducting a political stunt and suggesting he is 'not necessarily pure of heart'. Mr Banton, who has suffered for years from asbestosis and was this year diagnosed with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, led a group this week trying to present a petition to Mr Abbott calling for government subsidies on a drug, Alimta, that treats the condition. Mr Abbott had said: 'Look, it was a stunt, let's be upfront about this. I know Bernie is very sick but just because a person is sick doesn't mean that he is necessarily pure of heart in all things.' The next day, Mr Abbott, facing a national media storm over the comments, said he had said sorry to Mr Banton. 'I've said I'm sorry, he accepted that apology, and he very graciously said he was sorry for exploding,' the minister said. 'I am very sorry, I am very sorry for in any way impugning Bernie's character or motives. He is a good bloke, he's passionate about the cause, it's an important cause.' The minister added: 'Certainly I think that Bernie has been a fine advocate for people who have been cut down by asbestos-related diseases.' Mr Banton called the minister 'a flea'.

Canada: Asbestos pushers face new attack

Canada's promotion of asbestos trade in the developing world is turning into a major national controversy. National press coverage has revealed the real-life circumstances of asbestos use in India, Canada's biggest asbestos client. Developing nations are the destination for over 90 per cent of Canada's asbestos exports. A devastating 'Asbestos shame' feature and photo report in Canada's top newspaper, the Globe and Mail, notes: 'It's not just that Canada is home to companies that sell asbestos abroad. The federal and Quebec governments actively promote it, spending tens of millions since 1984 to encourage the remaining markets, mainly in developing countries. Ottawa has even mobilised Canadian diplomatic staff, from Jakarta to Washington, as recently as last summer, to stand on guard against asbestos bans in the roughly 70 countries that still buy it from Canada.' This year's Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention will hear a call for a ban on asbestos exports to developing nations. CLC maintains the federal government needs to ensure safeguards are in place to help asbestos workers make the transition to alternative jobs before the mines are closed and the workers are put out of their jobs. The move to ban asbestos has the support of major unions in Canada, including the autoworkers' union CAW and public workers' union CUPE. Bob Sass, chair of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour's ban asbestos committee, said 'this is the beginning of the end of Canada's disgraceful policy of exporting asbestos to Third World countries.' A major petition to Canadian premier Stephen Harper by campaign organisation RightsOnCanada is calling for an end to Canadian support for asbestos exports and is attracting thousands of signatures. Two of the country's leading asbestos exporters this week combined their marketing efforts to 'maximise our sales and minimise our costs,' said Simon Dupéré, president of LAB Chrysotile, which operates two mines in Thetford, Quebec.

France: Action call on work-related cancers

The authorities in the French district of Seine-Saint-Denis, north-east of Paris, have issued a call for national action on work-related cancers. The petition's sponsors, which includes unions and high profile officials of public, health, research and safety bodies, claim that a manual worker between the ages of 45 and 54 is at four times greater risk of dying from cancer than a same-age top manager. 'France holds the European record for cancer deaths under 65', they say. The petition's demands include an expansion of public research on toxins, compliance by employers with health and safety laws and proper recognition of the criminal liability of employers where occupational cancers strike. The Seine-Saint-Denis district is highly industrialised and densely populated, and has one of France's highest cancer mortality rates. Europe's CAREX database shows almost a quarter of the French workforce are regularly exposed to cancer-causing substances at work - although the risk of exposure is only 3 per cent for managers. The country has been rocked by a series of occupational cancer scandals, including kidney cancers in a major chemical firm ( Risks 305 ) and a major asbestos disease campaign. A report this year concluded relatively few French workers were properly protected from workplace cancer risks ( Risks 299 ).

USA: Families demand work deaths justice

Widows, parents, children and other family members of victims of workplace fatalities and occupational diseases in the USA are demanding a 'Family Bill of Rights' to provide fundamental rights to the loved ones left behind. 'No one can bring back those we've lost, but if we can help other family members in similar situations, it makes our pain a little less,' said Tammy Miser of Lexington, Kentucky, who lost her brother, Shawn Boone, 33, in an explosion at the Hayes Lemmerz plant in Huntington, Indiana in October 2003. 'When a worker is killed on the job, the system gives special rights and responsibilities to the company and the government, but family members are left completely out of the equation.' Miser founded United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF) after her brother's death, and the organisation's members drafted the Bill. Through USMWF and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, family members are building a network of support to assist anyone touched by work-related fatalities, injuries or illnesses. The Family Bill of Rights outlines 10 simple rights that should be afforded those left behind when a worker dies on the job, including: Information on the role of official agencies in investigating the death; notifying family members of all meetings, hearings and other communication between investigators and the employer and allowing participation in such events; allowing family members the right to view all physical evidence gathered as part of the accident investigation, and ensuring that the evidence is secured from employer tampering; and involving family members in the investigation process, such as allowing them an opportunity to offer names of individuals who may have useful evidence for the investigators.

  • Family Bill of Rights news release [pdf]. The Family Bill of Rights can be downloaded from the USMWF and Defending Science [pdf] websites.
EVENTS AND COURSES
Safety enforcement and penalties conference, 19 November, London

A conference dealing with the incoming corporate manslaughter law, directors' duties and safety enforcement will take place in London on 19 November. Organised by the Centre for Corporate Accountability, the event will examine the likely impact of the corporate manslaughter law on private and public organisations and the way the new offence will be investigated and prosecuted. It will also consider directors' duties - whether the new voluntary guidance will have a positive impact on health and safety, or whether the law should be changed. The event will also consider the possible impact of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill on HSE and local authority practices. Speakers include TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, safety minister Lord McKenzie and bereaved relatives.

  • Further information. Conference registration form and agenda [pdf]. Corporate manslaughter, directors' duties and safety enforcement conference, 19 November 2007, Hamilton House, London. Cost: £50, individuals and trade union representatives; £100, public bodies; £150, Lawyers, private companies; £20, unemployed.
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