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HSE is still facing staff crisis
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announcement that it is to recruit 40 new inspectors will still leave the safety watchdog too stretched to properly do its job, critics have warned. HSE support staff union PCS says there has been a 25 per cent reduction in staff across HSE since 2002, and is warning the planned closure of its London HQ and the relocation of 320 jobs to Bootle will leave 'a smaller, less efficient HSE'. Health and safety professionals' organisation IOSH has said the recruitment of 40 new HSE inspectors is 'a step in the right direction', but is not enough. IOSH president Ray Hurst said 'there is still a considerable shortfall in what's needed to fulfil its inspection and enforcement function and its advisory role as well as a number of random inspections.' He added a growing workforce, HSE's expanded brief and an increase in the number of 'at risk' groups like migrants and older workers would add to the pressure on HSE, as would 'a major increase in construction work, with proposals to build three million new homes by 2020, the building of the Olympic Games venue by 2012 and completion of the 'cross-rail' project by 2017. There are problems too with some of the ageing infrastructure in this country, and emerging new issues, like nanotechnology.' He concluded: 'Longer term, 40 additional inspectors is not nearly enough.' After a spate of construction deaths in New York, the city - which is similar in size to London - announced this month it is to hire 63 more inspectors to enforce safety rules at construction sites.
Spit kits need union input
Transport union Unite has welcomed the announcement that London's bus drivers are to be issued with DNA 'spit kits'. Unite senior industrial organiser Peter Kavanagh, said: 'We welcome the planned roll out of this programme across the bus network, which has been in development for a number of years. Spitting is the ultimate act of disrespect and abuse. We have members who are punched, beaten, have stones thrown through their windows - all in the course of trying to keep our city moving.' He added, however: 'The training and implementation of these initiatives will only be effective with the active involvement of the union that represents all London's bus workers. Unite has already been involved in the development of DNA spit kits within Metroline and Arriva over the past few years.' He said transport firms must help drivers report attacks. 'Where DNA spit kits are already in operation, drivers are expected to complete the police procedures within their own time. In order to increase the chances of drivers taking advantage of this positive announcement and to increase the likelihood of the culprits being caught, we expect the operators to release these drivers during paid time.' The move announced by London mayor Boris Johnson followed last week's commitment to see an extra 440 uniformed police staff patrolling major London bus stations.
Payouts for stone dust disease
Two foundry workers who developed silicosis, one of the longest recognised occupational lung diseases, have received compensation. The Unite members, who both worked in the melting department of Federal Mogul's Southwick factory on Wearside, have received 'substantial' payouts in an out of court settlement. The payouts were held up for eight years because US multinational Federal Mogul, also the owner of UK asbestos giant Turner and Newall, went into administration, freezing settlements until a Trust was finalised last year to deal with claims (Risks 357). Both men exposed to silica dust while working for Hepworth and Grandage Ltd, later known as Federal Mogul (Sunderland) Limited, as furnace men between the 1970s and late 1990s. Raymond Minto, 59, started work at the factory in 1969. His job involved stripping out furnaces and relining them with silica mix. He remembered the job as 'filthy' and being surrounded by dust with just a rubber mask, gloves and ear defenders for protection. He is now out of work as a result of his breathing problems. The second Wearside man, who does not wish to be named, also worked as a furnace man from 1970 to 1999 and was forced to take early retirement aged only 52. Unite North East regional secretary Davey Hall said: 'I'm pleased that our members are now at the end of an eight year wait for compensation.'
Paramedic gets vehicle crash payout
A paramedic who was injured after a van driver overshot a red light and collided with his ambulance has received a £62,856 payout. North East Ambulance Service paramedic David Fenwick, 55, suffered a serious shoulder injury that required two operations. At the time of the accident in June 2005, the UNISON member was in the passenger seat of the ambulance. As a result of the injury, he was forced to take time off work, and when he did return was put on light duties. As well as suffering pain, the injury prevented him from carrying out everyday tasks, such as household chores and decorating. Mr Fenwick commented: 'Thankfully I was wearing my seatbelt so the injury wasn't as bad as it might have been. Even so, it was a huge shock, even in my profession, and highlights the dangers of running a red light. The driver of the van could have killed himself as well as others.' Liz Twist, head of health in UNISON's Northern region, said: 'Reckless driving caused pain and injury to a man who spent his working life caring for others. I am pleased that UNISON was able to help gain compensation for David, but I am sure he would far rather have the full use of his arm than any amount of money.'
Unions act on education's mental stresses
Unions representing workers in education have issued guidance designed to remedy work-related mental health problems in the sector. Education routinely tops the stress league table in TUC's safety reps' surveys. And the sector was highlighted as a high risk area for work-related suicides in a February 2008 report from Hazards magazine (Risks 345). A joint letter to head teachers from the unions GMB, NUT, UNISON and Unite says their new guide 'will, we hope, provide you with valuable information, both on how to prevent the development of mental health conditions and on how to support staff who do fall ill.' It outlines the nature of the problem, the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) stress management standards as a tool for stress reduction and what to do when a member of staff develops a mental health condition, including the support that can be provided by occupational health services and external organisations. A note from the unions to union representatives advises them to arrange to meet with the head teacher to discuss how the guidance might be applied in their school. The unions recommend a joint approach on behalf of both teaching and support staff. They add that placing the guidance on the agenda of the school's safety committee is an effective way to bring the topic into the open and encouraging a debate.
- NUT news release and joint union guide, Preventing work-related mental health conditions by tackling stress: Guidance for head teachers [pdf]. Hazards work-related suicides news and resources.
Head teacher 'suicide' inquiry call
Relatives of a Scottish head teacher thought to have taken her own life after a critical school inspection have demanded a fatal accident inquiry. The death of Irene Hogg, 54, at the end of March follows a spate of work-related teacher suicides, a number linked to school inspections (Risks 337). Miss Hogg's family claim she was the victim of work-related stress, and fear her council employers may have ignored her pleas for help. She had been head teacher at Glendinning Terrace Primary in Galashiels for 19 years. Her brother Roger Hogg, who lives in Australia, has attempted to obtain copies of emails she sent to Scottish Borders Council in the period leading up to the school inspection but the request has been refused. A freedom of information request made by Mr Hogg, 47, to establish what was said at a meeting between Miss Hogg and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education officials has also been denied. Friends say the five day inspection had left her 'disillusioned'. Mr Hogg said an inquiry was necessary to establish exactly what caused his sister's death. Her body was discovered next to a burn near Towford Outdoor Centre in the Cheviot Hills, on 26 March. It is understood tests carried out following her death have so far proved inconclusive. A February report from the trade union safety magazine Hazards said work-related suicides could be killing over 250 workers in the UK each year - more than die in workplace accidents (Risks 345).
- BBC News Online. The Times. Daily Record. Daily Mail. Scottish Borders Council tribute page to Irene Hogg.
Common solvents threaten fertility
Men regularly exposed to chemicals found in paint and other common products may be more prone to fertility problems, UK research as indicated. Men such as painters and decorators, who work with a family of solvents called glycol ethers, are two-and-a-half times more likely to produce fewer 'normal' sperm. The findings reinforce warnings issued in 1983 by the US authorities about reproductive hazards to both male and female workers from occupational exposure to certain glycol ethers. The chemicals have remained in common industrial usage since this time. The new study looked at 2,118 men attending 14 fertility clinics in 11 cities across the UK. The joint research project between the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield, which was part funded by the Health and Safety Executive, looked at two groups of men attending fertility clinics - those with sperm motility problems, and those without them. The men were questioned about their jobs, lifestyles, and potential exposure to chemicals, revealing greatly reduced sperm motility among those exposed to glycol ethers. These chemicals are widely used as solvents in water-based paints, graffiti removers and other commonly available products. Dr Andy Povey, from the University of Manchester, said: 'We know that certain glycol ethers can affect male fertility and the use of these has reduced over the past two decades. However, our work suggests they are still a workplace hazard and further work is needed to reduce such exposure.' The researchers, whose findings were published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concluded that, apart from glycol ethers, there are currently few workplace chemical threats to male fertility.
- Sheffield University news release. Science Daily news release. The Telegraph. BBC News Online. CBC News.
ScotRail offers reward to find rail vandal
First ScotRail has offered a £1,000 reward for anyone able to help bring to justice the vandal who dangled a heavy metal object from a bridge, causing it to crash through the windscreen of a train. Train drivers' union ASLEF says the 37-year-old driver narrowly avoided being seriously injured - or even killed - in the incident last week, as his passenger train was travelling at 60 mph when it was struck. The driver managed to bring the train to a halt near Blantyre in Lanarkshire despite having suffered cuts and injuries to his face and being showered with glass. He was taken to Wishaw Hospital and later released after treatment. ASLEF's officer in Scotland, Kevin Lindsay, said the incident could easily have led to far more tragic consequences and commended Scotrail for putting up the reward. He added that the union was working jointly with the union Unite 'on a campaign to ensure better legal protection for bus, tram and train drivers. We would like to see a transport bill giving our members the same protection as the emergency services.'
Former nurse's shock at asbestos illness
Another former nurse has fallen victim to the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Diane Coote, 57, believes she was exposed to the deadly dust in her 10 years nursing at hospitals in Norwich. She said: 'It's only three months ago that I was diagnosed and we are still trying to come to terms with the terrible prognosis. I'm just so shocked that I could have picked it up as a nurse. I have spent all my life caring for other people, now someone has got to look after me.' She added: 'Asbestos lagging was on the pipes at the hospitals where I worked, and I must have been exposed to dusty conditions there... Maintenance men worked on the pipes and, as a junior nurse, we were sometimes expected to clear up after them.' Local paper the Norwich Evening News reported that Mrs Coote's case mirrors that of Mary Artherton, 59, another former nurse who earlier this year was told she would receive compensation for asbestos-related mesothelioma after the health authority, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital's NHS Trust, accepted liability (Risks 343). Mrs Coote read about Mrs Artherton's case in the paper and she subsequently engaged the same solicitor, David Cass of Irwin Mitchell solicitors.
Beehive firm doesn't cut it on wood dust
A Lincolnshire firm making beehives has been fined after a worker was injured by a cutting machine and colleagues were exposed to potentially harmful Western Red Cedar wood dust. Company managers had attended a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) woodworking safety and health awareness day only seven months earlier, but have now been criticised by HSE for not acting on what they learned. Wragby-based EH Thorne (Beehives) Limited was fined £12,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs at Skegness Magistrates Court after pleading guilty safety offences. On 26 June 2006, an employee's hand was injured when trying to remove a piece of wood that had jammed in the cutter block of a running woodworking machine. A number of employees were also routinely exposed Western Red Cedar wood dust, which is a potent cause of occupational asthma. Wood dust is also a top rated work cancer risk. The exposures occurred even though tests on the extraction system had earlier identified it was performing unsatisfactorily. HSE inspector for Lincolnshire Dr Ian James Ellison said: 'The scale of the deficiencies was reflected in the two prohibition notices and eight improvement notices issued requiring the company to act on the advice given at the safety awareness day event. Employers must ensure that this sort of work is properly planned to take account of health and safety risks and that employees are made fully aware of the risks associated with cutting machinery and hazardous substances.'
Firm fined for four flattened fingers
An engineering firm has been fined after an employee had his fingers crushed in an unguarded 60 ton power press. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought the case following its investigation into the incident on 25 June 2007 at Metal Products (Arden) Ltd's site in Burntwood. Speaking after the case, HSE investigating inspector Wai-Kin Liu said: 'Operating power presses without suitable and appropriate guards is reckless and blatantly ignores the safety of employees, an act which cannot go unpunished.' He added: 'Power presses without suitable safeguards are among the most dangerous machines used in industry and the risks are well known. Serious injuries such as amputation can result when limbs, or parts of limbs, become trapped by moving parts. It is has been a requirement in law for over 40 years that such machines have guards to stop serious injuries to operators and that has resulted in a significant and steady reduction of injury rates. It is intolerable in this day and age that incidents like this are still happening.' Metal Products (Arden) Ltd was fined a total of £7,000 and full costs of £4,131 were awarded to the prosecution at Stafford Magistrates' Court last week after the company pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety legislation.
Meat firm chops off fingers
A multinational meat processing firm where a worker had the tops of three fingers sliced off, another received a serious electric shock and employees and contractors were using dangerous walkways 60 feet above the factory floor has been fined £265,000 and ordered to pay £21,653 in costs. Michael Warnes was changing a mould on a packaging machine at the Tulip factory in Thetford in October 2005, when machine parts moved, Norwich Crown Court heard. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation identified that the machine was not adequately guarded. A month later another worker at the same site, Korim Richardson, suffered a severe electric shock from a light fitting with old defective wiring. Mr Richardson was working on a ladder changing the light fitting. The electrical surge caused him to swing back with the ladder and he cracked bones in his shoulder. The HSE investigation identified a failure to maintain the electrical system at the site. The company had admitted responsibility for both incidents, but had claimed Mr Warnes was partly responsible for losing the tops of his fingers, a claim rejected by the court. In a further breach, the company was served a prohibition notice in February 2006 after allowing employees and contractors from Ecolab to access wooden walkways over a suspended ceiling at the site. The walkway did not have full guardrails at the sides so employees and contractors risked falling some 60ft through the ceiling onto the production floor. HSE inspector Steve Gill said Tulip Ltd had 'exposed their employees to potentially dangerous situations.'
Worker dies after being buried in waste
A worker died after being buried in rubbish at a waste dump, a court has heard. White Reclamation Ltd was fined £50,000 last week and ordered to pay costs of £30,000 at Manchester Crown Court, after pleading guilty to workplace safety offences. Employee Richard Buckley died when he was buried in waste while emptying his vehicle at the site in Eccles on 21 July 2003. The court heard that, at the time of the incident, no segregation of pedestrians or vehicles existed and that there was no marshal or traffic management system. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who investigated the incident, said basic health and safety precautions and an adequate risk assessment would have made the fatality 'most unlikely.' Speaking after the verdict, Paul Harvey, head of HSE's national group covering waste and recycling, said: 'Waste transfer stations are dangerous places. It is essential that vehicle movements are properly controlled and that shovel operators know where drivers are before approaching loads. Transport incidents account for about two-thirds of all fatalities in an industry that has an unacceptably high incident rate. It is essential to ensure pedestrians are kept out of vehicle operating areas. Action will be taken by HSE if standards are deemed to be poor or inadequate.'
- HSE news release and guide, Safe transport in waste management and recycling facilities [pdf]. HSE waste industry webpages.
Experts slam corporate manslaughter law
Legal experts have warned the new corporate manslaughter law is not tough enough because it fails to hold individual directors accountable for deadly mistakes. Employment law expert Norman Selwyn told Contract Journal the law, which came into effect in April, still meant it was easier to prosecute smaller companies on manslaughter charges than larger ones. 'It is now estimated that there are likely to be about a dozen or so corporate manslaughter prosecutions each year and the clarification of the law will more than likely lead to these being successful,' he said. 'But the Corporate Manslaughter Act is by no means perfect. It is strange that it does not place specific health and safety duties on company directors. It therefore begs the question: 'will it be any good?' Major industrial accidents will only have a realistic chance of greater prevention if boards of directors formally and publicly accept their collective roles on safety.' Crisis management expert Peter Power told the journal that pressure to correct safety failings should be put on corporate directors by staff and stakeholders. 'It is unacceptable that companies and their directors should learn only from their own mistakes as we used to do in the past,' he said. No director or senior manager of a large of medium-sized UK firm has ever been jailed for workplace manslaughter.
Canada: Pro-asbestos lobby gets caught out
Canada's pro-asbestos lobby has faced stern criticism for wrongly implying a long-delayed government commissioned report opposes a ban on asbestos. Critics including the chair of the Health Canada panel of experts that prepared the report (Risks 345) have denounced both the delay and the misrepresentation of their findings. Health Canada hired seven scientific and medical experts from around the world last November to examine the risks of chrysotile, or white asbetsos. Leslie Stayner, head of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, as well as UK occupational hygiene expert Trevor Ogden, the chair of the panel of experts, have each written letters to federal health minister Tony Clement decrying the delay in publishing their findings. 'It is simply unacceptable for this report to continue to be withheld from the public, while individuals who have seen the report and our comments make erroneous allegations about what it contains to suit their political objectives,' Stayner wrote in his letter. Last week, Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance rose in Canada's House of Commons to argue against growing calls to ban chrysotile, implying Health Canada's new study supports his view. 'I want to make the record clear that nothing in the report would argue against the sensibility of an asbestos ban in Canada or for that matter anywhere else in the world,' Stayner told CBC News. In his letter, Stayner said that while the panel was not asked to rule on whether chrysotile asbestos can be used safely, 'from a pragmatic point of view, my answer to this question would be that it [safe use] is simply not possible.' The controversy comes as the executive of CLC, Canada's national union federation, is recommending a policy that will see the gradual closure of the country's asbestos mines, alongside measures to address the impact of the shutdown on the affected miners.
Europe: Campaign challenges corporate abuses
Victims of human rights and environmental abuses by European companies around the world could find justice in European courts under proposals unveiled this week at an international conference at the European Parliament. The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) - a leading network of over 250 civil society organisations around Europe, including unions, charities, academic institutions and campaign groups - revealed policy proposals developed by a team of legal experts which if adopted by the European Union would guarantee the legal responsibility of companies based in Europe, and their directors, for human rights or environmental violations committed by their subsidiaries or subcontractors anywhere in the world. ECCJ said the legal structure of companies and weak accountability mechanisms all too often result in ethical mismanagement by companies, with one example cited the occupational mercury poisoning of workers in South Africa employed by part of a UK multinational. The ECCJ report is calling on the European Union to accept three proposals. ECCJ wants the extension of the direct liability of parent companies of multinational enterprises operating in Europe; a mandatory duty of care for parent companies in Europe to prevent human rights abuses by persons under their economic influence, all the way along the supply chain; and a mandatory system for large companies to report on their social and environmental risks and impacts. 'ECCJ believes that these proposals would lead to a coherent and harmonised approach to business regulation, putting an end to the unfair competition caused by companies who profit from human rights and environmental abuses,' said ECCJ coordinator Ruth Casals. 'These proposals will provide long needed justice for victims of environmental or human rights abuses by companies based in Europe.'
- ECCJ news release, including links to the full report, Fair law: Legal proposals to improve corporate accountability for environmental and human rights abuses, ECCJ report, 29 May 2008, executive summary [pdf]. Smart regulation: Legislative opportunities for the EU to improve corporate accountability, ECCJ conference, 29 May 2008. European Coalition for Corporate Justice.
Iran: Chemical plant fire kills 30
At least 30 people have been killed and 38 injured, many of them suffering severe burns, in a fire in a chemical plant in central Iran on Sunday 25 May, the state news agency IRNA has said. The fire in the cosmetics and detergent-producing plant near the town of Shazand is reported to have been caused by a blast during welding work in a reservoir. The accident happened at 4pm local time in the plant near Shazand in the province of Markazi, about 320 kilometres south of Tehran. 'Witnesses said a 60,000 litre chemical reservoir exploded,' IRNA said, adding that all the equipment in the factory and its adjacent plant caught fire. A local rescuer told IRNA that the injured were rushed to a nearby hospital and that 23 people had suffered 70 to 100 per cent burns. Markazi province is one of Iran's main industrial hubs.
Japan: Toyota acts on deadly overwork
Toyota is taking steps to deal with a corporate culture that been linked to deaths from overwork. From June, the company is to pay workers overtime for attending out-of-hours 'kaizen' or quality control (QC) circle meetings. It previously only allowed workers to claim two hours' overtime a month for such 'voluntary' activities. The company has about 40,000 production workers in 5,000 QC circle groups. Toyota's decision to have more of the kaizen group meetings in paid work time follows a court ruling in November 2007 that a 30-year-old Toyota worker who collapsed at one of its plants had died of overwork (Risks 335). It emerged that the man had worked 106 hours of overtime in his final month, most of it unpaid. Death from overwork, known as 'karoshi' in Japan, has steadily increased since the government first recognised it in 1987. Overwork-related suicide - karojisatsu - is also an officially recognised work-related condition in Japan. In 1993, the widow of a Toyota Motor Corp employee who took his own life as a result of overwork was told by a High Court in Japan she was entitled to compensation. The judge said the 35-year-old's suicide was triggered by excessive hours and workload (Risks 114). Unions in North America particularly have been sharply critical of these Japanese management techniques, which they believe are designed to rack up productivity while eroding the role the unions.
Pursuing the corporate killers
The trades union-backed health and safety magazine Hazards is stepping up the pressure on deadly bosses with the launch of new 'deadly business' web resources. 'Workplace bosses kill and maim on a daily basis and they go unpunished,' explained Hazards magazine's online editor Jawad Qasrawi. 'The Hazards 'Deadly business' online resource provides tools, information and news to help trades unions and campaigners build the pressure on killer bosses. This isn't just about accidents at work it is about the enormous and hidden toll on workers of ill-health caused directly by their everyday work. And it is about making sure employers think twice before putting profits before people.' Hazards is also working in tandem with organisations including trades unions and Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) to press for explicit health and safety duties on company directors and for jail terms for those whose negligence causes work-related deaths.
New occupational cancer resources
New resources on occupational cancer prevention have been made available online. Papers from the international Occupational and Environmental Cancer Prevention conference, held in April in Stirling, Scotland, can be accessed free on the Stirling University website. They including contributions from top international academic, safety agency, activist and trade union thinkers on the topic, covering issues ranging from the extent of the problem to solutions including toxics use reduction and grassroots campaigns. Also available free online is a course on recognition and prevention of occupational and environmental cancers. The resource, produced by Canadian cancer and workplace health organisations, is designed for primary healthcare providers and anyone with an interest in recognising and preventing occupational and environmental cancer. The promotional blurb says: 'This course is delivered as an on-line e-learning course. All you need is a computer, access to the internet - and you are ready to go! This e-learning course is designed to help you learn at your own pace and in your own environment at your own convenience.' Topics include obtaining and interpreting occupational histories, identifying carcinogens, interpreting evidence of possible cancer clusters and obtaining related resources.
- Stirling work cancer conference papers and CCOHS work cancer recognition and prevention course.
- Global Unions zero occupational cancers campaign.
Events and Courses
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR APRIL TO JULY 2008
- Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
- Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
- What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
Issued: 30 May, 2008