Risks 334 - 1 December 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

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UNION NEWS
TUC says sort out work hazards not workers

Many employers have a healthier appetite for addressing their employees' diet, exercise and smoking habits than addressing the work-related causes of ill-health, the TUC has said. It says if firms really want to improve the health of their workforce, they should address problems like stress and poor office design that are really making their staff ill. In a TUC submission to Dame Carol Black's review of the health of the working age population (Risks 332), the TUC adds that employers' attempts to encourage healthy living are most effective when they look at how work can contribute to or cause lifestyle problems. It also warns against employers moralising over lifestyle issues, like drug and alcohol use. Providing support for any worker with an addiction problem that is affecting them or their work is laudable, it says, but warns employers should not be attempting to interfere in what employees do outside the office if it has no bearing on what goes on at work (Risks 332). Although healthy food in staff canteens, subsidised gym membership or access to counselling for those with drug or alcohol problems are to be encouraged says TUC, lunchtime yoga classes are no substitute for reducing stress in the workplace. And while access to fresh fruit is a good thing, it won't be of much use to employees who never get to take a lunch break, nor will gym access be a benefit to those who work late night after night. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The workplace can, like any other environment, be a useful place to encourage people to make healthy choices, but it must be done in a non-judgmental way. Employers should be creating opportunities so that staff can make healthier choices should they so chose, rather than try to force them to adopt a particular lifestyle that has no bearing on how they do their jobs.' The full TUC response covers issues including prevention, sickness absence and access to occupational health provision and rehabilitation.

Long hours working on the rise again

A culture of working long hours is on the rise once more in the UK after a decade of gradual decline, according to figures published this week by the TUC. More than one in eight of the British workforce now work more than 48 hours a week, the maximum allowed under the law unless workers agree to waive that limit. The proportion rises to one in six in London. The 48-hour ceiling was introduced as a health and safety measure, as long hours have been linked to increases in both workplace injuries and a range of work-related health problems. The figures, extracted from the latest Labour Force Survey, show the UK's working hours are among the longest in Europe. While the law protects people against an average working week of more than 48 hours unless they opt out of working time rules, the TUC says a lack of enforcement means bad employers know this is one employment right they can breach with little or no risk of any consequences. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'These are very disturbing numbers. They suggest that the slow, but at least steady, decline in those working more than 48 hours a week has come to an end.' He added: 'Neither the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nor local authorities who share responsibility for enforcement have the resources to implement the law. And the government knows that employers can abuse the opt-out as ministers consulted on ways to close loopholes in 2004, but have yet to bring forward any concrete proposals for change. The current discussions on how best to protect vulnerable workers and enforce existing rights must include working time rights and closing the loopholes that make a voluntary opt-out a joke.' The TUC says that these official figures underestimate long hours working as the sample on which the survey is based is unlikely to include a proper share of migrant workers and excludes those who live at their place of work, such as some hotel and care staff who work long hours. HSE's enforcement database records just two successful prosecutions for breaches of the 1998 Working Time Regulations.

Dirty ambulances spread deadly infections

Dirty ambulances could help the spread of MRSA and other superbugs, health service UNISON has warned. A recent investigation carried out by the union discovered the cleaning of ambulances is haphazard and inadequate in some parts of the country, the union said. 'Ambulance cleanliness is a key factor in the battle against healthcare-related infections and the standards laid down should be strictly applied and monitored,' said UNISON's national officer for ambulance staff, Sam Oestreicher. 'The government recently announced extra money for deep cleaning hospitals, but ambulances seem to have been forgotten. They are part of the patient care package and no one should have to travel or work in a dirty ambulance.' Ambulance crews report they don't get time to check the vehicles, let alone clean them, said UNISON, adding the vehicles are never deep cleaned. If the crew know a patient is infected with Clostridium difficile, the ambulance will at best only get a quick mop out. Targets, time and money pressures are the reasons given by ambulance crews for the widespread differences in cleaning practices across the country, it said. UNISON points to the London Ambulance Service as an example of good practice. It has on-site cleaners who work throughout the night to deep clean and routinely clean the fleet. They also restock ambulances with fresh kit, taking away the need for crews to spend time washing and restocking vehicles. Crews bring in a dirty vehicle and swap to a clean one. UNISON says existing voluntary guidelines should become mandatory standards. 'The guidance on ambulance infection control is comprehensive, but in practice the essential resources necessary to keep vehicles clean and infection free are not being provided,' Mr Oestreicher said.

UNISON lays down the law on violence

UNISON has issued new guidelines showing how workers can use the law to prevent assaults, convict offenders and sue employers for compensation. UNISON Scottish organiser Dave Watson outlined four different legal options for staff faced with violence in the workplace. Research shows that many employers are failing to address the problem, he said: 'Therefore, we need to look at other measures we can take to protect members.' UNISON in Scotland has identified a number of legal avenues workers can use: Pursuing criminal prosecutions against assailants - for assault or for harassment; suing employers or assailants for civil damages; and using health and safety legislation to make employers carry out proper risk assessments and take measures to prevent attacks. 'While compensation and prosecution claims don't by themselves prevent the violence, there is considerable evidence that the threat of claims has reduced the incidence of abuse,' Mr Watson said.

Site unions warns of bogus self-employed dangers

Construction unions have warned the government about the dangers of bogus self-employment. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie told a select committee the exchequer was losing around £5bn a year through bogus self-employment - the equivalent of 20 new hospitals. Workers miss out on holiday and sick pay, industrial injury and disease benefits and other employment rights. Giving evidence to the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) select committee this week, Mr Ritchie warned that if mistakes already made at the Olympics were not corrected, then it could create 'an industrial relations disaster' in the future. Mr Ritchie said that it was important that the ODA had committed them to undertaking the 'ethos' of direct employment on the Olympic project, which will involve 10,000 or more workers at some stages. However this commitment to direct employment was not as strong as at the highly successful Heathrow terminal 5 projects. The BERR select committee is midway through a major investigation into the construction industry. Bob Blackman, national secretary for construction with Unite's TGWU section, commented on the rise in accidents suffered by self-employed workers, particularly in the refurbishment sector. Both unions also warned many migrants were classed as self-employed and were at risk of exploitation. During his evidence session Mr Ritchie estimated around 350,000 migrants are employed in the construction sector. He renewed the call for the Gangmasters Licensing Act to be extended to the construction industry, to end the widespread exploitation of vulnerable, mainly migrant, workers ( Risks 323 ).

Rail union warns against dangerous cutbacks

Network Rail's renewals contracts should be brought back in-house, a move rail union RMT says could deliver efficiency savings without undermining growth or compromising safety. Simply squeezing budgets will only undermine safety as well as growth, RMT said. The union added that improved punctuality figures released last week 'had been achieved thanks in no small part to bringing most maintenance back in-house' and called for and end to the damaging 'contract culture' in the industry. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Spending targets have already been pared to the bone, and looking for further efficiency savings by squeezing from the top and seeing what comes out at the bottom is wrong-headed and dangerous.' Half-year pre-tax profits increased 4 per cent to £780m the new figures show. Mr Crow added: 'Network Rail's own investigation into the Grayrigg disaster has already highlighted problems caused by budget cuts, lack of resources and the imposition of increasingly unrealistic workloads on the people who get out there and do the work (Risks 322). Failure to stem the steady stream of runaways operated by a myriad of private contractors has also highlighted the need for Network Rail to take proper control of all railway assets' (Risks 331). Mr Crow concluded: 'Reducing the number of main contractors doing renewals work was a nod in the right direction, but the clear benefits of bringing most maintenance functions back in-house need to be rolled out across the piece. As matters stand we still have a dangerous muddle of huge contractors, subbies, agencies and one-man-and-a-dog outfits raking it in at the public's expense, and if we're looking for efficiency savings, that's where they are to be found.'

OTHER NEWS
TUC scathing on new safety laws review

The TUC has said the government should stop pandering to negligent law-shy employers, and instead put its focus on protecting vulnerable workers from illness and injury. The comments came after Chancellor Alistair Darling this week launched a 'major review' of safety laws, 'focusing on small and low risk businesses.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'The TUC believes that the purpose of health and safety regulation is to protect the vulnerable from injury or illness caused by their employers' negligence. As such they must apply equally to all employers, both large and small.' He added: 'Britain's health and safety laws are remarkably simple yet a majority of small businesses have not done even a suitable risk assessment as required in law. This is not down to the regulations being unsuitable for small businesses it is because of the lack of enforcement and the priorities that the employers have given to protecting their staff. The TUC has been very supportive of the work the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has done to simplify regulation without reducing the level of protection. We believe that, coupled with greater information, guidance and enforcement, is the way forward. Increasing the resources available to HSE to deal with breaches of the regulations would do far more good than simply reviewing how they are applied.' Chancellor Alistair Darling launched the review in a speech this week at the CBI conference. Thirteen years ago a review conducted by the Tories found there was no case for health and safety deregulation. An HSE study published in May 2004 reported over three quarters of businesses believed health and safety did not hamper their business and a similar proportion said it was actually beneficial. An October 2006 TUC report noted there are fewer than half the workplace safety laws there were in 1970 ( Risks 280 ).

Controversy over mental health measures

The government will treble the number of employment advisers in GP surgeries and pilot a new £8m advice and support service for smaller businesses as part of a new approach it says will help people with stress and other mental health conditions find and keep work. Announcing the initiative this week, which includes development of a 'National Strategy for Mental Health and Work', work and pensions secretary Peter Hain said: 'People suffering from mental health conditions often experience problems in finding and keeping work, and mental ill-health is now the biggest single cause of both absence from work and incapacity benefit claims. In fact, around 40 per cent of people currently receiving incapacity benefits are doing so because of mental ill-health.' Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health, said: 'This package is designed to help people keep well and in work, which will ultimately save businesses huge amounts in sick leave and contribute to a better quality of life for those who may have otherwise had to give up work.' The drive to get people with mental health problems off benefits and into work has been criticised by mental health charity Mind. Commenting last week on the new incapacity test to be introduced in October 2008, policy director Sophie Corlett said there was a danger that those forced to return to work prematurely would see their health deteriorate, meaning that 'their chances of working actually diminishes' (Risks 333). She added: 'Unfortunately, many employers are still not very understanding about mental health problems. We fear that thousands of people with mental health problems will be under pressure to take up inappropriate work and risk becoming ill again. They will find themselves caught in a devastating cycle where they are turfed out of their new job and back onto benefits. This won't be good for the individual's health or for the economy.'

Study exposes cancer control complacency

A disastrous failure by chemical firms and the Health and Safety Executive to control one of the best-known workplace carcinogens has been revealed by an HSE survey. HSE assessed occupational exposures to the industrial chemical MbOCA, which can cause bladder cancer and has been linked to other cancers, and found controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) were inadequate, training was poor and exposure levels were unacceptable. 'About 75 per cent of company risk assessments were insufficient and unsuitable,' it said. Earlier interventions to reduce risks had worked 'but the exposure control measures then implemented by the industry were not sustained,' the study found. HSE site visits to MbOCA users had 'provided evidence of poor exposure control with the increased risks of ill health,' but despite being known to HSE, the problems had not been remedied, the survey indicates. 'There was evidence of sloppy handling of MbOCA throughout the industry, i.e. poor housekeeping, and spread into areas, for example the canteen, where MbOCA was not directly handled,' the report said, adding there was also MbOCA contamination found on imported kegs. Workers not working directly with the chemical were also exposed, the study found. 'Urine samples from subjects without direct exposure to MbOCA or isocyanates contained evidence of both substances. This indicates poor exposure control,' it concluded. 'In most cases the local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems used to control exposure during MbOCA/resin handling were ineffective, inefficient and poorly maintained.' Most firms were in breach of the chemical control regulations, COSHH, and had not undertaken the required checks on ventilation systems. 'Most of the companies visited provided little or no information, instruction and training on the hazards associated with the handling of MbOCA and isocyanates or on the measures to control exposure,' the report said. HSE's review of occupational cancer this year estimated that upwards of 300 workers in the UK are currently exposed to MbOCA. This study indicates at least 1,000 more could be incidentally exposed. Contamination of kegs and poor general hygiene in the industry could push the total figure much higher. Last year Freda Taylor, the widow of chemical worker Douglas who died from bladder cancer caused by exposure to MbOCA, urged other exposed workers to seek immediate medical attention. Douglas worked for the Castleford company, Hickson and Welch, which manufactured MbOCA until 1988 (Risks 258).

CCA slams 'meaningless' enforcement review

The Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) is calling on the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to undertake a new review of the circumstances when its inspectors should prosecute. It says the conclusions of the Health and Safety Executive's review of its prosecution policy are 'meaningless' as crucial evidence has been overlooked. CCA says its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests show the HSE officials responsible for the review failed to request any data on the level of prosecutions following investigations into dangerous occurrences or major injuries. It adds there is 'no written record' HSE's team had considered introducing more robust criteria where breaches of safety law resulting in a major injury would trigger a prosecution. CCA had written to the HSE at the beginning of the review arguing that this change was necessary. In January 2007, acting on the information supplied by HSE, HSC decided HSE's Enforcement Policy Statement was 'fit for purpose'. David Bergman, executive director of CCA, commented: 'It is astonishing that in the course of reviewing its enforcement policy, HSE officials did not have access to the most basic prosecution data - including how many prosecutions resulted from investigations into major injuries, dangerous occurrences and others kinds of reported incident. It is also apparent that the review did not involve any proper consideration of whether the prosecution criteria were too restrictive. In light of this, to call the enforcement policy statement 'fit for purpose' is meaningless.' CCA has written to Judith Hackett, chair of HSC, asking her to undertake a further review of the prosecution criteria. It has also urged the Select Committee on Work and Pensions - which this week considered the work of the HSE and HSC - to intervene.

Fine for amusement park death

The former operators of an amusement park have been fined £95,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 over the death of a maintenance worker. Pleasureland Ltd had pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety laws after the work fatality in the Southport park in 2004. On 25 August 2004, 59-year-old William John Birchall was lubricating the Skyride at the park, when he caught his shoulder in the moving machinery. Mr Birchill was working on the chairlift-style cab ride when the incident occurred. He could not tell his colleague who was at the controls just 200 metres away, because his radio was out of reach. He was trapped for 45 minutes, about 30ft in the air, while firefighters used cutting and lifting equipment to free him. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Charles Cottle said the case 'was a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided had the correct procedures been in place.' He added: 'Managers should ask themselves three questions - do you know where maintenance staff go to do their work? What do they do when they get there? Are they safe while they are doing it? With answers to these questions, companies are able to carry out a suitable assessment of the risk and put in place safe procedures for carrying out maintenance work.' The park was closed in September 2006 when its owners said it was no longer financially viable. The site partially reopened under the name New Pleasureland, with new operators, under a short-term lease this summer.

Schools safety probe after lathe injury

A safety review has started at all secondary schools in the in Scotland's Borders area after a teenage girl became entangled in a lathe. Nadine Craig, a 14-year-old pupil at Galashiels Academy, required hospital treatment for the neck injuries she received and will be scarred for life as a result. Her scarf became entangled in the lathe during a technical lesson at the school just over a week ago. Teachers freed the girl from the machinery but she had to be taken to hospital. Nadine spent five days at St John's Hospital in Livingston, after being transferred from Borders General Hospital. Nadine's dad, Gavin Craig, 36, said: 'It's an experience no one should have to go through - never mind a 14-year-old girl. She has 40 stitches and it burnt all the skin right off her neck.' Mr Craig added: "She is going to be left with a scar but the surgeons did an excellent job. It was a fleecy scarf and we were told if it had been woollen it would have been worse because of the fibres. She also lost a chunk out of her left hand when she tried to pull herself out.' Council officials and the Health and Safety Executive are conducting a full review of all technical classes and procedures at schools across the region. The review is ongoing, but a complete ban on scarves and ties in practical metalwork and woodwork classes looks likely. New protection bibs for all pupils in technical classes are being ordered.

Guilty verdict on teen scaffolder death

Site supervisor David Swindells Jr has been found guilty of safety offences that contributed to the death of a teenage scaffolder. Steven Burke died aged 17 in January 2003 when a sub-standard scaffold collapsed. Steven's employer 3D Scaffolding Ltd, main contractor Mowlem plc and RAM Services Ltd had earlier pleaded guilty to related safety offences. The incident occurred just a fortnight after Steven's bosses were served a prohibition notice because two safety harnesses were in such poor condition. Steven was wearing a harness at the time of the tragedy, but it was not clipped to the scaffolding. Inquiries revealed his team were due to earn a bonus if their job was completed within a day. Sentencing will be on 4-5 February 2008, over four years after Steven was killed. Commenting after the court case, Hilda Palmer, spokesperson for Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), said: 'This should send a clear message to all scaffolding companies - put your houses in order and ensure you comply with all industry standards, health and safety law and guidance, do not put any workers, let alone young workers, at risk of death or injury by taking short cuts. To all scaffolders I would say check on the company's health and safety risk assessment and method statement covering the safe system of work, ask questions, especially if you are asked to go against your training, and don't do things you feel are unsafe. It's far better to be safe than sorry.' Steven's mother, Barbara Burke, said: 'He was far too young to die and we want employers to act now to prevent other young people being killed at work by their negligence.'

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Australia: Federal court supports role of unions

Australia's Federal Court has supported the role of unions, declaring construction union CFMEU a 'competent administrative authority' with a right of access to workplaces to undertake safety probes. The court also found it unlawful for a person to be sacked for reasons including complaining to the union. Justice Susan Kenny ordered Pilkington Australia Ltd, a car windscreen factory, to reinstate Victor Claveria, a worker who had been fired after complaining to the union about bullying and harassment. Justice Kenny also found that the union had the right to enter the workplace under the state of Victoria's Occupational Health and Safety Act to investigate alleged breaches of the act. She noted: 'Part 8 of the OHS Act also provides a regime for the grant of entry permits to officers, employees and authorised representatives of unions: see s 83. A permit entitles the holder to enter a workplace during working hours to enquire into any suspected contravention of that Act or regulations: see s 87. On entry, the permit holder may exercise various powers, including inspecting any thing at the work place, observing work, and consulting with certain employees and the employer: see s 89.' The ruling continues: 'There was evidence that, as at January 2007, three employees of the union (Messrs Dolman, Vendramini and Cooke) held entry permits under the Act, and two of them held entry permits under s 83 of the OHS Act.' The company now faces penalties related to the breaches.

Australia: Death of Bernie Banton, asbestos hero

Bernie Banton, an Australian factory worker who became a nationwide symbol for labour rights in Australia, died on 27 November after suffering with asbestosis for years and more recently developing the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. He will receive a state funeral on 5 December. Mr Banton, who was 61, fought until the very end, managing this month to give court evidence in a landmark compensation case from his hospital bed, as well as delivering a petition to the government in the run-up to last Saturday's federal election pressing for and winning improved drug treatments for mesothelioma sufferers (Risks 332). Mr Banton, working always with Australia's unions, became the public face of a lengthy battle by asbestos-afflicted workers against their former employer, James Hardie. This eventually secured a A$4bn (approximately £1.7bn) compensation package, approved by James Hardie's shareholders only last February after a campaign that involved trade unions and activists worldwide (Risks 295). Mr Banton was also a powerful voice against the defeated Liberal government's anti-union WorkChoices legislation, relating the asbestos issue to wider abuses of workers' rights and health. Rick Kuhn, a specialist on political economy at the Australian National University, said one of the strengths of Mr Banton was that 'he could conceive of an effective political strategy that could involve the trade union movement'. He added: 'He showed that perseverance and collective organisation can win... What the campaign over compensation for asbestos victims indicated was that trade unions still have a capacity of mobilisation.' Labor's prime minister-elect Kevin Rudd singled out Mr Banton in his election victory speech, just days before the campaigner died. 'My message to the country is this,' he said. 'Working people are not economic commodities, working people are human beings and working people therefore deserve and demand respect, care and attention in whatever their workplace is.' Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd commented: 'Bernie Banton was a tireless campaigner for those suffering asbestos diseases. His example will live on and his legacy will be the great success he had in holding James Hardie and its directors accountable for their actions.'

China: Brutal attack on workers' adviser

A worker from an employment advice centre in Shenzen, China, has been brutally attacked. Global union federation ITUC has written to the Shenzhen authorities to protest at the stabbing of Huang Qingnan, a worker from a local labour advice and support centre. He remains in a serious condition and may lose one of his limbs. In a letter sent to Xu Zhongheng, mayor of Shenzhen, the ITUC charged that Huang, a legal representative of Shenzhen's Dagongzhe Centre, was attacked on 20 November near the centre's offices and severely wounded by two men armed with knives. He was reportedly stabbed repeatedly and left with knife wounds over 10 cm long. The centre itself had been ransacked in two previous attacks, on 11 October and 12 November 2007. ITUC says these attacks appear to be connected to a larger campaign directed towards the centre and in particular its work with migrants, in the run-up to the implementation of the new Labour Contract Law, which will come into force on 1 January 2008. ITUC also expressed disquiet over a corresponding increase in the number of journalists and lawyers being detained and harassed about their work on labour and civil rights issues. 'These organisations play a vital role in the well-being of local society and the welfare of the workers and the safety of their staff must be guaranteed', said ITUC general secretary Guy Ryder. 'Unless the perpetrators of such vile attacks are brought to justice and punished in accordance with the law, the harassment of workers' rights activists - both by officials and by companies - will continue and will only serve to hinder the development of the much talked about 'harmonious society'.'

South Africa: Mines safety strike to go ahead

South African mine workers are set to proceed with a one-day nationwide strike on 4 December in protest at poor safety in the country's mines. About 240,000 workers may take part in the strike, the first countrywide walkout by miners. More than 180 workers have been killed so far this year in the country's mines, compared to the 200 death total for 2006. After mining union NUM and mining companies met with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Tuesday - CCMA has the power to permit a strike - the union confirmed the strike would go ahead. It said over 60 mining companies 'will face the ire of workers'. The action will hit gold, platinum, coal and other mines. An NUM statement said: 'The strike will be the first industry wide strike to hit the mining industry since mining began. Meanwhile, trade unions globally are sending protest and memorandums to various South African embassies to push them to act on the genocide that is unfolding in the mining industry.' South Africa is Africa's biggest gold exporter and the strike would stop work at global firms such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony. The world's top platinum producers Anglo Platinum and Impala Platinum will also be affected. Diamond producer DeBeers could also be hit. A miner was killed at Gold Field's Driefontein mine on Saturday 24 November, while another worker died at the firm's Kloof mine on Friday 23 November.

USA: Hilton caused housekeeper strains

California's workplace safety regulator has charged that the duties performed by housekeepers at a hotel - scrubbing, bed making, vacuuming - violate the state's repetitive strain injury rules. A citation issued by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health identified eight infractions at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel. The 'LAX Hilton' is one of several hotels near the airport whose employees the Unite Here union wants to organise, and the citation was issued after a complaint was filed with the agency by two Hilton housekeepers and SoCalCOSH, a labour health advocacy group that supports the union. California is the only US state that explicitly requires employers to minimise the risk of repetitive-motion injuries through training and, if necessary, by redesigning job tasks. The rules were adopted in 1997. Len Welsh, head of the state agency, which is known as Cal/OSHA, said strategies to avoid strain injuries in hotel staff included giving workers leeway to break up tasks and adequate rest time. Fines total $14,425 (£7,200), according to the citation, which is being appealed by the company. 'The citation has confirmed what workers have been telling their physicians and management at the LAX Hilton, that this work and the workload are causing them pain and injury,' said Pamela Vossenas, senior health and safety representative for the hotel division of Unite Here. The Hilton could make a number of changes to reduce the chance of injury, said Eden Flynn, a spokesperson for Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), including providing training materials in Spanish as well as English, cutting the number of rooms each housekeeper has to clean and adding male housekeepers to help lift heavy mattresses and cleaning equipment.

RESOURCES
New biological threats at work

Workers in every type of work could be at risk from biological agents, a new report has warned. The European Risk Observatory (ERO) report, backed up by a practical factsheet, says despite existing laws covering the issue, knowledge is still limited and in many workplaces biological risks are poorly assessed and prevented. 'Biological risks often remain underestimated although they may be very harmful for EU workers in literally any sector,' said Jukka Takala, director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, which runs ERO. 'The challenge is to identify them quickly as they appear and analyse the consequences they might have on people's health and to work out policies and procedures to minimise their spread.' The report says most emerging risks relate to global epidemics with new contagious pathogens, for example severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian flu and Ebola, and re-emerging ones such as cholera and yellow fever. 'Given the speed and volume of international traffic and trade, these substances may spread around the globe within a few hours and start a new pandemic,' it warns. ERO adds that as many of these diseases jump the species barrier from animals to humans, workers in contact with livestock are particularly at risk. Other pathogens such as tuberculosis have become resistant to known drugs and can result in severe infections in healthcare workers. Complex exposure situations are found in new industries such as waste treatment where workers come in contact with a variety of airborne micro-organisms and organic compounds, it says. Moulds can spread in any indoor workplace due to poorly maintained air-conditioning and can cause asthma and allergies.

  • European Agency news release and factsheet on emerging biological risks [pdf]. Expert forecast on emerging biological risks related to occupational safety and health [pdf].
Repeat after me - strain injuries hurt

Strain injuries are commonly reported as the top cause of work-related injury, disability and lost time. They are easily prevented. And there has never been a better time to take action. In the wake of October's strain injury-themed Euroweek, lots of new prevention tools are available. You can check many of them out on the new Hazards strain injuries webpages. This new resource is intended to help union reps prepare for International RSI Day, the last day of February every year. In 2008 - a leap year - that means Friday 29 February. Unions can order a special 'Repeat after me' RSI day poster from the Hazards Campaign.

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